14 Shvadt 6754
Volume XI

Issue 1

2 February 2005


Fax 1-415-358-4778

Lack of voting in the Nineveh Plain has left Assyrians worldwide reeling.


This Week in Zinda
  Assyrians Prevented By Kurds From Voting in North Iraq AINA
Good Morning Assyria
  ADM Press Release on Iraqi National Elections  
News Digest
  Iraq's Christians Disenfranchised at Home and in U.S.
Iraqi Christians Claim Their Votes Blocked
Get Out the ChaldoAssyrian Vote
Assyrian Christians Protest Iraqi Election with Crucifixion
Hikmat Hakim in the Iraqi Elections
Christians on PalTalk Chat Service Tracked by Radical Moslems
Surfs Up!

Experience was Surreal
I Wasn Not on Slate 130
Many in Russia Wished They Could Vote
Revolving Around the Capital
About Time Our Church Took Some Action

Daniel Crisby
Atorina Zomaya
Poulous Y. Malik Khoshaba
Vasili Shoumanov
Edward I. Baba
Voltaire E. Warda
  Barazani Tarnished the Landscape of the Iraqi Elections ADO
  Proud to Hold Up the Indelible Purple Ink Ashtar Analeed Marcus

The Lighthouse
Feature Article(s)

Assyrians Prevented By Kurds From Voting in North Iraq

Courtesy of the Assyrian International News Agency
31 January 2005

In a brazen and nearly unbelievable move, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) headed by warlord Masoud Barzani has prevented voting by Assyrian (also known as Chaldean and Syriac) Christians of the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq. According to a series of reports from inside Iraq, the KDP effectively blocked the delivery of ballot boxes to six major Assyrian towns and villages in the Plains around Mosul including Baghdeda, Bartilla, Karemlesh, Shekhan, Ain Sifne and Bahzan.

Thousands of would be voters were left stranded outside polling places awaiting an opportunity to cast their ballots. Inquiries to voting authorities brought frequent promises that the ballot boxes were en route only to result in a series of disappointments throughout the day. Infuriated Assyrians filled the streets of Baghdeda- the largest Assyrian town in the Nineveh Plain-and demonstrated against the KDP's overt disenfranchisement of Assyrians.

According to Iraq sources, the ballot boxes had been stored in Arbil, the stronghold of the KDP. The resulting unavailability of ballot boxes affected up to 100,000 Assyrian voters and tens of thousands of Yezidis, Shabak, and Turkman voters. The outright denial of voting rights to Assyrians and other non-Kurdish minorities culminates several months of intimidation, beatings, beheadings, burnings, and mutilations of Assyrian Christians in the Nineveh Plain. Just two weeks before the elections, Archbishop Basil George Casmusa of the Syriac Catholic church was also kidnapped. Although he was released one day later, his abduction and the series of escalating attacks were earlier reported by numerous sources (AINA, 09-13-2004, 08-07-2004, 06-20-2004) as an attempt to drive out Assyrians from their homes and to intimidate potential remaining voters into staying home on election day.

However, to the KDP's dismay, thousands of Iraqi Assyrians defied the KDP's terror tactics and ventured out to vote only to discover that ballot boxes never arrived. Assyrians in other areas of Iraq such as Mosul, Baghdad, and Karkuk were not expected to turn out in large numbers due to threats and a deteriorating security situation. The lack of voting in the Nineveh Plain has left Assyrians worldwide reeling. As one observer summarized "Not only was the in country vote prevented to a large extent by the KDP and the overall security situation, but the out of country voting was abysmal due to discriminatory placement of polling places by the IOM (International Organization for Migration) in areas favoring Kurds and others at the expense of Assyrians (AINA, 01-18-2005). In the US, less than 10% of eligible voters were registered by the IOM, a complete failure on their part."

The KDP's specific targeting of the Nineveh Plain is no mere coincidence. The Nineveh Plain contains the last remaining stronghold of predominantly Assyrian towns and villages in the immediate environs of the ruins of Nineveh, the ancient Assyrian capital. The Nineveh Plain has been touted by a wide spectrum of Assyrian political leaders -- including foremost among them those of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) -- as the center of a self-administered area as recognized in Article 53d of the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) and what has been described as the "Last Stand of the ChaldoAssyrians".

In their latest maneuver, the KDP effectively eliminated any possible Assyrian representation from the Nineveh Plain in the upcoming National Assembly. Whereas the KDP had earlier masked their ambitions to fully cleanse the area of Assyrian Christians, recent reports have uncovered stepped up and overt acts of terror and intimidation by self-described KDP operatives determined to drive away Assyrians.

The KDP is also targeting other communities including Turkman, Yezidis, and Shabak in a bid to suppress non-Kurdish balloting in the region. One report suggested that up to 250,000 non-Kurds may have been prevented from voting by the KDP. The obvious intent remains to electorally and "democratically" show that the area is predominantly Kurdish by preventing any other political or demographic expression. As one analyst noted, "to defacto Kurdify the area on paper by suppressing any countervailing political assertion."

The Kurdish scheme is widely seen as an attack on the integrity of Iraq as a whole. Alluding to KDP occupation of the historically Assyrian provinces of Arbil and Dohuk, a leader noted "this is simply another land grab aimed at expanding the Kurdish occupied area into Nineveh province at the expense of a sovereign and integrated Iraq...they're simply trying to split off as much territory from Iraq as they possibly can, while they can."

Angry Assyrian Americans have begun to ask what the US administration's response will be this attack on democracy in Iraq. Assyrian Americans make up 85-90% of all Iraqi Americans. Due to disproportionate persecution, nearly half of all Iraqi Americans live outside the country. One enraged activist noted "Assyrians have been the most fervent proponents of secular democracy and pluralism in Iraq." Referring to Masoud Barzani, he added "has all of our effort been to help prop up a tribal and antidemocratic despot in the north? Did we unknowingly support a policy that will lead either to the total subjugation or elimination of Assyrian Christians and other minorities at the hands of Kurdish terrorists?"


Good Morning Assyria
News from Homeland


ADM Press Release on Iraqi National Elections

The Political Bureau of the
Assyrian Democratic Movement

January 31, 2005

We congratulate our Iraqi people and ourselves for this important step and historical moment expressed by the Iraqi elections, which took place yesterday January 30 to elect the national coalition that represents the will of the people. A coalition that would create a national government that insures security to the civilians and provides the fundamental services. Also to finish its main mission of writing the constitution which guarantees equal rights to all Iraqis and the full rights for the different sections, ethnicities, denominations, and social classes, and finish the national tasks in maintaining the unity and liberation of the nation.

If the elections in itself had represented a defiance in the face of terrorism and expressed the will of the people to freedom, democracy, the respect of pluralism, and the concept of true government, then our ChaldoAssyrian Syriac people since it is considered as a part of the indigenous components of the Iraqi people was looking forward to these elections since it is considered a turning point in its national aspirations since the creation of the Iraqi State which cancelled our people’s national and cultural identity that dates back to more than seven thousand years. Our people were supportive and content after the fall of the previous horrible regime, and the recognition of our people’s identity in the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL). All of our people have proudly prepared to participate in the elections and have joyfully and with unmatched enthusiasm have participated in the elections in all of the parts of Iraq.

But what is upsetting is what happened in the areas of the Plains of Nineveh and mainly in the district of Al-Hamdaniya (Qaraqosh-Baghdeda), Karamlesh, Bartilla County, in Bashiqa, Bahzani, and the district of Al-Shikhan (Ain-Safni). In these areas, the voting boxes, ballots, the supervisors, and other election necessities did not arrive. Despite the gathering of the people from the early morning hours in front of the voting stations and the continuous communications with the responsible authorities, but the situation was not solved until midnight. In addition, there were continuous promises that everything was solved and numerous promises and information were received from the higher election council that the election necessities have been arranged and sent to these areas. The big question is: How and where did these voting boxes get lost? And why did they not reach the areas that are living in a relatively calm security condition even in the past few weeks when compared to other areas in the Nineveh Governorate that have been facing major security tensions? But contrary to our secure areas and despite the tensions, those non-secure areas did receive the voting boxes and its inhabitants participated in the election process.

The region of the Plains of Nineveh with its historical and cultural identity, where our ChaldoAssyrian Syriac people still constitute a major presence in it and where our people live peacefully with the remaining other groups such as the Yezidis and Shabak. Our people were looking forward towards these elections to become a proof of our people’s involvement in the national issues as they have always done in the past, and also to prove the continued existence of our national identity and people on our historical land for thousands of years. There have also been many illegal voting procedures in parts of the Tel-Keif district where the voting ballots were not enough and hundreds of voters in many areas remained without being able to participate in the voting process such as the towns of Al-Qosh, Tel-Sqof, Batnaya, and Tel-Keif, as well as the neighboring villages.

The sides that are responsible for this act, who wanted to deprive our people of this national right, are seeking to forge the votes and to deny the national and ethnic rights of our people in this region, where these irresponsible groups have known in the past that they do not have any support in this region. We would like them to know that our people who have preserved their cultural and national identity and remained attached to its historical homeland for thousands of years will remain here forever.

Despite our appreciation for the great efforts of the higher elections council with these elections, but we are calling on the Independent Election Council, the Iraqi government, the United Nations, and the Human Rights organizations to interfere quickly and open a comprehensive investigation for these transgressions and infringements that do not meet the standards of Democracy in the new Iraq. It is a duty to point out the responsible groups and the slackers and publicizing it publicly before the Iraqi people and the world. It is a duty to show fairness to the people of the region with all of its constituents and the fulfillment of their requests for which they have been demonstrating and those requests lie in their right to vote and to be represented in the Government Council.

Victory to Democracy!

News Digest
News from Around the World

Iraq's Christians Disenfranchised at Home and in U.S.

Courtesy of Christianity Today
31 January 2005
By Rob Moll

Last weekend was the first time in their 6,700 year history that Iraq's Assyrian community was able to participate in a free, democratic election. But Ron Michael, who cast his vote Sunday, says it was insignificant. "It's not going to matter," he said before going to The Assyrian National Council of Illinois Community Center in Skokie, a suburb north of Chicago where the Out of Country Voting Program (OCV) placed one of Chicago's two polling centers.

Though the community center was packed Sunday, with tight security and a full parking lot, Assyrians—who make up 80 percent of Iraq's expatriate community in the United States— were furious, saying they have been purposefully excluded from the election. Without representation, say Assyrians, they won't be able to fight for their rights when the legislative assembly draws up Iraq's constitution. And since they are all Christians, Assyrians worry they will continue to suffer persecution, and will continue to leave Iraq, where 50,000 have already fled since U.S. troops invaded.

U.S. Disenfranchisement

After two days of voting, only 3,685 people total had voted in Chicago, home to the second-largest Assyrian community in the United States, with more than 100,000 Assyrians from Iraq and neighboring countries. Only slightly more than 26,000 Iraqis registered to vote, though Michael believes there are 200,000 Assyrians in the U.S.

The OCV's definition of an eligible voter is broader than the State Department's definition of an Iraqi, says Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House. Someone like Michael is off the radar, she says, because he was born in Lebanon. The OCV allows second-generation expatriates to vote. So Michael, whose father is an Iraqi, is eligible to vote. The State Department classifies him as ChaldoAssyrian.

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But Michael is also off the OCV's radar because he is Assyrian. Shea says the OCV asked the U.S. State Department where to put the voting centers. The State Department looked at Census data to find where Iraqi-Americans lived. Because the Census only records ChaldoAssyrians as an ethnic group and doesn't identify their country, their locations didn't factor in placing five U.S. polling centers, which instead focused on centers of Iraqi Kurds and Arab populations.

Assyrians also say the OCV didn't listen when they complained that the only polling place west of the Mississippi River, near Los Angeles, in Irvine, was far from the more than 50,000 Assyrians eligible to vote in San Diego and Northern California. Yet, Michael and other Assyrians complain, a community of 3,000 Kurds in Nashville, Tennessee, received their own voting center.

"OCV has done a woefully inadequate job," says Michael. "We have a hundred-thousand Assyrians in California and the polling station is in L.A., where most of the Assyrians happen to be Iranian, not Iraqi. They intentionally avoided San Diego, where we have 35,000 to 40,000 of our people, and perhaps a similar number in the Central Valley."

Shea agrees that when the OCV was notified of the problems, they did nothing. "They were showing flexibility and innovativeness when it became clear that it was a disaster," Shea says. Yet, she says, they ignored the pleas for more polling places. "What I think angers the ChaldoAssyrians is that all the public petitions and appeals by senators and congressmen and bishops, the direct phone calls, they just brushed off, they didn't care. It was bungled from the beginning, and it was left in the hands of indifferent bureaucrats."

Jacklin Bejan, a spokesperson for the ChaldoAssyrian American Advocacy Council, of which Ron Michael is also a member, sees bitter irony. "How is it that we're going in Iraq to install a democratic government, yet in this very country, the symbol of democracy, we as Americans are not afforded the opportunity to participate in the process?" she says. "Is this really why our soldiers are dying?"

To the Assyrians gathered in the hallway at the community center, it is clear they have been the object of a campaign to disenfranchise the largest Christian population in Iraq. "You could not have designed a better placement of ballot boxes to ensure the disenfranchisement of Assyrian voters," Michael says.

"We were very hopeful that the expatriate vote, especially in the United States, would contribute to securing at least three or four assembly seats for our people in Iraq," Bejan says. "We wanted to fight so that Iraq will not turn into another Islamic republic like Iran. We needed those seats to fight for the right of the indigenous people of Iraq, the ChaldoAssyrians. Our people depended so much on the votes of the expatriates, and unfortunately, it has been quite disappointing."

Under Kurdish Control

At the community center, word spread that six ballot boxes in three Christian Assyrian areas in Iraq never arrived. Not only were Iraqi-Assyrians the object of terrorism before the vote, their polling places never opened. By Monday morning, Michael said, the ballot boxes had arrived, but there were no poll workers.

Some Assyrians were visibly angry. "There has been a campaign of terror to lower the turnout," says John Michael, Ron's brother. "The Kurdish Democratic Party prevented the ballot boxes from arriving in six towns under the military control of the U.S., which is presiding over the disenfranchisement of the indigenous Christian people."

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Assyrians make up at least 3 percent of Iraqis, though other estimates are higher because Saddam Hussein refused to count them in the census. Michael believes they could make up as much as 6 to 10 percent of the Iraqi vote. The Assyrians trace their Christian heritage back to the church in Antioch, the first group to be called Christians, and they trace their presence in what is now the north of Iraq back to the birth of civilization. Now, they fear, their long history is at an end. "This [vote] is about nothing other than the survival of the last area of predominately Christian people in the world," says John.

Christians in Iraq are suffering disproportionately from terrorist activity, says Bejan. "Our women are subjected to continued threats, our children are kidnapped, our businesses are bombed, our churches are threatened, and our archbishops are kidnapped. Our fear is that we will not be able to fully participate in this first democratic election." International Christian Concern says that Christian women have had acid thrown in the face for not wearing a veil.

The Kurds are systematically displacing the Iraqi Christians, says Larry Allen, spokesperson for ICC. "The Kurds have been making a move for the Nineveh plain area and trying to expand Kurdistan out to the west." The Kurdistan Democratic Party is linked to a paramilitary group that has confiscated homes. "Farmland has been confiscated. In addition, the $20 billion designated for reconstruction in Iraq, the Assyrians have seen none of it. The Kurdish authority is not distributing it," Allen says.

"The Kurds are literally ethnically cleansing us out of the region," says Ron Michael. "They are doing to us what the Sudanese government was doing to the Christians in the south of the Sudan. The Kurds are engaged in a push for autonomy and independence. They feel that they can only achieve their national aspirations by ethnic cleansing, either by political maneuvering or through violence, until every shred of Assyrianism in northern Iraq is gone."

Hope for Democracy and Survival

The ChaldoAssyrians are "pro-West, pro-democracy, and pro-human rights," Shea says. They support U.S. plans for Iraq, and the Christian presence in the country is a major argument used by Iraqi authorities, including Islamic clerics, to have a secular government rather than an Islamic republic. "Right now, they can point to the Christians. They can say, 'Look, we're a pluralistic society,'" Shea says.

However, if Christians continue to flee, those who support a secular government will have no minorities to appeal to, according to Shea.

Already 50,000 Christians have fled the country. And they will all eventually leave, says Bejan, if persecution continues.

The Assyrian representatives hoped to write into the constitution religious freedom, women's rights, and equality for ethnic, and linguistic minorities, says Michael. Otherwise, he says, it will be the same as it has been for the last 1,400 years. "We have lived nearly 7,000 years in the north of Iraq. We still speak Aramaic, the language of Christ. We are the oldest Christian community on the planet," Michael says. All of that, he believes, is on the line now.

If an Islamic constitution is drafted, Shea says, ChaldoAssyrian Christians "will leave, assimilate, and that will be the end of their language. If they're forced to emigrate, the last concentration of Aramaic speakers, it's going to be gone. That will be the end of their culture."

Iraqi Christians Claim Their Votes Blocked

Courtesy of the Decatur Daily
2 February 2005
By Eric Fleischauer

Even as Iraqi Muslims proclaimed Sunday's elections a success, the Christians of that country complained that they were prevented from voting both in Iraq and in the United States.

Christian Assyrians, 1 million of whom reside in Iraq, claim that Kurdish officials in North Iraq blocked the delivery of ballot boxes from Assyrian-dominated villages, leaving many Assyrians disenfranchised. They also claim that election officials placed U.S. voting locations in areas that maximized the distance expatriate Assyrians had to travel.

Susan Patto, chief of staff to the secretary general of the Assyrian Democratic Movement in Iraq, said officials failed to deliver ballot boxes to five towns in the Ninevah Plain of Northern Iraq. All are predominantly populated by Christian Assyrians.

"The people of those areas went to vote. When they found there were no boxes, they headed to our centers," Patto said.

Patto said she and others in her organization contacted officials in Mosul, but they said the security situation prevented delivery of the vote boxes. Baghdad officials then instructed election personnel in Arbil to deliver the boxes, but they failed to do so.

After the election hours ended Sunday, Patto said, a U.S. helicopter delivered four boxes, two designated for Bartella and two for Baashiqa. Election officials instructed local officials to permit three hours of voting Monday morning to make up for Sunday's missing ballot boxes.

"The next morning people headed again for the centers, but there were no staff, no ballots and no ink — just the boxes," Patto said.

Give up, Demonstrate

The Assyrians who had gathered to vote waited until noon before giving up, Patto said, at which time they began a demonstration.

The demonstration was squelched, Patto said, by the Kurdish militia. She said the Kurds beat an Assyrian city council member from Baghdida during the demonstration by breaking all his teeth.

Other Assyrian-populated towns had ballot boxes, but an inadequate supply of ballots, she said.

All told, Patto estimated voting irregularities prevented 50,000 Assyrians from voting.

Frederick Aprim, who lives in an Assyrian community in California, said the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq chose the five U.S. polling locations with deference to expatriate Kurdish populations, but failed to locate polls close to larger Assyrian communities.

Officials located one poll in Nashville, which has a Kurdish population of about 4,000. About 38,000 Assyrians live in the northern half of California, but the closest polling place was in Southern California.

IECI did not immediately return telephone calls or e-mails Tuesday.

Out-of-country Voting

In literature distributed to Iraqi expatriates, the IECI said, "Given that the decision to offer out-of-country voting was taken only a short time before the election it was a choice between an imperfect system, which still allows a great number of Iraqis outside the country to vote, or no voting outside Iraq at all. The IECI made the choice that it was better to offer the opportunity to vote to some rather than none."

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Aprim said he had to travel 800 miles, round trip, to the Los Angeles polling site, to register for the election. He had to repeat the trip a few days later to vote.

"Many Assyrians got discouraged from making the long trip," Aprim said. "Many elderly could not make the trip. Many (poor Assyrians) could not make the trip. Assyrians lost so many votes because of this unfair distribution of voting centers."

Aprim said Iraq's interim government includes Assyrians, but because the interim constitution declares Islam to be the official religion, Assyrians fear continued discrimination and oppression.

Aprim said the blocked votes would prevent Assyrian representation from Ninevah Plain in the Iraqi Transitional National Assembly, the political body that will determine if the Iraq constitution adopts Islam as the new Iraq's official religion.

Patto said the blocked votes hurt not just Iraqi Christians, but Iraq as a whole.

"It is not just the number of seats (on the National Assembly). We want to establish a new country that believes in human rights and democracy, and (in which) people are equal and have the same rights," Patto said.

"We want to build it together with all Iraqis."

Get Out the ChaldoAssyrian Vote

Courtesy of the National Review
28 January 2005
By James Rayis

From Sidney and Detroit to London and Beirut, Iraq's voter-registration process for eligible voters who live outside Iraq, which ended last Tuesday, was disappointing. Only 280,303 people out of the more than one million estimated to be eligible registered in the 14 countries participating in the out-of-country voting program.

In the United States, a mere 25,946 registered, a tenth of what was expected. Here the low turnout is attributable to serious mistakes made by the U.N.-appointed International Organization for Migration's Out-of-Country Voting office (IOM-OCV), which officially pronounced it was "satisfied" with the registration results. The blunders were ultimately the result of indifference and arrogance, since they occurred despite repeated warnings from expatriate Iraqis as well as appeals sent by Senator Rick Santorum, Rep. Frank Wolf, twelve members of California's delegation to Congress, and others in the preceding weeks. There is still time to correct the problem, however, and to get eligible voters to the polls by allowing new registration during the voting process and relocating polls to populous areas.

Iraqi expatriate Benjamin Nissan, a beautician who said he likes to dress like Elvis Presley, casts his ballot in Chicago.

Those most hurt by the IOM's blunders are Iraqi Christians, since they constitute the largest segment of the Iraqi-American population. Beginning with the collapse of Ottoman rule, systematic harassment and outright persecution have driven Iraq's indigenous Christian community of Assyrian Chaldean Syriacs (called ChaldoAssyrians in Iraq's transitional administrative law) to the United States and other countries. In recent decades, Saddam's tyranny pushed those from Arab and Kurdish groups to flee. Accounting for 80 to 85 percent of Iraqis in the U.S., ChaldoAssyrian groups pleaded with the IOM-OCV for months to locate polling stations in more places to facilitate voter turnout from their communities, as well as from the others. Instead, the IOM-OCV located the polls according to U.S. census data for the smaller groups of Iraqi Arab and Kurdish populations. As ChaldoAssyrian groups continuously pointed out, the American census data is flawed because surveys for Assyrian Chaldean Syriac people do not differentiate between those from Iraq and those from Turkey, Iran, Syria, and elsewhere.

The IOM-OCV rejected a polling place for San Diego, where an estimated 25,000 of 30,000 Iraqi expatriates are ChaldoAssyrians. The same is true for Phoenix and the Modesto/Turlock area in California, where tens of thousands more reside. Why the office felt the need to limit the U.S. polling sites is a mystery; the IOM-OCV established more polling sites in Iran than in the United States, which is six times bigger.

The continued survival of the indigenous people of Iraq may well depend on the new assembly, which will be elected in Sunday's voting, and the constitution it forms. Most ChaldoAssyrian Iraqis in the American diaspora were disenfranchised from the vote. This is particularly ironic since, as American taxpayers, they are funding the election.

It is unclear why IOM-OCV ignored the information the ChaldoAssyrian community provided and rejected its petitions over the many weeks before voter registration even began. I spoke with Roger Bryant, head of U.S. voting for IOM-OCV weeks ago. He admitted hearing over and over again from groups throughout California and Michigan, but told me simply it was "too late." Nevertheless, since that call he made numerous other last-minute changes, such as closing two original Detroit voting locations, moving one polling place from Los Angeles to Orange County, and deciding during the week of registration to extend the registration period for two days. Except for Chicago, there are no voting locations for Iraqi ChaldoAssyrian communities similar to the Nashville location serving 4,000 mainly Kurdish expatriates or the New Carrolton, Md., site where 2,048 Kurdish and Arab voters registered. The beleaguered Iraqi ChaldoAsyrian Christians are once again being pushed aside in favor of the dominant Iraqi groups, this time right here in the United States.

There is no sense pretending that the out-of-country turnout of this segment of the Iraqi population was anything but anemic. Since the IOM-OCV has been making up the polling rules as it goes along, it is not too late to help remedy the stunningly low registration in the U.S. by allowing simultaneous registration and voting here just as is occurring within Iraq proper, and by establishing more accessible polling sites. We should not give up the democratic process to terrorist threats — or to bureaucratic indifference.

[Zinda:  James Y. Rayis is an international lawyer based in Atlanta and former chairman of the international law section of the state bar of Georgia. He serves as vice-chair of the ChaldoAssyrian American Advocacy Council.]

Assyrian Christians Protest Iraqi Election with Crucifixion, Fast in New York

(ZNDA: New York)   Only two weeks after being suspended from membership in the Assyrian Church of the East, Mr. Yosip Bet-Kolia, 47, commemorated the `Rogation of Nineveh` - a traditional Assyrian feast - by crucifying himself on a cross in New York city.   Beginning on Friday, 28 January  Mr. Betkolia, supported by Rev. Ken Joseph, placed himself on a cross and fasted to protest the condition of the Assyrians in Iraq and the failure of the Iraqi election registration process.

"I am grateful to the Americans for liberating Iraq and giving Iraqi people hope for a prosperous future," said Mr. Bet-Kolia.

Hikmat Hakim in the Iraqi Elections

Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press
By Niraj Warikoo
29 January 2005

(ZNDA: Detroit)  When he was only 16, Hikmat Hakeem was jailed for opposing Iraq's repressive Baath Party, which ruled the country for decades.

But today, the Warren resident is a candidate for office in the democratic elections that will take place Sunday in his native land. The legal scholar might soon play a key role in writing a new Iraqi constitution and making sure the rights of minorities are protected. Hakeem is Chaldean, a minority Christian group in Iraq.

Whether Hakeem gets that chance will depend on whether his liberal-leaning party gathers enough votes this weekend. If that happens, he would be part of an assembly whose members will draft a constitution. Given that he was an attorney and has taught constitutional law, he could play a major part in writing it.

"It's like a wedding for me," Hakeem said by phone Thursday from his home in Baghdad, describing his anticipation for Sunday's vote.

The 56-year-old Iraqi American once taught law in Iraq. But because of his activities against the Baath Party, once headed by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, he fled in 1979.

"It was terrible to live under" the Baathists, he said.

After leaving Iraq, Hakeem said, he lived in Yemen, Libya, Algeria and Syria. In 2001, he was granted political asylum in the United States and started life anew in Michigan.

He moved to Warren, Michigan and stocked supplies at a warehouse while trying to obtain a teaching certificate. In March 2003, he was tapped by the U.S. State Department to participate in a program called the Future of Iraq, which studied how to rebuild the country after the fall of Hussein. That May, Hakeem went to Iraq, and in June 2004, he was chosen to be one of 100 members of a temporary national council that helped the government and set up the election. Hakeem's wife and children still live in Warren.

Hakeem's party, Ittihad Al-Shaab, or People's Unity, is a secular coalition with members from all of Iraq's various religious and ethnic backgrounds. Close to 40 percent of its members identify with the Communist Party. But Nabil Roumayah, who heads the Southfield-based Iraqi Democratic Union, a group that long opposed Hussein, said Iraq's Communist Party has a long tradition of standing up for human rights and democracy and for opposing the Baath Party. The People's Unity coalition also has a high number of women candidates -- 91 -- and educated Iraqis.

Jacob Mansour, a West Bloomfield doctor who organizes the annual Arab and Chaldean Festival in Detroit, said he supports the People's Unity coalition because it represents all Iraqis and promises to guarantee equal rights for all. That's important for Chaldeans, a tiny minority in Iraq.

Hakeem ia ranked No. 7 on the coalition's list of 275 candidates. That means that if his party garners enough votes, he will be seventh in line to be part of the new 275-seat assembly. The higher the ranking, the better the chance of being part of the assembly.

Christians on PalTalk Chat Service Tracked by Radical Islamic Web Site

Courtesy of the Chicago Sun
By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross

A radical Islamic Web site systematically tracks Christians on PalTalk.com, an Internet chat service on which a New Jersey man received a death threat two months before he and his family were murdered. The password protected Arabic Web site, at the address www.barsomyat.com, features pictures and information about Christians who have been particularly active in debating Muslims on PalTalk.

One page from barsomyat.com features a group of photographs of a Syrian Christian, "Joseph," who now lives in Canada. Barsomyat.com's users have posted personal information about Joseph, including his brother's parole status, and make clear that they are actively trying to track down his current address.

Subscribers also post explicit warnings to Joseph. One comment states, "Know, oh Christian, that you are not far from us and you are under our watchful eyes!" Another user remarks, "Laugh, oh Chrisitan, and soon you will see a big hit."

Ahmed Paul, an Egyptian Christian and a theology student in America, said he believes Joseph was targeted because he frequently engaged in debates with Muslims on PalTalk. The Internet chat service attracts up to 3 million users a month, and subjects range from movies to music to religion to adult topics -- and some Arabic-speaking users of PalTalk have reported that contentious debates between Christians and Muslims are common in certain chat rooms.

Hossam Armanious, a Coptic Christian from Jersey City, N.J., who was found murdered earlier this month, frequently debated with Muslims on PalTalk. Two months before Armanious's murder, authorities said he received a death threat from a Muslim PalTalk user: "You'd better stop this bull ... or we are going to track you down like a chicken and kill you." On January 14, Armanious and his family -- including two daughters, ages 15 and 8 -- were found killed in their Jersey City home, bound and gagged with their throats slashed.

Authorities have not determined whehter Islamic extremists are to blame for the Armanious family's murder, nor is there any apparent link between the murder and barsomyat.com's tracking of Christians on PalTalk. However, many barsomyat.com users expressed jubilation at the deaths.

One user posted a photograph of Hossam Armanious and wrote, "This is a picture of the filthy dog, curser of Muhammad, and a photo of his filthy wife, curser of Muhammad. They got what they deserved for their actions in America."

In all, about 40 different discussion threads on barsomyat.com berate the Christians of PalTalk, and there are at least seven collections of photographs of PalTalk Christians. The barsomyat.com discussion threads seem to focus on Arabic-speaking Christians rather than those who speak English.

Barsomyat.com features not only photographs of the targeted Christians, but also attempts to track down their addresses. A post about a Christian man whose computer was apparently hacked to obtain his photograph includes the man's PalTalk name, his real name, and the city where he resides in Lebanon.

Another barsomyat.com entry outlines the relations (both blood and marital) between four Christians who are apparently PalTalk users, posts photographs of them, and then states, "We have postponed publishing this information because there is a lot more to be revealed when the time is right."

Even barsomyat.com's banner displays its hatred of Christians. The banner displays a crucifix crossed out by a violent red "X," and the main heading reads in Arabic, "Christians: Revealing the Truth Behind Our Belief."

Judging by the posts, almost all of barsomyat.com's users are Middle Eastern, and they are predominantly Egyptian. Mr. Paul said that's significant because the extremists on barsomyat.com live in societies where people simply do not challenge Islam and would never dream of insulting Prophet Muhammad.

Mr. Paul, who is an Islamic convert to Christianity, said when Islamic radicals from such societies participate in Internet debates with Christians who live in societies that promote free speech, they are often shocked by the Christians' arguments and view their debating opponents as blasphemers. And in the eyes of Islamic extremists, blasphemers are worhty of death.

Author Robert Spencer, who has been following the Armanious case for his Web site Jihad Watch, described barsomyat.com as "extremely important" after it was shown to him.

"I have never seen anything like this before," Mr. Spencer said. "It's chilling to see photographs of people who probably have no idea that they're on the Web site. Hamas's Web site would post self-congratulatory accounts of their attacks on civilians, but barsomyat.com's users are telegraphiing their intended victims in advance."

Mr. Spencer added that barsomyat.com is a "prime example" of how some Islamic extremists can utilize technology to attempt to bring Islamic religious law to the West.

"We saw in the Theo van Gogh murders that some Muslims will take these kinds of matters into their own hands," Mr. Spencer said.


Surfs Up!
Letters to the Editor


Daniel Crisby

Maghrovevin shlami, khobbi o ighari gha kolokhon. Chebo gha polkhanokhon be mitkha d'isra shenne d'ver ron. B' sowra d'haviton mantiane b'sheta d 2005.  [Translation:  Offering you my greetings, love and respect.  Good work in the past 10 years! I hope that you will be successful in 2005.]

[Zinda:  Mr. Crisby is the former Secretary General and co-founder of the Assyrian Universal Alliance.]

Experience was Surreal

Atorina Zomaya

Attached please find a photo taken exactly a minute before closing on Sunday, January 30, 2005 at the Rosemont, IL location. As one of the 150 individuals that worked on this election from the Chicago centers, I can simply say the experience was surreal. Nothing can capture the emotions that permeated the room, when our faithful people walked their few steps after casting their vote to drop their ballot into the transparent plastic box.

I was not on Slate 130

Poulous Y. Malik Khoshaba

I am writing to alert you to that my name has falsely appeared under slate 130 (Kurdistani United List of Talabani and Barazani) and I am sure your esteemed magazine is read worldwide.

This information is 100% false.

First and foremost I am an Assyrian and if I were called upon to serve my people I would not appear anywhere else other than where and what serves Umma Atorayta. It is the sacred duty of all Assyrians to ensure that we have a true representation in the new and unified Iraq. At this moment in time, I am not running with any slate but my mission in life is same as any Assyrian, to lend a hand and support to all that which will enhance the Assyrian entity and our strive to attain equal rights. The same rights like any other Iraqi citizen. We are in unison and in complete solidarity with all the people that have shown and proven to us that they have the same vision for the Assyrian national agenda within a unified Iraq.

I want to thank you for the opportunity to voice my protest and I am sure you will rectify this erroneous information and at the same time it would be a good practice to verify such information and the intention of those that offer them. Where freedom lives there should be no falsehood.

My sincere wishes for all the Assyrian people for a bright harmonious and unified future.

My admiration to all those in the Diaspora who never abandoned the cause and it is my hope, God willing, to see you all in the homeland.

Khobi w eeqari

[Zinda Magazine apologizes to Mr. Khoshaba for this unintentional error.  The list under Slate 130 has been corrected to reflect Mr. Khoshaba's request.]

Many in Russia Wished They Could Vote

Vasili Shoumanov

We were witnesess of a historiacal event between January 28 and 30 -- the Iraqi elections.   Even though my grandfather was from Bet-Nahrain, my father was born in St.Petersburg, Russia.  So the only way I could have a chance to vote was to find somebody who could adopt me.

I know this is a joke, but to be honest many Assyrians all over the world wanted to take part in these elections. I got many calls from people in Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan who wanted to join. Their parents were born in Iraq, but they have no way of proving this fact.

[Zinda:  Outside of Iraq, Russia is home to the second largest Assyrian community in the Diaspora after the United States.  As many as 70,000 Assyrians live in an area stretching from Siberia to Kaliningrad.]

Revolving Around the Capital

Edward I. Baba

An old Chinese Proverb went "Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." Of all times, unity and commitment should be at the apex of their glory. With the Iraqi elections going on, a lack of motivation blanketed our community in Diaspora and with our "leaders" mesmerized by capital and greed, they failed to pull us out of our lonely dreams.

With expectations for a greater amount of people to show, approximately 10% of all Iraqis put time and effort into voting in the Iraqi elections. As we struggle to keep up with the new names of various arising Assyrian organizations, none of them stepped up to the plate to swing by sending out flyers, information packets, or anything regarding the elections. Apparently, they either were too blinded by gluttony to see it, or they saw it as a bad investment.

When it's time for convention, the AANF quickly bombards Assyrians with flyers regarding its location and its lengthy schedule. They pump up Assyrians to party for five days straight, yet, they couldn't take the time to trigger off Assyrians to go out and vote. Why? Was it the fact that no monetary benefits for the organization would be the result of the elections' promotion?

True leaders have the responsibility of enlightening their people, like Abraham Lincoln once said, "We hold the power and bear the responsibility." They should be held accountable for the lack of voter outcome for this sink-or-swim-type situation.

This is not, however, all aimed at the AANF; all political and religious organizations have a duty to their people to motivate them to get out and vote. We have church leaders acting like they have purged themselves out of reality by supposedly "not dealing with politics", like Mar Dinkha, yet do deal with politics in religious matters everyday. To tell you the truth, politics should not mix with religion and vice versa; however, let's face it, it does anyways! Just look at Archbishop Makarios, who became president of the republic of Cyprus, fought against the Turks during the 70s and tried to prevent Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Or even look at recent events, like the U.S. elections. Over 30 million Evangelicals alone voted for President George W. Bush because of the influence of the church in the lives of the members.

Then, we have Mar Dinkha bellowing "Atoorayeewin". That's great…I'm a tiger, here me roar. What did Mar Dinkha do for Atoorayeh? Why did he not bellow so loudly when our churches were being bombed in Iraq? That was a good opportunity to get involved.

We don't need "leaders" who are unproductive and unconcerned about what's going on in the world. We need active people who are committed to their role as leaders. The golden opportunity for us to arise was lost because of the failure of the political and religious organizations within the Assyrian community. Even the former Senator John Nimrod didn't step up and just bunt it after promising that he would hit a homer. I remember when I was back in Los Angeles, he had promised to unite all Assyrian organization leaders prior to June 2004 to discuss our future in Iraq. What happened to him now?

Like William Butler Yeats once said, "Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking."

About Time Our Church Took Some Action

Voltaire E. Warda

I am very happy to see that for the first time in the history of Assyrian Church of the East discipline was exercised by a Bishop. Our Church similar to other churches such as Catholic, Orthodox and Coptics have laws that its members have to obey. .

Mar Bawai considers the interests of the Assyrian people and our Church members in making such decisions, and to see Mr. Bet Kolia or others doubt his decisions that is absurd and uncalled for. These individual's undermining acts might be triggered by certain hidden agendas but God will forgive them for their evil acts.

Well done Mar Bawai and I hope we as Assyrians will learn to live in a society of laws and order. I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your excellent, most educating lecture in Chicago last year and I hope we Assyrians will listen to you and get educated.

Thank you for the excellent work of awareness you are doing for our Assyrian people.



Barazani Tarnished the Landscape of the Iraqi Elections

Assyrian Democratic Organisation
Iraqi Elections Support and Follow-up Committee

The elections of this Sunday confirmed the division of Iraqis between an enthusiastic majority to take part in this poll and a minority decided to boycott these elections. But Mr. Barazani creates a third category: Iraqi citizens very enthusiastic with the idea to exert their voting rights but prevented and "forced to boycott" the elections

Thousands of voters from Chaldoassyrian towns and villages in the plains around Mosoul: Baghdeda, Karemlesh, Bartillé, Bashiqa, Bahzané and Ain Sifne (Shekhan), waited throughout Sunday in front of the polling stations without being able to achieve their voting rights because the ballot boxes and supplies (anchor, bulletins....) were not delivered to these centers.

All inquiries and requests addressed by the political parties and their candidates to the Independent Commission of Elections and to the local authorities, as well as the frequent promises that the ballot boxes would arrive soon from Arbil, remained dead letter and did not give any result.

Deprived of their civic rights, the chaldoassyrian voters descended in the streets of these towns and villages, especially in Baghdeda- the largest Chaldoassyrian town in the Ninevah plain- expressing their anger and protesting against their marginalisation and the transgression and violation of the electoral law.

This “unavailability” of the ballot boxes affected not only tens of thousands of chaldoassyrian voters but also thousands of Yezidis, Shabak, and Turkman voters.

Other violations are made in the districts of Sanjar and Telkaif, always in the north of Iraq.According to officials in charge's of the Independent Commission of Elections, the ballot boxes had been stored in Arbil- the stronghold of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP) headed by M. Barzani- one of the most controlled and safe place in the area. In blocking the delivery of the ballot boxes and supplies, The KDP prevented deliberately the vote of Chaldoassyrian Christians in the Ninevah plain in northern Iraq.

This prevention to exert the voting rights in this province populated mainly by Chaldoassyrians and with other non-Kurdish minorities masks the ambitions and political aimed shots of the two principal Kurdish parties to entirely clean the area of the indigenous Chaldoassyrian people. In addition, this systematic policy of ethnical homogenization, as a matter of fact, does not go back to yesterday but it goes back to a few decades. However, thousands of Chaldoassyrians defying the intimidation, the threats and the deteriorating security situation, went in mass and with enthusiasm to the polling stations, but the ballot boxes of vote never arrived.

The area of Ninevah Plain is touted by the majority of the Chaldoassyrian political parties, within the framework of federal Iraq, as their self- administered area according to the article 53d of the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL). In this manoeuvre, the two principal Kurdish parties try to prevent any possible Chaldoassyrian representation from the Ninevah Plain in the upcoming National Assembly and in the parliament of north of Iraq.

But this does not, absolutely, decrease the responsibilities of the ndependent Commission of Elections nor the temporary Iraqi Government neither the Coalition Forces in this issue.

The lack of vote in the Ninevah Plain infuriated the Chaldoassyrian communities worldwide and tarnished the promising landscape of the after Iraqi elections period.

We call upon the International Community to correct this injustice and to give the opportunity to all "forced to boycott" Iraqi citizens to exert their voting rights.




Proud to Hold Up the Indelible Purple Ink

Ashtar Analeed Marcus

Iraqi Americans from Chicago and more than a dozen suburbs cast their votes in this weekend’s first democratic election for their native country in more than 50 years.

Yasmeen Turayhi, 21, of Deerfield is an Iraqi Shiite who was employed by the IOM and played many roles as an official of registration, media, operations and accounts. Turayhi, an American-born Iraqi, graduated from Cornell University early and just in time to be able to work in her homeland’s historic election. “I felt like it was a calling. I got really emotional when I voted because I have an uncle who was a P.O.W. for 11 years and another who died in the gassing of Halabja,” she said.

Skokie’s center received more than 5,000 votes and Rosemont had about 1,000.

Turnout was lower than expected as compared to the estimated 31,000 Chicago Iraqis that were eligible to participate. Election officials said this may have been due to the short timeframe to promote the election and instruct registrants. The International Organization for Migration was hired by Iraq’s Electoral Commission in mid-November.

Some claimed that despite Iraqis’ U.S. citizenships, fear of deportation or insecurity in the process, like registration lists ending up in the wrong hands, dominated their decision to refrain from voting.

“That’s the thing about Democracy, you have the option to not participate and it still works out,” said Kathleen Houlihan, IOM voter education officer. “But in Chicago we’ve had a quarter of the nation’s total number [of voters].”

“As Assyrians we’ve never had this experience before,” said Sam Oushana of Glenview who came to vote a day earlier but returned to the center to be part of the atmosphere. “There was an invitation [to vote] there, and to respect that invitation you should’ve responded.”

Oushana came to vote with his daughter, Pauline, 25, who added “Why not do it to help our people? I felt like I had a part in liberating them.”

Other young American-born Iraqis participated. Jennifer Samuel, 24, of Mount Prospect voted because she has hope in finally seeing her Iraqi cousins for the first time. “This was more exciting than voting in the Bush-Kerry election!” she said. “It’s like colonial times in the U.S. and we’re following that.”

Sargon Mourad, 35, drove from Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood all day long, volunteering to transport elderly neighbors to the centers, although he had worked through the night and not slept.

The largest group of exiles in Chicago is Assyrian Iraqis, the indigenous population who shares their land with the Kurds in cities like Kirkuk in the north. Assyrians are part of Iraq’s Christian minority group, along with the Chaldeans.

The Assyrian International News Agency reported that more than 100,000 Assyrians in Iraq were prevented from voting when the Kurdistan Democratic Party blocked delivery of voting materials to predominantly Assyrian cities.

But in Chicago, the majority of the 6,000 voters were Assyrian. Skokie’s voting site was held at the Chaldo-Assyrian Community Center on 9131 Niles Center Road.

Nina Shamoon, 25, of Schaumburg, is an Assyrian who came to cast her ballot at the Skokie location. “It offers us a chance to ensure that our Assyrian culture is sustained for the future,” she said. “We can close a chapter... of Christians who’ve endured enough suffering.”

Traditional horn and drum music rang through the parking lots of both Chicago voting centers while hundreds gathered to dance and cheer, many in traditional Assyrian costume. They carried flags of three countries that waved over their heads as they danced: Iraq, Assyria and the United States.

Naram Mando, a Niles resident, brought her 2-year-old son to a voting center dressed as King Sargon, a monarch of the ancient Assyrian Empire. “To have freedom in Iraq, honestly, I’ve got goosebumps,” she said.

An Assyrian woman of no more than 4-feet, 10-inches tall, Shami Isharie of Skokie has carried artillery larger than her small frame as a member of the anti-Saddam Peshmerga army for more than 10 years. Isharie, 52, has traveled through the mountainous regions of Iraq by foot with 30 other women fighters, including Arabs, Kurds and other Assyrians. She cast her vote this weekend and said, “Whoever wins, Iraq will never be Baathist… and no Saddam for sure.”

Even in the United States Iraq’s rich tapestry of cultures was apparent in the ethnic and religious diversity of local voters.

An Iraqi Jew, Dr. Reading Dallal of Skokie, said, “Today I have three citizenships—Iraq, Israel and the United States—and I respect all of them.”

Dallal, who teaches Arabic and Hebrew at DePaul University, carefully studied the list of more than 100 political parties with an Iraqi student of his. He hopes to return to Iraq some day to “take my son with me to show him where I was born and the synagogue where I prayed.”

Rana Al Edanee, an IOM election official from Jefferson Park, said she was blessed to be celebrating the first day of voting, the Shiite holiday of Eid Al-Ghadir and her 35th birthday.

Several suburbs were represented by the population in diaspora.

A hopeful Frank Alexander, a pilot and engineer from Des Plaines, cast his ballot and said: “This is not Afghanistan. This is Iraq: These are civilized, intelligent men and women who are good doctors, lawyers and engineers. There’s a hope.”

From Morton Grove Odisho Dinkha, a busy entrepreneur, made time to come every day of the voting period. “We’re participating so we can show our standing with our people,” he said. “They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Today we took that first step.”

From Lincolnwood Yolia Korkis, 82, was aided through the building and to the ballot box as she walked slowly to cast her vote for the popular Rafidein Party, cheering for their ballot number, 204.

From Hoffman Estates Linda Janicka participated daily, waking up at 4am with other IOM election officials to oversee the process. “I want to be part of anything to do with the election,” she said. “I’ve been away from the country for so long that I want to be involved. I’m very proud of this.”

From Northrbook Shalem Schneider, 44, who had visited Iraq three years ago was asked by family there when Americans will come to their rescue. “The way I saw people living, I felt so sorry for them,” she said. “I was not comfortable seeing Iraqi people suffer financially, spiritually.”

Streams of others from neighboring states also drove long distances to vote in Chicago, one of only five voting locations in the United States.

Mona Al-Mugotir, an Iraqi Shiite wearing the traditional abaya, made the round-trip drive three times from Omaha, Neb., when she lost her registration ticket and needed to re-register in order to vote.

Aptesa Hanon, a Shiite from Minnesota who drove 8 hours with her family, cast her vote and sighed “Hilwa!” an Arabic expression of joy, meaning “beautiful.”

Moslem Jayashia of Minneapolis wore an Iraqi-flag embossed soccer shirt and carried his 16-month-old son through the polls. “My dream is to raise him there,” he said of his son.

Nazar Al-Fahed of St. Paul, Minn., lifted his two sons, ages 5 and 2, onto a table to witness him cast his ballot as he whispered “Bismillah,” Arabic for “in the name of God.”

At the close of the elections on the last day, employees and remaining voters cheered and clapped, flashing peace signs with their purple fingers—permanent ink used as a measure to prevent voter fraud.

The resounding feelings of election officials was that they felt like a part of history.

“An (elderly) woman who couldn’t read or write came in with her son, but said she wanted me to show her which one her party was [on the ballot],” said David Gewargis, and IOM official. “She said ‘to each his own,’ her son was voting for another party. I felt so good—mother voting for one and son voting for another. That’s democracy.”

85-year-old Najiba Kelaita & her 61-year-old son, Don Kelaita, casting their vote in the first democratic election in the history of Iraq.  Photo was taken in Dubai and is courtesy of Mr. Emanuel Kelaita


Thank You
The following individuals contributed in the preparation of this week's issue:

Dr. Manfred Alkhas (California)
Fred Aprim (California)
Dr. Matay Arsan (Holland)
David Chibo (Australia)
Sargon David (Canada)
Mazin Enwiya (Chicago)
Noel Kando (Arizona)
Gigo Khananisho (California)
Ashuriena Gozal (California)
Tomas Isik (Sweden)
Petr Kubalek (Czech Republic)
Susan Patto (Iraq)
Ashour Sargis (Arab Emirates)
Aprem Shapira (United Kingdom)
Zaya Toma (Australia)


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