27 Tishrin I 6754
18 October 2004
Z I N D A M A G A Z I N E
Our Moral Obligation
Pat yourself on the back! Your voice was heard loud and clear in Washington D.C. last week.
The Petition Campaign was a great success indeed. The result? See this week’s “The Lighthouse” & “Literatus” sections!
The article written by Ms. Nina Shea of the Freedom House Center for Religious Freedom and Dr. Paul Marshall’s testimony before the House International Relations Committee were the unswerving consequence of the lobbying efforts of an unyielding group of Assyrian volunteers.
Members of a few concerned Assyrian (Assyrian, Chaldean, and Syriac) organizations in the United States and several independent activists converged under a single objective to put forth the goals of the “Action Alert” which Zinda readers came to know so dearly last month.
This group, deserving our praises for their brilliant planning and teamwork, attended an important conference in Washington on 1 October (see Bravo) and met with several Congressional representatives that weekend. They produced several documents and maps, collected signatures, and showed up at the doors of the government representatives to communicate our ideas and anxieties.
Less than a week later, the four R’s noted in our earlier editorial (21 September 2004) were reflected in Ms. Shae’s article and Dr. Marshall’s testimony.
* * * * *
On Saturday, five more Chaldean and Syriac churches were damaged by a series of calculated bombings in Baghdad. No one was killed. ChaldoAssyrians of Iraq may not be the only targets of such bombings, but unlike their Moslem neighbors they still do not enjoy the protection provided elsewhere by the well-armed Kurdish and Shiite militia.
The attacks came at the beginning of the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, namely Ramadan. The bombs were planned to detonate before the start of the ritual fasting which commences everyday at sunrise. Ironically, this is the month during which the Moslem believers through fasting and self-reflection undergo a spiritual healing. The healing of the attackers began with the destruction of the Christian holy shrines.
History repeats itself. The Ottomans' committed a hideous genocide against the Assyrians, Iraqi monarchs massacred us, Saddam Hussein destroyed our villages and churches, and now the Moslem insurgents are terrorizing us by kidnapping and beheading our children and blowing up our holy parishes. For the last thirteen centuries Christians in the Middle East have suffered much oppression under intolerant regimes.
The attackers now are obviously not Iraqis. An Iraqi believes in the unity of his or her nation under a single purpose, an honor attributed to the people of Mesopotamia and their sophisticated culture. Neither are these attackers connected to the Mesopotamian values of progress and justice. They revel in attacking children and women while praying in churches and kidnapping little boys to finance their future attacks. Not much has changed since their glorious past fighting one other in the hot sands of Arabia.
The prospects of a free society in Iraq shakes the foundation of their immoral beliefs in the subjugation of the helpless and withers their clannish masters’ abundant coffers. Christians of Iraq represent decency, progress, innovation, freedom of thought, prosperity, free will, and everything else despised by the fundamentalist Moslems.
An internationally-recognized and protected safe haven for the defenseless Christians of Iraq is not just a good idea; it is the obligation of the free world for the protection of the oldest Christian nation in the world and the only remaining indigenous population of Iraq.
Surrounded by hostile neighbors, Assyrians are now compelled to defend themselves. Today, Moslems and Christians may be equally target of hatred in Iraq; but in a not so far a future this ignoble insult will be displayed against the ChaldoAssyrians alone. History attests to this truth.
Assyrians will stay in Iraq, to the dismay of these brainless executioners and their even less gifted title-holders. We possess a certain dignity that results from millennia of enjoying an advance culture and humanity unknown to these senseless murderers. For the last seven thousand years, we have been a light and a source of hope unto all the civilized nations of the world. We will not fall short of our martyred ancestors’ expectations now.
Clearly, ChaldoAssyrians of Iraq no longer wish to exist as the landless victims within their own ancestral lands. They do not want to be dependent on the kindness of strangers from across the oceans and from the lands nearby.
We may be stateless, defenseless, and small in number, but we possess something very sublime and inspirational that gives us a reason to survive the atrocities committed against us: we have a moral purpose to exist in the face of injustice and cruelty. We wish to defend our children, our home, churches, and our children’s future in Iraq.
No one dreams of a more powerful, democratic, and prosperous Iraq than Iraq’s ChaldoAssyrian citizens. A safe haven will protect our vulnerable masses, while the rest of us labor to rebuild Iraq as a beacon of optimism and success.
* * * * *
Every single signature, online or on a paper copy, was a point of light, a message of hope sent to the ChaldoAssyrians of Iraq – that we care for their safety and the future of their children in our ancestral land of Bet-Nahrain. Your unequivocal voices brought us closer to the reality of a safe haven in Iraq.
The political action group applauded above is tirelessly moving ahead in several U.S. cities and Washington D.C. Soon it will need more patrons and supporters – in the U.S. and in every country where the Assyrian struggle for justice and human rights is kept alive.
As in every political movement it was not an easy task to pull together a consensus of opinions on the common identity of the Syriac-speaking people in the Middle East, their names, etc. But these few alarmed groups and individuals put aside their differences and focused on the most important issue at hand: the safety of the Christians of Iraq.
As Assyrians (Nestorian, Chaldean, and Syriac) we must be outraged at the violent attacks on our churches in Baghdad. Our political groups everywhere must condemn these attacks this week and governments and churches be asked to join us in this condemnation.
We must also ask Moslems, Jews, and Christians in the U.S. to join our national organizations and churches to run an ad in the New York Times to publicly condemn terrorism directed at the Iraqi Christians during the month of Ramadan.
ChaldoAssyrians of Iraq are devoted to the unity of all peoples of Iraq in a free and democratic country. Assyrians in the Diaspora are similarly devoted to the protection and the safety of the ChaldoAssyrians of Iraq. Together we will participate in the reconstruction of the land between the twin rivers and help bring end to the dominion of the misguided assassins in our homeland.
Canary in a Coal Mine
Hundreds of Middle Eastern-American Christians gathered in Washington earlier this month to discuss events in their former homelands. One of the principal organizers, Walid Phares — a Lebanese-American scholar and activist with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies — had been working to build such an alliance since before September 11. About three quarters of Middle Eastern-Americans are Christians, but, divided along ethnic and national lines, they have had little discernable influence on foreign policy. Now galvanized by Bush administration initiatives promoting democracy in the region, Christians of Lebanese, Iraqi, Syrian, and Egyptian descent have come together to find their voice. This is a momentous time for these communities, which are neither Arab nor Muslim. At the Friday night dinner their enthusiasm was palpable.
Iraqi-American Christians — or "ChaldoAssyrian Americans," as they now prefer to be called, in recognition of the new solidarity between their Chaldean and Assyrian churches — came to the Washington summit in full force. Numbering about half a million in the United States, they are both exhilarated and apprehensive. They are exhilarated because America liberated Iraq after 35 years of tyranny. For the first time in that country's modern history, the ChaldoAssyrians are now explicitly recognized and given full rights as citizens under its basic law, the Transitional Administrative Law adopted under Coalition auspices last spring. This interim constitution provides them with basic rights to religious freedom, in contrast to the stunted confinement within church walls that characterized Christian expression during the Hussein era. It also recognizes them as a distinct "ChaldoAssyrian" ethnic group with full "administrative, cultural and political rights." This generation of Iraq's native Christians are daring to hope that there is a future for them in their ancestral homeland.
At the same time, they are apprehensive about the short-term survival of their community, citing church reports that due to terrorist attacks targeting the ChaldoAssyrian Christian community, as many as 40,000 of them have fled in the past two months.
Iraq's Christians have long been a persecuted and marginalized religious and ethnic minority. In August 1933, soon after the formation of the Iraqi state, several thousand Assyrians were massacred by the army in Semele and other villages north of Mosul. One Iraqi-American told me he came all the way from his home in California to the Washington conference in memory of his great grandmother and her mother, both of whom had been beheaded in the not-so-good old days. Over 200 Chaldean and Assyrian villages were destroyed under Baathist rule, especially during the Anfal campaign of 1987-88 when, as the Iraq-Iran war was winding down, Saddam Hussein undertook a ruthless military offensive against perceived domestic opponents in the north. In 1977, Hussein eliminated the Chaldeans and Assyrians from the census, forcing them to register as either Kurds or Arabs. Such attacks and relentless discrimination between the 1960s and the fall of Hussein regime drove a full half of Iraq's indigenous Christians into the diaspora.
An estimated 800,000 ChaldoAssyrians remain in Iraq and constitute the country's largest non-Muslim minority. They have found the last two months especially traumatic. On Tuesday, according to the Catholic press outlet, Fides, Islamic fanatics broke into a Chaldean Catholic home near Mosul and killed a ten-year-old boy while shouting, "We've come to exterminate you. This is the end for you Christians!" In prior weeks, ChaldoAssyrian workers were murdered for "collaborating" with the United States. Three others were kidnapped and beheaded. Christian girls were assaulted with acid for not wearing the veil. A Chaldean Catholic priest was forced at gunpoint in his church to convert to Islam. Christian homes were targeted by mortar attacks that killed and injured children sleeping in their beds.
Of course, as the country's first democratic election approaches, the security situation for everyone throughout the country has been volatile. Many Iraqis, irrespective of religion, have been attacked and threatened by terrorists. But Iraqi Christians are being targeted for their faith. They worry that this may be the beginning of either a jihad by Muslim extremists or an ethnic-cleansing campaign by Kurds, with whom they live in close physical proximity, or both. Their fears crystallized when five of their churches were bombed during Sunday services on August 1. It was reminiscent of a similar coordinated bombing attack on synagogues in 1948 — an attack that led to the mass exodus of Iraq's Jewish community.
Christianity in Iraq dates from the first century and the ChaldoAssyrians are the world's last remaining community to speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. The Assyrians are an ethnic group, the Chaldeans a religious designation; both groups indigenous to the Iraq region, their presence there predating Christianity. It was their ancestors who built the tower of Babel and some people in Mosul, ancient Nineveh, continue to fast each year in repentance as the Prophet Jonah exhorted them to do.
Most relevant for U.S. foreign-policy considerations, the ChaldoAssyrians form one of the most politically modern, skilled, and educated communities in Iraq today. An exodus of these Christians would substantially reduce Iraq's prospects of developing as a pluralistic and democratic society. Their leaving would be not only a "brain drain" but a "sane drain" as well. Without a sizeable non-Muslim minority, moderate Muslims who want to keep religion out of government — Iraq's silent majority — will encounter far greater intimidation in raising their voices against the imposition of medieval Islamic law, favored by Iranian-backed parties and clerics.
The ChaldoAssyrians are the canaries in the coal mine for the greater Middle East as well. The extent to which they are tolerated in the new Iraq is being watched closely by the Maronites of Lebanon, the Copts of Egypt, and other non-Muslim populations of the region.
Keeping the ChaldoAssyrians secure in Iraq should be a paramount concern for the United States. One way to help them can be found in the interim constitution. The Bush administration had the foresight to insist on including article 53D in the basic law — an overlooked provision that establishes the legal basis for creating an administrative unit explicitly for the ChaldoAssyrians, which could serve as a safe haven. The community needs U.S. help to create such a district, which should encompass the traditional community villages located near Mosul, in the Nineveh Plains. They believe that thousands of their members who have fled to other countries in the Middle East over the decades but are not permanently resettled could be persuaded to return to such a secure place.
The State Department should make the implementation of article 53D an urgent priority. It also must start providing directly to the ChaldoAssyrians the congressionally authorized funds needed to rebuild their destroyed villages, roads, schools, and clinics as well as to undertake start-up economic-development projects. Because State's funding practices favor Arab and Kurd groups, the ChaldoAssyrians have been shut out of U.S. reconstruction aid.
The next few months will be critical, as the Iraqi people undertake a census, elections, and the drafting of a permanent constitution. The State Department cannot afford to be indifferent to the persecution facing the ChaldoAssyrian religious minority. Doing so risks the demise of one of Iraq's — indeed the world's — most ancient cultures, and it undercuts President Bush's goal of building a more tolerant, democratic Iraq.
[Zinda: Nina Shea is the director of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom. Her article appears in the National Review's October 14th issue.]
Terrorists Attack 5 Churches in Baghdad
Courtesy of the Associated Press
(ZNDA: Baghdad) Blasts from five homemade bombs rocked five Christian churches in four Baghdad neighborhoods early Saturday between 4:20 to 6:00 a.m. Baghdad time-- as a string of violent incidents marred the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. No casualties were reported. In an apparently coordinated attack on the second day of the holy month of Ramadan, the church of Saint Joseph was hit at about 4:00 am followed by similar explosions over the next two hours outside four others.
Extensive damage was reported to St. George's Church (Mar Giwargis). Soldiers believe 60 pounds of explosives was used in that attack.
St. Jacob's Church (Mar Yacoub), St. Joseph Church (Mar Yosip), St. Thomas Church (Mar Toma), and the Church of Rome were also struck.
One of the buildings, the Chaldean Catholic Church of St. George's parish in the central Baghdad district of Karrada, was engulfed in flames, leaving the wood-built sanctuary completely charred.
"My family and I fled from the fire," said the church's priest Nabil Jamil Sulaiman, wandering around the mangled debris. "Thanks God, there were no wounded or dead."
On the wall inside the charred remains of the church could be made out some words from the Bible talking of the broken body of Jesus Christ.
Saturday's "explosions will no doubt push people to immigrate," said the Rev. Raphael Qutaimi, acting bishop of the Syrian Catholic Church. "But this country has been ours for thousands of years. Our ancestors shed blood defending it. We mustn't leave it."
He and all the dozen Christians interviewed Saturday said the attacks were not the work of Muslim Iraqis, but foreigners.
"The foreigner is trying to create division and enmity between Christians and Muslims. We must stand hand in hand and heart to heart and not give the outsider cause to divide us," Qutaimi said.
"They want us to leave Iraq," said Surah Samaan, a 25-year-old lab technician, referring to the attackers.
Merchants who sell liquor are usually Christians, seen as a transgression by hard-line Muslims.
No one has claimed responsibility for the church attacks.
In August, insurgents launched deadly attacks on four churches in Baghdad and one in Mosul. Pascale Isho Warda, a ChaldoAssyrian who is the interim government's Minister for Displacement and Migration, estimated as many as 15,000 out of Iraq's nearly 1 million Christians have left the country since August
Those attacks were blamed on the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi terror network. Two weeks ago, men armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles killed seven Christians leaving their jobs at a social club in Baghdad.
But Yonadem Kana, secretary general of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, said the general security situation of the country had chased away many Christians.
"They figure instead of staying and paying $50,000 to kidnappers for ransom, they can spend $5,000 in Latakia or Damascus," he said, referring to two cities in neighboring Syria.
He said more than 100 Christians had been murdered after the U.S.-led war, including 35 liquor vendors and others who worked for coalition forces. About 200 more have died in the general violence that has gripped Iraq. Insurgents have been targeting many Iraqis who are seen as helping the U.S.-led forces, and extremist militiamen have often targeted people in occupations seen as breaking Islamic rules.
Never in Iraq, Kana said, had a church been attacked, not since the days of the Mongols, who massacred 800,000 of Baghdad's residents and destroyed the city in the 13th century.
For the first time in their lives, Widad Mikho and her sister Neshwan will not attend Mass on Sunday, too frightened after a series of church bombings in Baghdad.
But fear will not keep Dana George away. "It would be better to die in church than anywhere else," she said.
Neshwan Mikho, 46, has been cleaning the Saint John's Church in the working class neighborhood of Bataween every Saturday for the past seven years undeterred by rain, sandstorms or even shellings. "But today, I was afraid to go when I heard the news," she said.
She said she and her sister, Widad, 60, who lives with her, will not catch the 6:30 a.m. bus that takes them to church every Sunday.
"I am sad in my heart because tomorrow I will not be attending mass," said Widad, a Chaldean Christian. "They are denying us what is most important thing in our lives."
She has been living in a state of near paranoia since the August church attacks. At night, she said, she wakes up four or five times to look out the window to make sure no one's standing outside.
"We are targets from both sides - for being Iraqis like everyone else and for being Christians in particular," said Widad, a retired nurse.
She and her sister would like to leave for good for Australia, where their two other sisters live. But they cannot afford it.
"What can we do? They are shelling our church, they might break into our homes tomorrow and the next day force us to wear the veil," Widad said.
Christians Talk of Leaving Iraq After Church Bombs
Courtesy of Reuters
(ZNDA: Baghdad) Explosions that damaged five churches in Baghdad have prompted some Christians to wonder whether it's time to leave their ancient homeland.
''If they don't want us in Iraq, let them say it and we will leave,'' said Samir Hermiz, 40, standing next to a church that was reduced to ashes. ''I'm really thinking of leaving Iraq.'' The series of explosions caused no casualties but they further unnerved Christians already shaken by coordinated church bombings that killed 11 people in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul in August.
There was no immediate word on the identity or motives of the assailants who struck five churches, including a Roman Catholic church in Karrada that was gutted in the attack.
Iraq's Christians had little power under Saddam Hussein's rule but they did not feel threatened by sectarian violence.
Now Christians feel they have no protection in a country where the interim government is struggling to quell the bloody chaos of suicide bombings, shootings and kidnappings.
Like others in his community, store keeper Nabil Khawam believes ''Christians are the true Iraqis'', but he fears they can no longer risk staying.
''We are a minority and we have no power. We are peaceful people. If attacks continue our numbers will decline,'' he said.
''They are infidels...infidels... They have no faith,'' Kamil Shabo, a 40-year-old labourer, said of the bombers.
''It is a religious sanctuary, how could they attack a religious place?'' If he gets the chance to work abroad, Shabo said he will leave Iraq and never return.
After independence in 1932, the Iraqi military massacred Assyrian Christians in villages around Mosul for what was seen as their collaboration with former colonial power Britain.
Some Christians, like former Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, a Chaldean, rose to prominence under Saddam.
After the latest bombings, Christians fear they may no longer be welcome in the land they believe their ancestors inhabited for about 2,000 years.
Housewife Khamina Nanno, 24, was always proud of her faith, studied the Bible every Friday at the now-ruined Catholic church in Karrada, as well as attending weekly mass.
''They want to create a sectarian war and unrest between Islam and Christianity,'' she said, wiping away tears as she surveyed the destruction.
''I will come tomorrow for the mass. I don't care if I die. At least I will die in a place of worship and go to Paradise.''
Assyrian Boy Beheaded, Burned in North Iraq
Courtesy of Bahzani.net & Ankawa.com
(ZNDA: Mosul) On October 5 the Christian residents of Ba'asheeqa and Bahzani, near Mosul in north Iraq, were shocked when they discovered the body of Fadi Shamoon. The 'Aaid Khidir Shamoon family was devastated as they witnessed the body of their 15-years-old son, who was found burned after he was beheaded.
Fadi was kidnapped while he was riding his bike, which his father had given to him as a present, in the 'Ain 'alaq orchards in Ba'asheeqa around 12:00 noon.
His body was treated in the most barbaric way; he was mutilated, burned, and thrown in the Ba'asheeqa-Teez Kharab road in front of al-'Azzawi ranch.
Earlier, Ba'asheeqa mourned another victim, Julian Afram Yacoub, aged 14, when he was hit in the head with a concrete block and then burned.
The murderers have been targeting innocent children, which are forcing many Christians and Yezidis to flee their homes and villages.
Vatican News: Life is a Nightmare for Christians in Mosul
(ZNDA: Mosul) "The situation is serious. Christians live in constant fear of being attacked, kidnapped, and killed by radical Islamic groups of terrorists. Once Mosul was a quiet town; now life is impossible," an Iraqi Catholic nun--who asked not to be named for the safety of the community--told Fides, Vatican's official news agency.
"Armed groups of Islamic fundamentalists break into homes of Christians to kill and steal. This is also because we know that in some mosques Imam teach that it is not a crime to kill a Christian," the frightened nun told Fides.
The nun speaks out of personal experience. "This is a manhunt for Christians, and life is a nightmare. Not long ago one of my relations was taken hostage and kept tied up and blindfolded for 5 days without food. They tortured him to convince him to convert to Islam. He refused, and eventually the family paid ransom money, and he was released. But many other less fortunate people who were kidnapped were killed."
"All our families feel threatened. The situation is chaotic and Christians are an easy target because they do not react with violence, they are unarmed. Our families are too afraid to send children to school and the women hardly ever leave the house. One of our Chaldean priests was threatened and forced to move away because he held a funeral for a Christian youth who was killed. In fact many Christians are leaving for Syria, Jordan or the Kurdish region of northern Iraq."
"There is total anarchy in the absence of police and civil authorities. Many fundamentalists are known to all but no one does anything. Our peaceful Muslim neighbours can do nothing. All we can do is pray."
In 2003 Fides reported several episodes of Islamic fundamentalist pressure on Christians in Mosul. A year ago, after months of threats, the Chaldean Catholic bishop's residence in Mosul was attacked by a group of armed men. The bishop had received many letters threatening Christians with death if they did not convert to Islam. After the attack Christian religious leaders appealed to all the people of Mosul to isolate the extremists.
Sunni Cleric Threatens Jihad Against Iraqi Christians
(ZNDA: Baghdad) U.S. forces stepped up operations on October 12 across Sunni insurgent strongholds in Ramadi and supporting Iraqi troops in raids on seven mosques suspected of harboring terrorists, storing illegal weapons caches, promoting violence, and encouraging insurgent recruitment. U.S. aircraft attacked a mosque after insurgents hiding in the shrine opened fire on American Marines, the U.S. military said.
According to Reuters, the U.S. military raided a Sunni mosque in western Baghdad and said it had seized arms and explosives in an operation that sparked an angry Muslim protest. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, a U.S. military spokesman, said U.S. troops had conducted the operation after a tip off from Iraqis and netted a wide array of weaponry to be used against occupying forces facing a relentless insurgency. "Over recent months, the U.S. 1st Armored Division has received numerous reports from Iraqis that the al-Tabool mosque was being used for criminal and terrorist activities." He said troops, led by the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and the Iraqi police, had found several sticks of high explosives, hand grenades, AK-47 rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Meanwhile, demonstrations erupted in Baghdad to protest U.S. military raid on another capital mosque and detention of a number of prominent Sunni scholars. Sheikh Mahdi Al-Someidah, a member of the Supreme Authority for Religious Guidance and Awareness (A newly-founded Sunni Gathering), was detained along with 20 of his followers and worshippers in a massive sweep that lasted for six hours. The protestors called for holy struggle against the American occupation forces during prayer at the Ibn Taimiya mosque in the Yarmuk district of Baghdad.
Certain fundamentalists and Islamists took advantage of the sensitive situation and repeated their threats against the Christian population in Iraq. The Arabic Al-Jazeera Satellite TV broadcasted on 10/12/2004 the news of the raid of the mosques. Muhammad Bashar al-Fayadh, a Sunni cleric who is member of the Muslim Scholars Association, a prominent group made up mostly of Sunni clerics, threatened to declare a direct war on the Christian minority in Iraq due to the actions of the American crusaders, their presence, and attack on mosques.
Women Fleeing Baghdad University Under Islamist Threats
Courtesy of the Washington Times
(ZNDA: Baghdad) Islamist extremists are targeting the city's universities by threatening and even attacking female students who wear Western-style fashions, setting off bombs on campuses and demanding that classes be segregated by sex.
At least 1,000 of an estimated 3,000 women who want to postpone their studies for fear of violence will be granted leaves of absence, a student affairs official here said.
Guards at al-Kindi University in Baghdad last week arrested a man carrying nearly 10 pounds of TNT in a bag.
"The terrorist admitted that he belongs to an Islamic group," university security chief Sameer al-Sumaidai said. "When we asked him about the one who sent him, he replied, 'It is God who sends me.' "
Pamphlets found on campus declared: "If the boy students don't separate from the girl students, we will explode the college. Any girl student who does not wear a veil, we will burn her face with chemicals."
At Mustansiriya University, a bomb exploded earlier this month in the college of sciences, injuring two students, one seriously.
The explosion occurred shortly after pamphlets also appeared on that campus demanding that men and women students be separated and that women abandon Western clothing and cover their heads when in public.
Two days later, student Rana Fuad was abducted as she was leaving the campus. Within an hour, the young woman, still dressed in blue jeans, was found unconscious at the college gate.
Miss Fuad stopped going to classes and refuses to talk to the press.
"Rana is in bad psychological condition," friend Sheatheh Ahmed said. "She was kidnapped by three masked men who told her they would burn her face with chemicals if she puts on such clothes again, and that this was her last chance."
The campaign of intimidation already is leading to an exodus of students from campuses.
"According to the reports of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, 3,000 women students want to postpone their studies for this academic year because of the lack of security and the threats," said Ali Abdul Zahra, the official in charge of student affairs in Baghdad.
He said the ministry will approve leaves of absence for at least 1,000 women.
Some female students feel obliged to wear the veil when going to and from school for fear they will be identified and targeted by terrorists watching outside the gates.
Even non-Muslim women, who are not normally expected to cover their heads in a strict Islamic society, do not escape the threats, students said.
Vian Kiryakus, a Christian electrical-engineering student at Baghdad University, wears a veil outside the college when waiting for her father to give her a ride home.
"I have no choice but to wear the veil; the terrorists keep watching and targeting the unveiled girl students," Miss Vian said.
"The terrorists get more powerful day by day," said Fadwa, a Christian chemical-sciences student at Baghdad University who asked to be identified only by a single name. "They can put their threats into practice. I'm afraid of them because I know what they mean by 'chemical liquid.' "
The threats and attacks are causing resentment even among female students who already wear the veil out of religious conviction.
They say that whether to wear the veil should be a choice, not enforced by compulsion or fear.
Rasha Yaqoob, a Muslim and an engineering student at Baghdad University, has for seven years chosen to wear the veil.
"It in uncivilized to impose wearing veils on the girls; it is anti-women's rights and undermines their role in leading the Iraqi society," she said.
Said another engineering student who also wears a veil: "These [terrorist] elements are foreigners from Syria and Jordan. Why don't they apply these rules in their countries, where corruption and improper fashions are prevailing?"
Mar Delly : "We Must Stay in Iraq to Build Peace"
Courtesy of AsiaNews
(ZNDA: Baghdad) "Iraq is our country, our homeland: why should we leave, why should we not stay?" Though saddened by this latest episode of violence against Christians, the Catholic Chaldean Patriarch, Monsignor Emmanuel Delly, stresses that terrorism has struck and continues to strike Muslims as well. Monsignor Delly reaffirms that Christians are firmly resolved to remaining in Iraq and to building, along with their Muslim brothers, a future of peace for their country: "This is our homeland: at the moment, dark clouds are crossing over it, but they will surely pass. Peace will return to this martyred land."
In an interview with AsiaNews, the Catholic patriarch confirms that there was extensive damage but no victims in last night's attack against churches.
"Just as they have attacked mosques, they attacked churches also, but we thank the Lord that no one was killed or injured. There is a lot of damage to property, but no victims.
An attack carried out at the hour makes one think of a demonstrative act.
Indeed, I think so. The attack occurred at 4:30 a.m. and the church at that hour was deserted, as everyone was asleep. There was certainly material damage, but that can be fixed: what counts is that there were no victims.
Who stands to gain from attacks against churches?
These are inhumane acts, but on behalf of Iraqi Christians, I ask everyone to pray that those who do such things see the light. We must work together to build peace and the good of our country.
This is a significant moment for Muslims: Ramadan has just started...
Their homes too have been attacked, therefore these difficulties are shared by both groups and by all those who want peace. Religion is in favour of God and peace, not violence . . .
Do you think there will be an increase in violence during the month?
Let's hope not, because the month of Ramadan is a chance for reflection and prayer. I really hope it will be a month of tranquility and stability and that such episodes of violence never happen again.
What do you ask of us, as Catholics, and of the West in its entirety?
I would like to make an appeal: I ask you to pray for Iraq. All I ask is prayer, because nothing else can prevent such acts of violence from happening again in the future. May the Lord touch the minds of these people, those who do not want the good of Iraq.
Plight of Christians Provokes Calls for Special Protection
Courtesy of the Inter Press Service
(ZNDA: Washington D.C.) While the successful penetration by suicide bombers, who killed ten people, including four U.S. nationals, of the carefully guarded ’’Green Zone’’ in downtown Baghdad grabbed headlines here this week, another measure of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq came from a more-surprising source.
In an article published Thursday in the on-line edition of the right-wing ’National Review,’ an influential neo-conservative activist appealed to the Bush administration to create a ’’safe haven’’ within Iraq specifically for Iraq’s estimated 800,000 Christians, or ’’Chaldo-Assyrians’’, 40,000 of whom are believed to have left the country since the U.S. invasion in the face of growing persecution.
The creation of such a zone, which is contemplated under the interim constitution approved by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) earlier this year, could curb the growing exodus and might even persuade some who left to return, according to the author, Nina Shea, the director of Freedom House’s Centre for Religious Freedom. ’’The community needs U.S. help to create such a district’’ which should encompass the traditional community villages located near Mosul, in the Nineveh Plains’’, according to Shea. ’’They believe that thousands of their members who have fled to other countries in the Middle East over the decades but are not permanently resettled could be persuaded to return to such a secure place’’.
She also called on the State Department to begin providing reconstruction aid directly to the Christian community in the region, and not just to Arab and Kurdish groups living in the region. Calling the Chaldo-Assyrians the ’’canaries in the coal mine for the Great Middle East’’, Shea, who enjoys good relations with the Bush White House, noted that ’’the extent to which they are tolerated in the new Iraq is being watched closely by Maronites of Lebanon, the Copts of Egypt, and other non-Muslim populations in the region’’.
Like the Chaldo- Assyrians, the Maronites and Copts are Christian. Her appeal echoed those of a number of Iraqi-American Christian groups which met here earlier this month in a concerted effort to draw attention to their co-religionists’ communities which has deteriorated sharply since the U.S. invasion. ’’Widespread and systematic abuse of human rights and targeted killings of Christians continue every day in Iraq, mainly in the Kurdish-controlled areas in the North, Mosul, and Baghdad’’, asserted a letter to the U.S. Congress sent by the 70-year-old Assyrian American National Federation (AANF) late last month. ’’
As a result of such atrocities, some 40,000 Assyrians have already fled Iraq since July of this year’’. ’’Iraq, once the centre of the earliest Christian Churches in the world, may soon be cleared of its Assyrian population, the only indigenous people of that country -- ancient Mesopotamia’’, warned the letter, which also called for Congress to earmark five percent of total reconstruction aid for Iraq ’’for the safety of the Christian population and the rebuilding of their villages’’.
Communities of Christians have indeed inhabited modern-day Mesopotamia virtually since the dawn of Christianity 2,000 years ago. Most are Chaldeans, or Eastern-rite Catholics, whose native tongue is Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Most of the other Christians are Assyrian, who belong to different denominations, including the Ancient Church of the East, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Chaldean Church, and Protestant churches. The remainder consist primarily of Syrian, Armenian, Greek Catholics; Armenian and Greek Orthodox; and, Mandaeans, who are followers of John the Baptist. Historically, the Chaldeans and Assyrians have been concentrated in the Mosul area, although many left seeking economic opportunities in other regions.
During successive periods of ’’Arabisation’’ in the post-colonial era, and particularly under Ba’athist rule, some Christian communities, like other non-Arab groups, particularly Kurds, were displaced in order to make way for Arabs, especially from the southern part of the country. According to the last national census in 1987, Iraq had some 1.4 million Christians, but most sources estimate that 800,000 at most remain in the country of some 23 million today.
Most of the emigration took place after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 when U.N. sanctions brought intense economic hardship on middle-class families, in particular, a disproportionate number of which are Christian. As the sanctions continued to weaken the middle class during the 1990s, tens of thousands of Christians emigrated to nearby Arab countries, notably Syria and Lebanon, Europe and North America.
Under Saddam Hussein, Christians, particularly Assyrians who were sometimes referred to as Christian Kurds, suffered from forced relocations in the north, and, like Kurds and Shiites, were banned from organising political parties. At the same time, they were welcomed into the Ba’ath Party (which was co-founded by a Christian) and were permitted to rise, as did then prime minister Tariq Aziz, to senior posts. The regime did not interfere with their religious practice, and, in some cases, even provided subsidies to churches.
With the rise of Islamist sentiment, even before the U.S.-led invasion last year, Christians grew increasingly concerned about their fate in Iraq. Popular pressure induced the regime to adopt Islamic slogans, build mosques and even introduce a ban on alcohol, which hit the almost exclusively Christian liquor-store and restaurant owners particularly hard.
On the eve of the war, Pope John Paul II, along with a number of Iraqi Christian clerics made private and personal appeals to the Bush administration not to go to war, in major part because of their fears that the aftermath could expose the community to much greater risks and persecution. ’’The concern is that Christians will disappear’’, Bishop Pierre Whalon, an episcopal official working with the Chaldean church, told the London-based ’Financial Times’ on the eve of the war. ’’The present regime gives them some tolerance; who knows what the next one will do’’.
Those fears, which were broadcast before the war by U.S. Christian denominations but pooh-poohed by the neo-conservatives and other hawks before the war, now appear to have been well-grounded. Christian liquor-store and restaurant owners and their families have been attacked -- sometimes fatally -- in predominantly Muslim towns and cities, while last August, five churches in Baghdad and Mosul were blown up in a co-coordinated series of bombings. At the same time, wealthier Christian families have been targeted for kidnapping by criminal gangs.
Christians have also come under attack by Kurdish militias in the north, including Mosul itself, where Kurds have clashed frequently with Arabs and other minorities as they have tried to extend their control to ’’Arabised’’ areas which they consider to have been traditionally Kurdish. ’’They worry that this may be the beginning of either a jihad by Muslim extremists or an ethnic-cleansing campaign by Kurds, with whom they live in close proximity, or both’’, wrote Shea, who said the administration ’’cannot afford to be indifferent to the persecution facing the Chalo-Assyrian religious minority’’.
The result has been an exodus of an estimated 40,000 Kurds so far, most of whom have emigrated to neighbouring Syria. At the same time, many others from Baghdad and the south have reportedly tried to move back to their traditional homeland near Mosul, particularly around Dahouk, Zakho, and Irbil. It is this area that, according to Shea and the Christian Iraqi-American, should be carved out and given special protection as contemplated by section 53(D) of the CPA-approved Basic Law, on which the interim government, however, has not yet taken a position.
Synod of Chaldean Church in Baghdad Postponed
Courtesy of AsiaNews
According to Father Najim, “it is clear that these attacks were carried out to stop Sunday’s religious functions,” adding that “they are the work of shadowy foreign forces, not Iraqis.” “Iraqi Muslims do not strike at their Christian brothers,” he said. “Instead, these terrorists came from outside to force Christians out of the country”.
Fear is noticeable in the voices of the eyewitnesses of last night’s attacks. “We heard a loud bang and when we went out in the morning we saw that our church was seriously damaged,” said Najwa (not her real name), a member of Saint Thomas Chaldean Parish in the Mansour district. “We are scared. We have not gone to mass in our church since last August for fear of attacks,”
Najwa added. “Luckily, no one was near the building and so no one was hurt. But it was a big blow; the church suffered serious damages.”Iraqi Christians now fear for their safety. “We see posters glued to walls and find flyers saying: ‘Christians, get out!’ What are the Catholics of the world doing for us?” Najwa asked. “Every day, a Christian gets killed, churches are attacked, and yes: We are scared,” she emphasised.Things are indeed changing for Christians, not only in Baghdad but in other parts of Iraq as well.
In Mosul, for example, the beginning of Ramadan has meant that Christian women must, too, cover their heads and wear clothes to hide their bodies. Bushra, a Christian student said that Islamic terrorists warned her school’s principal that female students must come with their heads covered.Some Iraqi Christians are certain that last night’s attacks are related to recent statements made by Muhammad Bashar al-Fayyaadh, an imam who claims to speak on behalf of the Commission of Iraqi Ulemas.
Speaking recently on al Jazeera Hasad al yawm programme, Al Fayyaadh accused Christians of not having condemned US raids against some mosques in Ramadi (western Iraq). US forces justified their action claiming that “well-known terrorists were using the mosques as hideouts and as depots for the weapons used against the Iraqi people”. A spokesperson for the US army in Iraq reiterated that “our soldiers never enter mosques but leave that task to Iraqi police”.Quoted on a local Christian website, Patriarch Delly condemned the action stating that “Christians and Muslims are part of one great Iraqi family. What happens to some happens to all”. Despite claims to the contrary, some Iraqi priests and religious men did write a letter condemning the violence in Ramadi.
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Mar Dinkha's Celebrations Untimely
Sargon Y. Yonan
In these most critical of times when tens of Assyrian are being killed in Iraq just because of their being identified with their Christian religion, the Patriarch of the Church of the East, Mar Dinkha IV, was organizing and hosting a celebration in honor of his consecration anniversary.
How can a religious leader who proposes to be taking up the Cross of Christ in self-denial and sacrifice for Christ's sheep be celebrating when his spiritual children are being slaughtered in their own centuries-old homeland? Is this the sign of a 'true' shepherd; I think not.
If the Patriarch, and all of the our bishops for that matter, preach the Gospel of Christ and ask us to follow his teachings, then why is it that they do not lead the way and show us how to follow our Lord?
This is truly a shame for the whole of the Church of the East, and most especially shameful for the Patriarch to be celebrating in the midst of so much strife, chaos and death in his homeland. Or is it that the Patriarch simply does not consider Iraq his homeland any longer simply because America is much more comfortable and safe?
Anyone with the least bit of common sense and knowledge of his Church will know that the seat of the patriarchs has always been in Baghdad, once the capital of the caliphate, and not in Morton Grove!!! Yes, America is very comfortable and after having lived there for over 20 years it is very difficult to leave it, but then what about the sons and daughters in Christ who have been suffering in Iraq for over 30 years now?
Does the Patriarch not care for them, or maybe is a short-term visit every so often sufficient for His Holiness? And if His Holiness says that he needs to remain close to doctors because of his heart condition, there are doctors in Iraq too. Or rather, if he is ill maybe he should just resign his office and hand it over to another who is well enough to lead and guide the Church!
It is equally saddening and shameful to know that a few weeks back when our bishops met in Chicago for their so-called 'synod' not a word was said about the suffering of our people in Iraq. Not a single statement or prayer for those forgotten sheep. What kind of pastors and spiritual fathers are they? Is a synod supposed to be composed of eating and drinking, rather than discussing the needs of the children of the Church -- especially those in distress and whose very lives are in danger?
I call upon Patriarch Mar Dinkha to cancel his annual celebrations, and make October 17 a day of prayer and supplication to God so that our suffering fellow-Assyrians in Iraq may have their lives spared. His Holiness has been holding his self-centered celebrations for so many years; it is now about time he began thinking about and caring for his children in Iraq. The sign of a true leader, especially a Christian one, is sacrifice and giving oneself up for others...
Selective Reading Deceives Readers
John Joseph, Ph.D.
A few years ago, I pointed out on the Assyrian Forum that Fred Aprim had misrepresented the source that he had cited--Hagarism, by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook. He had totally ignored information from that book that contradicted what he quoted from it. I wrote to ask why not tell the readers all that Crone and Cook had said on his subject. The following was Aprim's response on the Forum : "Joseph, I will NOT be that person who propagate[s] ANTI Assyrian material. I will leave that to others...", not realizing that he had just admitted that his information, which he wanted to base on the authority of two distinguished scholars, was deliberately falsified. If Aprim thought that Partricia Crone and Michael Cook were "ANTI Assyrian," intellectual integrity demanded that he either ignore their book, or give his readers the whole truth and then proceed to correct his source with his own evidence. Instead, he quoted their book out of context in order to confirm something that Patricia Crone and Michael Cook did not write or believe in.
Last month one of Fred Aprim's "posts" on the Forum and Zinda caught my eye; it started with these high-minded words: "It is very unlikely that an educated nation would fall in a deceitful trap, because an educated nation is a conscious nation and an informed nation is rarely misguided. Therefore, our people must continue their efforts to educate themselves and undo the mistakes of the past."
With some hesitation I read on. In his effort to educate, Aprim proceeded with a history lesson on the Christian villages of northern Iraq, starting with "Tel-Kepe" (Telkaif), a place that his sources presumably told him "was inhabited by the remnants of the Assyrians." Alqosh, likewise, was not only the seat of the patriarchs of the Church of the East for many centuries, but also "an Assyrian city since time immemorial."
>From the above and other details noted below, Aprim concluded with these "Final Thoughts." "Alqosh," he wrote, "must be joined with the other Assyrian towns in the Nineveh plain, such as Karamlesh, Bartella, Baghdeda, Baqufa, Tellosqof, Batnaya, Tel Kepe, and others as a special administrative region, within the Republic of Iraq, for the Assyrian Christians." History has proved, he "informed" us, that this is the only way that can guarantee the survival of the indigenous Assyrians on their ancestral lands."
I am not interested here in Aprim's personal opinions--right or wrong--but in what he attributes to his sources. Let us look at a few of his references; three of them are lumped together in one brief paragraph. He begins it with "Xenophobe" [for Xenophon--an understandable error].In Aprm's own words:
"Xenophobe in 401 B.C. writes that the Greek army crossed the Zab River northeast of Nimrud. The army then passed by Karamlesh (according to Fletcher, 'Notes from Nineveh,' Philadelphia, 1950"--[the date should be 1850, not 1950] ) and continued on and went by a town near Maspilla (Mosul), where they gathered provisions. [S]cholars believe that the town in question near Mosul was Tel-Kepe. Ainsworth (died 1622) declares that Tel-Kepe was inhabited by the remnant of the Assyrians."
1. Xenophon does not "write" that the Greek army crossed the Zab River northeast of "Nimrud." He never heard of Nimrud nor does he mention it in his celebrated memoir Anabasis. He called what we now know as its site, "Larisa" and described it as "deserted."
2. Mespila is not Xenophon's name for Mosul. He identified, again, what we now know to be the site of Nineveh, as Mespila. He and his troops passed by its "ruins." The names Nineveh, Mosul, , or "Kermalis", used by Fletcher, are not mentioned in Anabasis. There is no mention also of 'Assyria' or 'Assyrians.' even though he and his "Ten Thousand" passed through geographical Assyria. He referred to the two famous Assyrian cities of Nimrud and Nineveh as Median cities, "inhabited in ancient times by the Medes." Throughout his memoir, he refers to ancient Assyria as Media. [See Xenophon's Anabasis, III.2,25--p.265 of the 1998 edition. ]
Let us remember that the Greek general and his troops passed through Assyria a little over 200 years after the downfall of the Assyrian empire. For about fifty years that followed, the country was ruled by the Medes, one of the members of the "coalition" that had invaded Assyria. The Greek army lived off the meager fat of the land for weeks. They gathered information from villagers and prisoners that they had held. Apparently, for these natives the defeat of the Assyrian empire was too far back in the distant past to be retained in their collective memory as part of the local lore.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The name 'Assyrian' eventually came to life when Christianity reached northern Mesopotamia, especially when the Hebrew Bible--which spoke extensively of the ancient Assyrians--was translated into Syriac; this was over 800 years after Xenophon had passed through these lands.[For details, see Modern Assyrians, pp. 22-27. ]
4. Aprim speaks of "Ainsworth (died 1622)"; he most probably is referring to William F. Ainsworth, born some 200 years later. In 1840 Ainsworth was sent, together with Christian Rassam, on an expedition jointly sponsored by the British Geographical Society and the Society for Promotion of Christian Knowledge. They were to make inquiries concerning Kurdistan and its people, and to look into the life of the "Christians in Coordistan." In the two-volume book that Ainsworth published in 1842, titled Travels and Researches in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Chaldea and Armenia, he says nothing about the Eastern Christians being "the remnant of the Assyrians." [ I will be glad if I am corrected on this.] What he reported was that these Easterners considered themselves "Chaldeans"--"descendants of the ancient Chaldeans of Assyria, Mesopotamia and Babylonia."
Fletcher also referred to "Kermalis" as a large "Chaldean" village; actually, all Catholic villages are referred to as Chaldean and he uses it to name their ethnicity--he refers in one instance to someone as looking "More English than Chaldean." The facial features of the Persian Christians [of Urmiyah ] could be traced, according to Fletcher, to the Magians (Persians & Medes).[ J. P. Fletcher, Notes from Nineveh , pp.172,188, 224. For details and reasons why the name "Chaldeans" was used as distincet from "Assyrian", see Ainsworth, vol. 2, p.272; Modern Assyrians, pp.3-9.]
Let us look at some other liberties that Aprim takes in the misuse of his sources. Speaking of "the region of Dohuk," he claims that it "was suppose[d] to be assigned to Assyrians per the recommendations of the Special Commission of the League of Nations when the Iraqi-Turkish frontiers were being discussed in the 1920s." These Special Recommendations say nothing about "assigning" land to the Assyrians, who.to the League of Nations in the late 1920s and early 1930s, were those followers of the Church of the East who had found refugee in Iraq after World War I. The Chaldean and Syrian Orthodox communities were not a part of these negotiations, nor did they want to be. Only the Patriarch of the Church of the East, Mar Eshai Shamun, waa involved in the deliberations with the League of Nations which centered around the future of the entire province of Mosul. What the Special Commission specifically said about these Assyrians was the following:
"Whichever may be the sovereign State [over the province of Mosul, Turkey or Iraq], it ought to grant these Assyrians a certain local autonomy, recognizing their right to appoint their own officials and contenting itself with a tribute from them, paid through the agency of their Patriarch." [ For details see Modern Assyrians, pp.175-194.. ]
Another book that Aprim grapples with is David Wilmshurst's imposing work,The Ecclesiastical Organization of the Church of the East, 1318-1913. For a great deal of his information on the Christian villages of northern Iraq, Aprim depends on this valuable resource; it covers many of these villages as well as the various dioceses of the Church of the East, its monasteries, etc. Wilmshurst also has extensive demographic data on a large number of these Christian centers from the nineteeth century on. According to Aprim these villages have been "demographically Assyrian for centuries," yet Wilmshurst's massive study of over-800 pages, covering some 600 years, says nothing about "Assyrians." The Syriac documents that Wilmshurst had consulted refer to "Suraye Madenhaye" which he translates as 'East Syrians,' meaning Arameans, a usage established as far back as the third century B.C. when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, and almost 1,000 years later, into Syriac. Instead of explaining to his readers why he found Wilmshurst's translation of 'Suraye' into 'Syrian' wrong, Aprim silently substituted 'Assyrian' for 'Syrian' and offered only a sly verbiage to justify his sneaky translation: "Suraye Madenhaye" became "Eastern Assyrians or Syrians as used by some theologians"--informing his readers that only "some theologians" translate "Suraye" as 'Syrians.'
Here again, I am not interested in what Aprim's preferred translation of 'Suraye' is; important is the misrepresentation of David Wilmshurst's monumental work. Nowhere does Wilmshurst tell us that "these [Christian] villages have been demographically Assyrian for centuries.," as Aprim claims. Aprim, like everybody else, knows better than to say that only "some theologians" translate Suraye into Syrians. Are all the Syrian Orthodox and Catholics, or all scholars of Syriac language and literature, theologians? And what does Aprim have against theologians? Haven't some of world's leading scholars in the field of Semitic studies been theologians? [ For details on the meaning of 'Suraya' and the history of its usage, see Modern Assyrians, pp. 9-15. or ask for a copy of those pages.from email@example.com ]
Aprim wrote that "an informed nation is rarely misguided." A corollary of his maxim would be more to the point: "A misinformed nation is always misguided." That, sadly, has been our lot for a very long time, and those who misguide us have been our "educated," some of whom, as we have seen above, deliberately hide or distort the information that they pick-and-choose for us.
I would like to end with the final paragraph of a piece that I wrote in Zinda in 1999:
"I seriously believe that the single most important problem facing our Assyrian community and the
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World Maronites Condemn Attacks on Iraq Churches
Sheikh Sami Khoury
Dr Walid Phares
The World Maronite Union and the American Maronite Union, on behalf of more than 8 million Maronites around the world, including in Lebanon, the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, Latin America and South Africa, considers such acts as an aggression against all Christians in the Middle East. The Terrorists behind these cowardly acts against churches aim at emptying Iraq from its native Christian population, the ChaldoAssyrians and other Christian minorities. This Jihadist aggression not only targets the endangered Christian community of Iraq, but the entire multiethnic reality of the country and its emerging democracy.The Maronite Union stand by their brothers and sisters in Iraq and calls on Christians around the world to pray and act so that a special protection be extended to the ChaldoAssyrian people of Iraq.
The World Maronite Union and the American Maronite Union will initiate a call for an emergency meeting in Washington DC with representatives of the Iraqi Christian communities and international organizations to study the appropriate measures to protect the endangered Christian communities in Iraq.
Testimony of Dr. Paul Marshall Before the House International Relations Committee Hearings on the U.S. State Department 2004 Religious Freedom Report
[Zinda: Dr. Paul Marshall is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom, Freedom House. The following is an excerpt related to Iraq from his testimony delivered on 6 October 2004].
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for inviting Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom to testify at today's hearings on the State Department's Country Report on Religious Freedom.
At the outset, I wish to express our deep appreciation for these important hearings, and for your dedication to ensuring that religious freedom concerns remain a force in U.S. foreign policy.
Such oversight is vitally important both in mobilizing appropriate foreign policy tools by American policy makers, and in sending a powerful message to governments throughout the world that the American people are not indifferent to violations of religious freedom wherever they may occur. The State Department Report constitutes the most detailed religious freedom compilation in the world.
This year's report reflects a monumental effort on the part of the Office of Religious Freedom. They and all the American Foreign Service officers throughout the world who contributed to it deserve to be commended. We will make critical comments about the Reports, but this should not obscure the fact that they are an important contribution to the field of human rights.
One criticism of the Report is that it at times soft pedals criticism of U.S. allies or of countries in sensitive situations. Indeed, on February 18 of this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that the State Department reports were "sometimes skewed toward the governing administration’s foreign policy goals and concerns." I share this criticism but believe that such skewing is diminishing. One way this shows is in the designation of Saudi Arabia as a country of particular concern. Another is in its more critical view of the situation of Coptic Christians in Egypt.
However, we are concerned that Turkmenistan has not been designated a "country of particular concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act.
Perhaps the most frequently cited problem with the Reports is that their findings do not always correspond to American policy action.
While there are various underlying explanations, part of the problem is attributable to the Reports themselves. Many of the Reports contain an overwhelming and unselective compilation of facts and information without reaching definitive conclusions, or conveying a sense of priority.
Fundamental human rights problems are obscured in a welter of detail. Severe violators may be hidden in an avalanche of information. For example, the report on Germany is as long as the report on Sudan, and longer than the one on Eritrea.
There is a need to give real focus and priority designation in a report of this magnitude and type. Prioritizing who are the worst violators, and, within each country report section, which are the most fundamental human rights problems, is important to ensuring that appropriate focus and concerted attention is given by the U.S. State Department, Congress and, as well as non-governmental human rights groups.
The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act’s requirement that the Administration not only to produce an annual report, but also to designate egregious religious persecutors as "countries of particular concern" goes some way to filling this gap.Such a designation also triggers under the Act a Presidential announcement within 90 days of what policies the Administration will adopt to improve religious freedom in the countries in question. The shortcoming of this mechanism is that the designation has not led to any additional sanctions.
For understandable reasons the Report does not deal with Iraq, but I believe that it is vital to address the situation of the religious minorities there. Of course, many Iraqis irrespective of religion have been attacked and threatened by terrorists and everyone’s security needs to be assured.
However, the especially vulnerable Christian minority has been targeted for their faith. Consequently, we are particularly concerned about the current situation of the ChaldoAssyrian community in Iraq. The Iraqi government and the media report that a mass exodus of ChaldoAssyrians, the native Christians from Iraq, is now underway due to targeted religious violence against them.
Beheadings, kidnappings, and assassinations have been documented in recent months, including in September when six ChaldoAssyrian workers were murdered in Baghdad for "collaborating" with the United States. According to reports of the Catholic relief group, Aid to the Church in Need, over the past 18 months, more than 80 Christians have been killed at the hands of Muslim terrorists and extremists, 20 of which murders occurred last month.
In September in Mosul, terrorists kidnapped and beheaded a 30-year-old Chaldean Christian, a manager of a small gift shop – the third recent beheading of members of this community. In the last month, Christian homes in the small village of Bakhdeda between Kirkuk and Mosul suffered two mortar attacks that killed and injured children sleeping in their beds. On August 1, Islamic extremists bombed five churches in Mosul and Baghdad during Sunday worship services.
In the face of such savagery, according to Iraqi government records, 40,000 ChaldoAssyrians have fled over the past two months, especially in the immediate aftermath of the August church bombings. This pattern is reminiscent of the bombing of synagogues in 1948 that eventually led to the flight of virtually the entire Iraqi Jewish community.
An estimated 800,000 ChaldoAssyrian remain in Iraq and constitute the country’s largest non-Muslim minority. They form one of the nation’s most moderate and educated communities. The "ethnic-cleansing" in Iraq of its Christians would diminish the country’s prospects of developing as a tolerant, pluralistic and democratic society.
Without a sizeable non-Muslim minority, moderate Muslims may encounter far greater intimidation in raising their voices against the imposition of the strict Islamic law favored by some prominent Islamic parties and clerics.We urge congress to ensure that the following specific measures are taken on behalf of the ChaldoAssyrians of Iraq:
The next few months will be critical ones as the Iraqi people undertake a census, elections and constitution writing. If the ChaldoAssyrians are now treated, as they often have by the great powers of the past, as one more inconvenient minority in the Middle East who must be sacrificed to the greater good of mollifying Arab, Kurd and Muslim sentiment, the United States will have presided over the demise of one of Iraq’s, indeed the world’s, most ancient religious groups and peoples. We will also have undercut our goal of reconstructing a more tolerant, democratic government in Iraq.
In conclusion Mr. Chairman, we would like to thank you holding these important hearing and for this opportunity to appear before you.
Middle Eastern Christian Conference: Safeguard the Assyrians of the Nineveh Plains
Assyrian International News Agency
The Middle Eastern American Convention for Freedom and Democracy in the Middle East (MEAC) convened in Washington DC on October 1, 2004 under the sponsorship of the Lebanese Christian, Coptic, and Assyrian (also known as Chaldean, and Syriac) communities including organizations such as the American Lebanese Coalition, US Copts, and the Assyrian American National Federation (AANF). The organizers of the convention explained the two fundamental reasons for bringing together the indigenous Christians of the Middle East together. First, the grouping of Assyrians, Copts, and Lebanese Christians was designed to highlight the common pressures, persecutions, and crises commonly shared by the indigenous communities of the Middle East and to underscore the widespread, regional basis of their circumstances. Secondly, the convention sought to demonstrate that because of the disproportional persecution suffered by the indigenous peoples of the Middle East, over three-quarters of Middle Eastern Americans are indigenous Christians and are neither Arab nor Muslim.
The keynote speech on behalf of the Assyrian community was presented by Mr. Robert Dekelaita, a self-described ChaldoAssyrian. Mr. Dekelaita is a prominent human rights attorney in Chicago and on the executive committee of the Assyrian Academic Society (AAS). Mr. Dekelaita described the growing crisis facing ChaldoAssyrians in Iraq and the need for the safeguarding of the Nineveh Plains in northern Iraq as an administrative region for ChaldoAssyrians. In the context of the convention's theme of advocating freedom, democracy, and pluralism in the Middle East, Mr. Dekelaita emphasized that preserving the ChaldoAssyrian presence in the Nineveh Plains as a vibrant part of the Iraqi mosaic was the "litmus test" for safeguarding minority rights in general throughout the Middle East. Echoing the same sentiment, Ms. Nina Shea of Freedom House likened the ChaldoAssyrians in Iraq to "canaries in a coal mine," and urged all to support the community in their struggle for survival. Mr. Michael Meunier, one of the organizers of the convention from US Copts also appealed that all organizations present should concentrate their efforts on the ChaldoAssyrian community in Iraq that was currently most at risk.
The following individuals contributed in the preparation of this week's issue:
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