10 Tishrin I 6754
1 October 2004
Z I N D A M A G A Z I N E
The Assyrian Dossier in Iraq
As Iraq passes through the preparations to put up the first blocks for the rebuilding of the state, we notice that the Assyrian dossier is still in the same place, closed, while other factions are trying to pass on their racist projects, while the Assyrian silence dominates both political arenas in Diaspora and the homeland.
We also notice the Kurdish insolence in kurdifying both the people and Assyrian land, when we see on the other side a defeatist attitude of some Assyrian politicians and their preoccupation with formalities to get positions in the coming elections, while the Assyrian public’s attention is diverted to some insignificant matters … This is all alerting us to the conspiracies against the Assyrians when some parties are facing these dangers in a very disappointing manner.
The Assyrian Cause, like the cases of the other factions in Iraq is tied to the international, regional and Iraqi developments, thus it is worthy to study the methods by which the major powers deal in general with the Iraqi cases (the Iraqi people’s case) and how the Iraqi powers deal with the Iraqi cases in general and the Assyrian Cause in particular in the absence of an Assyrian representation.
The American Policy Towards Iraq (A Mysterious Strategy)
Even though it is fully aware of the danger to divide Iraq and its continuous refusal of that scenario as it appeared some times in the literature of the White House, the United States changed its stand noticeably time and again through the clash in the positions of the American administration which spoke in the past of “a united and not a federal Iraq” and then of a “federalism within one Iraq” with an assertion on the right of the Kurds to protect their identity (1) without any regards to any one else as if the Kurds are the only ones fearful for their identity … Is this a mere titillation for Turkey which is sheltering 10 million Kurds and is trying to join the European Union which in turn is the strategic competitor after the USSR in facing the United States? Or is it a mere titillation for Syria and Iran who are a source of disturbance for Israel and who may also disturb the United States with its projects in the Middle East, and who at the same time – for the good fortune of the United States and Israel – shelter a considerable number of Kurds as well. Or is the United States really serious in working through a long term strategy in regards to the Arab – Israeli struggle, and this strategy can be limited to the establishing of a separate entity desperate to kiss hands and which can turn one day to be an ally for Israel on the Arab-Israeli front ?
On the other hand, this embarrassment which the Bush administration had to face because of the bloody events is a mere “elections” hurdle, beginning from September 11 to the failure in finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Fallujah and al-Sadr cases, and other hurdles created by the American factions from the inside such as the “scandal” of the Abu Gharib prison … All this embarrassment had its negative consequences on the Iraqi house, for the Bush administration had purposely established political institutions in Iraq with some puppets struggling for positions to govern, who do not trust each other but in that way the United States was able to control the Iraqi decision, as it also went silent indefinitely about some decisions and bulletins that otherwise the Bush administration would not have accepted in the past. This proves the needs for the United States and Israel to have capabilities in Iraq, and at the same time it shows the incapacity of Bush’s administration before the Islamic currents which were not properly taken into account.
Thus, the American administration negated all its previous positions and was obliged to support (perhaps temporarily) the Islamization and division of Iraq, the proof being how the American President approved the Transitional Administrative Law (2).
In any case, the changes in events and statements turn all these questions into charades while the United States remains confused, because its policy in the region will not become clear until after the American elections. The next American President will set free the contemptuous American policy whether negative or positive towards Iraq. He might not even be deterred because of the continuous international economic bargains about the re-building of Iraq, despite the developments on the re-structuring of the Iraqi State and the positions of the Security Council towards the interim period.
As for the Assyrian people, they share with the dignified Iraqis the disappointment of what was labeled “liberation” especially after it became clear that today’s Iraq isn’t better than that of Saddam’s. Today, every one is aware that the United States did not depose Saddam for the sake of the Iraqi people, because the American administration did not show any concern in the past for Saddam’s crimes against this people. On the contrary one of the White House’s staff commenting on the massacres committed by Saddam against the Iraqi people in 1991 said that the American administration “disagrees with Saddam’s practices but it’s not troubled if he commits few dirty acts” (3) - On the other side we see that those who used to weep for their lost rights during Saddam’s times, are practicing the same dirty policy whereby the youngest brother in the Iraqi family is getting the lion’s share of persecution either because of his religion in Mosul, central and south of Iraq, or because of his ethnicity in the lands of the North under occupation by the Kurdish tribes.
Even though they remain silent hoping in a patriotic solution, the Assyrians have already seen the features of a future Iraq even before Saddam’s regime collapsed. It became clear how the Iraqi opposition yielded before the Kurdish separatist desires which are mainly threatening the Assyrian identity before the land, people and institutions.
Amongst all the questions about the American intentions, the Kurdish expectations sway between pessimism and optimism as their misleading demands dominate the chaotic Iraqi stage. Federalism was decided by the Iraqi opposition prior to Saddam’s demise by the Iraqi people and their voices. State laws were introduced following Saddam’s fall in the absence of the legislative powers. All these decisions and laws support the division of Iraq while playing on words make it an open range for Assyrians to wonder about their fate whether from the Assyrian national, religious or patriotic concepts.
Disregarding the fate of the ominous Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), what we will present in the following is about the frailty of the Assyrian position towards this law - an example of the illnesses which are corroding at the Assyrian political decision. They demand immediate remedies to get rid of it by any means, because the Assyrian position is unnaturally obscured, something that is noticeable in the way in which the Assyrian voice is not heard as demanded. Thus the nationalistic aspirations are being obliterated as much as possible, a situation that amazes the Assyrians who are knowledgeable about the Iraqi situation and how the matter of the Assyrian rights was dealt with by the Iraqi Governing Council, and how those responsible for the Iraqi politics in general and the Assyrian politics in particular continue to be silent about the practices of the Kurdish movement since its beginning and how it changed the Assyrian demographic fact.
The Kurds are taking advantage of this discomfiting situation and that demographic anomaly in the North of Iraq in order to introduce their “Kurdistan” under the pretence of the demographic and population situations, ignoring the fact that they are the ones responsible along side Saddam in causing the Assyrians to flee inside and outside of Iraq. Also the other Iraqi factions ignored the problem of demographic chaos as the problem of all the Iraqi people with its Assyrians, Arabs, Turcoman, and Kurds. That is why it was very early for federalism to be suggested before rectifying the demographic disorder. This did not concern the person who was supposed to represent the Assyrian voice.
The Iraqi Policy Towards Iraq (The Kurdo-Islamic Council and its Administrative Law)
The sudden transition of countries with several ethnicities and religions from the state of dictatorship to freedom is considered the most important cause of civil wars when each faction determines on acquiring the widest and better range of rights, always at the expense of the weakest group thus another dictatorship is established. A“democratic” dictatorship is legitimized because it is supported by most of the citizens who belong to a sect or nationality different than that of the minority, thus two wolves and a lamb vote on what kind of lunch to have (with permission from the 18th century American thinker, Benjamin Franklin).
The most important features of this dictatorship following Saddam, comes clearly through the Transitional Administrative Law whose articles were not less malicious than those of the London Conference 2002, and the position of the Assyrian “representative” towards the Administrative Law did not fail to be as frail as his position towards the London Conference as well … On the contrary he considered it to be an “achievement” declaring that he was proud of it (4) as he raised the document, with his signature on it, before the international media outlets, the media which did not hear from him even once about the problems of his people His failed to note what concerns media policy (newspapers, television, party declarations, lectures, and interviews). While we take a look at the articles of the Transitional Administrative Law we clearly notice how they humiliate the Assyrian people and marginalize them ethnically and religiously, as it can be noticed very briefly in the following articles:
Article 7, Clause A: “Islam is the official religion of the State and is to be considered a source of legislation. No law that contradicts the universally agreed tenets of Islam, the principles of democracy, or the rights cited in Chapter Two of this Law may be enacted during the transitional period. This Law respects the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and guarantees the full religious rights of all individuals to freedom of religious belief and practice”.
Whereas the official state religion is Islam, and it is the only “respected” religion mentioned in the law, this contradicts Article 12 of the same law. Moreover this article negates what Yonadam Kanna had declared two months prior to his signing of the law, that “The Islamic bloc on the Governing Council agreed to separate religion from the state” (5)
Article 9: “The Arabic language and the Kurdish language are the two official languages of Iraq”
The marginalization of Iraq’s inherited and historical language - Assyrian, which should be an official language along side that of the majority, or the Arabic language should have been adopted as the only official language in Iraq while considering the other languages (Assyrian, Turkman, and Kurdish) official within the regions of the inhabitants who speak these languages as long as their use does not exceed the administrative limit.
Article 27, Clause B: It begins with: “Armed forces and militias not under the command structure of the Iraqi Transitional Government are prohibited, except as provided by federal law”
The first part forbids the Iraqi militias from keeping their arms, but the second part of the same clause starts with the word “except” which gives the Kurds the right to build up an army which does not directly submit to the central authority even though it is well known that the principles which shall guide this army in Assyria are separatist Kurdish principles and this was well known by all the members of the Iraqi Governing Council. The declaration of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi following the formation of his government in regards to annulling all militias was only in preparation to legitimizing the Kurdish militias in Assyria so that to coincide with the above mentioned clause, this was indeed implemented when Allawi declared the day after that the Kurdish militias are regular forces.
Article 30, Clause C: “The electoral law shall aim to achieve the goal of having women constitute no less than one-quarter of the members of the National Assembly and of having fair representation for all communities in Iraq, including the Turcomans, ChaldoAssyrians, and others”.
As the article is mentioning “representation for all communities in Iraq”, than it was not necessary to mention “Turcomans and ChaldoAssyrians”. This article came to clarify that the two ethnicities, the Turcoman and the Assyrians are not equal to the Arabs and Kurds under the law, and this contradicts article 12 of the same law.
Article 53, Clause C: “Any group of no more than three governorates outside the Kurdistan region, with the exception of Baghdad and Kirkuk, shall have the right to form regions from amongst themselves. The mechanisms for forming such regions may be proposed by the Iraqi Interim Government, and shall be presented and considered by the elected National Assembly for enactment into law. In addition to being approved by the National Assembly, any legislation proposing the formation of a particular region must be approved in a referendum of the people of the relevant governorates”.
This article means that the so-called “Kurdistan” (which includes the confiscated lands from Assyrians- See clause “A” of the same article) is un touchable and strips the Assyrians of their right by forbidding them from having their own region – just like others – on their own legally and historically owned land which in reality is occupied ( the Assyrian Triangle – see map below) because those who will be demanding that right will be distributed according to this law between the governorates of Mosul and Dohuk, as such each group will be subjugated to two different laws (judicial federalism) and two different cultures (linguistic federalism) even though the Assyrians in both areas are joined by one culture. This comment also relates to Article 9 which was mentioned something which raises interrogation marks about the future of the Assyrian culture which is the cultural, civilized heritage of Iraq.
Article 53, Clause D: “This Law shall guarantee the administrative, cultural, and political rights of the Turcomans, Chaldo-Assyrians, and all other citizens”.
It should have mentioned all the ethnicities or not to have included this clause at all because it is trivial and was not added except to discriminate between the levels of citizenship, also it contradicts article 12 of the same law.
Regrettably we notice that many Assyrian activists and politicians sing the praises of Article 53 as it was demanded before in the Yonadam Kanna's conference of October 2003 as his way out of his duty to ask for the Assyrian lands violated in the hands of the Kurdish tribes in the area of the Assyrian Triangle. This happened in preparation for the appearance of the mentioned article months later with the Kurdish support. PUK invited others to implement Article 53, side by side with article 58 (6).
* * * * *
All these defects and gaps are caused by bargains in voting on decisions between the “great powers” of Iraq. This bargaining came in agreement for the mutual voting of each group for the demands of the other – that is trading positions at the expense of Iraq’s unity, and civilized cultural genuineness. Bakhtiar Amin, the Human Rights minister in the transitional government confirmed the existence of these bargains in formulating the Administrative Law (7) in addition to the fact that this law did not deal with an “Iraqi people”, rather with the religious and ethnic groups, stemming from racial, and factional bases that extended until the formation of the interim government which is subject to be dismantled at any moment as it was confirmed following the decision of the security council in relation to the interim period. As for the few Iraqi positions which rejected the law, these did not come out from a patriotic point of view, rather from a point of religious fundamentalism protesting Article 7 that defined Islam as being “A source of legislation” and not “THE source of legislation” …
The above mentioned proves that there is no democracy nor patriotism except in introductions of the official texts, and the non-Assyrian voices that we hear every now and then asking for the rights of the Assyrians are but personal opinions of some educated and dignified Iraqis. They do not represent any Iraqi political currents. Here we have some interrogation marks:
• What are the Kurdish currents representing a national group in Iraq afraid of ? They are the strongest in their nationalistic inclination and the most cohesive in relations between the politicians (Barazani & Talabani) and the public?
• What are the Islamic currents representing a religious group in Iraqi afraid of ? They are the strongest in their religious inclination and the most cohesive in the relation between the politicians (sheikhs and imams) and the public?
• How can we expect the Assyrians to feel safe when they are the weakest with deep roots in Iraq as a national and religious group? How do some Assyrian currents ignore what was mentioned before? And what is the truth behind the “fact” which has become the excuse of these feeble currents and how to deal with it ?
The Bitter Assyrian Fact: (The Quitters Excuse)
The American thinker Alice Walker says: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any..” This applies on a part of Assyrian organizations whose measures for strife differ from those of other organizations in any movement in the world. These Assyrian parties keep on using the bitter fact as a pretext to justify the weakness and political failure in order to further plunge into the policy of defeat instead of using it as a guaranteed winning card to convey the Assyrian voice to the decision making centers inside and outside the homeland. The defeatists always try to hinder the strengthening of the Assyrian decision so that they can always use this excuse and continue their resigned attitude for reasons known to all, while the courage of these movements is limited to issuing reluctant, trivial bulletins related to protesting on being marginalized in positions. Alas, if such bulletins would emanate from the leadership…
The true Assyrian fact in simple terms is that hundreds of villages and tens of thousands square kilometers were confiscated by the Kurdish tribes in the “Assyrian Triangle” and around it since the beginnings of the Barzani movement in 1961. What followed in the building settlements for the Kurds illegally on Assyrian lands add to the demolishing of hundreds of Assyrian villages by the former regime and forcing the inhabitants to flee to neighboring as well as to western countries. Then the return of the Kurds in the 1990’s to confiscate these villages until today, with the continuous settling of Kurdish tribes coming from Iran and Syria in the areas of the Assyrian Triangle occupied by Barzani. 60,000 Kurds were imported lately to Kirkuk alone, from Iran, Syria and Turkey and they have settled in the non-Kurdish lands(8). This is another example on how the federal map which was approved by the Kurdo-Islamic Governing Council is being implemented.
Instead of taking advantage of this bitter fact by presenting it as an Assyrian dilemma (national and patriotic) on the Iraqi stage, we find that it has been turned into an excuse for an exposed political practice limited to being thankful for the “gifts” which some Assyrian politicians beg for on their own land.
The activities of the largest political – military organization in the history of the Assyrian national movement since the massacres of 1933 have turned to charity work, social, and cultural activities to compensate for the political failure … Those who in the very near past formulated the texts of those humiliating documents for the Assyrian people (the Interim Administrative Law) are the same ones who formulated the bulletins of previous Iraqi opposition conferences, and he who signed these papers and held high the document before international media following the fall of Saddam is the same person who had signed previous documents in London IO conference and before. As the degenerative Iraqi currents continue to remain the same, we as Assyrians have to confront this defeatist Assyrian position as a priority, so that the demographic anomaly can be changed before the permanent constitution is formulated, and let the misleading policy which is used to deter the Assyrian people off the dangers surrounding them be stopped, and let the blame about the “eliminated” danger blaming the former regime, calling it entered, chauvinistic and dictatorship be stopped. These are merely deceiving practices while we keep on flirting with the degenerative currents and ignore their practices, disregarding future problems (the “continuous” danger) that the Assyrian people are facing. We can clearly read in between the lines of the official Iraqi bulletins and decisions by those who are not more honorable or humanitarian than Saddam was, and cease the attempt of trying to show that every thing is fine in Iraq just because the phrase “ChaldoAssyrian” (9) was sarcastically added to the administrative law as it became clear.
The reason for this bitter fact is attributed to the failure of the first Assyrian organization in spreading its activities to Iraq when the Barzani onslaught was occupying the Assyrian villages one after the other and forcing the migration of the inhabitants since 1961. This was the reason for the Assyrians of Iraq to join in the Kurdistani school (using the methods of alluring and intimidation) that school from which we are suffering the results today, and the failure of the first Assyrian organization with an “umbrella” attribute from being really that “umbrella” under which all the Assyrian political and social institutions should have gathered. As well as the failure of the first Assyrian political - military movement not only in realizing the Assyrian ambitions but rather even in merely raising and conveying the Assyrian voice to those overseeing the Iraqi political decision no matter what the reasons or excuses were. Therefore, turning the Assyrian Cause into just a case of a seat and teaching a language under an erroneous name with the flag of the so-called “Kurdistan” in every school …
As a result of this reality, the Assyrian Cause has arrived into an obstructed conjunction with two directions, the first represented in the Assyrian parties driven apart within the Assyrian home and the second represented in the shameful retreat before the conspiracies of the de facto forces dominating the Assyrian land, thus we notice two political schools emerging spontaneously turning into popular bases, each supporting one of the struggling currents.
The first school identified with defeat is adopted by a part of the Assyrians living in Assyria who have spent most of their lives under oppression, thus they accept what their new floggers bestow upon them after the long suffering. They tend to see that as a great accomplishment as they are led behind deceiving mottos, by looking at trivial matters which even though shallow they did not enjoy under the previous regime. Thus they compare today’s situation with that of yesterday’s rather than comparing the demands of the resigned parties with those of others (non–Assyrians) and demanding equality.
The second school identified with idealism (in form) adopted by the Diaspora Assyrians who have experienced the democratic regimes in the advanced countries, therefore they justly look at the rights of their brethren in Assyria as being in equality with the rest within any formula in the future Iraq, instead of being satisfied with the gifts of those who do not even have the right to bestow them.
The appearance of these two schools prevents us from reaching a common goal because the defeatist school adopts trivial demands, while the revolutionary school adopts powerful decisions that remain ink on paper. There is not any connection with the first school in the homeland which opposes any steps towards unifying the Assyrian voice and a stand against any decision or declaration asking for an independent Assyrian decision. They desperately try to silence those who criticize them, at a time when the Assyrian voice was supposed to be raised in Iraq against any threat for the Assyrians’ existence on their historical land. The defeatist school has adopted the destructive thought for the aspirations of the Assyrian individual by attempting to convince him that it is impossible to advance, and by turning attention away from fateful to temporary matters and the least of rights. The simplest example on that inviting some of their followers to dance in the streets of Baghdad following the announcement of the ominous administrative law, while the Turcoman were demonstrating to defend their dignity and to protest over the same law in which they received the same rights in every clause.
Despite of the fierce waves rocking the Assyrian galley there are still some Assyrian institutions in Assyria that are attempting to settle Assyrians back in their villages when these institutions have already agreed upon considering them as “Kurdistani” villages as they had disowned them in the Yonadam Kanna Conference in Baghdad (October 2003), thus they are trying to promote the idea of the “Nineveh Plains” within the Assyrian community while they are relinquishing all the Assyrian villages outside that area for the Kurdish outsiders, jumping over all that is threatening the Assyrian ethnicity in Assyria throwing out all the realities which they claim to be dealing with seriously and patiently.
The re-building of some Assyrian villages within the Kurdish occupied territory is but an indirect propaganda to spread the word about the so-called Kurdish “good treatment”– whether intentionally or not – just like the one about building the Assyrian “Kurdistani” schools and having positions in the Parliament of the so-called “Kurdistan”, whereby the Kurds use all these (10) in order to serve their case which is kurdifying Assyria by acquiring the trust of the international community. They have succeeded in that to an extent where some official European groups are working on spreading the propaganda about the democracy in the so-called “Kurdistan”, even in the United States there are many who defend and support the government of the so-called “Kurdistan” with the simplest example being the response of the assistant to the Secretary of State for legislative affairs Paul Kelly on May 7th 2002 to William Burns the Assistant to the Secretary of State for the Middle East affairs when the latter wondered about the future of the Assyrians and their rights. Kelly’s response was that the government of the so-called “Kurdistan” has “allowed” the Assyrians to teach their language and re-build their villages destroyed by Saddam (excluding from his answer the confiscated villages by the Kurdish tribes) (11)
We notice the same attitude by many of the world’s politicians, in addition the the bombing of the Churches on August 1st 2004 which happened outside the so-called “Kurdistan”. They gave the impression that the only safe place for the Christians is the area controlled by the Kurds, and the Kurdish media took advantage of this because they were the only beneficiaries of these bombings, and what asserts that is the speech of the Kurdish leaders about the rights which they are “bestowing” upon the Assyrians, thus we see Jalal Talabani inviting the Assyrians to move to the so-called “Kurdistan” and to invest their assets there because of the religious persecution which they are facing in central and south of Iraq (12) taking advantage of the terrorist acts that the Assyrians are subjected to and their migration out of Iraq because of that, which raises a large interrogation mark around the identity of some of those who committed these crimes.
The Period Following the Power Transfer (Dues, Challenges and the Need for Change in the Assyrian House)
The mere demand of the Assyrian rights through equality with the others under any ruling formula in Iraq will turn all of the Assyrian people inside Iraq and in Diaspora to support their representatives. The matter is that of the attitudes and the demands more than that of trivial accomplishments to cover up for the failure in proposing faithful matters and silencing the Assyrian public opinion. The courageous, dignified positions will be as if of restoring the decaying Assyrian nationalistic movement because of what we have mentioned, while the misrepresentation of the Assyrian nationality will lead day after day to an increase in the disappointment and encourages the migration of the Assyrian people. All this while the idea of the federal map of Iraq is being proposed in a prejudice manner towards the Assyrian ethnicity with an agreement from those claiming to represent it. The features of a federal Iraq in the future had loomed when it was supported in the latest decision by the UN Security Council, then it was asserted and sworn to by President al-Yawer in his presidential oath, as there’s also Barzani’s clear and frank position about dividing Iraq in the event of no federalism when he said that the Kurds will not recognize a non-federal Iraq (13) even though the Kurdish leaders were pretending to support a public referendum on federalism in the past. On the other hand we see the Iraqi government being drawn behind the Kurdish desires which is evident in the declaration of Pascale Ishoo, the Immigration and Displacement minister about re-settling Kurds in the lands were they used to live without mentioning any others (14) then she repeated the same “Kurdistani” mistake when she mentioned her project about re-settling those who were displaced by the former regime, without mentioning those whom the Kurds deported (15) and whom she knows and is familiar with more than any one else. We find these same mistakes in articles 6 and 58 of the ominous Administrative Law whereby the decision is to return lands which were forcibly vacated by Saddam without even mentioning the Kurdish confiscations. This may be because at the time the Iraqi Governing Council was not aware of the Assyrian lands confiscated by the Kurdish tribes as said the spokesman of the IGC (16), even with the presence of an Assyrian representative in the Iraqi Governing Council!
The reality of all the above mentioned without any Assyrian protest or even reservation confirms that the Assyrian people have not been represented since the fall of the Iraqi regime until this very moment. The latest appointments in the Iraqi National Council drew the picture of shameful representation for the Assyrian people whereby not one qualified politician ascended to the right position.
The first came on a parachute as a former member of the dismantled Iraqi Governing Council and he is even unable to represent himself in a proper way as it became evident. The second came in as a denominational representative “number completion” with a recommendation from the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church and he does not and will not care about any thing that is Assyrian for he does not even consider himself to be an Assyrian. The same goes for the third person who does not know her national identity and she is concerned to please the leaders of her Church and some new established sectarian organizations that support her, by including the name of her denomination in the census along side the name of her national identity … It’s clear that these members do not agree on any national or patriotic agenda until now.
All this is happening while the features of the electoral period are beginning to unfold, as the United Nations’ Secretary General Mr. Kufi Anan expressed his doubts that the Iraqi parliamentary elections happening on time because of the security reasons (17). We see the Iraqi Prime Minister asking Mr. Anan to save the elections (18). This alludes to the lack of integrity in regards to the supposedly forth coming elections.
As to the internal situation, some “principal” problems began to emerge in the electoral list formations, the most important of which is the intention of the Kurdish side to boycott any list which doesn’t approve federalism in Iraq. The Kurds are forming their own list, and only God knows what will the Assyrian position be towards this kind of federalism and by which map? And how will the Assyrians be distributed on the “Kurdistani” electoral lists according to the divisions which the Kurds will apply by forcing the de facto reality … Every thing however depends on the extent of the Assyrian representatives' sincerity towards the fate of their people and their rights.
Thus, the Assyrian people have to prepare for that which is looming in the horizon, by working to strengthen their position in Iraq and correcting it to advance properly. This can be achieved through prudence of the Assyrian individuals with the realization of the requirements for the coming period. Therefore, he has to move fast through the alliances, and associations working in Iraq and which should impose themselves in decision-making matters to convey their voice to the power centers through the heavy participation in elections with dignified representatives who believe in the preservation of the Assyrian identity and the rights of our people with the suggested formulae (federalism or any other) but to reject any sort of federalism until all the confiscated lands by the Iraqi factions are returned to the Iraqi factions. The Assyrian parties and organizations must support such a direction financially, morally and the media wisely, especially the organizations and associations which had participated in the Amsterdam Conference (April 2003). This comes within their national duty in order to preserve their credibility following their silence when the ominous administrative law (March 2004) was issued even though it contradicted their declaration one hundred percent.
The time has come for an Assyrian national conference, before the elections of January 2005, which can join all the Assyrian parties who are against the submissive policy and interested about preserving the Assyrian identity, and try to impose their thoughts in the Assyrian and Iraqi political arena.
When qualified representatives are elected to raise the Assyrian voice with support from the homeland and the Diaspora, the Assyrian matters shall be proposed for the first time in the history of Iraq since the 1933 massacres when the last attempt for self determination was obliterated. In the event that a “geographical” federalism is declared dividing Iraq into regions, Assyrians should ask the Iraqi authorities to use the word “the Northern Region” for the part today called "Kurdistan” and not dividing the regions “geographically” on certain ethnicities according to the de facto situation which has resulted in an abnormal demography. Otherwise the Assyrians have to ask for a region which carries their national and real name for the land, the province of “Assyria”, protesting loudly before the international organizations, the world governments as well as international media for any negligence towards them… Today our main problem is that we do not have a “Problem” !
1- A declaration by the American Secretary of State Colin Powell for the “Associated Press”, January 06th, 2004.
Julius Shabbas, Editor of Nineveh Magazine, Passed Away
(ZNDA: San Francisco) Mr. Julius Nwyia Shabbas, the former editor of the Assyrian quarterly, Nineveh, and president of the Assyrian Foundation of America passed away last Monday at his home in Benicia, California. He was 77.
Mr. Shabbas preceded in death by his beloved wife, Violet Shabbas; parents, Nwyia and Shirin Shabbas; sister, Nina Jacob; and brothers, Hamlet and Elia Shabbas. He leaves behind his daughter, Semiramis Shabbas of Oakland, CA; son, Roman Shabbas of the Netherlands; daughter, Dumarina Shabbas of Benicia, CA; sisters, Lily Neesan (Sam) of Hercules, CA and Alice Henderson, (David) of Martinez, CA; and brothers, Baba Shabbas of Hercules, CA and Hamlet Shabbas (Jane) of San Francisco, CA.
A native of Baghdad, Iraq, he spent 27 years in Berkeley, CA, and the last 18 years in Benicia, CA. He was a chemist for 26 years and a member of the Assyrian Church of the East in San Francisco since 1960. He served as president of the Assyrian Foundation of America where he was a board member for 39 years. He was also the editor of Nineveh Magazine for 20 years.
Family and friends were invited to attend a Funeral Service today on Friday, Oct. 1 at 2:00 PM at Sunset View Mortuary, 101 Colusa Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530, with Interment immediately following.
Donations can be made in his name to the Assyrian Foundation of America, P.O. Box 2620, Berkeley CA, 94702, Attn: Julius N. Shabbas Scholarship Fund. For further information please call: Sunset View Mortuary at 510-525-5111.
[A personal note from Zinda Magazine Editor: Mr. Julius Shabbas was a friend to all those who respected the richness of the Assyrian heritage and in particular those who wished to pursue higher education. Through his efforts at the Assyrian Foundation of America, hundreds of thousands of dollars were given to Assyrian students in Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Syria, Georgia, Greece, Holland, Sweden, Canada and the United States to complete their university education. He was also a pioneer in the Assyrian journalism during the last two decades of the 20th century. As the Editor-in-Chief of Nineveh Magazine, he successfully introduced one of the most informative and beautifully designed Assyrian magazines in the English language. It was a joy to present copies of this fine magazine to the local libraries and university archives. The staff of Zinda Magazine offers its condolences to the family of Mr. Shabbas. I will miss Julius - a journalistic colleague and a superb role model. - Wilfred Bet-Alkhas ]
Assyrian Couple Pledge $4.5 Million to Turlock Hospital
Courtesy of the Modesto Bee
(ZNDA: Turlock) Tony Daniloo and his wife, Nansi, the Assyrian owners of a fast-growing mortgage company have pledged $4.5 million to Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock, the largest donation in the hospital's history, to help build a cancer center and remake the pediatric wing. Tony and Nansi are founders of Modesto-based DreamLife Financial.
The donation will cover half the estimated $9 million cost of the projects, said Shirley Pok, vice president of development at Emanuel.
The DreamLife Cancer Center is scheduled to open in the fall of 2005. The pediatric wing, to be named for Nansi Daniloo, is expected to open about a year later.
"I think that the donors have had a long-term interest in oncology services and children," Pok said, "and when they were looking to make a philanthropic gift, they knew that the type of care we provide here has the same standard of excellence as their business."
The cancer center will allow Turlock-area residents to get treatment without traveling to Modesto or farther, said Pennie Rorex, an Emanuel spokeswoman.
The main hospital provides in-patient chemotherapy and will continue to do so after the cancer center is built, she said. The new building will allow Emanuel to add radiation and out-patient chemotherapy, she said. It also is to have office space for surgical specialists.
Tony Daniloo said his mother, Susie Daniloo, is a breast cancer survivor, and he knows how hard it is for patients to travel for treatment.
The cancer center will be in a new, 20,000-square-foot building north of the main part of the Delbon Avenue hospital.
The pediatric wing will remain in the main hospital, but shift to an area to be vacated by the relocation of beds to the Emanuel Critical Care Center, under construction in the northwest part of the grounds.
Pok said the pediatric wing will have more space, privacy and security than the current area devoted to young patients.
Emanuel will use its other income, including real estate earnings, to cover the remaining $4.5 million cost of the projects.
The Daniloos' donation will be made over five years, but financing will allow construction to start soon, Rorex said. The couple pledged $3 million for the cancer center through DreamLife Financial and $1.5 million for the pediatric wing as a personal gift.
Pok said the cancer center was in Emanuel's long-term plans, but can be built earlier than planned because of the donation.
"It will be a very comprehensive regional cancer center," she said.
Emanuel is in the midst of a wave of capital projects, having opened an expanded birth center last year and a remodeled diagnostic complex this year. Construction started last month on the $30 million critical care building, including an enlarged emergency department.
Daniloo, 30, and his wife, 29, were born in Iran and joined Turlock's Assyrian Christian community in their youth.
Tony Daniloo has started several mortgage companies in Northern California the last 10 years. Nansi Daniloo worked as a senior loan processor for H&R Block Mortgage before the birth of their son, Jacob, 2.
They returned to Turlock and founded DreamLife Financial, a residential and commercial lender, last year. It has grown to seven branches from Modesto to Fresno, with two more planned in Tracy and Stockton.
[Zinda: DreamLife Financial, Inc., the fastest growing mortgage company in the Central Valley, is on track to fund $1 billion in home loans in 2005. In its first five months in business, the financial institution has established a total of six branches in Turlock, Modesto, Merced and Fresno — and has funded $100 million in home loans. The DreamLife business plan includes adding new branches, ranging from the Bay Area to Southern California and Las Vegas, within the next three years. Established in 2004, DreamLife Financial, a full-service residential and commercial lender, is a subsidiary of DreamLife Investments, Inc., a financial and real estate entity.]
To comment on these letters click on the image of the Ziggurat.
Assyria, A Nation Without A Leader
Wilson P. Benjamin
The reader is entitled to feel alarmed by the title of this subject. But please bear with me and allow me to continue, and then, you may reach your own conclusion. Hopefully, at the end, you will feel the same awakening and join me to analyze the current status of our Nation.
Let us think for a moment and see where were we in the past; where are we at the present, and lastly ask what is the future holding for our beloved Nation?
Obviously, you may then ask what is that I, as an individual, can contribute to preserve our heritage?
"There is a saying, it goes like this: A constant dropping of water pierces the rock. And the 3000 miles of china’s wall was build by laying the first stone!"
It is a common practice when trying to serve a nation: It requires to review the past; evaluate the present; and then to plan for the future: Accordingly, it demands a MASTER PLAN to include: A FUND raising project; A Political agenda; An Education institution; A commerce department; A Department of athletic and social activities; and A Red Cross and welfare society. Such M/P should have a long term and a short- term program. Said programs to be prepared by an elected body of qualified men and women from the community, to form a Central-Council with its appropriate departments. Thereafter they should come up with a solution to illustrate a strategy designed to the order of needs and Priorities. It is ONLY then, a Nation can move forward to achieve its objectives.
Let me say it at the outset that: I am not associated or affiliated to any organization. My solemn obligation is to serve constructively and positively to promote the unity of purpose and the prosperity of our beloved nation Assyria, as always I have done since 1940s.
It is regretting to mention that most of our political, social, educational and welfare organizations are operating independently of each other. Please do not misunderstand me, I respect your noble endeavor. It is rather discouraging to see so many organizations with so many different agendas clashing with each other. Perhaps expecting to be the first to win the crown medal of honor from the Assyrian nation!
Most of the time, the only award you get is criticism, complains and acquisitions. The disunity of our organizations is a major problem. It only works to the hands of our enemies. United we should stand and united we shall succeed. Therefore, we must work collectively, to uplift our beloved Assyria from the current turmoil and lead it to a brighter future so that to regain its Dignity and to take its place in the civilized communities arena of the world.
Dear brothers and sisters of our beloved Nation: Assyrian, Chaldeans, Syraic, Jacobites, Marionettes, et-al. I plead with you to come forward, and let us join together in prayers and seek God's mercy, wisdom and guidance. To revive us spiritually and unit us in brotherly love and respect towards each other; and let us work together to rescue what is left of our heritage, culture, language and traditions. Always remembering that it is our sacred duty and solemn responsibility to preserve and pass the Baton onto our children and their future generations.
We MUST always remind ourselves of our martyrs, the up rooting and genocide, of our people during the twentieth century. And the constant up rising against our people in Iraq and Turkey; where it has resulted in eradication of our historic churches and monuments, villages, schools and farmlands; and confiscation of the best parts of our land.
Behold, no one can destroy our Identity. We are the genuine descendants of the Old Great Nation Assyria. Suffice to say that all major museums of the world have looted vast collections of Our Artifacts of the old and the modern. There is sufficient evidence to support the facts that we are the genuine descendants. But, it is unfortunate that the pen has befallen, and still is, in the hands of our enemies. Iraq, (Mesopotamia and/or Bet-Nahrain) is like a carpet of mosaics, stretching from north to the south and from east to the west, covered with the treasures of the Assyrian Empire.
Whatever it has been looted can not count to a decimal fraction of one percent.
When Iraq became an independent country in the 1930s, they proudly produced Iraqi currency "Dinar" it was embossed and beautified with the pictures of the Assyrian historical monuments. And when the Bathie government took over the country in 1960s, they erased all the Assyrian Artifacts from the face of the Iraqi currency and replaced it with the monuments of their industrial achievements.
It is this writer's opinion that, we must wake up and look at the reality, our nation and its land has been brought to zero level. There are no ifs and buts. If we do not change our attitude and open a new united chapter in our History, very soon we shall disappear into the melting pot of the world. And this time our Nation is in real danger as our enemy wants us to be eradicated.
" Let us remember the golden words of the famous Assyrian writer the late Gibran Khalil Gibran,; the same words were borrowed by the late President J.F. Kennedy, saying: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country!"
Furthermore, another proposition was introduced in May 1999. Subject: to establish an Assyrian American Community Chamber of Commerce, Nationwide. This is a Golden Gate of opportunities for the financial prosperity of our people. This can be obtained through my e-mail: email@example.com.
Here befits a story: it goes like this - It is said that in the days when the Israelites were led by Mosses through the desert. Friends of his brother Aaron, asked him to ask Mosses, when he goes to the mountain and talks with God, to ask for a favor about the future of one of their neighbor. ‘Saying that he is a religious and respectable person and a hard worker, yet he has hard time to make a decent living like us “ One day Mosses asks God if he could help this person. God says to Mosses: I have given him his lot same as the others, if he can’t take care of himself, what else you want me to do. Mosses said, I need to give an answer to these people. God says all right, go and gather those people close to that bridge across the water canal and wait there and see what will happen. So Mosses goes and gathers those people and takes them to that bridge and tells them to wait and watch what may happen.
Indeed it is up to us. We must stop depending on others to come to our rescue.
My dear friends, God has given us His Blessings: And the three precious gifts: the gifts of wisdom, talent, and commonsense. We can see these blessings activated in some of our people.
When it comes to get involved in our Nation’s affairs we pull in different directions each claims the leadership. A nation can succeed when there is the unity of purpose, devotion, trust and respect towards each other; and above all to have a studied MASTER-PLAN with a long term planning coupled with an agenda of the fundamental needs and priorities. Accordingly a Financial planning and projection should be made as a part and parcel of the Master Plan.
No one can destroy Our Identity. We need to admit that the enemy is from within us; then we should accept our past and present mistakes. Our leaders in the past and the present could not separate the religion influence from their political destiny to enable them to move forward. Great britain separated the church from politics in the seventeen century. And their archbishop is appointed by the parliament. United states of america has done the same: separated the church from politics! Do you see where is our major problem? Don’t you agree that it is the time that we should do the same? And remain loyal and faithful to our churches’ membership?
The churches have a solemn responsibility to take an active and convincing role to separate the church direct involvement in the nation’s politics. At the same time the political leadership should maintain a respectable and an understanding dialog to call upon the church leadership for help when it becomes necessary.
Ultimately, the political organizations and the churches are two separate intities serving the same body of people. Our leaders have always put their/or our trust in the hands of a few low level foreign individual agent; believing that because their country’s religion is Christians, therefore such acquaintance could be trusted; and in most cases it turns out to the detriment of our objective.
The super powers have been sitting on the fence and watching or photographing the killings and the destruction of our historic churches, monuments, schools, homes, and villages for the past forty years. And as a result, our people became homeless living in the open hills at the mercy of our enemy: the Kurds.
By the way, since 1991 up to this day several millions of U.S. dollars are given each year to the people in the north. Can anyone tell us what was given to the Assyrians in the north? They are hardly surviving on the fragments left over by the kurds. Has any organization ever complained to the givers of such funds or mentioned in any TV. programs, or the News media? If ADM was and still is involved in the North, can they tell us what was the share for the Assyrians?
Dear fellow Assyrians please read from the Bible:
Isaiah: chapter 19 – verses 23 to 25 and you can see that God has Chosen three people: Egyptian, Athour, and Israelites. Out of the whole world God choose the three and Athour is in the second place. What a better example than the Olympic games: all nations participate yet only THREE medals are given – Gold – Silver - Bronze. Is there any more proof necessary. The problem was and still is that we depend on others to lift us up. When you fall in a pool of mud no one will come to your rescue, You have to struggle and work hard and get up.
And finally, here is another story (I was present at the discussion, when it took place in 1944) An Indian Officer is asking a British Officer: What is the population of United Kingdom, and what is the mileage between U.K and India. The British Officer replies: the population is forty millions and the distance is approximately three thousand miles. The Indian officer asks: how come you are forty millions and three thousand miles far away from India, that you have conquered my Country India of four hundred million population and three thousand miles away from us? The British Officer replies: We support our Country’s interest first, and our religion takes the second place, But you Indians, you put your religions first and your country’s interest in the second place. If you can change their positions, you too can regain your independence. It was Mahatma Ghandi who did that and regained the independence of India. Does this gives us an example? We need to have an Assyrian Mahatma Ghandi!
To comment on these article click on the image of the Ziggurat.
Sumerian and Babylonian Music at Stanford University
Stanford University Continuing Studies
Course Title: "Crossroads of Ancient Music: A Concert & Demonstration"
We will look at slides of musical instruments and performances from the archaeological record, as depicted in ancient ceramics, tablets, and sculptures. The lecture will focus on the relationship between the Babylonian pantheon of Gods, mathematical theories, and the tuning of instruments (such as the Uruk and Akkadian lutes). The concert will include a rare performance on folk and classical instruments with Mesopotamian roots—ancient lyres and woodwinds, reconstructed by the hosts based on archaeological evidence.
Thursday, November 11
Course Title: "The Legacy of Babylon"
Mesopotamia, the land between the two rivers, has often been called the cradle of civilization. The reigns of its kings Sargon, Hammurapi, and Assurbanipal still evoke vivid images of legendary conquerors and fabulous palaces; of hanging gardens and fabled libraries; of remarkable feats of engineering, mathematics, and astronomy; and of strident biblical denunciation. Between the rise of Sargon’s Akkadian Empire in 2334 BCE and the fall of Babylon to the Persians under Cyrus II in 539, Babylonia produced not only some of the world earliest literary and artistic masterpieces but also some of its most influential. Gilgamesh and the Enuma Elish, the law code of Hammurapi, the ziggurat of Nanna at Ur, the Gate of Ishtar in Babylon—all have had an dramatic impact on the evolution of succeeding cultures: on the writings of Homer and Hesiod, on the art of Assyria and Persia, on the religious traditions of the Hebrews and the Minoans, on the mathematics of Greek and Islamic civilizations, and on the divisions of time we use to this very day.
Tuesdays Nov 2 - Nov 30
Lecturer in English, Edward Steidle
Edward Steidle joined the Stanford English faculty in 1984. His area of specialization is medieval art and literature. He is currently working on comparative approaches to the study of ancient European, Asian, and Central American cultures. He also leads travel groups to historical sites in Italy and the Aegean.
A Mid East American Revolution Is Coming
Dr. Walid Phares
Since September 11, 2001, a major question crossed the minds of many U.S. citizens: What would make 19 men from the Middle East hate us so much that they would massacre 3,000 Americans? Every anchor in every media had this question on his or her lips for weeks and months. Intellectuals debated what went wrong in the Muslim world. Academics continued with their rumblings about the so-called root causes, classically simmering with irrational self-guilt. Americans of all walks of life wanted and still want to know about the real feelings and aspirations of the vast Arab-Islamic world.
Despite the gigantic budgets spent on Middle East Studies and international reporting for decades, particularly in the 1990s, average Joes were still swimming in unknown seas of ignorance, having been poorly educated about its history and its political culture. “Are all Arabs Muslims? Do all Muslims follow Osama bin Laden? Why do they hate America so much?” they asked.
American politicians were no better, despite their supposedly savvy advisors. “Iraqis can’t produce a democracy,” shouted the doubters. “We can’t impose our ideals on them,” argued the suddenly turned experts. Bottom line: A gigantic lack of understanding of all that is Middle Eastern has been overshadowing the national debate.
In addition, with radical organizations grabbing the power to represent the mainstream institutions of Mideast-American communities, the American perception of these Arab immigrant communities got more complicated. Years before the Mohamemd Atta massacre in Manhattan, a network of political entities rose to claim the aspirations of immigrants from the Middle East. They hijacked all representation and excluded all others from White House visits and media dramatizations. The Arabist and Islamist lobbies took over Washington’s political space initially allocated to more than 4 million Americans from all Mideast descent.
With the smoke covering the ashes of the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a hillside in Pennsylvania, the temperature was rising over the “Mideast Question.” Are all peoples from that region enemies? Do we have friends among them? More pressing questions haunted the public: "What about Mideastern people living among us?" The issue became critical to most Americans as cells were dismantled, and terrorists were arrested, both inside the country and overseas. Are Jihadists infiltrating our Mideastern and Arab communities?
Unfortunately, not only have the Wahabbi lobbies been supportive of the ideologies of the perpetrators against America, but several Middle Eastern groups have acted against this nation. Dramatically, large segments of Americans started to lose trust in those originating east and south of the Mediterranean.
Mideast Americans needed to be freed from the chains of mistrust. They needed to be represented by new faces. The American public needed to hear a different message than the decades of anti-Americanism and pro-Jihadist sentiment prevalent among the aging Establishment -- which is mostly supported by totalitarians overseas.
Now, finally, after three years of hard work since the tragedy of 9/11, another face of Mideastern Americans is surging to the forefront. Slowly but surely, American groups from Mideastern descent, in disagreement with the established political elites of the 1980s and the 1990s, came to the surface. Four days after September 11, a powerful letter of support was sent by the World Lebanese Cultural Union (WLCU), a diaspora-based organization, to President Bush. "Millions of Lebanese around the world are standing with the United States against Terrorism," wrote the authors.
At a time when Washington-based Arabist groups were circulating analysis indicting America and its policies for the actions of al Qaeda, other Mideast-Americans took the fight to the public sphere. Lebanese-Americans were the first to break the wall of American Jihadism. With the longest standing historical experience in this regard, their community organizations pioneered all aspects of the efforts against Terror: translators, analysts, experts, poured into government agencies.
Next were the Chaldo-Assyrians, mostly concentrated in Chicago and Detroit, who were followed by the Copts from Egypt. These American groups had good reasons to join the campaign. For decades, their mother nationalities had been brutalized in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. Then came Muslim and Arab groups who rejected the diktat of the dominant Wahabbis and Ba’athists. Shiites who have suffered under Saddam and Sunnis who have suffered under Assad felt America was wounded by the same forces of Terror, which caused them and their communities great harm.
A new wave of Muslim groups against terror appeared. Isolated and constantly intimidated by well-financed radical Islamist lobbyists and organizations, American Muslims began to gather together in smaller associations. Syrian Reformists, Lybian democrats, Yemeni intellectuals, and Palestinian dissidents declared their own entities.
As the new anti-terror Arabs struggled to affirm themselves, Iranian-Americans and Kurds came to the front of the American debate to confirm the thesis that the peoples of the Middle East "want freedom and democracy."
Meanwhile, the African side of the Mideast communities of America rose to visibility. First Southern Sudanese, followed by Mauritanian and joined by the exiles from Darfur. This tiny African American immigrant community exposed the regime of horrors in North Africa. Berbers came to witness as well. Day after day, between 2002 and 2004, a new "community" of activists made it to the national media, the US Government and finally to the edges of the global debate.
Today in the United States, thousands of Americans of Middle East descent are joining forces to answer the anxious questions of their neighbors: "Yes we are fully Americans and we feel this is our country which we love and want to defend against Terrorists," said the organizers of a historic conference to take place in Washington DC on Friday October 1, 2004. "It is time for our communities to break the silence imposed by the oil backed elite," said Tom Harb, a member of the American Lebanese Alliance, a group that co-sponsored the event. John Michael, a medical doctor from Chicago revealed that, "tens of thousands of Assyrians and Chaldeans have sided since day one with the U.S. when it decided to liberate our mother country – Iraq – from the bloody Saddam."
More than 30 organizations, from all ethnic and religious backgrounds, have been meeting and planning for what will become a "beginning for a new era in Mideast-American history" as qualified by Dr Zuhdi Jasser, a Muslim activist heading the American Muslim Forum for Democracy. "The mass graves in Iraq shook off the basis of our consciousness" said Zainab al Suwajj, the courageous Arab female leading the Islamic American Congress.
Walking hand in hand with Muslim moderates, Coptic groups are raising the issue of persecution of Christians in Egypt at the hands of fundamentalists. Michael Meunir, President of US Copts said "it will be interesting to see that this new wave of Americans from Mideast descent will show the world and the fanatics that Muslims would stand by Christians when persecuted and the other way around." Moyammed Yahia from Darfur's exiled community agrees: "We saw Christians coming to our help, when we Black Muslims were massacred by the Janjaweed.”
This talk wasn't politically correct a few years ago. Now it is out in the open. Soon, it will have a national umbrella. The "Middle Eastern American Convention for Freedom and Democracy" will hold its sessions on this first Friday of the Fall of 2004. According to the press release issued by these organizations, "Americans of Middle Eastern descent will gather in Washington, D.C., to show their support for the efforts to defeat terrorism and radicalism and to create a free and peaceful Middle East."
The forum will include speakers from different affiliations, a mosaic never seen before in Middle Eastern America. “At these dangerous and critical times, we want to provide a forum for all Middle Eastern Americans who support the United States in the war against terror and applaud the fact that the Middle East has one less tyrant after the fall of Saddam,” said Dr. Joseph Gebaily, the Convention’s executive director. “As primary victims of the prevailing intolerance in the Middle East, we strongly support the war on terrorism and efforts to promote democracy in all nations of the Middle East.”
This convention will allow participants to exchange views and ideas with longtime veterans of the struggle against terrorism and tyranny. Despite their diverse backgrounds, the participants share a historic and deeply motivated allegiance to the United States and aspire to see a free and peaceful Middle East.
The convention includes a discussion forum from 5 to 6:30 p.m. that will address U.S. foreign policy, Iraq, Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Syria’s occupation of Lebanon, the genocide in Darfur, women’s rights, and democracy. From 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., the discussion will continue over dinner. A representative from the Bush administration and Members of Congress have been invited to attend. The Convention is sponsored by American associations from Arab, Kurd, Chaldo-Assyrian, Iranian, Sunni, Shia, Christian, Sudanese, Maronites, Mauritanian, Berber, Aramaic, Jewish, and other backgrounds.
Also, four heavyweight Human Rights and Democracy groups are coming to witness the speeches. They are Freedom House, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the American Anti Slavery Group and Christian Solidarity International.
The Dinner speakers include:
Ms. Zainab al-Suwaij, American Islamic Congress
In sum, the alternative voice of Middle Eastern Americans is rising. Americans and others will at last be able to bear witness to a captivating and vital moment of post 9/11 history, where Arabs of all walks of life come together to show their solidarity against terror.
[Zinda: Dr Walid Phares is a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington D.C. He is also a Professor of Middle East Studies and Religious Conflict in Florida and a terrorism expert with MSNBC]
The Next Iraqi War
Saddam refused coffee and chocolates, but a painting of a woman drawing water from a tree-shaded river caught his eye—Dawood’s brother, who was serving on the front in the Iran-Iraq war, had painted it—and the President claimed it as a gift. The Dawoods are Assyrian Christians, not Arabs, and when Saddam addressed Luna’s mother in Arabic she replied in English, which she’d learned from the British managers of the Iraqi Petroleum Company before it was nationalized by the Baathists, in 1972. “That time is gone,” Saddam scolded her. “You must learn Arabic.”
A Presidential trailer was parked in the Dawoods’ garden, and neighbors lined up to go inside for a private audience with the President. Saddam’s close adviser and half brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, presented each petitioner with three thousand dinars from a bag full of money. To her everlasting regret, Dawood was too timorous to enter Saddam’s trailer. Her younger sister Fula did so, and emerged with both the cash and a job at the oil company. One of Dawood’s cousins entreated Saddam to release his brother, who was serving five years in prison for comparing the face of a top Baathist official to that of a monkey; Saddam replied that he couldn’t interfere with the judicial system. Then he came out of the trailer to tell the assembled residents that Iraq was at war with Iran to protect the purity of Iraqi women from Ayatollah Khomeini’s rampaging troops. The helicopters took off, and everyone assumed that Saddam had left Kirkuk.
But the trailer remained in the Dawoods’ garden; their phone was cut off, and security men gathered in the kitchen. Without explanation, the family was told to spend the night on the second floor. At two in the morning, unable to sleep, Dawood went to the window and looked down at the garden. As if in a dream, she saw Saddam step out of the trailer wearing a white dishdasha. The next day, he was gone.
The President visited Kirkuk again in 1990. This time, his helicopter landed in the square in front of the municipal building. By then, Dawood was working there, as an accountant in the finance department. Saddam announced a campaign to beautify Kirkuk: the walled citadel—the oldest part of the city, situated on a plateau across the dry Khasa River bed from the modern city—was going to be cleaned up, beginning with the removal of the eight or nine hundred mostly Kurdish and Turkoman families living in its ancient houses. The next day, fifty million dinars arrived at Dawood’s office from Baghdad. She had forty-five days to dig through title deeds, some dating back to 1820, and pay compensation to displaced homeowners.
The process of emptying out the Kirkuk citadel was the climax of a forty-year campaign known to Iraqis as Arabization. Beginning in 1963, and continuing up to the eve of the American invasion last year, the Baathist regime in Baghdad deported tens of thousands of Kurds—some Kurdish sources put the number at three hundred thousand—from Kirkuk and the surrounding region, forced other ethnic minorities from their houses, and imported similar numbers of Arabs to Kirkuk from the south. Dawood’s job in city government, which she has held since the mid-nineteen-eighties, required her to distribute dinars to families forfeiting their homes, sift through crumbling property records, and handle the traffic of deportees at the municipal building. She was a bureaucratic expediter of ethnic cleansing.
I met Dawood during a trip to Kirkuk this summer. A slim, energetic forty-five-year-old, she is unmarried, and, unlike most Iraqi women, she wears Western clothes and carries herself with self-confidence. She has wide, startled eyes and the kind of strong nose seen on statuary from Nineveh, and when she talks about Kirkuk’s history under Saddam her anxious smile reveals a row of crooked teeth. “It was a tragedy I don’t want to remember,” she told me when we met in her office. She then proceeded to remember everything. “They were poor people,” she said. “Each one who came to take the money, in his eyes you saw the tractor coming to take his house.” Crowds awaiting deportation filled the hallway outside her office; women fainted. If the secret police instructed her to delay paying someone they intended to arrest, Dawood would quietly urge the reluctant man to leave Kirkuk without his money.
At the end of one long day, an old Kurdish farmer approached Dawood’s desk. She presented him with a consent form that granted the government ownership of his family’s land in exchange for several thousand dinars.
“I would like some water first,” the old man said before signing the document. Dawood gave him a glass. He drank the water, signed the form, and fell dead in her lap.
“The things I saw,” Dawood told me, “nobody saw.”
A few weeks before the American invasion in March, 2003, the government in Baghdad sent a secret order to officials in Kirkuk: immediately burn all paperwork related to the Central Housing Plan—the regime’s euphemism for the ethnic-cleansing campaign. The Baathists were meticulous record-keepers; outside the municipal building, officials torched three large garbage containers filled with papers, and the bonfire lasted for almost twenty-four hours.
Dawood decided to ignore the order. “I can’t burn these things,” she said. “How can we compensate these people if these documents are burned?” Her motives were not entirely altruistic. Dawood was a Baathist (a requirement of the job), and she wanted to protect herself against any accusations of misappropriating funds. She is also an admitted busybody. “You know, I put my nose in everything,” she said. “I want to know everything.” So she lied to her boss, and instead of burning the files she secretly transferred them by car to the house in Arrapha, which she still shares with Fula and another unmarried sister. Most of the documents are now kept on the roof of the municipal building, in an airless slant-ceilinged storeroom to which only Dawood has the key. A waist-high sea of paper and dust inside has yet to attract the interest of either Iraqi or American officials, although among the documents that Dawood salvaged are secret letters that expose the Baath Party’s sustained effort to transform Kirkuk from Iraq’s most diverse city into a place dominated by Arabs loyal to the regime. (The Arabization policy was never publicly declared.)
Since the American invasion, Kirkuk has become the stage of an ethnic power struggle. Some observers say that the city could be a model for national unity or could trigger a civil war; Kirkuk is compared to New York and, more often, to Sarajevo. How the new Iraq corrects the historical injustices recorded in Dawood’s files will reveal much about the kind of country that Iraqis choose to live in—or if it will remain a country at all.
Inside the storeroom, Dawood waded through the files and stooped to inspect them with a kind of wit’s-end affection, like a mother with too many unruly children. “Look—look—how many people?” she cried. “How could I work this all? Do you know how much I have in my mind? All this! All this! I must get it out!”
Kirkuk sits near the foothills of the Zagros Mountains, not far from the southern border of Kurdistan, an autonomous region that broke free of Baathist control in 1991. The vast oil fields outside the city constitute around seven per cent of Iraq’s total reserves. In part, the Arabization program was aimed at securing Baghdad’s authority over this valuable resource, but primarily Saddam’s regime was motivated by ideology. The history and demography of Kirkuk were an affront to the fascist dreams of the Baath Arab Socialist Party. Kirkuk is a dense, cosmopolitan city along a trade route between Constantinople and Persia, and its layers of successive civilizations had nothing to do with Arab glory. Around the city’s markets and the citadel, residents still live and move in close quarters, and a visitor finds the variety of faces, tolerant manners, public female presence, and polyglot street life of a mixed city. Kirkuk feels closer to Istanbul than to Baghdad.
One local historian, an elderly Arab named Yasin Ali al-Hussein, told me that Kirkuk was built by Jewish slaves of the Babylonian captivity; although scholars doubt this version, until the creation of Israel, in 1948, several thousand Jews lived in the city’s twisted back streets, many of them near the old souk at the foot of the citadel. An Armenian church dates from the first millennium. (Christians make up roughly five per cent of the population.) In the fourth century B.C., Xenophon noted the presence of an ethnic group that might have been Kurdish. Turkomans from Central Asia, ethnically distinct from Turks, migrated to the region about a thousand years ago. During Ottoman rule, which was established at the citadel in the sixteenth century and lasted until the arrival of British troops, during the First World War, many educated Turkomans became imperial officeholders. More than a century ago, Arab immigrants began settling around Kirkuk, mostly in the farmland west and south of the city; these “original Arabs” are distinct in almost every way from those imported by the Baathist regime. E. B. Soane, a British intelligence officer who travelled through Mesopotamia in the years before the First World War, observed, “Kirkuk is thus a collection of all the races of eastern Turkey—Jew, Arab, Syrian, Armenian, Chaldean, Turk, Turkoman, and Kurd—and consequently enjoys considerable freedom from fanaticism.”
Fanaticism is the legacy of Saddam’s Arabization policy. Every aspect of Kirkuk’s history is now violently contested. Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomans all make claims of ethnic primacy in a city where there are only pluralities. (According to the 1957 census, conducted before Arabization began, the city was forty per cent Turkoman and thirty-five per cent Kurdish.) Ali Bayatli, a Turkoman lawyer, insisted that his people were direct descendants of the Sumerians and therefore the first residents of Kirkuk, with unspecified rights. Kurdish politicians have two slogans designed to end any argument: “Kirkuk is the heart of Kurdistan” and “Kirkuk is the Jerusalem of the Kurds.” Arabs, meanwhile, are angry about the sudden loss of power that followed the removal of Saddam. Luna Dawood’s view of her city’s future is grim. “It will be war till the end,” she said. “Everyone says Kirkuk belongs to us: Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans. To whom will it belong? We want America to stay here and change minds—to teach what’s freedom, what’s human. That’s what our people don’t know. They are animals.”
Fifteen miles outside the city, on a road heading northwest, I met Muhammad Khader, a Kurdish farmer who was hoeing a vegetable garden next to a cluster of ruined-looking houses. Khader had recently returned to the area from Erbil, a city in Kurdistan, where he worked as a butcher. After the American invasion, he and his two wives, their ten children, and twenty-five other families followed American and Kurdish soldiers south into Iraq, with the goal of reclaiming Amshaw, their ancestral village, from Arab settlers. Khader, who wore traditional Kurdish pants, which are drawn tight at the waist and ankles but hang loose around the legs, took me up into the surrounding hills. It was spring, and the vivid green grass was studded with yellow wildflowers and blood-red roses, which are tragic emblems in Kurdish poetry.
“This was the village,” Khader said, pointing at a pattern of grassy humps on the hillside. Shards of terra-cotta pottery lay in the dirt. “That was our house,” he went on. “Exactly here.” Farther up the hill, a field of jagged headstones marked the village cemetery.
In 1961, the first phase of a long war between Iraq’s central government and Kurdish guerrillas, known as peshmerga, began. The rebel Kurds demanded linguistic and cultural rights, control over regional security and financial affairs, and authority over Kirkuk and its oil. In 1963, following the coup that first brought Baathists to power, Iraqi soldiers attacked Amshaw and other villages. Khader was three years old. “I remember it like a dream, a bad dream, with children crying and people fighting and dying,” he said. The villagers fled north, and were forced to retreat all the way to Erbil. Amshaw was razed. In the ensuing years, the lands around Amshaw were distributed to Arab tribes from the south, and new houses were built for Arab settlers.
I asked Khader if his family was ever compensated for their loss.
“Are you making fun of me?” he said, staring in disbelief. “They took everything. You see how I am now? That’s just how we left—no blankets, nothing.”
Sabiha Hamood and her husband are Arabs who moved their family to Kirkuk from Baghdad in the late nineteen-eighties, lured by a free house and ten thousand dinars. “Arabs like us are known as the benefitters,” Hamood said. “We came here just to live in a house. My husband used to work in the Ministry of Housing, but it wasn’t enough money to buy a house.” Like Hamood, the overwhelming majority of the benefitters are Shia, and many were employed in the military, the state security apparatus, or the civil service. The house offered to Hamood’s family was in a middle-class Turkoman neighborhood called Taseen, across the road from the Kirkuk airbase. Hamood convinced herself that the former owner of her house had been handsomely compensated and bore no grudge.
Several doors down is a two-story house that once belonged to the family of Fakheraldin Akbar, a Turkoman woman who works with Luna Dawood in the finance department. One day in 1988, the family received a government letter declaring that a railroad was going to be built through the neighborhood. “They gave us three days,” Akbar recalled. “On the second day, policemen were standing outside the door. We took our furniture and went to stay with an aunt who lived along the road to Baghdad.” The family was awarded a sum that represented less than a quarter of the value of the house. The railroad was never built. Four or five years ago, attending a funeral in her old neighborhood, Akbar decided to go and look at the house for the first time since the family’s eviction. “I said to myself, ‘Let me just walk past the door. I won’t speak to them—why should I? I don’t know them, they don’t know me.’” The benefitters who were given the house had painted over its beautiful wooden front door.
Ethnic cleansing in Kirkuk proceeded in piecemeal fashion, but the Baathists were following a master plan. Their goal was to make Kirkuk a predominantly Arab city, with a security belt of Arab neighborhoods encircling it, especially along the vulnerable northern and eastern edges, which faced Kurdistan. Accordingly, Kurds were forbidden by law to build, buy, or improve houses in Kirkuk. Any Kurdish family that couldn’t prove residence in Kirkuk from the 1957 census had no legal right to live there, which meant that thousands of Kurds were displaced to refugee camps in Kurdistan or to southern Iraq. Some were given a choice: leave the city or become an Arab. This was called “correcting” one’s nationality, and thousands of Kurds and Turkomans agreed to undergo the humiliation in order to stay in Kirkuk or hold on to a job or obtain a business license. Meanwhile, one Kurdish neighborhood after another was torn down—allegedly, to widen a road, build a munitions factory, expand a base. After 1980, the teaching of languages other than Arabic was forbidden in city schools. Kurds and other non-Arabs were frozen out of government jobs; before the war, according to one Kurdish official, the oil company had eleven thousand employees, of whom eighteen were Kurds.
Development in Kirkuk was allowed in only one direction: south, toward Baghdad. The Arabization neighborhoods that arose have the lethargic feel of an overgrown village, where women are shrouded in black body-covering abayas; the new buildings were thrown up in graceless concrete along wide, empty streets. The few Kurdish and Turkoman neighborhoods in the center of town that survived demolition became choked with traffic and were deprived of parks, sewers, and public transportation. Over the years, ten or twelve families packed into dilapidated compounds that had been built for two or three families. The dried-up riverbed filled with garbage.
The climax of the regime’s persecution of Kurds came in 1988, when the decimation of Kurdish villages in Iraq’s northern mountains reached genocidal proportions and chemical weapons were used against civilians in Halabja. Toward the end of that year, the governor of Kirkuk wrote a letter to the Baathist official in charge of Arabization, Taha Yasin Ramadan, who, in addition to being a lifelong friend of Saddam’s, is a Kurd. (Iraqis know him simply as “the Butcher.”) This letter, which was among the documents that Luna Dawood salvaged, offers a report on an intensive phase of the ethnic-cleansing campaign in Kirkuk, from June 1, 1985, to October 31, 1988. “We would like to inform you that we have followed the strict orders and instructions that you made for our work, which pushed us to work harder to serve the citizens, the sons of the courageous leader of victory and peace, Mr. President the Patriot Saddam Hussein (may God save him),” the governor wrote. What follows is a detailed statistical account: 19,146 people removed from villages “forbidden for security reasons”; registration documents of 96,533 people transferred from Kirkuk to Erbil province in preparation for removal; 2,405 families removed from villages lying near oil facilities; 10,918 Arab families, including 53,834 people, transferred to Kirkuk from other provinces; 8,250 pieces of residential land and 1,112 houses distributed to Arab families transferred from other provinces. The letter noted that these removals, transfers, and distributions created a net gain of 51,862 Arabs in the province and a net loss of 18,096 Kurds during this period, making Arabs the largest group in Kirkuk for the first time. The final phase of Arabization was beginning, the governor reported in conclusion: “The displacement process from the city center is now taking its course.”
Two years later, just before the invasion of Kuwait, Saddam made his announcement outside Kirkuk’s municipal building that all human life be removed from the citadel. According to Gha’ab Fadhel, the director of Kirkuk’s archeological museum, who oversaw the bulldozing of dwellings, the purpose of the citadel project was simply to excavate and restore ancient monuments. The eight hundred and fifty Ottoman-era houses on the site were ill kept, unhygienically crowded, and mostly occupied by poor renters. “Their removal had nothing to do with politics,” he insisted. But the citadel was the heart of the city. On the Muslim holiday of Eid, Christians joined Muslims to celebrate at the Tomb of the Prophets, an ancient shrine where Daniel and Ezra are apocryphally said to be buried. On Christian holidays, the Muslims reciprocated.
At the souk near the citadel, the Turkoman owner of a women’s dress shop recalled that, years ago, the citadel was the site of many feasts. In the quiet of summer evenings, he said, the scent of grilled meat would drift down into the market. “From what I hear, Turkomans were living there,” he said.
“Why do you say that?” a Kurdish customer asked. “We were living there, too.”
Across the alley from the shop, a Turkoman woman selling shoes and purses told me, “We were the last family to leave the citadel.” Her father, a wealthy trader in seeds, had a large house by the western gate that overlooked the river. He built houses on the citadel for Jews whom he employed as scribes. “We had relations with so many people on the citadel,” she said. “Like family, not neighbors.” One day, Baathists knocked at the door: the family had a month in which to vacate their house. “The citadel was the most beautiful place,” she said. “My childhood was there. I see it every day.” She pointed to the remains of a stone wall, overgrown with yellow grass, just visible above the shops across the alley.
The last houses inside the citadel were destroyed in 1998. By then, nobody had lived there for eight years, and no one was allowed there except members of a Republican Guard unit, who were positioned on the citadel to suppress an uprising or attack. Last year, when a wave of Kurdish peshmerga and American Special Forces soldiers swept down from the north, the dream of Arab Kirkuk collapsed overnight.
A few weeks after the liberation of Kirkuk, in April, 2003, Jordan Becker, a twenty-four-year-old lieutenant with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was told by his company commander to sort out a problem in Arrapha, the neighborhood where Luna Dawood lives. Among the thousands of Kurdish deportees who had come back to Kirkuk to reclaim houses and land—in some cases chasing Arab occupants out, in others finding that the residents had fled—sixty-seven families were squatting in the fine houses that had been abandoned by top Baathist officials. These Kurds had been living for years in refugee camps in the hills around Suleimaniya, one of the regional capitals of Kurdistan. Becker, who had a shelf full of books on Kurdish language and Middle Eastern history in his tent at the American base, was given the mission to tell the Kurds that they had to vacate. At the first house that he visited, the wife swore that if the Americans made her leave she would set herself on fire.
Becker returned to the base and conferred with his captain. They decided that he should try again, but this time Becker, a blue-eyed Southern Californian who’s built like a cornerback, left his body armor behind; in this less threatening guise, he sat down with the family for two hours. “What I learned about these people is that they have a sense of history, and historic patience,” he said. “They have a sense of what’s best for their community, and when you convinced them that they were going to drive a wedge between their community and the Arabs, and between their community and the Americans, they realized they didn’t want to do that.” Becker’s argument to the Kurds was an abstract one: “If you have a house in a country that’s unstable and violent, then all you have is a house. But if you have a house in a country that’s stable and ruled by law, then you have a lot more than a house.” Then he made his approach in more concrete terms, telling the family, “Just because you won a war doesn’t mean you’ll get shit for free. If you support law over victor’s justice, though, you’ll be investing in the future of Iraq.” Becker smiled. “And they said, ‘That’s cool.’”
The Kurdish squatters left Arrapha. That was in the early weeks, when the Kurds regarded the Americans as saviors and were willing to postpone rectification a little longer. During my visit to Kirkuk this summer, the historic patience of the Kurds was running out. In his speech to the family in Arrapha, Lieutenant Becker had articulated the policy of the occupation authority better than any high officials had: old grievances must be settled with laws, not by force; until new laws are in place, the status quo has to be maintained. Yet, more than a year after the removal of Saddam, a legal mechanism for resolving individual property disputes has barely begun to function. As for a larger political solution to the status of Kirkuk, the occupation authority avoided the issue entirely, and the interim constitution signed in March by the former Governing Council declared that Kirkuk’s future will not be resolved until there is a permanent constitution. Meanwhile, the American forces in the city function, as one soldier told me, “like a bouncer in the middle of a nasty bar fight.” Kirkuk remains dangerously stalled, while facts that could force the most extreme outcome steadily accumulate on the ground.
Since the invasion, more and more Arabs have been uprooted from their homes. A report by the refugee organization Global I.D.P. puts the total number of Arabs displaced in the north at a hundred thousand, although the absence of international organizations in Iraq makes it impossible to reach an accurate count. Inside the bombed barracks and helicopter hangars of an Iraqi Air Force base northwest of Kirkuk, near the American base, I found a group of Arab squatters. Two old men who spoke for the fifty-two families there said that Kurdish fighters had chased them out of Amshaw, the small village that I had just visited.
“We have young men who believe Amshaw belongs to them,” one of the Arab men, Ali Aday, said. “I tell them, ‘My son, they say it belongs to the Kurds.’ They say, ‘How can it? We were born and raised in those houses.’” The old man pointed out that the number of Kurdish families who had taken over Amshaw was just half the number of Arabs who had fled—there were enough houses in Amshaw for twenty-five Arab families to return and live together with the Kurds. “We just want to know who will give us our rights,” Ali Aday said. American soldiers in the area had given the Arab refugees blankets and food, and told them to stay put until the problem could be sorted out by law. “Where is the government that will give us our rights? Is it from America? From the Iraqi government? We don’t know. It isn’t possible to just leave us here without our rights.”
A mile away, a forlorn camp of seventeen tents stood in a field next to a military pillbox. A ragged turquoise flag with a white crescent moon and star—the symbol of the militant Iraqi Turkoman Front—hung limply in the heat. The camp is also symbolic—the tents were empty—but a handful of men were standing watch. They were Turkomans who had been expelled in 1980 from Bilawa, a nearby settlement. They showed me copies of property deeds from 1938, black negative images of British documents; they also had Ottoman-era deeds, they said. Part of their property had been taken over by the Air Force base, and another part was occupied by a wealthy Arab, who refused to leave. The Turkomans also claimed the land where the Arab refugees were squatting in helicopter hangars. It was hard to imagine how all this could be worked out.
“The solution is for people to go back to where they’re from,” one Turkoman said. “Before Saddam, where were these Arabs? This is the solution, exactly. We want it just like before Saddam.”
On the other side of the city, hundreds of Kurdish families had taken up residence in the tunnels and under the grandstands of Kirkuk’s soccer stadium, which was built in a razed Kurdish neighborhood. On a dusty field beside the stadium, hundreds more families are living in tents. The director of a Kurdish refugee organization estimated that nine thousand families have returned to Kirkuk. Most of them were expelled from Kirkuk a decade or more ago—taken by government truck to the provincial border and dumped alongside the road—and have lived in refugee camps ever since. More of them are returning to Kirkuk every day—in August, by one account, five hundred people a day—even though living conditions are squalid and almost no help has been offered by the Americans, international aid groups, or the city government. A Kurdish man named Farhad Muhammad echoed what the displaced Arabs had told me. “I really don’t know who will give us a house, because there are many, many governments in Iraq,” he said. “We hope the new government won’t be like Saddam’s.”
Despite the lack of housing in Kirkuk, the Kurdish political parties have begun to accelerate the return of Kurds in advance of an Iraqi census and elections. Kurdish government employees in Suleimaniya have been told to return to Kirkuk, and have been promised that their salaries will be sustained until they find new positions. In Erbil this June, forty Kurdish families originally from Kirkuk were ordered to vacate the building in which they had lived for years as refugees and which a politically connected businessman plans to turn into a supermarket; they were given three thousand dollars apiece and sent back to their home town. In July, I found a number of them in Kirkuk, building simple houses illegally in the old Kurdish neighborhoods of Azadi and Rahimawa. Some Arab leaders claim that Kurds, including some who had never lived in Kirkuk, are moving to the city in an attempt to tip the ethnic scale. One of them called the effort “Kurdification.”
Meanwhile, Arab benefitters are leaving. Sabiha Hamood, the woman who moved with her family from Baghdad in the nineteen-eighties, sold her house this past spring, taking advantage of the inflated prices that wealthy Kurds are willing to pay for nice homes. In Qadisiya, a neighborhood in the south of the city that was built during Arabization, I met a group of Arab men attending a funeral. They took me back to a dingy cinder-block house, into which three families who had been forced from their homes were squeezed. In the immediate neighborhood, they said, a hundred Arab families had sold their houses to Kurds and left the city. The men were Shia, former policemen and soldiers, now unemployed and filled with grievances. Riyadh Shayoob, who came to Kirkuk from Basra in 1986, when he was five, had been driven from his house in a Kurdish area and been refused employment by the new Iraqi police force. He was making a meagre living selling trinkets in the souk, where he suffered contempt and threats from Kurds. Some of them, he said, mockingly sell CDs with images of Arab prisoners being tortured in Abu Ghraib. “They told me, ‘Go back where you came from. Don’t stay in Kirkuk,’” Shayoob said with a melancholy smile. “Before, I had Kurdish friends, but now they don’t support me. They’ve turned against us.”
Government jobs, I was told, now go almost exclusively to Kurds. The new governor and the police chief are Kurds, and all the television networks are in Kurdish; the Arabs are being driven out of the city, and they have no one powerful to back them—the long list of Arab complaints bore a striking resemblance to the predicament of the Kurds in Kirkuk under Saddam. To these men, the Kurds were now the benefitters. “There’s more injustice now than under Saddam,” a bearded, tough-looking man named Ethir Muhammad insisted. “Even if Saddam did these things, what’s our guilt? We did nothing to them.”
In Kirkuk, the Arab-Kurdish conflict has been intensified by the insurgency against the Iraqi government, which has recently grown worse: in the past few weeks, two car bombings in Kirkuk have killed at least forty people. The Kurds are often considered collaborators of the Americans, while many of the imported Arabs sympathize with the Sunni or Shiite resistance forces. Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, has claimed that the Kurds are Muslim apostates and face damnation; over the summer, several hundred Kurds fled to Kirkuk from Samarra and other Arab cities after being denounced in Sunni mosques as traitors. The Arab men in the cinder-block house were followers of Sadr’s representative in Kirkuk, whose mosque was raided in May by American soldiers. (They discovered a cache of weapons and arrested around thirty people.) All vowed to stay in the city. “Kirkuk has turned into a jungle,” Ethir Muhammad said. “If someone comes to force me to leave, then either I’ll kill him or he’ll kill me. This is the law of the jungle.”
Among imported Arabs, I heard various conspiracy stories—that mass graves dug by Saddam’s regime are in fact archeological sites thousands of years old, that the chemical weapons dropped on Halabja were actually sacks of plaster dust. (This theory was offered by a fireman employed by the oil company, whose house in Arrapha looks directly across a field at the former mansion of Ali Hassan al-Majid—known, ever since he directed the gassing of the Kurds, as Chemical Ali.) An Arab woman who is a retired teacher from the southern city of Kut said, “Iraq is part of the Arab nation, not the Kurdish nation. The Kurds are guests in Iraq—and they want to kick the Arabs out?” I seldom heard any acknowledgment of the crimes that Arabs had committed against Kurds in Kirkuk, or any shame at having been the benefitters. This only deepens the sense among Kurds, especially among the deportees who have returned, that it is not possible for them to live alongside imported Arabs in Kirkuk.
The Kurdish plan for Kirkuk is absolutely clear. All the imported Arabs must leave—even those who were born in the city. The government should compensate them, and perhaps find them land and jobs in their provinces of origin, but to allow them to stay in Kirkuk would be to endorse the injustice of Arabization. After Kurdish deportees have been resettled, and the province’s earlier demographic balance has been restored, the Kirkuk region will hold a census. (The 1957 census showed that the population was almost fifty per cent Kurdish.) The result of this upcoming census is a foregone conclusion to the Kurds: they will be the majority group in the province. Equally predictable is the result of the referendum that will follow: the province of Kirkuk will vote to join the autonomous region of Kurdistan, and the city will go with it.
None of this is stated in Iraq’s interim constitution. Article 58, which delineates “Steps to Remedy Injustice,” is purposefully vague about the future of Kirkuk. It calls for “the injustice caused by the previous regime’s practices in altering the demographic character of certain regions, including Kirkuk,” to be redressed. It states that “individuals newly introduced to specific regions and territories . . . may be resettled, may receive compensation from the state, may receive new land from the state near their residence in the governorate from which they came, or may receive compensation for the cost of moving to such areas.” (Not “must.”) The status of contested cities like Kirkuk will be deferred until after the census and a permanent constitution, “consistent with the principle of justice, taking into account the will of the people of those territories.” This bland language raises more questions than it answers. Does justice require only the restoration of confiscated property, or does it also require the restoration of Kirkuk’s demography to the period before Arabization? Wouldn’t forcing Arabs to return to the towns “from which they came” create new injustices and perpetuate the cycle of revenge?
Although there has been nothing like the apocalyptic communal bloodshed that some predicted, several demonstrations in Kirkuk have turned violent, and Kirkuk’s leaders have fallen victim to a campaign of assassination. Most of the murdered officials have been Kurds, though one was an Arab provincial councilman; a week ago, an Arab sheikh who occupied disputed lands around the village of Amshaw was ambushed and killed. Arrests are seldom made in these cases. Kurds in Kirkuk cast suspicion on Turkish intelligence agents; the Turkish government has repeatedly asserted that a Kurdish power grab in Kirkuk would be regarded as a prelude to an independent state and therefore a threat to Turkey, which has its own minority population of rebellious Kurds. In July, the Turkish foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, compared Kirkuk to Bosnia and issued a veiled warning: “Everyone is aware that this is the issue that could end up being the greatest headache for Iraq.”
Hasib Rozbayani is the Kurdish deputy governor for resettlement and compensation, the official responsible for the returning refugees. Rozbayani is a leading spokesman for the emerging policy of reverse ethnic cleansing. He spent years teaching social studies and statistics in exile in Sweden, and, with an unruly head of curly hair, spectacles, and a habit of mumbling questions to himself as he talks, he has a mild professorial air. When we spoke in his living room, he was barefoot and wearing sweatpants and an untucked shirt, and he kept absently picking up the automatic pistol that lay on the sofa beside him, then startling himself and setting it down again. Propped against his stereo system was a Kalashnikov.
Rozbayani left no doubt about the future of the imported Arabs. Their departure from Kirkuk is necessary for a variety of reasons, he said, including psychosocial ones: the Arabs suffer from guilty consciences, since most of them are criminals and former Baathists, which would make them uneasy about staying; they know they don’t belong in the city and have no friends among the other groups; their continued presence would be a provocation to Kurds, inciting social conflict. Moreover, unemployment is already too high in Kirkuk.
Those benefitters who haven’t left Kirkuk before the census and the referendum will not be allowed to vote there, Rozbayani said. He does not expect many Arabs to be living in Kirkuk by then. “They have to leave,” he said. Imported Arabs have to leave even if no one contests their house or land, because their fault is a collective one. After the census and the referendum on the status of Kirkuk, he told me, Arabs could return to the region—for a visit.
I told Rozbayani about a couple I’d met: the husband came from central Iraq in the nineteen-sixties; the wife is an “original Arab” whose family has lived in Kirkuk for generations. Their children have grown up with playmates from a mixed Kurdish-Turkoman family next door. What should happen to this couple?
“They have to return,” he said.
“The wife is a native of Kirkuk.”
“She can follow him.”
My questions struck Rozbayani as misplaced humanitarianism, and he threw them back at me. “Of course, I accept the idea of brothership and friendship,” he assured me. “But we know openly that the Arabs have taken lands, occupied lands, they have gone to every house to investigate people, execute people, take their sons, their girls—and you would say, ‘Welcome, Iraq is for all people’? It’s funny, I say.”
Much of Rozbayani’s and other Kurds’ unhappiness is directed at the American-led coalition. They expected something more than studied evenhandedness from the United States. A peshmerga now living in an abandoned house in Amshaw asked me, “Why, when the Kurds are your friends, do you now treat us just the way you treat other Iraqis,including the Republican Guard?”
The first representative of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Kirkuk, and the most influential advocate for the city with Paul Bremer, the head of the C.P.A., was Emma Sky, a slim, brown-eyed, thirty-six-year-old Englishwoman. Sky speaks some Arabic and once worked with Palestinians in the West Bank; though she opposed the invasion of Iraq, she volunteered to join the occupation authority. Upon arriving in Kirkuk, she saw that the most urgent task was to reassure alienated Arabs and Turkomans that the triumphant attitude of their Kurdish neighbors did not mean there was no future for them here. As Sky travelled around the province, her prestige among Arabs soared. Ismail Hadidi, the deputy governor and an original Arab, gave her his highest praise: “We deal with her as if she’s a man, not a woman.”
Sky believes passionately that Kirkuk can be a model for an ethnically diverse Iraq. “People have to move away from this zero-sum thinking,” she told me in Baghdad. “Kirkuk is where it all meets. It all comes together there. Yes, you can have a country of separate regions, where people don’t have to deal with other groups. But can you have a country where people are happy with each other, where people are at ease with each other? I think Kirkuk is going to tell you what kind of country Iraq is going to be.” Compared with the problems in Israel and Palestine, Sky said, Kirkuk’s can be solved relatively easily. “Kirkuk you can win. Kirkuk doesn’t have irreconcilable differences—yet.”
Over time, many Kurds began to regard Emma Sky and the C.P.A. as biased toward Arabs. When she met the Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani in Suleimaniya, he snapped, “They call you Emma Bell.” The reference was to Gertrude Bell, the British colonial official who lived and, it is said, took her life in Baghdad. Fluent in Arabic and in love with the culture, Bell was admired by large numbers of Arabs. After the First World War, she drew up the boundaries of the modern state of Iraq, in which Sunni Arabs became the holders of power and Kurds saw their dream of nationhood dissolved.
Nor did it help the Coalition’s cause that its scheme for untangling and redressing grievances in Kirkuk—the Iraq Property Claims Commission, which Sky was instrumental in setting up—didn’t begin to hear claims until April and still hasn’t issued its first decision. Azad Shekhany, a Kurd who once directed the commission, concluded that the whole thing was an elaborate stall to keep the peace, and he put the blame on the Coalition. “I understand they don’t want to send the Arabs back to their original places, but they don’t want the Kurds to be unhappy as well—so they just delay everything by bureaucracy,” Shekhany said.
The commission has received far fewer claims than anticipated—exactly 1,658 as of the July morning when I visited its offices, which were well-equipped and nearly empty. Two Kurdish women in billowing black robes—Jamila Safar and her mother, Khadija Namikh—were seated at a desk making a claim. In March, 1991, during the uprising in Kirkuk and the north that followed the Gulf War, Safar told me, her father died. On the day of his burial, March 13th, she and her mother returned from the cemetery to find their house surrounded by soldiers, Baath Party members, and men with masked faces who worked for Chemical Ali. “Are you Kurds or Arabs?” the men demanded. Everyone in the neighborhood was out on the street—Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomans, grouped by ethnicity. Tanks blocked the streets and helicopters circled overhead as the Kurdish men, including Safar’s older brother, were bound and taken away in buses. Safar and Namikh, along with other Kurdish women and children, were loaded onto a different set of buses and driven into the mountains, where they were dropped off and told to walk north. As the two women walked, they were bombed by aircraft overhead; several neighbors died in front of them. Safar and her mother stayed at the Iranian border for three months. When they ventured back to Kirkuk, their house—along with two thousand others in their neighborhood—had been destroyed.
“Thank God, all I found was dust,” Safar said. “Thank God for our safety.”
A staff lawyer was filling out a lengthy form for them. “Was the house brick or clay?”
“Brick,” Safar’s mother said. “Finish, please. I’m sick, I can’t wait.”
“Do you want to take the land, or do you want compensation?” the lawyer asked.
“We want the land,” Safar said.
The lawyer wrote this down, and the fact that they needed money to build a new house. “Why didn’t you go to the commission for people with damaged houses in 1991?”
“I did,” the mother said. “I gave them an application, but they didn’t give us anything.”
Ayob Shaker, an Arab man in his late thirties, came over and said hello to the two women with a shy reserve. He had once been their neighbor. On the day of the deportation, he had helped other Kurds in the area load furniture on the buses. He was also a soldier in the Republican Guard, and when he came back to Kirkuk from Baghdad after the Americans had deposed Saddam he found a group of peshmerga, including another former neighbor, occupying his house. Though Kirkuk’s property-claims statute was amended recently to allow Arabs displaced after the war to make claims as well, Shaker said that his children had been threatened by the peshmerga, and he was afraid to file for compensation.
“Believe me, nobody knows for sure, but mostly it’s the Kurds who are running the city,” he said. “For me as an Arab, if I want a job I have to get a paper from a Kurdish party saying I’m not a criminal.” Chance had brought him to this office on the same day as the two women he used to greet every morning on his way to work. He felt that the very injustice he had once seen done to them was now befalling him. “The same thing,” he said. “The government did it to them. The peshmerga did it to us.”
The women agreed, and there was a moment of good feeling between the old neighbors.
“Only God, and America, can solve the problem,” the Arab said.
What about the new Iraqi government? I asked.
“I don’t know,” the mother said. “Is there a government right now or not?”
The staff lawyer finished filling out the form. The daughter smiled and said, “I think there will be justice and our case will be finished.”
I asked the Arab if there would be justice in Kirkuk. He hesitated. “I don’t think so,” he said. “It’s very difficult. Those who are now in the city don’t understand each other. I am a son of Kirkuk”—an original Arab—“and for thirty-five years nobody could hurt us. Now I’m feeling upset, because of my house.”
I asked the women if Kurds would ever do to Arabs what Arabs had done to Kurds. “No, they won’t do that,” the daughter said. “Believe me, I swear to God they won’t do that.”
“They’ve done more than the Arabs,” Shaker said.
The daughter stiffened and eyed her former neighbor coldly. “How is that?” she asked.
“I know one person who made half a tribe run away from their houses in the city,” he responded.
The warm feeling was gone. The daughter pointed out that Shaker had already forgotten what had happened to the Kurds in Kirkuk. Abruptly, she excused herself and helped her mother out of the Iraq Property Claims Commission.
Because Kirkuk isn’t yet the scene of open combat, the city remains a hidden flaw in the broken Iraqi landscape. But what is now a local dispute between neighbors will soon become one of the greatest obstacles to making Iraq democratic and keeping it whole. In the summer of 2003, I had a conversation with Barham Salih, who was then the prime minister of the regional government in Suleimaniya. A strong supporter of the American invasion and of Kurdish participation in a democratic and federal Iraq, he was also mindful of his constituents’ ingrained suspicion of Baghdad and their longing for independence. For twelve years, Suleimaniya was one of the two capitals of Iraqi Kurdistan, a de-facto independent state under the protection of the Allied no-fly zone. A generation of Kurds grew up speaking no Arabic and feeling no connection to Iraq—and the idea of rejoining a country that not long ago visited genocide and ethnic cleansing on Kurds is, understandably, a hard sell.
“I want to assure my kids and the new generations to come that the new Iraq will be fundamentally different,” Salih said. “If the Arabs of Iraq do not have the courage to come to terms with the terrible past that we have had and make right those terrible injustices that befell my people, I would have extreme difficulty convincing the doubters in Suleimaniya’s bazaar that Iraq is our future.
I went to see Salih again this past June in Baghdad, on his first day as deputy prime minister of the newly sovereign Iraqi interim government. After a year of occupation and insurgency, his mood was darker, and his interpretation of the interim constitution on Kirkuk was uncompromising. “The indigenous people of Kirkuk, the original communities of Kirkuk, should be the ones who decide the fate of Kirkuk—not those who were brought by Saddam or any outside power,” he said. The imported Arabs were victims, too, “tools for a vile policy, for Saddam wanted to create the environment for a permanent civil war between Kurds and Arabs.” But, Salih added, “Kirkuk is not Bosnia, and in fact the Kurdish leadership has demonstrated the utmost restraint in the way that it has handled Kirkuk. In Bosnia, you’d have seen civil war.”
I asked Rowsch Shaways, a Kurd and one of two vice-presidents in the interim government, what would happen if the imported Arabs refused to leave Kirkuk. Would they be loaded into trucks and driven south to Basra and Kut?
“Well, there should be a continuous campaign to persuade them,” he said.
Wouldn’t the attempt to force Arabs out of Kirkuk lead to reprisals against Kurds living in Arab regions of Iraq? “No, it’s a different situation,” he said. “Kurds who are living in the south, they were coming here very normally, not through a campaign of changing ethnicity.” After the effects of Saddam’s ethnic cleansing have been reversed, “everybody can live where he wants,” Shaways said. “But before that you have to reverse the unjust policy that was done to strengthen the Baath Party and to change the ethnic composition of some regions.” The Americans have waited too long to resolve the problem of Kirkuk, he said, adding, “This is my opinion: Kirkuk is a part of Kurdistan.”
Of the top Kurdish officials, I imagined that the person who would find the question of Kirkuk most vexing was Bakhtiar Amin. He grew up in Imam Qasim, a once beautiful Kurdish neighborhood near the citadel, where homes with spiralled Ottoman columns have been allowed to decay to the point of collapse. Amin and his family were expelled from Kirkuk during Arabization; his relatives were jailed and tortured. Amin, who is forty-six, lived in exile for years, working as a human-rights activist in Europe and founding the International Alliance for Justice. Now he is the first human-rights minister of a sovereign Iraqi government. But, when we sat down in his spacious Baghdad office to talk about justice in Kirkuk, Amin made it clear that he was speaking as a Kurd.
After recounting the history of Kurdish oppression in great detail, the minister warned me that the situation in Kirkuk was becoming explosive. The Americans, who were overburdened by the daily chaos in Baghdad, Falluja, and Najaf, “want to keep the calm there—the calm of a cemetery.” Amin added, “It’s important not to be naïve with your foes and Machiavellian with your friends. Patience has its limits for victims as well.” The only solution, he insisted, was to return the demography of Kirkuk to what it was before Arabization, and help Arabs to resettle in the south.
I asked how he would answer an Arab youth who said, “Mr. Human Rights Minister, Kirkuk is my home. I don’t have another. Why must I leave?” Amin replied that he would introduce the young Arab to a young Kurd who had lost his house and grown up in a tent, and whose brother or sister had died of starvation or cold. He said that he would tell the young Arab, “Your father, your mom, they are from a different area and they came here and they took these people’s house, and this is what they did to those children. And I will help you to have a decent life where your parents came from.”
Earlier this year, Kurdish leaders had considerable success in shaping the language of Iraq’s interim constitution, which enshrined the rights of minority groups and envisioned a federalist republic with significant regional autonomy. Over the past few months, however, many Kurds have lost confidence in the effort to create a unified Iraq. They are increasingly alienated from their American allies, who always seem more ready to soothe the recalcitrant Arabs than the dependable Kurds. Several Kurdish politicians told me that a repetition of 1975, when the U.S. withdrew its support for the Kurds and abandoned them to the Baathist regime, now seems entirely possible. In May, the U.S. fuelled such suspicions when it yielded to a demand of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and left out any mention of the interim constitution in the U.N. Security Council resolution that blessed Iraq’s restored sovereignty. When it became clear that Kurds would get neither the Presidency nor the Prime Ministership, Kurdish politicians, including Barham Salih, were so incensed that they briefly withdrew from Baghdad to the north. On June 1st, the two Kurdish leaders, Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, sent a cri de coeur to President Bush that was subsequently made public. “Ever since liberation, we have detected a bias against Kurdistan from the American authorities for reasons that we cannot comprehend,” they wrote, and warned that if the interim constitution “is abrogated, the Kurdistan Regional Government will have no choice but to refrain from participating in the central government and its institutions, not to take part in the national elections, and to bar representatives of the central government from Kurdistan.”
The episode had the feel of an extreme reaction born of extreme experience, a kind of historical neurosis in which Iraq’s Kurds and Arabs both are trapped. Samir Shakir Sumaidaie, a former Governing Council member who was recently appointed Iraq’s Ambassador to the U.N., said that he understood why the Kurds had reacted so strongly. “I cannot blame a Kurd for feeling anger,” he said. “But I can plead with him to contain his anger, because angry people often do stupid things, and they end up hurting themselves. Arabs, on the other hand, must acknowledge the injustice that has been done to the Kurds. By acknowledging the injustice, you take the poison out of the system. I’ve told this to Arabs in Kirkuk: we must admit what was done in the name of Arab nationalism to the Kurds, and of which you were perhaps the unwitting instrument.” The Kurds’ anger, he said, will cool only when they begin to see justice done—“especially for the families that suffered most in Kirkuk.” When Sumaidaie makes these arguments to his fellow Iraqi Arabs, he told me, the response is grudging. “Nationalism ignites nationalism,” Sumaidaie said. “I think we should get away from nationalism and move toward humanism.”
On September 9th, Masoud Barzani escalated his rhetoric again, saying, “Kirkuk is the heart of Kurdistan, and we are ready to wage a war in order to preserve its identity.” A self-described Iraqi liberal who is an official of the interim government told me that more and more leaders are reacting to Kurdish threats with an attitude of “good riddance.” Keeping the Kurds happy, they think, might not be worth the cost. “The truth of the matter is, the Arabs of this country—eighty per cent of the population—are getting tired of these threats of secession,” he said. “And one day their answer will be: ‘Secede.’”
Nevertheless, during several visits to Kirkuk, I kept meeting citizens of every ethnicity who still wanted to live together and were willing to surrender part of their own historical claim to the city in order to coexist peacefully with other groups. The idea of a multi-ethnic city, I realized, is not just a desperate piece of cheerful public relations from American and British officials.
This summer, I met Muhammad Abbas, an Arab in his twenties, whose family had moved to Kirkuk when he was six; his father had been sent to the city to fulfill his military service. Abbas described the hurt of losing Kurdish friends after the war. “I don’t want to leave, because I’ve gotten used to this place, to the way of living here,” he said. He had recently been detained overnight by Kurdish police officials for having no ID card. “Maybe if this had happened during Saddam’s time I would have been locked up for days,” he said. “And a Kurd might have been tortured.” Abbas said he thought that Arabs and Kurds could live together in Kirkuk if the politicians allowed them to do so. “We’re human beings and they’re human beings,” he said. “In my opinion, the city of Kirkuk—the Kurds have every right to it. They have more rights in Kirkuk and they deserve Kirkuk. But still, we can’t just go anywhere and leave the house. Where would we live?”
On the other side of town, in the neighborhood of Imam Qasim, I met a young Kurdish engineer named Sardar Muhammad. He and his wife and children share a small house with his two brothers and their families. “If there had been no war, in fifteen years you would have found no Kurds at all in Kirkuk,” he said. When the American invasion seemed imminent, Muhammad went down into his basement and cut a square out of the plaster wall, behind which there was a concealed room. He planned to hide there if the Baathists started rounding up young Kurdish men, as they had done in 1991. Instead, the Baathists fled the city. Since the removal of Saddam, Muhammad’s family has built a new outhouse and extended the kitchen, and they filled it with new appliances. “It wasn’t that I didn’t have the money,” Muhammad said. “But I wasn’t sure I would keep this house. I didn’t know if I’d need the money in the future for food.” A few years ago, his wife dropped out of school, because there was no chance for a Kurdish woman who didn’t correct her nationality to find a job. After the liberation, she reënrolled and obtained her degree. “Before, we didn’t know when we’d be arrested or expelled,” Muhammad said. “Now we have hopes for the future.”
As for the Arabs who had once enjoyed rights and privileges that were denied his family, Muhammad was of two minds. It would be easier for everyone if they left. “But their kids, when they’re born here, there’s a kind of relationship to the land, and it’s not those kids’ fault that they’re in love with the place where they were born,” he said. “It’s unfair for them to have to leave.” The only reason for Kirkuk to join Kurdistan, he said, was that Arabs didn’t treat Kurds fairly. If the new government in Baghdad could insure that all Iraqi citizens would be treated equally, he would gladly live under its flag instead of in Kurdistan.
Kirkuk has suffered inordinately from bad ideas, and the old ones have engendered some that are new: the idea that the historical clock can be turned back forty years, or that Iraq can be carved up among its Sunni, Shia, and Kurds without enormous bloodshed and countless individual tragedies. The weakest idea in Iraq may be the idea of Iraq itself. As Barham Salih told me, “There is no Iraqi identity that I can push my people to today. I want to have an Iraqi identity, but it does not exist.” Samir Shakir Sumaidaie said, “To get away from what Saddam did, where ethnic identity is what mattered most, to a society where citizenship is what matters—that transition is not an easy transition. We have to make it, though.”
The obsession with ethnic identity may be the ultimate legacy of Saddam’s rule, his diabolical revenge on his countrymen. Nowhere can this be more strongly felt than in Kirkuk. “Saddam is gone, but we’re not through with him,” an Arab there said. “Even if he’s not here, it’s like he planted problems for the future.”
On my last evening in Kirkuk, I went to see the citadel with Luna Dawood. She wore high-heeled sandals; although her hair was uncovered, she had pinned it up as a gesture of respect. She had visited the citadel only once, in 1988; after the residents were removed and the houses destroyed, she developed an aversion to the place.
At sunset, we made our way through the souk, past little Kurdish shops that sold bread, yogurt, and ancient-looking tools, and then we followed an alley that led us to the top of the plateau. The citadel spread out before us, a vast and nearly empty field of dirt and dead grass and broken stones and scattered monuments. A pack of wild dogs roamed menacingly, and the sole human inhabitants were an old Turkoman and his family. They were squatting in the marble dwelling of a long-departed imam. The Turkoman told us that he had once lived in a house a few yards away. He brought his family back after the liberation of Iraq, and somehow he had been allowed to stay. “This is my original place,” he said. “I’m a poor man; I have nowhere to go. Where should the poor man go?”
We crossed the field, toward an octagonal gold-and-blue tower that an Ottoman pasha had built for his dead daughter, and the ancient clay minaret of the Tomb of the Prophets. Dawood, who had been walking in stunned silence, suddenly said of her fellow-Kirkukis, “They are stupid. They destroyed their history.” At the far end of the citadel, perched above the dead riverbed, was the abandoned house of the Turkoman woman who sold shoes and purses in the souk. Behind it, the orange ball of the sun was sinking. On one of the house’s walls, someone had painted, “Long live the Turkomans—they are crowns on the heads of the Kurds.” There was graffiti on other walls, too: “Kirkuk is the heart of Kurdistan,” “The citadel of Kirkuk is the sign of the Kurds,” and “The citadel of Kirkuk is a witness of its Turkomanness, whatever the conditions.” On the courtyard wall of another half-ruined house, someone had painted, “The Turkoman people are brothers with the Kurdish people,” but someone else had painted over “Kurdish people.”
“Ghosts are here,” Dawood murmured. “I can hear them in the night. Under the ground, my mother said when we were children, there’s a road from Kirkuk to Baghdad. Underground, there’s a door somewhere—for people who wanted to escape Kirkuk.”
Her disquiet grew as we approached the Tomb of the Prophets. “This isn’t the citadel I know. I told you, I came once before. But there was a road, and people. I don’t even know where that road was.” She said that she had come with three friends, one of them a Muslim, after she had a dream about the prophet Daniel.
We stood before the entrance to the alleged tomb of Daniel and Ezra. Down below, in the city, muezzins were beginning the evening call. I went inside the bare chamber and waited for Dawood to follow, but at the doorway she recoiled with a muted cry. I followed her out.
“It was gold!” she exclaimed. When she visited the shrine after her dream, the tombs and walls had been covered in gold leaf; all of it had been scraped off. “Now I’m feeling depressed,” Dawood said. “I can see the difference between that time and this visit. I can’t feel the holy mystery of the place. I’m even afraid to go inside.”
It was getting dark, and we started back. Dawood was silent again. Just before the opening to a path that descended to the souk, there was a square hole in the ground. She stopped. “I remember the well we just saw. I remember there were trees. Now I’m remembering—I visited this place as a child.”
Dusk had settled over the souk. The market stalls were closing up amid the last calls of prices, and the sweepers were cleaning up the day’s trash. Dawood spoke so quietly that she might have been a ghost herself. “What is a human being worth, if they steal such a place? Right now, being human means nothing to me. I’m very sorry you brought me to this place. I shouldn’t have come.”
The following individuals contributed in the preparation of this week's issue:
|ZINDA Magazine is published every Tuesday and Friday. Views expressed in ZINDA do not necessarily represent those of the ZINDA editors, or any of our associated staff. This publication reserves the right, at its sole discretion, not to publish comments or articles previously printed in or submitted to other journals. ZINDA reserves the right to publish and republish your submission in any form or medium. All letters and messages require the name(s) of sender and/or author. All messages published in the SURFS UP! section must be in 500 words or less and bear the name of the author(s). Distribution of material featured in ZINDA is not restricted, but permission from ZINDA is required. This service is meant for the exchange of information, analyses and news. To subscribe, send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.|
Zinda Magazine Copyright © Zinda Inc., 1994-2004 - All Rights Reserved - http://www.zindamagazine.com