CHURCH OF THE EAST: CHALLENGING ISSUES
Zinda’s three-part report on the Church of the East was a very bold and positive move. The report presented a brief review of the history, current conditions, and challenging issues. To my understanding the primary intent of the report was to challenge the church leadership to face today’s realities and take positive steps to preserve and promote this historical church.
We hope that those Assyrian readers interested in the faith of their fathers obtained better information on their church and were moved to expand their knowledge of this great apostolic church. More significantly, we pray that the church leaders got the message that the majority of well informed Assyrians is not exactly satisfied with their vision and performance.
This great apostolic church that preached Christianity from Mesopotamia to China and from Tatar country to India has experienced many persecutions, massacres, and schisms during its 2,000-year history. Today, on the threshold of the 21st century, the church is experiencing more debilitating challenges that are threating its survival. Unless Church leaders and concerned Assyrians take serious interest in these issues and work hard to resolve them, they may not have a church to pass on to their descendants. Below are some of the significant issues that must be addressed promptly and with determination and dedication to resolve, correct, and eradicate the present issues.
The number and sequence of the various schisms as reported by Zinda are not accurate.
The first schism occurred in the fifth century when the Church of the East (Church of the Persian Empire) ruptured communion from the Church of the West (Church of the Roman Empire). That is when the terms East Syrians (Nestorians) and West Syrians (Jacobites) came into existence.
The second schism was during the sixteenth century when Youkhanan Sulaka with the aid of the Franciscan missionaries at Mosul was sent to Rome where he was ordained as the first Uniat patriarch. Later on the Roman Catholic Church bestowed on the Uniat patriarch the title “Patriarch of Babylon” which was the title used by the Church of the East when the Patriarchate was at Ctessiphon near Baghdad.
The third schism (Zinda’s second) was not really a schism. It was a political move by Assyrians in Urmia to save themselves from the persecution and oppression of their Persian masters. The Russian mission had promised them not only protection but also material gains. Thus accepting the Russian Orthodox Church was a guarantee that the Russian army then stationed in Urmia would protect them. Eventually, the switch fizzled out as today you will not find any Russian Orthodox churches among Assyrians.
The fourth schism was also not a true schism. The Church of the East was split into two branches allegedly due change of the calendar by the late Mar Eshai Shimun. So now we have the adherents of the Julian calendar called the Church of the East and the Gregorian calendar the Assyrian Church of the East.
In reality, the split grew out of a disagreement between Mar Eshai Shimun and Mar Toma Darmo, Metropolitan of the church in India. The disagreement was about the management of the church and the needed reforms. While Mar Shimun adhered to the autocratic system and worked only to maintain the status quo, Mar Toma was supposedly struggling for reforms within the church. Unfortunately, the split was politicized by the old enemies of Mar Shimun and supported by the government of Iraq. When Mar Thoma visited Baghdad he was encouraged by these elements to declare himself patriarch. Truthfully, irrespective of how correct was his position, Mar Toma had no business assuming that title. His action was a betrayal of his oath at the time of his consecration by Mar Eshai Shimun to faithfully serve the church. He did not live long enough to demonstrate any great reforms that he had in mind, but long enough to cement the split and tear the church apart.
Presently, Church of the East is tangled into an internal turmoil that is threatening its very existence. Unless, its leadership and the faithful adherents of this apostolic church seriously analyze the crippling problems facing the church, the end is not too far in the future. Let us review some of the problems, as they are perceived by a segment of the church membership.
As pointed out by Zinda, the church needs to have a clear vision, defined priorities, well-defined objectives, and an execution plan to achieve these objectives. Above all it needs an honest dialogue between the leaders and followers. Following are the primary issues challenging the church leadership:
1. Current Split
For a number of years we have been hearing about meetings, memos of understanding, datelines, etc, between the bishops of the Old and New Calendar groups. When will the two branches come together and reunite this church? So far nothing has been accomplished.
Assuming that the current dictatorship in Iraq will soon be demolished and a semblance of democracy is established, then Assyrians just like other segments of the Iraqi society should have the freedom of managing their religious affairs without interference from the government. Under such circumstances, the adherents of the Julian calendar will no longer have the government’s interference and will be free to negotiate a resolution. At such a time, Mar Dinkha should first move the Patriarchal See to Baghdad, Iraq. Such a move will strengthen the position of Assyrians in general and the Church of the East in particular. Then serious negotiations can be conducted to bring the two branches together and integrate the church hierarchy into one Church of the East. If the calendar issue becomes a stumbling block in the negotiations, then Mar Dinkha should seriously consider the restoration of the old calendar. Let us remember that most of the eastern churches in the Middle East still adhere to the Julian calendar. At the same time, his presence will encourage many of our people to remain in their homeland and may even attract those who are refugees outside Iraq to return.
The success of these negotiations is in the hands of the people in the Old and New calendar churches. Let us remember that a church continues to exist because it has a faithful membership that accepts its teachings and supports it financially. If there are no believing members who wish to have their children baptized in the church, their marriage blessed by the church or their dead buried by the church, the church is an empty building. If members of both branches sign a petition and demand from their leaders that they want a resolution to this split and unity in their church or they will quit attending and refuse financial support, then assuredly the leaders will act.
2. Church Name:
For almost two millenniums, we have been known as the Church of the East. This was a universal church with membership from different nationalities and cultures, Assyrians, Persians, Arabs, Chinese, Japanese, Mongols, and Indians, etc. We have had many famous bishops and patriarchs who were not Assyrians but served this church remarkably well. By adding the name Assyrian to the church we have wiped out its universality and reduced it to a church of a very small minority. Some Assyrians may take pride in the fact that their church has their national identity in its title, but that is shortsightedness. We must be more cognizant of the historical place of the church and its significance in the annals of Christianity and preserve its universality. Drop the name Assyrian from its title and let it be known simply as CHURCH OF THE EAST.
3. Violations of Church Canons:
Any member of the clergy who has been proven to be involved in embezzlement, fornication, molestation, and violating church laws should be immediately removed from his office and terminated from his position. In fairness to the accused, the church leadership must properly investigate, review, and reach a fair decision. Through proper investigation, the church leadership will put an end to rumors, character assassination and false testimony. As Christians we believe in forgiveness but guilty individuals should be separated from the body of the church and helped to rehabilitate themselves. If they are ordained clergy, they should never be allowed to resume their former priestly (or episcopal) duties.
Today, we hear that Mar Aprim Khamis has been allowed to resume his duties in Arizona and is celebrating Qurbana. Since Mar Aprim admitted his transgression and evidence was presented to the Patriarch and other bishops on this matter, we wonder what is the justification to ignore the church canons and allow him to perform his duties.
According to the church canons, Mar Aprim should be removed from his office and not allowed to perform his duties. From the Synodical Collection of Mar Odisho, Metropolitan of Suva, 2nd Division, Section 8, chapter 20, canon 3, we quote:
“It was the will of the ecumenical synod that for bishops, metropolitans, or catholicoses who are discovered in the act of adultery, fornication, or sodomy, or in an offense like this, there shall at once be deposition for them, and they shall not be trusted again to minister the priesthood, not even if they offer penance. Only they shall not be deprived of contact with the church. Whoever, transgresses against these things the ecumenical synod places under anathema.”
We all share the Patriarch’s belief that he should be forgiven, but not returned to his episcopal duties. However, as we understand that he does not show any atonement for his trespasses. As a matter of fact he has threatened to issue letters to different church leaders in the world exposing other bishops of the church. So now we are not only dealing with a bishop who has broken his vows of chastity but is ready to betray and avenge. Certainly, these are not signs of atonement. Mar Dinkha and others bishops should be aware that ignoring the church cannons and the public opinion would soon bring their own demise.
4. Educated Clergy:
Presently, the church is generally administered in the same old-fashioned tribal mentality. It is the obligation of the church leadership to educate its adherents that we are living in the 21st century, that the majority of Assyrians do not live in their ancestral homelands, and that the tribal system has been dead since the end of WWI. With migration, intermarriage, higher education, only a few fanatics still adhere to that mentality of identifying themselves by the tribe of their grand or great grandfather. The fact is that more than 95% of Assyrians are born and raised outside their original tribal homelands. Today, we are better known by the country in which we live than our tribe or village.
Metropolitans, bishops, and priests should be selected on the basis of their Christian faith, morality, education, personality and knowledge to deal with people. An aggressive educational program should be established where young men with a high school degree and verified good Christian qualities are selected and pshycologically tested for their mission, then placed in divinity schools for higher education. Once the new graduates are available, the uneducated and inexperienced priests should be retired and replaced.
We are grateful that Mar Dinkha has already embarked on this program. Today, we have bishops and priests that have obtained doctoral and master degrees in theology in addition to other students who are presently pursuing higher education in Rome. Indeed, these men are a promise for our church. However, educated clergy must be properly appointed and given responsibility that will challenge their education.
5. Needed Bishops:
When Mar Dinkha was the bishop of Iran, Assyrians in general and Church of the East in particular achieved recognition and a better understanding among the various Assyrian churches. Since Mar Dinkha’s departure, Assyrians in Iran have been neglected and still do not have a bishop. They certainly deserve a new bishop.
In the United States and Canada, considering the number of churches,
we need to have three bishops, one for the Eastern Region, one for
the Midwest Region, and one for the Western Region.
Chances are that some readers of this article may conclude that this writer is negative and pessimistic in his outlook at the Church of the East. On the contrary, this writer is a proud member of this church and will always remain a faithful member with highest respect for its leadership and canons. The purpose of this article is to challenge the church leadership and its adherents to seriously look at challenges that are treating the continuation of our church. The writer will be pleased to hear from the positive thinkers and optimistic fellows on condition that verifiable facts and not wishful thinking or emotional outbursts support their statements.
Youel A Baaba
ASSYRIAN DELEGATION, IRAQI OPPOSITION TO MEET IN ARBIL
(ZNDA: Tehran) Mr. Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), told Iran’s official news agency this week that the Iraqi opposition groups are to meet soon in Erbil, North Iraq to plan for the eventual overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Talabani said opposition groups had rejected a proposal by Turkey to host their meetings, and he rejected any cooperation with Ankara to allow its army to enter Iraq.
Turkish newspapers reported Tuesday that Ankara wanted to send 20,000 soldiers, in addition to the 2,000 soldiers stationed in northern Iraq, backed by armored vehicles into northern Iraq to ensure the security of its border region in the event of a war.
A 75-member committee will meet in Arbil on or around 15 January to setup several sub-committees and a 15-member leadership committee. Mr. Yonadam Kanna of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (Zowaa) and Mr. Albert Yalda will be representing the Assyrian-Iraqi population, including the Chaldean Catholic and Syriac Orthodox constituencies at this meeting.
Reliable sources to Zinda Magazine report that a few “Chaldean” community leaders have begun efforts in the United States in demanding full recognition of the Chaldean Catholics in Iraq as a unique ethnicity, separate from the comprehensive “Assyrian” representation agreed at the London Conference in December 2002. An official statement is expected later this week.
(ZNDA: Dohuk) According to a report from the Information Center of the Bet-Nahrain Democratic Party, Mr. Barkho Shimshon, the representative of Bet-Nahrain Democratic Party in Iraq, met with the Assyrian political parties, social and educational organizations in the Dohuk Governorate and exchanged Christmas and New Year greetings.
Mr. Brkho and other members of the BNDP-Iraq Branch also visited the office of Mar Iskhaq, Bishop of the Church of the East in North Iraq, and other church leaders in North Iraq. During these visits, Mr. Barkho and members of the Party, distributed gifts to the needy Assyrian families.
On one such visit, Mr. Barkho and the BNDP members visited
Mr. Ablahaad Afram, the head of the Chaldean United Party in
North Iraq and a member of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP).
Mr. Barkho thanked the Assyrian and Chaldean organizations for
the support received and offered his holiday greetings. .
IRAQ'S CHRISTIANS CELEBRATE UNEASILY
Courtesy of the Washington Post ( 25 December); article by Peter Baker
(ZNDA: Mosul) A nun was on her knees at the altar, not praying but scrubbing, getting everything ready. A man trained a spotlight toward the ceiling to test it. In the back of the church, a creche had been set up, the empty crib waiting for the Baby Jesus.
Christmas has arrived in Iraq, the moment when its relatively small Christian community takes center stage in a predominantly Muslim society. At the Clock and Latin Church here in Mosul, hundreds of Dominican Catholics gather annually amid the marble columns and stained-glass windows for Mass on Christmas Eve.
Peace is at the top of the list in their prayers this year, all the more so because of the threat of another war with the United States. But the Christians who live in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq say they have an additional reason to pray this Christmas: Beyond the death and destruction delivered by war generally, another conflict could generate disorder and perhaps anger directed against Iraq's Christian population.
"Some people are afraid if there's something serious, what will happen in the city with the people -- Christian and Muslim, Sunni and Shiite. It's very difficult," said Brother Rame Simon, 35, who is studying philosophy and theology in preparation for the Dominican order. "We are afraid that they use this time when the government cannot control all the country. Most people have very good relations. But in this situation it only takes one fool, one crazy person who can make a lot of trouble."
Christians used to make up almost 1 million of the 23 million Iraqis, although the number has dwindled to below 800,000 in recent years as many left for Europe and the United States. Dominant among those remaining are Assyrian Catholics, who are called Chaldeans here. In addition to Arabic, many of them speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
Christians have risen to the top ranks in Iraq under President Saddam Hussein, with Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz prominent among them, and anti-Christian violence has been largely suppressed by Hussein's Baath government. But religious conflict has been a fact of life through the centuries in the Middle East.
Mosul has as much cause for concern about what might happen if war breaks out as anywhere. Located about 250 miles north of Baghdad, near a semi-autonomous Kurdish enclave protected by U.S. and British air patrols, Mosul hosts perhaps the most vibrant Christian community in Iraq, estimated to number as many as 50,000 in the greater region. It also plays home to Muslim Kurds, Turkomen and Arab Muslims from both the Sunni and Shiite branches of the religion. What seems a harmonious diversity in peacetime could turn volatile if Iraq begins to collapse.
"If there is a war, it will be a complicated situation," said Philippe Khoshaba, 35, a Dominican priest at Clock and Latin Church. "We're afraid the Kurds will be here and the Muslims will be here. We don't know what the situation will be." Khoshaba added, "We're not afraid of our neighbors here, but we fear Iran or other groups that will provoke troubles here to profit from the situation."
Straddling the Tigris River, Mosul traces its history back to ancient times long before the prophet Muhammad and the advent of Islam. A major Mesopotamian trading stop on the route from India and Iran to the Mediterranean, it was known as Nineveh in the Bible, the third capital of Assyria and the cultural center of the Sumerian and Babylonian empires.
Devastated by the Mongols in the 13th century, Mosul was rebuilt and became one of three provinces under the Ottomans that would later be combined to create Iraq under British rule in 1920. After the departure of the British, Iraqi Muslims set upon the Christians in 1933 in retaliation for their collaboration with the colonial power. In 1959, political unrest also led to clashes in Mosul pitting Muslims against Christians.
Today, it is Iraq's third-largest city, a center of the oil industry but also still famous for its cotton and marble. The Serai bazaar teems with people at midday shopping for food or clothes. Tourists, when there are some, can visit a leaning minaret built in 640 or the Mosque of Nebi Yunus, believed to be the burial place of Jonah. Also noted for its churches and Christian antiquities, Mosul has begun storing away its most precious artifacts to protect them against any U.S. bombing.
Among its most distinctive churches is the Clock and Latin, built by French Dominicans in 1872 and known for its clock tower. A renovation completed last year has restored the limestone and marble house of worship to its once grand state.
Suhar Alyas, 32, a housekeeper, dressed up in her finest clothes and came to church today with her 9-year-old daughter, Milad Behnan, who carried three candles to light at the Virgin Mary statue in the church courtyard. Milad wants new shoes for Christmas; her 11-year-old brother, who has leukemia, wants a pair of birds. Their mother wants no more war.
"What do they get in benefit just to kill kids?" she asked. "We are praying to God to protect us and our children."
Around town, other Christians made final preparations for the holiday. It will not be a white Christmas, but it has grown chillier here in the north. Customers wore their coats to shop for last-minute gifts at Allah Faraj's shop. His is one of two in town that sell Christmas items, and he was too busy to think about geopolitics. "We're not worried about war," he said.
Ziad Tariq, an 18-year-old finishing his last year of secondary school, picked up some musical Christmas tree lights as well as small handmade ceramic creche figures. "For my gift, I just want that there won't be war," he said. Tariq wants to be a doctor. If there is war, though, he will be a soldier. At school, he received two months of training in how to use a gun.
Ban Wadi Said, 35, was looking for ornaments. Afterward she planned to go home and bake a traditional cake with dates for her three daughters, then cook a large meal and put music in the cassette player. While war looms, she said, she remains optimistic that it will not result in divisions with her Muslim neighbors.
"Thank God, we live in a country that respects us, and we respect them," she said.
Most Christians interviewed in the presence of a government translator said the different religious groups in Mosul live in harmony. Just as Christians congratulate their neighbors every Ramadan, they said, Muslims congratulate them at Christmas.
The man who sells many of the Christmas trees in town happens to be a Muslim. Mohammed Ali Hussein, 56, has been selling about 15 per day, and by this afternoon was left with just a half-dozen short, withered baby trees that could not support a string of lights.
Hussein said he has nothing but love for his Christian neighbors.
"Our blood is about the same," he said. In the old
days walking down the street he could tell who was Christian
and who was not. "Now," he said, "we can't. The
Muslims are without veils, the Christians are without veils.
Everything has changed. Now sometimes even Christians are putting
on veils as fashion, so you can't tell the difference."
CHRISTMAS MASS CELEBRATION IN DAMASCUS
Courtesy of the Arabic News (26 December)
(ZNDA: Damascus) A great Mass in celebration of Christmas day was held at the Cathedral of the Greek Catholic in Al-Zaytoon quarter in Damascus.
After the Mass the patriarchal vicar of the Greek-Catholic Archbishop Izidor Battikha pronounced Christmas sermons and urged people to consolidate their fraternity, solidarity and unity for the good of the society, the homeland and the humanity.
Archbishop Battikha greeted President Bashar Al-Assad national stances and his continued efforts for reinforcing the national unity on the basis of the real sincerity and love.
Meantime, Syrian Minister of Awqaf, Islamic Trusts, Mohammed Ziada yesterday visited representatives of the Christian communities in Damascus on the occasion of Christmas.
The Minister visited Greek Orthodox Patriarch Agnatius IV Hazim,
Patriarch Zakka Iwaz I of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Patriarch
Assador Battikha, Archbishop of Syriac Catholics Elias Taber,
Pastor of the Maronite Patriarchate Rymond Eid; Representative
of the Latin Community, Romaldo Fernandes; and Pastor Secretary
General of the Anglican Church in Syria and Lebanon, Adib Awad.
IRAQI CHRISTIANS FEAR BEING SCAPEGOATS FOR U.S. WAR
Courtesy of San Francisco Chronicle (25 December); article by Robert Collier
(ZNDA: Baghdad) Christmas comes for Iraqis with plenty of tinsel, packed churches and the mournful, mystical tone of millennia-old chants.
A veneer of normality prevailed everywhere in Baghdad on Christmas Eve. Christmas trees were sold on several street corners, and liquor stores -- almost all of which are owned by Christians -- were doing a brisk business as people stocked up for holiday parties.
Beneath the surface, however, is the gut-wrenching fear of war -- and, perhaps worse, what might happen after the bullets stop flying.
For Iraq's approximately 800,000 Christians, today is truly a Christmas like no other.
By any measure, Christians, who constitute 4 percent of Iraq's population, are a privileged minority, and they may have much to lose if the United States invades the country in the coming weeks, as appears increasingly likely. Despite their cultural links to the West -- most Iraqi Christians are relatively wealthy and have relatives living in the United States -- they have been protected by Saddam Hussein from fundamentalist Islam, and they are broadly loyal to his regime.
"This is a very sad Christmas, and we are very afraid of the New Year," said Bishop Constantine Delli, deputy patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, which represents most of Iraq's Christians.
The Chaldean Catholics, who are loyal to the Vatican, trace their roots to the fourth century A.D., when their creed became the official religion of the Mesopotamian region of the Roman Empire.
Delli voiced the widespread concern of Iraqi Christians that if the United States invades, the resulting chaos could cause the Muslim masses to carry out pogroms against Christians.
"Unless the government is able to act with a very strong
hand, there could be violence against Christians," he said.
"They may be influenced by Saudi Arabia, becoming fanatic."
CHRISTMAS EVE SERVICE
Those fears were right below the surface during the Christmas Eve service at Our Mother of Sorrows Church in downtown Baghdad, the country's largest.
The pews were packed, tree boughs were hung overhead, and creches were in the corners. But there was an otherworldly timelessness, too -- as always for Chaldeans, the liturgy and music were in ancient Aramaic, the language Jesus Christ is believed to have spoken.
The location of Our Mother of Sorrows is symbolic of Iraqi Christians' current state of mind. The church is squeezed among narrow streets clogged with handcarts and honking vehicles, hemmed in by the enormous Souk Araby on one side and a large mosque on another.
The Rev. Nidheer Dakko, Our Mother of Sorrows' priest, said: "Some traditional Muslims hate Christians. Not the government, no. They protect us.
"But this time, some Muslims see us as the enemy. Because America is Christian, they say the Christians are bombing Iraq," he added, referring to the sporadic attacks by U.S. and British planes enforcing the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq. "If there is war now, many, many Muslims will try to kill Christians because of this."
Iraqi Christians note anxiously that 60 percent of Iraq's population is Shiite, the version of Islam predominant in neighboring Iran. If the United States succeeds in overthrowing Hussein's regime, Dakko says, the new government may be dominated by Shiites. Several southern Shiite clerics have recently said that Iraq should adopt Shariah, or fundamentalist Islamic law.
"The Shiites hate the Sunnis and Christians," said Dakko. Sunni is the branch of Islam predominant in central and northern Iraq. "This is a problem. Iran likes the Shiites because it wants to make Iraq part of Iran."
Fears were compounded after the Aug. 15 murder and beheading
of a Catholic nun, Cecilia Hanna, in the northern city of Mosul.
The motive was later determined to be robbery, not religion,
and three culprits were sentenced to long prison terms -- only
to be set free when Hussein gave a mass amnesty to thousands
of prisoners in November.
CHRISTIANS DO WELL IN IRAQ
Christians have more status in Iraq than in any other Arab nation except Lebanon, and they constitute a large part of the country's merchants and intelligentsia. Prominent Christians include Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, the most powerful man in the regime after Hussein, and the late Michel Aflaq, the Syrian founder of the ruling Iraqi Baath Party, who was the mentor of young Saddam Hussein when he was in exile in Damascus in the 1950s.
Christmas Day and the day after are official holidays for Christians -- Muslims don't get the day off. The Orthodox Christmas, Jan. 6 and 7, is also a holiday for Christians.
Since the Gulf War, the internationally isolated Hussein has increasingly embraced conservative Islam -- a political gambit, his critics say.
In 1994, with his regime becoming imperiled by the economic crisis brought about by U.N. sanctions, he ordered the closure of all nightclubs and bars and banned the sale of alcohol in restaurants.
He has spent large sums in building mosques, including one
in Baghdad, that when completed will be the largest in the world
outside Mecca. The Muslim call to prayer is broadcast on state
television five times daily, after which quasi- Muslim homilies
written by the dictator are read.
MUSLIM, CHRISTIAN FRIENDS
A few blocks away from Our Mother of Sorrows, one of many conversations taking place at the same time showed how Iraqi secular tolerance will not die easily.
Gathered around an elegantly appointed table in a 200-year-old house was store owner Amal al-Khedairy and her friends Selwa and Sana Wazir. Al-Khedairy is Muslim; the other two are Armenian Catholic.
"We have never had anything to fear in this country," said Selwa Wazir. "People here are friends. We are all Iraqis, just like the people here in this room."
"But there are plenty of people who keep on saying we are not good Muslims because we are so tolerant," said al-Khedairy. "They keep saying this, and if you Americans come here, they will say it even more, and my friends will be blamed for anything that happens."
"This is the wrong time of year for such thoughts,"
said Sana Wazir. "Why can't we just love each other?"
LITTLE CHRISTMAS CHEER FOR IRAQ'S CHRISTIANS
Courtesy of Reuters (25 December); article by Nadim Ladki
(ZNDA: Baghdad) Iraqi Christians put on a brave face to celebrate Christmas on Wednesday but there was little joy as the shadow of war with the United States loomed large.
Members of the minority Christian community held mass in churches across Iraq, sang carols to celebrate the birth of their savior and prayed for peace.
But with President Saddam Hussein, in a Christmas message to Iraqis, warning that the drums of a U.S.-led war against Iraq were beating louder, the mood was somber.
"We are celebrating Christmas like any other people in the world and we are praying for peace to all," Maria Mardic told Reuters.
Some said they were celebrating Christmas as an act of defiance.
"We celebrate Christmas and practice our normal life despite the American threats and the embargo," a restaurant owner in Baghdad said.
But the fear of what might be around the corner was all too clear.
"I am going through the motions here," said a man who identified himself only as Marwan.
"I know it is Christmas but it doesn't feel like Christmas. All what we can think of is the looming war."
The United States has threatened to lead a military coalition to disarm Iraq if it does not obey U.N. resolutions. It is building up its forces in the Middle East as U.N. weapons inspectors looking for alleged banned weapons.
Iraq denied it has any nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
"We want to live in peace and these things spoil our lives and take away the joy of Christmas," Anglican priest Ikram Mahni told Reuters.
"We pray to the Lord to halt this war and let us live in peace together, Christians and Muslims, in Iraq," he said at Baghdad's Anglican church.
Flower shops and restaurants in the posh Karradah neighborhood of Baghdad were decorated for the occasion. Santa Claus made several appearances in the area and his portraits joined pictures of Saddam on some shop windows.
Christians number about 1.5 million out of a total Iraqi population of about 23 million, the vast majority of them Muslims. The colorful mosaic of Christian sects includes Chaldeans, Copts, Roman and Melkite Catholics, Maronites and Greek Orthodox.
Among the most prominent Iraqi Christians is Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz.
In his Christmas message, Saddam said the festive season this year was marked by special circumstances "created by the powers of evil and darkness to spread chaos and create states of destabilization and tension" in many parts of the world.
To achieve the goal of controlling the wealth of countries, he said the "forces of evil" resort to "various ways and means of lies and deception, fabrication and false accusation, as well as threats and military aggression."
"It is in this context that the American-Zionist campaign
against Iraq is being launched while the tone of a threatened,
large-scale military aggression against our peace-loving people
is growing louder," he said.
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT: SADDAM AND THE CHALDEAN CHURCH IN IRAQ
(ZNDA: Rome) In recent days, Fides, news agency of the Vatican’s De Propaganda Fide office, published online a weighty dossier on the Chaldean Church.
In large part it’s a dossier on Iraq, home to a good number of Chaldean Catholics, with their patriarch, Raphael I Bidawid (in the photo, next to his procurator in Rome, Philip B. Najim).
The dossier gives a positive image of Christians in this country. Yes, there is the threat of war, the lack of food and medicine, the plague of emigration. In addition, “from time to time, incidents take place, especially since the gradual spread of a fundamentalist current in the Arab world.”
But on the other hand, Catholics in Iraq “don’t undergo discrimination” and enjoy “religious freedom,” even if it’s “within the limits set by the state.”
And what about Saddam Hussein? Says Msgr. Antonios Mina, representative of the Chaldean church to the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches:
”Relations with the government are good. In the government, there is vice premier Tareq Aziz, who is a Chaldean Catholic; his wife is a strong believer. Patriarch Raphael Bidawid is highly esteemed, respected by the civil authorities.”
Nothing new to this point. On the contrary. On repeated occasions, Patriarch Bidawid has praised Saddam Hussein in an even stronger manner. Most recently, in an October interview with “Panorama,” he said: “Christians here are privileged. Saddam gives us what we want, listens to us and protects us.” Regarding Islamic extremists: “They have infiltrated the veins of religious power and are trying to steer it in their direction. But the government keeps them in check. Saddam is capable; he fools them into being more open in order to uncover them. He will get them.”
Previously, on Sept. 18, Bidawid told the missionary news agency
Misna that he feared war especially for one reason:
Implication: If Saddam goes, anarchy will break loose in Iraq, and without him as a shield, it will be the end for Christians.
There’s truth in this. But more striking than anything else in the “Fides” dossier and in the patriarch’s words is the deafening silence on the actual state of religious and civil liberty in Iraq.
For Christians in Iraq, the silence is understandable. It is less so for a Vatican agency like “Fides,” which in the past has distinguished itself for the precision and completeness of its information.
Less still since this is not reserved information. It’s enough to leaf through the reports of Amnesty International or Aid to the Church in Need in order to get a picture of the daily massacre of lives and of human rights in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Christians are also victims of this massacre, increasingly so in recent months. A 71-year-old nun, Cecilia Hannamushi, had her throat slit August 15 in Baghdad. The second Sunday of September at Mossul, some Muslims assaulted a group of faithful with knives and bottles as they were leaving Mass. The caretaker of a Christian cemetery was attacked and his wife raped by a group of Islamists. Again at Mossul, Bishop Basile Georges Casmoussa, constrained by threats, had to cover the cross on top of one of the churches, and the nuns of one convent found one of their statues of Mary veiled in the Muslim manner. You can read the details in the Nov. 10, 2002 article by Lorenzo Cremonesi in “Corriere della Sera” and the Nov. 12, 2002 article by Hugh Pope in “The Wall Street Journal.”
But these acts targeting Christians are carried out by Islamic fanatics, hated by the regime itself. What is worse is something else.
What is worse is the massive, unrelenting state persecution that crushes the principal victims of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship: Shiite Muslims.
Shiites make up the majority of the Iraqi population, 60-65 percent of a total of around 23 million.
But Saddam favors Sunni Muslims, who make up 32-37 percent of the population, in everything. And he also tries -- with a mixture of privileges and subjugations -- to win to his side the Christian minority, which is 2-3 percent of the population and of whom almost 300,000 are Chaldean Catholics. For the record, Saddam’s personal tailor and barber are Christians.
The persecution of Shiite Muslims at the hands of the regime is summarized by Aid to the Church in Need in its 2002 report on religious freedom in the world:
“Among the gravest measures is the ironclad control of places of worship, the prohibition of processions, the prohibition or limitation of the diffusion of religious texts or religious programs in the media, the prohibition of Shiite leaders leading prayer, interference in the organization of pilgrimages and the Shiite commemoration of Ashura. The government policy has reached its climax with the arrest and assassination of many Shiite religious leaders.”
But the chapter on Iraq in Amnesty International’s 2002 report
is much more detailed. The 2002 edition of the American State Department’s
international report on religious liberty states: "The [Iraqi]
Government for decades has conducted a brutal campaign of killings,
summary execution, arbitrary arrest, and protracted detention against
the religious leaders and followers of the majority Shi’a Muslim
population and has sought to undermine the identity of minority Christian
(Assyrian and Chaldean) and Yazidi groups. The regime systematically
has killed senior Shi’a clerics, desecrated Shi’a mosques
and holy sites, interfered with Shi’a religious education, and
prevented Shi’a adherents from performing their religious rites.
Shi'a Arabs, the religious majority of the population, long have been
disadvantaged economically, politically, and socially. Christians
also report various abuses including repression of political rights".
THE POPE ORDAINS A NEW CHALDEAN BISHOP
Courtesy of the Zenit News Agency (6 January)
(ZNDA: Vatican) On Monday, Pope John Paul II ordained 12 bishops on the solemnity of the Epiphany and asked them to "become light to guide the way of nations, weighed down by darkness and confusion." The Pope bestowed on the bishops the symbols of their ministry: the ring, sign of fidelity; the miter, symbol of holiness; and the staff, symbol of the shepherd. One of the new bishops is from Iraq. Monsignor Andraos Abouna of the Patriarchal Eparchy of Baghdad, Iraq, was born on March 23, 1943, ordained a priest June 5, 1966, named titular bishop of Zenobia of the Chaldeans and appointed auxiliary of the Patriarchate of Babylonia of the Chaldeans, in Iraq, on Nov. 6.
The celebration was held in a festive atmosphere. Following the Mass,
a cavalcade led by the three Magi and composed of a thousand participants
dressed in traditional costumes, entered St. Peter's Square.
CHALDEAN FEDERATION’S LETTER TO PRESIDENT BUSH
Chaldean Federation of America
December 3, 2002
President George W. Bush
Dear Mr. President:
Please be advised that the cultural and ethnic grouping of the population of Iraq consists primarily of the following groups: 72% Arabs; 18% Kurds, 3.5% Chaldeans; 1.5% Assyrians and Syriacs; and 5% all other groups (including Turkomans and Yazydies).
Contemporary Chaldeans are the descendants of the inhabitants of ancient Mesopotamia. Their ancestors converted to Christianity during the first centuries of the Christian era. Their Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church, is in communion with Roman Catholic Church.
Since the middle of the 16th Century until the present time the majority of the Christians of Mesopotamia adopted the name “Chaldean” as the expression of their ethnic and cultural identity. This nomenclature in fact relates to the last national Mesopotamian Empire with its splendid Capital Babylon before foreign invaders conquered the country (i.e. the Parthian, the Persians, the Arabs, the Mongols, and finally the Ottoman Turks). The language of ancient and contemporary Chaldeans is Aramaic, the same language that Jesus Christ spoke.
Though a small segment in number, the Chaldeans of today’s Iraq are more than a mere minority group. They represent the historic remnant of ancient Mesopotamia in today’s Iraq.
The Chaldean Federation of America, representing more than 150,000 proud Chaldean Americans (the majority of which are of Iraqi descent) stands ready to assist you an dour U.S. Government at anytime.
Please contact us at (248) 557-2362 if you require additional information.
Very truly yours,
Approved and Endorsed by:
Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim
Bishop Sarhad Y. Jammo
Received 26 December 2002
December 11, 2002
Re: CFA Position Regarding Assyrian / Chaldean / Syriac People Living in North Iraq
The Chaldean Federation of America (CFA), representing Chaldean Americans in the United States of America is concerned with ensuring hat the human, civil and legal rights of all Chaldean people throughout the world are protected and that our rich culture and heritage is preserved and that our people are entitled to live their lives in peace, without fear and with dignity.
We realize that after the 1991 Gulf War, many Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac families fled the country. Over fifty thousand of them became refugees all over the world. More than ten thousand Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac refuges are currently living in the No-Fly Zone of northern Iraq. They join thousands of other Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac families currently living there. Historically, Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac people have lived in those parts since 5000 B.C.
Unfortunately, our people are living under critical conditions. The worst cases can be found in rural areas where there is a lack of clean water, schooling, electricity and many other basic human needs. Many of this is due to the damage done to the infrastructure and shortage of equipment and necessary resources.
We thank the world community and many humanitarian organizations, such as the Assyrian Aid Society, the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Churches and many others, in generously lending their helpful and caring hands to ease the hardship that our people are enduring on a daily basis. The CFA especially acknowledges and recognizes the great efforts of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) in representing and serving the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac people in that part of the country in all aspects of life, be it social, cultural, educational, political, or other. With their dedication and commitment, the ADM was able to obtain Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac representation by placing 5 members in the 105 seats of the Parliament and to hold a mandated position of Minister in the region’s Government.
We commend and praise the ADM’s implementation of many necessary and valuable projects such as building schools and proving transportation to students from Kindergarten through 12th grade from far villages and for teaching our beloved language in schools. IN fact, it gives us great pride to see that the ADM has printed textbooks in our own language that allows for instruction of materials of official subjects in schools where the majority of students are Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac. Additionally, it has also been repeatedly demonstrated to us by facts and actions that the Assyrian Democratic Movement, along with many other affiliated organizations, are helping the underprivileged, the underserved and poor families with the basic necessities of life such as food and shelter. The ADM has also helped to provide irrigation systems to many farms that lack water and have supplied generators for electricity to many homes and villages. They have continued to do so since the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War and have always promised to continue and increase such good deeds.
We are pleased that the ADM by-laws and platform reflects that Assyrians/Chaldeans are one nation. However, we recommend to the ADM the importance of advocating the true reality of the unity of Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac people and to carry that powerful message throughout the world. We are confident that our inquiries will be prioritized and fulfilled in the near future.
Subsequently, the CFA is prepared to work with and assist the ADM and our unity, be it individual or organization that offers humanitarian assistance to our great united Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Nation. United We Stand.
Chaldean Federation of America
Courtesy of IslamOnLine.net (24 December)
(ZNDA: Washington) As Washington prepares to invade Iraq, it stands puzzled by the possibility of waging war and avoiding at once widespread devastation of Iraq's priceless antiquities and archeological treasures.
The U.S. fears worldwide anger if its war on Iraq inflicts damage to Iraq’s irreplaceable religious and cultural artifacts v part of the world's cultural heritage.
The possibility that war could lead to the destruction of even a small percentage of Iraq's historical treasures has raised the concern of scholars, curators and archeologists from around the world, Agence France-Presse (AFP) said on December 24, in a detailed report.
The report quoted Ashton Hawkins, president of the American Council for Cultural Policy and Maxwell Anderson, president of the American Association of Art Museum Directors, as saying that it is not just the Iraqis who will be impoverished should U.S. missiles strike Iraqi archeological sites.
"What they contain is not merely the patrimony of one small nation but that of much of the modern world, including the United States," they wrote in an opinion piece published recently in the U.S. press.
There are roughly some 10,000 archeological sites throughout the area, according to experts, the oldest of which date back to 5000 BC and the vast majority of which are unexplored. Pentagon officials are trying to locate where these treasures are, U.S. officials say, according to AFP.
Most important are archeological sites located in and near the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur, identified in the Bible as the home of Abraham and deemed by some scholars to be the cradle of civilization, said AFP.
U.S. forces are accused of having pillaged treasures from Ur, the most splendid of all the ancient Sumerian cities of Mesopotamia, following Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War.
Many foreigners have also financed the theft of archeological pieces, Iraq has maintained, pointing an accusing finger at diplomats posted in Baghdad, as well as U.N. employees.
Other important archeological sites is Nineveh, the capital of the ancient Assyrian empire, located in what is now northern Iraq. Both Ur and Nineveh locales hold substantial undiscovered antiquities.
Washington has enlisted a team of experts knowledgeable about the region who will catalogue information about historical and archeological sites scattered across Iraqi territory, and who have agreed to pass that information to the Pentagon, said AFP.
Leading the effort is McGuire Gibson, an archeologist from the University of Chicago who has made frequent expeditions to Iraq over the past decade. Working with him is Charles Butterworth, a professor at the University of Maryland.
"They contacted us because they recognize our expertise in this field," said Butterworth, who described Iraq's treasures as being of "incalculable historical value."
Gibson and Butterworth, who are to be aided by about 40 academics in the task of locating and charting Iraq's historical sites, have a longstanding interest in the antiquities of the region. The duo had hoped years ago to open a historical research center in Iraq, but that effort had to be abandoned because of the 1991 war on the country.
"The work is indispensable," Butterworth said. "The plotting of these sites was done by the Iraqis a long time ago, and is not precise enough."
Even artifacts safeguarded at the Museum of Baghdad are not fully out of harm's way, Butterworth told AFP.
He warned that a nearby television station would be a prime target of U.S. missiles, and worried that a bomb explosion might lay waste to the museum and its precious exhibits.
Josh Keller, a military expert with the Federation of American Scientists, initially said that the risk of a missile striking an Iraqi museum or cultural site is diminished in this era of "smart bomb" technology, which allows the U.S. military to mark its target with pinpoint accuracy.
But, he eventually admitted that such a system is not foolproof.
"It is difficult to mark the area electronically. It has to
be done by the intelligence," Keller said, adding that "it's
almost impossible to mark every area."
REMEMBERING MARTYR MIHAYEL CUDI
The Syriac Cultural Association in Augsburg, Bethnahrin Information and Social Bureau; along with the members, friends and sympathizers are holding the first anniversary of the martyrdom of Freedom Fighter Cudi, who died in action on 11 January 2002 and became the second Martyr of the Mesopotamia Freedom Party (GHB).
The Commemoration is scheduled to be held on Saturday, January 11th 2003 at 18.30 p.m. in the Bethnahrin Information and Social Bureau. Prälat-Bigelmair-Str. 3 , 86154 Augsburg/Germany.
The Bethnahrin Information & Social Bureau invites all Assyrian-Syriacs and their Institutions without any differences of names or denominations, to join us to commemorate this young and respectful Freedom Fighter and hereby recognise his struggle for the freedom of our people.
A Short Biography of Mihayel Cudi:
Mihayel Cudi was born on 2 February 1971, to parents Mesut and Hana in the village of Hassana, close to the Turkey's border with Iraq. In 1978 together with his family he settled in the Netherlands. After completing his studies, he became a police officer. In 1996 he became a sympathizer of the Bethnahrin Freedom Party (formally known as Patriotic Revolutionary Organization of Bethnahrin). In 1998 he became a professional political cadre of the organization and in spring 1999, after the 1st Organizational National Conference, he was sent to homeland. There he was active for the party in Mossoul (Nineveh) and in other areas of the region in the field of public relations. On Friday, 11 January 11 2002, Mihayel Cudi became –during active duty - a martyr. On 13 January 2002 Mihayel Cudi was buried in the mountains of his homeland. Mihayel Cudi was a respected and beloved military commander and political cadre of the Bethnahrin Freedom Party - Section Iraq.
Glory To Our Martyr!
Information & Social Bureau
AN ANCIENT LANGUAGE IN DANGER OF DISAPPEARING
Half of the 6,000 world languages may disappear in the next 50 years. The causes have to do with globalization and the increasing power of some dozen major languages, which are diminishing the usefulness of languages spoken by small numbers of people.
One of these languages in danger of disappearing is Aramaic, the
language spoken by Jesus. Who is to blame for turning this language
into an endangered species? George Bush and Saddam Hussein and the
possibility of a war between the two countries.
MILLIONS OF ASSYRIANS
The Assyrians speak Aramaic. They are a Christian community of one million living in the no-fly zone in Northern Iraq, where the Kurds were allowed to build an autonomous region free of Hussein's control. The Assyrians are a minority within a minority. Other Assyrians live in Syria, Turkey and Iran under governments that are insensitive to their needs. About four million Assyrians are scattered in the United States, Europe and Australia.
Aramaic was banned under Hussein, but now it is taught in 35 schools in the northern autonomous zone. That may not last long.
• If the United States attacks Iraq and manages to get rid of Hussein, the Kurds will take advantage of the chaos and declare their independence.
• Once Hussein is out of the picture, Turkey might seize control of Northern Iraq, attracted by the oil field of the region, particularly the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul. During the recent election, in fact, nationalist Turkish politicians and senior generals campaigned along these lines.
The absence of a common enemy for Assyrians and Kurds will spell trouble for the smaller of the two minorities. A radical change of the status quo would endanger their ethnic and linguistic aspirations.
Although the current situation is not ideal, a certain stability has been achieved between Kurds and Assyrians. Both have benefited from the no-fly zone. Assyrians have representatives in the Kurdish Parliament.
Under Hussein, both Kurds and Assyrians have suffered. Before Hussein, the Assyrians had been persecuted by Persian armies and the Ottoman Turks. The 1915 Turkish genocide was directed at Armenians as well as Assyrians.
Assyrians fear that the Kurds will take Hussein's place as persecutor. Despite the recent relative cooperation between Assyrians and Kurds, tensions have arisen. Many Assyrians were forced off their land in the '70s and '80s. Now that the Kurds control that land -- loaded with oil, of course -- ownership has become a point of contention.
Assyrians also have been repeatedly attacked by Kurdish Islamic groups, including Jund al-Islam (Soldiers of Islam), suspected of having ties to al Qaeda. Kurdish authorities have banned the groups, but the Assyrians claim that the Kurds have been slow to bring the attackers to justice. The Kurds also have attempted to classify Assyrians as ''Kurdish Christians,'' which the Assyrians consider an attack on their ethnicity, recalling Hussein's attempt to ''Arabize'' the north by forcing Assyrians and Kurds to call themselves Arabs.
The future of languages is inextricably linked to the political power of a people. Some languages have been kept alive because of religion, as is the case with Hebrew. Aramaic, Jesus' language, has remained alive because people continued to use it in their daily lives. The fact that two billion people follow Jesus' teachings has had little impact in keeping Aramaic alive. That may not be a concern to Hussein. Is it a concern to Bush?
Domenico Maceri, a columnist to www.HispanicVista.com,
teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria,
2ND WORLD ASSYRIAN CONFERENCE
SCOPE & PURPOSE
The current political and cultural processes have a strong impact on the existence of the Assyrian nation. In the Middle East and in the Diaspora the increasing dynamics and complexity of societies require new instruments for steering the National Movement. Our task is to raise intellectual level of our people. Positive experience of the first similar conference which was held in Moscow on May 10-11, 2002 entitled “Assyrians Today: Issues and Perspectives” gives us grounds to prepare the 2nd World Assyrian Conference in Moscow on April 25-27, 2003. It was decided to hold the conference under the motto “Assyrians today: historiography and linguistics”. The urgency of this topic has some forcible arguments (see: Press Release).
The Organizing Committee fixes the following important dates:
1. The 2nd World Assyrian Conference will be held from April 25 to April 27, 2003. An additional cultural programme is on April 28, 2003.
2. The deadline for accepting applications for participation in the work of the Conference, payment and abstracts presentation is March 1, 2003.
3. Payment will be organized with a reduced charge before March 1, 2003 (see Registration Fees and Hotel Accommodation), and with a full charge – until the beginning of the conference.
Meetings of the Second World Assyrian Conference will be dedicated
to the following issues:
Last Name_______________________ First Name_________________________________
Institution (or job)____________________________ Title___________________________
Street________________________ City___________________ Zip Code_______________
Country________________ Phone___________ Fax___________ E-mail______________
Due to the production method of the book of abstracts, submissions by electronic mail are preferable.
Please, tick desirable audio-visual requirements:
The meetings will take place in the conference-hall of the hotel
“Rossiya” (6 Varvarka Str.).
Hotel “Rossiya” (about 100 meters from the Kremlin):
Hotel “Baltchug Kempinsky (*****)
Hotel “Metropol” (*****)
I wish to reserve_______________________ arrival_____________ departure___________
Banquet with gala-concert (Classic, Gipsy and Assyrian folk groups)
- 60 US$
Visa Support: For reception of visas, please,
inform us of the following:
The official Conference languages are English, Russian and Assyrian. Simultaneous interpretation of English and Russian will be provided.
The Organizing Committee
Address: P.O.Box 18, Moscow, 127642, RUSSIA
Please, send your Registration Form and Abstracts to the Organizing Committee as soon as possible.
World Assyrian Congress II
We of the Orthodox community believe that Turkeys attempts to enter the European Union should be denied. Now with a Islamic fundamentalist government, they have proven themselves unworthy of joining such a prestigious union. Presecution to Orthodox Christians, in its surrounding area has not only happened in the past, yet it continues today.
Below are three accounts from each Orthodox civilisation (Assyrian, Armenian, and Greek). All were transcribed in the early 20th century.
More than sixty Assyrian notables were taken from the French mission and shot by Turkish troops. Among these was Mar Dinkha, a bishop of the Assyrian Church. "Here, then, in the ancient city of Tebarma, the scene of many previous martyrdoms, an Assyrian bishop is being led to be executed. He was not alone. He had a large company of his Christian brethren with him. What Mar Shimun Bar Sabaee, the first Assyrian Patriarch had done, during the persecution of Shapur the Magi, in the fourth century, was now to be gloriously repeated by another bishop of his church in the twentieth century. The Moslems had established a rule in asking of their victims to deny Christ and embrace Islam in order to save their lives. But weaker men and women than this body of prisoners had already chosen to be burned alive, and to be cut to pieces with aces, then deny their Redeemer! 'Be brave, take courage, be patient, falter not, be firm and look up. In a few moments we will be with Christ!' With such words he encouraged his companions in bonds, till they reached the end of their fatal journey, where they were all shot to death."
"Once they found themselves in secluded parts of the regions, the Turkish soldiers began hanging, murdering, raping and burning the Armenian people who could be influential in leading an uprising against them; professional people like doctors, writers, poets, professors, phillosophers and noblemen. After this first wave of executions, they began their pillage against the remainaing Armenian people."
"The poor Christians would not leave their homes, as a result the Turkish Government said that the Greek people should not be afraid and an order was issued for them to go back to their jobs and continue normally. The poor people believe them and few days after, on the morning of the 16th of June 1921 the city of Samsounta was surrounded by police. The Turks arrested all the Greeks, even those amongst the workers of the American Tobacco Company. These poor people, around 3000 of them, ages from 12 to 60 were locked up in the Turkish school Kutchuk Mearif. The Turkish police was very brutal to them. In the morning they were exiled to the central Turkey, naked hungry, beaten up by the savage policemen that guarded them. This poor caravan of 999 people began its Golgotha of its martyrdom. 2 days later another caravan under even worst conditions left Samsounta with 1200 people and the next, the 3rd one with 751 people left next day."
Therefore I pledge to you to sign this petition so that this atrocity cannot be repeated. Thank you for your time.
Posted on the Ireland Independent Media Centre on 6 January 2003
YAA KHELAAWAAT'E GOOR'E
[Oh Great Powerful Nations]
A song that has been translated and distributed to all of the United
Nation members. The deception by the British for a
After World War One, the Assyrians ("The Smallest Ally"
as the British called us) suffered great casualties and a started
a mass exodus to countries around the world (especially between
the years 1919 and 1923.) The burden of blame falls upon the shoulders
of the British (as if they don't have enough blood on their hands)
for pulling the rug on
Evin's song, "HABANIA" puts it bluntly, "For that black blood, what red blood was poured". Indelible as our blood is on British hands, it is also shared with the perpetrators of the massacres. The same perpetrators of the genocide of 1,100,000 of our Christian brothers, the Armenians, in Eastern Turkey. The suffrage of the Armenians is not well acknowledged by most of the world and ours in completely ignored. Our persecution still continues. It is one of the only areas in the world where a first class population is treated as second class citizens by third class people.
Disbursed throughout the world, Assyrians current enemy is assimilation.
Gratified that we can live in such a beautiful country, a great
burden is placed on EACH individual to maintain the culture and
our most significant triumph is to
With that as the largest hurdle, the rest is easy.
THE NAME, THE CHURCH AND THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE
Certain voices had risen lately requesting the drop of any argument concerning the name issue and the Chaldean controversy. We have to admit that there is a problem, whether caused by few individuals or by certain institutions and for one reason or another. This problem obviously is more complicated than many have thought and it is not going to be resolved on its own; therefore, it needs to be addressed thoroughly. It is stated that when there is good will there is always a solution. But, it is obvious too that there are few opportunists and ill-hearted individuals among us who desire to keep this issue unresolved and have our people separated in these most crucial times. Many clergy avoid getting involved in this matter since they believe in the separation of state and church. Unfortunately, everybody does not subscribe to this policy. Certain bishops have been leading the separation movement since the early 1990s and as the latest letter from Saad Marouf, and bishops Ibrahim Ibrahim and Sarhad Jammo to President Bush dated December 3, 2002, indicate clearly. Unfortunately, the health of our aged and beloved patriarch, Mar Raphael I BiDawid, is preventing him from confronting this separatist group. All this explains why the unity issue between the Church of the East and Chaldean Catholic Church in specific has been halted with the exception of general meetings concerning theological concerns that have continued.
Fact is that we cannot stay on the sidelines; a true Assyrian cannot but be greatly concerned about this on-going misunderstanding. The Assyrians have fought for some 100 years to protect their rights and preserve their national name. For almost two centuries the Catholic Church had been, and successfully, expanding at the expense of the Church of the East as more of the latter’s members had become Catholics and hence Chaldeans. Still, there was no serious attempt to stop that bleeding since the process in general stayed exclusively in a religious frame. Others argue too that there was nothing that anybody could have done because of the power behind the Catholic movement in the Middle East. But when this religious name Chaldean turned officially into a political and national agenda in the last few years, the Assyrians had no alternative but to react, some too aggressively than others.
Few have implied that many Assyrian nationalists and activists had consistently abused and attacked this title Chaldean. This is absolutely false since there has been no such treatment and if few have, it was only after the fact that this religious title was elevated to an ethnic designation and linked to the ancient Chaldeans of southern Mesopotamia. Historically, there is no link between the ancient Chaldeans of southern Mesopotamia (today’s southern Iraq) and modern-day Chaldeans living predominantly in northern Iraq. The Bible says: “Behold the land of the Chaldeans; this people was not, till the Assyrians founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness …” (Isaiah 23:13). Meanwhile, the Syriac Dictionary has given the translation for the title Chaldean as an astronomer and astrologer (P. Payne Smith “Thesaurus Syriacus”. In “A Compendious Syriac Dictionary”, edited by J. Payne Smith, Eisenbrauns, 1998). The ancient Chaldeans, some argue, were not a people rather a group of professionals within the Babylonian society. Furthermore, it is a well-known fact that in the past two centuries or so the two religious so-called Nestorians and Chaldeans groups, have to a great extent, indulged in unforgiving acts of labeling and attacking each other in the Mosul plain. It was never a one sided activities of insults and mal-treatment, whether those unfortunate activities were inflicted directly or indirectly. One cannot forget what the Catholic missionaries had done to build this wall of isolation between our communities since 19th century and little beyond.
If we were to analyze our affairs in the last 200 years, one can conclude easily that the name and the church issues are interwoven and one can hardly separate them. Therefore, allow me to present our dilemma from these two different yet connected sides:
I. The Name Issue
There is no doubt today among the vast majority of our people that the title Chaldean was initiated in the Mosul plain (Iraq) in 1830 and earlier in Diyar Bakir (Turkey) in 1681 and 1552 and before that in Cyprus in 1445 as a starting point. The title Chaldean is a name that already existed in the Bible side by side other ancient titles. When the Vatican was in the process of selecting a new title for the Nestorian converts to Catholicism, it picked the Biblical title Chaldean. Some argue that this move by the Vatican was political designed to break up the Church of the East into smaller rival groups in order to control it and later destroy its glorious history.
The Good, the bad and the Ugly
Generally speaking, the members of the Chaldean Catholic Church are pious and ardent Christians. Certain conditions in Iraq have kept them from being involved in the national affairs with the exception of a political elite that has been associated with the Iraqi Communist Party for decades. Many well-to-do Catholics in Iraq have been in good terms with the various Iraqi governments, a policy that did pay off in the short run as they were left alone and treated relatively well compared to the members of the Church of the East. In the long run though, the policy had proven to be disastrous. The Chaldean Catholic Church consequently had abandoned its Syriac language and the community in general has been Arabized. This has alarmed all true nationalists among our communities, but we have lacked any solution that could be implemented to reverse the cycle. Such nationalists understand the dilemma we are in. This wholesome group understands history well and realizes that the majority of the members of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq look at themselves as Chaldeans simply due to seven or eight generations of erroneous understanding.
On the other hand, we all understand the fact that there is a serious conflict between the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East that stands in the way of any serious conciliation despite the 1994 Declaration of Understanding signed between the Vatican and the Church of the East. Additionally, and at a remote corner there is that very small separatist group that worked hard to create the Chaldean as a separate ethnicity than Assyrian in the 2000 U.S. Census and had succeeded according to the latest information provided by the Census Bureau.
Sadly, the Chaldean Catholic Church and Chaldean National Federation have not declared their CLEAR and OFFICIAL stands from this separatist movement! Is the Chaldean Catholic Church as a whole involved in this movement from behind the scenes? I do not know, but it seems that there is an internal struggle within the Chaldean Catholic Church regarding this issue. Few claim that this separatist movement is nothing but a blackmail tool by the Chaldean Catholic Church to force the Church of the East into unification under the Vatican conditions, i.e. a total submission of the Church of the East under the Vatican supremacy.
Of course when we talk about bad apples in society we are not singling out certain members of the Chaldean Catholic Church because there has been certain individuals among the Assyrians themselves who have been used by the various Iraqi governments throughout the modern history, such as malik Khoshaba, his son Yousip Khoshaba, Shlimon de Matran, Q. Kanja, W. Shawil and few others who have caused much unrest and division in the Assyrian community.
How was the Chaldean national movement initiated?
The U.S. 2000 Census issue that had started secretly in early 1990s by a very few members in the Chaldean Catholic Church sought official separation from the Assyrians. This has coincided with the rise of Assyrian movement in Iraq. At the top of those supporting the Chaldean name was Bishop Sarhad Jammo, then Fr. Jammo. He had written an unsubstantiated and weak article and submitted it to the Census Bureau in which he tried to boost the Chaldean name as an ethnic title separate than Assyrian. We had to understand that in the USA it is one of the easiest things to acquire a unique ethnic designation and category. The system and its requirements are loose and vague and they keep the doors wide open for unauthorized manipulation and tampering. We have to understand that ANY minority group of people in the USA could acquire such status, i.e. unique ethnic group, if it speaks a language other than English and had unique culture and traits different than the American majority. The question is whether this newly created Chaldean ethnic group was different than the original Assyrian ethnic code? That is the issue, which the Census Bureau failed to address carefully and completely.
That is why that separatist group initiated their movement in the USA. They had planned to acquire the separate ethnicity status in the USA and later export the recognized term to other regions in the world and particularly to Iraq in order to undermine the Assyrian national movement, as it is obvious today.
For the new designations by the Census Bureau in 1999, check the
Misconceptions and the Failed Promises
In preparations for the Census 2000, the argument used by the pro-slashed camp that fooled the Assyrian side represented by the Assyrian American National Federation, Assyrian Universal Alliance and the Assyrian Academic Society, all headquartered in Chicago, was that this category would boost our numbers and hence we would have been eligible for grants from the Federal and Local governments and it would thus empower us all. The official reports from the 2000 Census Bureau had shown that the “Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac” has gained a little over 25,000 votes over the figures of the 1990 census where Assyrian only was used. The 25,000 or so additional votes could have easily been there originally due to the substantial increase of Assyrians immigration to the USA since the Gulf War. Therefore, Assyrians, and in reality, gained almost nothing from the slashed solution except the dilution of their ethnic name. Furthermore, the slashed solution promised a united ONE NATION but it did not deliver for the simple fact that there was no intention of unity from the beginning; this was a movement of separation from its inception. In the last two years we have witnessed the creation of many copycat versions of the Assyrian institutions and history such as the Chaldean history, Chaldean language, Chaldean Aid Society, Chaldean flag, Chaldean Democratic Union, Chaldean Nation newspaper, and finally all crowned with the announcement of the new so-called Chaldean nation. Why they missed the Chaldean National anthem I am not sure, but it seems that an anthem needs certain creativity unlike most of the others that could be created in one draw of a pen! Additionally, a Chaldean National Congress is called to convene this week and few individuals from certain localities around the world will gather to put the foundation for this new entity. Are these signs of the promised ONE NATION?
The two positive things in all of the Census mess are the fact
b. In the language category, the Syriac remains a unified code
too (779). Check the link below.
II. The Church
There is great misunderstanding about the Assyrian Church of the East and Chaldean Catholic Church, so let us shed some light on this issue.
Is the Assyrian Church of the East Assyrian?
There is a very small group among the members and clergymen of the Assyrian Church of the East who represent themselves as the only heirs to the Assyrian name and history. The few clergymen among this small group are cautious and skeptical about any serious dialogue with the Catholic and other Orthodox churches. But the majority of the educated Assyrians do NOT subscribe to this thought. The fact that the Church of the East is universal in nature proves the fact that “Assyrians” do not have some sort of copyrights to the “Church of the East”. This I say despite the fact that today the Church of the East is almost exclusively Assyrian, if we exclude the isolated Karala Hindu and the very small Seattle and Sacramento American congregations. Hence, arguing about this matter over and over is useless since history does not support the thought. But if that was the case, some argue, why not then remove the Assyrian name from the title of the Church since the name Assyrian was added officially only in 1976 by Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV? Others respond to this by stating that nationalizing the Church is not something new. The Armenians call their church the Armenian Orthodox Church and the Greeks call it the Greek Orthodox Church even when the latter has congregations in Syria and Israel for example, who are not Greek ethnically. Therefore, the Assyrian Church of the East is no different. The question is whether removing the Assyrian title from the Church of the East would promote other denominations to accept the Assyrian name? This is not easy to answer as some argue again. Fact is that the Assyrian Church of the East is not claiming the Assyrian name rights to itself and that other churches could simply follow suit; i.e. others can rename their own churches as the Assyrian Catholic Church and Assyrian Orthodox Church, similar to the existing Assyrian Presbyterian Church. Who is stopping them? Could we as Assyrians benefit by removing the Assyrian name from the Church of the East? I personally do not see how, still, I would not mind it personally if indeed it guaranteed benefits to all Assyrians.
The Independence of the Church and its future
Certain high-ranking clergymen within the Church of the East raise the legitimate concern about the independence of the Church in their arguments if it was to unite with the Catholic Church. We know that the Chaldean Catholic Church is not completely an independent church. Despite the fact that the Chaldean Catholic Church and its patriarch has powers within its defined jurisdiction, confined basically in the Middle East, still, the Vatican has much influence in the decision making of the said church. We have to understand that when the Ottoman Empire recognized the title “Patriarch of Babylon over the Chaldeans” in 1844, it gave the Catholic patriarch powers within the Ottoman Empire borders only. Those powers became in the modern times restrictive as the Catholic Assyrians (i.e. Chaldeans) of the Middle East migrated to the west and fell outside the initial jurisdiction of the patriarch. The relationship between the Chaldean Church dioceses in Europe, America and Australia with the patriarch in Baghdad is complicated and the Vatican plays a crucial role in this relationship. The situation with the Chaldean Catholic Church is somehow similar to many other Catholic churches in the world where their supposed patriarchs are considered cardinals at best as far as the Vatican is concerned, where the Pope is in essence the patriarch and supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church.
Many clergy and laity in the Assyrian Church of the East fears that the latter’s union with the Chaldean Catholic Church will therefore place the new church under the direct authority of the Vatican. Therefore, the independence and the history of the glorious Church of the East will be undermined. We know that the Vatican for centuries has attempted to make Christianity a western religion. Western sects for millennia and more were state religions; therefore, they had the power to do whatever they wished for so long. The one hurdle the Vatican is desperate to remove is Eastern Orthodoxy and the Church of the East because these churches are the nucleus of Christianity.
Meanwhile, we all know that Christianity in the Middle East is dwindling because of the mass migration of Christians due to oppression and persecution. It is predicted that if the status quo continued then Christianity in the Middle East will almost completely disappear within the next five generations, if not sooner. As few claim, this is where the Pro Oriente comes in to undo this disaster! But at what price one might ask?
The Scenario According to Mar Sarhad Jammo
Many have claimed that Mar Bawai Soro had referred to Mar Sarhad Jammo as a nationalist who believes that the members of the two churches are ONE NATION; still, the latter in every occasion comes short from defining what the name of this ONE NATION is! Those in Mar Jammo’s circles argue that because the community has used this title Chaldean for certain generations, therefore, it is not easy to undo the mistake of the past. They add, and since the community is Arabized, they need to get the members of the Chaldean Catholic Church into the Assyrian fold in two steps. First, de-Arabize the community into a Chaldean one and later de-Chaldenize it into the original Assyrian! This to me is dangerous and makes no sense at all. Because when we legitimize the Chaldean name as an ethnic name, there is no guarantee that the switch from Chladeansim to Assyrianism will ever take place specially after all institutions will be put in place. Furthermore, the Catholic movement is still on the rise and by the time when Chaldeanism is obtained nobody can predict what kind of control Catholicism will have among the Assyrians and with the power of the church and the institutions in place, it would be too late for the Assyrians to do anything in case something went wrong. Many Assyrians argue that knowing were we are standing today and plan accordingly is less risky than standing idle and waiting for the unpredicted future.
It is obvious today that Assyrianism and Christianity go hand in hand. The church continues to play a major role in the Assyrian psyche and it has been proven that the two are almost inseparable and one cannot make it without the other. This is due to the reason that Assyrians in general have not yet matured nationally and politically. Therefore, any national solution to bring our separated people together should include bringing the separated Church of the East and Chaldean Catholic Church back together again. This would open the road for yet other future unifications with the Assyrian Orthodox Churches. I am concentrating on Iraqi affairs here since the Assyrian homeland is predominantly in Iraq today.
I believe that a compromise is possible but only when there is a will where all names would be honored and consideration to all aspects addressed. This could happen through the following levels and recommendations for example:
A. Church Level
1. The Assyrian Church of the East and Chaldean Catholic Church should unite under a title such as Syro-Chaldean Church of the East or simply “Church of the East”. Combined names such as Assyro-Chaldeans or Chaldo-Assyrians must NOT be considered to avoid future confusions by mixing national and religious titles. Syro-Chaldean meanwhile represents the two titles “Syrian” (Suryan) and “Chaldean” which is still in use in India.
2. The present two patriarchs should keep their positions; one as patriarch of the east and the other as patriarch of the west, with absolutely equal powers until one retires or leaves office for whatever reason.
3. A council of bishops is to be established comprising of equal number of bishops from both churches so there will be no dominating side. This council will in due course elect future patriarchs.
4. With the return of democracy to Iraq, the oppression will be lifted and there should remain no reason why the Church of the East-Old Calendar and the Assyrian Church of the East are not re-united again. The combined numbers of bishops from the re-united church should match with those in the Chaldean Catholic Church to create that Council of Bishops.
5. The present Patriarch of the Church of the East-Old Calendar can be given the title of Head of the Council of Bishops. He in due course could be elected as patriarch of the new Church of the East.
The new church though should preserve its independence some how with a full understanding of a Declaration of Communion with the Vatican ratified and a representative to the Vatican at a Special Ambassador level be appointed. The united church would accordingly reflect great assets and facilities to better serve our people worldwide.
B. National Level
The members of the Chaldean Catholic Church shall return to the Assyrian Mother fold. Everybody from the higher hierarchy to the simple member of the church must then denounce any efforts by separatists to create divisions among the one Assyrian Nation. In preparation for the 2010 Census, measures should be taken to undo any changes that were made in the Census 2000. The merger of the Chaldean Federation in the Assyrian American National Federation should be implemented as well.
C. Linguistic Level
Our language shall be referred to as Neo-Aramaic (Syriac).
No one can determine exactly how long the Assyrian glorious history spans; we know it is at least 4500 years old. It would be a great loss to mankind to loose this history. Therefore, we have a moral obligation today to give the Assyrian national movement all the support it deserves in order to face the challenges of the foreseen world future. With unity, we can reach the stars; divided we will stand to lose dearly. It is our decision to make. Well, who holds the key to this unity? Most of the modern world has succeeded to reach an understanding of the concept of the separation of state and church; unfortunately and generally speaking Assyrians with all their denominations have not. This is a fact that we have to admit. The Assyrians continue to live by the eastern spiritual values that are embedded in their inner self. Therefore, I believe, and due to present circumstances, it is the church that has the responsibility to undo the mistakes it had created in the first place. It was the doing of the clergy who separated the mother church and created different and segregated Assyrian communities.
Therefore, I ask: Is the church and its clergymen ready for the ultimate challenge? Could few clergymen driven by ego and self-glory dominate the will of the majority?
The ball is in their court; they have no excuses if indeed they represent the word of God on earth. If so, I challenge all our clergymen, with all their denominations, to subscribe to the words of God by promoting love instead of hate and unity instead of division. I challenge them to move to undo the mistakes of the past guided by true history. I challenge them to begin their halted talks again. I challenge them to take Assyria to the shores of unity, which subsequently will give “the Assyrian” that momentum we need to ascend again as a victorious Assyrian nation among all free nations on earth.
If this is not achievable, I say let’s then leave the present determination as is, i.e. accept that there are three different ethnic categories, Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac. Let every person decide on his/her own his or her preferred affiliation. I believe that with time, our people will discover the facts behinds all these questionable movement and through further education and time the truth will be discovered. We Assyrians do not have to worry much; history is behind us and since historically we know that today’s Chaldeans have no connection to the ancient Chaldeans, this fact will prevail. With time this newest separation attempt will fall on its face and the members of the Chaldean Catholic Church will turn on those same individuals who created this mess because the educated Assyrians of today are not the simple village people of 200 years ago. Meanwhile, Assyrians must concentrate on issues dealing with Assyrians. This conflict is draining our energies in the wrong channels.
Finally, let me remind the reader that the Pacific Ocean country of Nauru has a population of about 10,000 inhabitants only and it became a member of the United Nations in 1999. Assyria should not be an issue about numbers rather preserving a genuine history and culture.
HARNESSING THE POWER OF FLASH
The Internet, the disseminator of information, has changed the
lives of many, but non so profoundly as the Assyrians. A nation
in exile and in the Diaspora is united within a web of electrons.
We've taken advantage of the advances in technology to learn about
ourselves, to find lost friends and loved ones, to chat with our
brethren around the world, to
Imagine a family
torn apart by war for eight years and finally seeing each other
live on a web cam from America and Venezuela. Now imagine that
we can send a letter and pictures to Syria almost instantly. The
world is different
The Internet provides an easy foundation to learn our history, not just what is written on tablets, but after the life of Jesus and how we played an important role in spreading the word of our Lord. I don't recall ten years ago people discussing our missionary triumphs in China and Japan or our key role in transmitting Greek scientific and medical knowledge to the Europeans. Most important, knowledge has begotten pride in our language. Growing up in America, Assyrians try to conform to be accepted. Ignorance of our language and history created insecurity and self-consciences. Since there is no language called "Assyrian" by linguists, we were left with the impression of having an obscure language. But when you find out that our alphabet and the Hebrew alphabet is almost identical and the commonality of the language opens your eyes, something clicks. You do a little research on the web and find out. An obscure language becomes a unique biblical language and a basis of pride. I've even seen twelve year olds with wide eyes refer to our language as Syriac or Aramaic to their American friends.
Things have changed. With any search engine we are finding out the truth about how others have divided us and even have changed our ethnic name. I've met many more Chaldeans now who refer to themselves as Assyrian Catholic than before the internet years. Unity is the result. Technology on the web has touched all of our lives. Here is an example of harnessing the power of flash to learn the names of animals in the Syriac-Aramaic language.
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