KURDISH PROPOSAL IS UNFAIR TO ASSYRIANS
The KDP and PUK, adopted a proposal on 2 November for a future Iraqi Federal Constitution that ignores the rights of all other ethnic groups that have been engaged in the struggle against Baghdad (see NEWS DIGEST).
This KDP/PUK position ignores the fact that the ADM has been
engaged in the representative process and instead reverts to the
practices of the long, pre-modern historical bloody past when
Assyrian rights were ignored. Over the past decade, expectations
have risen that a partnership could emerge. The continued ignoring
of Assyrian human rights have alarmed many of us but we had expected
that with restoration of law and a secure national environment,
Assyrian rights would be guaranteed and guarded. Now we see that
the intent of the Kurds is to continue to ignore our rights as
the indigenous people of Iraq and we foresee in this document
continuation of the kinds of behavior that has all but driven
our ethnic Aramaic culture onto the edge of extinction.
1. That Iraq does not consist only of Arabs and Kurds, but also of other ethnic groups including the Assyrians and Turkomans. The other ethnic groups are not secondary: they are indigenous and have been partners in the struggle for a new and fairer Iraq.
2. The legitimate rights of ethnic groups, that are un-named, need to be defined better and the means of the implementation of these rights need to be projected in principle.
3. As with Baathist practice, the Kurdish proposal separates Assyrians into two separate ethnicities (Assyrian and Chaldean). This formula is flawed in three respects:
4. The territorial division into Arab and Kurdish federal units suppresses other ethnic groups. Iraq needs an administrative and political federal system not a geographic one in which displaced ethnic minorities with no prospect of returning to their original geographical locations will be overwhelmed, coerced, and driven into exile as before. The unity of Iraq will be strengthened not by geographic divisions, but by a democratic and representative system of all its ethnic and political groups.
The ADM rightfully believes that serious issues have been glossed over at the Kurdish Parliament and that confidence in the process can only be restored with a reexamination of the problems all face, and with attention to the points raised by Assyrians for whom the homeland of thousands of years is the last refuge for the preservation of heritage.
The ADM objections to the proposal of the Kurdish Parliament extend to the points raised. Otherwise the document contains important issues that build on the formulae set forth throughout the 1990s.
ASSYRIANS LOOK LONGINGLY AT THE JEWISH HOMELAND
One day in 1943, Labor Zionist essayist Hayim Greenberg was visited in New York by a stranger claiming to represent, of all things, the Assyrian nation.
It appears you Jews are about to get yourselves a state, the visitor said. Can you spare a corner of it for an old neighbor?
Greenberg was dumbfounded, he later wrote. When Jews and Assyrians last crossed paths, our northern kingdom was destroyed and 10 tribes were lost. Now they want our help?
But you saved us once before, the visitor persisted, when Jonah warned Nineveh to repent. Now we're reduced to 30,000 battered souls, clinging to a mountainside in northern Iraq, beset by Arabs, Turks and Kurds alike. All Europe spurns us. You are our last hope. Besides, after Hitler, you may not need as much space as you thought.
"It doesn't matter how I answered," Greenberg wrote, quoting the visitor's own conclusion: "History is brutal, and -- who knows the ways of providence?"
As providence would have it, those two paths crossed again [in 2000] at the United Nations. Hadassah, the women's Zionist organization, was appearing before an obscure U.N. committee that approves non-governmental organizations seeking U.N. affiliation. Also on the schedule that day was the Assyrian National Congress.
Neither organization passed muster. The committee "was not what I would call a friendly group," said Bernice Tannenbaum, a former Hadassah president who came to testify. She faced a barrage of venom from Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian delegates. The Syrian actually quoted the defunct "Zionism is racism" resolution. Most countries were sympathetic, but the Syrian-Lebanese hostility was enough to block consensus. "It was very disheartening," she added.
The Assyrians, by contrast, were rejected outright -- after furious denunciations from nearly everyone present. They never even replied, because they hadn't sent a representative. The State Department warned them in advance that it would be pointless. Disheartening? You should only know from disheartening.
"I'm not surprised," said the president of the Assyrian National Congress, Sargon Dadesho, a full-time Assyrian rights activist in Modesto. "We have long been opposed by the Iraqi observer and his gang, the Arab countries."
Assyrians don't lack enemies, and Iraq easily tops the list. With Dadesho, though, it's personal. A militant nationalist, he's been targeted by Baghdad for assassination. A hitman was sent to Modesto in 1990, but the FBI nabbed him outside Dadesho's home. Dadesho won a $1.5 million judgment against Baghdad in federal court.
Assyria first emerged 4,000 years ago as a mighty Semitic empire, ruling the expanse between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that the Greeks called Mesopotamia ("between the rivers"). For 1,500 years, from their fabled capital in Nineveh, they battled Babylonia and Egypt for control of the Middle East. A military defeat around 610 set off a long decline.
Since then they've farmed quietly in villages along the Euphrates. They practice an ancient form of Christianity, the Nestorian rite, and speak Aramaic, the language of the Talmud. In 1915 they tried to throw off Turkish rule but were butchered, along with another Christian tribe, the Armenians. Thousands fled into exile.
After World War I the League of Nations promised the Assyrians autonomy in their homeland, which they call Ashur or Bet Nahrain (Aramaic for Mesopotamia). But Britain gave the region instead to the newly formed Kingdom of Iraq. Ever since, Iraq has been trying to assimilate them forcibly into its Arabic-speaking majority.
"The trouble is, they consider us a religion, not an ethnic group," said former Illinois state senator John Nimrod, president of the Assyrian Universal Alliance, an umbrella for rival Assyrian groups. "What we're trying to do is tell the world who we are. We've been trying for years. But nobody notices."
If they're invisible, it's partly because they're terribly inconvenient. Their Bet Nahrain happens to overlap the homeland of another stateless nation, the Kurds. Like them, the Kurds were promised autonomy after World War I and then betrayed. Divided among Turkey, Iraq and Iran, the Kurds have been battling everybody ever since.
Today, thanks to widespread revulsion of Saddam Hussein, Kurds have a measure of U.S.-protected self-rule in northern Iraq. They're in no mood to share it with the Assyrians, whom they outnumber 10 to 1. Armed clashes are reported almost monthly.
The Assyrians have another problem. They're hopelessly divided. "They have dozens of organizations, and they all hate each other," said an exasperated U.S. official. [In the fall of 1999] when the Iraqi opposition assembled its warring factions for a CIA-backed convention in New York, Washington made sure five seats were reserved for Assyrians on the 100-member executive council. "Unfortunately, we had 16 groups demanding those seats," said the U.S. official. "Nobody was willing to give in. It was a nightmare."
Nimrod, the Chicago leader, has been trying for years to forge unity under his Assyrian Universal Association. He's got two dozen groups sitting together. He's also built respectful ties with government officials in countries where Assyrians live, from Washington to Tehran.
He's up against tall odds, though, none taller than Dadesho, who is tough to tame. He infuriates Baghdad, calling Assyrians "the indigenous people" of Iraq. He also defends other Christian "indigenous peoples" in the region, from the Copts of Egypt to the Nubians of Sudan. Some observers say his rhetoric helps intensify Arab hostility.
Through it all, Assyrians continue to look with longing and envy at their old neighbors, the Jews. It's hard not to -- Jews are the one non-Muslim minority in the Middle East who've successfully stood up to the Arab majority. Jews have also succeeded spectacularly at the very thing the Assyrians have done worst: garnering sympathy from the Christian West.
Nimrod, who used to represent the mostly Jewish suburb of Skokie in the Illinois Senate, brings the topic up repeatedly, usually trailing off a moment later. "There have been some contacts in the past," he said. And later: "There are many similarities. Your language is our language." And finally: "What makes for strange bedfellows is that Israel is close to Turkey." That makes cooperation impossible.
History is brutal.
PARLIAMENT ELECTIONS BY JULY 2003
The committee comprises representatives of three groups: Massoud Barzani's
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan (PUK) and the Assyrian Christians.
The revival of parliament last month climaxed peace moves between the KDP and PUK against the backdrop of US threats to attack Iraq and oust President Saddam Hussein.
The KDP holds 51 seats and the PUK 49 in the parliament which was elected in 1992 and met last October 4 for the first time since bloody clashes between the two factions peaked in 1996.
Parliament also has five seats reserved for the Assyrians.
Courtesy of the Turkish Daily News (14 November) join
(ZNDA: Istanbul) During the fifth traditional Iftar dinner, organized by the Marmara Group Strategic and Social Research Foundation, the representatives of monotheistic religions came together in Istanbul, Turkey. Religious Affairs Chairman, Mehmet Nuri Yilmaz; Turkish Armenian Patriarch, Mesrob II; Turkish Chief Rabbi, Ishak Haleve; Assyrian Orthodox Metropolitan, Yusuf Cetin; Assyrian Catholic Bishop; Yusuf Sag; consul generals, foreign and Turkish businessmen were present at the occasion. Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew, who is in Britain, was represented by Tarabya Metropolit Konstantin Harisiadis at the Iftar dinner.
The dinner started with a prayer. After dinner the first speech was made by the Marmara Group Foundation Chairman Akkan Suver. He said that he was very pleased to organize the dinner during which Muslims, Christians and Jews came together.
During the dinner spiritual leaders explained the importance of tolerance and love by giving examples in their books. Turkish Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II, who stated that a possible war would negatively affect many people, said, "I wish peace in an environment where all religions are together."
Assyrian Orthodox Metropolitan Yusuf Cetin, who described the Iftar dinner as the dinner of love, said that they prayed for world peace. Tarabya Metropolitan Konstantin Harisiadis talked about the sincere dialogue created during the Iftar dinner.
Religious Affairs Chairman Mehmet Nuri Yilmaz stated that Islam meant submitting, and said, "Submitting exists in all religions." Yilmaz said the following, "In our religion to deny a prophet means to deny all prophets. If a person believes in all of them but not Musa, that means they believe in none of them. Muslims don't make the distinction between the prophets."
Yilmaz also thanked Akkan Suver and said, "This dinner is an example of tolerance."
ADM DECLARATION ON THE KURDISH CONSTITUTIONAL PROPOSALS
Declaration regarding the stance of the Assyrian Democratic Movement towards the approval by the parliament of the Iraqi Kurdistan region of the plans for constitutional federal republic of Iraq and the constitution of the region of Iraqi Kurdistan.
For Immediate Release
The parliament of the region of Iraqi Kurdistan discussed the joint federal plan presented by the ruling parties in the region, Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and approved this plan as a proposal during its session of 7th November 2002. Considering that the Assyrian Democratic Movement - through the purple list – together with the two parties established the region’s parliament in 1992 and since the purple list won four seats out of the five seats allocated to our people with their several nomenclatures and according to the founding laws relied upon by the parliament, it is necessary to inform ADM bases, supporters and in general our people together with the friendly and allied forces, Kurdistani, Islamic and Iraqi patriots and the friends of our nation both inside and outside Iraq to be aware of the position of our movement towards this issue and its aspects.
In general, we were hoping that now we are approaching a turning point concerning the future of Iraq, that the position towards the cause of our people in such projects would have taken in to consideration the level of our alliance and long tormenting struggle as fraternal nations, the justice of our cause and the persecutions that have been inflicted on the Assyrian people over centuries. However, based on objective and realistic evaluation of the present situation of our nation and its historical weight and struggle, its right to share and based on deep understanding of current international circumstances and concepts, which is contained in the proposal do not meet the aspirations of our people, but rather are in line with our experiences during the past years, that is to say attempting to marginalise our cause.
The Assyrian Democratic Movement presented a communiqué to the leadership of the two allied parties, who originated the draft constitutions, in response to their request. In that communiqué, we have addressed our reservations and observations, which covered the following:
1. The proposal suggests that the make-up of the Iraqi nation consists of Arabs and Kurds, considering them to be the “two main nations” and mentioned other nations as “ethnic groups” (this was later amended in parliament as “national groups”) this includes Assyrians and Turkmen, both these descriptions mean inferior nations. This takes much away from them as national rights are not measured by size, particularly in the case of indigenous people and is contrary to the principle of equal national partnership.
2. The proposal refers to the rights of ethnic nationalities without specifying the details or process of implementation.
3. The proposal dealt with our people as two different nations (Assyrian and Chaldean) overstepping the historical fact of unity of our people and bypassing the laws of the parliament which are still in effect in the region. Additionally, this is considered to be interference in the internal affairs of our people, known by several different names (Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac). Our nation consists of several different church denominations, Chaldean Catholic, Syriac Catholic and Orthodox, Eastern Assyrian with two calendars, Protestants and others. Regarding this issue, the only point raised by the representative of the Purple List (ADM) whilst parliament was in session and during his discussion with the respected leadership committee of the parliament was in reference to the identification of our people, in which he requested that the word “and” be removed from between Assyrian and Chaldean, as an expression of unity of our people. This was rejected, which means an insistence in dividing our people.
4. The proposal stated that Iraq consists of Arabic and Kurdish Federals and the regions’ council consists of representatives from the two regions. This eliminates the roles of other nations. We are for an administrative and political Federal system that guarantees the rights of all the people of Iraq, a system which enables all the groups to exercise their unique aspects, strengthening the national character and hence serve Iraqi unity. Additionally, we are for a Federal Council in which all ethnic nationalities are represented.
These remarks and others, in our opinion, are complicated points which are not possible to be resolved at this stage especially when it is required that we all stand together for the sake of the desired change that we all seek. Therefore, it was our decision to vote against the proposal.
Our objection to the main issues within the proposal does not mean our rejection of the aspirations of the Kurdish people and their rights to express the formula by which they envisage within the Iraqi national unity. Our movement has accepted, through the purple list, the decision of federalism for the region of Iraqi Kurdistan in parliament in 1992, at the Salah-Al Din conference in 1992 and at the New York conference for Iraqi opposition in 1999 and together with the four Kurdistani parties as part of the Joint Work Committee which was announced recently.
At the same time, we participated in establishing the parliament and its continuation as a legitimate institution in the region, especially during the internal fighting and at other critical stages, to restore unity. This participation and partnership in the democratic process in the region is what gives this experiment a democratic overview, as it reflects the ethnic diversity, fraternity and mutual respect between the ethnic components. We were hoping that the parliament would have stood by the rights of our people and their internal unity.
We, the Assyrian Democratic Movement, promise our Assyrian-Chaldean nation that we shall remain faithful to our principles and political path which we have taken since the establishment of the movement, who’s noble and immortal martyrs contributed to erect its pillars. We will endeavour to strengthen the relations of our people with the fraternal Kurdish nation. We will safeguard our national agenda with all the fraternal nationalities in Iraq, Arab, Kurd and Turkmen and with all the patriotic factions regardless of their ideology for a free democratic Iraq.
ASSYRIANS – FIRST VICTIMS OF IRAQ’S CHEMICAL & BIOLOGICAL ATTACKS
Assyrian Universal Alliance
The Assyrian Universal Alliance - Australia Chapter and the Assyrian Community in Australia, stand and support the policy of the United States and the Australian Government to remove the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.
The Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA), is an international umbrella organisation for the Assyrians since its founding in 1968. AUA has affiliate organisations throughout the world including the Assyrian Australian National Federation, Assyrian American National Federation, Iranian Federation and many other Federations and Associations throughout the world including in Armenia, Georgia, Russia, Tatarstan, Kazakhstan and the Netherlands. AUA also has branches in Canada, England, Lebanon, Sweden, France, Australia, Uruguay and the USA.
For years the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein has, since coming to power, terrorised its own population and executed thousands of people. Among these have been many Christian Assyrians. More than two hundred Assyrian villages, churches and monasteries were also destroyed by the regime. The two million Assyrians living in Iraq are the indigenous people of that land and have been subjected to decades of ethnocide policies by the country’s terrorist regime. This has subsequently and deliberately caused the displacement and forced deportation of thousands of Assyrians from their homeland. These have become refugees around the world and many are still awaiting a decision by any country, which will provide them with a home. This ancient nation is being persecuted, robbed of its livelihood, forcefully displaced from its sacred lands and deprived of basic human, cultural and religious rights.
We would like to bring to world's attention the fact that some of these Assyrians who fled the persecution in Iraq have been privileged to enjoy freedom and democracy in Australia. However this did not stop them from being pursued by the Iraqi regime. Assyrians in this country suffered the first chemical and biological attack by Saddam Hussein's agents. In November 1978, Assyrian delegation to the Eleventh World Congress of the Assyrian Universal Alliance that took place in Sydney, were subjected to poisoning by five-members of Iraqi delegation who attended this congress. This delegation had presented poisoned sweets to other delegates. The sweets were brought and specially packed in Iraq under the orders of the regime. The Australian Health Authorities discovered that this form of poisoning caused necrosis or death of the body tissues. At least nine people suffered from this poisoning, with the perpetrators escaping to Iraq before charges were able to be pressed. The poison was identified as being mustard gas (a form of chemical weapon also used by Iraq in its war with Iran and Kuwait). Iraqi representatives in Australia refused to be interviewed by investigative reporters on television or at all and denied Iraq’s use of such illegal weapons. Regrettably for the Assyrians no international action was taken to reveal Iraq’s use of such destructive weapons. Perhaps because the Assyrians were either too insignificant as human beings and as citizens of this world or that simply the international focus at the time was not directed at Iraq’s mass destruction capabilities.
The Christian Assyrians of Iraq deserve the same attention that the world gives to other human groups subjected to spiritual, social, economic and human rights violations. They deserve special attention because they constitute a minority in the countries were they reside. Their situation is unknown because they lack the political power and the media influence necessary to make themselves heard. Sometimes, instead of attracting the world’s attention, their religious leaders and/or communions accept the oppression, massacre or persecution to which the Assyrians are subjected. Again this is attributable to the fact that such leaders feel helpless and incapable of drawing world’s attention and are afraid that such publicity, if not handled effectively and aggressively by the international community, will subject them to even more adverse consequences.
We appeal to the Australian Government and the International community to ensure that the national rights of the Assyrians, the indigenous people of Iraq, be recognised. In our respectful plea we assert that it is in the interest of the region and the world that the continuous presence of Assyrians there be ensured. Assyrians have become a minority in their own homeland not by choice, but by force. Even the two million or so Assyrians presently living there are either ignored or misidentified as “Christian Arabs”, “Christian Kurds” or by various other denominational names. This has led to the inflation of numbers of other Iraqi citizens such as the Kurds and the grave consequence of undermining the Assyrian presence in the region. Such world ignorance means that our rights in our national homeland could not be given and/or protected. Our children would grow up in permanent isolation from their origins, language, culture and Christian faith. Ultimately this would lead to the inevitable extinction of Assyrians not just as a people, but also as the descendants of one of the world’s richest and the most ancient civilizations.
We bring these issues to the attention of the Australian authorities and the media, because as a stateless nation we do not have an Assyria to return to. For the Assyrians in Australia, this is our home. Time is of the essence for the Assyrians. We pray that in any international decision regarding Iraq the rights of the original people of that region will not be allowed to melt away by ignorance and neglect.
THE IRAQ DILEMMA: IRAQ'S CHRISTIANS MAY SUFFER FIRST BLOWS
Courtesy of the Wall Street
Journal (12 November); article by Hugh Pope
As a group of nuns arrived to make their initiation vows at a church
in the center of this north Iraqi town two months ago, Muslim boys
started taunting the congregation. Christian youths responded in kind.
More Muslims arrived with knives and bottles, the Christians picked
up chairs, and soon a pitched battle was in progress. By the time
the security forces waded in, about 15 people were injured, says Jshleymon
Warduni, a leading Christian bishop in Baghdad.
While much attention has focused on longstanding rifts between Iraq's two largest populations -- Sunni and Shia Muslims -- Iraqi society is actually a complex patchwork of ethnic and tribal rivalries that Mr. Hussein both inflames and restrains to preserve his regime's domination. There aren't only Kurds, but Iranian Kurds, Turkish Kurds and Syrian Kurds. There are Turkomans, marsh Arabs and even a few Jews. Each group has its own grudges, feuds and vulnerabilities likely to bubble to the surface if the domineering hand of Mr. Hussein is suddenly lifted.
For the country's 300,000 to 600,000 Christians -- at least 2% of the population -- the building U.S. pressure has already created problems. On a recent morning in Mosul, 352 kilometers north of Baghdad, the inhabitants of a nunnery woke up to find a statue of the Virgin Mary shrouded in Muslim veils. In a Christian township nearby, a group of Muslim men knocked out the watchman of a Christian cemetery and raped his wife.
On Aug. 15 in Baghdad, intruders broke into a nunnery and found a lone 71-year-old nun, Cecilia Hanna. They knifed her to death in her cell and cut her head off. Christian exiles suggest Mr. Hussein's regime may even be exploiting the tension to blackmail the U.S. "We all know what decapitation means," said Peter Pnuel BetBasoo, of the Chicago-based Assyrian International News Agency. "It's a message saying: You Christians are in jeopardy."
Such incidents go largely unreported in Iraqi media. Reporters visiting Mosul last month weren't allowed to stop by the main church in the center of the run-down city, where 12 years of United Nations sanctions have caused widespread poverty and where sewage runs openly in several streets. The governor of Mosul, Abdulwahed Shennan, denied that anything happened at all. "I would have been the first to hear about it. Nothing like that happened. There is no difference between mosque and church in Iraq," he said in an interview.
In fact, Bishop Warduni and foreign diplomats in Baghdad say Mr. Hussein's government usually steps in to limit damage. Christians say at least one person was arrested in the case of the murdered nun. The cemetery rapists are in jail. Two days after the Mosul confrontation, the regime forced the Muslims' tribal leader to apologize to Christian elders. And attacks on Christians have long been more frequent in the Kurdish north, under U.S. protection since Mr. Hussein's government was driven out in 1991.
On the whole, Christians still say Mr. Hussein's regime doesn't treat them worse than other citizens. Some have risen high in the government. Iraq's veteran Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz is a Chaldean. "The president's tailor and barber are Christians, too," says Nareg Ishkhanian, 55, pastor of the main Armenian Orthodox church in Baghdad. Like many in his 22,000-strong community, his parents were refugees from Ottoman-era massacres in present-day Turkey, and remember with gratitude a history of protection by Iraqi Arabs. "But if there are problems in Iraq, we share them, too."
The problem is that Mr. Hussein plays it both ways. He poses as an indispensable peacekeeper between Christians and Muslims, just as he does between Shia and Sunni Muslims. But as the U.S. presses his regime onto the defensive, he is also rallying Iraq's Muslim majority around Islam.
In February, he put Christian church property under the control of Muslim state bureaucrats. This year, his son Uday's newspaper, Babil, has repeatedly attacked Christian dogma. The government tightened rules on teaching Christianity in schools and banned giving babies non-Arab names, according to the U.S.-based Chaldean News Agency.
These pressures are pushing Christians out of Iraq, where St. Thomas brought Christianity in the first century. The community once numbered a million is now down 600,000, according to Bishop Warduni, or down to 300,000, according to a Christian intellectual who declined to be identified.
On a typical Sunday evening at Baghdad's St. Mary's Chaldean church, the spotlessly clean church is full. But two-thirds of the congregation is made up of brightly dressed women. Outside, afterward, an attractive 42-year-old Baghdad university professor of physics says she has been unable to find a husband because "90% of the men in my generation left the country."
Women can't follow them, because traditional Middle Eastern family codes and Iraqi law ban females from traveling alone. No young Christian woman goes out after dark because of verbal harassment from Muslim boys on the street. Zina Salem, 19, says Christian women feel pressure to become Muslims, both in order to find a husband or just to conform with classmates -- even though that means being cut off by their Christian community.
"I was the only Christian among 30 people. The teachers used to make a lot of Muslim propaganda," she says. "But my family wants to stay. We have a house, a car and a shop. Not everyone who leaves is happy."
In one street of merchants in the Baghdad bazaar, just one Christian remained where several once traded. In his stock room, he whisper his fears about the new wave of attacks on Christians. If only Christians can hang on, he believes, Christianity will be reborn from his ancient sect. The dead nun, for such Christians, is just the latest in a long line of martyrs.
"We're scared of chaos if the president is deposed. This government is our guarantee," the merchant says, begging for anonymity and hushing his voice as a Muslim employee passes by. "The Islamists think our talk of charity and love is weakness. If the U.S. attacks, we'll be the ones they take it out on first."
Courtesy of New York Sun (25 September); article by Jonathan Eric Lewis
(ZNDA: Arbil) With an American-led attack on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq an all but certainty, it is worth contemplating not only what ‘Doomsday Scenario’ the Ba’athist dictator may have in store for the United States and Israel, but also what the nature of a post-war Iraq should look like. We have long heard the calls for democracy in a post-war Iraq. In his September 12th address to the UN General Assembly, President Bush was likewise forthright about the need for minority rights of Kurds and Turkmen—ethnic Turks—in Iraq.
That said, it has long been customary for American policy in the ‘Arab world’ to focus almost exclusively on the wants and needs of un-elected Arab leaders, rather than those of the Arab peoples and the myriad ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities in the region. This policy, while useful during the Cold War, is no longer in the American national interest and, if not modified in the years to come, could lead to some very troubling unintended consequences.
The creation of a primarily Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq following the end of the Gulf War represented a fundamental shift in American policy toward Middle Eastern minority groups. Not since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 had a minority group in the region been granted such a wide-ranging form of political sovereignty. Not surprisingly, Arab nationalists decried the creation of the Kurdish Autonomous Area as a ‘Second Israel’—another perceived threat to Sunni Arab hegemony in the region.
Notwithstanding this dramatic change in the regional geopolitical
landscape, the Kurdish region is fraught with ethnic, cultural, and
religious tensions that threaten to explode in a way not seen since
the British pieced together the
As if the competition between Kurds and Turks and their respective international benefactors weren’t enough for US policymakers to handle, there is another large minority in Iraq whose plight has hardly ever been discussed in the media and whose very existence as a national community may hang in the balance in the months to come. Assyrians, numbering some two million persons, are neither Arab nor Muslim and constitute one of the world’s most ancient Christian communities and have sizeable communities both in the Kurdish region and in Iraq proper.
For years, the Assyrians were essentially ignored by both the United States and by the (primarily Muslim) Iraqi opposition. This sad oversight is slowly beginning to change. In a recent letter, Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the Committee on International Relations, wrote to Colin Powell urging America to use its power and influence “to protect such a diverse ethnic minority from possible abuses by the government that will succeed the current dictatorship.”
The State Department has also acted, naming a staff member to focus on Assyrian issues.
Given the fact that Saddam Hussein is expected to lash out if his regime were to fall, Israel has begun to take extraordinary steps to protect its citizenry.
What is less well known is that the Assyrian Christians of Iraq may end up being the target of Saddam’s wrath. The recent savage murder and beheading of an Assyrian nun in Baghdad and an increasing anti-Christian sentiment in Iraq do not bode well for the Assyrians. The United States would be well advised to take the plight of the Assyrians with extreme seriousness lest we be faced with another morally troubling and internationally humiliating debacle reminiscent of the mass Kurdish exodus out of Iraq at the end of the Gulf War.
All of which leads to a larger point: The United States, in its ‘War
on Terror,’ has committed itself to remaking the geopolitical
map of the Middle East. Given the fact that most of the polities in
the region are the result of British and
Should minority groups be merely used as pawns in a new ‘Great Game,’ we may unwittingly create new enemies whose plight will be exploited by demagogues and opportunists looking for further ammunition to support their anti-American causes. With the time to act fast approaching, it would be worthwhile for Congress to begin an open debate on the needs and rights of minorities not just in Iraq, but also throughout the Arab world.
POWER STRUGGLE AMONG OPPOSITION GROUPS
Courtesy of Washington Post (Nov 12); article by Daniel Williams
(ZNDA: Rome) Three months after the Bush administration encouraged them to unite and create a common political platform for the future of their country, Iraq's exile factions are locked in an ethnic, religious and political power struggle.
Potentially important players are fighting tenaciously over rival agendas. One of the major factions, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), is also feuding with the State Department over $8 million in funding for propaganda, humanitarian and other programs it is supposed to oversee, State Department officials said. A much-heralded INC "information-gathering" operation inside Iraq has yet to get off the ground, the officials said, because of uncertainty in the Bush administration about the INC's ability to get and relay useful intelligence, as well as competing views within the Washington bureaucracy.
Also stalled are the preparations for a pan-opposition conference that was meant to project a vision for democratic rule if President Saddam Hussein is overthrown. The conference was originally scheduled for late September, but has been repeatedly postponed. The next possible date is Nov. 22, in Brussels, but the INC is threatening a boycott. The State Department plans to send a delegate to London soon to meet with opposition officials in an attempt to end the infighting that has blocked the conference, a department official said.
The arguing has put into doubt a role for Iraqi exiles in the country's future and presents a grim preview of problems for any U.S. occupation of Iraq.
Some of the disputes are based on ethnic suspicions and religious rivalries. During his decades in power, Hussein has tamped down such conflicts through repression. But by President Bush's reckoning, the new Iraq is supposed to resolve its problems within a democratic system.
The Bush administration officially recognizes six opposition organizations. One is the Iraqi National Congress, an amalgam of anti-Hussein groups. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party represent the Kurdish population, based in northern Iraq. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI), an Iranian-based fundamentalist group, claims to represent the majority Shiite Muslim population. The Iraqi National Accord is composed of former army officers and defectors from Hussein's Baathist party. Also thrown into the mix is a monarchist party that embodies the aspirations of Sharif Ali bin Al Hussein, an exiled aristocrat, to restore the Hashemite throne to Iraq.
Bush also has authorized expansion of the opposition organizations to include groups representing other former military officers and Turkish, Assyrian and Christian minorities.
The INC leader, Ahmed Chalabi, may boycott the conference over the scope of its agenda, the number of delegates and the quotas given invited organizations. Chalabi had wanted the conference to endorse a provisional government, with him in the lead. He also wanted upwards of 300 delegates chosen partly on the basis of profession, gender and politics, not solely because of ethnicity or religion.
The Kurdish parties, SCIRI and the Iraqi National Accord combined to squash the provisional government idea and other Chalabi proposals, and to limit the conference to about 180 participants. Fundamentalist Shiite Muslim representatives would make up about 35 percent of the delegates, a quota that offended secular Iraqis such as Chalabi. The Kurds would make up 25 percent, Turks and Assyrians 10 percent. The remaining delegates would be Sunni Muslims, the group that has traditionally ruled Iraq.
Kanan Makiya, a prominent writer and critic of the Iraqi government, launched a fierce critique of the conference plans and called on Iraqi exiles to deluge the State Department with statements of protest. "Where are the independents? Where are the democrats? . . . Where is Iraq in such a travesty of democracy and fairness?" he asked.
"If the conference goes ahead as is, it will only further divide the Iraqi opposition, the opposite of its intended aims," said Siyamend Othman, an independent political observer.
Last week, Chalabi walked out of a meeting of conference organizers after SCIRI delegates criticized him for opposing the meeting. Kurdish officials involved insist the conference will go on as scheduled. "Calls for change are a minority opinion," said Latif Rashid, a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) representative in London. "There are just details that have to be worked out."
"The problem is just one person -- Chalabi," said Hoshyar Zibari, a top Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) official. "He doesn't want the conference to take place. He is fighting for his political life."
In the meantime, the PUK and KDP have made proposals that have upset their nominal opposition partners. The Kurdish parties plan to present a constitution for Iraq that would grant the Kurds autonomy in an expanded territory in the country's north. The city of Kirkuk is designated as the Kurdish capital. The central government would control only foreign affairs, the military and economic planning.
In effect, the Kurds want a federated Iraq divided between Arabs and Kurds. "This is a non-starter for the Arabs," said a SCIRI representative.
Turkey, one of Iraq's powerful neighbors, opposes anything that looks like a step toward Kurdish statehood and has been battling Kurdish nationalism within its own borders for decades. The Turks warned that if the Kurds occupy Kirkuk, a city surrounded by rich oil resources, they could face an invasion by Turkish troops. During a meeting last month in Ankara, the Turks asked Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who heads the U.S. Central Command that covers Iraq, not to use the Kurds in military action, Western diplomats said. The Kurds boast a militia of 50,000 troops and their leaders have expressed hope that an alliance with the United States would ensure an autonomous northern Iraq.
The infighting has discouraged U.S. officials. Although the Pentagon has tasked Chalabi with recruiting guides and logistics officers among Iraqis to help U.S. troops in any invasion, for instance, the program has yet to get underway.
The INC also had harbored hopes of getting funds to collect intelligence
inside Iraq via the "information-gathering" scheme. Because
of previous disagreements between the INC and the State Department,
the program was passed to the Pentagon, which agreed to pay but then
pulled back when Chalabi made the pledge public.
LA VOIX DES ASSYRO-CHALDEENS: 14 NOVEMBER
In our radio broadcast of November 14th, you will listen the reports realised on November 1st, 2nd and 3rd in London (United Kingdom) by our reporter Antoine Yalap during the meeting of the Assyrian political parties to confirm the selection of the committee which will be responsible to designate the persons to represent the Assyrians at these meetings concerning our positions on the future of Iraq at the conference, and to discuss common objectives and produce a declaration stating Assyrian needs in a future Iraq. Among these reports, you will notably listen to those of:
You will also listen to community announcements, the songs of the last album of Farmo Markos, which has just appeared, with your favorite songs, Linda Linda and Wardi Wardi; a song of Linda George, Gudid Nuhomo; a song of the last album of Emad David; a song of ashur Bet-Sargis, which will remind you of the beautiful time of the 70's; and a song of Lazar Malko. We end our broadcast on a very beautiful song of Aboud zazi's new album.
La Voix des Assyro-Chaldéens
LOS ANGELES: ASSYRIANS ON ABC NEWS ALL WEEK
Please tune into ABC News, Channel 7 (Los Angeles) at 5:30 and 11:30 p.m. , November 11-15, to see David Jackson's daily report on Assyrians and his interview and candid talk with Mr. Yonadam Kanna, Secretary General of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (Zowaa).
UC BERKELEY OUTREACH EVENT IN SAN JOSE
The staff of Nisan Assyrian Recruitment & Retention Center at UC Berkeley will be on hand in San Jose, California to educate local Assyrian high school students about opportunities at UC Berkeley and prepare them to apply.
What: UC Berkeley Outreach
THE KURDISH LEADERSHIP: A POLICY OF SUPPRESSION
For years now some of us have been optimistic with the Kurdish officials’ stand from the Assyrians in north of Iraq. But past experiences have given us some warning bells that we amazingly have ignored. Many Assyrians have continued to rely on that slim hope in what they called Kurds’ leaders spiritual awakening, an awakening that was supposedly to inspire justice when dealing with the Assyrians. Justice to those same Assyrians, who have given the Kurds so much support in the past 40 years despite the fact that the Assyrians have seen nothing from the Kurds but massacres, persecution and suppression for centuries.
The Kurds brag about assigning the Assyrians five seats in the regional parliament, but they do not talk about that they have manipulated the process where they control the elections of 1992 in a manner by which they had a control over the fifth seat through the puppet so-called Kurdistan Christian United List organization. It is outrageous how the Kurd’s refer to this assignment process as a favor done to the Assyrians! Let the Kurds understand that this is not a favor as they claim rather a legitimate right the Assyrians have in their ancestral lands. Today, the Kurds continue to declare that Assyrians make only 3% (making the Assyrians, amazingly, half of the Turkomans population) when they know very well that the Assyrians clearly make 5-6% of the Iraqi population.
From the latest release of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) of Nov 8, 2002, it becomes obvious that the Kurds are continuing in their old evil ways and that the Assyrians' rights in northern Iraq is not even a whistle in the Kurd’s Opera. The approval that came from the north Iraq regional parliament for the two Kurdish parties (KDP) and (PUK) proposed constitutions, defines the reality that Assyrians must find an alternative route to deal with the Kurds. It seems to me that to rely on the Kurds' any longer is clearly a national suicide. I do understand that the Kurds’ constitution proposals were approved by the Kurds themselves in a parliament that they control undisputedly and I understand that these proposals might not even see the light since there are other sides in the Iraqi opposition equation on top of foreign influence that might change things, still, the Kurds’ actions, proposals and approval translates to intents of ill treatment, unfairness, and suppression, among other things and that is the important point.
Yes, a very active segment in our society does deplore such treatment and expresses its rage from such oppressive activities and release them on our local web sites, but what next? Who is listening to our cry? The Kurds understand that all this is harmless, because we continue to operate like amateurs whose directionless voices have been lost in the abyss of the web. It is obvious that in today’s world politics, those people who make much noise get somewhere and that is why the west today has been, and for the last 11 years, speaking of the Kurds’ and not the Assyrians’ cause. While we were speaking and arguing among ourselves, the Kurds were knocking on the doors of the White House, the Congress, and speaking to world leaders. Today we finally read an official release from the ADM pleading for justice but is that enough? Someone told me yesterday that he was expecting a demonstration by Assyrians in north of Iraq in front of the Northern Iraq Regional Parliament! He said, the Kurds could not do the Assyrians more harm that they have already, especially when the world is watching today. If we in the free west are not doing much for the Assyrians in north of Iraq, should we expect much from the ADM than their moderate release? If we cannot mobilize the 2 million Assyrians in the free west to bring our voice to the civilized world, do we then have the right to demand more from the few hundred thousands divided Assyrians in northern Iraq living among some three to four million generally hostile Kurds?
So what next?
Few have argued that the Assyrian leadership in northern Iraq have failed to invest in the Assyrians’ own power, regardless to the population figures, and that they have entrusted the Assyrians’ future in the hands of their prosecutors and today we are logically paying the price! These few rely on examples around the world of small populations, yet strong people, living in the middle of a hostile region dominated by their enemies. If that was the case, then one has to ask why then did we fail and how would we rectify that?
This question should be directed to us in the Diaspora. Indeed, I turn to us and ask: What is with this inconceivably chilling reaction towards our own people in our ancestors’ land? It is us who are supposed to empower our people in northern Iraq. How could we remain so damn cold-blooded while our own people are crying loudly for help? One has to give credit for individuals like Dr. Ron Michael and others who established the Assyrian American League (AAL), but is that enough? Where are we, the Assyrian masses in the Diaspora from all of this? If we cannot organize few protest campaigns in North America, Europe and Australia to reflect to the civilized world the Kurdish repeated suppression of the Assyrians, shouldn't we then stop this inner-community cry out that is going nowhere? What would it take to make us care? A repeated Simele!
Courtesy of the New York Times (14 November); article by Amir Taheri - editor of the Paris-based journal Politique Internationale.
(ZNDA: Paris) Following Syria's vote for the Security Council's resolution demanding new weapons inspections in Iraq, the Arab League voted Sunday to urge Iraq to comply with the American-sponsored resolution. On Tuesday the six Persian Gulf Arab monarchies in the Gulf Cooperation Council likewise urged Iraq to cooperate. On 13 November Iraq complied with the resolution.
All that Arab support for the Security Council must have hurt Saddam Hussein, for he is the self-appointed champion of the Arab cause. His basic assumption is that there is a single Arab nation stretching from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. At different times, history chooses part of this mythical nation to assume leadership. In Saddam Hussein's view, it is now Iraq's turn.
This dream of power is not only problematic for Iraq's neighbors and fellow Arabs. It is problematic within Iraq. As early as 1969, Saddam Hussein spoke of his determination to strengthen Iraq's uruba (Arabness). This was no easy task. Although all the people of Iraq do feel that they are Iraqis, not all regard themselves as Arabs.
Historically, only part of the 7,000-year biography of the land that is Iraq could be described as Arab. The rest is covered by Sumerian, Assyrian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Elamite, Urartan, Persian, Byzantine, Mongol, Mamluk and Ottoman periods, among others.
Iraqi architecture, music, cuisine and daily rituals reflect this rich diversity. The word Iraq is Persian, meaning lowlands, as is Baghdad, which means God-given. The names of Iraq's two great rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris, are Greek.
Iraq is also the home of 11 living languages, some of which, like Elamite, are twice as old as Arabic. As much as 25 percent of the population are ethnic Kurds, speaking two languages (Surani and Bahdinani) and following a variety of religions, including Zoroastrianism. Then there are Assyrians, Chaldeans, Armenians, Nestorians and Sabeans, most of them Christians, and Turkmen, who are Muslims.
Arabic is the mother tongue of some 68 percent of the population, providing a strong linguistic bond. But the ethnic Arabs are divided between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
Saddam Hussein does not tolerate hyphenated identities. Under him no one can be Kurdish-Iraqi or Sabean-Iraqi. You have to be Arab. His problem has been how to Arabize Iraq.
In 1970, he opened the Ottoman archives, in which Iraqis were classified as either Ottoman or Persian subjects. He prepared a policy of mass expulsion against the Persians, even though many prominent Iraqis — including Rashid Ali al-Gailani, the father of Iraqi nationalism, and Muhammad al-Jawahiri, the greatest Arabic poet of the 20th century — had been classified as Persian during Ottoman rule.
The mass expulsion of the Persians was implemented from 1972 on. By 1980 nearly a million people had been driven out. Needless to say, the overwhelming majority of those expelled had been born and raised in Iraq, regarded themselves as Iraqis and spoke Arabic as their mother tongue. To replace them, Saddam Hussein decided to import a million Arabs, especially from Egypt. Very soon, however, he decided that the Egyptians were lazy and cared too little about his dreams of empire and conquest.
In 1980 he decided to Arabize the Kurds. Over the next 10 years, more than 4,000 Kurdish villages in the north of the country were razed, their inhabitants transferred to southern Iraq and scattered among the Arabic-speaking majority. For Saddam Hussein this was a double coup, because the transplanted Kurds were Sunni while the Arabs among whom they would live were Shiite, a religious group disfavored by Mr. Hussein's regime.
Under his vision, Iraq must be fully Arabized by force and, if necessary, through genocide. He also wants Iraq to secure control of the principal source of Arab wealth: oil. That means either the direct conquest of the Persian Gulf states or their indirect domination. He has shown that he is fully prepared to go to war to fulfill this vision and has done so on four occasions since 1968. His quest for weapons of mass destruction is simply one strategy by which he hopes to dominate the region.
"There are times in history when the leadership of a nation
is small," Saddam Hussein said in a speech in 1977. "There
are other times when the nation is smaller than the leadership.
A great nation with a small leadership gets nowhere. But a great
leadership can drag a small nation along to greatness." Saddam
Hussein has dragged the people of Iraq, and to some extent the rest
of the Arabs, into several tragic adventures in the past three decades.
Soon, he may drag them into yet another, one that may be his last.
MELAMMU - A STURDY FIVE YEARS
The convening of the 5th annual Melammu conference marks a maturation of the event, and a record number of presentations - forty-three submissions - spread over five days of presentation. The venue this year, in western Austria, the Tyrol, gave an opportunity to experience another university town in Europe steeped in Germanic culture but alive to the latest technological support systems. From 3-8 October in one of the lecture rooms at the Leopold-Franzens-Universitat in Innsbruck were concentrated an attentive audience of ancient and medieval historians, art historians, economists, epigraphists and numismatists. The topic "Commerce and Monetary Systems in the Ancient World: Means of Transmission and Cultural Interaction," attracted a diverse crowd, many new faces, and some regulars. More and more of the presentations are enlivened by power point aided visuals, offering maps, charts and object images that enhance understanding of very detailed presentations.
In part due to its setting, this meeting was dominated by German language presentations and discussion, a language essential to ancient studies but not always easy to follow in the many accents in which it was presented. The presence of two scholars from St. Petersburg marked a first for participation from the Russian Republic. Prof. Dandamayev, and his daughter Maryam (art historian at the Hermitage) were a welcome addition. The level of discussion and enthusiasm for the Melammu approach is growing among a wider group of ancient historians. Medievalists who are able to step out of the confines of their own period to discover relations with an expanded vision of time and space are still few, especially scholars in Syriac studies. Perhaps the spirit of inquiry and fellowship that marks these meetings will penetrate into seminary enclaves and insular departments in Syriac studies in the future.
The theme for the next meeting, in keeping with the broad approach of Melammu: The Intellectual Heritage of Assyria and Babylonia in East and West, will be on IDEOLOGIES OF POWER AND SACRED KINGSHIP. The local has not been decided for 2003 but in 2004 the conference will convene in Padua, Italy. Papers presented at the Chicago meeting (2000) are in press now and the volume from the Ravenna meeting (2001) on historiography should appear within six to seven months. The Ravenna volume and the Innsbruck volume will carry the logo of the Assyrian American National Federation in thanks for its token donation to the Melammu effort.
[For a complete coverage of this year’s
Melammu Conference in Austria see the current issue of the Assyrian
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