|What Happened in Iraq did not Stay in Iraq||Wilfred Bet-Alkhas|
|The Assyrian Political Bazaar||Ashur Giwargis|
|ADO Declaration: Release Assyrian Prisoners in al-Muslemia
ADO Statement on Syria's Independence Day
|Kanno Seeks to Unseat Cardoza|
Why Don't I Open A School?
Film Documentary about Assyrians Premiers in Spain
|Obtaining Direct Answers to Our National Dilemma
The Passion of Aramaic
|Know Thyself & Thy Neighbours||Ivan Kakovitch|
... and Now For the Next 300 Days
On 30 January, in an unexpected move, thousands of eligible Assyrian voters in Chicago, Detroit, Canada, Europe, and in Baghdad stayed home and did not participate in Iraq’s first democratic general elections. Some 150,000 individuals in the Nineveh Plains (Mosul) were prevented from voting, and as a result only one Assyrian candidate was able to win a seat in the interim Iraqi assembly or parliament. Even with the other five Chaldo-Assyrians elected via the Kurdish patronage, the number of seats occupied by Chaldo-Assyrians in Iraq remains less than 2 percent, as compared to the 5 to 9 % Christian population of Iraq. It is imperative to examine the factors leading to such political shortfall, and prevent a similar calamity during the first real elections for a more enduring parliament.
Mr. Yonadam Kanna, Secretary General of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, was the only Chaldo-Assyrian candidate who won without the support of the Kurdish groups, and the majority of his votes came from abroad. Neither the Chaldean voters in Baghdad nor the Chaldean communities in San Diego and Detroit whom he had invested much of his attention to during his visits in the U.S. came through for him.
While some Assyrians had very strong feelings about the use of the name “Chaldo-Assyrian”, it was clear that most voters preferred the unity of the Assyrian and Chaldean groups over the issue of the name. Yet the total number of these voters was a fraction of the total eligible population that did not vote.
In October 2003 a conference was organized in Baghdad by the main Assyrian political parties where numerous political and religious groups were invited to deliberate on a name that would bring greatest unity among the Assyrian and Chaldean communities in Iraq. The term “Chaldo-Assyrian” was the compromise reached to identify the Syriac-speaking Christians of Iraq and “Syriac” was decided as their cultural identity.
In less than six months, supporters of the Assyrian Democratic Movement transported this local compromise to North America and Australia and in no time even the websites of certain institutions of higher learning began adopting the term “Chaldo-Assyrian” as the new ethnic identity of the Assyrians around the world.
The editorials of this publication earned even greater respect for this new identity of the Assyrians in Iraq, a move praised by the vibrant forces behind the push for the transformation of the ‘Assyrian’ identity into that of ‘Chaldo-Assyrian’.
Sadly what was accomplished was nothing less than a complete alienation of a majority of the Assyrian population, while not a single major Chaldean group, church, or organization in Iraq or abroad espoused the name ‘Chaldo-Assyrian’.
The reason thousands of Assyrians and Chaldeans did not leave home to vote on January 30th was not the bad weather conditions in Chicago or the long distances in California. Neither Assyrians nor Chaldeans approved of their choices and the outcome of their voting as it pertained to their cultural and religious identity.
To exacerbate this situation, the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, remained silent and unlike his Chaldean counterpart and Shi’ai ayatollahs His Holiness did not partake in the promotion of the election process. The deafening silence of the Patriarch and a significant number of his bishops and priests signaled the dissatisfaction of the “Assyrian” Church with the elections in general.
The voice of less than 10 percent of the eligible Assyrian and Chaldean voters in the U.S. and Australia was not loud enough to shake the foundations of an interim government biased toward the Shi’ai and Kurdish political opinion. At the end all of us were defeated.
In the Coming Months
Two critical issues will dominate the Assyrian political map in the next 6 to 12 months: 1) the name(s) by which all Syriac-speaking Christians in Iraq will be recognized in the permanent constitution of that country, and 2) the means by which at least 10 seats can be obtained by the Syriac-speaking Christians in the permanent Iraqi parliament.
The significance of the language of the Iraqi constitution and its recognition of a particular term to denote the Syriac-speaking groups cannot be underestimated. What will be decided in Baghdad later this year will have a snowball effect through every Assyrian and Chaldean community outside of Iraq, possibly replacing the terms ‘Assyrian’ or ‘Chaldean’ with an alternate title.
Since the majority of the Chaldean groups in the U.S. and in Iraq have yet to accept the term “Chaldo-Assyrian”, a strong push for the inclusion of the term “Chaldean” in the constitution of Iraq will be expected, regardless of the use of either ‘Assyrian’ or ‘Chaldo-Assyrian’. Should the Kurdish-backed Assyrian/Chaldean members of the parliament and the Chaldean purists in Baghdad succeed, then the most likely scenario would be the constitutional recognition of the “Chaldeans and Chaldo-Assyrians”, reducing the term “Assyrian” to a religious designation kept by two Assyrian churches in Iraq.
All or None
Clearly the precepts of the October 2003 Conference in Baghdad are not acknowledged by the majority of the Assyrian and Chaldean groups – neither in Iraq nor in the diaspora. The Assyrian Democratic Movement and its supporters failed to provoke greater toleration for such a significant cultural transformation, and in effect have generated more concern for the future of the Assyrian identity than the more crucial issue of the survival of a Christian minority in a society rapidly embracing the fate of its neighboring ultra-Islamic neighbor to the east.
In the next few months the influential political and civic leaders of this nation must come together in an unprecedented gathering to decide the future of the Assyrians and Chaldeans in Iraq and in the diaspora. What happens in Iraq will not stay in Iraq; therefore, any decision made in Baghdad will thrust a similar effect in every country around the world.
If a significant number of parties involved do not agree with the term “Chaldo-Assyrian” then the only possible option is a complete separation of the names “Chaldean and Assyrian”. Should the two terms be kept separate, then the challenge facing the Assyrian groups will be the recognition of the name “Chaldean” as a separate ethnicity and not a religious term, and an equal sociopolitical component within a mutually accepted ‘national’ identity that ranks above each of its smaller ethnicities (Chaldean, Assyrian, Syriac).
Once an agreement is reached then the political parties from all factions must assemble again to join forces and declare their alliance in the next parliamentary elections in an effort to secure a minimum of ten seats in the Iraqi parliament. This must be achieved regardless of the decision made in the first gathering.
We cannot ignore the many cultural transformations happening before our eyes, while the greater Iraqi society is also re-discovering itself in a free and democratic environment. The religious “Chaldean” identity is reaching to the Assyrians for recognition as a cultural and political co-equal. The “Syriac” or “Surian” groups from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq feel abandoned, in particular those who have suffered greatly to steadfastly preserve their ‘Assyrian’ identity. The “Arameans” and “Maronites” are closely watching these developments and bracing themselves for the next “Syriac Encounter”, and the Kurdish groups vehemently oppose any arrangement toward the unity of the Christian populations in north Iraq.
In addition, we still have to face the challenges of forming an administrative region for the advancement of a Syriac-speaking, Christian culture in Iraq, preventing further emigration of Christians, rebuilding of the villages and towns neglected before and after the fall of Saddam, and encouraging a secular government that protects the rights of every Iraqi citizen – women in particular.
There is so much that we must do in the little time handed to us. Looking back, we also accomplished greatly and learned even more from every faux pas. Every decision made was an attempt to bring unity and recognition for the beautiful pieces of the mosaic we know as Assyrian, Syriac, Chaldean, Chaldo-Assyrian, Aramean, Maronite, and so on. Surely, we will continue to experiment with more decisions and commit bigger and more raucus mistakes. But along the way we will learn from each decision made and with heads held high acknowledge our lapses of reason. What matters at the end is that we did everything for the greater glory of a nation that has withstood the worst genocides, has been discounted as non-existent, and often forgotten as an ancient relic. But we exist, in all our superbly attractive cultural and religious attributes, none of which must be compromised for the sake of another.
In the coming months we must quickly come together, recognize one another as the building blocks of the same heavenly and gloriously old mansion on earth, and then work together to push a political blueprint for the reconstruction of this mansion in the only earthly heaven we recognize as home.
With all that has passed in the history of the Assyrian nation, and even though some ninety years have passed on the beginning of its national movement, yet a large part of the Assyrian people are still misunderstanding the importance of self determination yielding before the de facto situation, and misunderstanding their identity wandering in the desert of names. Thus the “naivety” of many became the prominent excuse for defeatism of organizations and associations which are active in all fields, so according to our mutual “naïve” understanding, any national movement must be an “intellectual reform” movement before any thing else through its organizations which have the responsibility of guiding the society, while we see that our organizations are themselves guided by this naïve society, but when they succeed in guiding the society, that comes only for imaginary goals that don’t exist in the first place, enjoying the society’s naivety.
The bloody challenges of the 20th century (before the unionism) were the main reason for the birth of the Assyrian national movement, while the challenges of the 21st century (the unionism era) proved that a large part of the Assyrian people are but a group of customers in the Assyrian political bazaar shopping for the compound names in “unity” garments and defeat banners in “realism” garments, exactly like the vendors in this bazaar proved that they are but customers in the non-Assyrian political bazaar, shopping for positions in “democracy” garments while the fact is that they are mere tools and followers before every decision, law, event or dues. Hence, the Assyrian identity will lose its national qualities and rights turning the Assyrian people to mere masses of bones and flesh walking in the kurdified and Islamized streets of Assyria.
The latest elections were a test for the capability of the Assyrian people; organizations and individuals in facing reality, but they failed as we were all shocked to learn about the elections results, however, every one of us was shocked in his own way and for different reasons. The elections had propaganda campaigns which some of our politicians weren’t able to practice properly within the Assyrian home, thus grave accusations supported with documents that no one saw (regardless whether they were true or not) and lies were spread about the “sectarianism” of another slate, all this increased the gap within the society between a supporter for this or that, thus these accusations made many voters lose their confidence in all parties causing them to shun away from participating in the elections.
As to the failure in dealing with the Iraqi home in general …The signs were obvious in the triangle of Assyrian slates, when the voter didn’t care for their programs but rather for some of the personalities and the halo surrounding them under the banner of strife (which is unknown to both the candidates and voters), the sanctity of the martyrs blood (whose sacrifice was disregarded) as well as the wisdom, patience and realism (which are only a casing for defeatism).
Therefore, the failure in elections wasn’t due to the lack of the number of elected candidates from the Assyrian slates but rather it was because of their poor quality, so what if one hundred candidates had succeeded when they didn’t care about the identity and rights of their people? And what if only one qualified person was elected?
We notice that the Assyrians failure in elections was a qualitative rather than a quantitative one, but we’re not going to promote one slate over another, because the promotional time is over and it’s time to learn a lesson out of the results and how the national facts were sacrificed for political parties advantages, personal benefits or even “non-Assyrian” advantages. The diversity of Assyrian slates which was a reason in the quantitative and qualitative failure at once, was due to the different visions which were present in the elections programs of each slate, hence a political rather than an emotional reading of these programs shows:
a) Slate 139, concentrated on patriotism, identity and rights - none of its candidates succeeded.
We can safely say that the Assyrian voters didn’t understand the political ramifications behind their voting, not only because the majority of voters didn’t read the electoral programs but because those who read them were guided by sectarianism, emotions, worshipping symbols and being followers. This failure was the smallest link in the chain of the Assyrian people’s disappointments through several important political dues which many didn’t understand or refused to understand such as the Iraqi Opposition’s London Conference, then the Interim Kurd– Islamic constitution.
The elections test put the Assyrian progression before two basic problems:
1- Some politicians being unqualified and that was evident in their disdain attitude towards the established facts of national identity and self determination rights.
We are bored from the continuous explanation of the difference between the “name” and “naming”, but we can deduce that the lie of “unity” took much of the Assyrian people’s time turning it into a case in itself, thus it’s not a hidden fact that the name problem (compound names) played an active role in dividing the Assyrian society as the continuous result to the rising of national notions, one “Chaldean” and another “Syrian” but these two novelties are the result of the divisive sectarian fanaticism of some clergy and others benefiting from it, taking advantage of the simplicity of some Assyrians who support them just because they belong to their denominations. The period following Saddam’s demise witnessed a perplexed war between the “Assyrian” nationalism and the new imported notions when an ideological conflict appeared next to a political one as a “nationalistic” movement named Chaldean was created, supported and instigated by the kurdish currents, the clergy and the Vatican, while the other appeared with the name Syrian also supported and instigated by the clergy and few currents whose identity or case remains unknown… All this happened within the Assyrian home to the extent that those restraining the Assyrian identity were called “unifiers” while those who revered it were called “fanatics”… This went on while antagonistic currents worked also on obliterating our national identity forcing us to flee Assyria either by Kurdifying it at the hands of some “secularists” or Islamizing it by some “patriots”.
Going back to the period following Saddam, we notice that after the Assyrian Democratic Movement had concocted the Chaldo-Assyrian term and decided to endorse it as the new “political” name, despite criticism on the part of those Assyrians protective of the national terms including some supporters of the ADM itself, the latter and its auxiliaries held the “unity” conference in Baghdad which was hailed by some simple Assyrians without understanding its goals, reasons and basics. In order to clarify, it’s enough to quote the sayings of one of the most frightful “Chaldean leaders” over the largest Assyrian political organization, which is “Mr.” Shlimoun Wardouni (as a politician and not a bishop), who said in his speech:
Therefore, he frankly said it so that “every ethnicity and denomination would be an important member in the council”, that is the comic name would join “denominations and ethnicities” thus both names Assyrian and Chaldean would interchangeably be denominational and ethnic, hence the unity of the Baghdad conference was uniting the Assyrian nationality with the so-called “Chaldean nationality” under a unified “Christian” banner.
Wardouni continues his historical speech as the following:
Thus the agreed upon name “Chaldo-Assyrian” came to be mentioned in the ominous Interim Constitution following five months of “exchanging opinions” to represent two nationalities (neither one was officially recognized…)
He continues his preaching to simple Assyrians that the so-called “Chaldean nationality” won’t melt within the comic name when he said:
The Assyrian (Roman) Catholic Church which dominates its society (educated and illiterates) adopts today this destructive notion in collaboration with the unionists, the Vatican and the kurdish tribal leadership, this brought us to this point to be officially recognized as “Christians” without any national adjective.
During the birth period of the mockery name we noticed how the interests met between the following factions:
a) The Vatican’s interest which is upset at the spread of Evangelical preaching amongst the kurdish tribes of Suleimaniyah, when the Vatican is desperately trying to preserve the Chaldean name supporting the Assyrian (Roman) Catholic clergy because the Chaldean name represents the Roman Catholic presence in Iraq and it would be worthless if Assyrian is recognized as the sole uniting national name in the constitution.
The Chaldean Church will stand against the Chaldean politicians because it won’t accept that politicians assume its role, that’s obvious when the Chaldean Church calls for united “Chaldo-Assyrian” stands when its politicians try to move separately, and we realize the Church’s own separatist position when the voice of its politicians fades a little. Today there are disputes, some public and others covert between the politicians and the Church when each is trying to dominate and lead the Chaldean “nationalism”.
To top it all, the compound names turned into a cover up for conspiracies, when they were presented into the Assyrian political bazaar as tools to turn us away from fateful matters which the Assyrian political parties failed to deal with individually and collectively, or even to officially present them to non-Assyrians. This makes us doubt even more whether those compound names were used to allow the passing of more dangerous projects. Thus, the name problem was created drawing the attention to the phrase “Assyrians AND Chaldeans” making it the main focus from the London Opposition Conference to the time when the ominous Interim Constitution was written as well as in the constitution of the so-called “Kurdistan”. The “and” even if ridiculous took over the marginalization of the Assyrian people’s rights in the formal Iraqi bulletins, and we didn’t see any of the “and” opposers protesting this marginalization, but rather they succeeded in drawing the attention of a large portion of the Assyrian people away from the negligence of fateful matters. Then the “administrative area” in the so-called “Nineveh Plain” was just proposed to be a part of the kurdish plot to join the eastern part of Mosul to the so-called “Kurdistan” and lately some Yizidi and Assyrian clergy who are Barzani followers, called for the joining of the so-called “Nineveh Plain” to the so-called “Kurdistan”, again there was no comment on the part of those calling for the administrative area.
Therefore, no one recognizes our nationality till this moment (“whatever you like to call it” - as the vendors tell their customers) and the Iraqi society with its politicians who don’t belong to the so-called “our people” don’t consider us as a nationality but rather as a group of “Christian” sects, because the compound name gives a Christian impression rather than a national one. Mr. Ibrahim al-Ja’afari was one of those who expressed that when he said in his speech at the opening of the Younadam Kanna conference: “You as Assyrians AND Chaldeans AND Syrians shall be able to reach to the level of the active Iraqi powers when you unite…” These malice phrases continue to be mentioned in the declarations of all Iraqi politicians including Mr. Younadam Kanna the sole owner of the “Chaldo-Assyrian” brand and the main opponent of the “and” when he said in one of his interviews: “There are many families and thousands of Faileyeen, Shiite, kurds, Assyrians and others and Chaldeans as well as non-Iraqis who were forced to flee.”(4) For sure he must have mentioned it inadvertently…
The compound comic name was the biggest mistake even though it appealed to some emotional and selective Assyrians with the encouragement of some organizations whose founders had graduated from schools that are antagonistic to the Assyrian identity not only in Iraq but also in other countries where Assyrians live, hence the identity traders with their different ideas appeared, the Syrian nationalist, the Kurdistani, the communist, the “Christian Iraqi” and the former Arabist… All those are calling today for the unity of a people whom they never cared for, while the people stand perplexed about how to unite. At the same time the compound name turned unity into a dilemma for the rightful Assyrians because they have to choose between being loyal to their identity or to the unity of “our people” under a comic name.
The Assyrian identity has turned into an electoral commodity when the word “people” replaced “nationality” in the political speeches making the identity (“whatever you call it”!!) lose its national particularity, this is exactly what happened when the compound names were thrown into the bazaar bearing different styles mostly however in the fashionable purple color… It started with “Chaldo-Assyrian” as the time to write the interim constitution and appointing the participating committees had approached, and was followed by “ChaldoAssyrian Syrian” as the time had approached for the interim national council elections and the governorates councils, to be completed as “Christians” in the formal announcement of representation in the interim national council and government.
Therefore, all that we hear today is but a big lie and the compound names are but an assassination of the Assyrian identity under the banner of “unity”, and for the “kurdish Christian” seats manned by Assyrians. There isn’t a unity as long as there are those who are holding on to their Assyrian identity facing those who are disregarding it. This is normal because the matter isn’t that of a name as some are trying to promote it but rather that of an identity, and since history is a truth that can’t be changed then theoretically the attempts to change an identity usually create different struggling currents increasing in the process the divisions rather than unity. Practically however the methods which were followed to realize the goals (the declared ones) were a failure because all the national notions were sacrificed in order to succeed in the elections of 30/01/2005. Hence let’s ask the promoters of the compound names and especially the ADM being a sponsor of unionism:
If the marginalization of the Assyrians in what you call the “Nineveh Plain” is your excuse for failing, then isn’t that the result of your previous cover up of the kurdish terrorist practices? Or were those “merely individual trespasses which were being handled” like previous ones? Why didn’t you expose the perpetrators as your competitors did and they also are in Iraq just like you but without body guards?
With all that surrounded this false unity, the Assyrian intellect didn’t take a steadfast position vis a vis this policy, rather we noticed the romanticism in the writings of some compromisers, so since January 30th, 2005 we have read many articles by well known writers weeping about the elections results calling for “unity”. However, those writers always deal with the absolute and in general terms when they write about a political plan and they anticipate the results in a poetic manner even before the idea is born, but they don’t take into consideration the lessons from pervious conferences, neither do they look into the problem in depth or calculate the hurdles which will face every call for a “unity” conference. That’s why we always see a sea of articles which are a waste of time because the words of every article are repeated in the previous one.
And today these articles and invitations are the proof to the failure of yesterday’s conferences which the same authors and intellects wrote about and praised, beginning from the G8 conference in London (failing to trust the worthy) to Amsterdam (failing to seriously follow up on decisions) to the establishment of the so-called “Chaldo-Assyrian national council” in May/2003 (the empty box which turned into “Chaldo-Assyrian-Syrian”, when the leaders of the two Syrian Churches were upset) ending up with the Younadam Kanna conference in Baghdad (failure to respect the identity and fate). This latter came only to complete the circle of political divisions and disputes inside the Assyrian home and a nail in the coffin of the Assyrian identity and destiny, hence today’s reality is the witness to all that.
The intellectuals have a prominent role in solving the name problem, especially if they belong to the denominational societies which didn’t understand the Assyrian identity because of their misleading clergy, there’s a large number of those intellectuals who support the Assyrian name and who have to courageously confront any meddler who tries to be a hurdle before the “Assyrian” unity whether it’s a clergyman or a politician, in addition all the cautious analysis, commentaries and fear of criticism aren’t useful any more because the Assyrian nation is passing today in one of the most critical periods in its history.
As for the naïve people, they have not only followed unity at the expense of identity, it also seems that a large group of them are being used as a tool for others to secure positions or for goals that they know nothing about nor are they aware of the defeatism and prostration policy even though the identity of its heroes is apparent.
Suddenly, the so-called “Bet Nahrain” Freedom Party (GHB), and the both democratic [Assyrian Movement]–(ADM) and [“Athuri” Organization]-(ADO) – sorry if we forgot any others - they woke up and organized demonstrations calling some simple folk who don’t know that the citizenship right doesn’t only mean the right to vote, in any case, that public movement meant that Assyrians are capable to express themselves and demonstrate for what they think to be fateful matters, so, may the hands, feet, banners and shouts of those demonstrators be blessed … but:
To those who had demonstrated we say that the Assyrian Cause is more important than any movement, organization or individual, it’s not a circumstantial Cause at all but it was born out of suffering long before any of the wretched who had organized the demonstrations were born, it’s a Cause of “fateful” rights more than that of teaching the language, having a ministerial position, having charitable projects or teaching tailoring. Assyrian rights should be “beside” those of other Iraqi groups, but not “under” nor “within” them.
Who can deny that the Assyrian Cause was at its greatest momentum individually, collectively and propaganda wise before there were any political organizations? And who would have believed at that time that we will face what we are facing today after the birth of political parties?
Let’s admit that the Assyrian national movement has proved its failure because the change in circumstances may be the reason to change the means of political methods but not at the expense of national affirmations (identity) or political affirmations (the right of self determination).
Let’s also admit that the Assyrian national movement gave up when serious periods of confrontation began, especially on the part of the old organizations which consider themselves as the pioneers in “struggle” and “raising awareness“. Let’s also remember that even those parties who are loyal to the Assyrian identity aren’t really “politically united” in the meaning of the word.
Let’s admit that the Assyrian national movement is in need of an internal cleansing and renewal operation which will strip it of all the trivial banners such as unionism, realism, wisdom, and notions… slogans that were continuously used as conspiracies against the Assyrian nation.
Let’s admit that at present we lack a “leadership” which if it wasn’t to defend our rights and identity then at least to “present” them out of the Assyrian arena, the time has come to be aware of what’s awaiting us and to determine our goals despite any hurdles (internal or external). There are some currents who insist on presenting the Assyrian fateful matters regardless of the difficulties and threats. The birth of these currents is our only chance to raise our voice, because we have had enough with the dishonorable stands till now. These new currents are in need of the Assyrian people’s support, religious and secular associations and with the support of the heroes who had demonstrated for the unknown.
These currents are rejected by the simple folk because they are “new” but the hope is for them to continue their work through their faith which was demonstrated in their electoral program, as well as their transparency and honesty in explaining the Assyrian and other names, also to continue with their courage which is evident in their calls through the different media outlets about the Kurdification practices (which others didn’t dare to do), we also appeal to them to continue on standing as one and trying as much as possible to explain their strategic and national notions to the public who has grasped them yet.
Our organizations that are loyal to the Assyrian national affirmations must endeavor to hold an urgent Assyrian national conference in Iraq in order to consider the fateful concerns which will be the new start for the Assyrian Cause which has been numb at the hands of the old worn out political institutions, the rightful Assyrian demands should be presented in the new Iraq and they should be patriotic, stemming from the principle of “equality” which all the Iraqi politicians (liars and honest) sing its praises. And even if the enemies of the Assyrian nation don’t agree on realizing the Assyrian demands, that will not annul their legitimacy, and this is the sole portal to a true unity, an “Assyrian” unity out of the trust of the Assyrian people in its parties… Then we say towards a Cause …
[Zinda: This article was published first in Arabic in the ADM - Patriotic Stream website on 9 April 2005 and translated to English by Ms. Mary Challita in Canada.]
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Assyrian Democratic Organization
10 April 2005
On 30 March 2005 the Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, issued a general amnesty for the young Kurdish men, 312 in number, arrested on the backdrop of Qamishly's events on 12 March 2004. This positive initiative created a sense of satisfaction and optimism among the families of these men as well as among all Syrian Kurds, patriotic forces and human rights societies. This was viewed as an important step in reducing the political frustration in the Syrian society.
On this occasion, the Assyrian Democratic Organization congratulates the families of the freed prisoners as well as all the Kurdish political parties and forces. Nevertheless, this step is viewed as incomplete unless it is followed by the release of all political prisoners of different affiliations and nationalities, including our Assyrian brothers-16 in number - who have been arrested for more than five months in the aftermath of al-Hassaka incident.
The case of the Assyrian prisoners is not different from that of Qamishly incident's, as they are still held in al-Muslemia Prison and tried by the military criminal court in Aleppo, well known as a nominal court and subject entirely to the will of the Syrian political and security bodies, as is the case with all exceptional courts in Syria. It is also ruled by the whims of its officials and some corrupt judges.
The proceedings of the Hassaka Assyrians' court has revealed to our people in the homeland and the Diaspora the partiality and injustice of these courts and the necessity of relieving our young people from their repression.
It has further created a general sense of skepticism among them about the credibility of the judicial system, the futility of this trial which seeks through dishonest intrigues of pressures and coercion to equalize between the murderer and the victim.
Hence, availing ourselves of this opportunity, we call upon the authorities to release from prison our above mentioned brothers, as well as, all the prisoners of Damascus’ Spring and the political prisoners in Syria, and further, to close forever the file of political detainees.
We believe that this is the true beginning of desirable political reforms and the precondition for creating reconciliation and a strong national unity capable of confronting the oncoming pressures and threats from outside.
ADO Statement on Syria's Independence Day
[Zinda: Syria won its Independence when the last French soldier left the Syrian Arab Republic territory on 17 April 1946. April 17th is considered an annual national holiday in Syria. Syria was also the first Arab country to become free of foreign control and became a founding member of the League of Arab States and a UN member in 1945.]
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Assyrian Democratic Organization
The anniversary of Syria's Independence Day comes this year at a time when our country is passing through very difficult times due to the fundamental changes that are sweeping the region particularly in our neighboring country. These circumstances have given birth to new concepts and realities that make incumbent on us to understand their implications and know how to cope with them realistically and pragmatically by adopting an open, democratic approach capable of building a patriotic atmosphere politically, economically and culturally to achieve this transition peacefully toward a real democratic society.
At the top of these priorities are the political reforms that stimulate and motivate all economic, social and cultural changes. These can be achieved by revitalizing the political life in Syria.
We therefore believe that entrance to these reforms as well as to the aspirations of all Syrians to achieve a real democratic society, is through convening a reconciliation and dialogue conference, involving all the national parties and forces without exception, in which different phases of broad–based reforms and means of implementing them would be debated, the foremost being, the issuance of a modern law for political parties that would recognize the ethnic and cultural multiplicity and diversity of the Syrian society.
Secondly, the abolition of emergency and martial laws, in addition to releasing all prisoners of conscious.
Thirdly, the 10th Regional Convention of the al-Baath Party - "the leader of state and society" to reconsider, with boldness and courage, the many ideological and economic concepts that are doomed to failure, and to acknowledge the right of others for political participation based on the ballot boxes and on the principle of citizenship far from the outdated slogans of "the leading party ".
Finally, acceleration in dealing with the internal problems of reform is the best guarantee to facing outside challenges and pressures. Because the freedom and dignity of the citizen is the strongest weapon in the face of all outside threats.
Dear brothers and sisters in Syria, the Chaldeans, Assyrians and Syriacs are original inhabitants in this country, they have always inhabited with this land and have built, together with others, its civilization. They still preserve their national identity, language and culture, and this deep-rooted presence deserves to be acknowledged within a democratic, permanent constitution that will guarantee equality for everyone and in which the majority will help protect the rights of the minorities.
The release from prison recently of the detained Kurds on the backdrop of Qamishly’s events left a general feeling of satisfaction on the political and public level; meanwhile, our people expected to hear the release of their brothers arrested over five months ago in the aftermath of al-Hasska incident and are being presently tried by the military criminal court in Aleppo.
The safeguarding of our independence and maintaining its values and meaning in our life, can be only achieved in a democratic atmosphere that would secure justice and equality for all and preserve the freedom and dignity of every citizen. Hence, we call for the immediate release of the Assyrian detainees as well as all the political detainees in Syria. This can be the best starting point for reinforcing the national unity and building a citizenship capable of confronting all the risks now threatening our country.
Our warmest congratulations on this occasion.
Kanno Seeks to Unseat Cardoza
Courtesy of the Manteca Bulletin
John Kanno thinks Rep. Dennis Cardoza's voting record is his Achilles' tendon.
The Modesto Republican has announced he's taking on the Merced Democrat for next year's 18th Congressional District race.
Kanno paints Cardoza as out of sync with his mostly conservative district, saying Cardoza has supported gay marriage, opposed President Bush's tax cuts and failed to stand by the president in waging war against Iraq by voting against the $87 billion war package made famous through John Kerry's flip-flop.
"I'm a Valley conservative," said Kanno. "I'm very much against same-sex marriages. I'm for a constitutional amendment that recognizes heterosexual marriages."
Cardoza has consistently said he, too, is opposed to gay marriage but has stopped short of supporting a constitutional amendment declaring that marriage is only between a man and a woman.
Kanno said he also is supports a ban on partial-birth abortions.
Kanno, a 45-year-old Assyrian activist, says he has more foreign policy experience than the two-term congressman.
From 1995 to 2003, Kanno hosted "This Week in Politics," a public affairs show on KBSV Channel 23, the Assyrian TV station in Ceres. Kanno also served on the Assyrian Cultural Center of Bet Naharain board. Kanno was one of the country's most vocal opponents of Saddam Hussein prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Two years ago Kanno left the station to join Corn Products of Stockton to oversee its electrical system. His experience as an electrical engineer led to his appointment to the Future of Iraq Project. He helped expand Iraq's power grid, bringing power to over 90 percent of the country. Saddam Hussein, he said, even hoarded the country's electrical supply.
"I was one of 260 people that decided what's going to happen to an entire country the day after there was a change in leadership," said Kanno.
Kanno doesn't buy the arguments of Democrats and others who say Bush wasn't justified in warring with Iraq on the basis of a lack of weapons of mass destruction.
"Saddam Hussein was a weapon of mass destruction," said Kanno. "There's no one weapon that's killed more people than Saddam Hussein."
Kanno was one of Gary Condit's most ardent supporters during the Ceres Democrat's scandal involving intern Chandra Levy. He defended his support of Condit, saying Condit was a strong supporter of the Assyrian community.
Kanno's political adviser, Carl Fogliani of Spinnovation Strategies in Stockton, acknowledged that the 18th district is stacked in the Democrats' favor even though Republicans are gaining in registration. The political junkie said the last count showed 48.06 percent Democratic and 38.88 percent Republican. But most of those Democrats are conservative enough to vote Republican who is with them on the issues.
"All we have to do is expose my strengths and his weaknesses," said Kanno.
Fogliani said Cardoza may "come home and tell everybody how conservative he is when his record doesn't match up to that."
The district, carved during Condit's political troubles, includes Ceres, parts of Modesto, and Patterson, all of Merced County and parts of San Joaquin, Madera and Fresno counties. The district includes a very liberal section of south Stockton, which helped sink then state Senator Dick Monteith's bid against Cardoza.
Kanno is the youngest of nine children born to an Assyrian Christian family in pre-Saddam Hussein Iraq. His parents fled to England shortly before the assassination of King Faisal in 1958. Kanno came to the United States in 1981 after undergoing the two-year process of citizenship.
He said he has contempt for those who break the law by illegally entering the country. He supports strengthened border protection.
Kanno said the Assyrian community in the U.S. will be supporting his campaign. He recently returned from a visit with Assyrian-Americans in Chicago and Detroit and expects financial support.
In the last election cycle, Cardoza had only a token opponent in Republican Charles Pringle who spent approximately $3,000 in the very low key race.
"John is committed to running a grass roots campaign on issues and Dennis Cardoza is going to have to stand on his record," said Fogliani. "He's going to have a long record to defend in his time with the state Assembly," said Fogliani. "He was right-hand man with Gray Davis in the leadership of the state Assembly while they ran the state into the ditch. Now he goes to Washington and now he's got a record and he's going to have to defend it."
Due to an overwhelming comments and interest by all of you, we have prepared a Response to Questions (School Proposal - Click Here) regarding the Assyrian American Christian School of LA. Copies of this Proposal can be obtained [email here].
First, we like to thank all of you for your support and desire for trying to make certain that this project will become successful. We are listening to you and would like to answer your questions to the best of our abilities. As the authors of this article, we like to humbly ask for your forgiveness if we have misunderstood your questions or you find our responses unsatisfactory. But we are new at this and we are trying our best to do the right thing. We hope you will forgive our ignorance and lack of experience and will continue to support and encourage us towards perfection.
As you all know, for as far as you and I can remember, having an Assyrian school in the United States has been a dream for all of us. However, opening a school appears to be much more difficult for us Assyrians than for other minorities in the U.S., namely our Armenian friends. I am sure many articles can be written regarding this topic.
From what I have seen so far, our people and organizations have difficulties separating personal issues from projects. As I have been giving presentations or discussing the school project with various Assyrian individuals and organizations, I find myself in the midst of disparity, competition, hopelessness, ego trips, apathy, “desire to kill the project, because we are not doing it,” religious fractionation, personality issues, jealousy, politics and many other human weaknesses that have separated our people and has limited our success.
This school project is not about our priests, politicians, organizations; it is about a Project we have all been waiting for. Every single one of us has been saying: “why don’t they (Assyrians) open a school, we need one?” But the correct question is “why don’t 'I' an Assyrian open a school, I need one?” The “THEY” we always talk about and want things from, are you and I. There are no other “THEYs” out there. It is you and me! We are the “THEYs of Assyria.” So, please, we beg you to set aside your personal, political, and religious differences and let us help the “THEYs” to make this project a success. Let us be the wind under “THEY’s” wings and help us launch the school.
Film Documentary about Assyrians Premiers in Spain
(ZNDA: Madrid) The Spanish journalist, Fernando Pirez Barber, who has visited Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey numerous times in the last five years, has directed and co-written with Manuel Martorel a 40-minute documentary on Assyrians. The film was shown this week on Spain's TeleMadrid, one of the biggest broadcasting companies in that country.
"The focus of the documentary is political, paying greater attention to the nationalistic goals rather than the religious identities of the Assyrian people", comments Mr. Barber to Zinda Magazine.
The documentary was first shown on Thursday at 13:00 (1 pm) Spanish Time and then on Friday (April 15) at 22:00 (10 pm). The potential audience for this showing was around 20 million Spaniards - for many the first time they learned about the indigenous Christian population in Iraq.
Mr. Barber's documentary will be shown again tomorrow, Sunday 17 April, at 17:15 (5:15 pm) Spanish time:
To view this documentary on HispaSat or Astra satellites follow these directions:
The program may also be viewed online at Telemadrid Sat's Emicion Online [click here]. Expect technical difficulties and the program may not load up in your browser for several minutes.
Mr. Barber 's next project is a book on the struggle of the Assyrians due in a few months. The documentary and the book are in Spanish.
Obtaining Direct Answers to Our National Dilemma
Defining the Crisis
Any observer could easily recognize that, without the need to have sharp eyes or use magnifying lenses, we are facing serious national crisis and can also identify that this crisis is caused by the following two major problems:
1. The religious differences that are polarizing various factions in divisive manners based on their faiths and religious beliefs at the expense of their national awareness and unity.
Are we the only nation facing such problems or living in such crisis?
The answer is resounding ‘no’ because every nation has its religious and politician. Moreover, these are natural problems that are seen in all evolving nations during their long process of creating the national awareness and finding their way for prosperous and hopeful future.
However, having these two factors of religious and political powers, in any healthy environment, should act as supportive ingredients for unity and solidarity. They should mobilize the people to find tangible solutions for the national issues rather than being the main reason behind the emergence of this dangerous divisive attitude and hence creating this national crisis.
Unfortunately we have seen our religious leaders lacking or hesitant in assuming their ‘national’ responsibilities except for a few of them who on the contrary were over engaged in the political process sending some controversial messages to the public and therefore causing more damage than healing. The rest of our religious leaders gave vague excuses for not being involved in the national struggle as if they are not nationalists or should not express their national feelings for which they were rejected and denounced by the majority of their own congregations.
On one hand, we can easily notice that while our religious leaders have shown a very high discipline in holding on their religious differences and keep them out of our national issues at this critical time, for which they should be highly credited. However, and despite their honest intentions, this position was not helpful at all for our national advance. Silence is not the proper reaction when the moment requires demonstrating solidarity and unity and when most of the people are waiting some spiritual guidance from their most respected and appreciated leaders.
The complete silence from our religious leaders has caused more damage as compared to expressing their opinions openly and calling things by their real names. This passive position didn’t either help them avoid being criticized at all; on the contrary, it caused more damaging to their national reputation than to save it! We are not here to blame our religious leaders and hang on their shoulders our failure but just to mention that their help and anticipated guidance is greatly missed and they need to reconsider their position.
The political parties on the other hand have shown, and as expected, completely opposite attitude being much more aggressive but unfortunately in the wrong direction. They engaged openly and vigorously in discrediting, disqualifying or even working against their rivals instead of leaning to rational thinking and create national front. The real expectations true nationalists would be a call for a serious national dialogue to negotiate their political views and to resolve their disagreements in order to reach common grounds and work as one well organized team.
Having different opinions and agendas should not be considered, at any time, a barrier to our progress but rather it should be invested as sharpening tools or supporting factors to improve our dialogue and strengthen our efforts. Our different opinions should be manipulated properly and wisely because all great ideas and thoughts stem from constructive and positive dialogue.
Whoever thinks that, for the purpose of our national struggle, we should have one view that must stem from one party and be preached by one church is wrong and ‘Naïve’ because such approach would only mean that we are dumb and unable to discuss our views freely enough and we don’t care a damn about our national issues as we should.
Having different views or opinions should by no means make us conclude that we can’t agree or we shouldn’t reach common grounds to arrange one national plan and prepare one agenda. The only rule that must prevail always to defy such trivial conclusion is that we must precede our national best interests on any other political or religious views or beliefs regardless their significance and importance.
The strong messages from our religious leaders to address this anomalous situation are yet to be heard. Our religious leaders need to demonstrate their great influence on the people for the benefit of the people. Silence in these hard times is wrong because true leadership emerges only when it speaks out the true message of wisdom and guidance to the people in a moment of crisis and we are now in desperate need for such leadership. While we are asking our politicians to show solidarity and lean to rationale, there must be at the same time some example to help them and to follow. The only one model available could come from our religious leaders by demonstrating their high standards and national awareness and to prove once again to their congregations that they are up to the moment as they used to be at all times of need.
The political parties must understand and admit that their past efforts were unsatisfactory and below our expectations and nothing but a complete failure. They must grow up to the historical moment and assume their national responsibilities to resolve their differences. They must realize that the only way available for them is to sit on one table to negotiate the national issues. They must realize that this national issue is not single party task but rather a national project that can be achieved only by organized work of a well prepared team.
National crisis always emerge from the absence of true national leaders and we are living in the midst of such crisis awaiting true leaders to undertake and assume true leadership. The whole process is ignited by one spark of true example of national sacrifice and genuine move towards national reconciliation and we are yet to witness such sacrifice or move and yet feel the heat of such long awaited ‘sweet’ spark.
It may sound unfair, cruel or even strange to draw such picture but the fact is that in such conditions everyone is guilty until proven otherwise! The otherwise required is one graceful act only; assuming national responsibilities nothing less.
The Passion of Aramaic
Trying to unravel the mysteries of Aramaic is like embarking on an odyssey across the deserts, mountains and valleys of the Middle East and onwards to Europe and North America.
It is an intellectual adventure that leads to an array of secular scholars, devout clergy and laymen - Jewish and Christian - who are experts in the history of these Semitic languages, which in some places still survive.
They tell of Israeli rock groups that sing modern Aramaic songs, of popular radio and TV programs in Aramaic or Syriac broadcast in Canada, the US and Scandinavia and of remote villages in Syria and Iraq, where Aramaic, rather than Arabic, is the local vernacular.
Aramaic is revered by Jews because it alternates with Hebrew in the later books of the Bible, is the Talmud's principal tongue and comprises several of Judaism's most important prayers, including the mourners' kaddish. Christians respect it as the language spoken by Jesus Christ and his apostles, while its eastern version, Syriac, is used in the liturgies of the ancient churches of Iraq and Syria.
Kurdish Jews brought Aramaic with them from northern Iraq, Iran and Turkey to Israel, where it is still spoken at home by the older generation, in much the same way Ashkenazi Jews speak Yiddish with their parents or grandparents. But they also regard it as evidence of their being descendants of the "Ten Lost Tribes" who were deported by the Assyrians nearly a century before the two remaining tribes of Judea were expelled by the Babylonians.
Hezy Mutzafi, an expert in Aramaic, contends that contemporary Aramaic is in danger of extinction, as the younger generation of families that have left the Middle East assimilates linguistically.
Prof. Geoffrey Khan of Cambridge University's Faculty of Oriental Studies has been mapping the neo-Syriac dialects linguistically for fear they may soon disappear. Mutzufi, who teaches Aramaic at Tel Aviv University, learned several of them and can converse fluently in each. Estimates of the number of Aramaic speakers in the world range from 500,000 to five million.
The head of the National Organization of Kurdish Jews in Israel, Avraham Simantov, interviewed in his Jerusalem office, said he takes pride in the fact that his people "preserved the language of the Targum," referring to the monumental translation of the Torah into Aramaic, which is known as Targum Onkelos. The latter evidently is a misnomer, however. Experts believe this term was erroneously adopted from the Greek translation by Aquila, a work cited in both the Jerusalem Talmud and in Christian lore.
Most scholars credit Rav Joseph, a third-century Babylonian scholar, and his students with having produced the authorized Aramaic translation attributed to Onkelos (a name possibly derived from Aquila).
"We read the Torah twice in our synagogues," said Simantov, "Once in Hebrew and once in Aramaic. This is because the leader of the congregation must be sure everyone present understands the text."
Simantov, who is the executive director of the Prazot housing company, arrived in Jerusalem from Kurdistan in 1951 with his family.
"My Aramaic made it easy for me to pick up Hebrew," he said, recalling that he was admitted to Jerusalem's elite Ma'aleh school, where many of the teachers were German Jews and where he made a swift transition from a quasi-medieval lifestyle to a modern Israeli one.
Unlike Jerusalem's Kurdish Jews, who speak Aramaic at home and Hebrew outside, their compatriots who settled in other parts of Israel use Aramaic in all facets of their daily lives.
"Generally speaking," Simantov explained, "our young generation speaks Hebrew. But even though it is the third generation since our mass immigration, its members still understand the language of the Targum. And in our synagogues, especially in the agricultural sector, they still alternate the text of the Hebrew scriptures with that of the Targum."
In Nazareth, home of Atallah Mansour, the distinguished Israeli journalist who was on the staff of the Hebrew daily Haaretz for more than three decades and now serves as a columnist for Jerusalem's Arabic daily al-Quds, Aramaic is a constant feature of the linguistic landscape, especially its liturgical aspect.
He cited an unusual source book published 14 years ago in Cairo by Izzat Zaki, in which the Nestorian Christians describe themselves as "the children of Israel" and claim they are the remnant of the Ten Lost Tribes. Zaki contends that they do not marry outside their religious faith and live in the most defensible mountainous regions of Kurdistan. Zaki quotes them as saying, "we use Aramaic just like the Jews."
Mansour refers to these exotic Christians in his newly published book, Narrow Gate Churches, a history of Christianity in the Holy Land and the surrounding regions of the Middle East from the time of Jesus to the present era. He invited the local head of the Maronite Church, Abouna (Our Father) Yusuf Issa, to explain his 1,000-member congregation's integration of Syriac into its prayer services.
"Only members of the clergy are taught the Syriac language," Abouna Yusuf said, noting that he learned it as a seminarian in Rome.
"I don't speak it," he admitted, "but I understand every word."
Abouna Yusuf pointed out that until a century ago, there were many villages in what is now Syria where Aramaic was the spoken language. Today, only three are left, all of them relatively close to Damascus. For political reasons, the Syrian authorities tried to shield them from inquisitive foreigners, especially foreign correspondents, but persistent requests by BBC Television to produce a documentary about their cultural traditions were eventually granted reluctantly.
"We pray in Syriac," explained Abouna Yusuf, "but find it necessary to switch to Arabic more and more."
He equated Syriac with Aramaic, allowing for the fact that it is a different dialect, but confessed, "I am very proud to be able to speak the same language in which Jesus Christ spoke."
Outside of prestigious universities like Cambridge and Tel Aviv University, there are few, if any, schools where Aramaic or Syriac is taught as a language to read, write and speak.
This is the educational reality that confronts most Jewish yeshiva students, whose primary goal is to learn the contents and theological principles expounded in the Talmud or the Gemara, as it is called in Aramaic. They are not taught Aramaic grammar, are not challenged with vocabulary enrichment and are not required to converse in Aramaic, despite the fact that the Talmud itself consists of rabbinical discourse conducted 2,000 years ago in that language. Instead, they learn Aramaic only in the Talmudic context and mainly by rote.
"An experiment conducted at Cambridge to teach young Orthodox Jews Aramaic as a classical language and thereby enable them to peruse the Talmud's text independently, without rabbinical guidance, ended in failure," said Mutzafi.
"The boys were not adept at grasping linguistic structures such as the verb categories or grammatical usage that could be found in the ancient text."
At the same time, he noted that the range of words used in the Talmud is "quite limited" to those that reflect Jewish religious life and observance.
Aramaic made its debut 3,000 years ago as the language of the ancient Arameans, the nation that lived in the Bible's Padan-Aram and the Patriarch Abraham's Aram Naharayim.
It served as the Assyrians' lingua franca soon afterward and became their imperial language as well as that of the Babylonians and Persians, all of whom applied it to diplomacy and trade from India to Ethiopia. Those within their respective imperial realms who could not speak Aramaic could at least read and understand it, one scholar said.
By the Second Temple period, 2,000 years ago, Palestinian Aramaic was widely used by the Jews of the Land of Israel. After the birth of Christianity, its adherents developed their own dialect, which differed somewhat from that of the Jews. But Aramaic remained supreme in the Fertile Crescent until the Muslim conquest in the seventh century, after which it was gradually overtaken by Arabic.
The very name of the Syriac translation of the Bible, the "Peshitta," is a derivative of the Hebrew word pshat, or simplification.
Many of the common cognate words are easily comprehensible to Hebrew speakers. For example, toda raba ("thank-you") is pronounced with the accent on the first syllable of each word rather than on the second, as is the case in modern Hebrew.
During Aramaic's linguistic heyday, when it enjoyed the same international status as English does today, it not only split into Western and Eastern versions (the former always known as Aramaic and the latter as Syriac), but Syriac spawned countless dialects, which were often unintelligible to close neighbors who spoke the very same language. By then, the alphabet used by the Jews to transcribe the Hebrew language was the Assyrian one they had encountered during their captivity, while the original one, which was of Phoenician origin, was abandoned. Syriac's linguists opted for a different alphabet.
One consequence of these diversions was that Talmudic Aramaic was incomprehensible to Christians. Instead, they used the various Aramaic dialects, gradually incorporating foreign words from Greek and Arabic.
A Christian scholar based in Jerusalem, who also insisted on anonymity, said the Aramaic- or Syrian-speaking diaspora encompasses Canada, Sweden, Norway, Australia and England. (This list was extended by a secular colleague to include France, especially Marseilles, Lebanon and the southern reaches of the former Soviet Union.)
He listed the four main eastern churches in which Syriac is the language of prayer as the Syrian Jacobite, Syrian Catholic, Nestorian and Chaldean churches (the latter previously known as the Church of Jerome).
Judean or Palestinian Aramaic was the dominant language among the Holy Land's Christians until the 16th century, he explained, noting that their shift to Arabic was very gradual - faster in the highlands than in the valleys and plains.
A similar process occurred in Syria, Iraq and Iran, where the descendants of the original Arameans and the successive Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian ethnic groups had converted to Christianity and adopted the northwestern Mesopotamian dialect of Aramaic, which is known as Syriac.
The pervasiveness of Aramaic was such that it virtually replaced Hebrew as the preferred language of the Holy Land's Jews, a declining number of whom were familiar with the biblical tongue. This was also true of their coreligionists in Babylon and the surrounding regions of Mesopotamia - so much so, this scholar noted, that the Book of Daniel, which emerged from that milieu, "is more than 80 percent Aramaic."
Emanuel Doubchak, a linguist and translator who emigrated to Israel from France, attributes the spread of Aramaic in the ancient world to the fact that its namesakes, the Aramaeans, were merchants who plied the far-flung trade routes of the Fertile Crescent and Mediterranean Basin.
"They did not engage in empire-building and never had an empire of their own," he contended, "but their language attained the status of being the main linguistic vehicle for diplomatic discourse" and international trade for nearly a millennium.
He credited Aramaic's universality with the fact that many of the great philosophical, historical and scientific works of the ancient world were translated into it from Greek and Latin and thereby were saved for posterity.
Despite the powerful cultural impact of Greek language and culture during the Hellenistic period, "Aramaic remained the dominant language of this country and its square alphabet replaced the cursive letters of the preceding Canaanite-Phoenician writing system originally adopted by the Hebrews," he said.
The rise of Christianity and the fact that the New Testament was written in Greek posed "an obstacle" to Aramaic's local longevity, however. Concurrently, the eastern Christians had adopted a variation of the Assyrian alphabet, whose letters are reminiscent of the Hebrew ones, but not enough to make them legible to most Jews. The anonymous Christian scholar from the Old City, however, was able to jot them down in a jiffy.
There is no better proof of modern Aramaic's vitality than the spectacular weddings held by the Jewish "Nash Didan" community, which hails from the remote foothills of the Caucasus Mountains.
"Nash Didan" means "Our People" and its distinctive music and dance have been immortalized by Nissan Aviv, a brilliant composer and orchestrator who arrived in Israel 55 years ago during the peak of the "Nash Didan" immigration, and has devoted his life to preserving and continuing this culture ever since. In addition to the many CDs he's put out over the years, Aviv was also the subject of a documentary by Channel 1's Gil Sedan.
Soon after the late Naomi Shemer's Yerushalayim Shel Zahav ("Jerusalem of Gold") became a hit on the eve of the Six Day War, Aviv obtained her permission to render it in Aramaic. Translated as Yerushalayim Ai Dheba, it is a beloved staple at "Nash Didan" weddings.
Aviv was born in Urmia, an ancient city in Iranian Azerbaijan.
"We spoke Aramaic at home, Turkish on the street and learned Persian at school," he said.
"I knew a fair amount of Hebrew when we came to Israel because it was taught in our Jewish schools. And partly thanks to my Aramaic, I was able to speak like a sabra in no time."
Aviv's lyrics are written in modern Aramaic and his songs not only draw audiences from the various Aramaic-speaking communities in Israel - located in Holon, Givatayim and Jerusalem - but are also played on the Aramaic (or Syriac) radio and TV stations in Australia, Canada and Sweden.
"Jerusalem of Gold is as popular abroad as it is here," he said.
Aviv's music is based on three instruments: a drum known as a dair'a, a five-stringed instrument plucked like a balalaika or mandolin known as a kar kavkazi and a Central Asian version of the cello known as a kamanncha.
Aviv has won the unstinting acclaim of one of Israel's leading experts in cognate Semitic languages, Hezy Mutzafi, who speaks half a dozen of the Aramaic and Syriac dialects fluently. Noting that the "Nash Didan" community consists of "only a few thousand" Israelis (its members constitute a relatively small percentage of the influx of nearly 200,000 immigrants from Iran, Turkey and the Caucasus), Mutzafi points out that it also is one of the least known Jewish ethnic groups.
"Its focus is on culture, folklore and spoken Aramaic," explained Mutzafi, referring to the latter as lishan noshan or "our language."
Mutzafi singled out Aviv as one of the most outstanding activists in the "Nash Didan" community, a man who has contributed mightily to its spiritual and cultural life.
Privately, Aviv is rather pessimistic about what the future holds for the language and lifestyle he loves and has tried to preserve.
"Our Aramaic is being forgotten," he said. "The younger generation can understand it, but cannot speak and in time, this too will be lost.
One project that gives Aviv hope is the Tel Aviv University's development of an Aramaic dictionary.
"The trouble is that the project is enormous and the funding available for it is minuscule," he said.
[Zinda: The music of Nash Didan is astonishingly beautiful and relaxing. Their hit song, A Window Of Dreams, is featured in Claude Challe's Nirvana Vol II CD. The music is tranquil, rich, and universal with familiar "Assyrian" themes. Recommended by Zinda Magazine, all Nash Didan's CD's can be purchased from Isreal-Music [click here].
Jay Bushinsky has been a foreign correspondent covering the Middle East since 1966. Based in Jerusalem, he writes a weekly political column for the Toronto Sun and (Chicago) Daily Herald as well as the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle and files news dispatches to the Toronto Sun. His feature articles appear in the Melbourne Sunday Herald-Sun. Bushinsky produced and reported several documentaries including a major expose of Austrian President Kurt Waldheim's involvement in the Nazi Wehrmacht's genocide committed against Serbs, Gypsies and Jews in occupied Yugoslavia, the case of Josef Mengele and the hunt for Alois Brunner. Jay Bushinsky received his M.S. degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. He teaches Journalism at Bar-Ilan University and at the Tel Aviv College of management. Bushinsky is married and has two sons and a daughter.]
Know Thyself & Thy Neighbors
Part III of III
'Gnothi seauton' (know yourself, through yourself), are the words chosen by Socrates, engraved at the Temple of Apollo at Delphes, in Greece.
In view of the fact that the nation Assyria is divided into 38 nations of the world, an attempt is being made to enlighten the readers of the conditions and the perspective attitudes that might be attained in the lives of our brethren in the countries of the Middle East.
This essay merely enacts the socio-political trends of nations, surrounding, the Assyria of antiquity and its present-day inhabitants in and around the Province of Ninewa, northern Iraq, as well as briefly elaborating on a political mainstay of Assyrian communities of the Middle East, whether large or small.
The nations include: Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and UAE. Some scattered small communities do reside in other parts however our topic involves the nations surrounding Iraq.
Perhaps a slight differentiation of a political scope might be observed on the surface, but overall, the trend of the political activities is practically non-existent in any one of these, Israel, excepted with reservations. 'Ejusdem farinae' (of the same grain) could aptly be applied to political overload of all the nations in question.
Since Ancient Persia and Assyria have warred against, and occupied each other, millennia ago, the Assyrians feel at home, in Iran, just as much as in Iraq.
At one point, over 600,000 Assyrians resided in Iran, but, they began to emigrate in hordes, and by the time of the Islamic Revolution of 1979, less than 200,000 had remained in all of Iran. This migratory trend did not end right there, and within a decade, another 130,000 left Iran for resettlement as refugees or immigrants in Europe, Canada, USA, and Australia.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, just as it implies, is a non-secular form of government, ruled by Sharia [Islamic Code]. It is supposedly one of the three such countries in the world, along with The State of Vatican and Israel. It is ironic, that most scholars neglect the fact that Lebanon ought to be included, as number four into this category.
There has not been, nor there exists any sort of religious persecution against the Assyrians, the Armenians and other non-Moslem minorities in Iran. However, ideological, sociological and political strata are strictly for the adherents of Islam, and a non-Moslem is inhibited in attaining a position of national stature of the land. So, the Assyrians are involved in mostly private businesses, education, medicine, and pharmaceuticals. However, Just as before the Revolution, Iran still recognizes a Parliamentarian seat representing Assyrians and Chaldeans, as well as Armenians and Jewish tiny population, in the Majlis [Parliament] of Iran. No other country in the world can claim that feat. And, Assyrians must cherish such a step, and not merely take it in stride.
Definitely, the Iranian Government can proclaim some sort of democratic ideal rummaging throughout the country without harboring any objections, since the majority of the citizens of Iran do adhere to strict Islamic Code of Rules thus their lives are not maligned in any way they can imagine. In another words, Iran is an Islamic Democracy.
A nation, particularly created by the Jewish international and national communities right upon cessation of WWII, Israel is just that. It is a State for Jewish population, and all others, that succeed to migrate into Israel, will have no chance of becoming citizens, unless they convert, in one way or another, to Judaism. But even this trend is so complicated that almost no one masters the skills to transcend the religious policies of the land. Another route of becoming a citizen is to descend genealogically from a Jewish mother.
Does this appear to be democratic? Is Israel practicing democracy? How can Israel be a democracy when the dogma of religion and race supersede all others? Perhaps, Israel literally interprets Schopenhauer, who states: "The will is the key to all existence."
No definite figure is available, since many Assyrians that have entered Israel in the last two decades, had used sham documents, by portraying themselves as being Jewish, hence, in no uncertain terms, no Assyrian shall volunteer to expose himself.
The figures given are that there could be as few as 500 families to as many as 1,500 families of Assyrians - refugees from Iraq - in Jordan.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is definitely an absolute monarchy. The last time Jordan had a directly elected Premier, by international suffrage, was in 1957, when Mr. Nabulessi took over the seat of Premiership by a plebiscite of a national consensus. But, as it happened all the times, and almost in any part of the Middle East, his government was overthrown, and the absolute monarchy regained its footing.
A totally different trend overshadows the livelihood of the many Assyrians living and prospering in the tiny Sheikhdom on the Persian Gulf. Most of the Assyrian immigrants in Kuwait come from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and even from England, Australia and the U.S.
There is no slightest of the lights as far as freedom of expression or democracy are concerned in the whole dictionary of the Kuwait political legislature. As a matter of fact, Kuwait doesn't even have a legislature. How can Kuwait have a legislature, when it doesn't condone a Legislative Branch of Government? 'Dura lex, sed lex' (the law is hard, but it is the law).
Formerly a part of a Greater Syria, Lebanon owns its existence to a piecemeal deal derived by the politicians of The Whitehall [London] and Quai d'Orsay [Paris].
The country is a purely political conglomeration for Moslems and Christians alike. It is not democratic. It is not supposed to be democratic. Its structure and political apparatus imply that it always has to satisfy equally, both the Moslem and non-Moslem populations.
The President has definitely to be a Christian. The Prime Minister must be a Moslem. The Minister of Defense a Christian, and the Minister of Interior a Moslem.
Democracy with cemented overtones of religion is a mockery and a misplaced ideal. But, "it is the representation that makes the object possible rather than the object that makes the representation possible." [Kant]. So then, Lebanon is demonstratively democratic in the eyes of the world.
Some 3.3 million people dwell in tiny, but beautiful Lebanon. Supposedly equally divided, there are 1.9 million Moslems, and 1.3 million Christians living in Lebanon. The Moslem figure includes, plus or minus, 400,000 Palestinian refugees, that have been in Lebanon for the third generation.
Without exaggeration, if one were to weigh the religious factions of the whole world, the factions of Lebanon would outweigh them all. It seems, that every religion has a preacher, every preacher has a flock, and every flock has stature and influence in all of the affairs of this country.
Perhaps no more than 10,000-15,000 Assyrians reside in Lebanon, and mostly are content, since there is no political, or social persecution of any kind against them in this quasi-democratic State of Lebanon.
A Monarchy without the benefit of the Crown would be an apt description of the political establishment of the Arab Republic of Syria. But who needs a crown when the heirs can be set up to rule the country at their will. 'Cujus regioi, ejus religio' (the religion of the Prince is the religion of the nation.)
Syria is to Assyrians just as their motherland of Iraq, Southwestern Turkey, and Northwestern Iran are. The largest contingent ever migrating from one point to another in the twentieth century was that of the Assyrians departing the city of Mosul, after the day to day harassments from the Arabs, the Kurds and the Turks, from 1925 through 1928, on the eve of creating a new Kingdom of Iraq.
Over 300,000 souls, men, women, children, flocks, the ill, the invalid, the blind, the deaf, all categories of the Assyrians, almost two thirds of the total population of the swollen up Assyrian residents of Mosul, crossed the desert into Syria, on their way to Lebanon, only to be stopped by the French Colonial Forces right at the border crossing.
Barely three years later, the same caravans of refugees would have to re-cross, while fighting the Iraqi Royal Army, to go back to Mosul Province. And, then, right after the infamous Semele Massacre of 1933, during which some 36 villages were burned and destroyed to the ground with thousands of Assyrian civilian casualties. The Assyrians were, once again, forced to depart from their indigenous habitat, re-enter Syria, and seek refugee status all over the world, by becoming perpetual errands. [Kakovitch, Mount Semele].
There is no sign of any harassment or persecution of the Assyrians in the whole of Syria, from the Minarets of Damascus all the way to Al-Jazeera, on the banks of the Khabur River, farther East. No exact figures of the Assyrian residents of Damascus and Aleppo exist, however, they have been increased recently, due to immigration of refugees from the war-torn Iraq, and that number could reach some 30,000 of newly arrivals. Thus, added to some 15,000 to 25,000 already in these two large cities, the Al-Jazeera villages add another 30,000. Hence, in the neighborhood of 100,000 Assyrians, Syria is pre-eminently one of the largest concentrations of Assyrians in the world, after Iraq, the United States, and Russia.
Definitely Turkey walks the tightrope of democracy in the world. The freedom of speech of Turkish citizens is probably the highest among its Middle Eastern neighbors, and Turkey is trying hard to improve its image, both at home and abroad, since it is vying to enter the European Community, in the near future.
All in all, perhaps no more than 6,000 to 10,000 Assyrians reside in Turkey. Some 6,000 might be the remnants of the indigenous Assyrians of the Southeastern part, and Adana, and perhaps as many as 4,000 count for newly arrived Assyrian refugees from Iran and Iraq. These are the remnants of the thousands of refugees that crossed into Turkey only to emigrate to Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States. These 4,000 live and conduct their business in large cities, such as Istanbul, Ankara and Adana on the Mediterranean coastline.
For the Assyrians in the villages and small towns in Southeastern Turkey, life is burdensome, suspenseful, insecure, and sometimes, dangerous. The Assyrian villagers live as tiny minorities of non-Moslems in mostly Kurdish dominated areas, and they have to abide by the whims and rules of the Kurds at all levels, besides the strict laws of Turkey itself.
In his 'Ecco Homo' Schopenhauer writes: "One hears but one does not seek; one takes - one does not ask who gives; a thought flashes up like lightning, it comes of necessity and unfalteringly formed". The signs of certain improving conditions have been envisaged, but, one has to wait and see.
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Without doubt the most splendid atmosphere for Assyrians is the United Arab Emirates, and the city of Dubai.
Modern, prosperous, safe and secure, Dubai offers all amenities to internationally inclined Assyrian community that has taken residence in UAE. Most of the Assyrians, just like the ones in Kuwait, move to Dubai from Hamburg, London, Paris, New York, Detroit, Toronto, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sydney.
Although a tiny community, the Assyrians of Dubai are well established in their business and other phases of life in developing countries. They seem to be content, and I have yet to see their number reduced, on the contrary, the Assyrians increase in numbers, year after year.
A thought from two and half millennia reaches out that says: "Poetry is philosophical and of higher value than history; for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular." [Aristotle]
In ascribing to refer to a group of nations that the Assyrians hold onto, some by indigenousness, some by migration, it is the poet that takes precedence over the historian, since it is the universality of events and elements that are of mutual interest to all of us and those that see, but do not wish to recognize us, that are being discussed.
Democracy is a misnomer for freedom and liberty. Both freedom and liberty are objective, whereas democracy is subjective. In a democracy the majority rules, whether it is right or wrong, good or bad, fruitful or harmful, pleasant or unpleasant, compassionate or harsh, peaceful or warring. In some instances, only one single voice can superimpose power, thus, annulling all rights to the other half of a population in a country.
For a nation within a single digit of percentage of a total population in Iraq, namely, Assyria, democracy is merely a ploy, whereas freedom and liberty are real.
Freedom and liberty are enhanced, by granting the smaller populace the same equal rights than the larger ones have obtained. And, democracy declines all that, and more.
Democracy is an abstract fabrication, and it is utterly irrelevant to freedom or liberty, because it denies that credo of freedom and that sense of liberty to all. It is merely a political ploy, whereas freedom and liberty are devised to serve humanity rather than the houses of cards of the politicians.
The young men and women that joined democratic institutions in Iraq to combat tyranny were, and still are the zealous fighters for freedom from the enslavement of despotism, but if their goal was to liberate and to free Assyria, that assumption was one hundred percent in the opposite direction. In a democracy, Assyria is merely a boat, among a large flotilla. Given the order to speed ahead, just the waves created by such a flotilla, shall throw the boat into oblivion, if not crashing it to pieces.
The heart of the matter is that Kurds having obtained a de facto, but not yet de jure Kurdistan. The Shi'a have their territorial, de facto and de jure domain. The Sunnis reign over the rest of the land of Iraq. Whereas, the Assyrians have been pushed aside by international political organizations, that strictly adhere to the forces to reckon that control Iraq.
Whoever can ascertain that Iraq is not a Federalist State, is either a liar or nescient on Federalism.
o Assyrians must receive equal treatment;
(Next Week: The Main Topic of the Week)
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