WAR IN IRAQ – JUSTICE OR MORE SUFFERING FOR THE ASSYRIANS?
I speak the language of Jesus each time I fill my car with petrol.
That’s because the friendly young couple who run my local petrol station are from Assyria, and their language – modern Aramaic – is apparently derived from the language that Jesus spoke. They have been teaching me a few words.
Actually, I don’t know if Jesus really did say shlama ‘lokhun (hello) or baseema (thank you). There seem to be many variants of the language, and of course modern dialects presumably differ from the classical language, just as do modern and classical Greek, and modern Italian and Latin.
But I do know that Jesus said Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? (Matthew 27:46), and my friends at the petrol station say that’s pretty close to how they would say it.
The Assyrians – living in northern Iraq for 5,000 years – are among the world’s persecuted Christians. A lengthy ABC News report described their plight.
Human rights groups say the Assyrians — like the Kurds — have suffered under Saddam's systematic attempts to "Arabize" the north, a process that includes driving ethnic minorities from their lands and seizing some of their properties, especially in the strategic, oil-rich northern region bordering the Kurdish enclave.
"The Iraqi government has also forced ethnic minorities such as the Assyrians, the Kurds and the Turkomen to sign 'national correction forms' that require them to renounce their ethnic identities and declare themselves to be Arabs," says Hania Mufti of Human Rights Watch. "In a way, it is a form of ethnic cleansing by clearing an area of its ethnic minorities."
The article also noted that such has been the scale of persecution over many years that some four million Assyrians now live in the West. As with Palestinian Christians, they seem to find America, Australia, Canada and other parts of the West far more amenable than their homelands. Some experts believe their language will die.
It would be wonderful to think that any war to liberate Iraq will bring justice at last to the Assyrians. But this is far from certain. For the Assyrians in northern Iraq are under threat from another quarter – their neighbours the Kurds.
[Assyrian groups are trying to counter] Kurdish attempts to declare much of the northern region their own, including the oil-rich towns of Kirkuk and Mosul, a land-grab they have tried to sweeten by offering the Assyrians and Turkomans representation at a Kurdish parliament-to-be. Understandably, the Assyrians have rejected the offer….Indeed, the potential for massive ethnic violence in northern Iraq between Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds, and Turkomans remains high, particularly if the Baath regime were to fall quickly.…Given that Assyrians in northern Iraq have been constant victims of ethnic cleansing, the international community should take their legal claims for land rights and due compensation as seriously as the competing Kurdish and Turkoman claims on Kirkuk, another oil-rich city whose dominion is hotly contested, and which could be witness to ethnic strife in the months and years ahead.
My Assyrian friends at the petrol station could be pumping cheap Iraqi petrol soon, as the people of Iraq celebrate their freedom. But pray that the liberation of Iraq also includes justice for the Assyrians.
[Mr. Roth is the author
of Martin Roth’s Christian Commentary website at: http://www.martinrothonline.com.
Read Mr. Roth’s other commentary on Assyrians at http://www.martinrothonline.com/Christians&War/assyrians2.htm]
MEETING OF THREE ASSYRIAN POLITICAL PARTIES IN ARBIL
(ZNDA: Arbil) On 17 January, a meeting between three Assyrian political parties took place in Arbil, Iraq. Representatives from the the Assyrian Democratic Movement, the Assyrian Patriotic Party, and the Bet Nahrain Democratic Party met at ADM’s Political Bureau office.
The focus of this meeting was to review the general conditions in Iraq, the anticipated changes currently taking hold, and agreements on the means of cooperation and arrangements to unify the parties involved. Additionally, the meeting addressed internal issues and the intended efforts to break-up the united national stand and the means to enforce the inner unity of the Assyrian people, in particular their legal national rights in Iraq. Furthermore, the participants agreed to extend these meetings in order to reach mutual understanding
Courtesy of Reuters (19 January); article by Andrew Hammond
(ZNDA: Mosul) In a bleak rocky outpost of north Iraq, Christian monk Bihman Samarchy chats about the year he spent recently in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's old city.
Dressed in the traditional black robes of the eastern Christian churches, he speaks softly in this lonely monastery of Der d’Mar Mattai (St. Matthew’s Monastery) perched on a mountainside between the city of Mosul and the Kurdish enclave in the far north of Iraq.
"I stayed there for a year and right now there are four Iraqis there out the six people at our monastery. For me it's just a service," said Samarchy, an Arab from a country with no relations with Israel and which glorifies Palestinians fighting Israeli occupation.
But Samarchy is as free to talk about the forbidden land as he is to go there, indications of the freedom this Christian sect says it has enjoyed in the modern Iraq run by the Baath party since 1963.
Iraq allows monks to serve time in the church's Mar Morqos monastery in East Jerusalem, on condition that no Israeli stamps are placed in their passports.
"We had nothing to do with politics," Samarchy said. "As Christians our way is love and that's what makes us able to go. You know that in the story of Noah's ark, the snake lived next to the dove. In our own church tradition, the snake coiled itself around the dove in order to protect it."
After his time in Israel, the church chose Samarchy, 32, as one of its four monks in residence at Mar Matta, the oldest monastery in Iraq, dating from the fourth century AD.
EARLY CHRISTIANITY IN IRAQ
Christianity has a long and distinguished history in Iraq, now a mainly Muslim country of 23 million. Tradition says one of Christ's apostles, Thomas, visited the ancient land, making it one of the first countries where the religion spread.
With the spread of Islam after the Arab conquest of the Middle East region in the seventh century, the number of monasteries eventually fell to today's four from the dozens noted by mediaeval Muslim chroniclers.
Today, the Baath regime has opened its doors to Iraq's Christians, and none of them is showing enthusiasm for a war which could even lead to the division of the country. The United States is threatening to invade because its says President Saddam Hussein is hiding weapons of mass destruction.
A federated or divided Iraq could give sway to mainly Muslim Kurds, who dominate in north Iraq where most of the country's Christians also live.
The Mosul district, where the various Christian denominations make up almost half of the population, was kept out of the Kurdish self-rule area set up after the 1991 Gulf war to end Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.
"We have a place in society -- not as a sect, but as citizens. We feel we are part of this one body. We have one shared (Iraqi) citizenship and the state has a responsibility to protect everyone," said Archbishop Saliba Isaac, leader of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Mosul.
Isaac said a significant number of Christians are members of the local Baath Party, founded by the Syrian Christian Michel Aflaq, who spent his final years in Baghdad.
BAATH PROTECTS CHRISTIANS
The Baath's secular Arab nationalist ideology has done much to keep religious extremism at bay in Iraq, though analysts say the decimation of the country's economy during 13 years of U.N. sanctions has led to heightened religious sentiment among Muslims.
Slogans such as "one Arab Nation With An Eternal Message" and "Yes To One Nation" show a strong presence in Mosul and the mainly Christian villages in the surrounding countryside.
Samarchy said there are occasional problems with local Muslims and Kurds, who once pillaged furniture from the remote site, but not the authorities, who have carried out some renovations.
"Our relations with the state are good; there is freedom of worship. Our fear is from the people, not the government," he said, adding that Saddam has paid three official visits to the monastery.
Damage to Mosul during the 1991 war seems to have soured any taste among Christians for American "liberation" from three decades of one-party rule.
The church of Mar Yousef in a Mosul suburb was bombed on the first day of Operation Desert Storm, killing four people, said Janan Abbo, the wife of the church's current pastor.
"The shrapnel caused a gas container to ignite in a building next door and four then died in the fire," she said, standing in the simply-decorated church. "God knows why they hit us."
"Didn't they know it was a church? Of course they knew,"
a friend of Abbo's added angrily. "I hope there will be
no war, because it would be a war for nothing."
LATEST INFORMATION ON MAR BIDAWID'S HEALTH CONDITION IN BEIRUT
(ZNDA: Beirut) Patriarch of the largest Assyrian Church, Mar Raphael Bidawid, was sitting up and enjoying his breakfast yesterday morning.
Assyrian sources to Zinda Magazine on 19 January in Beirut explain that he is now surrounded by his family members from Switzerland and quickly regaining his strength His Beatitude’s health condition has improved satisfactorily and he may be able to assume his patriarchal duties sometimes this week, according to family members.
Mar Bidawid is the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, with as many as one million followers in Iraq alone. His Beatitude was admitted to a hospital in Beirut several weeks ago.
Zinda sources indicate that he has lost as much as 30 kilograms (73.5 pounds). Signs of his cardiac fitness are very good; his blood pressure is now back to normal. It appears that His Beatitude may have to treat some kidney-related complication upon leaving the care of his Lebanese physicians.
ALBERT YALDA STOPPED AT TURKISH BORDER
(ZNDA: Athenes) Mr. Albert Yalda, a senior Iraqi opposition member who was headed for a meeting in the Western-protected Kurdish enclave of northern Iraq was turned back by Turkish border guards, according to an Iraqi Kurdish official on Saturday, 18 January.
"Mr. Yalda was accompanied by General Tawfiq Alyassiri, a military official" said Mohammed Ihssan, a Kurdish minister in the sector of northern Iraq controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
Mr. Yalda and Mr. Yonadam Kanna were selected at the December 16 London Conference to represent the Assyrian people in the upcoming meeting of the Coordination Committee in Arbil, North Iraq.
(ZNDA: Paris) Ms. Pascale Isho, a member of the Assyrian Women’s Union from North Iraq, was among the six Iraqi women who say they or their families were brutalized by the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and called for the Iraqi leader to be indicted for war crimes and said regime change is the only way to save their desperate nation.
Representing a handful of the country's different ethnic communities,
the women told a Paris news conference of deaths and disappearances
of their relatives, the beheading of innocent women, and of living
day to day under threat.
The women refused to either endorse or oppose plans by the U.S. and Britain to invade if Saddam refuses to get rid of any weapons of mass destruction in his possession. But it was clear the women supported the ouster of the Iraqi dictator by almost any means.
"The Iraqi people have been living in a state of war for 30 years," said Nazand Beghakani, a founder of the International Kurdish Women Study Network. "I'm calling on the international community to stop this war that has been forced on the Iraqi people."
Aida Ussayran, a member of the Union of Iraqi Democrats, fled her native land 25 years ago after being jailed three times for pro-democracy activism and an act of particularly harsh punishment - the execution of her son.
"My story is no different that any other political activist living under a cruel regime," she said. "The regime is merciless in its bitter pursuit of any innocent man, woman or child."
Ussayran said 16 innocent women were decapitated in front of their own children three months ago.
In the north, Iraq's Assyrians, who are Christians, have suffered
cultural oppression and thousands have been forced to leave the country,
said Pascale Isho.
RELIGIOUS LEADERS CALL FOR PEACE IN ISTANBUL
Courtesy of the Anadolu Turkish Press, (15 January)
(ZNDA: Istanbul) The leaders of the religious communities in Istanbul issued statements on Wednesday opposing to a possible operation in Iraq and said they favour peace.
Istanbul mayor Ali Mufit Gurtuna met with leaders of the religious communities in Istanbul the same day.
Addressing the meeting, Gurtuna said that the whole world and humanity needed love, not violence, adding that ''it is religion which will meet this need of humanity.''
Gurtuna said that they want to undertake the civil administration reform in local administrations, adding that the world faces a big threat. ''It is more obligatory today to fight against ignorance, and violence.''
Replying questions on a possible operation against Iraq, Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholemeos said that all religious leaders around the table were against a possible war against Iraq.
He said that they, as religious leaders, were in favor of peace and noted that they were following Prime Minister Abdullah Gul's visits for finding a peaceful solution to the issue to some Middle East countries with appreciation.
Bartholemeos stated that he hoped that those visits would yield good results and current problems would be solved with peaceful ways, saying that they hoped that there would not be bloodshed in the region.
Stating that he wished that God would protect Turkey and the World from a war, Bartholemeos said that as religious leaders, they would support peace under any condition.
Turkish Armenians Patriarch Mesrob II said that they devoted themselves to peace and unity and noted that religious leaders would pray for peace in different churches every day till Friday.
Stating that they felt shadow of war as of Christmas and they had concerns related to a possible war, Mesrob II said that a war would not only harm innocent people in Iraq, but also spiritual life and economy in the region.
Istanbul Syrian-Orthodox Community Spiritual leader Yusuf Cetin recalled that big fish ate small fish and said that people were harming each other.
He said that they wished that people's heart would have love and mercy and added that everybody had responsibilities on that issue.
Turkey's Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva, Vatican's Istanbul Representative
Georges Marovitch, Istanbul Spiritual Leader of Latin Community Louis
Pelatre and other representatives also attended the meeting.
MESOPOTAMIAN ORIGINS OF WORLD DIPLOMACY
Courtesy of Independent - London (19 January); article by David Keys
(ZNDA: London) Archaeologists have discovered evidence of an invasion of the Middle East by one of the world's first superpowers, which destroyed much of the region 33 centuries ago.
Under the ruins of a 3,800-year-old royal palace in western Syria they have found part of an ancient diplomatic and administrative library, the most important archaeological discovery of its kind for more than 20 years.
Accounts on clay tablets describe the region's conquest by one of the Bronze Age's superpowers, the Hittite Empire, in 1340 BC. This helped to reduce Egyptian power in neighbouring Palestine and played a key part in creating biblical-era Israel. The invasion also led, in effect, to the invention of the concept of the international treaty.
The clay tablets discovered at the site of the ancient city of Qatna, 200km north of Damascus appear to tell the whole story of the Hittite conquest of the region. What seems to be one of the first letters in the sequence probably from a diplomatic or intelligence officer in northern Syria describes how the Hittites invaded with a large army and great numbers of chariots and destroyed many towns, including one 100km north of Qatna. The diplomat implores the King of Qatna a ruler called Idanda to reinforce his defenses.
Another letter from a fellow king, also somewhere in northern Syria described to Idanda how the Hittite general was on the march again, laden with war booty, presumably from the sacked cities.
The clay tablets then go on to record Idanda's reaction. One text is an instruction to make 40,000 mud bricks, perhaps to strengthen the city wall. Another orders workshops to make 18,600 swords, while yet another names the 25 military captains who are to receive the weapons.
Apparently the Hittite army arrived and captured Qatna, despite the defenders' new weapons. The palace, and probably the town too, were destroyed. But the destruction, ironically, preserved the library. For when the Hittites set fire to the palace, the wooden floors collapsed and the library's clay tablets fell four metres into a basement corridor and were buried in rubble.
As well as diplomatic letters and intelligence documents, the library included reports and instructions on economic and legal matters. One tablet reveals, for instance, that a lady of the palace, called Napshi-Abi, was very rich and owned 200 gold-hilted knives, ebony chairs and knives inlaid with lapis lazuli.
The letters and reports are unique, not only for their subject matter but also because they are written in a previously unknown language, a mixture of Akkadian (the Semitic lingua franca of the ancient world) and Hurrian (which originated in what is now eastern Turkey and the Caucasus).
Also buried for 33 centuries were the tombs of Qatna's royal family,
containing ivory, royal insignia, alabaster vases, gold and silver
bowls and gold rosettes. So far archaeologists have found a funerary
complex (complete with entrance statues) that served up to 15 generations
(ZNDA: Hartford) Arthur T. Gregorian was the founder of the world-renowned Newton Oriental rug store that bears his name. He died of cancer last week at his home. He was 93.
Born in a mud-brick village near Lake Urmia, his family was driven
out by the Ottoman Turks in 1918. They fled to a British-run refugee
camp several thousand miles away in Basra, Iraq, traveling for two
years in an ox cart. In 1921, Mr. Gregorian arrived at a quarantine
and detention center at Rowes Wharf in Boston. He settled in New Britain,
Connecticut, graduating from New Britain High School. He went on to
study at Mount Herman School for Boys and spent a few semesters at
Boston University. A longtime resident of West Newton, he later moved
to Holliston and also maintained a residence in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Mr. Gregorian began a lecture series on Oriental rugs that he presented at area universities. The series resulted in a book published in 1949 that classified rugs by style and taste rather than by region. In 1959, Mr. Gregorian made his first of many extended rug-buying adventures to the Middle East. He recorded several of his subsequent journeys with a 16 mm movie camera and later compiled the exotic footage to use in a popular lecture he hosted throughout the world.
Fluent in Asori (Assyrian), Armenian, Farsi, and Turkish, his travels inspired him to pioneer the practice of classifying Oriental rugs by the culture of the weaver. He amassed a huge collection of rugs inscribed with Armenian text, which were found in other regions, that had been misidentified as Islamic in origin. The collection became the basis of an exhibition that was displayed in more than 50 universities and museums throughout the United States and Europe and later was featured at the Kimbell Art Museum and the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C.
The first non-minister to become president of either the Institute of Pastoral Care or the Newton Council of Churches, he was known for his campaign to raise the salaries of ministers.
Mr. Gregorian was the founding chairman of the board of trustees
of Damavand College, a women's school located north of Tehran, Iran,
which was closed after the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
STOP CHALDEAN BISHOP FROM DIVIDING CHRISTIANS OF IRAQ
To: Catholic Chruch Bishops and clergy
CC: Other Catholic and Chaldean Bishops and Clergy
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This letter is intended to formalize our concern with regards to
the actions taken by the recently appointed bishop of Saint Peter
the Apostle of San Diego, California. Bishop Sarhad Jammo was ordained
on July 21st, 2002 to serve the Chaldean diocese for the western
states of America. Chaldeans are the catholic sect. of the Assyrian
people of Mesopotamia (present day Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey).
the church roots, as defined by Harpercollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism,
dates back to the mid 15th century when "a group of Assyrian
bishops decided to seek union with Rome" .
This unity has recently been threatened by actions taken by our new Bishop during his public campaign held in Detroit, Michigan USA, during the week of January 6th -10th of this year calling for a unique Chaldean nation, separate from the rest of our Assyrian people. In this event, Bishop Jammo publicly embarrassed a prominent figure in the community, Mr. Saad Marouf, the president of the Chaldean Federation of America. This we deem to be out of line. This promotion of division goes against our Christian values of brotherhood and solidarity that is much needed in the predominantly Moslem middle East, and particularly in Iraq today. It is also inconsistent with Bishop Jammo's statements which he has made in the past promoting solidarity and cooperation among our people.
In addition, we feel that his rather political statements about Chaldean nationalism and rights worldwide, are not fit for one bound by a religious charter. Such statements made by a Bishop of the Catholic Church could have potential disastrous repercussions on the Christian parishioners of Iraq.
The Assyrian-Chaldean parishes in California are distraught at Bishop Jammo's views, which are not shared by the communities and go against the teachings of our Chaldean Patriarch, Mar Raphael Bidawid.
Unfortunately, our Patriarch has recently become very ill and likely unable to resolve this problem himself. We respectfully request that you take an active role in alleviating the issue before it develops into a larger problem within our communities in San Jose, Monterey, Los Angeles, San Diego, and potentially, worldwide. Thank you and may God bless you and bless our holy Church.
Concerned members of the Chaldean Catholic
Assyrian Committee for Civic Responsibility (ACCR) Invites you
to attend The Second Political Candidates Program:
From 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
ACCR has invited 12 Aldermanic candidates who are running for the Chicago Municipal Elections and will be on hand to meet and greet members from the Assyrian community and talk about issues of importance such as:
Please join us as we become more informed about what the Aldermen can offer to the Assyrian community and how you can be seen and be heard.
This is not a fundraiser, but a free event that is open to the public. All are welcome.
Your support is required so that we can show these prominent candidates the strength of Assyrians when it comes to being visible as an active and knowledgeable community. Mark your calendars and plan to be there!
Refreshments will be served.
For more information, call us at (773) 865-4997.
Assyrian Committee for Civic Responsibility
KURDS ARE NOT THE REMAINS OF THE ASSYRIAN CIVILIZATION
To the Editors of the Redlands Daily,
I read your piece on “Turkey: Bridge between Europe and Middle East” written by Nelda Stuck and published on January 8, 2003. The piece is about Chapman University professor Zekai Nazikoglu, who is a native of Turkey, and spoke about his homeland to members of the Redlands Branch of American Association of University Women. There are some major inaccurate facts stated in this article and thus need to be corrected. In the article and speech Nazikoglu briefly discussed the Kurdish problem in northern Iraq. This is when he falsely states: “(The Kurds) are believed to be the remains of the Assyrian civilization and speak their own language. They have been recognized since the gulf war and people are hoping one of (the Kurds) will take care of Saddam and we won't have to worry about the war.”
I am extremely surprised that a university professor who is from Turkey would not know the difference between Kurds and Assyrians. The Kurds are not and have never been of Assyrian origin. They are not indigenous to Mesopotamia and arrived in large numbers into the area a few hundred years ago. The historical land of the Kurds has always been known to be the Zagaros Mountains and not Northern Iraq which is part of ancient Assyria and Mesopotamia. The language spoken by the Kurds is a very lengthy topic to discuss (since Kurds have multiple dialects, some of which are languages of their own where in many instances Kurds do not understand each other), but to be brief about it, the language is considered of Persian/Turkic origin. As for the ethnicity of the Kurds and its origin, then there have been many debates about this topic in the scholarly field. Some of these arguments are raised as a Kurdish propaganda that attempts to link them to the Medes in order to claim historical links to Mesopotamia, other more serious researchers have claimed the Kurds of Mongol or Persian origin and some have even claimed them to be Gypsies that came to the region from India by showing the similarities in their language and that of some of the tribes in India.
It seems that Mr. Nazikoglu does not know who the Assyrians today are and therefore being an Assyrian myself, I feel that it is my obligation to inform him and your readers. The Assyrians are a Semitic group of people who have resided in Northern Mesopotamia for over 7000 years and continue to live in the same region. They have always been indigenous to Mesopotamia and mainly Assyria (modern day: Northern Iraq, Southeast Turkey, Northeast Syria and Northwest Iran). Assyrians (who are also known as Chaldeans, Syriacs and Syrian Orthodox) are estimated at 4 Million around the globe with approximately 2 Million in Iraq, 350,000 in Syria, 350,000 in Europe, 300,000 in the United States and hundreds of thousands of others scattered in Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Canada, Australia, South America and the countries of the former Soviet Union. They continued to exist in the same region even after the fall of the Assyrian Empire in 612 B.C. They had even created a few Kingdoms after the fall of the Empire, such as the Kingdoms of Hatra, Adiabene (Arbil in Northern Iraq) and Osroene (Urfa in Turkey). The language spoken by Assyrians today is known as Assyrian or Syriac and it is a dialect of ancient Aramaic with an influence of Akkadian, which is the Semitic language spoken by the ancient Assyrians until the 7th century B.C when the Assyrian kings adopted Aramaic as the language of the empire. Aramaic as we all know is the language spoken by Jesus Christ and some of the modern dialects spoken by certain Assyrian tribes today are probably the closest existing pronunciation to ancient Aramaic.
Assyrians have continued to live under oppression in the region after the fall of their empire and kingdoms. Many Deportations, Massacres, Genocides and Holocausts have been inflicted upon the Assyrians since the dawn of Christianity. To mention only some of the more recent ones, in 1915, Assyrians had been a major victim in one of the world’s most horrific Genocides along with the Armenians and Greeks on the hands of the Kurds and Ottoman Turks. In the Genocide of 1915 over 750,000 Assyrians were massacred and butchered to death. Then in 1933, the Monarch Arab regime of Baghdad committed multiple massacres against the Assyrian villagers in parts of their ancestral homeland in North Iraq, where the entire Assyrian population of those villages was wiped out and thousands perished. During Saddam’s Anfal campaign hundreds of Assyrian villages were plundered and thousands of Assyrians were massacred along with other Iraqis. And today, Assyrians continue to suffer under Saddam’s regime in central and southern Iraq and they are forced into denying their Assyrian heritage and claiming to be Arabs due to the Iraqi regime’s Arabization campaign against Assyrians. Assyrians living in Northern Iraq are undergoing a systematic ethnic cleansing campaign by the Kurdish leaders who have been given leadership of the region in North Iraq after the Gulf War in 1991. The Kurds in the North are using similar tactics to those of Saddam Hussein. They are forcing Assyrians into Kurdification and are confiscating the Assyrian lands, in addition to the forced migrations, the terrorization of Assyrian civilians and the many killings and assassinations that have been conducted against the Assyrian civilians and politicians. Assyrians are continuously being denied their identity and freedom of speech. Assyrians today are fighting alongside of the United States in its war against terrorism and its future campaign for Iraq, and have been recognized in the speech of President George W. Bush.
It is understandable that due to the abductions and forced marriages of Assyrians to Kurds, that some Kurds today may have some Assyrian blood flowing through their veins, but, in reality, the number is nearly insignificant and cannot be taken into consideration when speaking of the Kurds’ heritage. Kurds are not of Assyrian heritage and should not be ascribed such a lineage by anyone, let alone a university professor. Please check your history of the Middle East, because it is important that the “Redlands Daily Facts” would carry the true “Facts” and not some invented historical fallacies.
THE FORGOTTEN CHRISTIANS OF IRAQ
With signs of war with Iraq increasing every day, lost amidst the fog of war are a small, once proud and very influential people.
While the Kurds of Northern Iraq are well known, for some reason almost completely ignored in the current discussion are 1.2 million Assyrian Christians living, many in their historic lands in Iraq.
Scattered through Iraq, but primarily near the city of Nineveh, currently known as Mosul these remnants of the great Assyrian Empire and the only who still speak the language of Jesus - Aramaic - are frozen in time, once again the victims of circumstances beyond their control.
It is their history that is little known. It was to them that Jonah came to bring the message of repentance and they repented. It was to them that the Apostle Thomas came and their King Abgar repented for his people and Assyria in the first century became the first Christian Nation.
The Assyrian Empire ended in BC 612 and the Assyrian Monarchy was abolished in the 4th Century.
It is them that according to the famed historian Kenneth Scott LaTourette in his book `The History of Christianity` became `The largest Missionary force in history . . `carrying Christianity as far as China and Japan with recent discoveries most recently in the Peoples Daily, Chinese Government newspaper dating to AD 86.
According to `Light from the East` by Irwin St. John Tucker `The center of the Church of the East was first Edessa . . . throughout the whole of central Asia , Turkestan, Mongolia, China, India and Japan its messengers went checked neither by Siberian Cold nor the head of the Indies. The relics and buildings have been found in all these places`.
But the Assyrians because of their Christian faith have suffered greatly in an area that is almost completely Muslim. Oppressed by the Persians, Mongols, Turks, Kurds and Arabs, in World War I they lost nearly two thirds of their population including their Archbishop and spiritual leader.
Currently the Assyrian Christians in Iraq are centered in three main areas - approximately 200,000 in Northern Iraq, approximately 1,000,000 in Central Iraq, mostly in Baghdad and a third smaller group of a few thousand in Southern Iraq.
Another approximately 4 million Assyrian Christians are outside of Iraq primarily in Iran, Syria, Jordan, Canada, US, Australia and Europe.
According to Wilfred Alkhas, who edits a magazine for the Assyrian Diaspora `One of the little known facts concerning the Middle East is the role of the Christians. Before the rise of Khomeini in Iran, Islam was generally a tolerant religion. Large groups of Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and others lived peacefully in majority Muslim populations for generations throughout the Middle East.`
Now, though particularly under the `No-fly zone` protected by the British and US Military, Churches are being rebuilt and the Assyrians have built 40 schools and nearly 8,000 children are being taught Aramaic for the first time in generations.
Another problem that has plagued the Christians of Iraq is an Iraqi government program to `arabize` all citizens. Human Rights organizing say that the Assyrian Christians as with other minorities in the region have suffered under the Arabizatoin programs. Although they are not Arabs they have been forced to sign national correction forms that require them to renounce their ethnic ideates, religion and declare themselves to be Arabs.
According to Hania Mufti of Human Rights Wtch `it is a form of ethnic cleansing` by clearing an area of its ethnic minorities`.
Following the radicalization of Islam, though according to sources in the Assyrian Diaspora, perhaps up to 70% of the Christians in the Middle East have left finding it impossible to live under the oppression of radicalized Islamic states.
The reality of the current situation in the Middle East is in many ways more economic than political as the economic system has basically collapsed giving rise to young men with no hope for a job and a future willing to give their lives for radical ideas that in normal economic times would be unheard of.
One reason for the regions economic depression is that the Christians ran most of the small businesses in the Middle East which kept the local economies growing. Their departure was in many ways what triggered the present economic collapse.
Muslim law prohibits payment of interest, which is essential to borrow money to create business. Therefore Christian owned small grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and other small businesses exerting disproportionate leadership. As Christian businessmen fled persecution to Europe and America their businesses in the Middle East Closed throwing many Muslims out of work.
Strict interpretation of the Koran, in practice destroys basic business enterprise.
Currently the Assyrian Christians are in an extremely precarious situation. Unlike the Kurds who receive relief through the United Nations and unlike the Turcoman who are supported by Turkey, the Assyrians have had no financial support or relief. They are a minority of Christina in an overwhelmingly Muslim region.
Under the umbrella of the `No Fly Zone` In northern Iraq, an informal Kurdish Parliament has evolved, however the Assyrians have been grudgingly granted only five of its 105 seats. They are extremely fearful of any post-Salaam government and the dramatic changes that may take away even that representation.
In a recent interview on the Fox television network a representative of the Iraqi opposition said `Our goal is to restore a free Iraq on all Arab territory`. This comment which specifically leaves out the Kurdish Territory puts the Assyrian Christians once again in jeopardy as without specific international assurances of their independence they would once again be at the mercy of the Muslim Kurds who have slaughtered them in the past.
Currently the US State Department is attempting to put together a coalition of Iraqi Nationalist Groups to decide on a future Government but the Assyrian Christians as the only non-Islamic group in the mix are at a decided disadvantage.
Iraq for all its faults is a secular nation government by a secular Baath Party. The Vice President, Mr. Tariq Aziz is a Christian and the Church ofth e East is allowed more freedom than in many other Middle Eastern nation.
Senator John Nimrod, Director of the one of the most influential Assyrian organizations the Assyrian Universal Alliance says `We understand the concern and support of Christians in the West for Israel but find it hard to understand why the Church does not have the same concern and support for the Christians in the Middle East`.
According to Assyrian Carlo Ganteh `It has been our prayer for generations that we will be able to regain our country. Assyria was promised a nation under the League of Nations Treaty of Serves in 1928. Assyrians should have an autonomous zone in the area of their homeland in Northern Iraq centered around the city of Nineveh, present day Mosul then become an independent nation. `
The Assyrians are calling for the Church at large to support their status in the land that is historically theirs as the first Christian nation. The Assyrians were twice promised a nation in their historic lands under separate agreements with the predecessor of The United Nations which to this day have not been honored!
A recent meeting in London brought together Assyrians from Europe, the US, Asia and the Middle East for the first time to put together a plan for a post-Sadaam Iraq.
Items discussed included putting together political parties, a map of the land that would constitute an independent Assyria, a possible constitution and other plans for the future of a post-Sadaam Iraq.
Attendees at the conference called the `Assyrian Representation Meeting` included representatives of most political parties and organizations. Views ranged from those hoping for more representation in parliament to those actively working for an independent Assyrian State in the historic Assyrian homeland between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
One of the fears of the attendees is summarized by the words of another Assyrian `Our greatest fear if there is a regime change in Iraw is if there will be a substitution of Sadams tyranny for an new tyranny`.
For a people that have suffered merciless persecution continually throughout history at the hands of those amongst whom they live today it is a real and concrete fear.
`We are in a critical state today` says another Assyrian leaders. `We have the Arabs on one side and the Kurds on the other. and although we have good relations with our Kurdish brothers in northern Iraq unfortnately now the Kurds are behaving in the rod of a big bother`.
Experts fear that in the event of a collapse of the current government there could be a bloodbath.
Recently, with the change in the Turkish leadership to a much more Islamic oriented government a threat was made to take part of Northern Iraq in the event of a fall of the central government - the historic land of the Assyrian Christians.
The leaders of the KDP Kurdish Democratic Party and the PUK Patriotic Union of Kurdistan the leading Kurd parties publicly say they have no plans for an independent Kurdistan but in recent weeks have put together a constriction, convened their parliament and are making all the moves towards an independent Kurdistan encompassing the Assyrian, Christian areas.
In response to the current situation the Keikyo Institute an organization assisting Assyrians particularly in Asia is asking Christians throughout the world to first pray for the Christians in Iraq then to contact their legislators to request that the Christians be represented in Post Sadaam Iraq government.
If there is a Jewish State, Muslim states there should be a Christian state to protect the rights of the 1.2 million Christians and the 4 millions currently living overseas most of whom would return if such a state was formed.
Information on praying for the Christians in Iraq and ways to become involved in providing direct assistance to the Christians in Iraq can be obtained at www.thechurchoftheeast.com
The next few month are extremely critical as the plans for a post Sadaam Iraq are put together and the Government and divisions of authority are being decided. Anything less than an independent state for the Assyrian Christians could very well result in another blood bath that could see the last of the only major Christian Communities in the middle east gone forever.
Ken Joseph Jr.
[Z-info: Ken Joseph Jr.’s
Assyrian grandparents escaped from Iraq in 1919 as a result of massacres
at the hands of the Kurds. He was a delegate from Asia at the 16
December 2002 Assyrian Representation Meeting in London and filed
this report from the conference.]
REFLECTIONS ON YOUSIF HERMIZ
As I have stated in a previous article posted in Zinda few weeks back, Assyrians need not to worry because history is behind them. Education is the only means through which we can overcome our shortcomings. It is very unlikely that an educated nation would fall in a deceitful trap, because an educated nation is a conscious nation and an informed nation is rarely misguided. Therefore, we must continue our efforts to undo the mistakes of the past and this we can accomplish through educating each other.
Two years ago I heard about a book titled “The Remains of Nineveh or the History of Telkaif”, unfortunately a copy of the book was not found at the time. Today, luckily, the book was made available to me. It was only natural that the book, which is self-explanatory through its title, would attract my attention. What was really intriguing was the fact that the author, teacher and journalist Yousif Hermiz Jammo (1892-1965), is Bishop Sarhad Jammo’s father.
Today Bishop Sarhad Jammo is leading a new movement that started few years back to create a new nation under the title Chaldean, separate from the Assyrians! I needed to read the book written by the bishop’s father and find whether both father and son had the same perspective concerning the Catholics of northern Iraq (i.e. Chaldeans). Reading the book and knowing Sarhad Jammo’s thoughts that have been expressed by him publicly on many occasions, puzzled me. I wondered why are the father and the son so apart in portraying the ethnic background of the inhabitants of the Christian Catholic villages of northern Iraq in general and Telkaif in particular.
Originally, “The Remains of Nineveh or the History of Telkaif” was published in 1937 in Baghdad but a revised edition was reprinted in Detroit in 1993. One cannot help wondering the extent of editing the original 1937 version had undergone! Still, the reader will admire the father’s pride in his Assyrian heritage. The author had expressed carefully crucial thoughts throughout the book, thoughts that are very significant. Honestly, I was awestruck by the strong Assyrian national sentiments of Jammo, the father, in comparison to latest arguments by Jammo, the son.
The book is in Arabic and covers around 140 pages. The selected paragraphs below in my opinion are ample to give the reader a good sense for the author’s genuine feelings towards his Assyrian ancestry.
The author begins his book by describing the Fall of Nineveh and how the land of Ashur became a mere province and a nation within the Persian Empire. He mentions on page 19 how the heroes of Ashur were mentioned in historical accounts like Herodotus’ writings and how the Assyrian soldiers fought in the Persian army. He added that with the fall of Ashur sovereignty was transferred from East to West and from Semitic nations to Indo-European nations.
When describing the city of Telkaif and its name, the author states on page 20 that Telkaif was a suburb of Nineveh and that it was an ancient fort during the Kingdom of Ashur, just like other forts that were built to defend Nineveh. He adds on page 21 that Telkaif was part of Nineveh the capital, and that after the fall of Nineveh Telkaif inherited and became the heir of Nineveh. Yousif Hermiz Jammo adds that those who lived in Telkaif since antiquity were the descendents of the people who built Nineveh, whether they lived in Telkaif or in the villages around it. He stresses later that the inhabitants of Telkaif were the Ninevites without any doubt.
Yousif Hermiz Jammo on page 26 writes that if one visits the location called Nineveh today, one cannot but conclude that Telkaif or its fort, were founded from the day that Nineveh began its expansion. The author writes later that the well-known artificial mound in Telkaif “is the making of the ancient Assyrians” just like other mounds that are present here and there. He refers on page 27 to Ainsworth (dead 1622) who had stated that Telkaif was inhabited by the remnant of the Assyrians.
Describing the religion of the people of Telkaif, the author on page 61 wrote that they were all Christian Chaldean Catholics. Yousif Jammo adds that these inhabitants were pagans who worshiped the Assyrian gods just like their ancestors until they became Christians in the first century AD by Mar Addai and Mar Mari. He continues to state that in the 5th century these Christians became “allies of Nestorius” and their church became known as the Church of the East. They remained as so, he wrote, until the 17th century when they united with the Roman Church.
Describing the Rogation of the Ninevites on page 83, the author writes that the Chaldean Church enforced the fast of Ba’ootha (forgiveness) on the Christians, who were the remnants of the Ninevites, or the Assyrians, as he puts it. And on page 113 the author writes that the population of the Chaldeans in Iraq was 100,000.
Yousif Hermiz Jammo covers the issue of leadership in Telkaif and mentions about certain leaders of that city. On page 127 he describes certain great world leaders and questions why was it that Agha Potrus was not glorified as he led a naked, barefoot, and miserable army and still was able to beat the Turkish Ali Ehsan Pasha in 14 battles despite the fact that the two armies where proportionately measured one to ten! The author wonders whether the world would remember the heroic acts of Agha Potrus, who was neither a German, nor a French, or Russian, but was as the author put it “an Athuraya (Assyrian) Leader”.
The book is a wonderful source and reference regarding the history of the town of Telkaif, its people, their habits, customs, costumes, and other related topics. Reading Yousif Hermiz Jammo’s book raises many questions about the latest attempts by individuals, like the author’s own son Bishop Sarhad Jammo, in changing the history of the inhabitants of Telkaif and their obvious Assyrian heritage and origin.
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