Iraqi interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, met with Iraqi Christian leaders in Baghdad, Iraq on Saturday 12 June. Allawi will lead the new Iraqi interim government once sovereignty is turned over by coalition authorities until elections can be held in early 2005. (AP Photo by Stefan Zaklin)
Nine days before the transfer of power to an interim government in Iraq and we are inundated with the news of Christians leaving the homeland. The U.S. and the rest of the world are doing nothing. In fact the officials in Iraq are careful not to legitimize the Assyrians and Christians of Iraq for the fear of turning this situation into a “Muslims versus Christians” crusade. This morning’s CPA briefing in Baghdad exemplified the neutral rhetoric sustained by U.S. officials in Iraq and Washington.
At the Coalition Provisional Authority Briefing conducted this morning in Baghdad the CPA Senior Advisor, Mr. Dan Senor, and Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Director for Coalition Military Operation responded to a few journalists who addressed them in both English and Arabic.
The final question of the day came in response to the recent news of the Christian Iraqis fleeing the country just days before the transfer of power in Iraq. The question was addressed in Arabic: "Many of the Assyrians and other minorities are leaving the country or are quite worried, and one of the reasons..." At this time an interpreter interrupted the journalist: "Microphone, please! Microphone please!" It appeared that the journalist's question was not heard. The interpreter from his box in the back of the room again called for microphone: "Mike, mike, mike, mike!" Mr. Senor quietly responded: " Yeah."
The journalist raised his voice a little more and asked his question again: "Oh, sorry. Many of the Assyrians and other minorities are leaving the country, and one of the concerns is what role they'll have in the future; in particular, the Transitional Administrative Law and the fact that it's not mentioned in the U.N. resolution. There's some concern as to whether it will go forward, and -- some of the items in the law itself. But can you like give a -- some kind of word of assurance to the minorities."
Mr. Senor responded: " Sure!"
The journalist did not hesitate: "That they'll have a part in the future, as well that the transitional law will in some way be ...?"
Mr Senor interrupted the journalist: " Sure. The Transitional Administrative Law, which is effectively Iraq's interim constitution, is a document similar to other constitutions, interim constitutions, which typically aren't mentioned in U.N. Security Council resolutions. The principles most central, however, in that document are specifically referenced in the U.N. Security Council resolution and supported. In fact, the preamble talks about principles like minority rights, federalism, Iraq's democratic path forward. And so a number of those issues are of importance to the communities you referenced and others. And the Transitional Administrative Law, as you know, has very strong protections for all Iraqis, regardless of religion, gender, regional origin. And the Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has made a very strong statement about his government's support for the interim constitution and to the extent that that document should continue to serve as a legal guide for their activities going forward and constitutional parameters for their government going forward during this interim period. He feels quite strongly about that. Finally, I would say that the interim government is probably the most representative government and inclusive government not only in Iraq history but probably in this entire region, and that also is a positive sign. So I think any minority community should feel that their rights are protected in Iraq, in the new Iraq, in the free Iraq, that the rights outlined in the Transitional Administrative Law will be protected and enforced, and there really isn't cause for concern. It's something I think the interim government feels strongly about. Thanks, everybody."
The CPA advisor carefully presented his case without ever mentioning the "Assyrians" or "Christians", and just briefly referred to them as the "minority community".
The Chaldean Church in Baghdad explains that these statements of aggression against Christians are exaggerated and there seems to be no problem between the Moslems and the Christians in Iraq. Monsignor Jacques Ishaq, the Archbishop Emeritus of Arbil and Patriarchal Vicar General for Cultural Affairs, explained to AsiaNews on 16 June 16 that "There is absolutely no hatred between Christians and Muslims, between Iraqi citizens. But, then again, in day-to-day life, there are no divisions between Iraqis." It is highly unlikely that Bishop Ishaq has visited the families of the kidnapped Chaldean boys in Baghdad or the liquor store owners in Basra.
If the news of the Christians fleeing Iraq is even partially true, then it behooves us to learn the motives behind our people’s decision to leave their homes for Syria and Jordan, as some reports indicate. Several reasons swiftly come to mind:
1. Assyrians are afraid that a complete chaos will ensue on June 30 and there will be ethnic aggression among the Moslem groups, with terrible consequences for the Christians.
Most likely the impending reasons behind the possible flight of the Christians now or in the future may be a combination of all these factors. Interestingly, the complicated circumstances surrounding this issue were somehow reduced to an almost comic reverie when the Church of the East bishop, Mar Meelis Zaia, was accused of inviting Assyrians to Aussieland.
As leaders, activists, planners, and simply Assyrians we have three important duties to accomplish:
1. To stop the current and future emigration of Assyrians from Iraq and encouraging the return of a million or more Christians who left their homeland since the beginning of the Baathist rule.
To accomplish these three tasks we must first remember that our true enemy is that which the U.S. government has been seeking since September 11, 2001, namely the Al-Qaeda. It is Osama Bin Laden’s network in the Middle East, that is creating an environment where non-Muslims are coerced to leave their villages and livelihoods. We must therefore work with the western powers and the moderate forces among the Sunnis, Shiias, and the Kurds to help eliminate this common enemy.
In the meantime, unlike our Kurdish and Shiias neighbors we ought to focus on nation-building within the territorial constraints of the country of Iraq. A weakened or divided Iraq creates a vacuum, and subjects us to possible violence from sources outside of the borders of Iraq. A strong Iraq, on the other hand, will shield the Assyrians against the Islamic extremism that awaits the fall of Mesopotamia.
As we defend the borders of Iraq and fight the common enemy we should not eliminate the possibility of a complete breakdown of the Iraqi society. By creating the necessary institutions that help us gain greater recognition in Iraq and among the nations of the world as the peacemakers and the progressive elements of change in that region, we bring ourselves closer to the formulation of a robust nation of producers. At this juncture, should we be threatened with an impending menace to our national rights and political legitimacy, we can rightfully demand our rights for territorial integrity as settled and granted in several historic and legal documents. “Assyria” can once and for all leave our fantasies and gradually appear on the pages of our planning documents in Chicago and Mosul. The initial step to realize this is the concentration of our population within our historic homeland, hence assisting our people in Iraq through these difficult days of transition to democracy and free market economy is our most important national mandate.
Reliable sources to Zinda Magazine reported last week that as many as several buses each week transport Assyrians to Syria. These same reports also explain that an overwhelmingly majority of these travelers are temporarily crossign the borders in advance of the possible breakdown of security infrastructure after June 30th. The Assyrian Democratic Movement has not released any statements on this matter at press time. It is likely that the news of Christians’ exodus from Iraq may have been fabricated to denigrate the Ministerial position currently held by Ms. Pascal Ishoo Warda, an Assyrian, in the new Iraqi government.
In the coming days we should expect more build up on the subject of the Christians fleeing Iraq (see the AINA report and Joseph Farrah’s commentary in this week’s issue). The beheading of the American worker, Paul Johnson, in Saudi Arabia also reminds us of the barbaric acts our common enemy is capable of executing in those countries.
We are often reminded that for those of us living in the West commenting on the importance of preventing emigration from the Moslem countries is in fact a painless endeavor. Yet would we have not done the same if the same opportunity was offered to us? Indeed most of us live on this side of the Mediterranean Sea because of our decision to pursue a life of materialistic comfort, leaving behind the threats of Islamic insurgencies against our families. After all, hardly any Christian who has lived as an adult in the Middle East would agree with President Bush that Islam is purely a religion of peace that respects the full rights of other religions.
Recently a friend questioned me as such: “What if it is your younger sister begging you to assist her to leave those hostage-taking, blood-thirsty executioners?” At that moment I understood that it was not our choice to prevent individuals from seeking the same opportunities in the west as we did in the past. But it is our duty to improve the conditions for the heroes who choose to stay behind to protect our rights, our identity, and our future.
It is Up to Us - the Leaders Have Failed!
Rev. Kenneth Joseph Jr.
I sat in the Inauguration Ceremony room, first enduring a long winded, completely unacceptable and out of place sermon and long winded prayer by a moslem mullah who seemed to be wearing tennis shoes.
[Zinda: Act Now! Click here to view the U.S. and U.N. officials' emails, telephone and facsimile numbers presented at the end of Rev. Joseph's previous article for Zinda magazine. For more of Rev. Joseph's reports for Zinda Magazine, directly from Baghdad, see this week's Literatus section.]
Courtesy of AFP
(ZNDA: Baghdad) Many Iraqi women are delighted to have six female ministers in the country's new caretaker government but they acknowledge that the road to true freedom for women remains long and hard.
The issue of women's rights divided the now defunct Governing Council, which drew up the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) under the watchful eye of the US-led coalition. But after much debate women, who make up 60 percent of Iraq's population, secured an historic victory for their cause.
The temporary constitution, which is due to rule Iraq until the end of 2005 and is considered the most liberal in the Middle East, guarantees women 25 percent representation in a future assembly.
Female activists also had to convince lawmakers to reject a bid to turn the clock back on their rights by scrapping an established family law.
Successful lobbying by the heads of 17 Iraqi women's organisations earlier this year ensured the failure of a proposal to scrap Iraq's 1959 family affairs code and place it under Muslim religious jurisdiction.
But the absence of a reference to the interim constitution in a United Nations Resolution on Iraq that was passed last week disappointed some female figures.
Nancy Kana, editor-in-chief of Nahrenta, an Assyrian magazine, said that having six female ministers "is a true chance for women," noting that there were only three women on the US-picked Governing Council, which was dissolved on June 1.
She saw the country's terrible security situation, however, as one of the main obstacles for women as they struggle to gain more influence and recognition.
"It is too dangerous to drive in Baghdad or to take a taxi on your own. Me, I have a driver, but how do other women manage to move around?" Kana asked.
"One day there will be a female prime minister or president but I am not sure it will happen during my life time," she added.
At the Union of Assyrian Women in Baghdad headed by the minister of displaced people and migrants, Pascal Ishoo Warda, "we are learning the meaning of democracy," said Ban Jamil Yussef Katto, 32.
Like most single women in Iraq, she still lives with her parents.
Warda is trying to persuade her family to allow her to marry the man she loves.
"It is hard, we live in the Middle East," she said with a sigh. "But I am prepared to fight for that."
San Diego Chaldeans Thank God for Bush
Courtesy of the San Diego Union-Tribune
(ZNDA: San Diego) Jalal Elia, an Iraqi expatriate who lives in El Cajon, was trying to explain why the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse photos might be fake.
Something about the pictures looks staged, he said. Are those really U.S. soldiers humiliating naked Iraqi inmates? Are those really Iraqi inmates with hoods over their heads? He, for one, needed more convincing before he would condemn the conduct of the U.S. military.
"I don't think those pictures were taken in Iraq," the liquor-store owner said while standing in his tie and blue blazer outside the Crystal Ballroom, an El Cajon club for Chaldeans.
Many Americans are appalled by the now-infamous pictures of U.S. soldiers tormenting Iraqi prisoners. But the reaction to the photos – and, for that matter, to everything else related to the Iraq war – has been more complicated among the Chaldeans, an Iraqi group that has a larger presence in San Diego than anywhere else in the United States except Detroit.
No other group in this area was more vocal in supporting the U.S.-led invasion than the Chaldeans, whose estimated population of 25,000 makes them by far the largest group of Iraqis in San Diego County. And because Chaldeans are a long-persecuted Christian minority in Iraq, few other groups are more emotionally invested in the success of the U.S. military venture there.
As a result, even as national polls show declining support for the invasion and as some analysts worry about a Vietnam-style quagmire, many Chaldeans remain distinctly positive about the decision to go to war – and extremely reluctant to criticize the U.S. military.
Many are convinced that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Some argue, quite passionately, that the Al-Jazeera television station should be banned in the United States because of what they perceive as anti-American bias.
As for the Abu Ghraib abuse pictures, perhaps they were concocted on a computer to embarrass President Bush, one man theorized. Perhaps, another suggested, the U.S. military faked the pictures as a brilliant method of scaring Iraqi insurgents into behaving themselves.
"I myself, I think it was all phony, all fabricated by our troops to discourage the thugs from uprising," said Farouk Gewarges, a Chaldean who owns an insurance business in El Cajon.
In some respects, the Chaldean community in San Diego has come to resemble the Cuban community in Miami. Each group's hatred of a foreign dictator exerts a unifying communal force – and produces a particularly fervent brand of American patriotism.
At a Chaldean social club in El Cajon last week, as men ate hummus, played cards and chain-smoked despite the presence of a large No Smoking sign, Wisam Hamika said Iraq was "1,000 percent better off" now than under Hussein.
"George Bush is God's gift to the Iraqi people," said Hamika, 44, who manages the Chaldean-Assyrian Social Club. "I really believe that without George Bush, only God could have removed Saddam Hussein."
Asked recently whether he was troubled that the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks failed to uncover a link between Hussein and the al-Qaeda terrorist plot, Raymond Barno, a Chaldean activist who lives in El Cajon, said no, "because at least we stopped the murder of thousands of people and mass graves."
Many of the newcomers had successful businesses in Detroit or in Iraq and have had similar success in San Diego. By some estimates, Chaldeans own more than 600 liquor stores and convenience stories in San Diego County.
As the environment in Iraq has grown more dangerous in recent months, San Diego's Chaldean population has become increasingly concerned about relatives in the war zone, where Chaldeans find themselves targeted by pro-Hussein insurgents who see them as U.S. sympathizers.
Warda Yonan of El Cajon, who works as a Sycuan casino cashier, said her five siblings in Iraq are afraid to go outside at night. Her aunt, who lives near Mosul, keeps guns in her living room, bedroom and kitchen. The aunt's 12-year-old daughter has been learning to fire the weapons.
"Look at kids over here – they are playing at PlayStation," Yonan said. "But Iraqi kids, they learn how to use a gun."
To the extent that Chaldeans in San Diego are critical of the Bush administration, it concerns what they see as Bush's failure to come up with a better plan for stability after getting rid of Hussein.
Several criticized the administration for disbanding the Iraqi army. They said the decision left a security void and created disenchantment among thousands of Iraqi soldiers who weren't necessarily loyal to Hussein, but who suddenly found themselves out of work.
The view that the administration didn't properly prepare for a post-Hussein Iraq is shared by many Muslim Iraqis in San Diego. Imam Mohammad Alqazwini, a Shiite religious leader who lives in Mira Mesa, has been back to Iraq twice since Hussein's removal. He said he was stunned by the lack of security, especially at the border.
He entered the country from Syria, he said, and drove all the way to the central Iraqi city of Karbala without ever being scrutinized by U.S. forces.
"I didn't see any checkpoints," he said.
Although Alqazwini initially supported the invasion – Shiites also were persecuted by Hussein – he said he's beginning to wonder whether the Bush administration has a coherent strategy for making the country peaceful and democratic.
At least a few Chaldeans have much the same concerns. Yonan said her early enthusiasm for the war waned after her sister was blinded and her sister's two children killed by a U.S. bomb near Mosul.
Still, she firmly believes that if the insurgents would stop setting off bombs and shooting people, "The United States is going to fix things 100 percent."
Asked if they were upset that no weapons of mass destruction were found, several said that getting rid of Hussein was all the justification Bush needed. Mark Namou, who owns a liquor store, called Operation Iraqi Freedom "the best war this country ever fought."
Like the others, Hamika, the club manager, thinks Hussein had such weapons but hid them.
"Iraq is a country the size of California or Texas," he said. "Did they look everywhere? Did they look in the river?"
The six agreed that the photos taken at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad were somewhat disturbing. Still, they said, whatever abuses the U.S. military inflicted on Iraqi prisoners can't compare with the tortures and executions inflicted by Hussein. What's more, the men declared flatly, any Iraqi prisoners who were humiliated or roughed up by U.S. soldiers probably did something to deserve it.
They blamed some of the problems in the region on the Al-Jazeera station, which they said fosters hatred and spreads false rumors. Some want the Qatar-based satellite channel banned in the United States.
Asked whether such a move would be inconsistent with the principles of democracy, Namou said, "Democracy says they can lie? That's not democracy, that's lying."
"Democracy has to be the right perspective, not the wrong perspective," added Fareed Allosh, a liquor-store owner.
At a nearby table, 71-year-old retired Kurdish interpreter Tinue Shad said he wasn't particularly bothered by the Abu Ghraib pictures because he is sure the snapshots are phony. Like Chaldeans, Kurds also were persecuted in Hussein's Iraq.
Shad, who said he was tortured by Iraqi police in the early 1960s, theorized that somebody created the photos to "defame" Bush and undermine the military effort. He said he finds it hard to imagine that U.S. soldiers ever would engage in such unseemly behavior.
U.S. soldiers are brave and honest, he said, with a mission to "liberate persons, not capture people and abuse them."
Rapping his knuckles on the table for emphasis, he declared in a thick accent, "I don't believe that American soldiers are so idiot as to do this."
I want to thank Bishop Mar Meelis of Australia for his honesty in explaining things clearly to many of us in Iraq. In the bishop's message that was loud and clear to all of us, that got aired by the radio, we did understand clearly the truth better than the empty promises that was made to all of us by many before. I see in Mr. Wilson's message personal hatred toward one of our best bishops. Let's not blame the bishop. Let's blame lack of understanding by some people like Mr. Wilson.
Mr. President, Don't Pull Out of Iraq!
Rev. Awiqam Pithyou
To President George W. Bush on 14 June 2004:
Dear Mr. President, I wrote you a letter, copy enclosed, on 16 December, 2002, to express to you on behalf of myself and the thousands of Assyrians affiliated with our Ancient Church of the East in the United States, in Iraq, and elsewhere in the world, our appreciation for what you had done to recognize the Assyrian Democratic Movement as one of the constituent members of the opposition to Saddam Hussein's regime. Iraq was not yet liberated at that time.
Once again, Mr. President, allow me to express my deep gratitude and full support, on behalf of our congregation here in Chicago and on behalf of all the Assyrians affiliated with the Ancient Church of the East in the U.S., in Iraq, and elsewhere in the world, for your decision to liberate Iraq from the tyrannical and inhuman regime of Saddam Hussein. We firmly believe that when history is finally written about this period, when the fog of war has settled, your decisions and actions in Iraq will be recognized as a turning point in history just like the battle of Tours in France in 732 AD turned out to be a turning point in reversing the advance of Moorish Islamic forces into Western Europe. Today dark, radical and reactionary Islamic forces are once again hard at work to wipe out any vestiges of Christianity or secularism from the Middle East and South Asia in what they view, in their twisted and distorted vision, as a war of Islam against what they call "crusaders" and "infidels". The only hope that history will not repeat itself and that radical and fundamentalist Islamic forces will not prevail, Mr. President, is what the U.S. is doing in Iraq under your leadership - turning the country into a beacon of light for the whole area by establishing a free, independent and democratic state where human, religious, political and ethnic rights of individuals and groups are enshrined in a permanent constitution and where the minority is not oppressed by the majority. But the only guarantee that the provisions of the constitution become the law of the land, abided by and respected by all, is if the United States maintains a long term military presence in Iraq because time and again the military regimes of the Middle East have proved that, to them, constitutions are not worth the ink and paper they are written on. In fact, the first communiqué of every coup has been to declare that the constitution is abolished and marshal law imposed.
We also feel that Moslem immigrants from the Arab world and Pakistan are flooding U.S. cities not because they are persecuted or discriminated against but for economic reasons while Assyrians and other Christians from the Middle East are often stranded, with school-age children, for years in countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Greece awaiting visas to immigrate to the U.S., Canada, Australia or other Christian countries because of discrimination and intolerance. We hope something will be done by the administration to address this issue.
Therefore, Mr. President, we pray and hope that the U.S., having liberated Iraq, will not pull out its forces from the country, under the ongoing and incessant attacks and negative reporting from a liberal media, until strong democratic institutions have been established and enough safeguards have been put in place for the protection of the minorities, and in particular Assyrian Christians, from oppression and religious sectarianism.
We, the Assyrians, were there in Mesopotamia, now called Iraq, for thousands of years B.C., and history is a witness to the fact that we had build empires and civilizations in that part of the world long before Islam, as a religion or a political entity, appeared on the face of the earth. We are the indigenous people of Mesopotamia. Our people should not be driven out of their ancestral homeland by radical Islamic movements, by religious intolerance or by persecution. We have survived all those forces for millennia by the blood of our martyrs. Now that we are facing a new challenge, we hope that the United States and Britain will not sit as neutral spectators should the situation in Iraq deteriorate and our people are victimized again. For more than a decade, the United States and Britain have protected the Kurds and the Shi'ites from the savagery and tyranny of Saddam Hussein's regime through the no-fly-zones in the north and south of Iraq. We hope that the same protection will be extended to all the minorities when sovereignty is finally turned over to the Iraqi government. That way, we hope, our Christian Assyrian people will be able to live in peace, like all the other ethnic and religious groups, in a sovereign and independent Iraq redeemed as a member of the civilized world.
God bless you, Mr. President, and God bless America.
[Zinda: Rev. Pithyou's letter was copied to the Mr. Colin L. Powell, U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, and Zinda Magazine.]
A Call for Unity
Rev. Patros Patros
As we look upon the often heated-discussions that have taken place within the last year centering around the future of the Assyrians in Iraq, it seems most opportune at this point to evaluate our various, and often conflicting, actions and views. The fact that the last provisory constitution for Iraq is being superceded by a more stable and long-lasting one, our nation must rise up from its slumber and endeavor at all costs to unite among itself. It is an undeniable fact that only the putting-aside of our divergent personal views and conflicting stances is there hope of survival and better days for the Assyrians in the free, democratic Iraq of tomorrow.
Time to Get Back What is Ours
Our parents chose August 7th as Martyr's day for historical reasons. In the end of World War l, we (Assyrians) as allies were compensated two states from the divided Ottoman Empire. The conference in Switzerland decided that Assyrian settlement in the compensated states would be under supervision of England. Autonomy in territory should have been established by 1934, but just a year before that in 1933, August 7th, Assyrian dream for self-rule was destroyed by Semel Massacre. During the Christian Genocide by Ottoman, there were more Martyrs, but on August 7, hope of a self ruling nation died.
Jesus taught us that man forgives his brother's sin not only once but seventy times a day. If we are not capable to recognize the thirty years service by our Bishop, and punish him for a mistake, then we can not call ourselves Christian. Our faith is full of love and forgiveness.
Mr. Baba compared Assyrians with Armenians: After 1919 Armenian land was in Communist Russian territory, therefore all western countries supported and assisted Armenians financially and politically against Russia. Cold War also helped them immensely. At the same time our land was in hands of British interest. Cultural destruction and ethnic cleansing was their motive. We were displaced from our land. We were given new identities i.e. Christian Arab, Kurdish, Turkish and Iranian.
Nothing Like This in the Last 30 Years
I would like to congratulate you on a job well done. I enjoy your magazine very much and share it with others that don’t have access to it.
I’m writing to you regarding the June 7th issue. I agree with you 100% about Zinda’s Person of the Year. God bless him (Yonadam Kanna).
I was very upset and saddened to read the article Dr. George Habash. I’m not sure if I should call him Doctor to begin with. I know of only one George Habash and he was the right hand for Mishail Afflaq the originator of the Baath Party.
Here you have picked Zinda’s Person of the year, and here in the same magazine you presented this untrue and disgusting article by Mr. Habash. It’s very easy for us in Diaspora to sit at our desk at work or home and talk trash about people living in hostile environment. I wish Mr. Habash was in Iraq and presented us like he was claiming Mr. Kanna should have done. Very east for us to say from here (US) or (UK).
I really wish you would have not published Mr. Habash’s article on the same date as your picked for Person of the Year or even at all because all he did was say negative things about Mr. Kanna who is living in fire if you ask me. And I really think the Assyrian community and people get an apology from Mr. Habash.
I by no mean am a member of ADM, just a supporter for the great job they are doing for our nation. I’ve been living in US (Chicago) for 30 years now, and been around all the organizations here but haven’t seen anyone that works as hard and dictate their time and lives for our people and goal like ADM (Zowaa).
Again, I really appreciate the excellent job you’re doing with Zinda Magazine. Keep up the good work, and may God bless you!
Assyrian International News Agency (AINA)
On the morning of June 7th a civilian sedan containing four masked men drove into the Christian Assyrian Quarters (Hay Al-Athuryeen) of the Dora district of Baghdad, where the masked men opened fire on Assyrians on their way to work. Four locals were killed and several others seriously wounded. The three men and one woman who were murdered were identified by the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) as Isho Nissan Markus, Youkhana, Duraid Sabri Hanna, Hisham Umar, and Ramziya Enwiya (female). On the same day and in the same district, at approximately 5 P.M. another drive by shooting occurred, targeting Assyrians returning from work, mostly with the Coalition Provisional Authority. Three women, Alice Aramayis, Ayda Petros Bakus and Muna Jalal Karim, were shot and killed, along with their driver.
This incident is the latest in a series of crimes and acts of terror and intimidation against the Christian Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) of Iraq since the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein. On March 22nd an elderly Assyrian couple, Ameejon and Jewded Barama, was brutally murdered in the district of Dora; the husband's throat was slashed in the same manner as Nicholas Berg, and the wife was repeatedly struck on the head with a blunt instrument. In the southern city of Basra, on December 24th, 2003 Bashir Toma Elias was killed by a single gun shot to the head, as he prepared to head home for Christmas celebration with his wife and five children. On November 18, 2003 Mr. Sargon Nano Murado, the ADM representative in Basra was assassinated. In North Iraq, the Assyrian mayor of the Telkepeh district, Wathah Gorgis, survived an assassination attempt on January 24, 2004. On October 7th, 2003 Mr. Safa Sabah Khoshi, owner of a liquor store in Mosul, was shot and killed in his store, and his brother, Meyaser Karim Khoshi, was severely injured in the attack.
For the Assyrians, liberation has not brought the level of security they had hoped for. Instead, it shifted the politically motivated losses caused by the Saddam Regime to the more dangerous religiously motivated crimes. Of special concern to Assyrians and their community leaders is the nature of these attacks, the overwhelming majority of which have been religiously motivated. Often these attacks are accompanied by notes demanding that the Christian Assyrians follow the rules Islam or face the consequences. This has created an atmosphere of fear in the Assyrian community, not so different, ironically, from the fear they felt under Saddam's regime, though the nature of it is different. Saddam Hussein ruthlessly suppressed any expression of national or ethnic identity, and by and large did not concern himself with religious issues. With the removal of Saddam, Assyrians -- whose population in Iraq out-numbers the national individual populations of Kuwait, Qatar, Cyprus, and UAE -- have finally succeeded in asserting their unique ethnic and cultural identity, and have been active participants in the political process, yet, in an ironic flip-flop, now they find their religious institution under attack by Islamists.
The Reverend Ken Joseph, an Assyrian Evangelist currently based in Baghdad, reports that applications for baptismal records have soared in recent weeks. He quotes an Assyrian deacon saying, "We have been flooded with parishioners desperate to leave the country and as they cannot get an exit permit without a Baptismal Certificate from the Church we have been swamped with requests." The Assyrians did not expect the liberation of Iraq to precipitate an exodus from their ancestral lands, yet this is the effect to date of the liberation of Iraq combined with unchecked Islamic aggression.
Assyrians are the only indigenous group of Iraq; they are also Christians, are ethnically distinct, and their language is neo-Syriac (modern Aramaic). As such, they see themselves as the litmus test of any democracy that is established in Iraq, which must guarantee, above and beyond reasonable expectations, their ethnic, religious and cultural rights. This has not happened to date, as the Transitional Administrative Law (English, Arabic), while making some historic concessions with regard to Assyrians, also declared Islam as the official religion of the Iraqi State. An Assyrian in Iraq, Robert, said, "We love the Americans! We are so grateful for them removing Saddam and giving us back our freedom. We do not want their effort to be a failure if the dictatorship of Saddam is replaced by the dictatorship of Islam."
Got to Say Something Right Now?
President Bush says he wants to free Iraq, to liberate it from the oppression of totalitarianism, to create a new model for liberty in the Middle East.
But Christians are fleeing while they can because the new constitution makes Iraq an officially Islamic republic.
When the significant Christian community in Iraq failed to get even one seat on the executive council of the provisional government, the exodus began.
Christians also took as a cue the fact that they got only one ministry post in the new government – the Ministry of Emigration. Was that a hint? Apparently Christians in Iraq think so.
The churches are filled with Iraqis filling out baptismal forms required for the leaving the country.
One deacon told Insight:
On a recent night, the church had to spend more time on filling out baptismal forms needed for leaving the country than they did on the service. We have been flooded with parishioners desperate to leave the country, and as they cannot get an exit permit without a baptismal certificate from the church, we have been swamped with requests. ... In recent days, nearly 400 families, as far as we can tell, have filled out baptismal forms to leave the country. Our community is being decimated.
According to figures from the Saddam Hussein regime, there are about 2.5 million Assyrian Christians in Iraq, representing about 10 percent of the total population of the country.
There would be many more had the Assyrians not been systematically slaughtered in the last days of the Ottoman Empire. It is estimated that two-thirds of the population was wiped out in the early part of the 20th century. The Assyrians are not eager to see that kind of persecution again under Islamic rule.
"We thought the Americans were going to bring us freedom and democracy," one Christian told Insight. "Instead, they are promoting Islam. We do not understand it. ... We love the Americans! We are so grateful for them removing Saddam and giving us back our freedom. We do not want their effort to be a failure if the dictatorship of Saddam is replaced by the dictatorship of Islam."
He continued: "The American-funded TV station, Al Iraqia, broadcasts Muslim programs four times every day and for two hours each Friday, but nothing from the other religions. The recent inauguration of the new government was opened by a Muslim mullah reciting a long passage and a prayer from the Quran, but none of our priests were invited. Why do they do this? Why do the Americans promote Muslims? They need to promote equality and democracy and freedom, not Muslim dictatorship."
Already Iraqi Christians are seeing the first signs of harassment and intimidation by the Muslim majority.
"Our women are accosted on the street and intimidated to start dressing according to Islamic tradition, our businesses are being burned, and the constant harassment is because of the attitude of appeasement toward Muslims," said one priest.
Sharia law is the law of the land in the new Iraq. That means only Muslims are first-class citizens. We created a similar situation in Afghanistan, where the new constitution has been criticized by human-rights groups as a kind of "Taliban-lite."
Is it too much for the United States to demand that this Christian minority – and all other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq – be protected and afforded full citizenship rights under the new government and constitution?
If so, was the sacrifice of American lives really worth it?
[Zinda: Joseph Farah's nationally syndicated column originates at WorldNetDaily, where he serves as editor and chief executive officer. This commentary appeared in the June 15th issue..]
The Baghdad Diaries
Rev. Kenneth Joseph Jr.
America at its Best!
`Shame` was the only word I could think of as I endured the `Iraqi Interim Government Announcement Ceremony` on a hot, dusty afternoon in Baghdad.
You can see it right away - to understand and quantify it is a much different thing!
`What do you think of women?`.
Ethnic Cleansing In New Interim Government in Iraq!
Assyrian Christians Lead Baghdad Government Charter Announcement!
Assyrian George Bakoos took center stage as `master of ceremonies` and leader of the `Town Hall` beginning of the new Baghdad Regional Charter inauguration
I am Tiglath-Ramsin Malik, senior Akkadian scribe to Ashuruballit II, the King of Assyria, who himself is the mighty warrior, king of the four corners of the earth, beloved of the patron god, Sin of Harran.
Today, my friend Tarkan the Egyptian asked me about Sargon, since in Egypt they believe that Sargon was not a man, but a god, a god of war, the mightiest man to ever wander on earth. And if that isn’t enough, Tarkan claims to have seen at least 32 statues, obelisks, or steles around the city in which we find ourselves. All of these memorials are specifically dedicated to Sargon. He said to me, “Tiglath, what gives? What is all this love for Sargon here in Harran? And why do we know of him in Egypt.” So I wanted Tarkan my Egyptian friend to know some of the basic facts about our great warrior-king.
Sargon’s Rise to Power
Sargon Diplomatic Accomplishments
It is also interesting to note that he deferred the duties of running the government to his favorite son and Crown Prince of Assyria, Sennacherib. Numerous letters between Sargon II and Sennacherib attest to this. Writers, such as my grandfather, rarely discussed their reports with Sargon, but Sennacherib was appointed to handle the recording of all of Sargon’s activities, including his annual campaigns.
Sargon the Warrior
Tarkan has asked me for a good example of Sargon's military adventures, and perhaps the most famous would be his swift campaign against the combined forces of southern Armenia. In that encounter, a group of nations had overrun a province that was friendly to Assyria. The deposed king pleaded with Sargon to restore the independence of that nation. Sargon heard the plea of the king and mobilized his forces. The campaign began with a solar eclipse on the 24th of October. An eclipse would normally be interpreted as a bad omen, but Sargon seized the opportunity. He gathered his troops and told them that the sign was not a bad omen not for Assyria, but rather for the enemies of Assur. The Assyrians marched to battle. Reports from Assyrian spies then reached Sargon that a numerically superior, enemy force was lying in wait to ambush him. The outnumbered Assyrians were weary from a long and arduous march, and as Sargon reports, were close to mutiny. They were further dismayed to find the combined armies of Urartu before them. Sargon assessed the situation and acted quickly. Without waiting for the rest of his army, he led an immediate attack with just a small unit of household cavalry. Having spotted Rusa, the king of Urartu, in his chariot, Sargon fearlessly rode straight at him. Rusa was completely shocked by the bravado of Sargon. He panicked and fled. The rest of the army, having witnessed the flight of their leader, also panicked and fled. This was a total rout of an army that vastly outnumbered the Assyrians. The triumph was directly attributable to the personal leadership of Sargon.
Death and Remembrance
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