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Volume IX
Issue 4
3 March 2003
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This Week In Zinda

cover photo

  KDP Gives Green Light to Separation
Democracy in the Middle East – the Syrian Style
  Israeli Journalist Befriends Assyrians
  APP Representative Discusses the German-French Factor
Chaldean Church Invites Episcopal Bishop to Pray in Iraq
An Interview with Rt. Rev. Pierre W. Whalon
Christians in Saddam's Iraq Have Long Suffered Losses
Christians Block Planned Mosque in North Iraq
  U.S. Chaldean Share Fears of Their Relatives in Iraq
Iraqi Christians Fear For Kin
US Should Seek UN Action on Iranian Religious Persecution
Qatar Offers Land For Construction Of Churches
Assyrian Businessman has Big Plans For Modesto’s Elks Lodge

Homesick Already
Peace Activist Deny Peace To The People Of Iraq
Dear Mr. O'Reily
Frontpage Journalist Calls Assyrians “Unpatriotic Muslims”
Just Assyrians - Nothing More, Nothing Less
Wandering Assyrian Priest Brought Chess from India


Travel Itinerary For H.G. Bishop Mar Bawai Soro

  BBC News Report: Assyrians of Iraq
6th Century Monastery Lets Visitors Partake of the Simple
  Assyrian Music on KPFA Radio Station



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Zinda Says


The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)’s Massoud Barazani is at it again. According to a report by his party’s official newspaper, Brayati, on 26 February a new party under the name of the Chaldean Democratic Unity Party (CDUP) [Kurdish: Parti Yekyati Demkrati Kildani], was officially established last week in North Iraq and was handed an “operation license”.

With the support of the Chaldean National Congress, another new-comer in the politics of Gulf War II phase of Iraqi politics, KDP’s Ministry of Interior has relied on its “Decree 1236” and “Act 17 of 1993” to help found the CDUP in promoting its divisive strategies among the Assyrian people.

The Assyrian Democratic Movement’s response was swift and uncompromising. Mr. Yonadam Kanna, Secretary General of the ADM (Zowaa) used the occasion of the meeting of the 65-person anti-Saddam group in Salahuddin, North Iraq, to voice his party’s conviction on the issue of partitioning the Assyrian population based on their religious differences. His unambiguous remark at the opening ceremony of the 27 February meeting in Salahuddin was candidly expressed: “Assyrians are a single people with different names - Chaldeans, Assyrians and Suryanis.”

On Monday, Brayati ran the statement issued at the end of the Coordination and Follow-Up Committee meeting in which the following remark was noted: “We, the members of the Iraqi opposition … reaffirm our commitment to establishing a unified Iraq and reinforcing Iraq's national unity on the basis of democratic, parliamentary, federal and equal citizenship to all Iraqis, be they Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians, or Chaldeans.”

KDP’s mistreatment of Assyrians and its disregard for the Assyrian ethnic identity, which comprises religious and linguistic differences, distresses the observers in the west. Prof. Emmanuel Kamber – an independent Assyrian observer, last week in Washington argued strongly for the explicit inclusion of the “Assyrians” in the constitution of a post-Saddam Iraq. He noted that the Assyrians, who may be as many as two million in Iraq, a majority of whom are Chaldean, would continue to be discriminated against, and would lack the geographic base of groups like the Kurds.

On the same day that Barazani was granting an “operation license” to CDUP, the Chaldean News Agency reporting from San Diego, California -- the nerve center of the Chaldean Bishop Sarhad Jammo -- released a statement from the Chaldean National Congress asking the Iraqi opposition leaders “to guarantee the Chaldeans’ rights and their appropriate representation in the Arrangement and Follow-up Committee and in the New Iraqi Constitution.” Mar Sarhad Jammo has visited the U.S. State Department a number of times in the past two months.

The new Barazani-CDUP alliance is nothing new. It began with Barazani’s push for “Chaldean representation” at the London Meeting of December 2002 through his servile messenger, Mr. Abdalahad Afram, who happens to be a member of the KDP. Mr. Afram is the head of the CDUP and the Chaldean National Congress representative in Iraq. Barazani’s despicable plan failed miserably in London, as the U.S. envoys quickly unfoiled his divisive strategy and the Assyrian delegates with the support of the Chaldean-Assyrian representation in the U.S. and Iraq declared their unmistakable resolve to move ahead as one people, one nation, and one political voice for all Syriac-speaking Christians of Iraq.

The question remains: Can the Assyrians of Iraq rely on the United States’ promise of a genuine democratization process in Iraq? Obviously the process as defined by the Kurdish groups does not convey the same meaning as that taught in the Poly Sci 101 classes we attend in the U.S. colleges.

At the recent meeting in Salahuddin, the U.S. envoy Mr. Khalilzad was impressed with the Assyrian commitment to democratic reform in Iraq. Assyrians are the only group condemning power sharing in a post-Saddam Iraq based on religious and ethnic rifts. Although Barazani’s team declares such a stand in its official statements, yet it implements a different approach in dealing with non-Kurdish population in his territories.

Any group in Iraq has the right to demand political representation in a free post-Saddam Iraq, including the Chaldean-Assyrians. This is the fundamental characteristic of a free and demoratically represented society. However, no Chaldean-Assyrian in the U.S. or in Iraq has claimed the mantle of democracy and Chaldean nationality other than a dozen individuals provoked by Barazani in North Iraq and Bishop Sarhad Jammo in San Diego, California.

Propitiously the “one-people, one-nation” slogan proclaimed by the Chaldean Federation of America and the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, His Beatitude Mar Raphael Bidawid, encourages the Assyrian political parties in Iraq and their Assyrian-Chaldean leadership to move ahead with their current agenda and meet the challenges ahead.



Let’s not get confused here. This time we are really talking about the country Syria. President Bashir Asad’s Arab nation-state is run by the Alawis, adherents of an Islmaic sect – an offshoot of Shi’ism. His clan makes up about 10 percent of the Syrian population. This is almost the same proportion as the number of Christians in Syria. The rest of the country is mainly Sunni Moslem. One would expect that a democratically elected parliament is likely have a large number of legislatures representing the will of the Sunni groups. But this is the Middle East and the perception of pluralism counts more than its actual implementation.

In 1982, President Bashar Assad’s father, Hafez Assad, destroyed the town of Hama, killing 20,000 people and rooted out the Sunni political opposition and Akhwan Muslemin (Moslem Brotherhood). President Hafez Assad then released most of the jailed Brotherhood members before his death in June 2000. His son freed the majority of the followers of the other main opposition party, Hizb al Tahrir, when he assumed power.

In Syria, as in Iraq, dominance is guaranteed for the ruling Baath Party. During Sunday’s elections the Baath and six other smaller parties grouped in the National Progressive Front. This way they were guaranteed 127 of the 250 seats contested. All other seats were to be filled by independents. Several opposition parties boycotted the election, giving the Baath led by President Bashar Assad certain victory.

The Front's candidates are customarily elected, securing 163 out of the parliament's 250 seats. The Baath takes 131 seats and the 32 others go to the Front's other parties. Independent candidates compete to win the remaining 87 seats.

According to a report by Mr. Salim Abraham, more than 10 million Syrians were eligible to vote. A total of 10,423 candidates, many of them working in the economic sector, were vying for the 250 parliamentary seats for the next four years. On Saturday, a day before the election, 2,227 candidates dropped out of the race, the official Syrian news agency said. By Sunday morning the seats in the People's Assembly (Syrian Parliament) were contested by 4,945 candidates. At Zinda Magazine press time the election results have not been announced.

Bassam Ishak is one of the few Christian candidates running in the elections this past weekend. His father, Saeed Ishak, represented Hasaka for 23 years in the Syriac parliament. Ishak, 42, is a civil engineer who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1985, when he was studying at an American university. He returned to Syria in 1995 and decided to run as an independent candidate in the Hasaka governorate where a large community of Assyrians live.

The outcome of the elections in Syria is important to Assyrian politics in the region. The second largest community of Assyrians and the largest non-Vatican affiliated Christian community inhabits the Khabour Region, Aleppo and Damascus, a majority of whom adhere to the Syrian Orthodox Church. Perhaps Iraq dominates our attention with the impending commencement of the second Gulf War. Nevertheless, the neighboring Syria and its Assyrian inhabitants – including all members of the Syrian Orthodox and Syrian Catholic Churches – cannot be ignored at this time. The Assyrian presence in the Syrian politics could be an integral part of that country’s attempt to adopt a more western-style democracy.

The Assyrian Democratic Organization has been the most vocal and active Assyrian political entity in Syria since the late 1950’s. During general elections, as with the Assyrian Democratic Movement in Iraq, Assyrian Democratic Organization and other Assyrian political groups and individuals in Syria must be fully supported and assisted by other Assyrian groups outside of the Middle East. Political freedom may be slowly coming to Syria, but when it does the politically-savvy Assyrian constituency can be explored to quickly implement a desirable transformation toward openness and tolerance.

Wilfred Bet-Alkhas

The Lighthouse


I never intended to visit Adabashi. I was heading toward the border crossing between Turkey and Iraq, hoping to get to northern Iraq before the widely anticipated war began.

But the Turkish border authorities would not hear of any journalists running around in that Kurdish-dominated part of Iraq. Not just Israeli journalists, any journalists.

As a result, I and a group of fellow journalists found ourselves traveling along the long Turkish border between Iraq and Syria - until we spotted a church tower off the main road.

A church? In the heart of this Muslim Kurdish part of Turkey?

It was almost mid-day during the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha. The village appeared deserted. The muddy streets were empty.

But then, out of nowhere, appeared Hanna Durdu, an old man with deep blue eyes. He greeted us warmly in a strange language.

Only a few minutes later, when he took us to "someone who can speak American," did we realize that a short detour off the main road had taken us centuries back in history - to a small community of Christians who live as a tiny island within an ocean of Muslims, Turks and Kurds.

They are referred to by a name straight out of millennia past: Assyrians.

As I greeted the "American"-speaking guy with the traditional Arabic, Salam Aleikum, he looked almost offended.

"Here," he said, "we say shlomo."

"Shlomo?" I was not quite sure I heard correctly.

"Yes, shlomo," he insisted.

It is the Aramaic word for the Hebrew "shalom."

It turns out that the tiny village of Adabashi on the Turkish-Syrian border is one of the few places in the world where people still speak Aramaic, the language of Abraham the Patriarch, the Talmud and Jesus.

It is the prayer language of the Assyrian Church. The church seceded from the main body of Christianity in the fifth century C.E., but the language is much older.

It was born in Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq, at least 3,500 years ago. It served as a common trade language among the various peoples of the ancient Middle East.

In Adabashi and among 400,000 Arab Christians - in places including Syria, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Armenia - they still speak Aramaic at home.

They use "shlomo" for "shalom" and "halebo" for "halav," milk in Hebrew.

"Beita," the word for house, is similar to "beit" in Arabic and "bayit" in Hebrew.

"Kalba" is Aramaic for dog, similar to "kalb" in Arabic and "kelev" in Hebrew.

Another man, who acted as our host, introduced himself as "Abraham," pronouncing it like the Hebrew "Avraham."

When we introduced ourselves as Israeli journalists, he hugged us and kissed us on both cheeks three times, as if we were close relatives who had finally come home.

Durdu, the old man with the blue eyes, could not hide his excitement.

He pulled up his sleeves to show us a tattoo marking three dates - one for each of his visits to Jerusalem.

While his Muslim neighbors make their pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, he went to Jerusalem to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and to meet the small Assyrian community in Jerusalem's Old City.

The Assyrians like to compare themselves to the Jews - always persecuted, forever tolerated only barely by the local majority, they say.

According to their tradition, they have lived in Turkey ever since the 5th-century split within the Christian church.

During World War I, many of them were massacred, along with the Armenians.

Until nine years ago, most of the people of Adabashi lived across the main road, in the nearby village of Grunyurdu.

But then they became victims of the bitter conflict between the Turkish authorities and the Kurdish underground, the PKK.

PKK fighters used to enter the village, asking for shelter, food, supplies-and money.

The Assyrians were caught in the middle between the Kurdish guerrillas and the Turkish soldiers. Anyone suspected of collaborating with the guerrillas was sentenced to long years in jail.

Eventually, Abraham and his family moved to Adabashi, close to the border, where a Turkish military presence deterred PKK activities.

Most of the people are elderly. After being forced from their homes in Grunyurdu, many of the younger generation emigrated.

Abraham's son, Balan, happened to be there when we visited. He came following the death of his mother a month earlier.

During the past nine years, Balan has lived in Hamburg. He makes a good living working in a local restaurant, is married, owns a car and lives in a respectable neighborhood.

But Balan is determined to return home.

"I feel like a Jew in Germany," he told me. "In recent years, many Germans no longer feel shameful over what happened during the war.

"Many openly voice their anti-Semitism, and they also hate us - other foreigners. I can make all the money in the world, but I will always be looked down at as an outsider, as someone who does not belong there."

Balan wants to wait until after the Iraqi crisis is resolved - by war or otherwise - before moving back home.

"I know I will miss the comfort of Germany - but I will be home."

Before we parted, Balan gave us a word of advice.

"Don't give in to the Palestinians," he said. "The Land of Israel should not be redivided. I am a devout Christian - and the Bible says that the country should not be divided."

Our visit to Adabashi was short. And then we move on to our next stop along the border with Iraq.

But even as the world prepares for a possible war, Adabashi lingers in the mind, and it prompts me to make a suggestion for the Jewish tourist looking for new places to visit.

If the area ever opens up to tourism - as it was until only a few years ago - you should remember that you have friends in Adabashi, and they speak the language of your forefathers.

Actually, they are family.

Gil Seda
27 February
Adabashi, Turkey





Courtesy of IC.Wales (25 February); article by David Williamson

(ZNDA: Wales) Would anyone visiting Germany and Japan in 1945 believe that half a century later each of the states would be economic powerhouses and proponents of democracy?

Poisonous Nazi ideology had led ordinary Germans to participate in the Holocaust, and deluded Emperor worship had encouraged young Japanese men to become kamikaze pilots.

Yet a combination of American military occupation and massive investment brought freedom and prosperity to millions. Today, Japan is helping rebuild Afghanistan, and Germany's Foreign Minister is a member of the Green party.

President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair believe the success can be repeated in Iraq.

If a swift war is won with minimum civilian casualties and Iraq becomes a bastion of democracy in the heart of the Middle East, the two men are hoping current massive misgivings about the conflict will be forgotten and their respective re-elections will be assured.

But a democratic Iraq will be a pipe-dream if the five main people groups cannot work together.

Of the Iraq population of just over 23m, 60-65%, are Shia Muslim and 15-20% are Sunni Muslim. There are also 5 million Kurds, many of live in two effectively autonomous regions in the north; 2 million Turkomans; and 2 million Christian Assyrians.

The dissidents are convinced that France and Germany are pressuring the Bush administration to guarantee their energy companies continued access to some of Iraq's most lucrative oil fields, and also to award contracts to German and French construction firms.

They are adamant that opposition by Arab states to the war is fuelled by the fear that a free Iraq will intensify pressure on neighbouring regimes to bring in democratic reforms.

Terry Botros of the Assyrian Patriotic Party says: "Support from Gaddafi is nothing new, but to find France and Berlin fighting so much - I feel ashamed. They are blackmailing the United States."

Mr Botros, like nearly all Assyrians a member of the 3% Christian minority, claims to understand why the Vatican and millions of protesters are actively opposing the war, but he believes their understanding of the situation is deeply flawed.

"It assumes that we are living in a peaceful situation and this cowboy is coming from Texas to destabilise us," he said. "We as Iraqis are in a war every day."

Mr Botros does not think a war will usher in a utopia, but his colleagues and he are resolved that Saddam must go as soon as possible.

"To change from a totalitarian regime to a democratic one is not like an electric switch. We need to build an infrastructure," he said.

"But whatever this transition era brings, it will be better than what we have because it will be a multiparty society committed to human rights."

Mr Botros is concerned that any new regime may not separate religion from politics, and is also fearful that Christian minorities throughout the Middle East may be targeted in revenge killings.

But he looks forward to the rule of law being established in Iraq, and hopes that crimes of the past will be investigated.

He said, "Whatever morality you have, it's very difficult to forgive the people who committed these crimes - 150 Christian villages were demolished for nothing. They should be punished, at least to prevent others form committing these crimes again.

"But it must be realised that an officer who had no choice other than following orders should not be treated like the people who ordered him."


Cuortesy of Financial Times (4 March); article by Roula Khalaf

(ZNDA: Baghdad) Pierre Whalon was the first western bishop to take up an invitation from the Iraqi Chaldean church to join prayers for peace in Baghdad.

In a passionate appeal against the horrors of war in one of the city's modern churches, he told a calm and solemn group of worshippers that they should not feel alone. "War is never, never God's will," he said.

But between prayers, mainly in Arabic, and the sermon delivered in English and French, he sent a broader message to a troubled country bracing itself for more confrontation - that preventing war alone would not be enough to create peace.

"Peace is when we understand each other and when we can speak what's in our hearts among us," said Bishop Whalon, a French-American who is in charge of the convocation of American Episcopal churches in Europe. "It is when we ask why are you afraid of me and why am I afraid of you."

His recent visit to Baghdad was part of the mobilisation of Christian leaders around the world against a war that many refuse to bless as "just" under Christian doctrine.

It was also a reflection of concern for the fate of Iraq's Christian minority, a community that fears the worst from a military conflict.

The Iraqi regime's persecution of Shia Muslims, Kurds and Marsh Arabs is cited by the US and UK as part of the moral case for war. But the country's Christian leaders worry that their tiny minority will be caught in the crossfire.

They could face a religious backlash from die-hard regime supporters who might perceive them as accomplices of American invaders of the same faith. But they also risk a political backlash from those who have considered them allies of President Saddam Hussein.

"The concern is that Christians will disappear," said Bishop Whalon. "The present regime gives them some tolerance, who knows what the next one will do."

Part of his message, to Iraq's Muslim communities as well the Christians, was that the possible war should not be seen as an attack against Islam. "If there's a war here it's not Christians against Muslims," he said. "Americans are afraid of weapons of mass destruction."

The alarm over Iraq's Christians - the most generous estimates put their numbers at 800,000 people in a country of more than 23 million - has given added impetus to Pope John Paul's efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis. A Vatican envoy met Mr Hussein last month and delivered a letter from the Pope. It is said to have urged full compliance with the UN disarmament demands.

Later this week a papal representative will meet President George W. Bush to hand over an appeal for a peaceful solution. The Pope has also declared tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting and prayer for peace.

Iraq's Christians say their roots go back to the first century when the apostle Thomas evangelised the land of Iraq, then known as Mesopotamia. A majority of them are Chaldeans, an old Catholic rite that originated in this region and is in union with Rome.

The ruling Ba'ath party in Iraq was co-founded by a Christian and it took over in 1968 on a platform based on a radical pan-Arab nationalist and deeply secular ideology.

As citizens, Christians have shared the same grievances with the government as other Iraqis. But, dominated by the Sunni Muslim minority, the regime has also looked for support among other minorities willing to show their loyalty, as most Christian leaders have done.

Over the past two decades, however, life has become harsher for the Christians. After repeated wars and more than 12 years of UN sanctions many have gone into exile.

According to Emmanuel Dely, an adviser to Patriarch Rafael Bedawid, the head of the Chaldean Church, up to 100,000 Christians - some say even more - have emigrated in recent years. "We strongly feel the loss when people leave because we are not that many," he said.

Also troubling has been the rising wave of Islamist sentiment in the country. In an effort to prevent the emergence of a strong Islamist opposition, the regime itself, including the Ba'ath party, has adopted Islamic slogans, built grand mosques and introduced a ban on alcohol.

Some attacks by radical Islamists against Christians have been reported, particularly in the northern city of Mosul. Bishop Dely said that some rules, such as the ban on alcohol, are unfortunate. He blamed aggression and discrimination against Christians in the administration on individual "fanatics".

"We've always lived peacefully with Muslims here but there are always extremists, in every society. We tell the government if anyone bothers us and they deal with it," he said. As for the future, he added: "All that's left to do now is pray and put in the hearts of those in positions of power the will to sit down and work things out."


Courtesy of the Episcopal News Service (27 February); interview was conducted by Rev. Jan Nunley, deputy director of the Episcopal News Service.

The Rt. Rev. Pierre W. Whalon, received an invitation to Iraq February 19-23 to pray with, meet and talk with the leaders of major Christian groups in that country. Traveling with him were Jean-Michel Cadiot, Iraq specialist for Agence France-Presse, and Yako Elish, a Chaldean Christian businessman who served as guide and translator.

Whalon met with bishops of the Chaldean, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic, and Assyrian churches; the Latin Archbishop (Roman Catholic); a Protestant church council; the mullah of the Mosque of al-Kadham; and the Shaik of the Mandaeans (disciples of John the Baptist). He declined an invitation to meet with Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz and the Mufti of Baghdad as both are officials of the Saddam Hussein regime. He also led an ecumenical prayer service at the National Protestant Church in Baghdad and inspected the closed Anglican church in the city, St. George's. On his return, Whalon spoke with Jan Nunley of Episcopal News Service.

ENS: What motivated you to go to Iraq at this time?

WHALON: It wasn't my idea. I got an invitation, along with the president of the French Catholic Episcopal Conference, the president of the Orthodox bishops, and the president of the French Protestant Federation, and me, being the Anglican bishop living in France, from the Patriarchate of Babylon, which is the Chaldean Church--they're uniate Catholics.

ENS: And represent a considerable percentage of Iraqi Christians.

WHALON: The Chaldeans are 85 percent of the Christian population, yes. You have a very small percentage of Roman
Catholics and Protestants there, Presbyterians--very small numbers on those. Then the rest, you have the Assyrian Catholic Church; the Nestorian Church, which is a result of a split in the 19th century; the Armenian Catholic Church; the Syrian Catholic Church; and also then you have the Armenian Orthodox and the Assyrians also have an Orthodox church.

ENS: Any Anglicans?

WHALON: I was told there was only one in Baghdad when I was there.

There is a church, St. George's, in Baghdad. It's been closed since the Gulf War. In terms of permanent chaplain presence they do come by every once in a while to see if the building is still standing. I asked to have it reopened so I could look at it and take some pictures so I could report back to Clive Handford, the bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf.

The Protestant church where I led the ecumenical service [on February 21] was once an Anglican church, and when it became clear that they were going to be under the Diocese of Jerusalem in those days and Jerusalem was going to become the capital of a new Israeli state, they decided they really didn't want to be Anglicans any more. But they asked me to start talking about 'can we come back,' because they've had a lot of trouble going it alone.

I was going to decline this invitation, because I thought, who am I? The Convocation of American Churches in Europe is my mandate. But when I talked it over with the presiding bishop and John Peterson [of the Anglican Communion Office in London] they were very encouraging, and so my mind changed as a result of that. The other invitees did not go.

It was strange being the only American bishop who's been to Iraq since the crisis began--of any stripe. So it took on an
importance that I had no idea an amazing experience.

ENS: What was your sense of the mood of Iraqi Christians?

WHALON: They have a very significant problem. Like all Iraqis, of course, the prospect of another war is very scary. But on the other hand they're all resigned to wars--they've had a lot of them. But for the Christians, what they're really afraid of is after the war, the reason being that the government that Hussein essentially completely co-opted is based on the Ba'athist principles--like Syria is. In other words, the state should be secular, it should not be run by the Muslims, and that there should be religious tolerance.

So they have official tolerance. There are about 50 church buildings in Baghdad. Nobody bothers them, they don't bother other people, and the bishops walk around town in their clerical garb. I walked around, nobody gave me a hostile glance or gesture. And they think that after Hussein is gone and after the Americans are gone, it's going to be a hard-line Muslim government who's going to expel them, massacre them, persecute them.

They're between a rock and a hard place because they end up looking like supporters of Hussein--Tariq Aziz is probably the greatest example of that; certainly he is a collaborator. So they're afraid if there's an American military government they'll be seen as a million collaborators with Hussein. Whereas privately they you could hardly call them enthusiastic supporters.

ENS: Is Saddam someone to fear?

WHALON: Saddam really is somebody who's a menace. The stories I got told would curl your hair. He and his sons have profited enormously from the embargo. They do not want the embargo to be lifted. We're always talking about how we're killing these kids with medicine that we're not giving them and all this other stuff. But on the other hand, they were very clear with me--in private, of course--that the last person in the world who wants the embargo lifted is Saddam Hussein, because he's made more money off this, because he controls the black market, than anyone else.

Meanwhile, his people go without all kinds of things. If you can imagine everybody test-driving the worst used cars you'd ever seen at once, that's what Baghdad's streets look like. We were driving in the car of the brother of the Chaldean who came with us from Paris, and he had a new car, a Peugeot. I said, 'You like your new car?' and he said, 'Yeah. It took me 20 years to get it. In 1983 I put a down payment on this car and about three months ago it arrived. Sometimes they lift the embargo to let some cars in.'

ENS: Do you think Saddam can be fairly compared to Hitler, as he often is?

WHALON: If you think about Hitler you also have to think about the entire philosophy of the Nazi party, the racial component, the weird mysticism of it. And in that sense, no, Saddam is not like Adolf Hitler. He certainly is as ruthless as Hitler or Himmler or Goebbels--or Stalin, for that matter.

But on the other hand, unlike Hitler, Hussein has no knowledge of the outside world. He's never really been educated outside of Iraq. He really sees everything mostly on his own personal canvas: 'what it means to me.' And whatever you think of Hitler, Hitler at least thought in big terms; Saddam doesn't. He thinks in terms of 'me,' I was told.

And he mostly lives underground now. He's got about 20 palaces and each one of them has a very deep subterranean living space and he moves from each one unpredictably. Each palace has to have a meal and a woman waiting for him, should he happen to show up, and if they don't then they just throw out the food and tell the lady to come back or something. So he is really cut off from anything now.

I also was told that his grip seems to be loosening. The Muslims have gotten him to accept portions of sharia law, which are now applied to the Christians--intermarriage, for instance; if there are any intermarriages, the Muslim always wins and always gets the kids to become Muslims. We were hit up for baksheesh [bribes] by the border guards, and my friend who went with me, a French Iraqi specialist, said that didn't happen before. We were also asked for money by beggars, and he said there were never beggars 20 years ago or street crime. So in that sense, Saddam isn't totally in control, as he once was.

ENS: Did anyone give private indications that Saddam does have weapons of mass destruction?

WHALON: When I went to visit the mullah at the al-Kadham mosque, he launched into this diatribe about 'we have no weapons of mass destruction, they'll never find any because there aren't any, all Bush wants to do is kill us,' on and on. Of course, French TV was filming him, and there was a guy from the ministry of religion sitting there.

Whenever I talked to Christians more informally, they always started out by saying, 'What are these weapons?' and I would say, 'they're the ones Iraq declared after the '91 war.' 'Oh.' And either the discussion would end there or they would say, 'Well, yeah maybe he had some stuff ' One person said to me, 'Well, of course he has these things, and when your troops come he's going to set them off on you. But they're going to blow back to our people and all our civilians are going to get killed, and it will be your fault.'

The other thing they said is that, while nobody's really willing to die for Saddam, they are willing to die for their homes. And it occurred to me that, while Arab soldiers in pitched battles are apt to drop their guns and run if they think things aren't turning their way, in front of their wives they'll fight to the death. I remember when the Israelis used to have women in combat. As soon as the Arabs found out they were going to surrender to women, they became the best fighters in the world.

So if we think we're going to waltz into Baghdad and everyone is going to say 'thank you for liberating us,' after a bloody street battle, it's not going to work. Baghdad's five million people, and it's a very spread-out city, about 50 kilometers in diameter or 30 miles. That's a lot of miles--about twice the size of Paris. So to have that kind of fighting is just a nightmare.

And the worst part for me is now that I went and met these people and started to become friends and was extremely warmly greeted, now I have a personal problem when we start to shoot. I'm going to be dying to find out what's happened to all these really nice, fine, hardworking people. They have the best hospitals, they have the orphanages, the nursing homes--Muslims don't do those things, or they do them minimally.

[Christians] are the elite of the country. I met the wife of the president of the Protestant Council. I asked her what she did. She said, 'I teach medicine. Let me introduce my sister, the pediatrician, and my other sister, the dentist.' If the Muslims take over, they're not going to be exercising any more.

ENS: Can they leave the country?

WHALON: I think the last thing they want to do is leave. They've been there for two thousand years. The official language is Aramean--like Jesus'. One person said to me, 'We used to be 100 percent Christian in Iraq. Then the Muslims came. Now we're five [percent].' They've seen people continue to leave, and they think they're going to have a warm welcome from people overseas and they don't. So I don't know about evacuation.

They took me to their seminary--all the churches have one big seminary and it's packed. A number of women students, by the way, even though at this point none of the churches ordain women. Nevertheless, they were there, studying theology along with the men, and they asked me questions just like the men did. They want to build a library, and I knew right away one thing they need is some technical help in how to build a modern theological library. We really need to support the hospital efforts with medicine, if we could gather up medication. And of course if the churches get damaged in the bombing, help rebuild them--maybe a diocese could take on a church to rebuild.

The most important thing is to get to know these folks, because we don't have any contacts with them. We don't know them, they don't know us, and I just scratched the surface there. There need to be a lot more people besides me that go.

ENS: Is the church in Iraq a 'persecuted church'?

WHALON: In the sense that they're not perfectly free. They have to deal with encroaching sharia provisions. The problem with 'selling' that right now is that some people will say the Christians are involved in the government, because you have Tariq Aziz, so they're not really persecuted. By the time they become candidates for being in that list of persecuted churches, there's not going to be anybody left.

ENS: How do they feel about American Christians supporting a war with Iraq?

WHALON: I was asked about that, and the way the question was framed was, 'isn't it true that the non-Catholic Christians are strongly influenced by the Jews?' The person who asked this was a very serious and well-educated person, and I burst out laughing. And I said, 'Why do you say that?' And he said, 'Well, among other things, don't they really control all the support for Israel, and fundamentalist Christians are also interested in the survival and prosperity of Israel for their own reasons?'

And I said, 'You know, whether there were fundamentalist Christians or not, the Jewish people in America who support
Israel would give a quart of blood a day if they felt it was necessary for the survival of Israel. You've got to understand,
these people are very, very serious in the United States about Israel. They see themselves as temporary residents of the
States, when their hearts are in Jerusalem."

I don't think that has anything to do with fundamentalists. Yes, there certainly is some connection there and some of the people around [President] George Bush are in that camp. But to see it as some kind of plot or conspiracy or some kind of big joining of forces is really unrealistic.

ENS: There is a perception, though, that this conflict represents 'the clash of civilizations,' Christian versus Muslim.

WHALON: What I'm trying to get across to people in France, and I also said to al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi and the other Arab networks that interviewed me--I said I don't think people really understand that what's driving general American support for this war is fear. Specifically, having been attacked twice in a couple of months in spectacular ways--the 9/11 attacks and then the anthrax in the envelopes attacks. Americans are reacting in fear, saying 'We are going to make sure and we are going to use all our power to take out anybody who can threaten us in this way again.' And that has broad support across the board and it has nothing to do with religion.

And you know, people don't understand that. They're just not used to thinking of American foreign policy or anything being driven by fear. They don't see us as as the French say to me, 'We always see the Americans as sort of a cut above, and we don't understand that they would be afraid.' Well, of course--think about your own history!

ENS: How do the French react to increasing criticism of France? Does this surprise them, dismay them?

WHALON: I think both. The viciousness of it is rarely seen before, and they're bemused by it more than anything else.
Personally, being somebody who's a citizen of both countries and raised in both cultures, it's been extremely difficult for me to deal with. But I also think that one thing is for sure: in France, if you want to sell papers, say something against America; if you want to sell papers in America, say something against France. It's a formula that both media are very good at exploiting whenever their income's down.

I think the other thing that Americans aren't aware of is that the French are very quietly marshalling their forces. French
troops are on maneuvers right now in Qatar, and the De Gaulle, the new nuclear aircraft carrier, has just finished maneuvers with the [USS Harry] Truman, and has gone home but it's not giving anybody leave; they're filling up again and turning right around and going somewhere, they're not saying where. I can't see the French wanting to be sidelined if it comes down to it, it's just not their style.

ENS: What, if anything, can Christian communities do to support Christians in Iraq?

WHALON: I think there's several things we can do.

The first is that we can start to publicly pray for them, so that, among other things, besides God hearing about them from us, we will begin to tell ourselves, 'Hey, there are a million Christians in Iraq'--because I don't think most people know that.

Secondly, I think we need to start thinking right now about what kind of aid we can give them post-war. It's possible that there won't be a war. War's not inevitable till the first bomb is dropped, and nobody knows how this endgame is going to play out now. But in the event of a war, and probably then an ensuing American military occupation, I think we need to make it very clear to the general staff that we expect that the Christians of Iraq will be protected, and they will not be accused generally of collaborating with Saddam any more than anyone else in Iraq.

We took a flight on this Boeing 707, must be 50 years old, in an airport with exactly one flight leaving--huge airport; of course it's called 'Saddam International Airport.' I went in the duty-free shop, where there was a young woman cashier who asked my guide in Arabic, 'Is that the bishop who was on TV last night?' He said yes, and she asked him to have me come over, and when I came closer she grabbed my hand with my ring on it,
kissed it, pressed it to her forehead and said in English, 'Thank you, thank you, thank you,' and started to cry. She was
wearing this little cross around her neck. She was a Christian.

She asked for my blessing, she asked for my autograph, and she explained that an American bishop coming to Iraq to pray for peace really strengthened her faith, and that maybe this war could be avoided. Then she grabbed my hand again and kissed my ring again. I had to sit down, I was so overwhelmed.

If we can scream loudly that there are a million Christians in Iraq and they're really in a tough spot, if we start doing that, start praying for them publicly and get that word out, I think that's the most important thing we can do for them. And the second part is to plan how we might be able to help them.



Courtesy of the Associated Press (3 March); article by Richard N. Ostling

(ZNDA: Baghdad) Saddam Hussein's Middle East region is home not only to 150 million Muslims but to a minority remnant of 10 million to 12 million Christians.

Their heritage extends to the biblical beginnings depicted in the Book of Acts. The new faith quickly spread to Syria, where "the disciples were for the first time called Christians" (Acts 11:26), across present-day Turkey and into Europe and points eastward.

But in modern times, Christians' status in the region has long been precarious. The Iraq situation makes matters worse.

A timely primer is "Who Are the Christians in the Middle East?" (Eerdmans) by Betty Jane and J. Martin Bailey, a U.S. Protestant clergy couple who spent four years in the region helping the Middle East Council of Churches. "The church was born in the East" and Westerners should never forget it, they say.

Mideast Christianity's diverse denominations fall into four families: Eastern Orthodox; Armenians and the other Oriental Orthodox (who accept only doctrines from the first three ecumenical councils); Catholics (in various ethnic "rites"); and scattered Protestants, called "Evangelicals" in these countries.

The Middle East Council's Beirut-based General Secretary Riad Jarjour (a Protestant clergyman) provided one chapter that says Christians "are being decimated, dispersed, depressed and disempowered."

Jarjour says Christianity's long-running "demographic hemorrhage" through emigration stems from the West's past "intrusion"; "political Judaism" with its "exclusivist claim" to the Holy Land; and the rising "political Islam," which "threatens all Arab Christians."

In Saddam's Iraq, the Baileys report, Christians, largely Chaldean Catholics, are 5 percent of the citizenry. They face "ambivalent and difficult circumstances" and have often emigrated. Though Islam is the recognized state religion, the secular Ba'athist regime has "tightly controlled" Christians and Muslims along with everyone else. The Christians are highly educated but with few exceptions "are virtually excluded from public life."

The Baileys' status reports on Iraq's neighbors:

-Iran: Christians are less than 1 percent of the population; the biggest groups are the Armenians and Chaldean Catholics. Most Christians "practice their religion without hindrance" despite the Islamic revolution. However, local courts "very often favor the Muslims" and one Protestant pastor was executed in 1990 for converting from Islam.

-Jordan: Islamic values are officially affirmed, but from its 1946 founding the nation has guaranteed freedom of worship. Christians, 4.2 percent of the population, are largely middle- and upper-class Palestinians and many are prominent in politics, public administration and the professions. More than half are Eastern Orthodox; another third are Catholic.

-Kuwait and Saudi Arabia: Forsaking the Prophet Muhammad's tolerant example, contemporary Saudi Arabia's Muslim regime allows only very private or secret Christian meetings. Kuwait, however, lets several small denominations operate openly. In the Persian Gulf states overall, evangelism is forbidden, governments control other church activities, and the Christian population of 5 percent to 10 percent consists almost entirely of transient foreign workers.

-Syria: One of the oldest Christian communities constitutes up to 10 percent of the population. About half the Christians are Eastern Orthodox, alongside Armenians, other Oriental Orthodox and Catholics. The secular Ba'athist regime closely supervises all organizations. However, Muslims and Christians "are equal before the law." Churches practice their faith openly and receive public aid and even occasional time on state television.

-Turkey: Though Turkey has been an important land since New Testament times, Christians today are a mere 0.2 percent of its population, living mostly in Istanbul. Earlier in the century the 2 million-plus Armenians were "virtually annihilated" and today number a mere 60,000. Eastern Orthodoxy's historic prime see now has 3,000 parishioners. The state is officially secular but "Christians experience many constraints, both formal and informal."

[Z-info: Middle East Council of Churches: http://www.mecchurches.org ]


Courtesy of the Toronto Star (3 March); article by Sandro Contenta

(ZNDA: Arbil) Behind the Roman Catholic church in this Kurdish village of stone houses is a shallow hole that brought a generation of peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians to a end.

For the two religious communities here, the days of working and mourning together are over, and Ramadan and Christmas celebrations are no longer shared.

The break occurred last May, when the 30 Muslim families here decided to build the village's first mosque.

The diggers barely started work on the foundation when leaders of the 50 Christian families got wind of the plan.

They appealed to regional Kurdish authorities, and work on the mosque was ordered stopped.

Since then, relations between the two groups are as cold as the wind that lashes down from the snow-covered mountains above.

"This is a village that belongs to Christians," says Danha Jabbar, 65, Hermuta's primary school principal.

"This mosque would deform the appearance of the village"

Muslim resident Mahmoud Rasoul says, "We didn't want to build a mosque to compete with the Christians. We just wanted a place to pray."

The religious dispute in Hermuta, about 60 kilometres east of Arbil, is a local example of the ethnic and religious fault lines that have made Iraq a fragile nation since it was pieced together by the European powers after World War I.

It remains an artificial collection of competing tribes, faiths, regions, languages and ethnic groups.

Held together for the past 20 years by the brute force and terror of Saddam Hussein's regime, it risks falling apart if the United States and Britain proceed with war plans to topple the Iraqi president.

In a post-Saddam Iraq, British and American forces occupying the country could be embroiled in a long-term effort to prevent Iraq from breaking into a Shiite Muslim enclave in the south, a Sunni one in the centre, and a Kurdish one in the north.

Hermuta's dispute shows just how powerful religious or ethnic divisions can be, even in a village of 80 families where everyone is a Kurd.

Politics has long divided the Kurds.

Rival militias of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan launched turf wars in the mid-1990s that saw more than 100,000 people expelled for their political loyalties from towns controlled by either side.

Now in Hermuta, the common Kurdish bonds of language, culture, and decades of repression at the hands of the Iraqi regime do not seem strong enough to overcome the religious divide.

According to its residents, Christian Kurds have inhabited the spot that is now Hermuta for centuries. Its Christian residents today are Roman Catholic Chaldeans, who say they are descendents of the ancient Mesopotamians.

Christians make up 3 per cent of Iraq's population of 22 million. Those in Hermuta lead a typical village existence, living off the land and clinging hard to their traditions and faith.

Women who have trouble getting pregnant make a pilgrimage to a nearby holy shrine, and a constant source of irritation is the lack of a resident priest since the last one died seven years ago.

Since then, Hermuta's Catholics have been able to attend mass only once a week, when the priest comes from Arbil, capital of the Kurdish autonomous area in northern Iraq. To their endless offence, he comes on Fridays, not Sundays.

"The priest must be a Muslim to come and celebrate mass on Fridays," complains Zachia, Jabbar's wife, noting that Friday is the traditional day of worship for Muslims.

About 30 years ago, Muslims began arriving in Hermuta to work the fields of Christian landowners. They eventually built homes and settled.

Co-existence was complete, except for certain rules, which Catholics considered part of the natural order of things.

"Marrying a Muslim is forbidden," Jabbar said. "If a Christian girl wants to marry a young Muslim, for us, it's a crime and she will be cast out of her religion."

In Zakho, a Kurdish town near the Turkish border, a Christian father killed his daughter recently for such a transgression, Jabbar said.

Asked if Catholic parents in Hermuta would do the same, Jabbar thought for a while, then said: "We would not kill her"

Still, Jabbar invited Muslims to his Christmas dinners and, in turn, was invited to break fast with his Muslim neighbours during the holy month of Ramadan.

But then, Muslims started digging a hole for their mosque, and everything changed.

Jabbar said incidents he considers threats suddenly occurred after the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which controls northeastern Iraqi Kurdistan, blocked building of the mosque.

Someone put the magazine of an AK-47 automatic rifle against the door of the church, and later, part of its courtyard wall was demolished in the middle of the night.

The Christian landowners then fired the Muslim residents who worked in their fields. Jabbar let go 15 Muslim workers who tended his wheat and lentils, and brought in Christian ones from nearby towns.

Rasoul, 47, lost the work he got from Christians as a driver.

"It has all been very sad," said Rasoul, sitting on floor mats close to a space heater in the tidy living room of his home.

The Catholics went further. They successfully lobbied PUK authorities to refuse building permits to any new Muslim family wanting to settle in the village.

"Halas," said Jabbar, using the Arabic word for enough.

It's a sorry end for a village whose residents, regardless of religion, have felt the iron first of Saddam's army.

Kurds have been gassed and mass executed by Saddam's forces during the 1980s and early 1990s in at least 77 Kurdish villages.

It happened during the Iran-Iraq war and, again, when the northern Kurds staged an unsuccesful revolt after the last Persian Gulf War.

"When it comes to killing, Saddam doesn't discriminate," Jabbar said.

Added Rasoul: "We are united in suffering"

But divided, it seems, by religion.

'This (Hermuta) is a village that belongs to Christians. This mosque would deform the appearance of the village.'

News Digest


Courtesy of the Catholic News Service (24 February)

(ZNDA: San Diego) U.S. Chaldean Catholics from Iraq say they share the fears of relatives in their homeland that a military attack there could cause casualties exceeding those of the 1991 Gulf War. U.S. data show that during the Gulf War an estimated 100,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed, 300,000 were wounded, and 150,000 deserted and were taken prisoners. Human rights groups claimed higher numbers of Iraqi deaths. As for U.S. losses in the conflict, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs sources reported that 148 American troops were killed in battle, 145 were killed in accidents and 467 were wounded in action. U.S. Chaldean Catholics say their relatives in Iraq still relive the Gulf War's "psychological nightmare," according to Saad Marouf, chair of the Michigan-based Chaldean Federation of America. Iraqis were packed like sardines in Baghdad's underground shelters, where they listened to exploding bombs and worried if their homes had been destroyed.


Courtesy of the Press-Enterprise Riverside (27 February); article by Sharyn Obsatz

(ZNDA: Los Angeles) In America, George Zyro proudly wears a gold chain displaying Jesus on the cross. In his native Iraq, he hid it under his shirt.

The auto glass repairman moved from Orange County to Riverside five years ago, one of a growing number of Chaldean Catholics attracted to the Inland area by business opportunities and affordable housing.

Chaldeans, descendants of the ancient Babylonians, say they suffer religious discrimination under Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Many worry that war will harm relatives back home.

Zyro, 30, said two friends died in 1991 Persian Gulf War bombings. He emigrated in 1993.

"Everybody comes to the United States for freedom to build a family here, to live good," Zyro said. Iraq keeps its borders shut down, he said. "Otherwise everyone would just walk out."

Chaldeans from Corona, Moreno Valley, Riverside, San Bernardino and Temecula worship at St. George Chaldean Catholic Church in Santa Ana. Church leaders say about 40 percent of the parish's 115 families live in the Inland area.

Hussein has limited Chaldeans' freedom, said Ghassan Hanna Shathaya, a University of Redlands graduate and general secretary of the immigrant group Chaldean National Congress.

Officially, all non-Muslim Iraqis are permitted to practice their religion but not to promote it. And Christians are subject to societal prejudice.

"We are always suspected of being members of the Western- American Christian nation," Hanna Shathaya said. "We tend to have to prove and double-prove our loyalty to Iraq."

The government forbade parents from giving their newborns Christian names, he said. Converting from Islam to Christianity is punishable by death.

In schools, Christian students have been required to learn the Islamic holy book, the Quran, he said. Non-Muslim businesses have little chance of getting government contracts.

"The policy is to Arab-ize all the Chaldeans," said Hanna Shathaya, 45, a Silicon Valley resident. "The Chaldean church is 2,000 years old, as old as Christianity itself."

An estimated 97 percent of Iraqis are Shi'a or Sunni Muslims, according to the U. S. State Department. That includes Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen.

About 3 percent of the population is comprised of Christians (Chaldeans, Assyrians, Roman Catholics and Armenians), Yazidis, Mandaeans and Jews.

The church estimates there are 800,000 Chaldeans in Iraq, Hanna Shathaya said.

Many immigrants will not criticize Hussein publicly for fear of retaliation against their families still in Iraq, he said.

The Iraqi government denies accusations of religious intolerance, saying the United States and opposition groups want to tarnish Iraq's image and fuel internal dissent. The foreign ministry's Web site says: "Believers from all the existing religions and sects in Iraq are the sons of one people, . . . living and enjoying the right of performing their religious ceremonies and rites freely."

Chaldeans would cheer the overthrow of Hussein and have joined U.S.-led discussions on a future Iraqi coalition government, Hanna Shathaya said. But the military should not target the country's civilian infrastructure, he said, noting that the Gulf War destroyed food silos, telephone facilities and water purification plants.

Chaldeans historically found themselves stuck in the middle between warring Muslim nations. After the Iran-Iraq war, Hussein destroyed Kurdish and Chaldean villages, demolishing centuries-old monasteries and churches.

Many Chaldeans who lost their homes moved to Baghdad. Zyro's uncle lives there with his six children.

"We worry about them. We don't know what's going to happen to them. They wanted to come here too," Zyro said.

"Christians look for peace. They don't want to fight. That's what Jesus taught us. That's why Christians left Iraq."

Chaldeans began coming to the United States in the 1890s, settling primarily in the Detroit area. Today's population of 150,000 Chaldeans includes about 25,000 in Southern California, particularly San Diego, Hanna Shathaya said.

Parishioners pack the pews of St. George's in Santa Ana. The church, 2 years old, often provides the sole contact for an increasingly dispersed community, said Joe Rafo, one of its administrators. After Mass, everyone sticks around for conversation, coffee, pizza and cake.

The priest leads services in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus Christ, Zyro said. Portions are translated into Arabic and English for children and immigrants who haven't learned Aramaic.

Zyro said people sometimes assume he's Greek, European or a convert to Christianity. "I don't think they have any idea there's a lot of Christians in Iraq," he said.

Chaldeans in Iraq are allowed to attend church on Sundays. But Muslim extremists are pushing for total separation from Christians, Zyro said.

During his obligatory military service, Zyro would share food with Muslim soldiers. Six or seven usually had to eat off the same plate, doing their best to ignore the criticism from hard-liners who frowned on such close contact.

Thinking about those dining encounters, Zyro pointed out that Christians, Muslims and Jews share the same patriarch, Abraham. "When you're friends, we're like brothers," Zyro said.


Courtesy of the Tate Report by Deborah Tate (27 February)

(ZNDA: Washington) A group of human rights activists is calling on the United States to highlight Iran's crackdown on religious minorities at next month's meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

Members of an organization calling itself the Association of Defense for the Rights of Iranian Minorities held a Capitol Hill news conference to discuss Iran's human rights record when it comes to religious minorities.

Mansour Lavaie, an Iranian-born American citizen who lives in Pasadena, California, is a member of the Zoroastrian faith. "Members of our community have been constantly harassed, ridiculed, and discriminated against by the Iranian regime," he said.

Mr. Lavaie says two decades ago there were 65,000 Zoroastrians living in Iran. He says many fled oppression, leaving fewer than 25,000 there today.

Christians in Iran also face persecution, according to the Reverend Guy Carey of Immanuel's Church in Silver Spring, Maryland.

"Christian leaders and their families are threatened, mistreated, forced to leave the country or killed," he said. "Most evangelical churches have closed, or have been restricted to only conducting services in Armenian or Assyrian. As a result, many churches have gone underground. The government is actively seeking those underground churches and punishes those involved."

Reverend Carey says all religious minorities in Iran are subject to threats, imprisonment, and detention without trial or torture.

Rabbi Pinchas Aloof spoke for the group when he appealed to Secretary of State Colin Powell to highlight the situation in Iran at next month's U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva.

"Introduce a resolution to ask for a close monitoring of human rights conditions in Iran," he said.

For the first time in seven years, a team from the U.N. Human Rights Commission visited Iran this month.

The team, which concluded its 12-day visit this week, criticized what it called Iran's extensive practice of solidarity confinement for prisoners and arbitrary detention of people expressing their views. But team members also praised Iran for what they said was unprecedented cooperation in allowing access to jails and prisoners.


Courtesy of Zenit News Agency (25 February)

(ZNDA: Doha) The government of Qatar authorized the construction of churches in the country, something unprecedented in this Arab Gulf state.

"The Ministry of Municipal Affairs wishes to conclude long-term rental contracts for symbolic amounts with those involved in the construction of churches," said a government representative, who asked for anonymity, in statements to Agence France-Presse.

According to the official, this decision is part of "Qatar's conviction in favor of freedom of worship."

Last Nov. 18, the Vatican and Qatar announced the establishment of official diplomatic relations. The Qatari government is willing to put a plot or plots of land at the disposition of the Church for the construction of churches.

The Qatari government's announcement implies that, thanks to the agreement with the Vatican, Qatar will respect the religious freedom of the other Christian communities living in the country.

Situated in the Arabian peninsula, Qatar is a neighbor of Saudi Arabia. Its population of about 800,000 is made up in the majority of Bedouin Arabs, as well as immigrant laborers from nearby Arab states and from Iran, Pakistan, India and the Philippines.

Although Islam is the majority religion, there are 45,000 Catholic immigrants in Qatar, above all from the Philippines and India. There are also some 10,000 Orthodox, the great majority being foreigners.

Qatar, which presides over the Islamic Conference Organization, is preparing for a conference in Doha on interreligious dialogue, to be held this April.


Courtesy of the Modesto Bee (3 March); article by J.N. Sbranti, Photo by Joan Barnett Lee

(ZNDA: Modesto) Elaborate remodeling and expansion plans are being considered by the new owner of Modesto's longtime Elks Lodge complex at 945 McHenry Ave in Modesto.

Youra J. Tarverdi, a San Jose businessman, paid $1.6 million for the property in December.

The aging 20,000-square-foot lodge, which includes meeting rooms, a ballroom and two bars, sits on 2.16 acres.

"I want to remodel it and turn it into a full-service center for service clubs and cultural events," said Tarverdi, 40, who is involved in numerous Assyrian cultural, political and business organizations.

During a telephone interview Friday, Tarverdi said many of the region's service clubs and fraternal organizations could hold their meetings and events there.

"It would be a turnkey operation for all the service clubs," he explained, noting plans to provide catering, linen, equipment, floral and limousine services.

Private groups also could rent rooms there for special events, such as weddings or corporate meetings.

"I want to bring some large Silicon Valley-type conventions to Modesto," Tarverdi said, noting that expanding the facility would make it big enough to attract such events.

Tarverdi tentatively plans to rename the lodge The Seasons at the Elks, and he hopes to create four banquet rooms there. As part of the expansion, he wants to build a glass-enclosed atrium between the lodge's existing buildings.

Before it became a lodge in 1950, the property was a house owned by Dr. Eugene Falk. The Elks have enlarged it several times over the decades.

The place continues to be used by the Elks, but perhaps not for long.

"We're searching for property on which to build our own new facility," said Mike Merryfield, a trustee with the lodge. He said the Elks have made an offer to buy two acres off Kiernan Road north of Modesto, but an agreement has not been reached.

Merryfield approves of Tarverdi's plan to turn the old lodge into a facility for service clubs.

"This is an ideal spot," said Merryfield. The main reason the Elks want their own property, he explained, is to provide space for visiting members to park their recreational vehicles overnight.

Such camping was frowned upon at the McHenry Avenue property because of city regulations, Merryfield said.

Tarverdi said he wants to start remodeling by June, but he still is talking with city officials about his options.

He said he also is considering purchasing other property in and around downtown Modesto for various commercial ventures.

[Z-info: Mr. Tarverdi is the chairman of the Ways & Means Committee of the Assyrian Univeral Alliance.]


Surfs Up!
Letters From Zinda Magazine Readers


Greetings from London, England, where my fellow Assyrians are making me feel at home with their sweet hospitality, wonderful food, but also making me homesick for Japan.

There are 2 million of our fellow Assyrian Christians in Iraq. They need our prayers at this time. The best way to appreciate all we have in Japan? Leave for a little bit! I'm homesick already.

Rev. Ken Joseph

[Z-info: Rev. Joseph is a member of the Japanese delegation visiting Baghdad, Iraq later this week. Look for Rev. Joseph’s exclusive reports for Zinda Magazine from Baghdad in the coming issues.]


I hope that the irony of the recent massive peace demonstrations in Europe and North America was not lost on Zinda readers. Where have these "peace activists" been all these years to come out in force to condemn Saddam's regime for terror, torture and mass murder, and for denying peace to the people of Iraq? And why is it that we have never seen these same millions take to the streets to condemn their own governments for doing brisk business with the murderous regime in Iraq? It is the same chemicals and armaments that these governments sold and keep selling to the Iraqi regime that have caused so much pain and suffering to the Iraqi people and have enabled Saddam to develop his weapons of mass destruction.

Worst of all is the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, which has never condemned the Iraqi regime for its atrocities and has never demanded that the world refrain from doing business with this murderous regime at the expense of the Iraqi people, that gave audience to Tariq Aziz - who I hope will be captured alive by the American forces to stand trial for committing crimes against humanity - to meet with the Pope and pray for peace!

Samuel Saro
New York


How you dare to deny my existence while I am still alive here in Australia and all around the world?

There are about 1 million of my brothers and sisters still living in our homeland Mesopotamia [Iraq]. I am advising you to have a quick visit to Australian Bureau Of Statistics Web Site,you will find out that almost 20 thousands people called themselves (Assyrians)during the latest census,this is only in Australia,I am sure the number is much higher in other Westren Countries and the middle east. So please don't bury me while I am still alive.I've had enough of these attempts from Saddam Hussien,Thank you

Fred Audisho

All of my life I have had to explain to people what an Assyrian is, as well as clarify to responses that, "No, I wasn't a Syrian, that's an Arab! And, no I wasn't a Sicilian, that's an Italian! Caesarean? No not 'how' I was born!" I had to use key phrases like: Mesopotamia, Babylon, and the Cradle of Civilization. Now I hear that we don't even exist! I want to inform you that we do exist. We are a people who have a culture, a language (both written and spoken) and are one of the first Christian converts that are mainly Orthodox now. The famous Bay Area chef, Narsi David is an Assyrian that, as president of the Assyrian Aid Society, has helped raise monies for Assyrian schools in the Northern Iraq no-fly zone. These monies have among other things, helped build Assyrian schools in where the curriculum is done in the Assyrian language. Of the many sites that do exist, I suggest you take an informative visit to www.zindamagazine.com and also check out www.betnahrain.org where you can even hear the Assyrian language spoken, as well as see it written.

Susan Benjamin-Warda

[Z-info: Dear Readers, tell Bill O'Reilly that Assyrians Exist. Please sign the following petition: http://aina.org/petitions/oreilly.htm. Email this link to your friends and relatives today.]


I am a student at the University of California, Berkeley. Approximately 12 of us here at Berkeley comprise the Assyrian Student Alliance, a university-funded organization. We perform many activities on and off campus such as overnight host programs for prospective Assyrian students, activities regarding the remembrance of the Christian Genocide of WWI, and participation in various cultural festivals.

Recently on a online magazine called FrontPage, a journalist named Eric k Stakelbeck wrote an article about "unpatriotic" student groups at UC Berkeley. In it, he says the following:

"Scanning UC Berkeley’s list of student groups reveals a significant Muslim presence, with the Iranian Student-Cultural Organization (ISCO), the Afghan Student Group, the Assyrian Student Alliance, the Somali Student Association and the Muslim Student Association all collecting University funds."

I have written an e-mail to the editors of FrontPage magazine, and have posted a comment on their message board, carefully explaining who the Assyrian people are, and how we are not a Muslim people. Please take a couple minutes to post a comment or write an email so that they will correct this egregious mistake. In this day and age, with war on Iraq being imminent, we the Assyrians cannot afford to be incorrectly labeled as Muslims, Arabs, or unpatriotic. It would be an insult to those martyrs who have perished so we could exist and thrive today. Here is the link to the article (the link to contact or post a comment is on this page as well. http://frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=6406

Ramond Takhsh

[Z-info: … And we thought O’Reilly was ignorant. No asinine remarks as this should be tolerated. Follow the link above and quickly enlighten the unwise.]


Excellent job Zinda crew! I love reading your stuff. I would also like to point out the fact that there are those of us, members of the "Chaldean" Catholic church, and Syriac (formerly Assyrian) Orthodox Church who are proud Assyrians. Please do not refer to us as Syriacs and Chaldeans. We are no less Assyrian than those of the Church of the East and wish to be recognized as such. This is a message to all writers in the media world. Our ecclesiastical designation in no way is an ethnicity. We are Assyrians...nothing more, nothing less.

Baseema raba w tawdi ghelebeh!

Sargon Donabed


I read in last week's issue of Zinda the article on the etymology of "check mate". It may interest Assyrians to know that the game of chess was first brought to Mesopotamia by an Assyrian periodeutes (wandering or rural priest, called a sa'ora in Assyrian) named Budh, who was sent to India by Khusraw I on a mission to procure medicinal drugs (between 531 and 578 A.D., the date is not given). Budh returned not only with drugs, but with a Buddhist work and the game of chess. This information is from "How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs" by De Lacy O'Leary (pp 155-156). A review of this important book is available here: http://www.aina.org/aol/peter/greek.htm

Peter BetBasoo

Surfer's Corner


H.G. Mar Bawai Soro, Bishop of the Diocese of Western California, representing the Holy Apostolic Assyrian Church of the East, will be attending a series of conferences in February and March 2003. These conferences constitute lectures and seminars with the goal to share and defend theological and historical viewpoints of the Assyrian Church of the East.

Conference No. 1: Pontifical Oriental Institute (Rome, Italy)
Symposium on the Council of Constantinople II (AD 553)
February 27, 2003

H.G. Bishop Mar Bawai will be presenting a paper on the subject of:
”The Condemnation and Rehabilitation of Nestorius of Constantinople”

Conference No. 2: Pro Oriente Foundation (Vienna, Austria)
6th Syriac Dialogue Consultation
March 6 –13, 2003

H.G. Bishop Mar Bawai will be presenting a paper on the subject of: ”Theology of Priesthood in the Assyrian Church of the East”

The Pro Oriente Syriac Commission is a mixed commission of representatives of all Churches of Syriac Tradition and of Pro Oriente delegates. Representing our Church will be HG Bishop Mar Bawai and Chorbishop Michael J. Bernie (Seattle). HG Bishop Mar Bawai is a member of the Steering Committee and Communique Committee. He will be presiding as moderator and presenting a paper on Holy Orders/Priesthood. Chorbishop Bernie will present a paper on the Eucharist. Present will be Bishops from many Churches and Professors from Oxford, Paderborn and several other institutions.

Ten churches will be represented at this symposium. These include:

1. Ancient Church of the East
2. Assyrian Church of the East
3. Chaldean Catholic Church
4. Malabar Catholic Church
5. Malankara Catholic Church
6. Malankara Orthodox Church
7. Maronite Church
8. Roman Catholic Church
9. Syrian Catholic Church
10. Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch

Holy Apostolic Catholic
Mar Yosip Cathedral
Assyrian Church of the East
680 Minnesota Avenue
San Jose, California



Assyrians are descendants of the ancient empires of Assyria and Babylonia. These empires ruled over what was known as Mesopotamia, roughly the same area as modern Iraq.

After the collapse of their empire during the 6th and 7th Centuries BC, the Assyrians scattered across the Middle East region.

Assyrian political parties campaign for more national rights. They embraced Christianity in the 1st Century and are today followers of the ancient church of the East, the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, the Chaldean Catholic Church and various Protestant denominations.

Like the Armenians, they were victims of Ottoman massacres and in 1915 were driven by the Turks out of the mountainous region where they were living as a semi-independent people.

A year after Iraq became independent in 1932, the Iraqi military set upon the Assyrians resulting in large-scale massacres in retaliation for their collaboration with the British, the former colonial power.

Assyrians have been targeted as part of the Baath regime's internal deportation programs to maintain a grip on the nation, particularly the oil-rich areas.

Hundreds of Assyrian villages were destroyed by Iraqi forces in northern Iraq, churches and monasteries were torn down and Assyrians denied the right to practice their religion and preserve their culture and language.

Recently, however, there appears to have been some kind of reconciliation with the government. Some places of worship have been rebuilt and the Assyrian culture appears to be tolerated.

There are five seats reserved for northern Christians in the Kurdistan National Assembly in the Kurdistan Autonomous Region. The most important party representing this group is the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM).

It campaigns for the recognition of Assyrian national rights and encompasses Chaldean, Assyrian and Syriac identities - which the party says are different names for one common identity.

Before the Gulf War in 1991, Christians comprised almost one million of the Iraqi population. Today, there are an estimated 650,000 Christians in Iraq and all the churches report that number is still shrinking, as many continue to leave the country.

Many left to join relatives in the West after the Gulf War and the imposition of economic sanctions against Iraq.

Assyrian and Chaldean Catholics - who acknowledge the supremacy of the Catholic Pope - are the largest Christian communities. They can trace their ancestries to ancient Mesopotamia and the surrounding lands.

Other Iraqi Christians include Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholics and Greek Catholics and the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Many Christians can be found in the northern cities of Kirkuk, Arbil and Mosul, but there are also a significant number in Baghdad.

Christians have risen to the top ranks in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, with Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz prominent among them. Commentators say anti-Christian violence has been largely suppressed by the Baath regime.

Iraq's Christian communities have lived in harmony with their neighbors for decades. In Mosul, for example, there are an estimated 50,000 Christians.

The city - Iraq's third-largest and a center of the oil industry - is also home to Muslim Kurds, Turkomen and Arab Muslims.

But some communities have been subjected to the government's systematic "relocation programs". For the Christians, this has been particularly marked in the oil-rich areas, where the government has tried to create Arab majorities near oil fields to secure control of economic assets.

Some Christians fear that a US-led conflict in the country could generate anger against them. They recall the Gulf War, when "New Crusaders" was how many Muslims sympathetic to Saddam Hussein described the American and allied forces.

BBC News Report
Thursday, 27 February 2003

[Z-info: For an animated outline of the history of Iraq, including ancient Bet-Nahrain (Mesopotamia) visit: http://www.startribune.com/stories/1608/3652300.html]


The bell for lunch rings at 3pm, and residents, boarders and day guests head to the table for the midday meal held every day at approximately the same time at Deir Mar Musa, a 6th century Ethiopian monastery 80 kilometers north of Damascus and a half hour drive from the nearest town.

Two families climb up the steep cliff toward the earth-colored monastery built into the rocky desert mountains.

Brother Paolo, an Italian monk responsible for the monastery, greets them with cups of tea as they unwind after an exhausting 20-minute walk.

“That’s the way we are,” says Paolo cheerfully, pointing out that Deir Mar Musa is a monastery open to people of all faiths. Nuns, monks, employees and guests all sit down for lunch, which has been prepared with locally grown food.

According to Ramona, a nun, lunchtime is the time of day when most of the dialogue takes place between people of different nationalities and faiths.

In warm weather, lunch is served on the terrace next to the church, overlooking the desert; in the winter it is eaten in a small building made of stone, blending in with the modest style of the desert monastery.

After lunch, guests usually wash the dishes, as everyone ­ including guests ­ is expected to participate in the communal life of the monastery.

This desert monastery is reminiscent of an era when rocky landscapes in the desert provided shelters for self-sustaining religious communities.

According to legend, the son of a wealthy Ethiopian king named Musa founded the monastery. Preferring the monastic life to the throne, he traveled to Egypt, then to the Holy Land, settling in Syria where he became a monk in Qara. He lived as a hermit in the valley where the monastery is now situated. He became a martyr when a Byzantine soldier killed him. As the story goes, his family took his body, and by a miracle his right thumb was separated from his body, which remains as a relic in the Syrian church of al Nebek.

Paolo, who has been involved in the restoration of the monastery since it began in 1984, gives tours of the church and explanations of its history ­ which he manages with ease in at least four languages.

The monastery of Mar Musa has existed since the beginning of the 6th century and belonged to the Syrian Antiochian Rite, and the church was built later in 1058. The frescoes on the walls of the church, which date from the 11th and 12th centuries, are the pride of the monastery. Restorations have so far revealed three layers of frescoes. The first layer is from the middle of the 11th century, the second dates from the end of the 11th century, and the third is from the end of the 12th century or the beginning of the 13th. Further restorations are expected to reveal even older frescoes.

The frescoes depict scenes from both testaments. For example, the nave of the church is decorated with images of saints ­ females on the arches and males on the pillars. There are Syriac letters written in the Gospels in the hands of four evangelists. On the wall of the nave is a representation of the final judgment.

Also depicted are Adam and Eve, who pray for their children. Beside them are the Virgin Mary, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob embracing the saved people. Beneath them are Moses with Elijah, David and Solomon, standing together with the fathers of the church with two angels playing the trumpets of judgment.

Like the inhabitants of the monastery 1,500 years ago, the present-day residents live substantially balanced lives. Goat farming is one of the ways residents have found of living off the land while at the same time preserving their environment. Most meals prepared at the monastery in some way contain goat products ­ be they milk, cheese or meat.

The monastery and the surrounding area have not suffered from desertification in the same way that areas of extensive human development have, in large part because of the refuge the area has provided for plants and animals.

The valleys around the monastery, however, are in danger from the desert, and the community has already embarked on projects to prevent environmental degradation. These include goat farming, planting trees, and the gathering of water resources through various projects ­ including small dam.

They have also begun transforming the waste heap on the road to the monastery into a biodiversity garden.

Preserving the environment of the monastery and the surrounding area is essential, claim the residents, in order for it to exist as a place of meditation and spiritual retreat.

Every evening between 7pm and 8pm, an hour is set aside for meditation. The clean air and bare hills make Mar Musa an ideal place for relaxation and reflection. Madge, an Arabic student from Great Britain, and a regular visitor to the monastery, says she likes the monastery seclusion, but it is still close enough to Damascus that it makes an easy day trip.

“The people at Mar Musa are very open and friendly,” she says, “and if you want, they’ll take an interest in you, but if you just want to spend time alone, they’ll give you your space.” A well-known social project of the monastery is their commitment to keeping an open dialogue with people of all faiths. Less well-known are their social programs for Christians. At the monastery, they feel that continued immigration abroad, particularly of Christian families, has put inter-faith dialogue at risk.

They think that it is important for there to be a thriving Christian community in Syria, and as a monastery, they do what they can to encourage young Christians to stay, or to return after their studies abroad. They help young Syrians find scholarships, and also help to restore old houses and build new ones in the parish.

The community at Deir Mar Musa is also involved with Muslim and Christian intellectuals in the area, with the aim of stimulating interaction between the two faiths, and not just coexistence. Mass is held at 8pm, and hymns are sung in Syriac. Both men and women and both Orthodox and Catholic nuns and monks conduct the service. As Ramona, a Catholic nun, prays, she kneels and bows her forehead to the ground, as Muslims do. She says that she just likes to pray that way.
At approximately 9.30pm, dinner is served, and is often eaten by candlelight.

After dinner is free time, and residents and guests retire to their beds, some of which are in caves in the hills enclosing the monastery. Everyone is welcome, expected to take part in the monastery’s communal life.

Brooke Anderson
The Daily Star



KPFA Radio Station (94.1 FM) played Habib Mousa and other Assyrian Music between 10 AM and 12 PM, Pacific Time (California Time) on Monday 3 March.

You can also listen to the program online, wherever you have access to the internet, by going to:
http://Kpfa.org and then "Listen online"

If you wish to thank the station or make contribution for all the great work it has done for the community, Please contact the station at:

94.1 FM in the Berkeley signal area
1929 M L King Jr Way
Berkeley, CA 94704

Calendar of Events

Visit the Zinda Magazine Calendar at http://www.zindamagazine.com/calendar

Thank You!

Zindamagazine would like to thank:

Shimshon Antar

Ashor Giwargis

Ashur Isaac

Konstantin Sabo

Mar Narsai Parish, Church of the East
(San Francisco)

Stavros Stavridis

Ed Williams


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