29 Tishrin II 6754
19 November 2004
Z I N D A M A G A Z I N E
Our Homeland from Secularism to Islamism
Dr George Habash
The current geopolitical cheese and chalk state was formed after the bargains and horse trading between the two allied powers following the armistice of 1918.
The state formed was made biased to the main beneficiaries of the central Arabs bestowed by one benefactor as a reward for the Hijazi war efforts in one hand and as a continuation of the status quo inherited from the Ottomans in the other hand.
Although the state’s doctrine obliged that ‘Islam is the religion of the state’ but the society at large remained secular with guaranteed ‘freedom of worship’ if not necessarily the ‘freedom of ‘religion’ for other beliefs.
The structure of the state and the relation between ‘the church and the state’ remained unaltered even after the declaration of the Republic in 1958 because the military leaders who brought down the monarchy were all nationalists and nominally Muslims apart from one who confessed higher brand of zealot Islam-Abd Alsalam Aref.
The Republican era opened a new chapter in the emancipation of the society and brought massive progress in the domains of education for all sexes, health, equality and a leap in social openness.
The leader of the First Republic Abd Alkarim Qassim was liked by Christians (mostly Assyrians by nationality apart from the Armenians) and this leader had attended the induction of an Armenian Church during his rule which lasted from 1958 to 1963.
But towards his twilight years in power the city of Mosul became stubbornly anti-government and this facilitated anti-Christian sentiment following the campaign to cleanse the city from Communists and their sympathisers. Many Christians were targeted and many moved to more secure places like Baghdad but none of the Churches was aimed.
He was the first to enforce the Islamic introductory phrase in all official papers and documents which declares ‘In the name of God the merciful the compassionate’. He attended Fridays’ prayers and I myself have seen him entering a Baghdadi mosque in upper Alrasheed Street.
During his rule Christians were restless but he did not persecute the church but minimised Sunday as a day of obligation in schools which were of Christian dominance.
Following his death or murder in 1966 he was succeeded by his brother Abd Alrahman Aref who was a moderate man and gave broadcasted Christmas messages to his Christian subjects.
Generally Islamists were of tiny minority which were swamped by the tides of Marxism, Arabism and Baathism. Their impact in the society never materialised.
In 1968 one of the two rival Baath parties took power and gradually the regime asserted itself.
The Baath regime pursued one party system monopoly but allowed to some extent ‘freedom of worship’ for all as long as you kept your head down. They never tolerated dissention and this seems to benefit the peaceful Christian community who so far have never showed their national identity, thing the regime would have not tolerated.
The activities of the regime against the northern insurgency made the Assyrian Christian community vulnerable to government atrocity and in later years many Assyrian villages were erased in a programme of ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the native community. The most affected were those who dared to hold the two banners together- Christianity and Assyrianism.
The Islamisation of the society began in the early 1970s and by the mid of the decade it has become noticeable to see women overdressed and enveloped; men as well dressed in Imam garbs and praying in offices.
The Baath doctrine is a secular doctrine but the regime made no efforts to combat the rise of Islamisation and thwart the threat of polarising the sensitive society like ours. The Islamisation started within the Baath membership and the society went head on duality of Baath and Islam something totally shunned in Syria which is governed by the same Baath ideology.
In Syria the Islamists fought a tough fight against the Syrian rule which lasted from 1976-1982. It nearly crippled the regime and in one occasion a hand grenade was thrown at the late President Hafez Alassad.
But the Syrian Baath’s authority acted seriously and sent its youth vanguards into the Syrian streets removing the veils from women’ faces; in the final showdown with the Islamists in Hamath in February 1982 the Syrian army shelled Hamath and turned parts of the city into rubbles and the Islamists were crushed with many thousands dead. The Islamists were shown the red eye and in other show of strength Syrian security men entered a prison slaughtering all the Islamist inmates.
With that the backbone of the Islamic insurgency was blown into pieces and Syria remains today the same secular state as it was since its creation. In fact Syria is the only and the most secular state in the region.
The Baath in our homeland is responsible for the Islamisation of the society and this was not out of love for Islamism but out of failures and failed rule.
With the dictator at the helm in 1979 and within a year he made his first foray into our eastern neighbour causing the eight-year long war and then his second foray into our southern neighbour that was followed by defeat and many lean years of world’s economic blockade. With the nation exhausted and knackered there seemed only one panacea in the back of his mind-Islamisation. Injecting failure into failures was his ideal way to make successes.
The dictator Islamized the national flag by putting the phrase ‘God is Great’ in it and banned the on-licence sale of beer and wine as a way to curb freedom of expression. He started massive programmes of Islamisation which included TV shows, mosque-building spree and intrusion in education. He sanctioned the teaching of Islam to all regardless of the confessing faith of the individual and brokered an edict that all new names given to new-born babies must be Arabic which in other words meant culturally Islamic. He also linked the ecclesiastical properties to the Islamic endowment ministry.
If one visits our heartland’s towns he/she would notice a mosque in every town and a community of settlers brought intentionally to dilute the once Assyrian homogeneity and by this altering the ethnic composition of our towns. To this moment our lands are still expropriated and given to non Assyrians.
As the economic blockade soldiered on the population became more Islamic and anti-Christian and this was evident when Christians were ridiculed when collecting their rations from government offices.
Before the American tanks rolled into Baghdad to topple its dictator and build on its ashes a democracy for all the society seemed almost Islamic with enveloped women and bearded men everywhere. This society once proud and advanced has become the most backward in all Arab and Islamic majority countries even ranking behind Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan and the hero for this is the former dictator.
The current turmoil in our homeland is natural according to the language of the region and any society with the same status will face the same consequences and our people sadly have to face the reality of threat, assault, kidnap, rape, murder, violation of properties and church bombing.
Any society say in the Middle East its Christian population would face the same consequences should a standing regime fall. Christians of Indonesia suffered most after the removal of Suharto; villages were destroyed, churches flattened and population made homeless and up to 30,000 Christians were killed. These were not Assyrians and also lived in peace before with their neighbours. Here I am not ignoring the genocide committed against the Christians in Sudan and the suffering of Christians in Egypt, northern Nigeria, Bosnia and Kosovo.
In Jordan our western neighbour the system is half Islamist and Muslim youngsters are taught to stone churches and Christians. Should the regime disappear, our Christian brothers will suffer harshly.
The Islamic religion abhors the other faiths and always labelling them as heretic and must be conquered if not by persuasion then by war. Christians in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to worship and in the United Arab Emirates all Christians are corralled in a close compound not allowed to venture out. Even in the west the current burgeoned Muslim population looks to their host as heretic and one day must be conquered.
The American soldiers are not to blame for the suffering of Christians in our homeland because their suffering has continued from the past regime to the current situation and this is natural in Islamic dominated countries when the law and order disappear Christians are victimised.
Why such tragedies in our homeland? Because this was the decision made by the previous regime to its primitive followers to abort any incoming administration; the remnants of the past regime are working hand in hand with the Islamists separately and jointly to cripple the democratic process it brought after years of misrule, abuse, squandering, sequestering the wealth of the nation, starving the population and sending them into exile.
To avoid sharper knives in the future we the Assyrian population have one solution and that is we ask the authority to grant us a province east of the Tigris river encompassing all Assyrian towns and villages according to 1957 census. This province will have the same status as the other provinces and its future rests with the rest whether the new administration is centralised or not federated or not.
The Assyrian province in full Assyrian administration is the only solution to secure the future of our people from genocide, stem the emigration, guarantee the return of refugees from neighbouring countries and in the long run ensure the return of the exiled in Diaspora. Assyrians from other parts of the country will certainly move into this new province.
This is the way out and there is no other alternative.
Identity Politics: Is a Christian or Kurd 'a Turk'?
Courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor
(ZNDA: Istanbul) An advisory council report that calls on the country to broaden its official definition of minorities and to embrace multiculturalism is stirring a bitter public debate here about national identity.
It has become so heated, in fact, that when the head of the council tried to present the document at a press conference Nov. 1, another council member tore the notes out of his hands and publicly denounced the report, forcing the event to be canceled.
Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, meanwhile, have distanced themselves from the report.
The document, which cites a lack of cultural rights and freedoms in Turkey for minorities, comes on the heels of a recent European Union progress report on Turkish political and human rights reforms which detailed problems with the country's treatment of Kurds and non-Muslims.
The overwhelmingly Muslim country, meanwhile, is pinning its pro-West dreams on an EU summit Dec. 17, when a final decision will be made on its pending membership in the organization.
Some of the backlash to the advisory council's work appears to be fueled by a fear that further highlighting human rights shortcomings in Turkey could jeopardize its EU bid.
But analysts here say the debate reflects something much deeper.
The struggle, they say, is between a Turkish national identity forged in the crucible of World War I and its aftermath, and the growing desire to create a more inclusive, multicultural society.
It is something akin, they say, to a second modernizing - and sometimes difficult - transformation for the country.
"The search is for a democratic reconceptualization of what a Turk is," says Etyen Mahcupyan, a researcher on democratization at the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), an Istanbul think tank. "We need to redefine what a Turk is based on citizenship, not any single ethnic identity."
Officially, the only minorities in Turkey are Jews, Greeks, and Armenians, as spelled out by the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which led to the establishment of the Turkish Republic after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
But the board's report says Turkey has fallen behind modern norms in its understanding of minority communities.
It calls for Turkey to recognize groups such as non-Sunni Muslims, Assyrian Christians, and cultural and linguistic minorities. It also calls for constitutional changes to protect individual and minority rights.
Elcin Macar, a political scientist at Istanbul's Yildiz Technical University, who specializes in the study of Turkey's minorities, says the report's recommendations have tapped into long-held Turkish fears that trace their roots to the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, when European powers tried to carve up its territory through appeals to the empire's minority groups.
As the report puts it, there is a widespread "paranoia" in Turkey that giving minorities equal rights will lead to the country's breakup.
"The Turkish republic still sees minorities as a tool of other powers. This is a legacy that still lives in the mind of the Turkish bureaucracy," Mr. Macar says.
Indeed, the reaction by Turkey's political elite to the report's suggestions was a dismissiveness verging on hostility. "The definition of the concept of minority is clearly written in the Lausanne Treaty. It won't change," Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said in Ankara.
General Ilker Basbug, second chief of staff of Turkey's powerful military, was even more explicit. "The Turkish Republic is unitary and it is wrong to create minorities in it. The Turkish Army cannot approve such a thing," he said.
Critics of the report, and even European diplomats in Turkey, point out that many EU countries themselves struggle with the question of pluralism. Sweden, for example, recognized the existence of minorities in the country only three years ago. France still does not recognize Breton as a minority language. Athens, meanwhile, is the only EU capital without an official mosque.
But in many ways, the reforms put in place by Turkey's EU process have already started to create significant changes in terms of minority cultural rights. For example, radio and television broadcasts in Kurdish, once banned, are now allowed, along with those in Bosnian, Arabic, and Circassian.
"I think groups are looking at the EU process as something that will let them express their cultural rights more easily," says Ingmar Karlsson, Sweden's consul general in Istanbul.
Dogan Bermek, one of the founders of the Cem Foundation, an organization that advocates on behalf of Alevi Muslims, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, says Turkey's engagement with the EU has given his group's demands for equal treatment as Sunni Muslims more traction.
Although Alevis are estimated to represent some 20 percent of the Turkish population, the government does not provide them with funds to build prayer houses, as it does for Sunni mosques.
"What we have been asking for for the last 10 years, and now the European Union is asking for it also, is for the country's Religious Affairs Department to be reorganized to reflect all the beliefs in this country," says Bermek.
"Any culture and any belief that exists in this country should be accepted and should be supported to the best ability of the society," he adds.
That kind of multiculturalism may not be difficult to achieve, says TESEV's Mahcupyan. During 600 years of Ottoman rule, Turkey was one of the most culturally diverse places on the planet, he notes.
"It's not a question of going back, but remembering what was there and recognizing ... that it still exists today and also opening the road to these cultures for their own politics," Mahcupyan says.
Congress Holds Keys to Survival of Iraqi Minorities
For Immediate Release
Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights
CAN MINORITIES SURVIVE IN THE NEW IRAQ?
WASHINGTON, D.C - Representatives of several minority communities in Iraq are calling upon the U.S. Congress to play a greater role in their future survival. Experts will brief congressional staff on the perilous situation that minorities are facing in the new Iraq, in the Mansfield Room, S207, US Capitol at 2:00 p.m. today.
The Coalition is seeking support from Congress for rapid implementation of article 53D in the Iraqi interim constitution and direct aid. Article 53D provides the basis for establishing an administrative district to provide sanctuary for the largest non-Muslim minority, ChaldoAssyrians.
Nearly 40,000 ChaldoAssyrians have recently fled Iraq, following attacks on churches, murders, and kidnappings by Muslim extremists. "An exodus of these Christians would substantially reduce Iraq's prospects of developing as a pluralistic and democratic society. Moreover they are the canaries in the coal mine for moderate Muslims, as well as Christian minorities, throughout the Middle East," says Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House.
The smaller Mandaean, Roma and Yazidis communities have also suffered. Dr. Suhaib Nashi, president of the Mandaean Society of America, notes that continuing attacks by Islamic militants threaten the destruction of their cultural institutions. "Mandaeans, one of the oldest religions in Iraq, hopes to weather yet another storm."
Yonadam Kanna, a member of the Iraqi Assembly; and James Rayis, Vice-Chair of the American Bar Association's International Law Section and advisor to several Iraqi Governing Council members in forming the Temporary Administrative Law now in effect, will join other experts representing Iraqi concerns.
The Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR) was founded in 1993 and is the largest coalition of religious and ethnic minorities in the Near East.
Exiled Iraqis allowed to vote in 14 countries
Courtesy of the NBC News
(ZNDA: Baghdad) An agreement was signed in Baghdad in recent days with the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq after the IOM carried out a feasibility study at the request of the United Nations, IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said.
''The agreement will allow IOM to begin a dialogue with the states concerned to set up the complex logistics for this operation,'' he told a news briefing.
Well, it’s about time somebody agreed with what I have been saying all along! To Mr. Isho Callo (Surfs Up 18/11) I say "Here, Here"!
Zinda should be a beckon for expanding Assyrian sentiment and strengthening the communities' thoughts on issues that are important; Certainly not on publishing propaganda against Mar Dinkha the Patriarch of the Holy Apostolic Assyrian Church of The East.
I call for all people to stop critiquing our beloved Patriarch and focus of unity and friendship.
Time for Armed Resistance is Now
It does not surprise me the least that Iraqi Christians continue to be oppressed in their native land of Iraq. Just look around at the Iraqi community of America. Iraqi/Americans put on a good show of crying and public sobbing of how bad things are in Iraq for their people but do nothing in practical terms to stop the carnage.
I have seen or heard nothing from the community regarding donations to take up arms in Iraq. Business owners continue to operate seven days a week here in America refusing to observe the Sabbath or plan a course of action for their people in Iraq.
Unlike the Albanian/Americans who actively sought donations for arms to fight Serbian aggression, or Jewish/Americans who continue to raise funds for Israel, the Iraqi/American community,Chaldeans, Assyrians,and Syriacs have all dismissed any kind of armed resistance against fundamentalist Islamic terror inside Iraq. Putting your heads in the sand will only intensify the killing currently in progress.
Assyrian American Association
The Assyrian American Association of Arizona (Shotapota) is having a dance party on Friday, November 26, 2004 at the Sheraton Crescent Hotel, I- 17 and Dunlap Road in Phoenix. The famous singer Walter Aziz will be our guest. All are invited to participate. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for youths. See attached flyer.
Well, yes, such announcement seems to be a common one. However, what is different about this event is that the Association have decided to donate all profits from the event to the Assyrian children in Iraq as Christmas gifts. In the past other Associations in this country have taken similar action. However, this is a much different and difficult time for our people, especially the children. They have seen too much already; war, kidnapping, bombing, killing, most do not even attend schools any more.
For us in this country there are few things we can do and agree on without any arguments and top of the list is sending money to our brethren in the homeland.
So, this is a call to all our organizations regardless of their political belief; let us compete in sending money to support our people. The Arizona Association have taken the lead, any takers?
On Turkey's Accession into the European Union
Dear Members of the European Parliament,
In support of the Memoranda concerning Turkey’s candidacy for membership into the European Union, I urge you to enforce UN and EU resolutions demanding Turkey recognize the Republic of Cyprus before any accession negotiations continue, end its illegal occupation of Cyprus, allow the return of all Cypriot refugees to their ancestral homes, and withdraw all of its occupying troops from Cyprus. I further urge you to enforce the resolution adopted on June 18, 1987, by the European Parliament, which called on the Turkish government to recognise the genocide committed against the Armenians in 1915-17 as a precondition for Turkey’s accession to the EU. And I urge you to amend the resolution to include the two million Pontic and other Asia Minor Greeks and Assyrians who were also victims of the Genocide in Turkey between 1914-1923 during the regime of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), popularly known as the Young Turks, and the regime of Mustafa Kemal that followed.
If the European Parliament ignores its own resolutions, it will send a loud and clear message to Turkey and to other invaders and perpetrators of Genocide, that the slaughter of tens of thousands, even millions of innocent people will be of little consequence to the perpetrators in time; that the masses of survivors and their descendents need never expect so much as an apology, because political expediency will one day take precedence over historical fact, international law, and EU and UN resolutions.
Today we witness this most heinous crime of Genocide being repeated again and again, not long ago in Rwanda, now in Darfur, because to date we have not adopted an enforceable agenda to deter such crimes before they are realized, and we have not adopted a clear method to recognize the signs of a pending Genocide or enforce resolutions. The failure to enforce the EU and UN resolutions on Cyprus has continued to deprive more than 200,000 Cypriots from their homes and ancestral lands. The failure to enforce the June 18, 1987 resolution will deprive survivors and their descendents of closure, and will continue to curtail the teaching of an important history, one that can help us recognize the signs of a pending Genocide.
To understand just how eerily history repeated itself in the past, we can look at Germany twenty years after what has become known as “The Armenian Genocide,” but what, in fact, was a genocide of 3.5 million Christians of Asia Minor: Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians between 1914-23.
A comparison of Kristallnacht, when Nazis attacked Jews throughout Germany and the seizure of Jewish owned businesses, with the treatment of ethnic Greeks in Turkey in 1914, one year before the slaughter of Armenians, will show remarkable similarities. U.S. Consul General at Smyrna, George Horton reported at the time that a general boycott, issued against Greek businesses and products, forced Greeks into bankruptcy. Crude lithographs, with cut and spliced images to make it appear as if Greeks were killing and mutilating Turkish women and babies, were secretly printed by the Young Turk government, then posted in mosques and schools to incite the Turkish population to kill the ‘Greek Infidels.’ Rampages against Greeks broke out and spread down the Western coast from Pergamus to Lidja. George Horton affirmed that “Several hundred thousand were driven from their farms or out of their villages.” In Phocea alone, a port town not far from Smyrna, (today’s Izmir) the 8,000 indigenous Greek inhabitants were murdered, or beaten and driven from their homes, their possessions stolen. Hundreds of thousands were deported from their ancient lands to islands in the Aegean. [1,2]
By 1914 the new slogan of the Young Turks, and their Kemalist successors became “Turkey for the Turks.” Twenty years later the Nazis would espouse a doctrine of the “purity of the Aryan race.”
US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, Sr. affirmed that the Young Turk government asserted that they “had expelled the Greeks [in 1914] so successfully that they had decided to adopt the same method against all the other races in the Empire.” In 1915 the killing resumed with a full-scale, government-sponsored Genocide of the Armenians and the Assyrians; the other Christian “races” of Turkey. At Sairt in June 1915, the massacres of Assyrians by “The Butchers’ Battalion,” a term the military Turkish governor of Van, Djeudet Bey chose for himself and his 8,000 soldiers, left at least 17,000 Assyrians dead. Sairt was only one of forty-one villages attacked that year where the Assyrian inhabitants were slaughtered.
In 1916, the Pontic Greeks were again targeted. Six thousand Pontian men, women, and children of the Bafra area were burned alive as they took refuge in churches. In the town of Alajam another 2,500 Christians were slaughtered. Of the 25,000 inhabitants of the Bafra region alone, 90 percent were eliminated by mass slayings or by sending them on long death marches where they were often raped and robbed and left to die of disease and starvation. 
At the Lausanne Conference in 1923, Lord Curzon estimated that up to one million Greeks of Turkey had already been slaughtered and one million were being exiled. [7,8] Pontic Greek deaths alone totaled 353,000, more than half their population. Of the estimated one million Assyrians, 750,000 were annihilated. Scholars estimate that by 1923, at least 3.5 million of Turkey’s historic Christian population: Greeks, Assyrians, and Armenians had been slain outright, starved, or marched to death, and millions more exiled from ancestral lands going back more than 3,000 years; more than 2,000 years before the first Turkish tribes invaded. My own mother, a Pontic Greek from the North of Turkey, whose life story is memorialized in the pages of Not Even My Name, survived a death march in 1920, which left her an orphan by the age of 10. 
Allowing Turkey to deny the slaughter of 3.5 million of its Christian population during and after WWI makes the genocide complete. Only by understanding and acknowledging the full scope of what took place in history, and by holding governments accountable for the atrocities they commit, can we hope to recognize the signs of a pending Genocide, and impress on aberrant governments that time will not cleanse a country of its history.
By amending the EU resolution to include Assyrians, the Pontic Greeks and other Asia Minor Greeks, and by enforcing the resolution, the European Parliament will not only give survivors, such as my mother, and their descendants the necessary support for the healing process, it will also be doing Turkey and its citizens a great service. It will give Turkey the nudge it needs to come to terms with its past so it can more honestly look to the future. It will eliminate the need for Turkey to continue its long history of prosecuting teachers, historians and journalists, and other citizens who write or speak about the Genocides, and the animosity between Turkey and Armenia can be relieved by honest dialogue. Students in Turkey could study Turkish history without fear or censorship, which in turn would eliminate the need to oppress and persecution the Pontic Greeks and Assyrians still living in Turkey. And it would promote understanding of the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians who were once such a vital part of their communities, and who are a vital part of their history.
The conditioning of EU membership for Turkey on complying with the EU and UN resolutions on Cyprus will ease tensions and return the area to its natural, legal state, so that Turkey can enter the EU with a clean slate and on an equal moral footing with its partners.
Failure to enforce the June 18, 1987 and the EU and UN resolution on Cyprus, and failure to demand Turkey take measures to curtail its human rights abuses, is unfair to all concerned, including Turkey and its own citizens, Muslims, Christians and Jews.
This is an important opportunity for the EU to make it clear that human rights abuses, flagrant rejection of international law, and a failure to acknowledge the historical fact of the Genocides against its Christian population between 1914-23 will neither be condoned nor endorsed.
The Swedish football (soccer) team Halmstad's midfielder, Sharbel Touma, an Assyrian, has signed a 2 1/2 year contract with Holland's first division club, Twente Enschede. Halmstad finished second in the Swedish Allsvenskan (Primier League) championship in 2004.
Sharbel is 25-year-old and has scored 29 goals in 103 appearances for Halmstad, runners-up in the Swedish first division.
Sweden faced Scotland on Wednesday in European soccer and thrashed the Scottish team 4 to 1 at their home field. Sharbel Touma was playing for the Sweden, replacing another injured teammate Pontus Farnerud. Touma, who made his first appearance for Sweden during an indoor match against Finland in 2001, said he was delighted to be back on the international scene.
Stockholm (Reuters) - Sweden have called up striker Sharbel Touma for Wednesday's friendly international against Scotland in Edinburgh, the Swedish football federation said on Sunday.
The following individuals contributed in the preparation of this week's issue:
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