IRAQ WAR PUSHES LITTLE-KNOWN ASSYRIANS TO FORE
Waving American flags, more than 400 people gathered last Sunday in Chicago's Warren Park, carrying signs that read "God Bless America." At first glance, the scene was unremarkable in this time of rallies for and against the war. But there was something unusual about this crowd. Their Middle Eastern looks. The hand-lettered signs that read, "Thank you for freeing my homeland."
Most striking to a Jewish observer were the oddly familiar yet mysterious syllables resounding occasionally from the platform. "Shlam Alukhem," one speaker said, "Talbakh min maren esho meshikha qat khame l'da atra..." It didn't quite sound like Arabic. It certainly wasn't Hebrew. To the scholarly ear it sounded curiously like the language of the Talmud, Aramaic.
It was. Asked what language they were speaking, attendees at the rally said it was "Assyrian" and that they were members of the Assyrian people. Rare media accounts of this group tend to group them with other, larger Iraqi minorities, such as the Kurds or the Shiites. Like these groups, Assyrians have suffered atrocities at the hands of Saddam Hussein. But the Assyrians are unique, Joseph Tamraz, Midwest director of the Assyrian American National Federation, told the Forward. "We are the oldest indigenous people of Iraq. We are different in our ethnicity and in our Christianity."
Assyrians have been culturally distinct from their Arabic-speaking neighbors since Arab peoples invaded Mesopotamia in the year 637 of the current era. Due to ongoing persecution, most Assyrians now reside abroad; estimates of their worldwide numbers vary from less than 1 million to 3 or 4 million. The Assyrian language, known to linguists as neo-Aramaic, is a modern evolution of the ancient language familiar to Jews from the Kaddish prayer, the Passover song "Chad Gadya" and the Talmud.
Last Sunday's rally was organized by the umbrella organization for Assyrian associations in Chicago. It was conducted in both Assyrian and English and consisted of prayers, songs, praise for the American troops and expressions of concern for the future of the Assyrian homeland, which they call Bet Nahrain, or "between two rivers."
Benjamin Lincoln Tamraz, an American veteran, told the crowd that a group of Iraqi-born Chicago Assyrians had volunteered for the war.
Joseph Gemayez, a specialist in the U.S. Army, addressed the rally, saying: "Iraq will be liberated. I'm going back to Assyria, the land between the rivers. Keep all of our troops in your prayers because they are doing it for the right reasons. This is not a war for oil. This is not a war for any of the wrong reasons. There are women who have been gang-raped. There are people whose rights have been violated."
Gemayez also expressed nationalist aspirations. "It's time for the Assyrian nation to come back to its land and form a nation of its own called Assyria," he said to loud cheers and applause. "We should all together write letters to Washington, D.C., stating that, when we liberate Iraq, the Assyrians should at least get a piece of land over there that we can call our own."
Not everyone there was calling for immediate statehood. "For now we would like to have our rights — we would love to see Assyrians being recognized in Iraq, that's our hope right now," said Benjamin Samir, a currency exchange clerk.
The speeches were frequently punctuated by outbursts from the crowd. "We lost our country because we are Christian!" one man shouted. Others chanted, "Down with Saddam!"
One demonstrator, who identified himself only as Jendo, a doctor, said Assyrians had been massacred by Muslims throughout the 20th century, most recently by Saddam. "I have the names of 180 villages that were destroyed in the 1980s — all the churches, all the houses. People were moved and some people are missing until now."
Some demonstrators refused to speak on the record for fear of retribution against their families in Iraq. Asked whether they thought Saddam reads the Forward, one man replied, seemingly seriously, that the Iraqi dictator "reads everything."
Several demonstrators told the Forward that Israel and Jews should support the Assyrian cause. "If the Israeli people support our people to get back our country, then the Israeli people will be tougher in the Middle East. They will have more freedom," said George Atto, a taxi driver.
"Who's related to the Israelis in the Middle East more than us?" Atto said. "We have a prayer in church, "Allah barech la bnei yisrael" — "God bless the people of Israel."
When asked about the policies of Prime Minister Sharon, George Khoshaba, a factory worker, said: "I support him 100%. He is doing the right thing. To protect his own people, his country."
Such views are common in the Assyrian community, said Peter Dagher, a former White House aide and Assyrian activist. "Many Assyrians are not pro-Arab," he said. "Their views and those of Arabs are not the same. In that part of the world they look at Israel as an example of what to do, rather than what not to do."
Jewish and Assyrian paths have crossed before. In 1943 the American Zionist leader Hayim Greenberg was approached by an Assyrian activist seeking help in their quest for independence. Greenberg later wrote of his misgivings, wryly recalling that the Assyrians' ancient forebears shared some blame for the Jews' modern plight.
More recently, the California-based Assyrian National Congress appeared jointly with Hadassah before a United Nations committee in January 2000 to apply for recognition as nongovernmental organizations. Hadassah was accepted, but the Assyrian group could not overcome Arab hostility.
Still, there are profound cultural similarities between Assyrians and Jews. Assyrians this week celebrated their New Year, Kha B'Nissan, the first day of the month of Nissan, a date described in the Mishna as one of four New Years of Judaism. And while neo-Aramaic is much changed from its ancient counterpart, many words remain the same.
The cultural affinities arise from the fact that Aramaic was the lingua franca of the ancient Near East prior to the Arab conquest, said Samuel Fox, a linguist and author of "The Neo-Aramaic Dialect of Jilu." Over the centuries the Arabic language and Muslim religion became dominant in what is now Iraq. "The Assyrians were people who retained their Christian identity and traditional language, mainly in the mountainous region near the Iran-Iraq-Turkish border, in Iranian Azerbaijan, and in the plain of Mosul," Fox said.
While many Assyrians continue to dream about self-determination, Dagher said, their main concern is ensuring the safety of their brethren in a post-Saddam Iraq. "If I thought it wouldn't hurt our cause, I would be pushing for an Assyrian state, but I think we're not organized enough, we're not there. We don't have our own Ed Jacobson, just yet," he said, referring to President Truman's Jewish friend, who was instrumental in persuading the president to recognize the nascent Jewish state.
Not only are our troops winning overseas – but they are winning at home as well. And it’s about time! In the last few days there has been proof positive that those who do not support our troops and our president are losing the rhetorical battle and as they begin to endure casualties of their own, their own propaganda machine is unraveling and sputtering before the American public.
Four weeks ago I wrote of "The Sidewalk War on Terror" – my personal experience of how I confounded a peacenik anti-American by simply using logic on the supermarket sidewalk and frustrating him to the point where he left the scene in utter embarrassment.
My thinking is if the troops are fighting – and some even giving their lives so that I can be free – is it too much for me to be asked to support them? Especially when the forces working against them are in large part sponsored by violent socialist groups like the Worker's World Party, a group with Stalinist roots.
As the early days of the war have gone, the battle for public opinion has been waged continually as well. In sheer historical disregard, those who oppose the war continued their shameless demonstrations in opposing the welfare of the men and women who now fight for our survival and the liberation of an oppressed people.
But as those of you who signed up to be "Sidewalk Warriors" are seeing before your very eyes – we are winning the war for our troops back home as well.
This weekend the opposition has lost what little dignity it had remaining.
Last Wednesday U.S. Congressman from New York Charlie Rangel said on FOX News Channel, "I don't think we should be bombing women and children. ..." Even for the mildly maniacal Rangel this was a moment in which he seemed crazed, even by his operating norms. The Sidewalk Warriors went into action and by the end of the week the lunacy had been denounced at every water cooler in the nation.
Then on Sunday NBC's Peter Arnett, who himself had been disgraced before in the Persian Gulf, appeared on Iraqi television and criticized the U.S. war effort. In doing so he made comments that were encouraging to the Iraqi regime. And in doing so he lost his job. NBC fired him immediately. He will be lucky if he does not wind up with criminal charges of sedition.
As I monitor the anti-war demonstrations, I have noticed a marked dwindling in their numbers. I have not noticed a marked resistance by the media to try to prop them up, however. Over the weekend, “CBS Evening News” focused one news piece on an anti-war rally in China. There was not a single frame of video that CBS aired that showed any more than eight people at this demonstration – nonetheless, a "demonstration" was reported.
Our local NBC affiliate also ran a local story on an anti-war "demonstration" being held in one of Chicago's traditionally Latino neighborhoods. As I stopped the individual frames on video I counted 16 people total.
At the same time this "demonstration" was happening, I was standing in the midst of thousands of Iraqi-born Assyrians just a dozen blocks further north in Chicago. Sunday afternoon was cold in Chicago, yet that did not stop them.
Thousands of mothers, children, dads and retired Assyrian-American military veterans who came together to offer their support for our troops. It was one of the more moving events I have ever attended. American flags were everywhere. Mothers held up signs.
Some of these signs were hand-sketched pictures of sons, brothers and husbands who are still missing in Iraq. Christian men who saw to it that their families got out of the country but somehow had not been able to make it out themselves. These mothers – who are now part of the growing Sidewalk Warrior movement – only hope that their boys are still alive by the time Saddam falls.
This moving and genuinely newsworthy event got only B-roll coverage.
But the media had its own inductee into the Sidewalk Warrior movement: Tim Russert for his “Meet the Press” pounding he served up to the Iraqi ambassador to the U.N. The ambassador was taken so completely off guard by Russert's opening peppering of questions about Saddam Hussein's whereabouts or if he was even alive, it may have been the best television I've seen – especially on network television – in some time.
Even in the Democratic Party there is still a battle to support our troops. The ultra-left wing of the party continues to denigrate the administration asking for it to pull out now. Commentator Bill Kristol put it this way last week: "They hate the Bush administration more than they love America or Americans!"
The real thinking behind these foolish people is that they wish Americans to lose, so that the president is embarrassed and so that they can regain control of the country. AAAUUUUUGGHHHH!
But fear not, Sidewalk Warriors – the battle rages abroad and here at home – and though sometimes the hours seem dark, we are winning the war on both fronts.
And when we see the thousands more Iraqi-born people who will sing and dance because they then live under the same freedom we do, victory will never have tasted sweeter!
NEWS FROM THE BATTLEFRONT
(ZNDA: Dohuk) The Assyrian Democratic Movement information office has told Zinda Magazine that the Assyrian forces have successfully liberated the majority of the Mosul plain at press time and may soon enter Mosul and move south to Baghdad. In Mosul/Nineveh, Saddam’s Fedayeen forces have been hit very hard and their ammunition depot has been destroyed.
“Iraqi army continues its withdrawal from the Mosul plain and the end of oppression looms. The execution squads are forcing the soldiers to resist,” reports the Assyrian Democatic Movement in a recent communiqué to Zinda Magazine. The ADM forces successfully liberated the town of Alqosh, with the support of the Assyrian-Chaldean people of this town. The airports of Harir and Ainkawa are now under the control of the Coalition Forces.
The ADM (Zowaa) fighters have also entered the town of Ain-Sifne (Shikhan) and preparations have begun to set up a local office. Over one hundred Asyrian families have already fled Ain-Sifne and are traveling to Dohuk, Sapna, Nahla, and Atrosh areas.
The cities of Arbil, Dohuk, and Sulaimania are secure and the shops are open again. In North Iraq, dinar is being exchanged as the rate of 5.6 dinar to a U.S. dollar. The price of oil and gas remain high. According to Mr. Rommel Moushi, president of the Assyrian Aid Society in Iraq, Assyrian refugees continue to arrive from Baghdad, Mousel & the sorrounding towns. Many have taken shelter at the Nisibin School Dormitories where they are cared for and fed. Other refugee families are are being housed in churches, schools and people’s homes. Some Christians have also fled into Syria.
The Arab Star Television interviewed Mr. Yonadam Kanna, General Secretary of the ADM, last week who discussed the immediate future and the interim authority for the post-Saddam Iraq. The Secretary General answered questions from callers in a separate interview with the London-based Arabic television station, ANN.
According to other sources in North Iraq, on 31 March Bartulla, a Christian village just 12 kilometers from Mosul, was bombed when the Coalition planes hit the local Baath Party headquarters. Reports state that approximately 20 Christians were killed and 75 wounded.
In Baghdad, the Air Command Center of the Baathist government,
which is located in a Christian area, was destroyed and much
damage was suffered. One senior Christian leader had the windows
and doors of his home blown in by the blast.
ONWARD TO NINEVEH
Courtesy of Time Magazine (7 April); by Paul Quinn-Judge
I spent last Saturday sitting on a hill in Kurdistan watching U.S. forces trying, unsuccessfully, to bomb the Iraqi army into oblivion. The Kurdish authorities had closed the road to the front-line village of Khazar, ostensibly for our safety but also perhaps because they had lost the village the night before. Reinforcements swept along the dusty road: we watched as noisy peshmerga, taciturn Special Forces, a top commander, the brother of the ruler of this part of Kurdistan, moved past in a convoy of Land Cruisers, waving regally. The next day we discovered that the Kurdish commander who waved courteously to us was badly injured by a U.S. air strike further along the front. Friendly fire.
I was tired of complaining to officials about being stopped here, and since my visitor seemed to understand some English, I asked about Nineveh — the ruins of the great Assyrian city, site of the world's first library, which lay a few miles down the road. I wondered whether it too was under fire from U.S. air power or Iraqi artillery — and I also wondered whether anybody cared.
Nineveh! He beamed with delight, "Assurbanipal," and we shook hands again as if King Assurbanipal (who died in 627 B.C.) was a close mutual friend. I never found out why he was so enthusiastic about the late king, as his knowledge of English did not allow for that breadth of discussion, but the mention of Nineveh had an immediate impact on my working day.
The Kurdish official indicated that I should meet him around the bend in the road, out of sight of the checkpoint. He drove around, picked me up and we barreled down the rutted road. The vigor with which he charged deep potholes make me fear for my neck and his axle, but the driving lasted only a short time. The Iraqis, apparently unimpressed by the U.S. bombing raids, opened up once again with mortars. My guide and I took cover behind and earthen bank. "Very good air strikes," he said with what I took to be irony.
When things quieted down, he continued down the road alone, and I hitched a ride back to my hillside with a truck. Nobody had noticed my absence.
When I took cover that afternoon, I thought for a moment that perhaps I should call the office. An idea like this would have occurred in previous wars, but this time is different, even for a technologically backward print journalist like myself. This is a war of Thurayas — the tiny satellite phones little bigger than a cell phone — and text messages. We correspondents are now joined, umbilical-like, to each other and the rest of the world. So we zoom up Kurdistan's mountain roads, messaging each other from our cars — no more stopping to assemble, swivel around and curse a satellite phone bigger than a laptop whose lid-cum-antenna have an irritating habit of dropping on your fingers.
Another new feature of the war in Kurdistan is that for a week or two journalists became designated targets. The risk of falling victim to friendly fire — or getting killed in a road accident because we are too cool to buckle our seatbelts — is a risk that comes with this sort of work. But for a while Ansar al-Islam, a fundamentalist group that carved out an armed camp near the Iranian border, pointed its suicide bombers in our direction and succeeded in killing one journalist. In theory Ansar al-Islam was routed ten days ago, though I have my doubts (they lost at most half their fighters, so I expect they will be back sooner or later). I spent a week trying to get into the head of this dour, brutal and often suicidal group of fighters. I did not succeed, although I did spend time looking over their bomb paraphernalia, was given my very own bomb timer, and wandered through a particularly sinister detention center.
But I did succeed in meeting the local Sufis. Unlike Wahhabis, who feel that the world has been going downhill since the seventh century, Sufis love life, poetry, cheerfully embrace other religions and distrust authority. Not surprisingly, they have a rough time when people like the Taliban, or Taliban clones like Ansar, are in power.
I made their acquaintance in the mountain village of Beyara, which is one of the main Ansar bases. Sufis from a nearby village had come to lend a hand clearing up the mosque, which has been rocketed by the U.S. on the grounds that it was an Ansar command post. None of the helpers looked a day under 70, and although they were picking and pulling at the mountain of rubble with vigor, they were not making much headway. They did not mind being interrupted.
"Sufis have been living here for 400 years," said one (I did not ask his name, as this was a chat, not an interview), "and we never killed a single person." When I asked how many Sufis lived in the area, the anarchist side emerged. "I don't know," my interlocutor answered, with a trace of exasperation. "We don't ask. We're not a political party, you know." I wandered off, but later dropped by again to see how they were doing. With the help of a passing translator I asked them what they thought of Ansar's approach to Islam. One of them stuck his bottom out, and his neighbor exploded with laughter.
Sensing another linguistic breakdown, I backtracked, checking
how my question had been rendered into Kurdish, and whether
the gesture had anything to do with the answer. In fact, the
translation was right on, and the gesture was a succinct analysis
of Ansar theology: They had approached Islam ass-forward. Ansar's
philosophy, explained one Sufi, was one of "hate, hate,
hate. No, no, no."
ASSYRIAN AFRAID FOR RELATIVES STILL IN IRAQ
Courtesy of Daily Herald (31 March); article by Cass Cliatt
(ZNDA: Chicago) The fear invades her sleep. A bomb blast flashes behind closed eyes. Smoke shrouds the scorched crater that was her family's home in Baghdad. Soldiers march past civilian dead. She can't see the faces. Could it be her uncle, her brother's wife?
Ashtar Shamoon wakes. The clock reads 5 a.m. when she turns on the news in her Arlington Heights home. Shamoon abandoned her vigil here just four hours earlier, but worry compels her to watch a war progress toward the city she used to call home.
"If I don't watch the news, it's like I don't care about it," the 44-year-old Shamoon said. "It's still your country."
But fear has kept the hair stylist away from her homeland for more than 20 years. She is tormented by reports about other U.S. families sending letters to their fathers, sisters and sons in military service in the Middle East. For Shamoon, the hold Saddam Hussein has over Iraq grips her, even here, stifling her with fear of maintaining too much contact with her own family.
She is among thousands of Iraqi expatriates who carried their sense of oppression to the Northwest suburbs, away from Iraq's borders. They harbor a dread here that continues to alienate them from families back home. "I have my brother's wife, his sister, her daughter, my uncle, many cousins," Shamoon said. "Now with the war starts, I've been talking to them every two days, but I'm scared even to mention their names. Maybe the government of Saddam Hussein just go after them.
"Shamoon is one of about 80,000 Assyrian Christians in the Chicago area, a large majority of whom fled Iraq because of political persecution, according to the Assyrian National Council of Illinois. As much as they fear that their families could fall victim to the ravages of the war, some worry even more that they could unleash torment on their own relatives. "Sometimes, for example, if someone is talking against the government or against the regime in Iraq, they cut his tongue," said Isho Lilou, director of the Assyrian council. "If a man doesn't want to serve in the army, they cut his ear." The punishment can be much worse for families seen as American sympathizers, Lilou said. "Basically, the government point of view is, whoever is outside, especially in America and they have relatives there, they treat them as if they are all Americans," he said. "And the regime hates America. "If there is communication, you don't know what will happen. Some people will either disappear or they get hit by a car," Lilou said. "One way or another, they are gone."
It's the main reason Shamoon hasn't been back to Baghdad since she left in 1981. She and her family were among the estimated 1 million Assyrian Christians in a country that's 97 percent Muslim. She says she left because Hussein's government asked her to spy on other Christians who were customers in the hair salon where she worked. "To see what the people say about Saddam Hussein, if they like him," Shamoon said. "I say I can't do that. I say I am a Christian. I do my job and come home. I said I can't talk politics." Yet they kept at her for five months. Shamoon had to get out.
She came to the United States with her teenage sister in 1981 and became a U.S. citizen 10 years later. Shamoon, her sister, now 40, and her 73-year-old mother now live in Arlington Heights, afraid to ever return to Iraq. But tomorrow, Shamoon will make one of her increasingly frequent calls home to Baghdad. Since the war started last week, Shamoon's questions are always the same. "Are you safe? Nobody is killed and nobody is bombing there? How is uncle, how are nieces and nephews? ... Do not go outside. Stay at home." Three minutes on the phone with her family is all Shamoon will risk - five at the most. "I don't say anything about what's going on here," Shamoon said. "They (the government) listen on their phone when you talk, and maybe someone here, the Muslim people here contact them. You never know."
Louise Cainkar, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said many people might classify the fear felt by Shamoon and others as paranoia. But that doesn't make their fear any less real. "It's the nature of the society when you live under oppressive conditions and you know people are watching other people and reporting on each other," said Cainkar, who specializes in Arabs and Muslims in the United States. "I think it's how most Iraqis feel, whether they're Muslim or Christian," she said. "They're afraid to call their families. They have been traumatized by a watchdog society."
The potential to regain open lines of communication with her family makes Shamoon welcome the war, in a way. "I'm glad they're going to get Hussein and they're going to kill him, but I'm feeling bad for a lot of people who are there - my family, the other Assyrian Christians and a lot of poor people," Shamoon said. "They're going to die, too." The last time Shamoon risked talking to her relatives, they told her they sit huddled inside, wondering how long the groceries they bought a month ago will last. All of the businesses are closed and no one is working. "They don't know what's going to happen to them, if they're going to bomb everything there," Shamoon said. She rushes from work today, as she does everyday, and immediately turns on the news when she gets home. Troops remain on the outskirts of Baghdad. Shamoon will probably stay glued to her television until 1 or 2 a.m. again. She'll definitely try to call her family in Iraq tomorrow. The phone lines have remained clear so far, but Shamoon doesn't know how long she should rely on them - rely on the peace of mind so many other families get from hearing their relatives' voices on the other end of the line. "If I can't hear nothing from them, I can't go to work," she said. "I would be nervous every day. I can't sleep."
Courtesy of Catholic New Service (3 April); article by Robert Delaney
(ZNDA: Detroit) The spiritual leader of Chaldean Catholics in the
eastern half of the United States predicts the United States and Great
Britain will win the war being fought in his homeland of Iraq, but
he is equally confident they will lose the ensuing peace.
"Now, from what I am seeing and hearing, I think it's going to drag on for months, and it will be very harsh for both sides, but the main victim will be the Iraqi civilians," said Bishop Ibrahim, who heads the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, based in suburban Southfield, which numbers about 120,000 faithful -- about 100,000 of those in the Detroit area. Eparchy is a term for a diocese in the Eastern Catholic churches.
Had the war been over in a week, U.S. hopes for the cooperation
of a grateful Iraqi people might have been realized, but a lengthy
conflict will mean the destruction of the country and the loss of
loved ones for many Iraqis.
Courtesy of the Michigan Catholic; by Robert Delaney
(ZNDA: Detroit) Figuring that war with Iraq was inevitable, Joseph Kassab tried to get his brother Gabriel to come to the United States back hi January, but his brother said he had to be in Basra with his people.
“I-us people” are the Chaldean Catholics of southern Iraq. Joseph Kassab’s brother is Archbishop Gabriel Kassab of Basra.
As Coalition forces step up efforts to take control of Basra, Joseph
Kassab’s worries have only increased.
“He said he barely had ally food or any good water, and no electricity at all,” said Kassab, 52, of Farmington Hills, a member of Mother of God (Chaldean) Parish in Southfield.
Kassab said his brother was reluctant to give any impression of the fighting in his area, lest the phone call be monitored and officials interpret his words as communicating sensitive information to the West.
“He’s a man of religion, he’s a man of humanitarian aid and he doesn’t want to do anything but protect his flock,” Kassab added.
Making the call took several hours of repeat dialing, and it was the first time Kassab had been able to get through since March 25.
In that time, he and his two brothers and three sisters on this side of the ocean became increasingly concerned about news reports of ferocious fighting in and around Iraq’s second largest city.
Recounting last Saturday’s call, he said, “I asked him, ‘What can we do for you?’ and he said, ‘local! you can do is pray for us here.’ So, we prayed on the phone together.’
Kassab said he quickly called his brothers and sisters, and told them, ‘He is good, he is all right, and the main thing is that he is still alive’”
From what he can glean from the news about Basra, Kassab called it “a devastating situation, a humanitarian disaster.” He added that he hopes to work with other Detroit-area Chaldeans to make some aid shipments ‘when this thing clears up.”
Not that things were great before the war started— one of Archbishop Kassab’s greatest concerns has been the privations brought on by the U.N. sanctions. His animal trips to the United States have raised money for food and medicine — for both Catholics and Muslims, Kassab said.
“Besides giving people food, clothing and water to people,
he opened a pharmacy last year,’ Kassab said.
city, there are enough Catholics among its 1.2 million people to support five churches.
Kassab also recalled his previous conversation with his brother “He came to the phone rapidly breathing. He had been flying to fix a water pump. I said, ‘Why don’t you take care of yourself’ But he said, [have to take care of my people first. I want water for my people.”’
Kassab spoke of the happier time, just a few years ago, when his archbishop brother was able to present Pope John Paul II with a stone from the ruins of ancient Ur, where Abraham was from, on a papal visit to Jordan.
While no defender of Saddam Hussein Kassab is opposed to the war: “War dismantles everything. War is meant to destroy things and kill people. Chaldeans are known to be people of peace. We are definitely against this war.”
Kassab is worried his brother’s reputation for helping could endanger him. “What if some desperate people comes to him for help, and he has nothing left to give? What if they misunderstand why he can’t help them?’ he asks.
“War makes people violent, angry, on the edge — these
are not normal times’ Kassab adds.
SARGON DADESHO RECEIVES $2.4 MILLION AS VICTIM OF IRAQI REGIME
Courtesy of the Associated Press and the Modesto Bee (6 & 8 April); Brian Skoloff & Melanie Turner
(ZNDA: Modesto) A few days ago, Sargon Dadesho saw $2.4 million deposited in his bank account from the confiscated assets of the Iraqi government, one of a number of victims to finally collect judgments from lawsuits filed after the first Gulf War.
The payments last Friday came after President Bush issued an executive order that took control of $1.7 billion in frozen Iraqi assets. Some $302 million of that was set aside to satisfy legal judgments. Sargon Dadesho of Ceres (between Turlock and Modesto) who fled Iraq nearly 40 years ago, now runs an Assyrian satellite network that beams news and anti-Saddam Hussein commentary into Iraq.
He was awarded the money after a failed assassination attempt by a hired Iraqi hit man 10 years ago. In 1995, Dadesho won a $1.5 million judgment against Iraq for "emotional distress" suffered after the assassination attempt, which was foiled by the FBI.
Iraq appealed the decision, but a federal appeals court later affirmed the judgment.
Dadesho is the president of the Assyrian National Congress and president of Bet-Nahrain Inc., the nonprofit organization that operates Assyrian television station KSBV Channel 23, out of Ceres. Dadesho said he hasn't decided what he'll do with the money. "My only regret is that Saddam Hussein will not live long enough to find out that I got even with him," Dadesho said. "He has been after me for a long time."
Last Friday at 3:50 p.m. Mr. John Kanno and Mr. Sargon Dadesho, were being interviewed on CNN. The reporter toured the Bet Nahrain Cultural Club and the AssyriaSat TV station. The two men talked about their role in a future free Iraq.
"Finally, the nightmare is over for me and the Iraqi people," 53-year-old Dadesho said at a news conference at the Assyrian Cultural Center in Ceres yesterday.
Dadesho said he might donate part of his judgment to the Assyrian Welfare Committee in Iraq. The committee helps rebuild churches destroyed by Saddam's people, he said.
Dadesho said he intends to go back to Iraq for a time to help his people rebuild.
Courtesy of the Arizona Republic (3 April)
(ZNDA: Phoenix) Edward Rehana hasn't been back since he fled Iraq in 1964 at age 21.
Now, the 60-year-old Peoria resident is eager to go back. He wants to help the U.S. military liberate his former homeland.
"People there have been suffering under this regime for more than two decades, and this is the United States fighting to liberate my country," Rehana said. "I think I owe it to this country to help complete this mission."
Yesterday, he left behind his wife, Glyniss, and their three grown
children and boarded a United Airlines flight for Fairfax, Va., where
he will undergo a series of written and physical exams as well as
a background security check.
Rehana is one of thousands of immigrants from Iraq who have volunteered during the past three months to work with U.S. military forces as interpreters, translators and guides.
If he qualifies, Rehana was told he will receive a $70,000-a-year salary.
Rehana acknowledged the salary is appealing: It's more than he makes selling windshields.
But he's not doing it just for the money. He sees this as a chance to help liberate the people of Iraq from Saddam Hussein's regime and play a role in rebuilding the country after the Iraqi dictator is removed from power.
Rehana reads, writes and speaks English and Arabic. He also is a U.S. citizen with a U.S. passport, two of the other qualifications needed to assist the military as interpreters, he said.
Rehana was born in Habbaniyah, a town about 25 miles west of Baghdad.
He fled to Kuwait in 1964 to escape escalating persecution and discrimination
against Assyrian Christians under the Iraqi Baath Party. Four years
later, he came to the United States and settled in Chicago. Rehana
became a naturalized U.S. citizen on July 4, 1976, during a bicentennial
ceremony in Chicago.
The valley's population of Assyrians has since grown to more than
8,000 people, according to their estimates.
He also is prepared to stay as long as he is needed. "It could be six months. It could be a year. It could be longer," he said.
"She had mixed emotions," Rehana said about his wife. "She doesn't want me to go, but she said if you want to go, 'I'll let you make the decision.'"
TO THE ASSYRIAN-ARAMEAN-CHALDEAN-SYRIAC PEOPLE
Due to the Iraqi war humans are facing critical, difficult and extraordinary days. This war, which is carried out in our home Mesopotamia, in which our culture and history has been formed and developed, will leave worldwide an effective influence. According to experience, also the present phase will create new requirements and challenges for the life of the indigenous people of the region, like many times in history before.
It is a fact that those developments and events, that have their origin in Mesopotamia and in the Middle East, always performed worldwide influence in the past as well as in future. Therefore, this region was a place of many armed discussions and conflicts in the past as well as it is today. During the devastating wars our people suffered due to large material and intellectual losses. Under this point of view a genocide was committed against our people during the First World War (1914-1919). The annihilation of more than 500.000 innocent Assyrian-Syriac took place under the leadership of the leaders of the Ottoman empire and some Kurdish tribes. In the same period more than one million Armenians were killed in the genocide in the Ottoman dominian. Large parts of our native country were transformed into battlefields and many villages were destroyed. This crime against humanity has been kept for decades as a secret to the world public and has been denied of many sides and minimized. Also some international powers that knew everything about the genocide, behaved calm due to geopolitical interests and advantages, showed no interests and behaved silent. Because our people did not have the necessary requirements to show the great sorrow to the world public, it suppressed the inner agony. This inner trauma caused a wound that every individual felt and that was handed down from a generation to the other one. To this day, this trauma has considerable influence on the social reality of our people.
The Assyrian-Syriac people was due to the unsatisfactory organizational and political possibilities not able to achieve any results and progress in this matter in time. Therefore, the tragedy of the genocide was hardly known to the world public. With the foundation of the Mesopotamia Freedom Party (GHB) in 1995 however the Sayfo martyrs have been remembered with different actions and events and the accountability demand against the guilty and perpetrators has been expressed. The GHB raised the genocide of 1915 to the liberation flag of the national unity and the resistance movement. The intellectual, organizational and executing hand of the genocide pursued the same aim: the annihilation of our people. In this sense, the commemoration to the Sayfo martyrs has a special importance. Because remembering the genocide means to represent the existence and liberty of our people.
Also in this year various events were arranged on the occasion of the 88. Sayfo anniversary. Therefore, we appeal to our people to oppose the new massacres in Iraq and in the whole Middle East, to condemn the annihilation- and slander policy and to support and to take part in the genocide-commemoration and information events that were organized in Europe and worldwide. Because the time has come to raise our voice, to demand accountability, to win the lost again and to remember honorably the martyrs. In addition today we must be able to handle our native country, history and all other esteems with more responsibiliy. Therefore our people must organize itself, strengthen its social and national unity and as oldest and most indigenous Mesopotamian people strengthen the back of his resistance movement that represents its identity. Also we ask the world public to show solidarity with us and help to finish the attacks and injustices opposite our people.
Finally we appeal once more to the Assyrian-Chaldean-Aramean-Syriac people and at all his friends and supporter: Let us participate all at the commemoration and demand together the moral, political and legal conviction of the perpetrator of the genocide of 1915.
WOMEN FOR A FREE IRAQ MEET WITH PRESIDENT BUSH
4 April 2003
The Women for a Free Iraq are honored to have the opportunity to meet with President Bush and extend our heartfelt support to his leadership, and our gratitude to all Americans who are being asked to risk both lives and treasure to remove Saddam.
We are diverse group of women from Iraq, representing a broad cross-section of Iraq's diverse religious and ethnic groups - Sh'ias and Sunnis, Arabs and Kurds, and Assyrian and Chaldean Christians. We are daughters, mothers, wives, and sisters whose families and communities have suffered for too long, and are speaking up to tell the truth to Americans about Saddam's reign of terror and express the Iraqi people's yearning for freedom.
We stand with the President because only the United States and its allies can help the people of Iraq break free from Saddam’s 34 years of brutal rule. And only the United States and its allies can chaperone a process of democracy-building in Iraq and help us achieve our vision of a free Iraq that is based on the rule of law and equal rights for all genders, races, religions and ethnic groups.
We wish to share with the President and the American people the following message:
Meeting participants included Nadia Mirza (Assyrian), Zainab Al-Suwaij (Shi’a), Ibtisam Latif (Shi’a), Esra Naama (Shi’a), Raz Rasool (Sunni Kurd).
On behalf of KSIV News Talk Radio 1360, and the Assyrian Democratic Movement I would like to invite everyone in a "Support our Troops Rally" that will take place this thursday at Graceada Park in Modesto, California.
Thursday April 10th from 5p.m. to 8p.m. the KSIV talk radio 1360 will be sponsoring the 5,000 flag rally, by passing out 5,000 American Flags in our appreciation of our brave Men and Women in the armed forces, and pray to God to send them back safely.
The event will have speakers from througout California and especially from the Assyrian Democratic Movement. Since the Assyrian Democratic Movement has been elected to represent all our people, we have been recieving numerous amounts of phone calls from all News agencys across the globe to tell the world our side of the story.
The event will have live radio coverage and perhaps some newspaper reporters. On the brighter side there will be live music and entertainment many speakers from our community and our beloved Zowaa. Please for all that can, attend our rally and let us voice our opinion on Operation Iraqi Freedom.
For more information feel free to Email me ashur@Citycelireless.com
MAR BAWAI SORO FAVORS U.S. MILITARY ACTION IN IRAQ
Courtesy of-National Catholic Register (30 March); article by Sabrina Arena Ferrisi .
Bishop Bawai Soro was born in Kirkuk, Iraq, and ordained to the diaconate in the Assyrian Church of the East in Baghdad in 1973. He left his homeland that year and continued his studies abroad. He was ordained a priest in Chicago in 1982 and consecrated bishop there in 1984.
He was involved in efforts leading to the signing of the Common Christological Declaration by Pope John Paul II and Mar Dinkha IV, patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, in 1994. He was in Rome for ecumenical work when he spoke to Register correspondent Sabrina Arena Ferrisi on March 20 about the situation in Iraq.
When did you leave Iraq?
I left at age 20, in 1973. I was born and raised in Iraq. I then went to Lebanon from 1973 to 1976, in the midst of their civil war. In 1976, I came to the United States as a refugee. I can honestly say I have seen the difficult situation of war up close.
Tell me about the Christian Iraqi community in the United States.
There are a quarter of a million Christian Iraqis in the United States. One hundred thousand live in Chicago, 100,000 in Michigan and 50,000 live in California. Many Christians began to leave Iraq in the 1960s. There was a massive immigration outward. They still constitute a small minority in Iraq.
You are in favor of U.S. military action in Iraq. Why?
The Iraqi people have suffered tremendously. That is how I arrived at my position. It is a question about the right of the Iraqi people to find leaders with a paternal concern for them, as guarantors of human rights and the means to live in happiness, peace and freedom. There is currently an absence of these elements, which are basic to human existence. One develops a conscience that disagrees with how Iraq has been ruled for the past 35 years.
What factors have influenced your position?
My decision was shaped by two factors. First, my own experience
as an Iraqi who lived in the country for 20 years, and then the
rest of my life where I have had strong contacts with Iraqi groups
and religions. As an Assyrian Christian Iraqi, I have equal love
for Assyrians and non-Assyrian Iraqis, for both Christians and Muslims.
Why have we not heard more about the human rights abuses in Iraq, particularly from those who strongly defend peace?
I am very disappointed to see, as far as some high officials in the Holy See are concerned, that their reasoning seems more pragmatic and political rather than moral and theological. I consider the suffering of the Iraqi people to be a moral issue. For me, it is of paramount importance in cases of such severity.
Followers of Christ must first speak in moral rather than pragmatic terms. For some, the concern is not to upset the Muslim people. How, then, can the world be against the United States if the last five wars that were fought by the United States were wars to protect Muslim people? The Kuwaiti War [1991 Gulf War], Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and now Iraq. These were all wars to protect Muslim people.
What are your greatest concerns for the near future?
My prayers and concerns are for various things: First, I want the suffering of the Iraqi people to be eliminated. Second, [I want] Iraqi soldiers and American military personnel to return home safely. Third, the weapons of mass destruction should be destroyed and eliminated. Fourth, there need to be plans and resources to address the inevitable humanitarian crisis in Iraq, before and after the war. Fifth, Iraq needs to become a free, just, peaceful and democratic country as a consequence of this war. Finally, the other serious issue that must be dealt with and resolved is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
On what basis can you as a bishop entertain the idea of war?
For centuries, Christian thinkers have struggled with the question of war in the context of developing their teachings about peace and justice. The universal consensus is that war is evil. However, this evil of war must be accepted when a greater evil of injustice, oppression and inhumanity can be stopped by an act of war.
I believe the minimal conditions for any “just” war must meet the following state of affairs: first, the existence of an unjust ruler; second, the war is to defend the innocent and eliminate the suffering of the people; (The United States wants to defend Iraqis. I don’t know why people are not looking at that.) third, the intention to establish good after the war. (This would be the establishment of a free, democratic and just Iraq.)
Why do people say the United States is invading Iraq for the oil?
Well, let me ask a question: Why did the United States abandon Iraqi oil in 1991 when they had the opportunity to take the oil? They could have done it then but didn’t.
What are your aspirations for Iraq?
Iraq is an extremely rich country at all levels: manpower, water, agriculture, oil, minerals, history, human civilization, culture, archaeology. Think about it: Why have we sunk to the level where we are today? In fairness to the civilized nations of the world in the 21st century, we can all agree that God has ordained governments to serve their people so prosperity, moral and material, individual and collective, will increase in society. This process would only happen within the context of a fair social system and moral polity. This is the basic role of government. Any government that does not facilitate such aspects and aspirations of tangible progress should come under the scrutiny of every moral society and integral person.
As an Iraqi, I know the potential of the Iraqi people is great. Assyrians, Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans and others are wonderful people. I feel it is unjust to see Iraq separated from prosperous nations not only in the Middle East but also in the world. It hurts me to see Iraq so limited.
What do you hope will happen with regard to this war?
I hope and pray the war will be extremely short, with minimal civilian casualties. I pray Iraqi soldiers and U.S. military personnel will be safe so they can return home to their families. In my opinion, a democratized Iraq will send affirming signals to the whole of the Middle East. So much so that a peaceful Middle East will not be a near impossibility, as it is today. Iraq can play a crucial role in contributing to progress in the Middle East.
What do Iraqis living outside the country think in regard to this war?
Some people who talk about Iraq do so on a theoretical basis. But if you speak to Iraqis not under the penalty of fear, what you sense is more experiential, not theoretical. That is why we are able to appreciate the American action — because it is a great charity toward the powerless in Iraq who desperately need someone to remove their cause of pain and suffering.
What do you think of President Bush?
I hope and believe that after the chaos of war, after the political rhetoric has settled down, people will see much more clearly the providential role Bush has taken in promoting the American ideals of freedom, liberty and equality for all — not only in America but also throughout the world.
AN ASSYRIAN IN FLORENCE
The Italian press often uses to refer to the mosaic of peoples, languages and religions characterizing the Middle East. Actually, however, this region is still being perceived as an Arab-dominated one, with the only exception of Israel. This happens even now that the US/UK war on Iraq has drawn attention to this country.
Many Italian newspapers, including Il manifesto (Rome) and Il corriere della sera (Milan), still confuse peoples with religions and the reverse. They often talk about “Iraqi Christians” but fail to call them by their actual name – Assyrians. Many Italians will find this word peculiar, since there are few Assyrian migrants in this country. To many the very term Assyrian reminds old school days: Sumerians, Persians, Medes… Reality is quite different, since Assyrians live on despite the many persecutions they suffered. An Assyrian lives in Florence too: Sami Chichan, 54, who fled Iraq in 1972. He was one of the first Assyrian exiles in Italy. Here is our interview.
Who are the Assyrians?
The Assyrian people belongs to the Semitic branch like the Arabs and the Jews. His language is Aramaic, the one Jesus spoke. Nowadays the Assyrians are some 3,5 million. Half live in Iraq, while the others can be found in other Middle Eastern countries, the US, Australia and Europe. In Berlin live 7,000 Assyrians live in Berlin, whilst in Sweden they run their own TV (Assyria TV).
What is your opinion concerning the current war on Iraq?
In principle I am against war and think that any problem may be
solved by political means.
Don’t you fear Iraq may become an US protectorate?
I don’think so. The Americans will surely stay some years in Iraq, but then they will leave the country.
What do you wish for Iraq’s future?
I support a democratic, federal Iraq granting actual autonomy to all peoples living in this country. I mean cultural, political as well as religious autonomy. A multicultural Iraq, not the Arab-dominated one the world knows.
Can you give any suggestions to the Italians which want to know the Assyrian question better?
There are many books on the Assyrians, mainly in English and in French. One of the most recent is Sebastien de Courtois, Le génocide oublié (Editions Ellipses), but many interesting articles can also be found on websites like www.nineveh.com. There is a great deal of Assyrian websites: as Albert Gabrial wrote, “Internet is our only home”. I know there are no Italian books on the Assyrians, so I wish I wrote one. I just need one publisher, do you know any?
[Z-info: Mr. Alessandro Michelucci, born in 1952, is an Italian journalist living in Florence. He specializes in indigenous and minority affairs and edits La causa dei popoli [The Cause of Peoples], the only Italian journal on this subject. He has written and edited several books, including La questione etnica in Europa (1991), America indigena (1992) and Popoli indigeni, popoli minacciati (1998). He has translated books on globalization, East Timor and the U’wa. He writes for several publications, including Il manifesto, La nuova ecologia, Le monde diplomatique and Il giornale della musica. Mr. Michelucci is the correspondent for Zinda Magazine in Italy. Be sure to read Alessandro’s future articles in the coming isues. ]
NADIA MIRZA MEETS PRESIDENT BUSH
Courtesy of the Sun-Times (4 April); by Lynn Sweet
(ZNDA: Washington) President Bush met last Friday with Iraqi immigrants, including a Skokie, Illinois woman whose parents fled Saddam Hussein's rule, to talk about the war and rebuilding Iraq.
"He looks forward to meeting with these free Iraqis to talk about the progress and speed being made in the war, and discuss the humanitarian situation on the ground," said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer last Friday.
The people meeting with Bush were Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Ms. Nadia Mirza – an Assyrian.
Nadia Mirza, 31, left Baghdad when she was 9 years old because her parents were being threatened by Saddam's ruling Baath party.
"There was continual harassment," said Mirza, a legal assistant at a Chicago law firm. A first cousin who voiced her political views disappeared one day after school, Mirza said, and the family never determined what happened to her. Many of her relatives, including her grandfather, uncles and first cousins, were arrested, tortured or disappeared under the Ba’ath regime.
Mirza said her message for Bush was: "In order for there to be democratic government in Iraq, you have to have the inclusion of Assyrian Christians."
Ms. Mirza is the co-founder of the Assyrian Community for Civic
FULBRIGHT SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENT TO STUDY ASSYRIANS
(ZNDA: Los Angeles) Four Pitzer College seniors have each been honored with one of the nation's top academic awards for the 2003-2004 academic year – the Fulbright Scholarship. One of the four recipients, Ms. Elise Carlson, a double major in political studies and media studies, will travel to Sweden to research "Patriarchy and Assimilation: Turks, Assyrians and Kurds in Sweden."
Pitzer is a private, undergraduate, coeducational college of the liberal arts and sciences and is consistently ranked among the best such colleges in the country. It is located in Claremont, California, a city about 35 miles east of Los Angeles,
"This is a really good group of students, they are well-qualified to be cultural ambassadors - not only in learning and studying, but also in giving back," said Nigel Boyle, associate professor of political studies and faculty adviser for the Fulbright program at Pitzer. "This is quite an accomplishment, and I'm very proud of them."
Following World War II, Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas saw the need for a program that would promote "mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries of the world." Fulbright's vision was approved by Congress and the Fulbright Program was signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1946.
Approximately 250,000 Fulbright scholars - 94,000 from the United States and 155,600 from other countries - have participated in the program since its inception more than 55 years ago.
The U.S. Fulbright Scholar Program sends 800 scholars and professionals each year to more than 140 countries, where they lecture or conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields including urban planning, journalism, zoology, business administration, music and philosophy.
Ms. Carlson has done her preliminary research in Turkey.
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