Freddy Khalastchy, a Fellow of the Royal Philatelic Society London, who has built up the world’s finest collection of the stamps of Iraq, was born and brought up in Baghdad during the late 1950s and experienced at first-hand the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein, The Times reported recently.
In order to appreciate the stamps of Iraq it is necessary to understand a little of the history of that country. During the First World War British and Indian troops occupied Basra on November 22, 1914, to protect the oil pipeline from Persia. These troops advanced up the Euphrates and Tigris and after a hard-fought campaign captured Baghdad on March 11, 1917. Turkish postage stamps were overprinted: “Baghdad In British Occupation”.
Under the Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey renounced its sovereignty over Iraq, formerly Mesopotamia. In April 1920 the Allied Supreme Council, meeting in San Remo, Italy, assigned Britain the mandate, under the League of Nations, for Iraq and Palestine. British personnel were employed in key positions throughout Iraq, including Posts and Telegraphs. The MEF (Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force) Field Post Office ceased to exist as a separate administration with effect from May 1, 1919, when all existing field post offices and their personnel were assigned to the Iraq Civil Post Office.
A member of a Jewish family, Mr Khalastchy vividly remembers his childhood in Baghdad. He said: “The Government issued various restrictions on the Jews and from 1963 till 1971 no Jews were allowed to leave the country. After the 1967 war with Israel all phone lines belonging to Jews were cut off. Jewish employees were kicked out of their jobs and a number of Jews were imprisoned. During those times, we relied on our non-Jewish friends and neighbours to help us, which they did with genuine care.
“When Saddam took power in 1968 the situation worsened. Between 1969 and 1971, 25 Jews were hanged (some in public squares) for allegedly being spies for Israel and the West. Another 25 Jews (one being 15 years old and a classmate of mine) were murdered in their homes or just disappeared from the streets. It became evident that the future for Jews in Iraq would be bleak; my parents had to find a way to leave. Between 1970 and 1971 the majority of the Jews started fleeing over the border to Iran. By 1971, because of world pressure, the Government allowed the Jews to leave. My brother, aged 10, and I, aged 16, left Iraq in 1973 for London. My parents joined us two years later. Luckily, they brought the stamp collection with them when they came to England.”
Mr Khalastchy started collecting stamps at the age of 10. He now collects mainly stamps from 1917, the first year that stamps for Iraq proper were issued. (Ottoman stamps were used before that.)
He comments: “The more I find out, the more I want to know. I especially love finding out the trail of owners pertaining to each stamp. The early stamps of Iraq up to July 14, 1958, when King Faisal II was killed and a republic was proclaimed, were beautifully designed and printed in splendid colours. The beautifully engraved first postage stamps of Iraq, printed by Bradbury Wilkinson & Co Ltd, issued in May 1923 are among the great classic stamps of the 20th century.”