6 Tdabakh 6754
27 July 2004
Z I N D A . M A G A Z I N E
Meet The Ziggurat!
Children throw water at a house during the traditional Assyrian water festival of Noosardil.
Kha b’ Tammuz
Dr George Habash
Before my last concise article I had told the editor of Zinda Magazine that my contribution to this e-zine is nearing its end and I remind the reader in my closing article that I write with deep conscience and the materials I provide are from my rich personal experience in life, and therefore are factual not fictional. Things ordained can not be examined neither by a lettered nor unlettered individual.
On Kha b’ Tammuz the Assyrian nation entered a new reality in Baghdad with no Assyrian representation in the new interim government of 36 persons i.e. from Esho to Yawer. If the Kurds say, as they did, that the Minister of ‘emigration’ belongs to them, then this is true; but if ADM says she belongs to us then this is a complicated matter which has already caused anger and uproar among our people.
The Assyrian parties and ADM fought hard and a long struggle waiting for a re-shaking of Baghdad in order to advance the Assyrian national cause, a strategy based on national recognition and share of power in a democratic or semi-democratic society. ADM, one of these groups, failed to deliver leadership and organization.
The Past Regimes
I will start by assessing the Assyrian power which is almost the Christian power after the advance of the newly formed state of Baghdad following the end of the colonial Mandate.
During the notorious Hijazi rule a Christian may have become a member of the cabinet but I am not sure. As a boy I remember during the last national elections under Hijazis when some Christians stood for representation in the lower Parliament. I knew one who later became editor of a daily national newspaper.
During the reign of Abd Al Karim Qassim, the first Republican leader, the Assyrian author, John Joseph, in his book ‘the Nestorians and their Muslim Neighbours’ stated that a Christian became ambassador that time, a job never awarded to Christians.
In 1966 Naji Talib a friend of the dead Abd Al Karim Qassim formed a national unity government with a Syriac Orthodox Christian as a minister of Municipalities (local governments). Although this is not a high post but certainly is not a small one either. Christians did not fight for representation at the time but a man as honest as Naji Talib could not foresee a national unity government with the exclusion of Christians.
The national unity government did not last because the Premier wanted enlargement of the representations to include Pan Arabists who refused to join.
Those governments were small with cabinets no more than 10-15 members (on average). Although it happened once that we held a cabinet post, one member would have had a great weight in small cabinet.
Moving to another era where it is nicely stated that Saddam gave Christians no rights but allowed them the right to join the Baath juggernaut machine. Also nicely stated is that Saddam gave Christians no freedom of religion but gave them only freedom to worship and to attend church services.
During his despotic rule Christians had no options but to clap their hands as comrade Tariq Aziz (not his real name) became a member of the cabinet, but not as a Christian or Assyrian but as an intellectual Aflaqite. A few other Christians some of whom I knew climbed the Baath ladder but were not allowed to reach the cabinet or the Baath’s Qotriya steering committee for the excuse that more than one Christian is too much for the Christians.
The Present Regime
From above we learn that the Assyrians or Christians held positions in the Iraqi state, but not on permanent basis and that made the Assyrian Christians break the taboo and re-launch their political activities to obtain greater share in power and gain recognition. One of these groups was the ADM which nearly monopolised the Assyrian struggle on the ground.
ADM, being infant and with scarce membership, and in order to hijack the Assyrian struggle, made itself resort to suppression, the language that rules the land, to impose its hegemony on the Assyrian masses. It quells any opposition by intimidation and employs propagandists in style of Joseph Goebbels to silence any critic at home and abroad in the aim to make ADM the sole spokesman for the nation.
When the US toppled Saddam Hussain, the former ‘double agent’ but now a single agent (privately hoarded for Britain), the Assyrians had high hopes shouldered on the ADM leadership.
With recognition from the US in the pocket, ADM never tried to establish a power base within the current establishment in Baghdad. It only managed to become a window dressing for the regime dominated by Islamic dictate. Recently it failed also to penetrate the enlarged and diverse interim government of Allawi.
Within this regime we ended up with a minor portfolio (assuming the position is Assyrian) in a government of 36 persons in the time of the so-called democracy or near democracy. In the previous regimes we held better portfolios in a government of 15 persons only. What went wrong? The whole nation is shocked.
ADM seems to okay things in advance and misinform the nation. When the reality hits they lament that one Christian dove can not shake an establishment of Muslim hawks. Why did ADM not walk out? One junior minister would have been granted to us anyway.
Don’t say positions are not as important as rights are. If you can not grab a ministerial chair how would you go for more rights and demand a demarked Assyrian province or anything of that sort?
With the arrest of Saddam last December, the latter warned Britain not to abandon him. If Britain did, he warned, British soldiers will be targeted.
Britain negotiated with remnants of Saddam and reached a conclusion for re-Baathification programme in the land and allowed the remnants of Saddam to form a base in Britain with coordination of Britain’s intelligence.
The current interim government has four Baathists as reported and Britain will do its best to protect Saddam from death penalty as many lee ways could be found. Britain is in the lead now while the US is looking for a way out. And ask Assyrians what would they expect from Britain? The answer is in the title of a book which every Assyrian knows ‘the British betrayal of the Assyrians’.
Judging from its shape and the dimension the regime will fail after kha b’ Tammuz and the overthrow of the regime is doable and the semi-return of the past regime is probable.
The new regime has to undo the messy web created by the wrong method of toppling Saddam-the demolishing of the state structure and re-building a nation from scratch after its offices, institutions and barracks were ransacked. It has also to undo the Islamisation process undertaken before which has turned the society backward and continues in that direction where there is now too much Islam.
The new regime must take the initiative and make its structure nationalistic and start to appeal to the national components of the society (Assyrians among them) and put methods to combat the subversive networks of remnant Baathists and ‘foreign fighters’. This is doable by an aggressive offensive with imposing curfews to stall communication and massive manned roadblocks. Area by area and street by street must be manned with civilians involved and house to house is to be searched. National identity cards should be issued soon to screen and catch the ‘foreign fighters’.
In a few months order will be restored. To gain more credibility Saddam and his inner circle must be put on fast trials soon and sentenced as this will give confidence in the people who suffered decades of power abuse in the past and to relate to the new reality in Baghdad.
I conclude that ADM must allow our people to represent themselves and stop monopolising their cause as events have proven that they can not deliver and their continued presence on the stage continues to irritate the nation. We have become spokesmen only for the new regime with the nation feeling these figures as a symbol of defeatism and the leadership, a liability.
(ZNDA: Baghdad) Two Assyrian Christian children were killed in Baghdad last week (see this week's editorial). Raneed Raad, 16, and her sister Raphid, 6, were slaughtered in their home.
The family members, well known Assyrian Christians, had been previously threatened. While the family was out, terrorists entered and shot the two Children at point blank range.
"We are doing our best to get out to the world the simple message that the Assyrian Christians who are the indigenous people of Iraq are being intimidated, threatened and killed simply because they are Christians. The world must not stand by and watch. The last time this happened during the Assyrian Genocide nearly 2/3rds of our population were killed` says Amir George from Baghdad", commented Rev. Ken Joseph Jr of the AssyrianChristians.com.
`We appeal to the world to help us at this critical time so that we can attain autonomy in our homeland as guaranteed in article 53 of the new Iraqi Constitution as the only way for us to survive. We urgently need help in moving back to our villages from where we were forcibly uprooted by Saddam.` he continues.
Two Assyrian Brothers Killed in Mortar Attack
(ZNDA: Baghdad) Two Assyrian brothers, Sami and Rami Saad, 6 and 4 years of age, were killed when a mortar missile feel nearby killing both while they were playing at home. The Saad family lives in the al-Ulwiya District of Baghdad.
The funeral ceremony for the two Assyrian brothers took place at the Holy Family Chaldean Church in Baghdad where emotions of anger overcame their families as they were burying the two young children.
During the funeral ceremony some family members collapsed and their boys' uncle poured out his anger on the "Iraqi Resistance", which are believed to have launched the mortar shell bomb, shouting: " Let those "honorable" resistance fighters see what they have done ... Is this resistance" ?
As the coffins were being buried the women at the funeral procession threw sweets on the coffins of the two little boys while they were mourning them with special mournful chants.
Assyrian Election Representatives from Mosul
(ZNDA: Mosul) Four Assyrians were nominated last week to join the 53 representatives of the Governorate of Nineveh to the Iraqi National Conference. The conference is to be attended by nearly 1000 delegates representing all 18 Iraqi governorates, and is scheduled to begin at the end of July 2004. Some 275 to 300 members will be selected from this conference to form the temporary Iraqi National Assembly.
The following are the names of the 4 Assyrian representatives from the Governorate of Nineveh:
1. Emanuel Khoshaba Youkhana, Assyrian Patriotic Party, Represnting city of Mosul
New Iraqi Census Officially Recognizes ChaldoAssyrians
A report by the Assyrian International News Agency
With the handover of sovereignty by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) now complete, the new interim government in Iraq has begun to prepare the groundwork for nationwide elections now set for 2005. Reports have surfaced that in preparation for a nationwide census, a new draft census form including the various Iraqi constituent groups has been prepared. The draft survey form reportedly includes Arabs, Turkoman, Armenians, Kurds, and Assyrians. The inclusion of Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) marks a historic milestone in that under the former regime Assyrians were deliberately classified as Arabs, despite their protestations. As a direct result, past Iraqi censuses have resulted in Assyrian under representation.
KDP Continues to Marginalize Assyrians in Iraq
(ZNDA: Dohuk) According to reliable sources in Iraq, Mr. Masuad Barazani and his representatives at the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Dohuk and Arbil have once again begun an aggressive campaign to marginalize the presence of the Assyrians. The KDP has been practicing similar policies of intimidation since 1992 and has used its influence to install its own members in most sensitive administrative positions in the Dohuk Province. These included the positions of the Deputy Governor and mayors despite the fact that the Assyrians make the second largest ethnic group in the this province and the majority in seveal villages.
The Assyrian Democratic Movement has been part of every opposition group meetings prior to the fall of Saddam, and its Secretary General, His Honorable Yonadam Kanna, was a member of the Iraqi Governing Council. Currently, Ms. Pascale Eshoo Warda, the head of the Assyrian Women's Union, hold a Cabinet position. Mr. Kanna is also a membe of the Elections High Commission that is setting the stage for the National Conference to begin next week.
"The KDP is in violation of all previous agreements and understanding reached upon by Iraqi opposition groups before and since the fall of the Ba'ath regime. Every political group, institution, tribes, segment of society and notables were to take part in the democratic political process in the new Iraq," comments Mr. Fred Aprim during a phone interview with Zinda Magazine. Mr. Aprim is the author of the acclaimed booklet "Indegenous People in Distress" and an upcoming book on the Assyrian history and ethnicity.
The KDP has most recently prevented the Assyrian groups and organizations such as the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM), ChaldoAssyrian Women Union and ChaldoAssyrian Student Union in Dohuk from taking part in the special electoral committees and from nominating their representatives from this the Dohuk Governorate.
Assyrian Student 1st in Class in Nineveh and 3rd in Iraq
(ZNDA: Mosul) The Assyrian student, Rafal Ramzi Habib Asmaru, came first in the Governorate of Nineveh's (Mosul)12th-grade final examinations (last year of high school) with a score of 591 out of 600. Rafal's score earned him the third place in the list of top highest achievers in the entire country of Iraq this year.
Assyrians Commemorate Nusardil Festival in Baghdad
Courtesy of the Knight Ridder Newspapers
(ZNDA: Baghdad) Last Sunday morning attacks in a Baghdad neighborhood weren't the kind that people might expect in this violence-plagued nation. Armed with buckets of water balloons, grinning children hurled them for hours at each other, unwary pedestrians and passing cars.
"We're having fun," declared a thoroughly soaked Mustaffah Marwan, 15.
On any other day such play would be nothing more than a good way to cool off when Baghdad's summer temperatures soar to 115 degrees or more. But this was no ordinary water fight.
Sunday was an Assyrian Christian festival commemorating mass baptisms by Jesus and the apostles.
Iraq's approximately 180,000 Assyrians and a large number of their Muslim neighbors celebrate the festival, called Nusardil, by splashing, if not dousing, each other with water. Many children and young adults use the occasion to mount high-spirited water wars.
In the Assyrian quarter of one neighborhood, 10-year-old Skiva Kamel, an Assyrian, and 13-year-old Osama Leewa, a Muslim, had been eagerly awaiting Sunday. They awoke at 6 a.m. to build an arsenal of 200 water balloons made from small plastic bags.
Standing at the intersection of two narrow streets, they were poised to pelt any passing vehicle. "Any car comes, I'll jump on it," Leewa vowed.
For many others, though, post-war crime and terrorism kept the Nusardil festival more subdued this year. In past years virtually entire Assyrian neighborhoods would hit the streets armed not only with water balloons but waterlogged sponges, water-filled plastic bottles and water bombs made of plastic shopping bags.
Recent attacks on liquor stores, almost exclusively owned by Christians because they were the only people Saddam Hussein licensed to sell alcohol, also have made some Assyrians uneasy about venturing outside.
"We can't celebrate in the street because of the situation," said Gewargis Sliwa, archbishop of the Church of the East in Iraq. But he said the liquor store attacks were the work of Muslim extremists upset at the sale of alcohol and did not specifically target Christians.
"There have been some incidents here and there, but that doesn't mean they're against the Christian Church," he said.
In any case, on Sunday Nahrin Youkhana Shino, a 45-year-old Baghdad housewife and Assyrian, decided that her four children would celebrate Nusardil not in the street but in the courtyard of their neighborhood Assyrian Christian church, where it was safe.
Toward that end the church set up two plastic pools a couple yards in diameter and about a foot deep not far from a pair of olive trees shading the courtyard. A dozen children frolicked in pools as their parents sat by, watching and splashing them. The pools were an addition to the Nusardil tradition, the archbishop said.
"Our priest said he wanted to make sure they were happy, so he invented this."
Iraq's Christians Consider Fleeing as Attacks on Them Rise
Courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor
(ZNDA: Baghdad) It was 10:30 in the morning, almost four months ago, and the children were getting ready for church. Aziz Raad Azzo, 5 years old, was drinking his milk; his 14-year-old sister Raneen was putting on her new clothes. When they heard a car pull up, Raneen, thinking her father was home, ran to the window and flung open the shutters. Four men shot her and her little brother in the head.
The children's crime: Their father, a Christian storekeeper, had sold alcohol.
Before the murders, the family received a photocopied death threat. "We are warning you, the enemies of God and Islam, from selling alcohol again, and unless you stop we will kill you and send you to hell where a worse fate awaits you," reads the warning, signed by "Harakat Ansar al-Islam," the Partisans of Islam Movement.
Shortly after the murders, their father wrote a letter to an Iraqi human rights group. "Please save me," he begged, "and help me leave the country."
Facing a rising tide of persecution, Iraq's tiny Christian minority has a terrible choice: stay and risk their lives, or leave and abandon those left behind. Afraid of an Islamic future in which they would be outcasts, thousands are trying to flee. "It's like a huge amount of people lined up at the starting line, waiting for the gun to go off, and now it's going off," says the Rev. Ken Joseph, an Iraqi-American Christian activist in Baghdad. "For them to leave is a very big step, but that shows how badly people want to get out."
It is difficult to gauge the exodus, because most Christian groups, desperately wanting Christians to stay, deny that there is any problem. (Iraq's new minister of displacement and migration, Pascale Isho Warda, was in Europe and unavailable for comment.) But Issaq Issaq, director of international relations for the Assyrian Democratic Movement, estimates that about 2,000 families have tried to leave since summer began. "They want to leave, because they heard they can get asylum in Australia," he says. "We are trying to keep these people in Iraq, because it is their country."
In 1987, the Iraqi census showed about 1.4 million Christians. Then came Saddam Hussein's anfal ("spoils of war') campaign. In the late 1980s, the army rampaged through the country's north, attacking ethnic Kurds and systematically destroying more than 100 small Christian villages, razing scores of ancient monasteries and churches and deporting thousands of Christian families to Baghdad.
During the 1990s, a steady stream of Christians poured out of Iraq to Canada, Switzerland, Australia, and the United States - wherever they could get asylum. Today, fewer than 1 million remain in Iraq, divided among Assyrians, Chaldean Catholics, Armenians, and Syriac Christians.
In this dwindling community, talk of persecution is taboo. Those who admit to it are accused of helping the terrorists. "Newspapers publish this kind of thing in order to make propaganda, and scare the Christians into leaving the country," says the priest at the Sacred Heart Catholic church in central Baghdad. He begged not to have his name published. But he swears there is no Muslim-Christian hostility.
"We are brothers," says the priest, sweating inside the stifling rectory. "There is always this sympathy, and this tie of brotherhood between the Christians and the Muslims. Baghdad is considered a center of Christianity."
Outside the church, under the punishing 120-degree sun, the priest's bodyguard laughs. "Don't believe what our father said," he says, pointing out a fresh bullet hole next to the rectory door and reciting a litany of recent death threats. "He can go anywhere he likes, he can leave the country if he wants to. But he is not thinking about us, the poor Christians. That's why he doesn't want me to talk to you frankly and openly about this.... There is an immigration bureau in Syria, and most of the Christians are going there."
Ten minutes away, in the Bab Sharji market, Ahmed al-Maamouri scorns Christian claims of brotherhood.
"I am unhappy about them, because Iraq is our country," says the young Muslim merchant. "They are like a white termite: They are eating the country from the inside. But if they hear a loud voice, they will keep quiet. The Christians are cowards - they are not going to fight."
Attacks have increased. Saturday, Islamic militants in Mosul and Baquba blew up four liquor stores. Sunday, fanatics attacked a liquor store in downtown Baghdad, shouting "God is great" as they machine-gunned bottles of beer and wine and kidnapped an employee.
Not all Christians are killed by Islamic militants. Issaq has compiled a list of 102 Christians killed since April 9, 2003. Some were killed for selling alcohol; others for working with Americans as translators or laundresses. (About 10 percent were killed by coalition troops, casualties of postwar violence.) Many were kidnapped and killed for money, a fate that befalls Muslims, too.
But sometimes it's hard to separate kidnappings from religious murders. Among Iraqis, there's a widespread belief that Christians are wealthy. This stereotype, too, can kill. On June 2, gangs kidnapped a young Christian storekeeper named Saher Faraj Mirkhai. Thinking he was rich, the gang demanded a ransom of $100,000. After selling their furniture, his 16-year-old truck, and the stock of his downtown Baghdad store, his family scraped together all the money they could find: about $13,500.
After they paid, the family got a phone call from Saher's cell phone."We asked for $100,000, and you paid this miserable amount of money," said the voice, cursing them with foul language. The next day, police found Saher's body, pierced by over 30 bullets and severely mutilated.
Because of their religion, and the fact that many Christians speak English or have relatives abroad, there's also a widespread perception that Christians are pro-American.
"There is a common ground between them and the Americans, so it was very easy for them to work with the Americans," says Khaled Abed, a Muslim street peddler who believes that "about 40 percent" of Christians work for occupation forces. "So you could say that the Christians used the current situation for their own benefit."
Like many others, Mr. Maamouri, the Muslim merchant, sees Christians as sympathetic to the American occupiers. "When the Americans invaded Iraq, they thought God had delivered them," he says. "They think that this is their day."
The peace between Christians and Muslims in Iraq, ever fragile, has always cracked in the crucible of national crisis. In 1931, as the British Empire handed over Iraq to a "sovereign" government of its choosing, the country's Assyrian Christian minority begged for a protected enclave or permission to migrate en masse. The British rejected both, offering them a deal instead: Assyrian soldiers could guard Britain's air bases inside Iraq.
This illusory British "protection" proved fatal. In July 1933, a band of armed Assyrians tried to flee into neighboring Syria, and a border skirmish erupted. Iraqi authorities portrayed it as a full-blown insurrection by an Assyrian fifth column trying to bring back their imperialist protectors. That summer, Iraqi troops and armed Kurdish tribesmen led a massacre against Assyrians, culminating in the slaughter of hundreds of helpless Assyrian villagers on August 11. On their return to Baghdad, a cheering populace showered the troops with rose water and pelted them with flowers for their victory in crushing the Assyrian "revolt."
Today, Assyrians are again asking for a protected province in the north, as well as money to fund a hotline and three safe houses for victims of anti-Christian crimes. "If we can get a zone in the north of Iraq, the rest of Iraq is going to go to hell, but we can be safe," says Mr. Joseph. "Otherwise, Chicago and San Diego and Detroit had better get ready for another flood of Assyrian refugees."
About a month ago, a rumor tore through Baghdad's Christian community, half a million strong, that Australia had agreed to give Christians political asylum. Frantic asylum-seekers flooded passport offices and churches trying to get copies of their baptismal certificates.
Salwan, who asked that his last name not be published, was one of them. On June 19, he took a $10 taxi from Baghdad to Damascus. The next morning, he went to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office on Maliki Street. On the sidewalk, hundreds of Iraqis waited in line. Most had slept there overnight, hoping to get in and register as refugees.
Salwan, a moonfaced young businessman, had already camped out overnight on the pavement twice. Each time, the office closed before he reached the head of the line. This time, he talked his way to the head of the line and got his prize: an official UNHCR document noting that he is an Armenian Catholic and giving him six months to apply for refugee status.
Now back in Baghdad, he says he loves Iraq, but he is hoping the UN will call him and tell him he can go to Australia: "Because of the situation, and because all my family is there, and because I cannot bear the life here anymore."
Christians Fear Persecution in New Iraq
Courtesy of the Associated Press
(ZNDA: Baghdad) On a Sunday afternoon, attendance at mass at St. Peter and Paul's Cathedral in Baghdad was decidedly thin.
A handful of Syrian Orthodox loitered on the steps of the church afterward, women removing their dainty white lace veils as they chatted with friends. For many, church on Sunday is the only time they can really socialize because of safety fears.
Most Christians blame concern over a tumultuous security situation for keeping them away from church, but it's only a small part of a greater, and growing, predicament.
Numbering some 750,000, Christians are a minority here, and even as secular Iraqis worry about the growing tide of Islamic fundamentalism, so long repressed under Saddam Hussein, their Christian compatriots are feeling the effects closer to home. They're anxious about their place in the new world around them, one that often sees them as collaborators with their American occupiers.
The new Iraq seems destined to be dominated by a mix of Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, leaving many Christians wondering if it is time to leave.
"It never used to be something we talked about at work," said one woman, who asked not to be named, butterfly clips pulling blond streaks away from her face. "But I hear it all the time from the Muslims in my office - they say we should be part of the insurgency, they say we should all fight together against the Americans, that we should be involved."
"You know, we're all Iraqis in the end, we need to stick together," said one man, who was quickly shushed by his impatient wife, juggling an infant on one hip and stroking the hair of her pigtailed daughter with her free hand.
An initial subtle difference in the way her Muslim co-workers in a government office treated her soon evolved into full-fledged disdain, she claims.
"We feel it, we feel it so much more. Suddenly they don't like our clothes, we can't wear what we like, I'm afraid for our daughters," she said.
Now she wants to leave.
"Give me a ticket out of here, I would love it!" she exclaimed.
It's a delicate issue for Christians here who want to be seen to be supporting their reborn nation's attempts at clawing back toward a better way of life, especially when for many, the worsening circumstances were undeniable.
They were able to practice their faith in relative security, free from persecution under Saddam Hussein, and threats from Islamic radicals about liquor stores and beauty salons were always firmly dealt with.
Eighteen-year-old Fadi, studying accounting at Baghdad's university, spoke of learning to hold his tongue when Muslim students turned on him and his Christian friends.
"They think that because the Americans are Christians and we're Christian that we must be collaborating with them," he said. "There's more of them than there are of us, so we have to pull back without answering back."
Christians who fled Iraq before the war are in neighboring Jordan and Syria, waiting and watching before deciding whether to return, said Bishop Andreas at the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church.
"They're very afraid," he admitted.
Of the 750,000 Christians in Iraq, the majority are Chaldean Roman Catholic, the rest Syrian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox and Assyrian. Most live in Baghdad and its outskirts and some dwell further to the north.
Islamic radicals have warned Christians running liquor stores to shut down their sales, and have turned their sights on fashion stores and beauty salons. The increasing attention on this minority community has many within looking for a way out.
Local newspapers reported that last week, the Chaldean Patriarch, His Beatitude Emmanuel Delly, met with Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and told him that Christians wanted to flee the country because they feared for their lives in the new Iraq.
Allawi's office wouldn't comment on the report and Delly reacted furiously when confronted with the question.
"How can you ask me a question like that? Do I ask you who you visit?" he raised his voice at a reporter, knocking down a tape recorder.
He later softened to say the visit was "merely to congratulate him and his new government and to wish him all the best." He told his diocese to stand firm.
"I tell them that we love our nation, and we will work for a better Iraq," he said, fingering a large silver crucifix around his neck. He said he didn't know anything about threats to Iraqi Christians and their livelihoods.
Many Iraqi Christians are in neighboring countries applying with foreign embassies for travel visas to countries like Australia, said one Christian woman, who also declined to be named.
Shaking the hands of the last worshippers to leave the Cathedral, Father John could only shake his head at the dwindling number of parishioners coming to Mass each week. He said that while Saddam Hussein dragged the country through "war after war," Christians felt safer when he was in charge.
"We have no future in Iraq now," he said.
26 Assyrian Organizations Demand Compound Title in Official Documents and Iraqi Census
(ZNDA: Detroit) Twenty-six Assyrian organizations and institutions are demanding the use of the title SuryaniChaldoAssyrians in all future official Iraqi documents and census
In a letter to the President of Iraq, the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Planning, and the Preparatory Committee for the Iraqi National Assembly, 26 Assyrian groups demanded the institution of the title (in Arabic "Chaldo-Ashuriyoon al-Suryan") in all the Iraqi official documents and census. They emphasized that the various terms Assyrian, Chaldean and Suryan are different names for one nation that cannot be separated and divided. The 26 groups are:
Immigration Official Says Political Changes in Iraq Reduce Risk to Christians
Courtesy of the London Free Press (Canada)
An Iraqi couple that has called London home for a decade must return to their turbulent war-torn country, Immigration Canada says. After 10 years of red tape, immigration officials have told Krikor Stephan, 68, and his wife, Sagheek Alexanian, 65, they must return to Iraq.
But as Armenian Christians, the married couple faces certain persecution in Iraq, said son-in-law Tom Sada.
His wife Sylva Sada, 33, joined him in Canada in 1990, while her parents fled Saddam Hussein's regime in 1994, hoping Immigration Canada would grant them refugee status, Sada said.
Since then, Stephan and Alexanian have made three applications to Immigration Canada and been rejected all three times, he said.
After about $6,000 in legal fees and application costs, the last rejection came three weeks ago. Sada is waiting for another letter to find out when Stephan and Alexanian will have to pack up and go.
"We will receive a letter from immigration to prepare," he said.
Sada, whose in-laws have helped raised his four children aged six to 12, said they have nowhere to go in Iraq.
Three weeks ago, Alexanian tried to call him, but there was no answer. A contact in Baghdad told her Christians had been driven out of town by insurgents, Sada said.
"They sent flyers to their houses, saying all Christians must leave this town and if you don't leave, you'll be beheaded," he said.
Stephan's niece, Ashhik Varojan, was one of four Christian women killed by masked gunmen in January, Sada said.
"The reason why they are killing them is that they're blaming the Americans for invading Iraq and in their mind, Americans are Christians because they are Western," Sada said.
Ironically, the couple's son was able to stay in Canada five years ago as a refugee.
But, according to research conducted by a pre-removal risk assessment officer with Immigration Canada dated Feb. 4, 2004, there was insufficient evidence Stephan and Alexanian would face personal risk in Iraq.
"My research of trustworthy sources shows that since the applicant and his wife left Iraq in 1994, the political situation has changed," the officer wrote.
Representing the couple is Toronto-based immigration lawyer Cecil Rotenberg, who says Immigration Canada has been blind to their plight.
Rotenberg said he will try to convince the government Stephan and Alexanian should stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds -- but that's a claim that has already been rejected.
Now senior citizens with little money, they have few options in their homeland.
"There's no place for them to go. How the hell is that not humanitarian and compassionate?"
Rotenberg, who has never heard of Iraqis being deported under similar circumstances, said he is confident Immigration Canada, now led by MP Judy Sgro (L - York West), will reconsider the couple's case.
Assyrian National Council Coordinates Activities for Assyrians in Central California
Courtesy of the Modesto Bee
(ZNDA: Turlock) Some desks and computers would be helpful, and so would a fax machine and a coffee maker.
But even without such amenities, the Assyrian National Council of Stanislaus is up and running at its new office, offering classes and scheduling workshops.
The office, tucked upstairs at the Scandia Village retail and office complex, replaces the post office box that served as council headquarters.
'We came to a very important realization that in order to provide the services, we needed an office,' council President Lazar Piro said. 'We're hoping in a short time that this office will be filled with furniture and people and activities.'
A class in the Assyrian alphabet is getting started, and a language class is on the schedule for September. The council also has scheduled a workshop on immigration and citizenship.
The council is a blend of 21 Assyrian churches, political groups and social organizations in Stanislaus County.
Whatever their differences, the council members agreed to support three goals: education and immigration for all, and issues pertaining to the elderly.
'We have the largest Assyrian population in California,' said Bellos Nisan, director of the council's public relations committee.
Stanislaus County's first Assyrian immigrant arrived in 1902, and the county now has approximately 25,000 people of Assyrian ancestry.
'The idea is to have a fully staffed office with volunteers on hand to help and classes going on,' Nisan said, adding that the council is eyeing grant money. 'That would give us, at some point, paid staff in the office.'
The new office is by no means empty. Tables and chairs are in place for meetings, and posters adorn the walls. The posters detail Assyrian history, culture and language.
The education center is completely furnished. It is a small classroom with plenty of magazines, books and games on Assyrian culture and history. The center also has a collection of books on the United States.
'We have a collection for our recent arrivals to help them become citizens,' said Susan Nisan, a charter school teacher who serves as the council's education director.
Piro said education is 'the first and most important' council goal.
Assyrians are jumping into the melting pot of American culture, Piro said, and some second- and third- generation Assyrians are losing their language skills and cultural identity.
'Our intention is to maintain that (Assyrian) heritage for a longer period,' Piro said. 'You have to realize you're a good American and that you are a good Assyrian.'
The council's language and culture classes are open to anyone, Susan Nisan stressed. She is of Scandinavian descent, and knows how to speak and read Assyrian.
The services being provided for the elderly also are open to anyone, Bellos Nisan said.
'We like to share. We like to give to the community,' Piro said.
Bellos Nisan said many of the services provided by the council already are available in the community through the churches and organizations. The council provides a centralized location and also can act as a referral agency to those groups.
'Our goal is not to replace classes at church, for example; our goal is to enhance the classes,' he said.
The center is in Suite 7 at Scandia Village, 223 S. Golden State Blvd. Anyone wishing to donate materials or services is asked to call the office, 634-4117.
Chaldean News Aims at Younger Generation
Courtesy of the Detroit News
First issue: February 2004
(ZNDA: Farmington Hills) A new monthly publication is giving a voice to a younger generation of Chaldean-Americans in Metro Detroit while also tapping into the ethnic group’s economic strength.
Since February the Chaldean News has been sent free to about 10,000 Chaldean-American households and has attracted 1,500 paid subscribers, according to co-publisher Martin Manna.
The publication combines the frequency and the 10-by-13-inch format of a magazine with many of the features of a traditional newspaper. Arts and entertainment information, health advice, cooking recipes and social announcements are mixed with political commentary on the Chaldean homeland of Iraq and feature stories about the Chaldean-American experience.
“Our publication is a celebration of our community and everything related to Chaldeans,” said Manna, 32. “We report on issues that are important to our community that may not be covered in the general press.”
The newspaper’s target market is the largest Chaldean community outside the Middle East. There are about 120,000 Chaldean-Americans in Metro Detroit with the heaviest concentration in Bloomfield Hills and Sterling Heights. The group includes more than 6,000 business owners and ranks high in disposable income, said Manna, who is also executive director of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce.
Chaldeans are descendants of an ancient people from Mesopotamia, which today includes Iraq and part of Syria. Most Chaldeans in Michigan are Iraqis, and members of a Christian and Roman Catholic minority.
The publication shares offices on Northwestern Highway with Interlink Media, Manna’s 3-year-old advertising and public relations firm that primarily serves Middle Eastern groups.
Zaid Fatuhi, an account representative at Superior Pontiac-Buick-GMC-Nissan in Dearborn, said the half-page ad he runs in The Chaldean News helps him sell three to five cars a month and gain valuable referrals in the close-knit Chaldean community.
Fatuhi, 32, said the publication attracts people his age. He was pleased by the announcement of his daughter’s birth and likes the reporting on Iraq and local Chaldean-American events.
The new publication takes a different approach than the 15-year-old “Chaldean Detroit Times,” a twice-a-month publication that focuses more on the Middle East and is printed in both English and Arabic. Publisher Amir Denha, 60, acknowledges that his newspaper appeals more to the older generation.
“We have a new generation and they want to see a new generation writing for them,” Denha said. “It’s beautiful to see them serving the community with first-class work.”
The new publication is edited by co-publisher Vanessa Denha, 34, who is related to the Times publisher. Vanessa Denha, a former WJR radio reporter, also works as a media consultant for Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano. The third co-publisher is Tony Antone, 35, a vice president with Kojaian Cos., a real estate developer.
Michael MacLaren, executive director of the Michigan Press Association, said a newspaper can strengthen the bonds between people who live in the same town or share the same ethnic heritage or religion.
“A newspaper is a fundamental component of what makes a community. It can be the heart and soul of a community,” he said.
But in order to survive, publications also must create a clearly defined audience that businesses and organizations want to reach with advertising, according to MacLaren.
The publishers said advertising revenues and paid subscriptions are running ahead of projections, and the publication’s size has increased from 36 to 44 pages. They hope to attain profitability sooner than expected.
OBITUARY: Suham Abl-Ahad Sadiq Enwiya
Mrs. Suham Abl-Ahad Sadiq Enwiya was born in the province of Nineveh, in the town of Alqosh.
She came to the United States by way of marriage about 3 years ago.
She had deep faith in God and loved life.
She is survived by her husband, Yousip Enwiya, her parents and six brothers and one sister.
Mrs. Suham died of Lukemia on July 17, 2004, in Berkeley, California.
Prof. S.G. Osipov, M.D., Ph.D
Nations dispersed all over the world have dates from which they start chronology of their new history. On August 29, 1897 the first congress of the Jewish nation opened in Basel. That day gave a start to the process of forming a Jewish state. On April 8, 1971 the first world congress of the Gypsy nation was held in London. A Gypsy anthem and flag were approved at the congress. Since that date the Gypsies of the world celebrate April 8 as a national holiday – the World Gypsies’ Day.
Why does the God disagree with the Assyrians so much that they couldn’t have gathered until now, sat down together and at least determined their identity and their national holiday – the Assyrians’ Day? It probably happens because they are carried away by their great ancient history and they are punished for this pride by dispersion and lack of mutual understanding.
I believe that today it’s clear to all Assyrians, Syriacs and Chaldeans that it’s necessary to get rid of this damnation and start chronologize their new history. It’s necessary to gather together at last and answer the most urgent questions. Zinda Magazine has brought up this idea more than once. The matter concerns holding the world forum. The title of the forum is of no importance: that of the Assyrian nation or Assyro-Syro-Chaldean people, or, simpler, a forum of Aramean-speaking people. It’s not a question of uniting all numerous Assyro-Syro-Chaldean organizations, parties and churches. It’s not realistic. The world forum should become a starting point for conscious existence of our nation as a nationality. And at the same time the forum is essential to solve the most urgent issues:
1. To ratify our national flag (an Assyrian or Chaldean one?), our national anthem (a secular or clerical one?), our national chronology (6754 or 2004?) and finally our national identity (not to offend anybody it might be better to invent a neologism, perhaps, Betnahraineans?).
2. To create a common national communicatory centre uniting all national mass media and a coordinating centre which will solve issues of a social and political character. The centre which will consist of representative of all churches, all regional communities (practically from all countries of dispersion) and all organizations really existing and representing interests of real people. A Standing Committee will consist of 5 people who could be chosen from the members of the national coordinating centre. The Committee will have headquarters in one of neutral European countries (Sweden, Switzerland) and will practically become an executive office of the future government of “the nation in exile”.
3. To discuss Manifesto of Ivan Kakovitch, remake it reasoning from the present situation of the Assyrians and ratify it as a Principal document (program) for future work.
4. To solve the problem of mandatory contribution of all communities, organizations and churches which are members of a common national coordinating centre in order to support future government of “the nation in exile”.
If we don’t come to this determination and don’t take the above-mentioned steps we will remain a mob in the hands of short-sighted and greedy people who press towards becoming secular or clerical leaders.
So What Happened in Dohuk ?
In some days from today 18 Iraqi governorates supposed to name their delegates to the Iraqi National Conference. The conference happens at the end of this month, would have about 1000 delegates. These delegates will include members from all Iraq's provinces and representatives of the political parties, intellectuals, and civil organizations.
The Iraqi National Conference will elect a fixed number of delegates. These delegates will be added to those members of the dissolved Iraqi Governing Council, who have not been assigned ministerial or any other governmental positions, to form the new Iraqi Interim National Assembly. This Assembly would then prepare Iraq for the national elections in January.
So What happened in Dohuk?
The following is what happened in Dohuk according to a letter I read from Judge Michael Shimshon, posted at the Kitabat:
1. Representative from the governor office (Ma'soom Anwar Ma'i)
B. A meeting was scheduled for July 19, 2004 in order to select the delegates from Dohuk. That meeting was cancelled and another was rescheduled. They tried to have the July 19 meeting; but every time Mr. Shimshon would call the deputy governor to ask for Mr. Ma'soom, he would be told that Mr. Ma'soom is not available. Since the presence of Mr. Ma'soom was important, being a representative of the governorate and the liaison between the Dohuk commission and central commission in Baghdad, the meeting was postponed and rescheduled for July 20, 2004.
C. On July 20, 2004, the members attended the meeting only to find that the applications and names of the nominated personnel were submitted already the previous day (July 19) without the knowledge and agreement of the two judges Michael Shimshon and Abdullah Aziz Ahmad, who complained and refused this unlawful action. Even Mrs. Aamina Ahmad Abdulla expressed her dissatisfaction for what had happened.
Mr. Shimshon states that he even had an interview with Kurdistan TV in which he explained what had taken place and complained. The taped interview was not broadcasted. Mr. Shimshon had also arranged to send a message about this mess to the central commission in Baghdad through Mr. Ma'soom after the meeting was over, but Mr. Ma'ssom did not wait and left for Baghdad before Mr. Shimshon had the chance to meet with him. During the meeting, says Shimshon, that there were applications submitted by the Assyrian Patriotic Party (APP), which the commission members were not aware of and they have no idea how these applications were sneaked in or why they were entered so late.
D. The instructions from the central commission in Baghdad were neither thorough nor clear. There were many unresolved problems and issues that were not addressed. These include, for example, the alternatives if certain members of the commission did not attend a meeting. Furthermore, there were no instructions on how to select the various Iraqi groups, like the Turkoman, (Assyrians Chaldeans Syriacs) and Mandeans. Additionally, there were a set percentage of women to be part of the delegates; but this was almost impossible to achieve in a society that is run in accordance to tribal culture.
Lastly but not least, selected delegates should have been checked and made sure that they satisfy certain qualifications and background check was to be performed and that takes time. How were the commission to check the individuals when names were submitted one day prior to the meeting and selection process!
Support the Publication of Upcoming Scholarly Book on Ancient Assyrian Medicine
Norman Solkkhah PhD
As founder of the Mesopotamia Museum of Chicago, I have been included on a project from the University of Illinois Press. Currently Dr. Jo Ann Scurlock, an Assyriologist who studied at the University of Chicago, is in the final stages of editing a text on ancient medical practice in Mesopotamia. In addition to herself, the research team is composed of two practicing physicians; an Infectious Diseases specialist as well as a neonatal neurologist. A third health care professional is a biologist specializing in botany and pharmacognosy. The work, tentatively entitled "Ancient Assyrian/Babylonian Medical Texts" is due to be published this year. However, it is nearly 1500 pages long and as such has become a prohibitively expensive book. It will be the first volume in a planned series of 3, and as such, it needs to have a good penetration in academic markets in order to justify the two volumes that are to follow. Here is a brief excerpt from the book jacket:
The practice of medicine in ancient Mesopotamia had an organization that is similar to that of modern medicine. A team approach to patient care was evident, with the asipu (the equivalent of a modern physician) primarily responsible for diagnosis, and the asu (the equivalent of a modern pharmacist) for collecting and compounding the components of medicines.
By the reign of Marduk-apla-iddina II, (the biblical Merodach-Baladan: 721-710 BC), the asipu's diagnostic handbook had grown to over forty tablets. These were arranged into a series consisting of a canonical sequence of entries listed in head-to-toe order with separate sub-series for convulsive disorders, gynecology, pediatrics, etc. A little less than half remain; their preservation is largely due to the efforts of Assurbanipal in collecting the tablets for his library.
That ancient Mesopotamia should have produced a sophisticated medical system should come as no surprise. They also invented the potter's wheel and chariots, refined irrigation to an art, and developed the first architectural arch, the first written language, a system of measurement of time still employed by us today, as well as a sophisticated system of mathematics and astronomy.
As a major contributor, I have undertaken the efforts to raise additional funds to help lower the cost of the book. At current projected retail price, it will be unaffordable by most scholars and will be purchased largely by libraries around the world, as a reference text. We are attempting to collect at least $30,000 before publication begins. Based on the funds collected to date (approximately one half of the amount) the retail price has been lowered from $200 to $150 per copy. I am asking support from other prominent Assyrians to fund the other half. Donations are tax-deductible, as the Museum is a 501(c) non-profit organization. Furthermore, donors who support the project in the amount of $500 or more will receive their own copy of the textbook upon publication. Donors who support the project in the amount of $1000 or more will, in addition to their own copy of the textbook, receive personalized recognition, by name, in the acknowledgments section of the book.
Vicar General Fr.A.C.Antony
Mar Aprem, Metropolitan of the Church of the East for India has arrived in the United States and will be presiding over the Sunday Services and Qurbana in several Assyrian churches. His Grace and eleven other bishops of the Church of the East will be joining His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV in Chicago between 23 and 31 August at the Holy Synod (Sunhadous).
The following is a list of the cities scheduled in His Grace Mar Aprem's itinerary. For more information please contact your local Church of the East parish.
Tour Program of Mar Aprem's Travel in the United States
4 July.......................Mar Mari Parish.......................................Yonkers, New York
6 to 11 July..............St.Thomas Assyrian Parish.......................New Britain, Connecticut
18 July.....................Mar Joseph Parish....................................San Jose. C/o Bishop Mar Bawai Soro
25 July.....................Mar Zaia Parish........................................Modesto, Priest Rev.Kando Kando
1 August..................St. Mary Parish.........................................Los Angeles
8 August..................St Peter's Parish........................................Phoenix, Arizona, Bishop Aprim Khamis
15 August................Qurbana...................................................Detroit, Rev Benyamin Benyamin
22 August................Qurbana...................................................Chicago, His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV
23-31 August 20......Holy Synod in Chicago
[Zinda: Check out next week's issues for Zinda Magazine's exclusive interview with Mar Aprem during his stay in California].
71st Annual National Convention of the
Join us as we gather to celebrate our Assyrian culture through great seminars, lectures, sports tournaments, Assyrian Youth Excellent Contest, rallies, picnic, entertainment, and many other insightful programs, inspiring events and good fun!!!
One easy Registration fee covers all the events excluding Sunday's Presidential Banquet and Monday's
18 and older - $100
All events will take place at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California.
2 Convenient Hotels to Choose from Surrounding the Convention Site
For registration and more information: 1-800-714-3351
Please click here and print the flyer to distribute them among your friends, affiliate members and Assyrians in your area.
Orhay Association for Literature & Art
ORHAY is a non-profit organization, established and registered in Sweden in October of 2002. Its activities are not limited to Sweden. ORHAY is composed of literary Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac artists, photographers, writers, poets, film makers, musicians, composers, singers, and more.
ORHAY's Mission: committed to bring together our Nation's intellectuals and creative minds and to share and promote their contemporary literary works.
ORHAY's Vision: to share the works of its members with all of humanity and to show the world the modern and the prevailing face of our Mesopotamian Nation.
We continue to organize local and worldwide activities to promote our members and their literary and creative works. In addition, we urge all members and non-members to spread out the word, among our own people and to the rest of the world, about the creation of ORHAY. Our members have been multiplying all over the world and our literary activities spread worldwide. All Assyrian, Chaldean, and Syriac artists and writers are welcome to join ORHAY. Learn more about us through our web site: www.orhay.org and contact us via e-mail: email@example.com
Board of Directors and Officers 2004- 2005
1. President...............................Adam Odisho............................Painter and Fine Art's Teacher
Rev. Ken Joseph Jr.
The Assyrian Assistance Center in Baghdad confirms that a calculated effort is underway to deny Assyrian Christians representation in upcoming elections.
A 1,000 member election commission is being chosen to represent the various constituencies from which elections will be ultimately carried out.
`To date we have confirmed only 20 Assyrian delegates out of the total of 1,000` says Amir George of the Assyrian Assistance Center in Baghdad who asked that his name be changed to protect his identity.
`The names the Assyrian Christian Community has turned in for inclusion in the election commission have all been rejected by the Kurdish Regional Government authorities. We are calling upon freedom loving peoples worldwide to protest in the strongest way possible this blatant attempt to shut us out of the electoral process.` George continued.
The Assyrian Christians are the indigenous people of Iraq and Christians. They face blatant discrimination first because they are not Arab, then because they are not Moslem and again because they are seen as allies of the West.
`We are doing all we can to demand that we be accorded representation in accordance with our status as the indigenous people of Iraq` says Assyrian Christian activist Robert Isaac.
`During the time of Saddam Hussein the Assyrian Christian Population was given as 2.5 million by the Iraqi Government.
That should give us a minimum of 100 seats out of the 1,000 member assembly` he says.
`In both Dohuk and Irbil the Assyrian Christian population figures give us four delegates to the convention each - we have been given none. This is completely unacceptable.`
Assyrianchristians.com has confirmed directly with Iraqi Government officials who flatly stated for the record that `the Assyrian Christians as the indigenous people of Iraq shall have the representatives of their choice and any difficulties they may encounter will be fought to the full extent of the law. Please give us the details so we can ensure that this important and historic Iraqi community can be part of the process` said the Iraqi official.
`This blatant shutout from the election process of the indigenous Assyrian Christians is a part of a long history of discrimination, ethnic cleansing and genocide endured by one of the last remaining Christian populations in the Middle East in an area that has seen non-moslem numbers fall from nearly 18% according to some figures a generation ago to now under 2%` says George Lazarus.
The Assyrian Holocaust of 1915/1918 saw nearly two thirds of the community wiped out in one of the most terrible, but least known massacres of the 20th century.
`We call upon the international community to protest in the strongest way possible to their local Iraqi Embassy that the rights of the Assyrian Christians be protected.` says George. `We demand immediately that the Assyrian Christians be accorded delegates to the convention from Dohuk, Irbil and every area of Iraq in accordance with our status as the indigenous people of Iraq.` says Lazarus.
Assyrians and the Future Iraqi Census and Elections
Iraqi Interim Government has set January 2005 as the anticipated time for conducting the Iraqi national elections. This is a historic event and it will have monumental consequences on the future of Assyrians (including Chaldeans and Suryan) in Iraq. Iraqi people, including Assyrians originally from Iraq, who reside in countries throughout the world, were given the chance to obtain duel citizenship, thus have the right to be counted and vote in these elections.
If that is the case:
1. How are the Diaspora Assyrians prepared for the forthcoming census and elections in Iraq?
2. Are we organized enough and ready for these elections or are we going to let our rights slip away?
3. Is the voice of the Iraqi Assyrians who are spread world wide (estimated over one million) going to be heard or are we going to be as usual passive and non-committed to this important historical event? Are the Assyrian groups in the Diaspora in touch with the various Iraqi embassies and the United Nations about this matter to ensure a smooth and successful process?
4. Are the Assyrian (including Chaldean and Suryan) groups in the Diaspora in cooperation with each other to ensure that every Assyrian vote is counted? Furthermore, are they preparing their people for a better healthy atmosphere among themselves to face this historic event?
5. What will happen to Iraqi Assyrians who fled Iraq in 1933 to Syria or to their descendents who are still there or to those who have moved to Lebanon and spread throughout the world in later years? As we know, they did not leave Iraq by choice; they fled due to the massacre. Would they have a chance to vote as well?
Many Assyrians who I have spoken with are concerned about what they interpret as the stagnation of Assyrian organized groups in the Diaspora. These groups, as organized bodies, have the obligation of steering this historic event to facilitate the process in the West and thus achieve a fair and accurate representation of the Diaspora Iraqi Assyrians. If there are any real steps that are being taken towards this matter, the people must be informed about such activities, step by step.
When would the Diaspora Assyrians begin to move? This is it; Assyrian future in Iraq is in the balance. We have between one to two million Assyrians (including Chaldeans and Suryan) in Iraq (no one knows the exact figures since no real and fair census were ever taken). With the vote of another million in the Diaspora, we could be a real force in Iraq. Six months is a very short time; we must begin today.
[Zinda: The article above was submitted to Zinda Magazine over 3 weeks prior to the publication of this issue. According to the information received earlier this week, the Diaspora Iraqis will not be asked to participate in the January 2005 elections. The impact of such a decision is currently under review by Assyrian groups around the world.]
For Iraqi Christians, A Shadow of Insecurity
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Islam has been the dominant religion in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley for 1,400 years. Christians have been there for two millenniums and maintain a quiet presence today in what is now Iraq.
Estimates of Iraq's Christian population range from 600,000 to 800,000 -- roughly 3 percent of the overall population of 25 million. No one knows for sure.
Christians, who practiced with relative freedom under Saddam Hussein, are leaving -- or trying to leave -- out of fear that a Muslim-dominated government will control Iraq, said the Rev. Jean Benjamin Sleiman, Latin-rite (Roman Catholic) archbishop of Baghdad.
Most Iraqi Christians are Chaldeans, Eastern-rite Catholics whose church is autonomous from Rome, with its own liturgy and leadership, but recognizes the authority of the pope. Chaldeans trace their lineage to the Babylonian-Mesopotamian nation of Chaldees, where the patriarch Abraham was born.
Other Christians include Roman and Syriac Catholics; Assyrians (Church of the East); Greek, Syriac and Armenian Orthodox; and Presbyterians, Anglicans and evangelicals.
Sleiman, 58, is a Lebanese-born Carmelite priest who holds doctorates in theology from the Paris Catholic Institute and in anthropology from the Sorbonne. He speaks six languages, including Arabic and English, and became archbishop of Baghdad in January 2001.
Since the U.S.-led coalition began massing troops on Iraq's borders, Sleiman has spoken of the need for a multinational reconstruction and peace effort, criticized the coalition's dismantling of the Iraqi military, condemned foreign evangelicals for openly trying to convert Muslims and urged Iraqi Christians not to desert their country.
Sleiman is scheduled to speak next Saturday at a Carmelite conference in Chicago, hosted by the Washington-based Carmelite Institute. He agreed to an interview with Washington Post staff writer Bill Broadway by e-mail from Baghdad and Rome, where he stopped before flying to the United States. An edited version follows.
Q How many Latin-rite Christians are in Iraq, and where do most of them live and worship?
A The Roman Catholic (Latin) Church in Iraq began as a missionary church. It began in the early 17th century with Carmelite missions in Persia and Mesopotamia. The missionaries baptized many who converted because the Shah Abbas, the Shah of Persia during the first decades of the 17th century, was very tolerant. He encouraged the Holy See to appoint a bishop for them.
From the beginning until now, the Latin Church in Iraq also has been the church of foreigners who belong to the Roman Catholic Church. They once numbered about 60,000, but most disappeared with the first Gulf War because of security concerns and the postwar embargo, which reduced or eliminated their businesses.
The native Iraqi Latins are a very small community that counts about 3,000 people, having lost 2,000 to emigration because of the embargo. Most Latins, like most other Christians in Iraq, have lived in Baghdad since the 1960s. Socioeconomic changes pushed people to reach the capital with the hope of a better life, and the fighting between the government and the Kurds forced from the north many Christians whose villages have been destroyed or occupied.
There are three Latin parishes in Iraq, the principal one [anchored by] the Cathedral of St. Joseph near the center of Baghdad, not far from the National Theatre and the former U.S. Embassy. Most of the Masses are in Arabic, and we have one Mass in English at King Christ Church near Saint Raphael Hospital. Masses in Latin are celebrated on Christmas and Easter.
The Latin Church also has many religious orders, such as Carmelites, Dominicans, Redemptorists and Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. There are many priests, nuns, friars and brothers, along with consecrated laypeople -- those who take vows of obedience, poverty and chastity but do not live in monasteries. They continue their regular activities and live with their families.
Describe what it has been like being a Christian in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion. Is it different from the way it was when Saddam Hussein was in power?
Surely it's different. Under the regime, there was one dominant religion: the Baath Party. So the authorities treated all religions with a certain equality.
Concretely, it means that people could freely pray but only intra muros [within the walls] of churches or mosques or priories and so forth. The regime was strongly opposed to printing and other media. We Christians and members of other faiths could not publish religious literature, have a radio or TV station or otherwise promote our religions.
Since the end of the war in March 2003, there is a very real freedom, but we cannot enjoy it because of general insecurity, the high level of fanaticism and the belief of some Islamic leaders that Iraqi Christians are being assimilated into the coalition forces, who are perceived as Christians or even crusaders.
It means that it is still hard to be Christian in Iraq. You have to live a hidden religious life.
Before the war, many Iraqi Christians worried that a Shiite-led government, or one influenced by Shiites [60 percent of the population], would oppress Christians. What do you think?
That's very true. An Islamic republic -- that is, a theocratic regime -- will be more oppressive and more alienating than every other tyrannical regime. It will take away the freedom of conscience, basic human rights and the freedom of culture.
But I am sure that many Muslims oppose a theocratic regime. So I hope, with the assistance of the international community, and especially with the aid of the U.S.A., the future Iraqi society will be a little bit more democratic, more humane.
In recent months there have been reports of Christians being beaten or killed by Muslims. Have you heard such reports or know personally of those kinds of acts against Christians by fellow Iraqis?
That's true also. Many events in civil Iraqi society are hidden. The media pay interest to political and military fightings. What's often not reported are kidnappings and murders of Christians and threats against bishops -- Chaldean, Syriac Catholic and Syriac Orthodox -- especially in Mosul [location of ancient Nineveh and a center of Chaldean Christianity].
But it's due to Islamic fundamentalist and extremist groups. We cannot say that there is a general Islamic persecution of Christians. Still, in the shadow of general insecurity and violence, Christians are suffering and frightened.
I must confess that many Muslims also have been victims of similar violence.
What would you like most to tell Americans about the political, religious and social situation in Iraq?
I will say that Iraqi society has been oppressed for a long time. Minds were imprisoned and didn't evolve. So after liberation, the society fell into anarchy and confusion. It will take time to find internal peace, to reconcile Iraqis with their history, even with themselves.
To that end, I want to emphasize the important role of the United States, which as the leader of the world has a human and deeply ethical mission in Iraq.
Military intervention cannot renew this society; economic projects are unable to give this society, as we say according to Holy Bible, a "new heart." It's the values that America lives and defends -- religious faith, freedom, dignity of men and women, morality -- that can help people change their minds, to help them evolve in their culture.
The idea of the person as a free, responsible and autonomous individual isn't recognized in Iraq. The group, the tribe, the community or the family impose to persons values and customs. There are still families that choose a bride for their son or a groom for their daughter.
What primary message will you bring to those who attend the Carmelite conference in Chicago?
I will try to share hope with all of the brothers, sisters and friends of our conference. The Christian hope is the light in dark times.
There's been talk by many people about God having a hand in current events, that events are unfolding as part of His plan. Do you believe God has planned all that has happened, and will happen, from the beginning of time?
I believe in our merciful God. I am also sure that human beings are free and responsible. So if there are plans, those are human. God plans our salvation, our peace, our communion. But many human individuals, leaders or leading groups plan to reach their own interests. We humans are responsible. God hopes that we one day will resolve our problems in the light of his revelation.
Will there ever be peace in the Middle East? If so, what will bring it about?
Peace in Middle East sounds now like a dream. It's utopic. But I think like Thomas More that the utopia of today will be the reality of tomorrow. So we have to not stop efforts to build peace.
What has been the reaction of the people you know to the turnover of power to the Iraqi authorities and the trial of Saddam Hussein?
Many Iraqis knew of the handover after it was done, but they didn't pay real attention. I am noticing a deep contradiction between the pride and joy to recover the sovereignty, even if it's still relative, and the anger against the liberators. We can say that generally a feeling of satisfaction can be seen.
As for the trial of Saddam, as you know, there are many points of view. People will be interested, maybe amazed, by the trial and the many Byzantine turns it will take.
I think that Saddam died politically on April the 9th : With all his regime, he left Baghdad; he abandoned his government, his army and his people. He should have left power before then, as he had been encouraged to do. He could have avoided many dramas.
But he sacrificed all on the altar of his narcissism.
Janet Abraham Elected to Board of International HRO
(ZNDA: Germany) Mrs. Janet Abraham was recently elected to the Executive Board of the Society for Threatened People (GfbV), one of the largest human rights organisations in Europe with headquarters in Germany.
Mrs. Abraham has been active in the human rights work for more than 15 years, and acted for a decade as a coordinator for the Assyrian topics in the Society. At the same time she represented the Society for the last 10 years in the Board of the Solidarity Group of Tur Abdin. She has held various speeches on Assyrians and has had numerous TV and radio interviews. In 2001 Mrs. Abraham was sent by the Society as an official observer to the trial of Rev. Yusuf Akbulut in Diyarbakir/Turkey.
The Society for Threatened People has an NGO status at the United Nations and has established more than half dozen sections in Europe (among them one in Bosnia-Hezogovina), with latest plans to open an office in Northern Iraq which will be operated by minorities in Iraq - among them Assyrians. It is worth pointing that the Society since the 1970s continuously supported the ethnic and religious rights of the minorities all over the world, in case of the Assyrians in their countries in the Middle East - Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria - and has issued various publications on their condition.
The following individuals contributed in the preparation of this week's issue:
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