N I N E
On December 13 in London, nine men will represent the dreams and aspirations of a people who, for the past eighty years, have been denied their basic freedoms and identity in Iraq. These men, with a firm resolve to bring about the greatest political transformation in the modern history of Iraq and a determined will to build a free and democratic society after Saddam Hussein, will present the message of unity to more than 300 Kurdish, Arab, and Turkomen delegates from 50 different political parties. They are members of different Christian denominations, Iraqi citizens and American citizens, soldiers and politicians, believers and dreamers. Above all, they are Assyrian.
The Assyrian people of Iraq have given up so much to be where they are today. They, along with every single Assyrian in Diaspora, are united as one people and look toward a better future for the free citizens of a country born seven thousand years ago. Iraq is the spiritual nucleus of their beloved Bet-Nahrain - the heart of the holy grounds of their Assyro-Babylonian kingdoms.
Our representatives in London do not have the political savvy of the statesmen produced by world’s prestigious schools of government, neither do they have the experience of the polished and sophisticated diplomats devising a future for a new Iraq. They are simple everyday businessmen, teachers, engineers, and freedom fighters. Yet they are fully aware of the weight of the burden placed upon them in these difficult days. Yes, their moral toughness will be tested as three million Assyrians will be closely monitoring them; but surely they will rise to the occasion, eyeball to eyeball, and will not blink. For such an error will cost the people they represent eternal damnation.
If the Kurds propose a Kurdish region, then why not propose an Assyria? These fanciful supplications of a wistful minded people whose roots are anchored beyond the borders of Mesopotamia do not astonish the children of Sennacherib. Today, only the Assyrians, the legitimate heirs of the land stretching from Ur to Zakho, do not want to see Iraq carved into regions, disfigured beyond recognition.
The Assyrian delegation will not be attending the London Conference empty-handed and shall not assume a passive posture. They come with their demands written in blood and affirmed by history. They demand:
Assyrians in Iraq and in Diaspora are crying out for responsible leadership with a clear vision for a new Iraq. Now is the time they must share with the Kurds and Arabs what was always rightfully, historically, and undeniably theirs. This allocation of entitlement entails compromise on issues concerning the use of the limited resources in North Iraq or power-sharing in a new Iraqi parliament. But there can be no compromise on the historic identity of the Assyrians and their rights as Christians or a non-Arab or non-Kurdish population. Our nine delegates have already begun the process of negotiation and compromise toward unity and improved relations.
A few days ago, two of the nine representatives began lengthy discussions on resolving their differences and working toward a common political objective, possibly leading to the formation of a singular political entity. Mr. Shimun Khamo of the Bet-Nahrian Democratic Party in the U.S. has been in talks with the BNDP in Iraq and exchanging ideas with Mr. Romeo Hakkari, chairman of the latter group. In the meantime, the Kurdish Ansar al-Islam forces were attacking Talabani’s Patriotic Union pishmerga’s.
On June 13, the Assyrian people will demand a stronger central Iraqi government, rather than a divided nation; a stable country, rather than a volatile economy dependent on foreign loans and the munificence of the World Bank. The ground beneath their feet is rich with a natural resource that can bring prosperity for every Assyrian, Arab, Kurdish and Turkoman family inhabiting all eighteen provinces of Iraq.
One week before the conference in London, for the sake of a free and democratic Iraq, it is our solemn hope that the other 300 delegates will elucidate the same dream as the nine Assyrian representatives do today.
The Assyrian Statehood: Yesterday’s Denial and Today’s Moral Obligation
As WWI came to an end, preparations began to settle all disputes between the winning Allied Powers and the losing Central Powers. At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, under Article 22 of the League of Nations Covenant, Iraq was formally made a Class “A” mandate country entrusted to Britain. This award was completed during the April 18-27, 1920, San Remo Conference in Italy. Here the British continued to show the Assyrians that they were going to keep their promise they have made to the Assyrians, who served the Allies throughout the Great War, including the issue of a homeland. Even when the new Arab country under the name of Iraq was established in 1921, with borders almost identical to those of today with minor adjustments made in the next few years, the thought of a betrayal did not trigger the Assyrians’ mind. But it would become clear in 1932 when the mandate was terminated and Iraq was admitted to the League of Nations that the policy of the Colonial Britain has been anything but honorable, as admitted by many British officials. Most recently, Mr. Jack Straw, United Kingdom’s Foreign Minister, in an interview with a British magazine spoke of quite serious mistakes made, especially during the last decades of the empire. Straw blamed many territorial disputes on the illogical borders created by colonial powers. He added: “The odd lines for Iraq's borders were drawn by Brits.” [BBC News, Friday, 15 November, 2002, under header “British Empire blamed for modern conflicts”]
Those Assyrians, who were driven from their homes in Hakkari, Turkey, and Urmia, Iran, to help the Allies, were now kept in refugee camps and were told to await the negotiations of peace between Britain and Iraq from one side and Turkey from the other. That peace process took some four long years. When all was set and done, the report of the League of Nations special Commission to Mosul gave Hakkari region to Turkey in exchange for a territory in north of Mosul that was to become an autonomous home for the Assyrians. [Dr. David B. Perley, “The Middle East in the Post-War World National and Religious Minorities: The Assyrians”, paper presented at New York University-School of Education on June 6, 1947] The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups attested to this when it wrote that the Assyrians fought on the Allied side and against the Turks during WWI. The Assyrians were led to believe that their efforts would win them the homeland they wanted for so long. The Mosul Commission appointed in 1924 by the League of Nations advised that the Assyrians be settled in a homogenous bloc in Mosul with a measure of local autonomy. [Stephan Thernstrom, editor, “Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups”, Harvard University Press, p. 161]
The participation of Assyrians in WWI came after certain events that took place in the Middle East. First, simultaneously with the outbreak of WWI, the Turks attacked the Assyrian villages of Albaq and Gawar in southeast Turkey and thousands were massacred. Hormizd d’ Mar Shimun, the Patriarch’s brother, who was studying in Constantinople at the time, was imprisoned, transferred to Mosul, and then executed. The Allied Governments asked for the Assyrians’ help, and the Assyrians obliged because the Assyrians could not stand the Turkish Army on their own; they had no other alternative specially when they needed military and financial assistance.
The Assyrians had assurances of freedom, peace, and brighter future. These assurances came through various meetings with officials representing the Allies. First, Patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimun traveled to Tiflis to meet with the Russian Grand Duke Nicholai Nichalovich, the Commander-in-Chief of the Western Armies on the Turkish-Russian frontiers. Then the Patriarch continued on into the heart of Russia to meet with the Russian Czar. Through these meetings and others like that meeting with the Russian Council in Urmia, the Assyrians were given such assurances.
In the very late parts of 1917, Captain Gracey, a well-known British Officer during and after WWI, met the Assyrians in Urmia, Iran. He stated at a gathering attended by Rev. Dr. John Shedd, the American Vice-Council in Urmia, and the British army officer, the official mouthpiece of the British Government: “…Let the hopes of a glorious future make you patient and persevering to the end. Remember, we are fighting for your freedom; and you must also continue to contribute toward that final goal.” [Rev. Joel E. Werda, “The Flickering Light of Asia”, first edition 1924, second edition 1990, Chicago, p. 88]
There are two important testimonial letters that back up this fact:
Letter No. 1
Docteur Paul Caujole,
3, rue Lemoine,
Boulogne, Dated 19th January 1934
“In reply to your letter of 18th January, 1934. I have precisely preserved, as a souvenir, the Conference to which you allude without, of course, being able to state the date.
The Conference was held in Urumia in December 1917 or early in January 1918.
I was invited to the Conference in question and took part in it as did Mr. Nikitine, the Russian Vice-Consul in Urumia.
Captain Gracey who was acting under the orders of the Intelligence Service came specially for the purpose from Van, his headquarters, to encourage the Assyrians to organize their resistance of the Turks.
In the name of England, he undeetook to furnish immediately funds necessary for the payment of the troops and Non-commissioned officers. For the future, he promised the proclamation of the Independence of the Assyrian people.”
Sd. Paul Caujole,
Ex-Médecin-Chef de I’Ambulance
Française du Caucase.
Letter No. 2
29 rue George-Sand, Paris (16). Dated January 31st, 1934.
“I certify that Captain Gracy, committed for Armenia and Kurdistan, of the British Military Mission, attached to the General Staff of the Caucasian army, came from Van at the end of the year 1917 and held in Urumia a special meeting of the Assyrian and foreign representatives and invited the Assyrian people to take up arms. He solemnly promised them financial and political assistance of his Government, both during the War and after the final regulation of the peace.
Requested by Captain Gracey, I attended the meeting in my capacity as Russian Consul and together with the other Foreign Representatives, I declared that if the Assyrians took up arms against the enemies, they could count after the war on making them obtain their independence which they would have well merited.”
Sd. Basile Nikitine
[Annemasse (Mar Eshai Shimun), “The Assyrian Tragedy”, 1934, pp. 15-16]
After the Great War came to an end and the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 began its deliberations, several Assyrian deputations put their claims in front of the Conference for the Assyrian self-ruled region (Assyrian State). Certain Assyrian groups included the regions of northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, Southeastern Turkey and a strip all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, as part of this new Assyrian State. [Joseph Yacoub, Prof. Of Polotical Science at the Catholic University, Lyon, France, “The Assyrian Question”, Chicago, 1986, p. 8] This reference of Prof. Yacoub of course is to the claim of the Assyrians of the USA presented by Rev. Joel E. Werda, who sailed to Paris and presented the Assyrian case before the conference of the preliminaries of peace. The Assyrian State territorial boundaries in this Assyrian Claim was defined as the area below the lower Zab in the south; up to and including Diyar-Bakir in the north; and from the Euphrates in the west to the Armenian Mountains to the east, with an access to the sea. [Rev. Joel E. Werda, “The Flickering Light of Asia”, first edition 1924, second edition 1990, Chicago, p. 205]
The Assyrians were making their argument on another front. In July 1920, the French authorities in Syria (acting as the protector of the Catholics) approached Malik Kambar Warda, one of the Assyrian leaders during WWI. Later, Malik Kambar, accompanied by the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, met with General Gouru, the Chief of Staff of the French Forces in the Middle East. General Gouru handed Malik Kambar a letter from the French Prime Minister about an autonomous Assyrian state in the Upper al-Jazeera, northeastern Syria. Many components of this project came to be established like an Assyrian flag, and an army, but it seems that the British Government influenced the French to abandon the project around 1922. [Sam Parhad, “Beyond the Call of Duty: The Biography of Malik Kambar of Jeelu”, Metropolitan Press, USA, 1986, p. 25-28] It was obvious too that it was the British again who caused this project and the Assyrian Ghab settlement project in northern Lebanon to fail, since the British wanted to use the Assyrians in the oil-rich Iraq.
Other Assyrians pursuing an autonomous Assyrian State was Agha Potrus. Despite much controversy around Agha Potrus, his efforts in this regard are undisputed. In confidential letters between the periods April 1921 and March 1922, the offices of the High Commissioner, Baghdad, the Director of Repatriation, Mosul, and the Divisional Advisor, Mosul, these officials discussed Agha Potrus’ proposal for an Assyrian state, a complete proposal that was accompanied with a map. [Yusuf Malek (of the Iraqi Civil Service 1917-1930) “The British Betrayal of the Assyrians”, Chicago, 1935, pp. 312-313]
Agha Potrus at the Lausanne Conference 1923 submitted the request for an Assyrian autonomous state bordered around the Mosul Province and as follows:
The southern line: north of the 36th latitude,
The Eastern line: The Zab River where it flows into the Tigris River and through the city of Rawandoz all the way to Iran,
The western line: The 42nd longitude,
The northern line: The region of Van, Turkey.
[Ninos Nirari, “Agha Potrus”, Chicago, 1989, p. 179]
As the above suggestion failed to gain approval, Agha Potrus tried again desperately; this time he submitted another letter to the British authorities, dated October 26, 1923. Agha Potrus’ suggestion for the Assyrian enclave this time was the land between the Rivers Tigris and Zab, and Mount Sinjar [Ninos Nirari, “Agha Potrus”, Chicago, 1989, p. 191]
Agha Potrus proposed Assyrian State covers in reality the Assyrian Christian historical homelands, lands that have been inhabited by the Assyrian Christians, including Nestorians, Chaldeans, and Jacobites, for 2000 years. The well-known Father Jacques Rhétoré (1841-1921) comprehensively described the region of the Assyrian Christians and visited all their churches and monasteries as he journeyed the region in 1891. The Assyrians, according to Rhétoré were stated to have lived in an area confined generally within these boundaries:
North: the area under an imaginary line from Lake Van to Lake Urmia.
West: a line just west of the 42nd longitude near Seert, where the rivers Tigris and Bitlis meet.
South: the 36th latitude.
East: the Great Zab.
[Dr. J. C. J. Sanders, “Assyrian-Chaldean Christians in Eastern Turkey and Iran: Their last homeland re-charted”, The Netherlands, 1997, p. 31]
The massacres of the Assyrians in 1842-1847 and World War I genocide have taught the Assyrians a hard lesson. When the Special Commission conducted a voting among the population of Mosul regarding whether they preferred to be under a Turk or Arab rule, the Assyrians were one of the main reasons why Mosul was rewarded to Iraq because the Assyrians have refused to be under Turkish rule. Having failed to resolve the Mosul Province (Vilayet) issue at the Treaty of Lausanne (November 1922 - July 1923), British and Turkish delegates met in a Conference at Constantinople May 19, 1924. The British delegation under Sir Percy Cox (former high commissioner in Iraq) insisted on the inseparability of Mosul from Iraq and asked yet to attach the Hakkari Vilayet to Mosul too. The Assyrians were laying claims at this time for this whole region to be as a buffer zone between Turkey and Iraq. [Harry N. Howard, “The Partition of Turkey: A Diplomatic History 1913-1923”, University of Oklahoma Press, 1931, p. 337] During the proceedings of the conference, Fathi Beg, the Turks chief negotiator, stated that no cession of land to the Assyrians was necessary as they could still live in peace in Turkey! To this Sir Percy Cox replied that Fathi Beg’s assertion did not square with the Assyrians’ own views and that they had the most vivid memory of the treatment they have suffered in the past at the hands of the Turks. In a letter from Dr. Rev. W. A. Wigram to the editor of “The Near East and India”, wrote that if the British were not going to return the Assyrians to their original homes, then the Assyrians were to be provided with, and as Lord Curzon put it in the House of Lords on 17-12-1919, “either an enclave, or arrangements for a safe and decent existence.” The League of Nations promised the Assyrians “all their rights, including autonomy…” as the reward for assigning Mosul to Iraq (Turko-Iraq frontier. C. 400. M. 147. 1925. VII. P. 90) [Yusuf Malek (of the Iraqi Civil Service 1917-1930) “The British Betrayal of the Assyrians”, Chicago, 1935, p. 327]
The Iraq Levies, which was a British Force first comprising mainly of Arabs, Kurds and Turkomans, did not impress the British, later this force became predominantly Assyrian, who practiced great discipline. This force had helped to bring stability to the newly born state of Iraq. The levy flushed north of Iraq region from the sporadic Kurdish insurrection and the expulsion of the Turkish irregulars in 1923. For these reasons, among others, the Iraqi Government pledged assurances to provide lands for the Assyrians in north Iraq. Sir Henry Dobbs, His Britannic Majesty’s Government representative in Iraq, quoted one of these assurances, which appeared in the Letters of Gertrude Bell, under statement by Sir Henry Dobbs. The letter says:
“…In order to reassure them (the Assyrians) as to their future, two successive Iraqi cabinets, those of Jafar Pasha and Yasin Pasha, officially pledged the Government of Iraq to provide lands in Iraq for those Assyrians who might be dispossessed of their original homes by the decision of the League of Nations and to devise a system of administration for them which would ensure to them the utmost possible freedom from interference. It can hardly be doubted that this liberal attitude on the part of the Government of Iraq had its influence on the deliberations of the Frontier Commission.” [Lady Bell, “The Letters of Gertrude Bell”, Vol. II, New York, 1927, p. 552] Read also, Annemasse (Mar Eshai Shimun), “The Assyrian Tragedy”, 1934, pp. 18-19.
The disputed Iraqi-Turkish frontiers (known as the Mosul Province Dispute) prompted the League of Nations to send a Commission of Enquiry to the region in 1925. The Commission submitted its report to the League and here is an abstract from the report:
“It is not within our competence to enumerate all the conditions which would have to be imposed on the Sovereign State for the protection of these minorities. We feel it our duty, however, to point out that the Assyrians should be guaranteed the re-establishment of the ancient privileges, which they possessed in practice, if not officially, before the war. Whichever may be the Sovereign State, it ought to grant these Assyrians a certain local autonomy, recognizing their right to appoint their own officials and contenting itself with a tribute from them, paid through the agency of their Patriarch … The status of minorities would necessarily have to be adapted to the special conditions of the country; we think, however, that the arrangements made for the benefit of minorities might remain a dead letter if no effective supervision were exercised locally.” [League of Nations document C. 400. m. 147. 1925. VII. P. 90] Read also Annemasse (Mar Eshai Shimun), “The Assyrian Tragedy”, 1934, p. 19
Finally, Mosul was awarded to Iraq in December 16, 1925, and the Assyrians waited for the League’s commission recommendations and the British promises to be delivered, but the British delayed.
In September 1929, the British Government announced its intentions to end its mandate over Iraq in 1932 and facilitate the entrance of Iraq into the League of Nations without addressing the Assyrian issue thoroughly. This meant to the Assyrians the end of their semi autonomy they have enjoyed in the past few years in northern Iraq. In June 1932, the Assyrians presented a petition to Sir F. H. Humphrys, British High Commissioner, who forwarded it to the British Secretary of State and the British Government. The Assyrian petitions asked to settle the Assyrians in a compacted community in a sub-division of the Mosul Province. The British Government rejected this stating that Iraq does not have a free space whereon the Assyrians could be settled as an autonomous community. [Annemasse (Mar Eshai Shimun), “The Assyrian Tragedy”, 1934, pp. 33-34]
In fact the League of Nations received many petitions from several Assyrian groups demanding autonomy, each group with its own underlined specified region. In December 1932, the Council of the League of Nations assigned five of its members to investigate the petitions but they rejected the Assyrians’ demands. [Joseph Yacoub, Prof. Of Political Science at the Catholic University, Lyon, France, “The Assyrian Question”, Chicago, 1986, p. 122] The Assyrians indicated several times that they would not be treated fairly by the Iraqi government, but to no avail. Only months after the end of the British mandate and the admittance of Iraq in to the League of Nations in 1932 the Assyrians’ fears became a reality. The Iraqi Army brutally and in cold blood massacred some 3000 unarmed Assyrians, including elderly, women, and children in Semile and other neighboring villages in August 1933. The massacre was accompanied by grand looting of Assyrian villages by Arab and Kurdish tribes that continued for days while the Patriarch was under detention in Baghdad and after the massacre He and His entire family were exiled to Cyprus.
The petition of the Rev. Shlaimun Abraham and other Assyrian National Committeemen, signed in September 1st, 1933, and sent to The Consul General, (Great Britain), New York, had underlined the Assyrian region. In that petition the Assyrians demanded their homeland to be comprised of the regions of Amadia, Zakho, Dohuk, and Aqra, and to be known as New Assyria. [Yusuf Malek (of the Iraqi Civil Service 1917-1930) “The British Betrayal of the Assyrians”, Chicago, 1935, p. 357] The above petition was based on the pattern of the Assyrian settlements after the closure of the Mindan refugee Camp near Mosul in 1921.
Stafford tells us that the Assyrian refugee settlement distribution in north of Iraq at that time was as follows:
In north of Amadia 6,950; in Amadia itself 1,100; and in Dohuk, Zakho, Aqra, and Sheikhan 7,450 Assyrian refugees were settled.
[Lt.-Col. R. S. Stafford, “The Tragedy of the Assyrians”, London, 1935, p. 45]
On October 8, 1933, the Mar Eshai Shimun submitted his report to the League of Nations. In it He stated:
“If it should be possible at this late date to form, as suggested by Lord Curzon Dec. 17, 1919, a “Kurdish-Assyrian enclave in the north of the Wilayet of Mosul under special administration, where Kurds and Assyrians might dwell together we would accept that solution.” [Annemasse (Mar Eshai Shimun), “The Assyrian Tragedy”, 1934, p. 70]
The 1933 Semile massacre suppressed the Assyrian spirit. The Assyrians withdrew to isolation for the next half a century but have some social freedom especially in Habbaniya, west of Baghdad, where they concentrated because of the continuous presence of the British Royal Air Force Base. The Assyrians tempted to establish a political organization in the mid 1940s, known as “Khait Khait Allap” but the British undermined their efforts. In 1955 the Levy Force was dismantled and the Assyrians began with time to move out from Habbaniya into Baghdad and other cities in north of Iraq, specially the oil rich Kirkuk.
In most recent years, the Assyrian national dream have begun to rise, although somehow quietly, and references to an Assyrian State brought to surface again. In the Assyrian National Manifesto of 1983, by the Bet Nahrain Democratic Party, the Assyrian autonomous state was defined either as the province of Mosul or the province of Dohuk. [Dr. Sargon Dadesho, “The Assyrian National Question”, Modesto, California, 1987, p. 275]
There is, generally speaking, a niche in the Arab and Kurd’s psyche, which has much to do with enforcing ideology through sheer power, and unless that is controlled, democracy will never blossom in the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular. The civilized world have an obligation towards the Assyrians, just as the Allied Powers helped other new nations to be established since peace was signed post WWI and until today.
Bearing in mind that Iraq became a member in the League of Nations on 3 October 1932, conditioned through its solemn Declaration of 30 May 1932, to providing strict protection to its ethnic minorities. Article 5 of the Iraqi Constitution read: “Iraqi nationals who belong to racial, religious or linguistic minorities will enjoy the same treatment and security in law and in fact as other Iraqi nationals. In particular, they shall have an equal right to maintain, manage and control at their own expense, or to establish in the future, charitable, religious and social institutions, schools and other educational establishments, with the right to use their own language and to exercise their religion freely therein.”
[Iraq Declaration of 30 May 1932, A.17.1932.VII (VII.Political.1932.VII.9), 16 August 1932]
And bearing in mind that Iraq, on 21 December 1945, joined the United Nations while it was still a Member of the League of Nations, and that it has neither then nor since sought or obtained a change or lifting of any of the formal conditions attached to its Declaration of 30 May 1932, thus the protection of Iraq’s ethnic people continue to be an obligation to the Charter of the United Nations,
and bearing in mind that the Assembly of the League of Nations, on 18 April 1946, adopted its last Resolution providing for the transfer to the United Nations of rights and obligations which were attributed to the League of Nations in treaties, mandates and declarations, and that article 37 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice provides for its jurisdiction in corresponding matters previously submitted to the Permanent Court of International Justice;
Therefore, the United Nations have a moral obligation to undo the mistakes of its predecessor, the League of Nations, because:
a) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations’ General Assembly Resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948, has not been exercised by the various Iraqi governments, as thousands of Assyrians have been executed, assassinated, imprisoned, tortured, deported, and displaced.
b) The Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities, adopted by the General Assembly Resolution 47/135 of 18 December 1992, has not been implemented by the various Iraqi governments, as Assyrian schools have been closed and Syriac language prohibited from being taught, and the Assyrian ethnicity suppressed, undermined, and flat out rejected. (Iraqi governments have forced the Assyrians to register only as Arabs or Kurds in the Iraqi National Census of 1977 and 1987)
Therefore, the United Nations must take, under the articles of both the above Declarations, the necessary measures to protect the ethnic Assyrian Christians in Iraq. An Assyrian enclave, accordingly, in northern Iraq in the region of Mosul must be set up to protect the Assyrians. The Assyrians respect the unity of the State of Iraq and would prefer at least a governing system that allows them to govern themselves, the only system that can guarantee them all the articles of the United Nations Declarations.
[Z-Info: This article was first published in Nineveh.com prior to author’s recent modifications for re-publication in Zinda Magazine.]
ASSYRIAN CHURCH HAPPY TO HAVE GROWING PAINS
Courtesy of the Arizona Republic (3 December); article by Daniel González
(ZNDA: Pheonix) Not a single seat remained empty as the Rev. Frederick Hermiz led worship through a haze of burning incense on a recent Sunday at St. Peter Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church in Phoenix.
Even the chairs in the hallway were full while still more men, women and children stood in the aisles through the two-hour service. Others spilled into the parking lot.
St. Peter's opened its doors in a converted office building on 35th Avenue in 1995 with just 32 families.
In only seven years, one of the world's oldest Christian communities outgrew its new home as hundreds of Assyrian families migrated to the Phoenix area from the Midwest.
They are part of an ever-widening exodus of Assyrians from Iraq who have long experienced persecution and discrimination, most recently under Saddam Hussein.
As Assyrian-Americans, they share a strong sense of urgency to preserve their language, culture and religion that has only intensified with the looming possibility of war between the United States and Iraq.
Their worship services are conducted in Aramaic, which scholars say is a dialect of the language spoken by Jesus more than 2,000 years ago.
"Our people are being persecuted, and we are not sure if we are going to have a country to return to," said Mona Oshana, 34, a member of St. Peter Assyrian Church who grew up in Chicago.
Over the past 10 years, the Phoenix area has become home to the fastest-growing Assyrian community in the United States, said Yonadam Kanna, secretary-general of the Assyrian Democratic Movement.
The group supports replacing Saddam's regime with a democratic government that respects religious freedom. Of an estimated 450,000 Assyrians in the United States, Kanna said about 8,000 live in the Phoenix area.
"It's small but it's the fastest growing compared with other cities," he said.
Attracted by the arid climate that reminds them of their homeland, the vast majority of these Assyrians are like Edward Rehana. He came to Arizona from the Chicago area, home to this country's largest Assyrian community.
Rehana was among the first Assyrians to come to Phoenix after the insurance company he worked for transferred him to Arizona in 1985.
"The community here is growing very rapidly, one relative after another," said Rehana, 60, who now is a salesman for a windshield-repair company.
"Friends and relatives will come here for a visit from Chicago and Detroit and they'll decide to move here."
Francis Murad, 63, a retired engineering professor, moved to Phoenix from Plymouth, Mich., in August with his wife, Sharlet, 54, a physician, and their daughter, Nohra.
Murad said the warm weather attracted him to Arizona but he would not have come here if it had not been for the growing Assyrian community.
"There are a lot of warm places, but not all of them have a community," Murad said.
Murad came to the United States to study in 1959 before Saddam came to power.
"He had a lot to do with my not going back," Murad said. "I had gotten my Ph.D. with the intention of going back to teach."
Besides St. Peter's, Assyrians have established two other churches in the Valley: Mar Ibrahim Chaldean Catholic Church on East Cactus Road in Scottsdale and St. Gewargis Assyrian Ancient Church of the East on West Greenbrier in Glendale.
St. Peter's congregation is raising $4 million to $5 million to build a church on 5 acres it has purchased on 67th Avenue north of Pinnacle Peak Road in Glendale.
According to Hermiz, the pastor, the new church will be a carbon copy of the year-old Assumption Greek Orthodox Church at 82nd Street and Cactus Road in Scottsdale. It will seat 750 people, a substantial increase from the current church, which can hold only 180 people.
He predicted the congregation will grow to 1,000 families from 400 within four to six years.
"Our enemies have tried and failed to erase our heritage and our language, but as long as there is a Sunday in the week, they cannot erase our language and our faith," Hermiz said.
HEARS IRAQI WOMEN'S STORIES OF ABUSE AND SUFFERING
One Kurdish woman told Mr Blair she spent days fleeing a chemical gas attack through the mountains, while another said she and her family had faced death threats from Iraqi intelligence officers after they fled to Jordan. Another said she was told she would die in a blood-spattered prison cell if she did not give police family details.
The delegation was from the Coalition for Justice in Iraq, which represents 275 non-governmental organisations from 120 countries.
The women were accompanied by Bakhtiar Amin, head of the coalition, which has called for the United Nations to set up a tribunal to investigate the Iraqi leadership's alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.
The meeting was widely seen as part of Downing Street's continuing offensive to increase pressure on President Saddam over human rights and other issues in the countdown to the deadline for the Iraqi leader to provide a full disclosure of his weapons.
HATE CRIME AGAINST ASSYRIANS IN CANADA
of the National Post (30 November)
EULOGY OFFERED FOR ASSYRIAN-CANADIAN SCHOLAR
(ZNDA: Montreal) Assyrian-Canadian scholar, teacher, husband, father,
grandfather, C. E. Eappen died on November 9 in Montreal, Canada of
complications from a subdural hematoma, aged 76. He was born Aug.
6, 1926, in Kottayam, Kerala, India.
Mr. Eappen’s frugality was legendary. On the small stipend he received he was able to arrange marriages for his sisters and himself and to bring his wife and son to Canada. In 1960, he married Rachel Mathew. She was a physician and also descended from an ancient Syriac Christian family. This was a time when there were few East Indians in Montreal (indeed, in Canada) and the Eappens became honorary parents to all the newcomers who followed.
Mr. Eappen had been told at McGill that his real last name -- Collaparambil -- was too long, so he used his first name, Eappen, as his last name. (Eappen means Stephen).
He went on to become the chairman of Physics Department at Loyola College in Montreal for 12 years and retired in 1994. Although he was a great teacher, (he even went so far as to give money to his poorer students), he sometimes found it difficult to instruct his own sons.
After his retirement, he had a series of heart attacks and a bypass, but recovered well and had a happy few years. He went with his wife to Israel about two years ago. He was a devout Christian and his facial expression when talking of his trip to the Holy Land was full of happiness.
In his last six months, he showed his great faith, dignity and courage. While in the ICU, he was unfailingly polite and kind. It was often he who comforted his family. He managed to communicate in spite of being unable to speak (he was on a ventilator). After consulting with his doctors and learning of his poor chances of leaving the ICU, he decided to discontinue his care.
His faith allowed him to have little fear of death. He was able to speak to his friends and family one last time and basically faded away peacefully.
He will be missed by his wife Rachel, his sons Roy and Mohan (Jane Gore); by his grandson Mathew and his brand new granddaughter Rebecca; his Sister Mary (M. P. Mathew) and his other family, friends and students.
OBITUARY: JOSEPHINE S. BOORUJY
Mrs. Josephine S. Boorujy, 87, of Chatham, New Jersey was a seamstress for 20 years at Saks Fifth Avenue, Millburn for 20 years before retiring in 1975. She was a member of the Assyrian Ladies Aid Society at the Assyrian Apostolic Church of the Virgin Mary and a volunteer at the Jersey Shore Medical Center, Neptune.
Born in Turkey, she lived in Summit, South Jersey, and Madison before moving to Chatham.
Surviving are a son, Douglas; daughters, Diane V. Eknoian and Judy Esehak; five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
IS TIME TO TRIGGER THE ASSYRIAN UPRISING
The Talabani Surani tribal faction was buoyed by the reconciliation offer from his rival the Barazani Bahdinani tribal faction to end the Kurdish fratricide by agreeing to the Kurdish take up of Kirkuk and even Mosul and in this way creating greater Kurdish enclave and thus widening the smaller Talabani influence. The two Kurdish parties fought Baghdad together and fought each other for Kurdish tribal supremacy. They used every possible method and tactic to prolong their revolt, some of them opportunistic and some even quisling. Others of the Kurdish tribes like the Zibaris and Hirkies worked as mercenaries for the central regimes to fight their own brethren, the Kurds themselves. It is a fallacy indeed.
The Kurds who aimed at removing the Arabic yoke from their shoulders are going to put it on our shoulders. The Kurds while rejecting the first yoke on them are happy with the second yoke on us. This is the Kurdish double standards. The Kurds as people were represented in all the echelons of the state of Baghdad ever since the state was established. The Kurds held high positions in all the structures of the state even after the declaration of the first republic in 1958, but were not happy and unlike the Assyrians who had nothing and still have nothing under the Arabs and will have nothing under the Kurds as well.
The Kurds under the present Baath Tikriti regime, Kurdish representation is visible while the Assyrian Christians are deprived from citizenship ever since the colonial formation of that state following the collapse of the Ottomans on 11/11/1918. Indigenous native people deprived from citizenship on their own soil.
The Kurdish history is a sham and this is seen through many truces
they have signed with central Baghdad knowning in advance that the
Arabs of Baghdad will not yield to their demands. The Kurds never
achieved anything from their three decades of revolt, but when the
mighty BETHA KHWARA drove the Baathist Arabs from the northern
In 1996 the Bahdinani Barazani requested Saddam Al-Tikriti's armor to flush out Surani Talabanis, and the region witnessed the Barazanis entering Sulaymania triumphing over their rival and arch enemy pushing him towards the Iranian borders and in the meantime this oportunity allowed men of Baghdad to slaughter members of the 'opposition' in the Kurdish enclave those who were caught off guard. This is a Kurdish history. Another act of treachery goes in about mid 1980s during the Tehran-Baghdad war and when the war tide was swingging against the Baathists and in favour of the Mullahs, Barazani met the leading Iranian Islamic Mullah begging for a Kurdish share once Iran swept its western borders. This is more of Kurdish history.
Very recently, the Surani leader during his various interviews with the foreign press he spoke of the inclusion of the Assyrians and Turkmen in the north, but he did not say how and to what limit but in reality it was just a hoax and a media Kurdish PR.
The Kurdish written constitution seems to prove the falseness of the Kurdish claim. The Surani leader wants to inflame the Assyrian issue with the Bahdinanis, where the Assyrians are, Sulaymania have none or few Assyrians.
The recent Zowaa Demoqrataya Atouraya's press release concering the Kurdish stand against the Assyrian Nation is too polite and did not go far to condem and lambast the usurper Kurds and is short of assertion of the Assyrian stand as a nation and not as a minority among the Kurds. I have stated before what we seek is overdue and need never shy in asking for a self-determination after the changes have taken place in our land and in this regard we have to force our way through the corridors of the so called 'opposition'. It is them who will devolute the power to our regions and not the men from Salah Aldin or Haj Omran.
We tell it frankly that we are the indigenous native people and living in the land for centuries and now we want an autonomous region in the north west with demarcated borders and centered around the past Assyrian kingdom regardless of the obsolete criterion of majority/minority term. The native people do not require this criterion to govern their own land and people. We are better than Singapore or Qatar or Bahrain. it is our land and we seek it as a self-governing zone in any future of Baghdad whether it is restructured or federated. This will include the Mosul Province with Partition of Dohuk and Arbil while leaving the future of Kirkuk under debate.
The Current Kurdish Rule
Recently the Kurds increased their activities in the west in order to show the world that they are capable of forming a state and to deceive the world that the geographical north is their homeland.
This intentional distortion of the history of the land is a sordid
act and it goes as though the Kurds are Assyrians by descent and
one day might say that Sargon of Akkad was a Kurd. The Kurdish authority
fails to uphold law and order and take actions and punish the offenders.
It never manages to assert itself and never will be due to the nature
of the tribalic Kurds. It allows for 5/100 Assyrian members in the
legislative chamber but much higher ratio in the executive chamber,
because the first one is important as it makes laws but the second
one is just a civil service and not
Their goal is to establish a system of one party one religion and one ethnicity rule and the rest have no place but to either accept or leave. The Kurds started to claim Mosul and Kirkuk and they know already that the Assyrian heartland is holy to us and will remain so and we will defy them.
Kurdish Crimes Against the Assyrian Christians
Since the Kurds filled the vacuum after the bombings of 1991 and the triumph of BETHA KHWARA and the withdrawal of Baghdad from the north the Kurds established the status quo Kurdish enclave and our people who happended to live under their jurisdiction suffer the Kurdish abuse by implementing the notorious Kurdification policy in the purpose of obliterating other ethnic groups-the Assyrians are the first target. Here are examples of Kurdish crimes:
The Assyrian Nation's New Stand
In the present world oppressed nations are throwing their chains
and opt for emancipation. We are the only nation/people without
a state on the world scenes. Why should the Assyrians who once ruled
the vast lands from Egypt
We have a chance now and this is our last chance after the first failure 80 years ago and if missed we are finished as a nation and people. Our future's generations exiled, scattered and demoralised wont be able to continue.
We are divided into four major nations, with our split according to Arab and Kurdish lines we will end up divided into five nations. This will be a crushing defeat for us. Sooner or later the Kurds will secede. The recent Assyrian London declaration is a brave one but we want more from our organizations and groups:
1- Forming the Assyrian front by combing the main groups and force
our way through the corridors of power within and without.
The Assyrian Demands
We say it loud and without hesitation:
1- We reject the continuation of the current state.
Forms of the Assyrian Uprising
The time is on our side and we should never fail to do everything to claim our nation and our homeland and defy the Kurdish blindness and intransigence:
1- Mass Assyrian demonstrations in Dohuk and Arbil where the Kurds
assume that they are our masters. We have to show them that our
relationship with them is neighbour to neighbour and not ruled to
The Assyrian Delegation and the Opposition
The current 'opposition' is not opposition at all because they are mere individuals and have not partook in the struggle of the nation in the decades following the formation of the state of Baghdad.
The six-opposition groups do not represent the burdened nation but think they can speak on its behalf. The Kurds never have been an opposition party at all, because they never demanded the change or overthrow of any regime and their main concern was holding guns on the highlands shooting at Baghdad's military convoys. The other group is only exploiting the religious sentiment of its people and the other two groups are consortium of individuals and defectors. The sixth group is not a group at all. There is not a single monarchist in Baghdad and never will be. Another point to make is who holds the power and implement that we have 3% representation?
The proportional representation does not apply to us because we are the indigenous native people and have been occupied and decimated by massacres and emigration forced on us. We are not an Assyrian drop in the Islamic bucket and we want at least 10% because we represent the Assyrians and the Christians while the others are mostly Muslims. Also we live and concentrate in a few provinces only while the rest is nearly empty of Assyrians. We are the third nationality as Assyrians and the second religion as Christians.
With the 'opposition' we seek liberty and equality to be granted to all citizens and demand representation along all levels in a republican, secular and modern state.
Our demands mentioned earlier should be guaranteed along with the promise of repealing of all the fascist decrees especially against the Assyrians and Christians in the hidden Islamisation agendas. Add to this the emphasis of speedy elimination of demographic changes and the return of displaced and exiled Assyrians to their jobs, homes, villages and towns.
ARCHAEOLOGIST FROM FLORIDA GAVE COUNTLESS CLAY TABLETS TO SCHOLARLY
Gamradt opened it and, to her astonishment, found five clay cuneiform
tablets wrapped in tissue paper. These examples of man's first
written language dated to about 2400 B.C.
About the same time, a University of Utah archaeologist, Ewa Wasilewska, found 99 priceless, 4,000-year-old Babylonian clay tablets that had been hidden away for more than 80 years in a back room of the Utah Museum of Natural History.
Their source? Edgar J. Banks of Eustis.
Wasilewska eventually linked Banks to "lost" collections of cuneiform tablets at Brigham Young University's Museum of Peoples and Cultures, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Museum of History and the Arizona State Museum.
Meanwhile, other archaeologists were finding forgotten cuneiform treasures stashed away in museum basements and storage rooms at the University of Minnesota, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Illinois, Oberlin College and the Florida State Museum.
All were courtesy of Banks.
Just who was this mysterious benefactor?
Most archaeologists don't know; his name is as obscure as the ancient tablets that became his passion.
But Wasilewska is finishing up a book -- The Forgotten American Indiana Jones -- on the Eustis man.
"Since 1995, I have dedicated my life to Edgar Banks," she says.
Wasilewska tracked down Banks' relatives in Lake County; she combed through the old journals he had kept at this home on Lake Dalhousie near Eustis.
What she learned impressed her.
"Edgar Banks was a unique man, one of the great characters of the early 20th century," she said.
In addition to being the benefactor for so many museum collections across the country, Banks also became the first American to scale Mount Ararat in search of Noah's Ark, and he crossed the Arabian desert by camel years before Lawrence of Arabia.
For a time in the early 1920s, Banks acted as an uncredited consultant for epic biblical moviemaker Cecil B. DeMille. He returned to Florida about the time DeMille's silent version of The Ten Commandments came out.
Wasilewska was so taken with Banks that she visited the Iraqi site he excavated. Bismya was once a major city in the ancient world, but today it is nothing in the middle of nowhere.
"There were no roads to get to it at all," she said.
What she saw there left her more impressed than ever with Banks and his accomplishment in preserving so much of the ancient world's historical heritage. The damage done over the decades by looters horrified her.
"I was in tears." she said. "There were holes dug everywhere; it was terrible."'
The poverty of the area was overwhelming, the temptation to dig up the country's historical heritage for cash too great for many to resist, she said.
However, hers is a lone voice championing Banks.
"He was a poseur of sorts, in my opinion, and almost nothing useful is known about the site he dug," said Benjamin Foster of the Yale University Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. "I would have said his contribution to archaeology is about nil."
This, despite the fact that the largest collection of Babylonian tablets in this country is housed at Yale University, and Banks was one of its principal sources.
Edgar James Banks was born in 1866 on a dairy farm in Sunderland, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard University with a passion for ancient history and adventure.
His daughter, Daphne McLachlan, still lives on Lake Dalhousie in Eustis. She remembers him as a "quiet man with a deep sense of humor."
A son, Edgar de Mikic Banks, died in 1964.
Banks earned his doctorate in ancient Semitic languages and culture at the University of Breslau, Germany, in 1897. That same year he was appointed U.S. consul in Baghdad by President William McKinley.
His dream was to lead a major archaeological expedition in the Middle East. Banks in 1899 was appointed field director of an expedition sponsored by the University of Chicago and financed by legendary financier John D. Rockefeller to excavate the ancient city of Ur.
He spent 31/2 frustrating years trying to cut through Turkish red tape in Constantinople to get the Ottoman sultan's permission to dig. During the long wait, he supported himself by teaching ancient history to college students.
When he finally received permission to excavate, it was not for Ur. Banks was given permission to excavate a secondary city, Bismya -- ancient Adab --along the Tigris-Euphrates River. There he discovered what was believed to be the oldest Sumerian statue, in addition to countless cuneiform tablets and other artifacts -- before allegations of smuggling were made against a junior member of the expedition.
"Banks accepted full responsibility for trying to resolve the matter with the local Ottoman authorities and subsequently resigned in order to protect the reputation of the University of Chicago," according to John Larson, archivist at the university's Oriental Institute.
Banks' career as an explorer and his academic reputation were cut short over the allegations.
As a result, few scholars studying the Middle Eastern artifacts he provided to universities and museums all over this country even recognize his name. And those who do harbor little sympathy or admiration.
"At this period, before, during and immediately after World War I, antiquities laws in the Middle East were still rudimentary," said Harvard University Professor Peter Machinist. "As the charges of the time against him supposed," Banks may have abused those laws, Machinist says.
Forced out of a job and academia, Banks focused on amassing a stunning collection of man's earliest writings, which he then spread to universities and museums around the country -- like a Johnny Appleseed of ancient history.
Banks began a second career as an author, lecturer and antiquities dealer.
Between 1915 and the mid-1930s, he was considered the leading American dealer in Mesopotamian antiquities. He married Minja, a Croatian woman he met in 1914 while on one of his many trips crossing the Atlantic.
However, he made his money through oranges, Wasilewska says.
Banks' lecture tours had taken him across the country, including stops in Central Florida. He was attracted to the area and bought 356 acres of groveland when he and Minja settled in Eustis in 1921.
Citrus gave him the time and money to continue his studies. He built a mansion north of Eustis with a special Croatian Room to honor his bride. And Babylonian and Egyptian artifacts, which Banks used in his Middle East lectures around the country, filled the family home.
How many cuneiform tablets went through Banks' hands is uncertain, but experts said it could have been 175,000 out of about 1 million known to exist worldwide.
He frequently gave extras to family friends, neighbors, museums, universities or private collectors as souvenirs.
Their markings indicate that the tablets didn't come from Bismya but rather two other cities, Umma and Drehem, that archaeologists haven't yet discovered. He apparently bought them from Arab black-market dealers.
The ancient cuneiform inscriptions had been an enigma for the modern world until 1835, when Henry Rawlinson, an English army officer serving in Persia, deciphered man's first written language.
Today, common cuneiform tablets typically sell for a few hundred dollars. But some artifacts, be they clay tablets, building inscriptions or something else (whole or fragments), may be priceless.
But Banks was selling his tablets for a few dollars apiece to universities and museums.
"He wasn't trying to make money from them," Wasilewska says. "He was trying to preserve them. His first priority was to get them into the hands of universities and museums where they would be seen and studied."
In private hands, she said, the tablets and the knowledge of the ancient world they contain would likely have been lost forever.
"He was rescuing them."At first he loved to talk about his adventures and trips across the Middle East, but as the years passed, Banks became more reclusive, seldom leaving his home on the outskirts of Eustis or talking about his past.
After a lengthy illness, Banks died in 1945 at the age of 78. A lifetime of scholarly adventure and largess came to an unheralded end -- and his accomplishments and name were banished to dingy university storage rooms.
"Most educated Americans know of Lawrence of Arabia," Wasilewska says, "but nobody recognizes the name Edgar James Banks."
Wasilewska hopes The Forgotten American Indiana Jones will change
all that and finally give the unsung archaeologist from Eustis
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