4 Kanoon I 6754
24 December 2004
Z I N D A M A G A Z I N E
A Zinda Magazine Special
Are We Ready?
|Iraqi Elections 2005: Are We Ready?||Wilfred Bet-Alkhas|
|Assyrians and the Idea of Divine Unity||Sargon & Nancy Beth Shlimon (Iraq)|
|Iraqi Refugees will not Be Home For Christmas
Children's Bible Now in Turkish
|Important Letter to White House Summarizes Crisis in Iraq
Assyrian Couple Reunited After Spending a Year Apart
Christmas in Iraq
|Rev. Ken Joseph Jr.
UK Parliament Members Discuss ChaldoAssyrians of Iraq
|Is Iraq Another Yugoslavia?
A Parenthesized Nation
|Iraqis in America Prepare for the January Election||Ashtar Analeed Marcus|
Assyrians and the Idea of Divine Unity
Sargon Beth Shlimon
Assyriology which is the science that looks for every thing concerning with Mesopotamia (ancient Assyria) proved that Assyrians are the first human group that knew the idea of divine unity or the belief in one God in which other nations adopted. This was asserted through the researches and studies that are made in scientific centers, institutes and the specialized international universities.
It was discovered till now from ancient monuments and tablets that were written on them theories, researches, myths and epics surprised the scientists because of their mental progress. Therefore, what have been discovered from time to time reveals to the world new facts, and confutes theories and themes wrongly attributed to scientists or civilizations of other nations. After a study and unravel of the symbols and tablets that were discovered in Mesopotamia appeared Assyria’s ownership and fitness to be the cradle of all civilizations and the basis of knowledge and sciences.
Subsequently, Assyriology became very significant and necessary for it is the key to solve the knots and symbols, as well as to put the theories and created sciences back to their origins and normal place.
Assyria is considered the cradle of humanity. For it is naturally to witness the first civilized improvement in the world, which represents a basic transfer from a primitive stage to a stage of high degree of improvement. Whereas it was discovered the first inhabited village that agriculture, breeding animals and other depending modern techniques were practiced in Jarmo district (between 4750-7000 BC) northern Iraq. So this village became a system and a basis of futuristic civilization.
At the beginning when a man knew how to think and arrange his life, by treatment with nature and what is surrounded of mystery. It seems to him that there is something controls the nature and organizes its affairs. He thought that the natural factors as thunder, lightening, storms, rains and river flow as well as the sky with its stars and earth with its creatures, etc must have a creator. These thoughts were strengthened mostly in difficult times when he is in need and requires help. As life does not be calm and thought never stops, it is known that every religious stage is considered a provident or a mental power to serve a man and his materialistic achievements. So, the arrival to the invisible stage by a man’s refusal to the materialistic primitive religious thoughts is a creative mental progress.
As it is not possible to imagine the religion except if it is related and accompanying to political and social affairs. For this reason the Assyrian religious thought grew and arrived to a degree which qualifies to be the first religious thought that believes in unity. So, all gods were united in one God that is responsible for arranging the universe affairs. This was clear in writing the epic of creation (aynoma eileesh). This epic was written by the estimation of scientists about 2000 BC on the tablets that were found till now, new version was found in the library of King Ashur Banipal Nineveh and estimated to the 7th century BC. The scientists asserted that this epic is ancient and it is passed around the generations until writing it in a well-known style now. In this epic, it appears the idea of uniting all authorities in one God. This idea makes us near to the idea of unity in spite of the multiple Lords and gods. This divine order became one of the supposed evidences to prove the existence of God.
The existence of Ashur who is the god of a great authority negates sharing other gods with him. Therefore, the invisible symbol of the created powers had not be defined and resisted except after reaching to the stage of unity that it became unsubstituttable and unreparable. Moreover, this stage and the belief in invisible powers are considered the last stage of improvement in the religious thought.
The sublimity in the religious thought guided the Assyrians to take the responsibility of raising nations, which remained in a dark pit of polytheist, and worshiping many endless gods. This was the main factor that led the Assyrians to illuminate and acquaint the nations in unity. This was embodied in the mental emigration that Abraham led in the 19th century B.C., when he spreaded the idea of unity.
The other way of spreading the idea of unity was the war. It was spreaded throughout the military campaigns that the Assyrians made from time to time. This was when the logic of power was the only one that the nations treat each other, in time that they did not know the diplomatic means. These means, which are well known now to explain a message, spread a faith or a particular belief just, like the preached campaigns known in the modern time. But, history rarely tells us about a fight breaking out among one religious group. Therefore, religion was the basic motive of breaking out a fight among sides that worship different gods. This was clear in the prayers that the Assyrian kings left on the tablets or obelisks, which are still kept in the world museums.
In the prayers that the Assyrian kings made before going to their military campaigns appear that they carry out what their god orders them, in order to spread the light of faith among a polytheist nations. This was clearer after coming back from these campaigns when the king presents his report clarifying the results of his campaign.
One of the prayers that perfectly and correctly arrived was the prayer of Ashur Nasirpal the king (Ashur Natir Epry) 859-883 B.C. In this prayer Ashur the king invoked to God after he finished building his new capital Namrood (kalkho) in 879B.C. So, this prayer clarifies to us the progress of thought at that time. Ashur the king immortalizes this prayer as an obelisk. In this obelisk the prayer was digged and his picture was drawn. The prayer includes (Ashur… the holy god of earth and heaven, the wise god of peace…. The bright, clear light that earth and heaven symbolize to his majesty and holiness… the creator and the conqueror of all elements…. all words are unable to describe his majesty… the lord of earth and heaven… his light embraces the earth and heaven and their beings…etc). So, the question is: Is this prayer fair enough to give a real and doubtless picture about the belief in one God and his creation of earth and heaven?
Therefore, Ashur the king became an international one (Mardoukh in Babylon). He presents goodness, fertilization, fatherhood, justice and all virtues that moved him to a unique summit of internationality. There is no wonder to notice the continuity of using the two names in the form of (Atour and Mardouk) by people that are not Assyrians and remote from Mesopotamia.
In the creation book of Old Testament, we find a precise description of Eden, which is Ashur’s country. Eden was a cradle of humanity, and the discovered monument proved that.
What is concerned about the Assyrian belief of the idea of unity and discarding the idols, we read in the prediction of Isaiah (37,18,19). Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries and have cast their gods into the fire: for they [were] no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them.
The Assyrian belief in the idea of unity obviously asserted the Assyrian attitude towards nations that worship gods, which are man maker. Therefore, Assyrians destroyed these gods and enlightened the nations by the idea of unity and worshiping one God.
The Assyrian temples have spreaded in all empire and in every place where the military campaigns and the Assyrian commercial centers arrive. Some of the temple’s traces have discovered when they were of similar style. The walls of Solomon’s temple and the curtain of the lord’s tent gorgeously represent the Assyrian’s art and architecture, which are decorated by angles designs as animal’s forms having human heads and guarding the tree of life. These angles are a picture represents the winged characters by Assyrians. This was asserted in kings (4) of Old testimony (16,11,12) when it was clear how king Ahaz met the Assyrian king Tighlat Bilasar (III) (745-727) B.C. in Damascus and saw its alter. He sent the fashion and the pattern of alter to Urijah the priest who built it as Ahaz the king sent.
The idea that is settled in our minds about the angle as a picture of a little child having wings is not far away from the human winged statues. The Assyrians have digged these statues and put them in the entries of their palaces and temples to guard them from evil. So, the angle’s picture carrying a bow and an arrow is a modification of Ashur the god.
Actually, the Assyrians have the great role in spreading the Christian message and firming its basis all over the world. The books, which wrote about Assyrian’s services and what they added to the church, as well as the monasteries they built and statues they established are good witness and evidence about their great role.
The Assyrian king Abjar Okama (13-50 AD) who is the king of Urhay sends a message to Jesus the Christ to visit and recover him. Then God’s apostle (Saint Thomas) sent (Saint Adai) to Urhay for completing the promise of the Christ to recover king Abjar from his illness who was baptized with his family as well as the rest of people of the city. At that time Saint Adai built the first church in Urhay and he appointed priests and deacons. So, Urhay became the first Christian kingdom in the world, and it was the last Assyrian one.
After Assyrians joining Christianity, thousands of them present their souls for their right faith. They did not deviate from their faith. So, they proved their power, bravery, and faith in times of the greatness of the Assyrian empire.
The Assyrians closeness to the beliefs of Christianity is very clearly explained in their feasts, occasions, and ceremonies that they made and celebrate before it.
Nineveh feast (Baootha d Ninwayeh) is one of their ceremonies, when Nineveh inhabitants feast three continuous days praying humbly to God to save their city from destruction. God responded for their prayers and saved their city from destruction. This was during the period of king Ashur Nirary (753-746) B.C. The other Assyrian occasions were the ceremonies of the saints’ feasts (Shara), painting and coloring the eggs, competing with each other as they did before 4000 year and other customs that they practice in the feast days. All these prove that Christianity was not a strange religion from their thoughts. This thought is the thought of unity that they believe in and struggle for it. The Assyrian Babylonian civilization had firmed in civilizations of the neighboring nations including the ancient Egyptians when this civilization had passed to Greek by the roman occupation to Egypt. In that time Greek had no civilization better than Mesopotamia, which attracted Herod (484-425) B.C. He wrote enough about it especially in his historical book.
herefore, Greek nations must affect, adopt, and imitate. Actually, the Greek epics, which were considered a source of the modern world civilization, were the means that Mesopotamia had spreaded in all its aspects as scientific, religious and literary aspects, but in Greek names. The world witnessed this, after finding out the monuments of Mesopotamia.
Finally, it is obvious from all the above attached with undoubted facts, the right of Assyrians to be the pioneers of those that followed and worshiped God all over the world.
Assyrians are the owners of the united religious thought that other nations took from them; these nations were enlightened with their glittering light. This light which guided them to be a cradle of knowledge and science, as well as a center of emission to all over the world.
Iraqi Refugees will not Be Home For Christmas
Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times
(ZNDA: Damascus) Dawlat Elias spoke with dry eyes about the Muslims now squatting in her abandoned house in Kirkuk, Iraq, and of her grueling journey from the only home she ever knew. She is stoic about the idea that she’ll never see her country again.
“Everybody’s homeland is very dear to them, but as Christians we can’t live in Iraq anymore,” she said calmly.
“You can’t imagine how happy I am to see the Christmas decorations here in Damascus,” she said, dabbing her eyes. “If we put a cross outside in Iraq, they’d shoot it until it fell. We couldn’t go to church for two years. That was oppression.”
Thousands of Iraqi Christians have straggled into Syria, and each new attack brings a fresh wave. The most conservative estimates put their number at well above 4,000. They have knitted themselves into makeshift communities, including Dawlat’s, an illegal slum ion the outskirts of Damascus. Here, in slapped-together cinder-block homes on unpaved back streets, the refugees will celebrate their first Christmas in exile.
The dusty streets flashed with strings of twinkling lights the week before Christmas. Faint strains of “Jingle Bells” slipped from shops. But the mood was bittersweet in the sitting rooms and alleyways where Iraqi Christians have landed.
They are far from home, longing for their families and battling for jobs, visas and housing. They have escaped the death threats, church bombings and kidnappings that engulfed their homeland after the ouster of Saddam Hussein. But now the refugees are caught between the impulse to start a new life and the desire to stay near Iraq’s borders in the hope that calm might somehow prevail, and they might be able to go home.
This holiday season isn’t an easy one for the widowed Elias and her family. They live on meager savings in a cramped, rat-infested apartment. Her son can’t find a job. They can’t afford decorations or a tree, let alone presents. To get the medicine she needs for her heart, Elias wraps herself in layers of thin sweaters and makes her way to a charity clinic in the basement of a Green Catholic convent.
“Here we have nothing, but at least we are free,” she said grimly. “They say Iraq is a Muslim state now.”
Iraqis like Elias are overruning the clinic, which doles out free healthcare in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Damascus. “Every day, 10 new Iraqi families show up,” said Malake Arbas, the nun who directs the clinic. “They say they’re fleeing, they ask for used clothes and medicine.”
It may seem odd that Christians are abandoning U.S.-occupied Iraq to seek shelter in Syria, which is often the target of threats and condemnations from the West. The U.S. has charged that militants, weapons and money for the insurgency in Iraq travel across Syria’s borders. But secular Syria is widely acknowledged as one of the few bastions of tolerance for Christians in an increasingly polarized and tense Middle East.
“When I see an Iraqi Christian, I feel ashamed of what’s happening in Iraq,” said Bouthaina Shaaban, Syrian minister of expatriates. “This is the most dangerous thing happening in our region.”
This neighborhood on the margins of Damascus used to be a lush stretch of apricot and almost orchards, but now there’s not a tree to be seen; they were all knocked down to clear the way for the illegal construction. Thick streams of truck traffic stir up clouds of dust and smog. Men sell used clothes and blood oranges from pushcarts.
Through the afternoon clamor wandered three young Iraqis, hands stuffed into pockets and caps pulled low over their brows. At first, they said they were Christians shopping, but they didn’t have a single package. With a shrug, they said their family couldn’t even afford a plastic tree. They were just hanging around.
“I don’t feel at ease here,” said Oscar Elips, 18, who mostly stayed silent while the other two, his cousins, talked. “We’re strangers here. We don‘t belong.”
“We’re safe, at least,” said Sargon William Slewa, 21. But Elips just set his jaw and stayed quiet.
The youngest boy, 14-year old Naramsin Slewa, should be in the night grade by now, but he doesn’t have the documents he needs to go to school. He said he is learning to be a hairdresser instead.
“No work, no school,” Sargon Slewa said as he ticked off the worries on his finger. “It’s very difficult for us. Imagine: We came out here today just to fool ourselves that we’re celebrating Christmas.”
The Slewa family was living in Baghdad when Muslim men began to show up at their door with death threats. The family spent Easter huddled inside. The older Slewa found a construction job with a Western contractor, and the threats came quicker until, one afternoon, the men burst inside. Sargon Slewa and his brother escaped by climbing onto the roof, they said.
Finally, the older Slewa rented a truck, loaded it with his family and some cousins and drove off toward Syria. They left almost everything behind to live crammed into two bedrooms in Damascus. They survive on money sent by their father, who went ahead to Canada, and the cash earned by a brother who managed to find a job in a Syrian kebab house.
“I was just tired in Iraq,” Sargon Slewa said. “But I’m tired here, too.”
Children's Bible Now in Turkish
Courtesy of Zenit news agency
(ZNDA: Rome) The Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need has published its children's version of the Bible, "God Speaks to His Children," in Turkish.
The first edition comprises 15,000 copies, 5,000 of which are to be distributed in Turkey, while the remaining 10,000 are destined for native Turkish speakers scattered throughout Western Europe.
According to Dominican Father Lorenzo Piretto, an Istanbul-based priest from Italy, "There are about 100,000 Christians" among the country's population of about 68 million.
The majority of Christians in the western Asian country "are Apostolic Armenians. The Catholics are Latins, Chaldeans, Armenians and Syrians. There are also Greek and Syrian Orthodox, as well as various Protestant groups," Father Piretto stated in a letter.
"The Catechists are very content to have excerpts from the Bible in Turkish," he added. "At the entrance of churches, where the books are displayed, Muslims are free to take" a copy.
Important Letter to White House Summarizes Crisis in Iraq
(ZNDA: Washington D.C.) A powerful letter was submitted to the White House this week in which specific issues concerning the ChaldoAssyrians in Iraq and recommendations to address these issues were outlined.
The Freedom House is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that works to advance worldwide expansion of political and economic freedom. Following the Petition Campaign aggressively publicized by Zinda Magazine and other media sources in October, a group of concerned Assyrian and Chaldean U.S. residents formed the ChaldoAssyrian American Advocacy Council and began lobbying in Washington for the rights of the ChaldoAssyrians in Iraq.
With the involvement of the Freedom House and its ever-responstive Vice Chair, Ms. Nina Shae, the CAAAC was able to bring the plight of the Iraqi Christians, ChaldoAssyrians in particular, before House and Senate representatives.
Only a couple of days before Christmas, the letter printed below was submitted to the office of the President of the United States.
The Freedom House board includes the following: Ms. Preeta D. Bansal, Chair; Ms. Felice D. Gaer, Vice Chair; Ms. Nina Shea, Vice Chair; Archbishop Charles J. Chaput; Mr. Michael Cromartie; Mr. Khaled Abou El Fadl; Ms. Elizabeth H. Prodromou; Bishop Ricardo Ramirez; Mr. Michael K. Young; Ambassador John V. Hanford III, Ex-Officio; Mr. Joseph R. Crapa, Executive Director.
December 23, 2004
When the Commission issued its annual report last May, it urged you to appoint a high-level U.S. human rights envoy to Iraq who will encourage the incorporation of human rights principles in Iraq’s permanent constitution, serve as the point of contact for Iraqi human rights institutions, and facilitate access to American expertise and other assistance to support Iraq’s effort to confront human rights challenges. The Commission reiterates this recommendation with the conviction that the need is all the more pressing as Iraq takes critical steps over the next year toward National Assembly elections, the drafting and adopting of a permanent constitution, and the country’s first constitutionally-based national elections.
Cc: Mr. John D. Negroponte, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Baghdad
Assyrian Couple Reunited After Spending a Year Apart
Courtesy of Saskatchewan News Network
(ZNDA: Saskatoon) Rita Younan clutched a bouquet of pink and red roses as she stood outside the airport arrival gate, praying she wouldn't spend another Christmas without her husband.
The couple was separated just days after they were married last year. Younan wondered if she'd ever see her husband again.
Younan's sisters, mother and 30 other members of Saskatoon's growing Iraqi community also sat at the airport last week waiting for the evening flight from Toronto, which was 45 minutes late.
"We have been cooking for two days. I'm so excited I have not slept," said Younan, fixing her eyes on the arrival gate.
The plane finally landed. As passengers streamed through the gate, Younan spotted her husband, Riad Boulos. They smiled and wrapped their arms around each other. Younan let out a sigh and fainted for a few moments before Boulos and her sisters helped her up.
Everyone lined up to hug Boulos, each greeting him in their native Assyrian language and kissing him four times on alternating cheeks.
"You can't imagine how difficult this was. We felt loneliness and stress," Younan said.
"When I saw him, I forgot all of that."
The next day at the Younan family's Grosvenor Park home, the couple recalled the difficult path they've walked to be together in Saskatoon.
Younan's mother, Ahlam, brought her five daughters and one son to Saskatoon as refugees in 2001. Younan's father had been killed in the first Gulf War and it was too dangerous to stay in the capital, Baghdad.
"When you go to sleep, you don't know if you will ever wake up. If you complain about anything to the government, you will be in very big trouble," Younan said.
They initially fled north into Turkey and were accepted into Canada three years later.
Younan said she knew just three English words -- "hi, bye, and thankyou" -- when she and her family arrived on a day when temperatures fell to -30 C.
Younan quickly learned English and graduated from Holy Cross High School with an 85 per cent average. She now works with her two sisters in the clothing department of the Eighth Street Real Canadian Superstore.
Another sister and brother are studying at the University of Saskatchewan, while the youngest is completing high school.
Their mother, who works more than 12 hours a day at two jobs, has hung their graduation pictures in the family living room.
Younan, 22, first saw Boulos, 29, in a cousin's wedding video in June 2003 and was instantly smitten.
"He was very interesting to me. He was the only one who danced very good," she said.
Boulos also has relatives in Saskatoon, so Younan got his address. They wrote frequently and talked on the phone several times.
"I liked her. I started writing and sending her pictures. (But) in our culture, it is not just about the beauty. A girl has to be nice," Boulos said in Assyrian with Younan translating.
Boulos, also from Baghdad, had escaped to Greece via Turkey in 1993 after being drafted into the Iraqi army.
"A lot of people lost their lives for nothing," he said.
After their long-distance courtship, Younan traveled to see Boulos in Greece last December.
He showed her around the country, and they were married two weeks later on Dec. 20 in a traditional Roman Catholic ceremony.
"It wasn't quick. When I saw him, I felt he was already in my heart. I wasn't shy. I was comfortable," Younan said.
"I was comfortable also. We already knew each other," Boulos said.
Younan had to get back to Canada, but has worked hard for a year to get Boulos sponsored and approved. At times, she wondered if they would ever see each other again.
"It was the most difficult thing in my life, to wait," Boulos said.
When Boulos arrived in Saskatoon, the family feasted through the night and will host a large family gathering at Christmas including church services, singing, dancing and more food.
Boulos wants to get a job after learning basic English.
He already knows four languages, including the fluent Greek and Turkish he learned on his long journey to Canada.
"I like everything about Rita. We want to build a family," he said.
The couple is part of a documentary being made by Gemini award-winning filmmaker Anand Ramayya and Theresa Mead of the Saskatchewan Intercultural Association.
There are other stories of family reunification in Saskatoon this holiday season.
Patrice Okito came to Saskatoon as a teenager several years ago from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Okito works as a volunteer at the Saskatoon branch of the Red Cross and is completing his University of Saskatchewan internship to become a French immersion teacher.
When his sister in Congo died more than a year ago, Okito decided to adopt her two teenage children. After months of work, the boy and girl arrived this month.
"They're just wonderful," said Michelle Gallucci of the Red Cross.
" We took them shopping because they literally came here with the clothes on their back."
[Zinda: The Iraqi community in Canada may not be given a chance to participate in the Iraqi elections in Januayr, unless readers of this publication and thousands of other concerned Iraqis in Canada act now. Zinda Magazine urges its readers in Canada to contact the Iraqi Embassy in Ottawa and voice your concern promptly. To join a growing petition for this purpose click here.]
Christmas in Iraq
Rev. Ken Joseph Jr.
It`s Christmas in Baghdad. As we always say these days it is the best of times and the worst of times.
Please support us as we fight for the same rights and freedoms that you hold dear.
Together we will win!
[Zinda: Amir George is an Assyrian artist in Baghdad.]
Daniloos Not Guilty until Proven Guilty
As one familiar with the phenomenon of rushing to judgment on the part of the public, I wish to express disappointment with the manner in which the Daniloos have been adjudicated guilty by our people, particularly on the Web, prior to the legal allegations against them have been made public.
I am saddened by the manner in which you have reproduced their photos (albeit from other Press); saddened by the comments made about the Daniloos (“swindlers” and “charlatans”) and the judgment passed on our people (“when will we ever learn?” asked one frustrated commentator); and saddened by the display of the mug shot photos of Tony and Nansi Daniloo in your magazine.
I do not know the Daniloos personally, nor do I represent them legally or give any sort of legal advise. My comments are merely to curb our urge in sealing their fate in the Press prior to their day in court. The accused in this country has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. It ought not to be different for the Daniloos, who happen to be Assyrians.
[Mr. DeKelaita is an attorney at law and practices in Lincolnwood, Illinois. Update on Daniloos: Tony and his wife Nansi are so far suspected of cheating Alameda County homeowners in northern California out of at least $1.4 million over four years. They remain in the Stanislaus County Jail. Bail was set at $800,000 for Tony and $100,000 for Nansi Daniloo. The couple will not be allowed to post bail until a hearing is held to determine whether the money used for bail will come from legal sources.]
Let's Not Turn Our Events into Foreign Functions
As for complaining about hearing the same songs and dancing the same dances, I would say with all due respect to all other nations, next to the Assyrians only the Greeks have as many varieties of folkloric dances. If the majority of Assyrians today don't know how to perform all the wonderful dances that we have it's not the fault of the singers who want to please the hearing buds of every one.
Performing a song or two by a foreign singer in an Assyrian function as a guest (to promote cultural exchange) is totally different than turning an Assyrian function into a foreign one.
I don't see why we should have a complex whether we invite foreign performers or not, do they have the same complex?
On the contrary other ethnicities can learn a lot from us too so why not invite a friend who has a different ethnic background and introduce her/him to Assyrian music, folklore and culture in order to teach them about us.
That is how we will be showing our love for the performing arts when we show our pride in whom we are as Assyrians.
On a more cheerful note we should all be proud of our singers who are able to sing in many languages and dialects as well as any native in any country around the world.
"The Last Assyrians"
I just finished viewing “The Last Assyrians”, a documentary by French producer Robert Alaux. This is an excellent, comprehensive documentary on the history of our people in the Middle East. I commend Mr. Alaux for such a fine job, and highly recommend that every Assyrian (Chaldean, Syriac) household purchase a copy and watch it together with their kids. Produced in both English and French, this DVD also makes an excellent educational gift to non-Assyrians.
[Zinda: To purchase your copy click here.]
Zinda in Arabic?
I follow up with Zinda and read it regularly. Is it possible to publish a page in Arabic in Zinda as you do in Russian? I sometimes find it difficult understanding English well. Many of our people read Arabic and would like to see an Assyrian magazine in that language, so we can contribute with articles. Please pay this important issue your attention and study the suggestion over since Zinda is our magazine as well.
-Letter to Editor translated from Arabic
[Zinda: As promised to our readers earlier this year, Zinda Magazine will be published in Arabic and Syriac (Assyrian) in 2005. Zinda editorial staff is now planning for the first edition of Zinda Magazine in Arabic in the first quarter, followed by Assyrian in the third quarter of 2005. If our readers are interested in contributing to Zinda's news and columns in Arabic and/or Assyrian in 2005, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Assyrian Names of the Iraqi Cities
A few weeks ago mMy son and I enjoyed your quiz on Alexander the Great and my son is writing a book report on Alexander as the result of your article. In his research he has come across another name in news these days that may have Assyrian origins: Fallujah. Do you know anything about this?
[Zinda: A majority of Iraqi towns and cities have their names rooted in the Aramaic or Syriac language. Of the dozen Iraqi cities heard on the news these days let's take two to illustrate this point: Fallujah and Karbala. In Iraq Fallujah is known as the City of Mosques; there are over 200 mosques in this important Sunni city. There is evidence that this may have been a Babylonian town or dwelling and its name may be derived from the Syriac word "Palluqta or Poolagha" which mean 'division'. At one time a branch of the Euphrates divided off where the town or city of 'Division', is located today, but that river tributary has since disappeared. Karbala is on the other hand a Shi'ai holy city where Imam Hussain along with his followers were killed in A.D. 680. Imam Hussain was the grandson of Prophet Mohammad. The name Karbala may also have Syriac origins: 'Qorb' (close) and 'Alah' (God) or Qorb al'Alah (Closer to God). The theory that Assyrians inhabited Qorbalah or today's Karbala is strengthened by the fact that a village called Ninawa was once situated around this southern city. The Assyrian capital was in fact located in the north near Mosul. Interestingly, the name ‘Ninawa’ is repeated in the elegies of Imam Hussein. Good luck on the book report!]
Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): I make no apologies for again raising the issue in the Palace of Westminster of the Chaldo-Assyrian community in Iraq. In doing so, I have three main aims: first, to discuss the specific issue of safe haven for the rapidly diminishing, brutalised, tormented Chaldo-Assyrian community in Iraq; secondly, to seek further assurances from Her Majesty's Government in their contacts with their American allies and the Iraqi Interim Government for specific protection for the persecuted Chaldo-Assyrian community; and thirdly—and, in some ways, perhaps as importantly—to raise the profile of a people who are often ignored, often neglected and often not recognised. If I repeat myself occasionally, I shall not apologise, because they are a people whose voice must be heard. They are a people whose plight must be recognised and they make up a community that deserves the attention of all civilised nations on this earth.
I pay tribute to a couple of my parliamentary colleagues who have tabled questions on the issue. I am delighted that I have been joined in this Chamber by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who tabled a question to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 4 November, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) on 17 November. Both questions specifically asked Her Majesty's Government to increase the support that could be given and the negotiation that could be had with their allies and the IIG on such a sensitive subject. I am also delighted to be joined by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown), who has been an absolute stalwart supporter of the Chaldo-Assyrian community. He has attended meetings with me and has many friends among that proud community, as I have.
It may seem odd that, when Iraq is racked by so many different internal and external dissensions, we are talking about a specific community. However, I want to speak about a community that not only suffers double discrimination but faces extinction. The community has a history that is far longer and far more proud than ours. It is under attack to such an extent that it is shrinking from 1.5 million people, to 1 million, to about 800,000. The slow-motion genocide of the Chaldo-Assyrian community in Iraq is happening in front of our eyes. I cannot understand how any person with a drop of civilised blood in their body can stand by and not do every single thing within their power to protect, support, respect and advance the interests of that community.
The media of the world are focused on Iraq. Amid the dust of bombed buildings, the crash of gunfire and the screams of the wounded is a community in even greater pain. The indigenous Chaldo-Assyrian Christians of Iraq are under siege. Their community is suffering expropriation of its land; their neighbours in northern Iraq have illegally expropriated much of the land. To make matters even worse, Islamic militants have specifically stepped up attacks and targeted the Chaldo-Assyrian community. More than 95 per cent. of Iraq's Christians are Chaldo-Assyrians—otherwise known over the years as Syrians, Chaldaeans or Syriacs. As a result of persecution under Saddam Hussein and an escalating anti-Christian attack since the fall of his regime, at the best guess there are now between 800,000 and 1 million Christians left in Iraq.
The Chaldo-Assyrians are the direct descendants of the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians, who, as Old Testament scholars will be aware, once controlled the largest empire in the middle east. The heartland of that ancient Assyrian empire is in the geographical territory that we now call northern Iraq. The Chaldo-Assyrians were virtually the first people to accept Christianity; they did so in the 1st century AD through the apostolate of St. Mari and St. Addai.
It is widely documented that the Chaldo-Assyrians have suffered greatly in their ancestral homeland throughout the centuries. They have that great pride, courage and continuity, but they have suffered appallingly. The genocide by the Ottoman Turks from 1915 is commonly known as the Armenian genocide, but during it the Chaldo-Assyrian community lost 750,000 people, which was half its population. In addition to the loss of those men, women and children, there was the loss of land. Between 1914 and 1918, the Chaldo-Assyrians fought on the side of the allies. They incurred massive losses and earned wide respect for their courage and heroism. After the war, the British Government promised them an autonomous homeland in Iraq. I regret that that promise was never fulfilled; I do not hold my hon. Friend the Minister personally responsible, but our country once promised that.
The Chaldo-Assyrians were the first people to be massacred by the Iraq military following the Iraqi state's admission to the League of Nations in 1932. In August 1933, the Iraqi military turned their weapons on the Chaldo-Assyrian community and commenced a massacre in the villages located in the current governorates of Dohuk and Nineveh. During that massacre—the second massacre in a very short period—4,000 innocent Chaldo-Assyrians, mainly women, children and the elderly, were butchered in cold blood.
The Ba'athist Government were no more sympathetic. Under Saddam Hussein, more than 200 Chaldo-Assyrian villages, including historical monasteries and churches, were destroyed. Saddam's Government denied the Chaldo-Assyrians recognition as an ethnic minority; instead, they categorised them as "Christian Arabs." They were forbidden to teach the ancient Syriac language, despite their status as Iraq's third largest ethnic group and the fact that they are the indigenous people of Iraq—their presence in that country predates that of any other ethnic group.
In 1984, dozens of Chaldo-Assyrian activists were imprisoned. Three leaders of the Assyrian Democratic Movement—the ADM—were hanged in an attempt to destroy the growing movement for Chaldo-Assyrian rights. I am honoured and delighted to number among my friends—I hope—Johnny Michael of the ADM, which exists to this day despite the persecution that it has suffered over the years.
I hope that during this brief debate it will not be necessary for me to touch at length on the history of the Assyrian people. Most of us know Ashurbanipal and the epic of Gilgamesh, and of that people's many great achievements, such as the invention of writing, postal systems, dry-cell batteries, the wheel and, even, of lager. I simply wish to say that it is a very ancient community with a history that goes back to the dawn of time and that it is now in the darkest hour of its long life.
In northern Iraq, particularly after 1991 when Iraqi military operations commenced against them, Chaldo-Assyrians and Kurds fled to the borders of Turkey. The Iraqi military were prohibited from entering a safe haven established in northern Iraq above the 36th parallel. That enabled the Kurdish people to return to their villages, but many decided to resettle in Chaldo-Assyrian villages. The Chaldo-Assyrians who returned to their villages were powerless to regain their homes, many of which had been in their families for thousands and thousands of years.
At least 58 Chaldo-Assyrian villages have been partially or fully occupied by Kurds: eight are completely occupied and 50 partly occupied. All are in Dohuk province and in areas controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic party, the KDP. I am extremely grateful to Amnesty International for its continuing reports on the situation and on the relationships between the KDP and the indigenous Chaldo-Assyrian people. The KDP has refused consistently to return lands and property to the rightful owners, and, regrettably, has encouraged more Kurds—including Kurds from outside Iraq—to settle on Chaldo-Assyrian land.
My purpose in delineating the situation is not to attack the Kurdish people, who themselves have suffered. However, it cannot be denied—and I pray in aid the work of Amnesty International—that there has been land expropriation and a land-grab on a massive scale, and that that is turning the screw of pain and misery on the Chaldo-Assyrian people. During Saddam's regime, Chaldo-Assyrian lands in the Nineveh plains, their ancient homeland, were taken by force and rented at a strange function known as the annual auction. A large portion of the lands was confiscated and distributed to Iraqi military and intelligence personnel; some of the confiscated land was rented to Arabs or Kurds.
At the annual auctions, the highest Kurdish or Arab bidder was allowed to rent the land for a year. Instead of returning the land to its rightful Chaldo-Assyrian owners, the current Minister of Defence, Hazim al-Shaalan, has sent a letter to the Minister of Municipalities to instruct the Minister of the Mosul governorate to distribute Chaldo-Assyrian land to Iraqi military and intelligence service personnel—a continuance of the policy of the previous Ba'athist regime. The lands in question are in the following Chaldo-Assyrian districts of the Nineveh plains: Telkepeh, Baghdede—a name later changed to Qaraqosh, then to Hamdaniya—Karamles, Bartilla, Batnaye Telesqof, Alqush, Basheqe-Bahzani and Shaikhan. If I have mispronounced any of those names, I apologise.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Chaldo-Assyrian organisations have recorded the killings of more than 100 Iraqi Christians, who are subjected to escalating violence. They are targeted regularly, owing to their distinctive ethnicity and faith. As I said earlier, they are a double minority in their own ancestral homeland as they are both an ethnic and a religious minority. The average Iraqi faces many risks in the unstable situation in Iraq, but Iraqi Christians are up against even more dangers. They also have to deal with the additional threat of attacks from Islamic fundamentalists who want to drive them out of Iraq, kill them or force them to convert to Islam. Iraqi Christians are perceived by Muslim extremists as allies of the west, and face additional problems from their neighbours, many of them Kurdish, some of whom have used violence against the Chaldo-Assyrians or illegally expropriated Christian villages.
The Chaldo-Assyrian Christian community is highly vulnerable and under siege. I posit that there is no danger of the Kurds or Arabs vanishing from Iraq, or of their communities there being reduced to a tiny remnant, but there is—this is not alarmist—a real and genuine possibility that that could happen to the Chaldo-Assyrian community unless the security situation vastly improves.
Under article 53(D) of Iraq's transitional administrative law, there is a provision for an autonomous administrative region. In fact, that is guaranteed under that article. The establishment of such an autonomous administrative region would provide a safe haven for Iraq's Christians and, desperately importantly, would encourage the tens of thousands of Christians who have fled for their lives from Iraq—especially in recent months—to return to their ancestral homeland.
I referred earlier to the Amnesty International report. Amnesty has raised a number of cases with Massoud Barzani, the leader of the KDP, including the particularly vicious murder of Francis Shabo and many other unsolved killings. It has also stated that it has received the names of people said to be linked to the KDP's first party branch who are allegedly involved in murders, including that of Francis Shabo. Amnesty describes a great many unsolved assassinations and states:
"Amnesty International has received numerous allegations attributing these killings to special forces within the KDP, PUK and IMIK."
For the record, the PUK is the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the IMIK is the Islamic Movement in Iraqi Kurdistan. Amnesty continues:
"The security apparatus of the KDP, Rekkhistini Taybeti, and that of the PUK, Dezgay Zanyari, are said to have units akin to assassination squads, whose members receive orders from senior party officials. There is also widespread conviction that such unlawful and deliberate killings could not have been perpetrated without the knowledge, consent or acquiescence of the leaders of these two parties".
I have many examples of the slaughter of innocent Chaldo-Assyrians on their way to and from church, work and their studies. As other hon. Members wish to speak, I will not list them, but I assure the Chamber that this is not just a long and bloodstained list, it is, sadly, a list that grows longer by the day.
Amnesty also highlights the KDP's pressure on Chaldo-Assyrians to join the KDP or fly the Kurdish flag. That is part of a continued attempt to marginalise the Chaldo-Assyrians politically and prevent Chaldo-Assyrian organisations from getting support. As recently as July 2004 the KDP in Dohuk and Irbil prevented Chaldo-Assyrian groups and organisations, such as the Assyrian Democratic Movement, the Chaldo-Assyrian women's union, and the Chaldo-Assyrian students union in Dohuk, from being part of the special electoral committee to nominate participants to the Iraqi National Conference, the purpose of which was to elect representatives to the Iraqi National Assembly. The KDP appointed Chaldo-Assyrian representatives employed by the KDP, rather than permitting Chaldo-Assyrians to appoint their own representatives.
The situation is as violent and awful as I have described it, right up to today, which has seen gunmen bomb two Christian churches in Mosul. At least four Iraqi national guard troopers were killed in those incidents. The specific targeting of Christian churches continues, with the unimaginable consequence that a Christian is terrified to attend his or her place of Christian worship. I can imagine few things more utterly depressing in this century than the fact that one cannot pray to one's God in the company of one's co-religionists without the fear of death, especially when one is a part of a community with a history that stretches back to the period just after the death of our Lord. They cannot pray together today without that fear. We must never forget that.
As recently as 9 September 2004 a mortar attack was launched against the inhabitants of the Chaldo-Assyrian town of Baghdede in the Qaraqosh district. In that attack a 13-year-old Chaldo-Assyrian boy, Mark Louis Sheeto, who was completely innocent and whose only crime was the crucifix he wore around his neck and the faith he held true to in his heart, was killed and his mother and eight-year-old brother were critically injured. That is one of a series of attacks specifically designed to drive the community from its heartland and the area where it lives and trades.
In the same month, two 26-year-old Chaldo-Assyrians were kidnapped and beheaded. The beheading was captured on video and the video distributed not among those whose mindless perversion knows no limits and who actually buy such videos for gratification, but among members of the Chaldo-Assyrian community in northern Iraq, in order to drive fear into that community and force its members to flee their ancestral homeland.
On 2 December this year, Leith Antar Khanno, who was 29, was found dead near Mosul hospital. He had been kidnapped two weeks ago. The family could not come up with the ransom. His body was found first, and then his head. Khanno was married with a young daughter.
Perhaps some of us have assumed a defensive carapace when faced with the horror that is modern Iraq; perhaps some of us are less sensitive today than we were a year ago; perhaps some of us, faced with a constant stream of sadistic horror, are less aware and concerned than we once were; perhaps we suffer almost from emotional overload when we see the nightmarish visions and the sick and repulsive videos. However, I do not think that hon. Members present will feel any less worried, concerned, horrified or sickened by such attacks than they were a year ago.
We are talking about a Christian, peaceful community that has never waged war within the boundaries of modern Iraq; a community that has been attacked but never attacks; a community whose defence has been to flee and form part of the great Chaldo-Assyrian diaspora, which now stretches to Australia, Los Angeles and this country. For that community to be attacked in such a way is particularly vicious and unforgivable.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin) : Is my hon. Friend saying that the terrible kidnappings and murders that he has described have happened to people because they are Chaldo-Assyrian, or is he saying that those things are happening to rather a lot of Iraqis, including Chaldo-Assyrians?
Mr. Pound : I thank the Minister for his question. I do not imply for a second that the sufferings of the Chaldo-Assyrian Christian community are in any way unique in Iraq; what I am saying—and what I can document and prove consistently—is that Chaldo-Assyrians and Christians are being specifically targeted. No group in modern Iraq is being targeted in the same way. There has been one attack on a mosque in the past three months, and 18 attacks on Christian churches. Although there have been Sunni and Shi'a incidents of violence, I suggest that there has been nothing in modern Iraq remotely comparable to the current persecution of the Christian community.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) : I apologise that I cannot stay until the end of the debate because I have to go to a Select Committee meeting.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for bringing forward the issue. Does he agree that it is sad that there has been very little condemnation from the moderate Islamic community in Iraq of the way in which the Christians and the Chaldo-Assyrians have been targeted? If such condemnation were to start, at least there would be some belief that there is solidarity across religions. We know the fanatics, and what they wish to achieve, but the Muslim community, which is moderate, should condemn what is happening. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees.
Mr. Pound : I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. As I have said, I am grateful to him for the way in which he has consistently raised this issue; I pay tribute to him and give him credit for that.
One thing that I regret most is the fact that the natural allies of moderate Muslims in Iraq—the Chaldo-Assyrian community—have never been recognised on anything other than an individual basis by the voice of moderate Arabs in Iraq. One would have thought that the community would have been regarded as natural allies and that moderate Muslims would have seen a unity of purpose with it. It is a great tragedy that such is the extent of the anti-Christian propaganda in Iraq, it seems even to have subsumed some of those from whom one would expect better.
The British Government, together with the United States, must consider the issue of a self-governing administrative region for the Chaldo-Assyrians, as promised by article 53(D).
Mr. Mullin : My intervention arises from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). Is my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North aware that Iraq's Shi'a Muslim leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, called for an end to the attacks and talked about the need to respect the rights of Christians and those of other religious faiths, and about their right to live in Iraq peacefully? A number of other moderate Islamic leaders have made similar statements in recent weeks.
Mr. Pound : Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has been a still, small, voice amid the storm, particularly since his return to Iraq from his recent operation. However, that statement was made some time ago and there has been very little indication of any diminution in the attacks on the Christian community since. I am happy to pay tribute to him; he is someone with whom one can have rational discourse. However, I do not hear that voice echoed anywhere else in Iraq. That does not make his statement any less important. Sadly, it makes it rather more isolated.
I mentioned the Iraqi transitional administrative law and I ask Her Majesty's Government to consider raising the issue of the self-governing administrative region with the United States and the Iraqi Interim Government. Such a region would provide the safe haven that is so desperately needed. It would have to be situated in and around the Nineveh plains and, specifically, in Dohuk province, not just because that is the ancestral homeland of the Chaldo-Assyrians, but because it is heavily populated by them to this day. I am sure most that hon. Members are familiar with article 53(D) of the transitional administrative law, but, for the record, it states:
"This Law shall guarantee the administrative, cultural and political rights of the Turcomans, Chaldo-Assyrians, and all other citizens."
The history of the Chaldo-Assyrians is both tragic and glorious. It is both proud and desperately sad. One thing that it has repeatedly demonstrated is that the community cannot depend on others to protect it and it has an urgent and vital need for autonomy, in order to protect it and enhance its security. What specific steps have Her Majesty's Government taken to bring about a self-administered region? I also ask the Minister to pressure the KDP, where possible, to ensure that violence, kidnapping and other crimes in KDP-controlled areas are punished.
Her Majesty's Government and the United States should, perhaps financially, support the redevelopment and reconstruction of Chaldo-Assyrian villages and infrastructure and the return and resettlement of Chaldo-Assyrian refugees. They should also give whatever support they can to the Christians of Iraq to enhance their security and protection. By doing so, the British Government would be empowering a force for moderation in Iraq.
We have mentioned moderate Muslim influence and comment earlier, but moderate Muslims, together with Chaldo-Assyrians, are the main bulwarks against the growth and spread of Islamic fundamentalism. If the Iraqi Christian community is reduced, as it might be, to a tiny remnant, it will have no power to oppose the imposition of Islamic law in Iraq. The presence of a live and vibrant Christian community in Iraq adds great strength to the ability of moderate Iraqi Muslims to oppose the spread of fundamentalism.
I cannot believe that Her Majesty's Government would view the plight of the Christian community in Iraq as merely a side issue, peripheral to the major and dramatic events that affect that country. I realise that many people take this matter seriously and I pay tribute to them. We are missing a great opportunity, however, if we cannot support non-Muslims, who are the natural allies of moderate Muslims and who are opposed to the spread of militant, extreme Islam in Iraq.
Furthermore, Iraq will utterly fail to be the leading and positive example of pluralism and democracy for other middle eastern countries to follow if it fails to give strong support to its ancient Christian Chaldo-Assyrian community. It is therefore very much in the interests of our Government and all other Governments who do not wish to see Iraq dominated by Islamic fundamentalism to give their full support to Iraq's Christians.
Her Majesty's Government have rightly claimed that human rights are an important part of foreign policy, and the situation in Iraq shows that our commitment to human rights is not theoretical but utterly practical. The Chaldo-Assyrian community may have a long history of persecution, betrayal, massacre and genocide, but it is still there. We must ensure that in months and years to come no Member stands in this Chamber and talks about the former Chaldo-Assyrian Christian community in Iraq. We also have the opportunity to right a grave historical wrong and fulfil the long-overdue promise made by Britain after the first world war to grant the Chaldo-Assyrians an autonomous homeland.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has described the situation in Iraq today as parlous, perilous and dangerous. The agency urges us not to seek the forced repatriation of those who seek asylum in this country, and in the short term I am sure that we would not wish to do so. In the medium to long term, if we are not to see the end of that ancient Christian community and force for moderation, we must act to support these people who have stood steadfast by us in this country for many years. They have, with their blood, earned themselves the right for us to support them to the utmost of our ability.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): A community that has been attacked but has never attacked—that is what the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) referred to in his eloquent, moving and persuasive speech. It is always an honour to follow him; this time, however, it is not a pleasure because of the circumstances. Indeed, it is not really acceptable for someone who uses the English language as poorly as I do even to comment on the hon. Gentleman's performance, but it was quite inspirational.
During that genocide, the Chaldo-Assyrians lost about 750,000 people—about half their population—as well as a very large proportion of their land. They fought on the side of the allies and incurred heavy losses in battle in the first world war, and the British Government promised them an autonomous homeland in Iraq after the war. That promise, as we have heard, has never been fulfilled.
In August 1933, the Iraqi military turned their weapons against their own Chaldo-Assyrian Christian citizens and massacred about 4,000 of them in villages in what are now the governorates of Dohok and Nineveh. The Assyrian Democratic Movement and the Jubilee Campaign, representatives of which are here today, are calling for urgent and much stronger support for Iraq's community of about 1 million, which remains besieged to this day.
Christians are by far the largest non-Muslim minority in Iraq, and the Chaldo-Assyrians and moderate Muslims in Iraq are the main bulwarks against the growth and spread of Islamic fundamentalism in that country. That is—the Minister asked about this earlier—the key reason they are being singled out for persecution and driven out of the country. I hope that he will accept at least that fact today. If Iraq's Christian community is reduced to a very small size, it will have no power to oppose attempts to impose sharia law in Iraq. The presence of a vibrant Iraqi Christian community greatly strengthens the ability of moderate Iraqi Muslims to oppose the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. That is in the interests of not only moderate Muslims, but the rest of the world.
Attempts to Islamicise Iraq have grown bolder and stronger since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. In that respect, the war has been subject to the law of unintended consequences. There have, for example, been numerous reports that Iran is trying to take advantage of the instability in Iraq by exporting its brand of so-called Islamic revolution and sending large numbers of agents to support Shi'ite militias friendly to Iran and radicalise the Shi'ite population. The most notorious Shi'ite militia, the Mahdi army, which is led by Moqtada al-Sadr, is well know to have close ties with the Islamic regime in Tehran.
The Chaldo-Assyrians have been among the first and the most vulnerable victims of the Islamic extremists, although that is not to say, of course, that others have not suffered. Several Chaldo-Assyrians, who were alcohol sellers, were assassinated by Muslim militants, and numerous threatening letters have been sent to Christians telling them to adopt Islamic practices such as wearing the veil and to convert to Islam or face death.
Islamic extremists conducted lethal, co-ordinated terrorist bombings on Sunday 1 August against five churches in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul, killing 12 people and injuring many more. In the wake of those bombings and other anti-Christian violence, thousands of Chaldo-Assyrians fled, further reducing—some would say decimating—Iraq's Christian presence. Iraq's ancient Christian community is now in danger of extinction or, at least, of being greatly reduced.
Since those attacks, Islamic extremists have struck Christian churches again. On 16 October, Islamic extremists bombed five Chaldo-Assyrian churches in Baghdad, although nobody was injured. On 8 November, bombs exploded at two churches in Baghdad within the space of five or 10 minutes, which shows the level of co-ordination of those attacks. At least three people were killed and 40 injured. That illustrates for the Minister how the Christian community is being specifically targeted in an attempt to terrorise, destroy or drive it away so that fundamentalism can triumph. We must fight against that.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North eloquently described how two further churches in Mosul were bombed and another was stormed by gunmen only yesterday. On 4 July, two Chaldo-Assyrian children—16-year-old Raneen Raad and her six-year-old brother, Raphid—were shot dead at their home by Islamic extremists while their parents were away. My hon. Friend also told us about beheadings.
Bishop al-Qas of Amadiya in northern Iraq said that posters had been put up urging Christians to convert to Islam or leave the country. The point we want to drive home today is that Christians need an autonomous region so that they can have security and safety. Chaldo-Assyrian Christians have received threatening letters telling them to support the Muslim rebellion against the coalition authorities and to practise Islam or suffer severe consequences. The recipients of those letters were told that if they did not follow basic rules such as wearing the veil and did not follow Islamic teachings, they would be raped, tortured, kidnapped or killed, or have their houses, along with their families, burned or bombed. Muslim extremists are calling Iraqi Christians crusaders or fifth columnists for the Christian west and the Americans. Three Christian bishops in Mosul have received letters threatening to kill one member of each Christian household—a little biblical reference—as a punishment for women not wearing the Islamic veil.
The British Government and their US ally have often said that one positive outcome of the war in Iraq would be the emergence of a free, democratic country setting a good example for the whole region to follow. On that basis, I supported the Government action there. We have learned a lot since then. Yet, if the rights of the Chaldo-Assyrians, who are Iraq's second largest ethnic group, and its largest religious faction, are not respected, and their security needs are ignored, Iraq will be deprived of a major force for religious moderation, and a significant bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism. That will gravely threaten its chances of ever becoming a leading example of pluralism, freedom and democracy for the middle east.
Therefore, it is clearly in the interests of Iraq, of the British Government and of all those who do not wish to see Iraq dominated by Islamic fundamentalism and all that that entails to give their full support to Iraq's besieged Christian community. Not only have members of that community had to contend with attacks by Islamic extremists, but they have seen the illegal expropriation of their land and villages by neighbouring communities, depriving them of their livelihoods and shelter.
I urge the Kurdish authorities, particularly the Kurdistan Democratic party, to consider the matter carefully and to respond to what I have said, so that the international community can judge their actions. The Kurds are a great race. I deeply respect and admire them in many ways. They are the largest group in the world without their own homeland, and I have spoken in their favour a number of times in the House—on at least one occasion in front of you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I see you nodding your assent. I want to be sure that they understand fully the plight of the Chaldo-Assyrian people, and I hope that they will want to be seen to be acting properly—thereby promoting their own cause. If they do not do so, how can they expect the rest of the world to stand up for them in their persecution?
At least 58 Chaldo-Assyrian villages have been occupied—eight completely and 50 partially—by the Kurds. All of them are in Dohuk province in areas controlled by the KDP. A list of the villages is available from the Jubilee Campaign. It is claimed that the KDP has not yet properly responded to numerous appeals from the Chaldo-Assyrians, requesting that it relocate the Kurdish squatters out of the villages. I await its response.
I apologise for the repetition in this speech. Other hon. Members will have received the same briefing as I have, and many are more expert than I am on the subject, but I will always take the trouble to stand up and fight for religious freedom and against persecution around the world. As I am a good friend of the Kurds, I hope that they and the KDP will listen to me. I have supported them on many occasions.
Under Saddam Hussein's regime, Chaldo-Assyrian lands in the plains of Nineveh were taken by force and distributed to members of the military and intelligence services, or rented to Arabs or Kurds after the annual auction, as we have heard. Instead of returning those lands to their rightful owners, the current Minister of Defence, Hazim Al-Shalan, has given instructions for the confiscated Chaldo-Assyrian land to be distributed to Iraqi military intelligence service personnel. That is not acceptable. It replicates the odious Ba'athist regime policies that we are supposed to be eradicating.
The Chaldo-Assyrian Christians are highly vulnerable—they are a community under siege. While the average Iraqi faces many risks in common with them in that unstable situation, the Iraqi Christians are up against even more danger: they have to deal also with attacks from the Islamic extremists from Iran and, for reasons that I have already explained, from those who want to drag them out of Iraq and kill them or force them to convert to Islam.
Those Islamic extremists view the Christians as an obstacle to their dream of Islamicising Iraq, and they wrongly perceive them as close allies of the coalition forces. I urge the allies, particularly Britain and America, seriously to consider setting up an autonomous administrative region, as requested by the hon. Member for Ealing, North—and as promised in article 53(D) of Iraq's transitional administrative law.
An autonomous administrative region for the Chaldo-Assyrians would provide them with a safe haven. That would significantly enhance their security; and the British and American Governments should help bring it about as a matter of urgency in the Nineveh plains and Dohuk province. I would like the Minister to say—or he can write if necessary—that the British Government have taken and will take specific steps to help set up that autonomous administrative region, in line with their promises and with the transitional administrative law.
Now that Britain has influence in Iraq, it should be used fully to protect the human rights of the Chaldo-Assyrians, whose history has been a long succession of persecution, betrayal, massacre and even genocide. The Kurds have suffered similarly, and I hope that they will be especially sensitive to the needs of that severely oppressed minority. The Kurds, above all, should feel the pain of the Chaldo-Assyrians; they should know that they are not a blight against them that needs to be removed.
The Government also have the opportunity to right a grave historic wrong by granting the Chaldo-Assyrians an autonomous homeland. The Government and their US ally also have a duty to enable financial support for the reconstruction of Chaldo-Assyrian villages, schools, clinics and infrastructure in order to allow for the return and resettlement of Chaldo-Assyrian refugees. They should also give whatever support they can to the Christians of Iraq to enhance their security and protection. So far as I am aware—the Minister may correct me if I am wrong—Britain has not yet given direct bilateral aid to those people. I have mentioned before that money may still be available from the oil-for-food programme. I do not know if that is so, but if it is we have a good use for it.
Finally, we need to get the detail right in Iraq. If we do not, we will have failed not only the Chaldo-Assyrian people but the region and humanity.
Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries) (Lab) rose—
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. John McWilliam): Order. I apologise to the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown), but we have had two very long speeches and we need to start the winding-up speeches so that the hon. Member who opened the debate has the chance of a reply from the Minister.
John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): One of the issues raised by my constituents when I was elected to the House was the persecution of Christians in Indonesia. Some months ago, we held a debate on the Christian community in Africa. Today's debate will not be the last on the subject. The only question is: where next?
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) opened a debate on the subject earlier this year. I pay tribute to him today for his eloquent speech, in which he spoke of suffering, pride and courage. Unfortunately, there are too many examples. We heard several examples today of Christians suffering in Iraq, and the hon. Gentleman said that he believed that there was a campaign of murder and harassment against Christians in Iraq. When one listens to those examples, one is left in no doubt. The list is long, but if time permits I will add one or two examples.
This is the right time for such a debate—it is the right debate at the right time. Christmas is only a couple of weeks away, and the proposed elections in Iraq should happen next month. We should be optimistic that we are moving toward better times for people of all religions in Iraq.
Before this debate, I was contacted by ministers from two of my local churches, the Rev. Dr. Russell Barr and the Rev. Roger Wiles, who gave me their contributions. One of them raised a question that I will ask the Minister.
Although I am normally optimistic, and this should be an optimistic time, the reality of life on the ground not only sends a chill down the spine, but stretches my capacity for optimism to breaking point. In Iraq we see, on a daily basis, the toll of events—death, destruction, car bombs, military deaths, civilian deaths, kidnapping, abduction and torture—on many people of all religions and of none. The level of suffering and the number of dead due to religion one can only guess, but the Christian community is clearly suffering badly. People are acting in the most despicable ways, and claiming that it is in the name of their God, and that they know that God is on their side. This may not be a religious war, but many impartial observers now see two fundamentalist movements taking up potentially hostile positions.
It is too simple to say that in a world with one superpower, the USA, and with a moral majority on the rise, religion is at the heart of the conflict, but it is foolish not to see the USA's position in relation to the rest of the world as something without a religious and Christian dimension. When any group is so powerful, it should come as no surprise that others feel threatened by a force that was unleashed at a time when we in this House were told that there was a clear and present danger, and that chemical or biological weapons could be unleashed on us within 45 minutes. Unfortunately, we rushed to war when there were no weapons of mass destruction and we were not under a direct threat.
However, those things have happened, and we are where we are—but where is that? How many people have suffered and are suffering? There is no doubt that we are better off without Saddam Hussein in power, but the world is undoubtedly less safe than it was. One only has to look at this building, which has armed guards and is surrounded by concrete blocks, to see that we are not in a safer society.
How many people have died in Iraq? It is difficult for anyone to agree on figures: one body count on the web says that between 14,000 and 16,000 civilians—mostly Muslims—have died, but there may be more. There are also military fatalities, most of whom are Christian. Deaths are now regularly reported in our media in order of importance: we get great detail about the deaths of British and American soldiers, British civilians, individual hostages and contractors; slightly lower down the pecking order come security and police officers; and at the bottom of the heap, we get a list of insurgents.
Estimates of the size of the Christian community vary, but most settle at around 700,000, which is half the figure counted in the 1987 census, so 50 per cent. of them have gone. They now make up about 3 per cent. of the population. The one point on which there is agreement regarding numbers is that people are fleeing on a regular basis. All forms of media—newspapers, magazines and TV—have covered what that community has suffered. Some of the claims are too gruesome to repeat today, but in the past we have heard about villages being destroyed, churches and monasteries being razed, and Christians being deported to Baghdad.
Christians were often victims of the growing abduction industry because they were seen as being wealthy. There have been a number of horrific stories, but one that stuck in my mind was that of a 70-year-old Catholic nun who was murdered in her convent in central Baghdad. She was stripped naked and cruelly tortured before her throat was cut and she was beheaded. There are many other horrifying stories, and I do not think that we need to dwell on them now.
A large number of Christians were kidnapped in Baghdad between April 2003 and last month. Naturally, people are terrified of even going to pray—of coming out as a Christian. When they see a leaflet saying "Convert or Die", as we heard about from the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), moderate people who just want to pray feel that they have to keep their head down and not be noticed. What hope do they have in the face of such extreme views?
We also have to ask whether the American-British intervention has made things worse than before. A number of leading Muslim scholars issued a religious edict that said that anyone who aided the US and British forces would be "condemned to hell." The flight of the Christians mirrors the flight of the Jews. We have an oppressed minority in Iraq and the situation is getting worse instead of getting better.
We hope—we have to have some hope—that the future rests on basic human rights returning to all citizens of Iraq. Some legislation is now encapsulated in chapter 2 of the transitional administrative law, and that is a good start. The current proposals are the way forward. My party and I did not support the military intervention at the time, but, as I said, we are where we are and we have to move forward. We have to use the proposals to provide a framework to be built on for the future. The framework must show that all Iraqis must be equal before the law and that any discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, gender or religion will be illegal.
John Barrett : The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, because although we are urging individual groups to select their own representatives, we have an interim authority right now and hopefully once the constitution is in place and there are elections, people's representatives will be the just and right representatives for that group. I honestly do not know whether they ended up with the right representatives, preaching in the right direction. However, that is one of the points that must be taken into consideration when we are considering the way forward in Iraq, so that we have a true democracy. It is not only who votes and who counts the votes that is important, but the system that will be in place. That point is well made.
The current framework can be built on and discrimination can be eradicated. The next step should see the elections in January establish a transitional Government. After that, we should get a permanent constitution and a referendum, with elections by the end of 2005 on the basis of the new constitution. I hope that any problems that arise now will be eradicated then. All being well, Iraq should be in the home straight next year, heading towards peaceful democracy and with the troops possibly even on their way home.
What do the people of Iraq see now? They see continual killing of innocent civilians. They see reports of torture in Abu Ghraib prison. Many have little hope for the future. Although some services are returning, basic supplies and utilities are intermittent. Fear is part of daily life for communities. For the Christian community there is another dimension: they are linked to the coalition forces by religion, because of their ethnicity and their faith. Christians are also seen as well-to-do, with some attacks on them because they are Christian but others possibly because they are seen as a relatively wealthy section of society.
Iraq's Christian community has been heavily targeted in the unrest that has swept Iraq following the invasions, and some have packed up and left. At the start of August, there were attacks on Christian targets in Baghdad and others in Mosul, which have been mentioned by other speakers. As brevity is required, I will leave them out. Will the Minister deal with the issue of people seeking asylum because of their religious beliefs and asylum seekers who genuinely convert to Christianity while in the UK? What position do the Government take on that?
A constituent of mine converted to Christianity, then fled to the UK and feared that he could not return. The local church in my constituency agreed that he was a practising Christian, but the immigration authorities would not accept it. Who makes the decision about whether Her Majesty's Government believe that someone has converted to Christianity?
Tragic events are unfolding in Iraq and some fundamentalists have led a systematic campaign against the Christian community, but all groups—of all religions or no religion—are suffering persecution in Iraq. We can only hope that 2005 will move the game towards an end, and that we can be optimistic for the future of people in Iraq.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) has done the House a great service in raising an important issue. The House should be a place where we can champion the cause of persecuted minorities all over the world. In his hands, this Chamber is becoming precisely that, and I pay warm tribute to him for the vivid and articulate way in which he put his case. It is what we have come to expect from him. I pay tribute, too, to my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) for making a powerful case for more support for the Christian community. I shall talk about that community shortly, but I want to pick up a couple of points that were made.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) described what we are considering as a war of religion, or at least as being fundamentally to do with religion. Religion often gets a bad press, and we should not lose sight of the fact that all over the world, because of their religion, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews or people of other faiths are going about doing good—building families and communities, and doing acts of kindness, self-sacrifice and courage. Sometimes people—notably John Lennon in his song "Imagine"—consider that the world would be a better place without religion. I do not believe that. The acts of terrorism that are being carried out in Iraq are done by bad people. If religion is used as a motivation, that is an abuse of their religion and is not excused by it.
There is a particular problem with the Christian church in Iraq, which I shall discuss. However, we must recognise that what is happening is partly a reflection of the post-conflict insurgency in Iraq. The Minister will probably agree with almost everything that I will say, but one thing that he probably will not like nevertheless needs to be repeated: what is happening is partly a reflection of the lack of proper preparation for post-conflict Iraq and putting the country back together again. I have said that four or five times and will go on saying it, because it is essential that the Government learn the lesson. I know that the intervention was American led, but if Britain were to become involved in other interventions in the lifetime of this Parliament or in our parliamentary lifetimes—I very much hope that it will not be—we should learn the lessons of Iraq: we need to ensure that we know what the outcome will be; we need an exit strategy; and we need to ensure that we know how to put a country back together if we take it apart, bit by bit, with bombs, planes and missiles.
I am concerned about the state of the Chaldo-Assyrians in Iraq. We have had two powerful history lessons today about their proud and long history and their contribution to society generally. A good friend of mine, Canon Andrew White, works in the middle east and Iraq and stays in e-mail contact with me. I have been following some of the recent attacks on churches through his reports on the ground. The matter is very serious, and I am concerned about the numbers who have fled. I hope that it is a temporary flight and that there will be repatriation when the country is safer. I am, of course, also concerned about the many who have been killed or kidnapped, the churches that have been attacked and the people who are scared to practise their religions by going to church. In a recent e-mail, Canon White wrote:
"There was further bad news regarding the Christians in Iraq yesterday. A mass leafleting to all the Churches and individual Christians took place telling them to leave the country or convert to Islam."
My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point mentioned that problem. Canon White continued:
"Our church was also attacked yesterday afternoon but the guards shot at the attackers causing them to flee."
Here is the powerful sentence:
"The cries from the Christians of Iraq are increasingly desperate."
That sums up the situation.
We have heard from hon. Members about specific atrocities that have been committed. Such things are happening right now—they are real and genuine. Being a practical politician, I ask myself what our response should be and what we should hope to hear from the Minister in his winding–up speech. Wherever possible, we—the British and Americans—must ensure that we provide as much security as we can on the ground for the Christians who are suffering in Iraq. We must not turn a blind eye to the persecution of that faith minority.
Sometimes, I think that it is not politically correct to be a Christian. There are signs sometimes that we give more space and support to people from other faiths. I want the Minister to confirm—I know that he will be able to—that we are not turning a blind eye simply because it is a Christian community that is involved rather than a community of another faith that might be more attractive in terms of the current British point of view. I think the Minister knows what I am saying—and here comes the rebuttal.
Mr. Mullin : I am happy to confirm that.
Mr. Streeter : I am grateful that we are not turning a blind eye to the persecution of those in the Christian community in Iraq whose voices must be heard.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North and my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point have proposed a specific policy, namely that there should be an autonomous or semi-autonomous region for the Chaldean Christians in Iraq. At this stage, the Conservative Front Bench cannot positively support such a policy, but we are always open to persuasion and ready to listen and learn. I was going to say "open to higher office", but that is not quite true. The reason why such a policy would not be choice No. 1 is that if we were to make provision for a semi-autonomous region in Iraq for the Christians, pressures would come upon us from the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shi'as for the country to be broken down into a series of autonomous or semi-autonomous regions. We would all have to describe such a result as a sub-optimal outcome. We would not want such a situation for two reasons. First, we want Iraq to function as a proper, multi-faith, multicultural and multi-ethnic society. We want the country to be put back together with every community learning to live together, for the sake, I believe, of the Iraqi people. Secondly, what kind of signal would making such provision in Iraq send to the many other countries around the world where there are ethnic and religious tensions between different groupings?
I sometimes look at the history of the history of the world and wonder whether we have ever been able to live together successfully when we espouse strong religious beliefs that are different from those of the people in the next-door community or when there are racial and ethnic divides. However, in this globalising world there is no choice but to make things work, or else the world will simply break down into myriad cantons and become virtually ungovernable. I understand the reason for calling for such a policy, but at this stage I cannot support it.
I wish to ask the Minister some questions before he deals with the many issues raised in the debate. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the new Iraqi constitution will genuinely guarantee the rights of Christians and other religious minorities to full and equal citizenship? Will his ambassador be able to extract a commitment from Iraq's principal Sunni and Shi'a leaders to that effect? Do the Government accept that there is a need to accelerate the rate at which Iraq's indigenous security forces are trained and brought on stream, so that they can offer security on the ground in respect of the killings, persecution and unacceptable behaviour that we have heard about today? What space will there be for the Christian community—for the Chaldo-Assyrians—in the forthcoming election? What particular provision, if any, is being made for them in the assembly that will come out of the elections that, we hope, will take place on 30 January?
I am sure that the Minister will agree that this country, rightly, is a tolerant nation and that we give equal space to people from all faiths. Freedom of religion is one of our fundamental principles and tenets, and that is right and proper. When dealing with the Iraqi situation or with any other nation in the world, when entering into diplomatic relations, when applying diplomatic or trade pressure, and when considering aid provision for any country, should it not also be a fundamental part of our foreign policy to insist on the same freedom of religious expression and worship in each country with which we are dealing that we rightly grant in our own?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin) : My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) set out his case powerfully and vividly. He has described the tragic history of the Chaldo-Assyrian people. Having said that, my understanding of the situation today is somewhat different from his, as I hope to set out. We all know that Iraq is suffering general lawlessness and that many people of all faiths and political persuasions, including many of European extraction, have paid a high price for that. It is also true that, in some parts of Iraq, notably in the Sunni-Arab area, west of the Tigris river, attacks have been specifically directed at Christians and churches, as my hon. Friend and others described.
We have recently consulted fairly widely with a range of leading Christians in northern Iraq, however, and we can find no significant support for autonomy; indeed, we found significant opposition to it. One of the Christian leaders in northern Iraq to whom we spoke said that the idea seemed to have come from members of the Chaldo-Assyrian community in exile rather than those who live in Iraq.
One or two hon. Members—two, I think—referred to the position of Britain in relation to Iraq in the 1920s. All I can say is that Iraq's position was different in the 1920s from that which exists today. At that time, Iraq was a League of Nations protectorate, whereas we are now dealing with a sovereign Government, and there can be no read-across from the 1920s to the 21st century.
The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) asked whether Christians would be represented in the Parliament after the election. Well, the independent election commission in Iraq is certifying 240 political parties that are hoping to register, so it is probably fair to say that no school of thought will be unrepresented in the elections—although it will be for the electorate to decide which will be elected. There have been requests to register from parties representing a broad range of Iraqi society, including Assyrians.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) asked about the position of people who applied for asylum on the basis that they had come here and converted to Christianity and therefore felt that they would be at risk if they returned; I am unsure whether he was talking only about Iraq, or about other places as well. All asylum cases are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and if someone can demonstrate that their fear of persecution is genuine, their case will be considered very seriously. However, I want to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to a phenomenon that certainly occurs among refugees of my acquaintance, so I will be surprised if it does not occur in other parts of the country: there is a tendency for them to convert at the last moment when all other options have run out. Naturally, asylum adjudicators and Home Office officials tend to be sceptical about that kind of conversions.
I endorse the point made by the hon. Member for South-West Devon when he said that he wanted to see Iraq functioning as a multicultural, multi-faith society. I think we all want that.
Many of the problems that have been outlined, and certainly the more recent ones, are a legacy of what happened under Saddam Hussein's regime. There were decades of oppression of Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians and many others. They were forcibly driven from their homes, and many thousands were forced into exile.
All Iraqis, including Chaldo-Assyrians and other Christians, now benefit from the transitional administrative law, which safeguards their fundamental rights, including freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and other basic civil and political rights. The transitional law will continue to apply until the adoption of Iraq's permanent constitution next year. Of course, Iraqis had no such rights under the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Russell Brown : We are all looking to the future for all the different groupings, especially ethnic groupings and those based on faith, which we have been talking about today. The Minister mentioned Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and fine words have been spoken, but what we need to hear in the Chamber today is whether what those fine words describe will be delivered in the future. That is what the Chaldo-Assyrians want to hear; they wish to have a future in the new Iraq and, despite the difficulties that we face, they could have had a better start towards that future than they have had so far.
Mr. Mullin : On that last point, my hon. Friend may well be right. All I can say is that everyone of good will of all political persuasions and beliefs is working towards the same end. That end was outlined by the hon. Member for South-West Devon; it is a multicultural, multi-faith and democratic society in Iraq.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) was a bit dismissive about the fine words, but my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North was asking for some words. He wanted to hear from representatives of moderate Islam and other sections of society that they, too, condemned the attacks on Christians. The only point that I was making is that some people, including the Grand Ayatollah, have made such statements. It is right that we hope that they make such statements not just once but regularly, and loudly, too, so that everyone, and especially their own followers, can hear and understand the message. However, I think that we have been a little unfair to some of the moderate Islamic leaders who have repeatedly made clear their position on attacking Christians and, indeed, people of other religious faiths.
Reference was made to article 53(D) of the transitional law, which guarantees the administrative, cultural and political rights of the Turkomans, the Chaldo-Assyrians and all other citizens, but contrary to what my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North suggested, it does not include a reference to a self-governing region. Ultimately it is for the Iraqi authorities to determine the proper interpretation of the transitional administrative law; however, in our view, article 53(D) does not imply the right to an autonomous administrative region for one particular group.
As I said at the outset, as far as I am aware, Christian leaders in northern Iraq—and we do talk to them—have rejected the idea of an autonomous region, saying that it is more popular among Assyrians living outside Iraq than among those who live inside. They fear that such a proposal would make their community more, not less, vulnerable to attack, and I know that that is not my hon. Friend's intention. One leading member of the community recently described the proposal as "very wrong and dangerous".
Mr. Pound : The point that the Minister touches on—the assertion that the community in exile may be making a statement not in keeping with one made by the community in northern Iraq—is of the greatest and gravest significance. Will the Minister give us some suggestion as to who exactly made that statement in northern Iraq? What statement from what group would convince him that the feeling is more widespread that a safe zone is the only way to preserve not just the culture and community but the very lives of the people whom we are discussing?
Christian Iraqis are well integrated in the autonomous area of Kurdistan, the Kurdistan regional government in Kirkuk and most parts of Mosul, but not of course in the western side of the city, where the situation is difficult and dangerous. In Irbil, some Christians occupy senior Government positions. One is Deputy Prime Minister, another is Minister of Finance. They have a representative in the interim Iraqi Government in Baghdad, who is Minister of Displacement and Migration. A committee has been set up in Ankawa, a Christian village just outside Irbil, to help the resettlement of Christians from elsewhere in Iraq. So far, about 1,000 Christian families have resettled in the areas around Irbil and Dohuk provinces. Another 50 Christian families, mainly from the south of Iraq, have resettled in the Sulaymaniyah province. A further 1,000 Christians took temporary shelter in Sulaymaniyah from Mosul during fighting there in early November, but we understand that most, if not all, of them have returned to their homes in Mosul.
Progress continues to be made, and I am pleased to report that on 6 and 7 December, the first 70 of 170 Assyrian families that had fled to Baghdad in the 1980s returned to their homes in the Faysh Khabur area along the Syrian border. Some 120 Kurdish families who lived there have left, and we expect the remainder of the Assyrians who fled in the 1980s to return, if they wish to, shortly.
We remain concerned by reports that Christians are suffering discrimination in other parts of Iraq. Earlier this summer, we joined Christian and Muslim leaders in condemning the appalling attacks on churches, which, as hon. Members have described, resulted in a number of deaths and injuries to dozens more. We have welcomed the statement from Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani that called for an end to the attacks and indicated the need to respect the rights of Christians and those of other religious faiths, and their right to live peacefully in Iraq. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North will join me in condemning the bombing of the two churches in Mosul yesterday, which was obviously the work of those seeking to divide Iraq's diverse communities and divert the political process.
Our officials in Iraq regularly meet members of the Christian communities and raise their concerns with the Iraqi authorities. The Iraqi Human Rights Minister, Bakhtiar Amin, who recently met my noble Friend Baroness Symons, is particularly concerned about the issue and we have asked our missions in Iraq to continue to monitor the situation closely.
United Nations Security Council resolution 1546 welcomed the commitment of the interim Iraqi Government to move towards a federal, democratic, pluralist and unified Iraq, in which there is full respect for political and human rights. The immediate goal for the interim Government is free and fair national elections across Iraq on 30 January—the date recently announced by the Independent Elections Commission of Iraq. The elections for a Transitional National Assembly will give Iraq's minority groups an opportunity to be represented at all levels of Government in Iraq and we believe that the Assyrians will play their part in the elections. Recent opinion polls make it clear that the majority of Iraqis want to vote.
Members of the Iraqi community in the UK will also be able to vote. The International Organisation for Migration has been tasked with arranging out-of-country voting on behalf of the Independent Elections Commission and preparations, which are still at an early stage, are being finalised.
Iraq's future constitution and state structure remain a matter for Iraqis to debate and to decide in the Transitional National Assembly, which will draft the permanent constitution in 2005, so all Iraqis, including Assyrians, will be able to identify with the values and institutions enshrined in the constitution. We will continue to urge Iraqis to ensure that the fundamental rights of all citizens are protected, regardless of their sect or ethnicity.
The Iraqi people are now set on a course that offers them the best chance to overcome present challenges and the hope for a better future of a free, democratic, stable Iraq. That is the future that all of Iraq's communities, including the Assyrians, richly deserve.
Is Iraq Another Yugoslavia?
Churches belonging to the Christian Assyrians, one of Iraq's indigenous peoples, have become the latest target of terrorism in the strife-torn country. This conjures up disturbing parallels with the decade long religious and ethnic conflict in the Balkans.
Iraq reminds me of the former Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, both communist federations consisting of various competing ethnic groups. Both of these nations lasted about 70 years before fragmenting violently into a multitude of new nation states in the early 1990s.
Iraq is a hodge podge consisting of an ethnic Arab majority, many of whom are Shiite or Sunni Muslim. A very small number are Arab Christians. Add to this mixture, millions of Sunni Muslim Kurds and Turkmans in the north of the country. Kurds are non-Arabs, whilst the Turkmans are closely related to the Turks. Not forgetting the Assyrian Christians, who were the original inhabitants of Iraq before being swamped by an Islamic Arab invasion in 637 AD, more than 1300 years ago. There are also tiny numbers of ethnic Christian Armenians, and two little known sects, the Sabia, who worship water, and the Yazidi, mistakenly referred to as "devil worshipers."
The irony is that Iraq is one of the cradles of Western and Judeo-Christian civilisation. Anyone who has studied ancient history at high school can recall the Sumerians, the Assyrians and the Babylonians, and the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Iraq has Yugoslavia written all over it. Can such a country survive intact? Can the west, in particular the United States-lead coalition of the willing, hold it all together?
The Kurds in the north have been fighting for their own homeland for decades. Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein brutally suppressed them by gassing and bombing them. He also brutally suppressed the Shiite Arab majority, located in the south, which have religious ties to neighbouring non-Arab state, Iran, the descendant of Ancient Persia.
Saddam, as a way of dividing the rival groups, appointed an Arab Christian, the bespectacled Tariq Aziz, as his Foreign Minister. Aziz, being a Christian had no hope of building an anti-Saddam conspiracy.
Northern neighbour Turkey is not comfortable with an independent Kurdistan arising from northern Iraq, as there are millions of Kurds within Turkish borders. Turkey has fought a 20-year Kurdish insurgency and is concerned about the plight of its Turkman kin.
Christian Assyrians also live in Syria and Iran. The father of famous American tennis player, Andre Agassi, is an Assyrian from Iran. These people are a small and persecuted minority in their own homelands. So it comes as no great surprise that a large ethnic Assyrian diaspora exists. In the next couple of months or years, don't be surprised if more of them try to flee to the west.
Another of those persecuted indigenous peoples we hardly hear about is the Christian Egyptian Copts, who have suffered at the hands of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. The former Egyptian Foreign Minister and UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros Ghali, is a Copt. Like the Assyrians, many Copts have made the west home.
Then there are the Berbers of Algeria. These people are the original nomads of North Africa, who were converted to Islam by invading Arab armies eons ago. A deadly rivalry still exists been Arabs and Berbers.
In Sudan, black African Christians in the Darfur region are being attacked by the Islamic Arabic controlled government and militias.
Can there ever be a peaceful solution to the Middle-East and North Africa?
[Zinda: Mr. Sasha Uzunov is a freelance journalist and covers the Balkans region].
A Parenthesized Nation
Lately, just as eons before, the international media injects a bombastic barrage upon the ethnicities and religious factions of Iraq.
Sunnis, Shi'as, Christians, Yezidis, Turkomen, Kurds are the deciphered letterheads dominating the headlines and the news screens.
The first four are Ecclesiastic and the last two are national.
If the Arab population of Iraq does not object to be subdivided into religious factions, and are redeemed by their nomenclature as Sunnis and Shi'as, that is their option, and no one can quarrel with that.
The Yezidis, being a sect of Islam, happen to be, either Kurds, Turkomen, Tcherkess, or Arabs, and their classification as a religious sect is also an option bestowed upon themselves, and it is no one's affair to meddle in their choice.
The Turkomen and the Kurds are -- as it is implied -- national ethnicities of Iraq. Unarguably, these two proud nationalities deserve to be referred by their national characteristics rather than religious, despite the fact that both are predominantly Moslems.
The most perplexing phenomena on the Iraq stage happen to be Christians.
Obviously, this group is composed of some 300,000 Armenians, A few thousand Greeks, and perhaps as many as 60,000 Orthodox Arabs. The rest of the Christian population of Iraq, are Assyrians.
Assyrians are also divided Ecclesiastically. In fact they outdid all the others by many time-folds. Some call themselves Aramaeans, Baptists, Catholics, Chaldeans, Jacobites, Maddenkhai -- faithful to the Church of the East -- Nestorians, Orthodox, and Maronites. As there were not enough houses of various faiths, the Church of the East is also divided into two branches - the Old and the New Calendar.
The irony is that most of the educated Assyrians utterly dislike these superficialities in religion and openly denounce the pragmatic efforts by the past and present church hierarchies for misleading the nation, by chopping it into pieces.
However, unbeknown to this echelon of highly cultivated Assyrians, they themselves are the perpetrators of higher order.
Notwithstanding the redundant applications fomented by our scholars in linguistic, academic, historic, political, media and tribal pre-eminence, they all make gross errors in judgment, either on voluntary or on involuntary grounds.
Our Assyrian linguists keep advocating the theories that we do not have a language of our own. They even go further and insist that even at its grandeur, Assyria employed alien language and literature. Our academicians, went even further, and buried the name Assyrian, by fathoming, a uselessly manufactured, abrade, and an abstract concoction, by the name of Chaldoassyrian.
Along came the hordes of some of our historians, political leaders, men of cloth, tribal chieftains, and even our prominent chefs, and followed the suit of academicians and linguists.
Not a single press report, or the aerial media, approach Assyrians by their identity, but rather by their religious affiliations. And, if by some chance, some reporter bothers to indicate his or her know-how, they always either bracket or parenthesize our identity as Assyrians. But in most instances, it is always the name Christians their choicest nomenclature to identity us.
Is this their error, or our own misguided venue?
I found no more formidable reply than the one expressed by Stammler¹: "What would the moon feel if she discovered, at last, that it is not her will, and not her 'ideals,' that determine her movement in celestial space, but, on the contrary, that her movement determines her will and her 'ideals'?"
Hence, fewer than 200 individual Assyrian activists in the world have taken upon themselves to lead the nation of some 2 million, while the said 2 million resist the temptation of speaking out and sparkling the applicable adoration of nationhood, by simply standing up and being heard, if not for their voices, at least, for their servitude to the nation to which they belong, and by which they live.
The silent majority of Assyrians worldwide, would render a great service to their in-born generations to manifest their thoughts, so as to stamp out the injustices perpetrated against them by the few novices of neo-politics among the Assyrians.
This is what democracy is. This is how democracy is to be perceived. Democracy is freedom. Freedom is expression. It is imperative to attain this freedom, because freedom is always freedom from something, and, where freedom is not conceived as the opposite of restraint, it is meaningless.
Our stand is not to oppose any views, however, we have steadfastedly maintained before, we maintain our stance now and shall continue to pursue our righteous claim to fame as being Assyrians. So please leave us alone, and if all those that are unhappy and uncomfortable with this name, we would not resent them disengaging themselves from us, if not forever, at least for the time being, while we are in the pursuit of our international struggle for our rights, our cherished identity and our culture.
In a week, no less than 1 million Assyrians shall be dancing Sheikhani, while celebrating the year 2005. And, guess what? The 200 novices of neo-politics shall be laughing. While this writer shall remain unadulterated, despondent and disengaged, but still hopeful.
Happy 2005 to all those that feel they shall reach their goal or goals.
Iraqis in America Prepare for the January Election
Ashtar Analeed Marcus
Thousands of local Iraqi Americans are planning to cast ballots next month in their homeland’s first democratic election for the National Assembly.
Thousands of Iraqis living in the Chicago area will go to the polls between January 28 and 30 to select 275 members of the Assembly. The Assembly will then appoint a president and two deputy presidents, who will begin the process of drafting an official constitution.
A list of 200 Shiite candidates was announced last month. “While the majority of candidates are Shiite, the list also includes Kurds, Assyrians, Mandean and others,” said Dr. Fareed Ayar, a spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq.
No local polling places have been established, but officials have submitted five potential locations for approval by the IECI: Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Washington, D.C. In Chicago, polling centers most likely will be close to the neighborhoods with large concentrations of Iraqis, which include Rogers Park, Skokie, Morton Grove and Niles.
A spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which was selected to run overseas elections for Iraq, said voters must be 18 and Iraqi citizens, entitled to reclaim citizenship or eligible for Iraqi citizenship. Documents to determine Iraqi status may include old Iraqi passports.
Last week, the IOM launched a web site and announced its publicity campaign to reach Iraqis in diaspora. The Out-of-Country Vote Web site, www.iraqocv.org, which will ensure Iraqi expatriates around the world are informed of registration and voting procedures, said Jean-Philippe Chauzy, a spokesperson for the IOM headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
On Monday, Iraq OCV began the hiring process for field coordinators and trainers at voting centers. Training for these positions will take place at the headquarters in Amman, Jordan. Field coordinators are expected to fly out on Dec. 26 for a four-day period.
Several Iraqis in Chicago say they are excited about voting.
“We are Iraqi citizens and we left Iraq under pressure from Saddam Hussein. We lost our country but we don’t want to lose our rights,” said Yousiph Canon of Elk Grove Village.
Canon, a Christian Iraqi, left his homeland in 1977 on his honeymoon and never returned after learning Saddam’s secret police were looking for him.
“We are fighting for our nationalism, ethnicity, our homes that have been taken, our villages that have been taken. Those are worth fighting for,” he said.
But some Iraqi Americans said they are not interested in voting. Susan Hawell, an 82-year-old Niles woman who became a U.S. citizen four years ago, said she wanted nothing more to do with the country that oppressed her. She voted in the U.S. presidential election last month.
Nehrain Shlimon, who lives in Glenview, left Iraq 25 years ago and says she won't vote, either.
"My future is here now. I have no friends there, no family, everything is different. This is my country,” she said.
Many Iraqi officials have urged ex-patriots to participate in next month’s elections. When Samir Sumaida’ie, Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, visited Chicago in October, he said Iraqis living outside their homeland will have a role in determining the outcome of the election.
“There are millions of Iraqis outside Iraq, and I believe these Iraqis are an asset for Iraq,” Sumaida'ie said. “They are enlightened, used to the workings of democracy. They are accomplished. They are achievers. They have adapted to these new values that Iraq needs and, therefore, they are able to contribute in so many different ways.”
Robert Mulhim, president of the Assyrian Aid Society's Chicago chapter, said, Sumaida’ie recognizes the population living outside of Iraq is much closer to democratic values than the people who have been imprisoned in Iraq. "He wants us to bring those [freedoms] to the Iraqi people," Mulhim said.
Iraqi ex-patriots, particularly Iraqi-Americans, represent the moderate vote essential to democratizing and stabilizing Iraq, according to Mulhim.
An estimated 1 million Iraqis living abroad in 14 countries are expected to cast ballots.
The International Organization for Migration will be responsible for locating cities with large groups of Iraqi residents, renting and regulating voting centers, and hiring and training election staff.
Besides Chicago, IOM officials are considering voting centers in Detroit and Los Angeles.
Overseas votes, including those from the United States, will be submitted to the IOM branch in Amman, Jordan. Officials there will tabulate results and send them to Baghdad.
Darren Boisvert, an IOM spokesman in Amman, said earlier this month that the group is working hard to educate people on when and where to vote.
According to reports from Arab news organizations, Iraq has transferred $25 million to the IOM as a first installment of the cost of overseas election, which is expected to total $92 million.
Much controversy has surrounded the January election, but so far the Iraqi government and the national congress have determined it is going forward.
The following individuals contributed in the preparation of this week's issue:
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