NUMBERS OVER NAMES
Let’s be honest with ourselves: the struggle of the Christians in Iraq and Iran and Turkey and Syria and much of the Middle East for that matter is entirely the predicament of the same people in whose hearts believe to be a forgotten bit of the same cultural realm. No matter how we twist and turn this issue, wrap it up with glossy words and historic titles, we arrive at the same conclusion –the Syriac-speaking people of the world that struggle to keep their cultural and political identity identify themselves as Assyrians.
What is then this thing we so warmly label as “the struggle” in our speeches and writings? Basically, it’s resisting extinction or more dramatically-put staying afloat in a sea of anti-Assyrian sentiments. The next logical question is inquring about the nature of these anti-Assyrian actors in the region. This point remains the central issue in the current politics of Iraq.
Darwinian laws of nature and more accurately the political forces within a defined environment (a population of people) abide by the Rule of Numbers. It goes something like this: the more birds of the same feather (could be genetic or cultural), the less chances of the disappearance of their physical and cultural values. Hence, splitting a people into North and South Korea, East and West Berlin, Assyrians and Chaldeans, Shiites and Sunnis, promotes only the ambition of an external entity whose numbers are not as great within the environment in question.
An anti-Assyrian is a group, a people, or even an individual who does not wish to witness the evolution of disparate Assyrian communities (our current state of affair) into a united Assyrian nation and eventually into a nation-state. A Kurdish leader employing cagey tactics to eradicate our people from an oil-city in North Iraq is no less anti-Assyrian than an Assyrian bishop whose fiery speeches push his own kind to the edge of fractionalism and annhilation. If we truly believe, as we certainly do, that the names “Chaldean”, “Assyrian”, “Syriac”, “Aramean”, “Nestorian”, “Suraya”, “Suryoyo”, and so on – refer to the same people, then by definition an anti-Assyrian is an anti-Chaldean, anti-Syriac, etc. He or she who attempts to divide us is not with us, rather with those who wish to see us fall on our faces and be once and for all defeated and extinct.
At last week’s meeting in Chicago, called for by the His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV of the Church of the East, the issue of dealing with the “Chaldeans” was on the agenda. A closer examination of the Press Release produced at the end of this gathering (see News Digest) reveals a very different attitude toward this issue than that presented by the Chaldean bishops in the U.S. in their recent declaration (see last week’s editorial). The assembled group made an accurate inference that the sentiments displayed by the two bishops do not reflect the general will of the Chaldean people.
In Section 2(ii) of this press release we read: “The terms ‘Assyrian’, ‘Chaldean’, ‘Syriac’, and ‘Aramean’ refer to one national ethnic group. The future and fate of this ethnicity is greater than the self-interest of an individual or a group. The various ethnic terms must not be used to divide the oneness of our people. The participants remain committed towards working with Chaldeans, in particular, those who seek unity with Assyrians despite all obstacles presented by a few individuals.” This is a formidable challenge, and requires an extraordinary vision, planning, and patience.
Elsewhere, the Assyrian Democratic Movement reported this week that it held a meeting in Iraq to address the political conditions in Iraq where the members discussed the formation of an interim Iraqi government. The Zowaa Political Bureau also adopted several resolutions on various issues. One such resolution calls for the distribution of letters or statements by the Assyrian Democratic Movement in support of a compound name “Assyro-Chaldean” (with or without a dash) until a larger body of Syriac-speaking representatives can reach a more comprehensive decision at a later date.
Is ADM armed with a clearer perspective on the reality of our politics in Baghdad or is its Political Bureau under pressure from non-Assyrians (anti-Assyians?) to compromise on this time? Have the leaders of our Churches begun a push toward a “Numbers over Names” policy?
In the next few weeks and months we may observe a few groups and individuals catapulting us into an entirely new reality: a new name, new concessions, and new alliances. We shall vigilantly await further developments and prepare to respond accordingly – keeping in mind the validity of the Rule of Numbers for the advancement of the greater good of our collective ethnicity and national idenity.
RETURN TO THE HOMELAND OF
ANTI-CHRISTIAN VIOLENCE IN IRAQ ON THE RISE
Courtesy of the Ekklesia (18 May)
(ZNDA: Baghdad) Anti-Christian violence which Christians in Iraq have long feared seems finally to have arrived with the brutal murder of two Christian men.
Sabah Gazala and Abdul Ahed who were shot and killed by two Islamic gunmen within ten minutes in separate incidents in Basra.
Like a number of Christians in the city and in other parts of Iraq they were involved in the sale of alcohol, jobs forbidden to Muslims but permitted to Christians under Saddam Hussein’s rule.
In recent weeks such vendors have faced severe threats from Shia Muslim conservatives seeking to impose defacto Islamic law (which bans alcohol completely) in Iraq in the chaotic wake of the victory of coalition forces in the country.
Many Christian shop owners have been forced to close, others to defend their premises with metal bars across the windows.
In Basra, Baghdad and across Iraq some Christians are beginning to suffer harassment, threats, intimidation and even violence at the hands of conservative Shia Muslims who want to impose Shari’ah law on both Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
On Friday 2 May Moqtada Sadr, one of the main Shia leaders in the country openly declared in a sermon in Kufa that “The banning of alcohol; and the wearing of the veil should be spread to all and not only to Muslims.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that last week in Basra Shereen Musa, a Christian woman, was pelted with vegetables to chants of “Shame! Shame!” as she walked with her mother through a market, simply because her head was not covered in accordance with the Shari’ah. “Everyone was laughing at me, and I was crying,” Shereen said.
“When I had to walk back through the same place someone saw a cross on my neck and said: ‘Oh, you’re a Christian. You’ll suffer a terrible fate.’”
Some Christian families like Shereen’s have now begun to leave Basra to return to the traditional Christian heartland around Mosul.
In Baghdad Christians are “terrified”and “hesitating to come to church” as services at one Chaldean church in the city are drowned out by Islamic prayers and teaching broadcast by loudspeaker from a new mosque across the street.
Elsewhere, shopkeepers selling western-style magazines with advertisements containing pictures of women considered unacceptable by many Shia Muslims have also been threatened and intimidated.
Christians are fearful for their future in an Iraq which seems to be slipping into the hands of Muslim extremists who want an Islamic state under Shari’ah.
Both the Vatican and the US Committee for International Religious Freedom have issued statements expressing their concern that religious liberty should be guaranteed for all in the future Iraq.
Iraqi Church leaders from all the major denominations have
similarly issued a joint statement asking that the new Iraqi
constitution “recognise our religious, cultural, social
and political rights … consider Christians as Iraqi citizens
with full rights” and “guarantee the right to profess
our faith according to our ancient traditions” a clear
They want to draw attention to the fact that Christians are
beginning to face violence and discrimination at the hands of
conservative Muslims in the new Iraq and urge that every possible
measure is taken "to protect the Christian minority in
Iraq and prevent them from becoming the victims of Islamic extremist
IRAQI CHRISTIANS FEAR RISE OF SHIITE FUNDAMENTALISM
Courtesy of the Charlotte Observer (19 May); by Mark Mueller
(ZNDA: Baghdad) Two weeks ago, Raad Karim Essa arrived home from work to find his furniture on the street. His Muslim landlord wasn't renting to Christians anymore. "He told us not to argue and threatened us," said Essa, 42, a father of four. "He said the government was no longer here to protect us. What could we do? We feared for our lives."
"The Muslims want to destroy us," said Amira Nisan, 38, Essa's wife. "I think we were better off under Saddam." Such a statement, once unthinkable, is voiced increasingly today among Iraq's 800,000 Christians.
Like most of their countrymen, Christians greeted the fall of Saddam Hussein with celebration and hope. But their desire for greater religious freedom has been replaced by fear of the fundamentalism rippling through Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, which has moved quickly to exert its influence after decades of violent repression.
Christian women say they've been harassed by Shiite men for walking on the street without head scarves. Priests complain that Shiite clerics inflame religious hatred by calling for the expulsion from Iraq of "nonbelievers." The most overt acts have been directed at Iraq's liquor stores and manufacturers, almost universally run by Christians. The owners say they've been threatened with death for selling alcohol, forbidden under a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
"I'm afraid for my people," said Bishop Ishlemon Warduni, the religious leader of Iraq's Chaldean community, which represents about 80 percent of the nation's Christians. The remaining 20 percent is comprised mostly of Syrians, Assyrians and Armenians.
"During the war, we were not afraid like we are now. All Christians are in danger," said Warduni, 60. "We have a 2,000-year history in Iraq, and that is now threatened. The fanatics would see us gone."
The worries are most pronounced in southern Iraq, a Shiite stronghold where clerics have issued the most strident calls for the creation of an Islamic republic. But religious tensions are high and rising in Baghdad as well.
"Ten days ago was better than a week ago, and a week ago was better than today," Warduni said. "I have no doubt that tomorrow will be worse. We're losing what little protection we had."
Under Saddam, Christians were permitted to worship but not to publicly express their views or proselytize. It also was forbidden to give children Christian names.
While those strictures have been swept aside, Christians say they feel even less free in the face of growing Shiite pride and power. In the chaotic days after Baghdad's fall, Shiite clerics sent armed followers to patrol neighborhoods and to safeguard schools and hospitals from looting. Still under Shiite control, some of those hospitals now bear signs ordering any woman seeking treatment to wear a head scarf.
The relationship between Muslims and Christians has grown more sensitive with the profusion of new mosques. In almost every Baghdad neighborhood, vacant buildings and former government offices have been converted into Shiite houses of worship.
One such mosque, Jama Al-Wehda Al-Islamiya, or Unity of Islam, sits directly across the street from Warduni's church, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Before the war, the building served as the neighborhood headquarters for the ruling Baath Party. Later, it was looted and partially burned.
The Shiite mosque moved in three weeks ago, mounting a half-dozen loudspeakers that blare the call to prayer five times a day, sometimes interfering with church services across the street.
The mosque's imam, Sheik Ali Al-Bahadili, said he is supportive of an Islamic state, but he said it should be one that respects the rights of Christians and other Iraqi minority groups. He flatly rejected claims that Muslims have been targeting or intimidating Christians.
Sam Hanna argues otherwise.
One morning recently, the 43-year-old Christian arrived at his Baghdad liquor store to find a note that had been slipped under the door. "It said that if we didn't stop selling alcohol, the shop would be bombed and we would be killed," Hanna said.
The situation is equally grave for the region's distilleries. About 20 miles north of Baghdad, in the town of Baquba, six factories that once manufactured whiskey, gin and arak, a sweet Arabic liquor, have been closed for a month or more. A Shiite cleric went from factory to factory with a large group of armed men, decreeing that only medicinal alcohol could be manufactured in the future.
"Everyone's afraid," said Albert Paul Younan, 42, the manager at the Al-Abraj alcohol plant.
Younan said he sought help from a United Nations facility in Baghdad, where he spoke with an American military commander.
"I told him we need protection, and he said, `I'm sorry. You're going to have to protect yourselves,' " Younan said. "There is no law anymore. There is only Islamic law. God help us all."
Courtesy of the Assyrian International
News Agency (16 May). All Rights Reserved.
To read this article in its entirety visit: http://aina.org/releases/2003/karkukmosul.htm
Courtesy of the Army Link (12 May); by James Matise
(ZNDA: Mosul) On 5 May the retired Iraqi general Ghamin Al-Basso became mayor of more than 2 million citizens in the city of Mosul and its outlying Nineveh province.
The Mosul Interim Government Convention, held May 5 by local delegates and brokered by the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at the old Ba'ath Party Social Club, marked the first democratic elections held in Northern Iraq and put the first local officials there in public office since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
"I thank all the people who have come here from afar and made me responsible for all the province," Al-Basso said to the 24-member interim city council that elected him and to the 232 delegates from nine ethnic and geographic factions who also elected the council. "I will be a loyal soldier."
Al-Basso was forced into retirement and briefly imprisoned during the Iran-Iraq war when his brother, Salim Al-Basso, was caught plotting an attack against Saddam Hussein and executed. Yet the mayor remained in Mosul, said local resident Basel Faisel Mohammed.
It was a day of firsts at the convention, which brought together Arab, Kurdish, Turkomen, Assyrian, Yezidi and Shabakh ethnic groups from Mosul and the outlying municipalities in the province. They endured an arduous election process that took the entire day to complete, but in the end celebrated their final product.
Mohammed Rashib, chief justice of the Nineveh province, validated the election for the delegates and vouched for its credibility.
The delegates then broke off in their own groups and went in to a private session to vote for representation to the city council. An officer of the 101st and a local judge observed each group.
Using preprinted ballots with the delegates' names printed in English and Arabic, the delegates voted and cast their ballots in wooden boxes. The boxes were escorted by armed guard in a public room and opened. A division officer and impartial election observers counted the votes, and a judge certified their tallies.
When officials had counted the ballots for the retired generals' faction, the election process took a new twist.
"There was a tie, so they're going to go re-vote," said Col. Richard O. Hatch, 101st staff judge advocate."It's a tie between four people, so they're going to revote with just those four names."
After the first round of council voting, the Arabs from outside
the city and the Assyrian Christians, had ties.
The retired generals ultimately had to vote a third time before clear winners for the group's two council seats were established.
After everyone present was satisfied with the election's accuracy, the ballots were taped together and placed back in the voting boxes, which was taped off, signed by a judge and placed on display in the convention's main room. The delegates were called back in, the results were announced, and Mosul's new city council was sworn in.
After the delegates broke for lunch, several hours later than planned, the new council met to vote for its mayor and appoint a deputy mayor and assistant mayors.
The delegates returned shortly after and the ballots were quickly tallied, but before Al-Basso's victory was announced, the delegates were notified that the council had already made its first decision resolving a miscommunication involving the Kurdish members of the council.
"It had been agreed there would be only three Kurdish council members and the deputy mayor would be one of the three. But due to a misunderstanding, the Kurds thought there would be an added member who would be the deputy mayor," Petraeus said.
The council decided there would be no change in the number of representation, so the Kurds asked if they could exchange a member of their council for the man they wanted as deputy mayor, Petraeus said.
"It was discussed with the city council, and they decided that they would allow that member to replace one of three Kurdish members. The city council agreed unanimously and the chief judge validated that."
The deputy mayor, nominated by the Kurds and chosen by acclimation of the city council, is Khusru Goran. Two assistant mayors were also chosen from the Assyrian and Turkomen factions, also nominated by their parties and ratified by acclimation. They are Yousif Lallo and Dr. Ibrahiem Mohammed Salin.
Al-Basso and his deputy and assistant mayors were then sworn in office, completing the formation of the interim government.
Security was extremely tight at the convention to prevent the elections from being disrupted. People seeking access to the convention had to produce a notarized invitation distributed earlier.
Infantry and military police squads were deployed on the streets surrounding the social club and cut off direct access by vehicle with sconcertina wire. A sniper squad positioned itself on the roof, and higher above, Kiowa and Apache attack helicopters patrolled the area continuously. Psychological Operations and Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams stood by for any possible contingency.
Aside from a single thunderous explosion around 11 a.m., which turned out just to be EOD setting off a charge, the convention remained safe and undisturbed.
"Mosul truly is a special city. It is blessed in many ways and our soldiers feel very good about what they are doing here," Petraeus said. "Soon we will all know how to say, 'Ana Maslawi (I am a Mosul citizen)'. I am confident that together we can make a lasting difference for the people of this city and this province."
[Z-info: The article above was written by Private First Class James Matise of the 101st Airborne Division for Army Link, an Internet news service of the U.S. Army.]
SPECIAL MEETING CALLED BY HIS HOLINESS MAR DINKHA IV
1. In his continued effort to promote trust, collaboration and unity among the Assyrian and all Syriac-speaking People, His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV, Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, on Monday, May 12, 2003, called a meeting of Assyrians from the Chicago area and from elsewhere composed of twenty (20) individuals from various religious, political and civic organizations. The meeting started at 7:00 PM.
2. The meeting began by an invocation by His Holiness who later on spoke briefly about the necessity of this meeting and the issues raised in its agenda. The Agenda included three points: (i) the current political situation in Iraq, in particular the situation of the Assyrians; (ii) the relations between Assyrians and Chaldeans; (iii) the relations between the various Assyrian political parties. Here is a summary of discussion on each one:
3. For the conclusion of this meeting, the assembled representatives declared that the work of this group is not finished and there would definitively be a further need in the future for them to gather again under the auspices of His Holiness to discuss future issues and programs for the benefit of all Assyrians and their institutions.
4. At the end of the meeting all the participants thanked His Holiness for this historic initiative and pledged full cooperation for the sake of unity between all the various folds of the Assyrian Nation. The Participants also thanked Saint Mary’s Parish for hosting this meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 11:30 PM.
5. The following individuals were present at this meeting:
Head of Assembly:
Religious Participants: (Alphabetically)
Political Participants: (Alphabetically)
Civic Participants: (Alphabetically)
Report prepared by Bishop Mar Bawai Soro
U.S. TROOPS VANDALIZE ANCIENT CITY OF UR
Courtesy of the Observer (18 May); by Ed Vulliamy
One of the greatest wonders
of civilisation, and probably the world's most ancient structure -
the Sumerian city of Ur in southern Iraq - has been vandalised by
American soldiers and airmen, according to aid workers in the area.
Land immediately adjacent to Ur has been chosen by the Pentagon for a sprawling airfield and military base. Access is highly selective, screened and subject to military escorts, which - even if agreed - need to be arranged days or weeks in advance and carefully skirt the areas of reported damage.
There has been no official response to the allegations of vandalism - reported to The Observer by aid workers and one concerned US officer.
Ur is believed by many to be the birthplace of the prophet Abraham. It was the religious seat of the civilisation of Sumer at the dawn of the line of dynasties which ruled Mesopotamia starting about 4000 BC. Long before the rise of the Egyptian, Greek or Roman empires, it was here that the wheel was invented and the first mathematical system developed. Here, the first poetry was written, notably the epic Gilganesh, a classic of ancient literature.
The most prominent monument is the best preserved ziggurat - stepped pyramid - in the Arab world, initially built by the Sumerians around 4000 BC and restored by Nebuchadnezzar II in the sixth century BC.
The Pentagon has elected to build its massive and potentially permanent base right alongside the site, so that the view from the peak of the ziggurat - more or less unchanged for 6,000 years - will be radically altered.
Each hour, long convoys of trucks heave gravel and building materials through checkpoints and the barbed wire perimeter extends daily.
There are reports that walls have been damaged by spray-painted graffiti, mostly patriotic or other slogans, and regimental mottos. One graffiti reads: 'SEMPER FE' - Always Faithful - the motto of the Marines, who stormed through this region on their way to Baghdad, and form a contingent at the base.
Other reports by groups who cannot be named for fear of losing access
to medical patients being treated on the base say there has been widespread
stealing of clay bricks baked to build and restore the structures
GILGAMESH RIDES AGAIN IN EPIC
Courtesy of Variety.com (17 May); by Cathy Dunkley
(ZNDA: Los Angeles) Michael Madsen, Omar Sharif, Billy Zane and Robert Davi have inked to star in a production of the classic tale "Gilgamesh" for Stonelock Pictures.
Pic, budgeted at $12.5 million and financed through Ben Atoori's Dutch bank Abn Amro, is skedded to start shooting Sept. 20 in Morocco.
Roger Christian ("Battlefield Earth") is directing from Mitchell Cohen's screenplay. Atoori will produce with Sabrina Atoori co-producing.
Epic action-adventure follows the story of the warrior king (Madsen) on his quest to find the answers to happiness and immortality. Other cast members approached for roles include Dennis Hopper and Peter O'Toole.
Madsen stars in "Blueberry" and Miramax Films' "Kill Bill." Sharif completed his role in "Return of the Thief of Baghdad." Zane was recently in "Sea Devils" and "The Kiss." Davi most recently starred in Disney's "Hot Chick."
ASSYRIAN STATE CONVENTION
ASSYRIANS AFTER DECADES IN EXILE, WANT TO REBUILD THEIR NATIVE VILLAGE
Courtesy of Sonntagszeitung (18 May): by Susanne Guesten
(ZNDA: Kafro-Turkey) Looked at from the roof of the church in the evening sunlight, it all seems possible. The velvet-green hills roll off into the distance, the birds chirp in the stillness, and even the ruins are picturesque in the warm light of the setting sun. In this light, one can even believe that history can be overcome, and that a new beginning is possible.
The people who have gathered on the roof of the 1500-year-old ruined church in Southeastern Anatolia believe this. They speak to one another in Aramaic, the language once spoken by Jesus, which had almost been doomed to die out. They have come back to Kafro from Zurich and Truellikon, from Augsburg and Goeppingen, in order to save their culture, a millennium and a half old, from dying out, and to try for a new beginning in their original homeland.
They need a firm faith, for the soft light is deceptive. The houses have been destroyed by war and plunder, the vineyards burned down, and the fields taken over by weeds. And it is still, because no human being has lived here for a long time. “My father was one of the last to leave,” says Bedros Demir as he points toward a ruined house downa below. “There, that was my parents’ house.” Only the foundations of the walls can be seen, but Bedros and his companions are able to fill in out of memory what is no longer there. They speak of the 17 different types of grapevine that once grew here, of the oak forests that surrounded the villages, and of fig and almond trees.
“Certainly rebuilding things will be difficult,” says Bedros, a shoemaker by trade. Even so, the 40-year-old wants to give up his secure life in Zurich, plant is wife and four children here, and invest his life savings in the reconstruction of the village. Just like the other people assembled on the roof of the church.
It is almost a miracle that they are back. In 1995, the last three families in Kafro got the order from the military to leave the area. The Christians of the area of Southeast Anatolia known as Tur Abdin were caught between the two sides in the war between the Turkish army and Kurdish separatists. Yet that was, after hundreds of years of torment, only the final blow for the “Suryanis”, who are also referred to as Assyrian, Aramaean, or Syrian-Orthodox Christians, and who have lived in Tur Abdin since the 5th Century.
Scorned as Unbelievers and Treated as Second-Class Citizens
Scorned as infidels by their Kurdish neighbors, and treated by the Turkish state as second-class citizens, many Suryanis emigrated [to Europe] as guestworkers in the 1970s. Today over 150 000 Suryanis live in Western Europe, while hardly 3,000 still live in Tur Abdin.
In the nearby monastery of Mar Gabriel the Bishop of Tur Abdin and a few monks and nuns held out even though the years of the war. “Our prayers have been heard,” says Malfono (Master) Isa Gulten from Mar Gabriel today. The war ended, Turkey is trodding the path toward the European Union, and so return now beckons to the Suryanis.
“If we don’t come back then soon there will be no Suryanis left here; then our 1,500-year-old culture will die out,” says Bedros, who has lived in Switzerland for almost 25 years, has a Swiss passport, and speaks excellent German. On Tuesday, there will be a celebratory groundbreaking for the rebuilding effort. By the coming spring, the “Kafro Development Association” wants to have the village in a livable condition once again. More than als 70 Suryanis, most of them families with children, want to return to the village from Switzerland and Germany.
In a less-mild light, the project would seem hopeless. The wells of the village have long been sealed up, the electricity for the construction work will have to be provided with temporary cables, and only a dirt track leads to Kafro. “We won’t be able to return without making sacrifices,” says Bedros. “But my grandfather and my father built the village three times over in any event. Now it’s my turn.” There are Return Associations in Western Europe for other Suryani villages as well. If the return to Kafro succeeds, thousands of Suryanis will follow the pioneers and return to Tur Abdin, says Malfono Isa Gulten.
“Sergeant Mehmet, there are strange flocks of sheep on our land.”
Not all observers share this confidence, but the initial signs are encouraging, as Turkish officialdom is showing itself to be cooperative. The returnees even try to have good relations with the paramilitary gendarmerie. “Hello, could I speak with Sergeant Mehmet please?” says Bedros, speaking in Turkish on his cell-phone with the local barracks. “Sergeant Mehmet, there are some strange flocks of sheep on our land; could you please send a couple of men over?”
Sergeant Mehmet himself soon arrives hurriedly in a jeep, greets the Suryanis with a handshake, and sends his troops after the Kurdish shepherds. The Kurds in the area have taken over use of the fields and meadows of Kafro in the intervening years, and they do not want to give them up. Recently, as two young Suryanis from Goeppingen were shoveling sheep manure out of the village church, built in the 5th Century, and working to repair a ruined house in order to stay temporarily in Kafro, they were set upon by shepherds from a neighboring Kurdish village and beaten to the point of requiring hospitalization. The returning Suryanis are not being welcomed by everyone.
Yet the returnees are not letting themselves be intimidated. “We have to trust the Turkish authorities; they promised us their protection,” says Yahko, who has come from Truellikon, near Zurich. Temporarily, however, the Suryanis go into the monastery at night, and only go to the ruined church in the daytime to work out their plans. Kafro is to get a sports field, and then perhaps even a small hotel, explains Yahko to the Turkish sergeant. The young soldier looks a bit skeptically at the field of ruins out of which a prosperous village is supposed to grow.
You have to have the right light in order to be able to see all of that -- as well as strong faith.
RESETTLEMENT OF DIASPORA CHRISTIANS THWARTED BY KURDISH MUSLIMS
Diaspora Christians who were forced to flee from the south-east of Turkey in the last 30 years because of persecution by the Muslim Kurds and who try to settle back in their villages are again persecuted by the local Kurds.
On April 19, 2003, Nuri Demir and Garabet Demir were busy working in their native village of Kafro, which was deserted in 1995 and is now empty, when they were attacked by nine men from the Kurdish village of Barmunes armed with axes, clubs and stones. Garabet Demir was immobilised and beaten by four Kurds. Nuri Demir was beaten by the other five Kurds and injured at his head but he managed to escape, grab a gun, shoot and injure two of his assailants. Due to the turn of events, the aggressors fled from the village. The victims of the attack called the military commander of Midyat who immediately sent the injured to hospital. Nuri Demir and one of the assailants were arrested while the others were released. Later on, the same aggressors destroyed the window panes of Nuri Demir’s house. A criminal procedure has been initiated.
Nuri Demir, now a German citizen but a native of Kafro, went back to his village two years ago to start its reconstruction. To this end, he and others created an association called "Development Association Kafro". This association plans to organise the return home of nineteen Christian families living now in Germany and Switzerland but in 2002, the local mayor issued a decree forbidding foreigners to use the village Kafro. Since then, Nuri Demir has been prohibiting the non-authorized grazing of cattle, sheep and goats in and around Kafro by the neighbouring (Muslim) population.
Garabet Demir, also a German citizen and a native of Kafro, went back home in 2002 to restore the damaged house of his parents. He was also mandated by the "Development Association Kafro" to start the construction of new houses.
The Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church in the monastery of Tur Abdin, Timotheos Samuel Aktas, was informed about the incident and contacted a lawyer to defend Nuri Demir.
The president of the "Development Association Kafro", Yahko Demir, has written to the German embassy in Ankara to complain about this aggression against two German citizens who try to implement the resettlement project backed by the Turkish and German governments.
It is obvious that this event is the logical continuation of a process of ethno-religious cleansing which started at the end of the 19th century, reached a peak during WW I with the mass killing of two million Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Christians and led to the massive emigration of Christian minorities until the 1990s
Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune (13 May); by Paul Salopek
(ZNDA: Mosul) Almost no one remembers Dame Agatha anymore. This is understandable, given the painful realities of modern Iraq. Survival focuses the mind on the present, not the past. Agatha Christie knew this. She used it as a device in dozens of her mystery novels.
The best-selling British author of "Murder on the Orient Express" lived here once, in a rambling stone house with vaulted ceilings in the historic district of Mosul. Today the old place is crumbling.
A few neighbors--poor people, hawkers of rubber sandals and menders of worn clothes--still can point it out. But that's only because the BBC stopped by before the war and filmed a documentary there.
"Only a small number of educated Mosulis really know about her," said Saba Shidfa al-Omari, a curator at the looted Mosul museum. "But it makes us very proud. She loved us so much, they say."
Christie--unquestionably the most popular whodunit writer in history, with a staggering 66 novels and such enduring characters as inspector Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple--did love Iraq.
She first visited as a tourist in 1928. She met her future husband, the distinguished archeologist Max Mallowan, while exploring the ancient city of Ur. And over the next three decades, the couple returned again and again, enjoying made-for-movie lives that cry out for the talents of Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.
There were Model-T journeys across Iraq's harsh deserts. There were camp dinners with eccentric archeologists and Orientalists. And there were steam train stops at exotic outposts of the waning British Empire: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul.
Christie mined her Iraqi experiences to produce two books, "Murder in Mesopotamia" and "They Came to Baghdad."
"I fell in love with Ur, with its beauty in the evenings," she wrote in her autobiography, "the ziggurat standing up, faintly shadowed, and that wide area of sand with its lovely pale colours of apricot, rose, blue and mauve changing every minute."
She last traveled to the ancient, sun-scorched nation in the 1950s, about 20 years after its independence. She died, very old and highly honored as a Dame of the British Empire, in 1976, three years before Saddam Hussein rose to power.
Little of the Iraq she knew is left.
In Mosul's old city, where some houses date from the Middle Ages, entire streets are collapsing slowly into boggy land near the Tigris River.
American Humvees zip down trash-strewn highways on their own secret detective missions: trying to find remnants of Hussein's alleged arsenal of banned weapons of mass destruction. And the biggest whodunit of all--whether Hussein is alive--is a question that could frustrate even the fastidious Hercule Poirot himself.
"All I know about Agatha Christie is that she was an archeologist's wife," said Awad Omeri, 47, a guard at Nimrud, a stunning Assyrian ruin near Mosul that was excavated by the couple half a century ago.
Omeri showed the way to a remote "dig hut" where Christie and Mallowan had lived, unearthing treasures under bottomless blue Iraqi skies.
Even that humble building was ersatz; the original structure is
gone, replaced with cinder block. Yet as Omeri stood there in his
flowing djellaba, contemplating the vast Mesopotamian plain spangled
with dying wildflowers, it was almost possible to hear the faint
ticking of an old-fashioned typewriter.
ROSEMARY YONAN HONORED AS MOTHER OF THE YEAR
(ZNDA: Turlock) The Assyrian-American Civic Club of Turlock has named Rosemary Yonan - Mother of the Year.
Yonan is the mother of four and grandmother of nine. She received the surprise honor at the AACC on May 9, the day before Mother's Day.
She was married for 45 years to Babajan "Bob" Yonan, a Turlock jeweler who died last August. She was born in Iran, emigrated to Chicago in 1974 and moved to Turlock a year later.
Yonan is a 28-year member of the civic club and has been active in the Women's Auxiliary at St. Thomas Assyrian-Chaldean Catholic Church.
PARTICIPANTS AT THE WALKATHON RAISE $7,000
On 10 May at the Human Race Benefit Run/Walk held in Mountain
View, California, Ms. Jermaine Soleymani won an award for the
largest team present. Ms. Soleymani and her team of more than
70 Assyrians raised $7,000 to provide emergency services and support
for the Assyrian families in Iraq.
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