From Half-Full to Half-Empty
As the Assyrian American National Federation’s annual convention went into its 73rd session in Chicago last weekend, there went into effect one of the most unfair elections by an Assyrian organization against a highly respected team of candidates and a few of its own charter affiliates. The asinine tactics employed by the current administration led by Mr. Aladin Khamis to swindle the votes were reminiscent of the ploys used by Mideast dictatorships. For some, including myself, this was not a surprise; I had already railed bitterly against the election of Mr. Khamis and the forthcoming tragedy in an editorial two years earlier (click here). Today, AANF is in serious trouble and may even within months (if not weeks) witness its first break-up, as a number of its deeply perturbed affiliates plan to withdraw their membership and form a new federation in the United States. Although the formation of a more operative umbrella organization in North America is welcome, the AANF must be salvaged from the hands of a group of corrupt hooligans who have hijacked this organization in the name of the Assyrians in the homeland.
Too often at the AANF conventions, the music blasting from the ballrooms in the evening and the messily organized educational seminars during the day tend to obscure the more basic story of what truly goes on in the meetings of the AANF executive committees and the delegates to the convention. Actually nothing of significance related to the wider patterns of the most pressing issues facing the Assyrians goes on in these meetings. Due to the ineffective leadership of its current executive committee, the Assyrian American National Federation, once the official voice of the Assyrian people in America, is now written-off as simply the organizer of a large annual Assyrian shindig.
How did we get here?
The AANF troubles began a few years back when the supporters of the Assyrian Democratic Movement in the U.S. determined that the largest Assyrian organization in North America ought to be dominated by the Zowaa sympathizers and a substantial portion of its funds be transferred to Iraq for the humanitarian projects underway in the North. AANF is one of the Assyrian federations around the world with membership in the Assyrian Universal Alliance. Hence, attempts were made in the past few years to readdress this issue and withdraw AANF’s AUA-membership to fully reshape this organization as an ADM construct. In the past every such attempt has failed miserably.
In 2004 the supporters of the ADM helped elect Mr. Aladin Khamis to the presidency of the AANF. While he took no significant steps to represent the Assyrians in the U.S. as the historic events were unfolding in Iraq, Khamis’ administration focused on building a greater ADM constituency in America, by becoming involved in strengthening the Assyrian National Council of Illinois and the pro-Mar Bawai faction in California and Chicago. For the latter, the steps taken were as noticeable as allocating $25,000 for the production of a television program whose producers endorse the movement propped up by the fans of Mar Bawai Soro in California. Moreover, the Khamis administration transferred the editorial duties of the Assyrian Star magazine last weekend from the skilled hands of Mr. Andrew Bet-Shlimon to Mr. Sam Darmo, who produces yet another pro-Mar Bawai television program in the U.S. called "Assyrians For Justice". At the banquet dinner last Sunday evening, Mr. Sheba Mando of the Assyrian National Council of Illinois was, not surprisingly, selected as the Assyrian Man of the Year.
This year, the supporters of Mr. Khamis found themselves facing a formidable challenger – Mrs. Janey Golani, whose husband, Mr. Atour Golani, was the president of the AANF prior to Mr. Khamis. Mrs Golani's father, the late Aprim Rayis, was also the Secretary General of the Assyrian Universal Alliance in the early 1980s. As is eloquently noted in Mrs. Jenny Golani’s article in this week’s THE LIGHTHOUSE section, deceitful tactics were once again utilized by the AANF cronies to force Goalni to withdraw her nomination last Sunday.
An investigation by Zinda Magazine, led by a law firm in California, now reveals that several affiliates represented at the convention lack a legal structure in their own States, namely Nevada, California, and Illinois. Four Assyrian organizations in California have no record of being listed with the California Secretary of State. These are:
Further research indicated that the corporate status of the Assyrian American Society of Las Vegas has been revoked.
In Illinois, the Mar Zaia Assyrian Organization and the Ishtar Assyrian Ladies Organization are not registered as valid corporate entities within the State of Illinois.
The Khamis administration has allowed these non-existing organizations to enter the executive meetings of the AANF and vote. When asked to reveal the credentials of the voting affiliates, Mr. Khamis refused to honor Mrs. Golani's request. A constitutional right of any one affiliate was clearly taken away.
It is time that the law abiding affiliates of the Assyrian American National Federation take a firm stand to expose the fraud that has been perpetuated on the Assyrian community in America by the hooligans led by Mr. Aladin Khamis and his close associates. AANF is a 501c3 non-for-profit organization and can be legally held accountable for its questionable practices supporting the religious and political groups in the U.S. and abroad. Its books must be opened to public scrutiny, independent auditors, and its officials held accountable for every penny that has changed hands from one committee to another.
The sad commentary on the affairs of the AANF is that a group of dishonest Assyrians with shady intentions have hijacked the oldest Assyrian federation in the world by means of fraud and trickery under the guise of support for Assyrians in Iraq, the ADM in particular. Ironically, both the Assyrian Democratic Movement in Iraq and Mar Bawai Soro who sought changes in the practice and structure of the Assyrian Church of the East have and will continue to suffer a backlash from the involvement of such incompetent sponsors. The radicals behind Khamis operating from within the AANF foolishly encourage and champion the unnecessary split in the Assyrian Church of the East, and naively hinder support and assistance for the workers, teachers, students, administrators, and security guards managed by the ADM authority in Iraq. They must be legally stopped.
The AANF cannot continue without an effective leader. Mr. Aladin Khamis has for the last two year proven to be unproductive and must be removed. Since the Federation is under the auspices of the Assyrian Universal Alliance, the affiliates of the AANF should at once demand that the leadership of the AUA negate or reverse the election results from the 73rd session and hold an emergency meeting to conduct new elections, monitored by the AANF’s legal council and independent third-party auditors.
Finally, a topic dear to my own heart is the fate of the Assyrian Star magazine. Under the direction of Mr. Andrew Bet-Shlimon and the editorial and technical assistance of his staff this magazine was resurrected as one of the most informative and well-written Assyrian publications in recent history. Zinda Magazine urges the affiliates of the AANF to overturn the decision of the executive committee and return this prized institution to the capable hands of the respectful affiliate in Massachusetts.
The Assyrian American National Federation was formed in 1933 in response to the massacre of the Assyrians in Iraq. Seventy-three years later this institution which once welcomed the Middle Eastern dignitaries and even the Shah of Iran to the U.S., is once again reshaping itself before the events developing in Iraq. With the support of the Bush administration in Washington, the Kurds' drive for independence may soon materialize in the formation of Kurdistan where a network of long-term American military bases will be created. Last week, while Assyrians gathered at their national convention in Chicago, Masoud Barzani banned the Iraqi flag to be flown atop any of the official buildings in the Kurdish-controlled areas. Where is the definitive voice of the Assyrian people in the U.S. that can effectively present the Assyrian case before the Bush Administration and Congress, and initiate a series of talks directly with the Kurdish lobby in Washington?
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. The role of the affiliates of the Federation to uphold this institution’s historic position to represent the Assyrians in America and to aide Assyrians in Iraq and elsewhere must be brought into renewed prominence. Mr. Aladin Khamis is ineffective as a leader and his supporters are a caustic destructive force whose dark motives must be stopped - legally and promptly. The law-abiding affiliates of the AANF who practice tolerance and partake in openness are urged to act quickly in the next few weeks and put in motion the legal measures necessary to clean house in Chicago and transfer power to a team of intellectuals in our midst who can successfully represent Assyrians in the United States and before this country's policy makers.
Last Sunday's Unfair and Unjust Election Process
Up until Sunday September 3rd, I was a presidential candidate to the Assyrian American National Federation, Inc. On the day of elections, I withdrew my nomination. The following are the reasons for my decision.
Permit me to return to earlier times to provide important details to my story. I have been attending the Federation meetings and conventions since 1973 when I was 13 years old. I attended first with my parents and then with my husband, Atour. During that period, I was unable to attend only one convention because on August 25, 1986 I was giving birth to my first born son, Ninous. My four children have known from the time they could speak that Labor Day weekend is the convention weekend. Now as young adults and teens, they look forward to meeting their friends that they have been estranged from for a year’s time.
My husband, Atour, served a two term Presidency for the Federation from 2000 to 2004. I was the person who worked closest with him during that time and knew what others did not. Without hesitation, I can honestly say that it’s a lonely place at the top, and he often felt that from those around him. For the first two years of his presidency, he was cleaning the fiscal and structural mess left by previous administrations. During his terms, he vowed to elevate the Assyrian Star to a worthy magazine returning it to the east coast with Andrew Bet Shlimon as Editor-in-Chief. He reduced the Federation budget by 40% to increase cash flow into the accounts. He vowed to begin the registration process at the annual conventions so that there would be no more cash flow in hands but more accountability with registered guests. Every year this was improved until we have in place today a system that is basically foolproof. He established a merchant’s account where the monies go directly into the bank account of the Federation. The youth initiative program under the leadership of Zeena Tawfik and the senior citizen movement under the leadership of Sarah Benjamin were initiated just to name a few. The monies sent to our people back home were project based programs such as the generators for the Nahla Region and the school transportation buses for the north of Iraq.
Being right next to him, I saw first hand the work involved. Mr. Aladin Khamis, the current president of the Federation, served as Vice President for the four years and in the second term, ran against Atour and lost. When a Vice President challenges the President of the same organization, it immediately sends a negative message to the members. In this case, severing their relationship. It was evident who the driving political party at that election was. The campaign was hard and heavy by that group, and I must say that in both elections Atour never approached one individual to ask for a vote. He had no need as he had proved his worthiness by concentrating on Federation business only. At that election, even though Mr. Khamis lost, Atour asked Youel Isho to withdraw his nomination for Vice President so that Aladin would remain seated. But the next two years proved harsh as the support system from Mr. Khamis as VP to the president broke down.
In the San Jose/Santa Clara Convention elections of the Federation two years ago when Mark Thomas ran against Aladin Khamis, Mark wanted to view the membership list of the affiliates. He challenged the members of certain organizations from Chicago that were seated since they had never been in any meetings of the Federation except to vote on that given day. The credential chairman was Youel Isho who never swayed from the constitutional rulings of the Federation. He was straight and narrow. Mr. Isho provided Mr. Khamis and Mr. Thomas a full set of the credentials so that as candidates they could view the voters who would participate in the elections. The question of the affiliate registration within their state of origin was not even a question at that time. As a matter of fact had it been brought up, most of the Chicago affiliates including Aladin Khamis’ Assyrian National Foundation would have been unseated because his affiliate was dissolved in 1996. Most of those organizations were only reinstated this year on August 23, 2006 after the deadline wherein both dues and credentials had to have been submitted. On the day that he won, I personally sat with him and told him that he could be a good President, depending on the people that he surrounds himself with. There are many qualified individuals who work in the Federation with no personal agendas, and he needed to identify them and use them, but he did not. He won the election, and he kicked every qualified person to the curb. My Detroit organization, which is one of the most honest, productive and hard working affiliates within the Federation, became a thorn in his side as he put it. He replaced Youel Isho with William Youmaran as credential chairman. When asked why by Youel Isho, he stated “I replaced you for a vote”.
Now, let it be known that in 2005, Mr. Youmaran, who never did anything for the Midwest affiliates, was appointed by Mr. Khamis as the Midwest Regional Director. He never attended the NEC meetings nor did he ever submit a report. The other chairmen that he appointed were in fact persons who had no direct affiliation with the Federation. Usually, the chairman and positions that are appointed by the president are based on individual qualifications and continuous membership in good standing of the affiliates. This angered many of the affiliates and caused tension within the Federation.
I never had a thought about running for presidency of the Federation because after spending four years standing alongside my husband it was time to take a step back. Then one weekend spent in Chicago visiting relatives, we happened to be listening to a radio broadcast that was spewing out venom, hatred and destruction to church leaders of our Assyrian community. These two individuals, both representing the AANF and slandering the oldest church in the Assyrian nation, were none other than William Youmaran and Adad Ashurseen. I thought that they were quite dramatic as they spoke in dialogue as if it were all ad libbed.
I had heard several rumors about what was happening in the churches, but I only thought it sad and prayed for them everyday. Shortly afterward, in a Detroit NEC meeting in which I could not attend, there was a motion passed to make a donation to two individuals of $25,000 for a satellite program. These were the same individuals, William Youmaran and Adad Ashurseen, that I had heard weeks before. How did we end up involved in the churches? When did we start taking sides with priests and bishops? That is the weekend I fully committed myself to run in this campaign and make a change in our Federation. I felt that it was time for a new direction for the Federation. Time to steer clear of religion and issues that were non-added value to the cause of the Federation goals.
Thus, I began my campaign. I spoke with and met with several individuals in the community. I wanted to run as a slate with others who were qualified to do the job and who had the same vision as myself. This would be the first time ever a slate would be created to run together in the Federation elections. After conversing with and watching them in action, my slate was ready--Firas Jatou as Vice President; Sheren Jasim as Executive Secretary; Youel Isho as Assistant to the President; and Nancy Osipo-Peera as Treasurer. I chose them based on their education, accomplishments on behalf of our people, and qualifications to do the job.
They all agreed to run this campaign with me. In Chicago at the NEC meeting on July 29, 2006, I asked the AANF president if I could have a copy of the credentials. Mr. Khamis jumped out of his chair and informed me that “I would never see the credentials!” I advised him that as a candidate in the elections, I should be able to view them and have a copied set of the originals, but he said no. Now, since the AANF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, all the books are open to any member in good standing within the Federation. But now we were becoming selective because it is an election year. I let it go at that time. The credentials had to be postmarked to William Youmaran by midnight on the 15th of August so we still had some time. The membership list and dues were all to be submitted by the 31st of July to the treasurer. Which brings me to the dues?
While we were in the NEC meeting in Chicago that day, many of the affiliates that have not been around for 2 years were suddenly brought in and their dues paid for them. Now how can Mr. Youmaran say to two young ladies of such an organization that “they don’t need to worry, we will take care of your dues and register your affiliate.” Also when the Las Vegas affiliate did not send enough money for their dues, William Youmaran paid the difference out of his pocket and handed the envelope to the treasurer. And what about the money orders for the affiliates dues that were all in consecutive numerical order from the same place? Was the $25,000 donation suddenly seeping its way back into the Federation to pay for member dues to swing the election?
The dues for the Assyrian Business Association (ABA) of Chicago were paid for by an individual of that organization, but the check bounced, so they were not to be seated at the convention. William Youmaran is also listed on the membership list of ABA, but when I asked him in Chicago, he stated that he is now a member of the Assyrian National Foundation. His name was on the membership list of the Assyrian Business Association of Chicago.
When I went into the registration room to register as a delegate to the Federation at the Chicago convention, the credential listing was not prepared. The names were entered into the computer manually as they were given to Mr. Youmaran on site. As credential chairman, he should have done his job well in advance by entering all the names that were submitted by the 15th of August from each organization. This is so that when any officer, delegate or director received their badge upon arrival to the convention it would state what their position was as listed on the credential form. But because changes were made on site in the credential room and the original certificates were disregarded, the legal election process was tampered with.
This brings me to the commencement of the Federation meetings. Upon commencement of the meetings, the President stated that these meetings and this convention would be governed by the constitution and by laws of the AANF, and we would only follow the rules. Rules were blatantly ignored and motions that were made and seconded were ignored because it did not benefit them.
On Friday, when William Youmaran was giving his report, he stated that certain organizations would not be seated because they were not registered within their state. Since when has this happened? The AAA ladies have been members of the Federation since 1935. Were they going to kick this reputable organization out of the Federation because they were supporting the opponent? Absolutely. And that is what they did. The organizations that supported Mr. Khamis were updated and given directives on what to do regarding registration. But those organizations that were not in support of him were never told of the new credential procedures of having to personally see Mr. Youmaran who would conveniently disappear from the registration room upon their arrival. As a matter of fact they were ignored by the credential chairman throughout the registration process. I clearly stood up and spoke on behalf of the oldest ladies organization in the Federation and how hard they worked. I questioned the integrity of all of our members and the process by which they operated and made decisions. (I left the room that day followed by many of the organizations that had been unseated and insulted by the administration. I could not help but remember long ago, in a Connecticut convention Presidential Banquet when my father Aprim Rayis, who was then AUA Secretary General, came to the podium to speak, the entire organization of the Assyrian National Foundation including the current President Mr. Khamis arose from their seats and marched out of the banquet hall.)
The next morning I informed the President of the AANF that I needed to view the credentials, and he said that I would be able to see them by the end of that day. The meeting had basically ended that day so I made a point of order stating that I would be leaving the hotel that night to visit my brother and needed to have them before I left. He told me in front of William Youmaran and the entire delegation that I would have them by 9:00 PM.
At 9:00 PM I took Mr. Pierre Toulakhany downstairs with me since he was the parliamentarian, and we waited for almost 20 minutes until someone did get a hold of William Youmaran. When William finally showed up, he was empty handed. I asked him for the credentials. He informed me that “They are not ready”. I told him that I only needed 15 minutes of his time to view the original certificates and make a copy of those originals. He kept saying they were not ready, and he did not have time for this. Now, why weren’t the credentials ready and what did he need to do to them to make them ready? They were original credentials sent to him from each affiliate. No need to do anything but show them to me. I told him that the President told him that he was to give them to me at 9:00 PM. He then stated “he does not have to listen to the President”. Mr. Youmaran walked away totally disregarding the rulings. I then turned to Mr. Toulakhany and advised him that this is grounds for legal action and his President and all those with him will be held accountable. As I was going up the escalator, I saw Mr. Toulakhany conversing with William Youmaran. Suddenly William Youmaran came running to me and said to meet him here in one hour, and he will have them ready.
At 10:15 PM I along with Firas Jatou, Sheren Jasim, James Rayis and others were waiting downstairs for Mr. Youmaran. There were several other bystanders as well who witnessed what would happen next. Mr. Youamaran arrived at 10:42 with a manila folder and said to me “This is what the President told me to give you. Hurry up and look because I have work to do”. Now as I glanced at the folder that he was still holding, there were black and white copies of the credentials all written in the same handwriting. I told him this is not what I was to view, that I was to view originals and make copies of such. He insisted that the President told him to give these copies to me. I asked to see the President, and he said that the president left the building for the night. Then I heard a comment from someone who was not participating in the meetings but was observing the events say “this is bull****”. Just then William Youmaran grabbed the folder out of my hands and screamed “you will never see these documents”. Firas Jatou confronted him and stated ‘William we are not kids, let us see the originals”. William Youmaran stood up to him and shouted “Make me. Come on make me show them to you.” as if he wanted to fight. This is what happened on Saturday evening September 2nd, 2006.
Sunday morning was the day of the elections, and I was still not able to view the membership lists or vote. That morning when Mr. Youmaran gave his credential report, his numbers had changed by 11 votes from the previous day after registration was closed. When he was challenged, his answer was that everyone makes mistakes; we are only human! He then went on to state that certain people had not registered with him; therefore, they were not qualified to vote. Many questions were asked and we attempted to challenge this, but we were ignored over and over. It took a young 30-years-old man by the name of Michael Younan from the Academic Society to stand up and state that his badge did say delegate, but he was never told to see William personally. Since his badge already stated that he was a delegate, wouldn’t that mean he was already registered? This is a young man who served for 6 years in the United States Air Force and in the future will run for a political office in the state of Illinois. What a shame that we actually kicked him out of our meetings.
Mr. Jatou then asked to see the credentials since they were not given to us before then. Mr. Khamis stated that we would be able to see them during the lunch recess. So when lunch recess came, we searched for Mr. Youmaran, but he was nowhere to be found. Finally, 10 minutes prior to the meeting reconvening, he showed up with the credentials in a folder. He said they were all originals. So I obtained a copy of the member list from the Treasurer Ms. Sana Isho and as soon as he saw the affiliate membership list, he pulled his credentials away one last time. I then stated to the board of advisors present Mr. Wilson Baba and Mr. Adad Ashurseen, and the parliamentarian Mr. Pierre Toulakhany that I needed the member list to make sure that every person listed on the credentials was also listed on the member list with the corresponding affiliate in accordance with the constitution and by laws. Mr. Toulakhany acted confused and did not know the procedure of how that worked. Mr. Youmaran once again refrained from allowing us to view the proper documents of registered voters and walked away from us.
I have to add here that throughout this entire time both Firas and I were told lies after lies about each other so that each would turn on the other, but we did not. After the election, I was told that because of Firas I would not have won, and Firas was told that because of me he would not have won. Fabricated stories and lies were spread about the two of us.
I withdrew my name, not because my affiliate or others were not allowed to vote, but because my slate and I could not and would not partake in an election process that was unjust, unfair and illegal. Voters were brought in that have never been part of the Federation to suddenly become affiliate members for the day of voting. The credentials were fraudulently created because this administration was afraid they were going to lose, so they had to cheat in order to win. It was the only way they could. My slate and I ran our campaign based on professionalism, respect and graciousness to all our members and opponents, but the obstacles and insults that we were faced with proved that our people are not ready for change or progress in the Federation and it's members and I am sorry for all those who do.
It is sad and my heart aches. Not because of the election outcome but because we have thrown aside everything that our fathers, grandfathers and martyrs have worked so hard for. We have created personal agendas that supersede all nationalism.
But I promise that our commitment not to waiver from guidelines that govern our organizations and our nationalism will never falter. We will stand firm for who we are and what we believe in. We are not quitters; we are fighters. We are Assyrian soldiers who fight at the front of the lines for what we believe in so that our children and our children's children will have a place in this world not only as an American but also as an ASSYRIAN.
My Surrealistic Weekend in Chicago
It’s close to 1 p.m. Chicago time on Tuesday, September 5th. I’m at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, having regained my strength and fighting spirit. In the taxi on my way here I realized that the situation our nation finds itself in cannot be diagnosed as nothing but Post Traumatic Syndrome. We suffer from the genocides and oppression we have endured and the leaders of our organizations occupy themselves with intrigues and internal battles, instead of doing something constructive. I hear someone from outside say the word “dispersing” while I’m paying the driver. The word reminds me of yet another reason for our internal battles.
I sat squatted down in my hotel room on Sunday, shivering. I don’t know if it really happened or if it was a dream. I do know that tears ran down my cheeks.
My heart bled for a people that suffers in the quiet. I cried. Everything felt abstract. And I had lost foothold.
All over the world Assyrians dream of visiting Chicago, the city supposed to be the capitol for our people in the west. There are more than one hundred thousand Assyrians here, including some of our organizations' headquarters.
I arrived on Thursday, with only five days to meet as many people as possible. those who have written to me, to stand by and be the example they consider me to be.
I wrote down names, booked times and locations. In addition to meeting the persons I had promised to meet I had to find time to go to a museum, view a monument that was erected for the Assyrian martyrs and see Chicago's city center.
I did not get to see any museum or see Chicago. Instead I was stuck in a hotel where most of the arrangements were unorganized and everything took twice as much time to carry out.
I wrote the following on Saturday night:
It’s at the turn of the month August-September and the 73 annual meeting of the Assyrian American National Federation, the AANF. Thousands of Assyrians have gathered from all around the world to spend time with each other, play sport games, party and have fun.
Some have come here to save what is left of the remnants of the ethnic group that calls itself Assyrian, Syriac or Chaldean. All churches are represented. It’s supposed to be one convention, but is actually four conventions in one. Totally segregated from each other although being in the same place, hotel Renaissance in Schaumburg, Illinois.
"The youth aren’t interested in lectures or films. They are here to compete in sports and party," a lady replies when I ask her why the semi-finals in soccer are allowed to coincide with the most important debates. As few as twenty people showed up for the lecture on our continued existence in the Nineveh Plains in Iraq.
At the same time in Iraq, the strongest Assyrians are on their way to give up and flee.
In Turkey, Assyrians returning from Europe trying to take back occupied lands are threatened to death.
In Syria, the new Kurdish nationalism and Islamism are making their presence known through veiled threats.
In Lebanon, the churches are full with Assyrian families who are in need of immediate help.
All over the world you can find Assyrian refugees that have given everything they own to human smugglers so they can leave Iraq and come to their brothers and sisters in the west. Many of them want to come to the U.S. because they have heard that there are Assyrians, in Chicago for example, who are fighting for their rights.
This reality seems to be non-existent for most of the participants on the annual meeting. They are preoccupied with the battle over their seats.
A group which belongs to the elder generation refuses to lose the elections and to leave their seats for a young and dynamic group, ready to take over and develop new methods for approaching the White House and make the American government act for the protection of the Assyrians in Iraq.
The elders are fully convinced that they too serve the interest of the people. They believe
We who watch politicians, no matter where, know that the struggle for power is never honest. At least not entirely honest.
Everything felt abstract to me. Hours after hours of muddle. There was cheating, showing off and screaming at the same time as they tried to make it look like they were following the regulations of their organizations and the western world's model of a congress.
I called to a friend in Iraq during one of the days of the annual meeting; it was during a break. I wanted to know whether he, who a year ago was encouraging all Assyrians in Iraq not to leave the country, also plans to flee like his brother:
I go back in after the phone call and continue to watch the annual meeting. Things get even more abstract as I listen to “the war” between the two groups at the same time as I have the voice of my Iraqi colleague still in my head. It is a pseudo-world. My ears listen to the political game and the power struggle, while I see pictures from the homeland in my head. From Beth-Nahrin. I feel sick.
No one is following the timetable. If the schedule says 10 a’clock it could mean they start off one in the afternoon. I tried hard to keep my own schedule with the interviews I would give and make, speeches I would hold, but I failed. Many of those who came to listen to my speech became tired of new information as to when I was to hold my speech. They gave up and never got to listen to the one they had emailed me for in the past several months, messages which brought me to Chicago.
I was to hold my lecture today. At 11.00 it said in the program. The time was later changed to 2 p.m. as a new program was written. At 2 the organizers forgot the time and started instead showing another documentary even though many had gathered to listen to me.
Ten people or so, including myself, left the premises. When I was asked to start my lecture a long time after 3 pm I refused. Someone had to stop the intellectual humiliation that has permeated the Assyrian American National Conventions.
Back to the airport where my plane to Sweden is to take off in an hour.
Behind me sits an Assyrian family. Father, mother and two teenage kids. Their son, about 18-years-old, is upset:
The mother tried to argue and show her children how important it is that they don’t forget their language and culture.
The mother whispers in the fathers ear:
The father speaks to his children again and manages finally to make them promise to come next year as well, on the condition that he will write a letter to the organizers and complain about how unorganized it was this year.
The family leaves the café and I turn on my computer so I can continue to write. But first I go through all the emails I had received and answered the weeks prior to the convention. The emails are from young Assyrians who want to make films, become journalists and ambassadors for their people.
Now, as I read the emails, I feel happy for not letting them down and that I finally agreed to hold my lecture and show the film on Sunday evening. It was the only lecture that was packed, although most did not know of it taking place. To say that the youth are not interested is to mock them.
I want to thank all those who came.
I also want to thank the jury who ordained a new prize. The winner was announced with something like this: “This year's honor, the first of its kind, goes to Nuri Kino for all that he has done for our people in the homeland as well as in the west”. I don’t know; I wasn’t there. The organizers forgot to invite us to the banquet dinner; all five of us who had come from five countries to hold speeches.
Juliana, an Assyrian restaurant and nightclub, saved the evening. Some of the Chicago Assyrians took us out to dine and dance - a group which included the young folks who had earlier lost the battle for the AANF executive seats.
All the workers in Juliana are Assyrians. The food is Middle Eastern, the music is Assyrian and almost all guests were Assyrians. It was an awkward and at the same time wonderful feeling, even for a person from the real Assyrian capital in the west – Södertälje.
But now it’s time to stop crying. Despite everything, these gatherings are very important. We are all pieces of a jigsaw puzzle of an incredibly dynamic people with great potential. We are like the matroshkas, the Russian dolls that always stand up, no matter how you drop them.
All Assyrians - no matter what they call themselves, which church they belong to or which organization they support - must look into the mirror and ask: “In what way is this Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome part of my personality?
What can I do to cure it?"
The day our brains are totally consumed by our internal fights is the day we lose the battle. We aren’t there yet, but will be soon.
Stop! When we reach that point there will be no room for constructive thinking and it will be the end for our people.
We are far from there yet.
I would not only be making a professional malpractice, but even commit a crime if I, in my role as a journalist, don’t tell the truth about my people's situation.
I have had the privilege to meet fantastic driving forces all over the world. Assyrians who wants to make changes. Assyrians who make changes.
No one mentioned. No one forgotten.
We must now gather and save what can be saved. We must have a province in Iraq. We must help our refugees. We must save our lost souls in the diaspora. Put your old personal schisms to the side so that you can look at yourselv3w in the mirror in the future and say: “I tried at least”, or even better “We succeeded!”.
Nuri Kino, one of the most awarded journalists in Europe, recently received the Blatte de Luxe as the premier role model among all journalists in Sweden for the last decade. Kino's new investigation into the insurance companies corruption in the highest levels of government in in Sweden will be aired on Sweden's Public Television in a few days. Kino has also recently published an article in Neo, a well-read political monthly magazine about how Swedish political parties have deceived the Assyrians in the past.
Interpreter Dies in Iraq bombing
Courtesy of the Oakland Press
(ZNDA: Detroit) A 23-year-old Southfield man (Michigan) who served as an interpreter with U.S. military forces in Iraq was killed in a suicide car bombing at a checkpoint near Ramadi, his family said Tuesday.
Saher, who was buried last Wednesday at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield after a 11 a.m. Mass at Sts. Peter and Paul Syriac Orthodox Church in Southfield, served a stint in Iraq as an interpreter in 2004, she noted.
"He wanted to do something and decided to be an interpreter," said Delly, who added Saher spoke Arabic fluently and had left Iraq 11 years ago to come to the United States with his family.
"He was at a checkpoint in Ramadi and a suicide car bomber drove through" and the vehicle exploded, killing him and two Marines who were with him, she said.
"He (Saher) always liked to bring joy and happiness to people ... always liked to make people laugh," Delly said.
Georges, who graduated from Southfield-Lathrup High School, was survived by his father, Salman Georges; his mother, Khalida Georges; sister-in-law, Dena, who is married to his brother Salman Jr.; and a nephew, Salwan Georges, 16.
The family was notified of Saher's death Aug. 30 when two women came from the L-3 Communications Titan to the family home to deliver the news.
"There's not enough words I can tell you about him," Delly said. "He brought joy to everyone. He loved to make people smile. We got an e-mail from a guy in his unit. He said they never considered him as an interpreter ... he was always considered a Marine."
A rosary was held Tuesday at the Southfield Funeral Home for Saher, who was Chaldean, or a Catholic from Iraq.
"The priest and bishop have visited the family every day," Delly said. "The support from family and friends has been unreal in helping the family get through this tragic time."
As of Tuesday, at least 2,656 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians. At least 2,113 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.
Assyrians Represented in “Forced Migration” Exhibit
By Tuma Abraham, MD; reporting from Germany
The long awaited opening of the exhibition “Forced Migration – Flight and Expulsion in 20th Century Europe” took place on 10 August in Berlin.
The exhibition documents expulsion and forcible relocation of different people in Europe during the 20th century and explores the differences and similarities in causes and consequences in a number of cases.
The exhibition begins in chronological order, starting with the Genocide of the Christians in the former Ottoman Empire, then documenting the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey according to the Lausanne Treaty. It then continues with the expulsion of the Jews from Germany as a substructure for the Holocaust. The exhibition continues with the deportation of Polish, Baltic and Ukrainians and the expulsion of Germans at the end of World War II. It further documents the Cyprus conflict and the break-up of former Yugoslavia.
The exhibition was organized by the Chairwoman of the Center Against Expulsion, Ms. Erika Steinbach, MP, an invited speaker of this year’s commemoration of the anniversary of the Genocide of the Christians in Turkey on 20 May 2006 in Munich1 (click here). During her speech in Munich she promised her support to Ms. Janet Abraham, vice-chairwoman of the Society for Threatened People for the Recognition of the Genocide and facilitated the presence of the Assyrians in the current exhibition. This is the first time Assyrians and their fate are mentioned in such a context in Europe.
The exhibition features about 300 exhibits from around Europe. The Assyrian community is represented by two pieces. The first is a hand-written book in classic Syriac language with poems and religious texts, dating from about 1782. The book was one of the only few belongings an ancestor of the BethAbraham family could take with him while fleeing from Midyat to Ain-Wardo in Spring of 1915. The second piece is a wedding gown of an Assyrian woman who was married during a cease fire in autumn 1915.
The exhibition was the subject of an intense and controversial debate in the European media. Poland and Czech organizations expressed apprehensions against it since the expulsion of the Germans at the end of World War II still remains an issue between these countries and Germany. The organizers of the exhibition found themselves obliged to avoid any belittlement of the war crimes committed by the German Nazis and had to find a balance in the depiction of the individual nations.
Therefore the opening of the exhibition was highly attended by media observers. Among the invited guests at the opening ceremony were high ranking political representatives and public figures. Ms. Steinbach, who addressed the opening ceremony, explained the purpose of the exhibition and emphasized that all cases of expulsion are equal and there is no singularity of occurrences.
The President of the German Parliament, Dr. Norbert Lammert, stated that all people who suffered persecution and expulsion are entitled to receive support. He further pointed out that the current government regards the political debate of forced migration as an obligatory assignment.
The exhibition is viewed as precursor for a Center Against Expulsion, which will consist of a Memorial and a permanent exhibition to document the fate of all affected people in Europe in the 20th Century.
The exhibition is located in the Kronprinzenpalais, Unter den Linden 3, 10117 Berlin and will be running until October 29, 2006. It is opened daily from 10.00 a.m to 7.00 p.m.
The Sad Affairs of AANF Elections
On Sunday, September 3rd 2006 I witnessed the most undemocratic and illegal elections not only in the history of AANF, but probably in the whole world. These elections were controlled by a few uneducated and unqualified people, who did everything against the rules, or should I say selectively implied the rules against some affiliates. When I say undemocratic and illegal, I mean it was pathetic; I have never witnessed such drama, not even in old Iraq.
What is even sadder is the end results that are tragic for our nation as most of the new AANF leadership were put there based on irregularities of the election.
Last year, the credential chairman was changed from a qualified person Mr. Youel Isho to Mr. William Youmaran. When we asked Mr. Khamis about the reason behind his decision, his answer was simply for the vote of that new credential chairperson. But looking back and thinking about it now at this point, we can easily understand that there was more reasons behind it, and that was to illegally control the voting process. This was clear for every one that participated in the Sunday meeting, when the credential chairperson gave his final report and it did not match his own report a day before, and when we asked for a clarification, none was given, in fact the credential chairperson stated “I am a human being, I made a mistake”. But my question would be why are mistakes always made against one side only?
The credential person accepted certain organization that did not comply with the rules, they were not in good standing with their state registration and up until this writing their organization is in an either revoked or dissolved status, but other organization like the AAA(ladies) were not allowed to participate because they did not support the current administration.
The ladies organization has always been accepted before and has actively participated in every AANF convention before this one.
Fraud in this election started along time before the convention, when the dues of some affiliates were paid for by money orders all made at the same time from the same 7-11 store in Chicago, in other words somebody paid for these affiliates to qualify them to participate and guarantee their votes and that process is called buying votes. It is a shame to know that we have such affiliates with us in the AANF.
What was really more painful, was giving the Assyrian Star Editor position to Mr. Sam Darmo because they opposed an article in the last issue which did not support their current belief system. Mr. Shlimon’s efforts in the past 6 years have been tremendous and have really made The Assyrian Star a magazine that we are all proud of. I said painful because I see my people voting for something that they know is not wise, and not one of them could stand up and say “we will not vote until we are all sure that this has been a fair and just election process.
There is much more to say, but I am not a writer, I am just trying to tell every one some details that they don’t know. Now my question would be what are we going to do? We have witnessed the slow decline of the AANF so are we going to sit still or should we do something to serve our nation and get the AANF back to the cultural and educational path that it was founded on?
Chicago Welcomes Dr. Khosroeva
Michael B. Younan
On Tuesday September 5, 2006 I had the privilege of representing the Assyrian Academic Society at the Welcoming Reception of Dr. Anahit Khosroeva. Members of the Assyrian, Armenian, and Jewish community were present at the reception along with some NPU staff. Dr. Khosroeva was welcomed as a Scholar in Residence at The Center for Middle Eastern Studies at North Park University Chicago, Illinois. The significance of Dr. Khosroeva's teaching Genocide at NPU, in my perception, is much more that one can fathom. It has been almost a century since the Genocidal acts were committed by the Turkish Government against the Assyrians. Yet the International Community has yet to recognize that they occurred. By allowing Dr. Khosroeva educate students on 20th Century Genocide at NPU, it will inevitably lead to the recognition of the Genocide. There is no doubt in my mind that this can be accomplished. We at the Assyrian Academic Society strive to make this happen at local level in the community, at the State level in Illinois, and at the National Level in the United States.
We are making some progress on recognition, in 2001, Governor George Pataki of New York, proclaimed that "killings of civilians and food and water deprivation during forced marches across harsh, arid terrain proved successful for the perpetrators of genocide, who harbored a prejudice against . . . Assyrian Christians."
Dr. Khosroeva's course is titled "Genocides of the 20th century". During the 16 week course she will be teaching about all of the genocides that occurred during the 20th Century. In particular she will teach Genocide of the Assyrian and Armenian people in Ottoman Turkey.
Tammuz Festival 6756
His Honorable Yonatan Bet-Kolia
Respectfully I attach two short reports about the Tammuz Festival 6756 organized by the Assyrian of Iran in the city of Urmia and the August 7th seminar (to commemorate the Assyrian Martyrs) to inform the readers of your informative web site. I am also enclosing several pictures which I hope you will be able to use...
Tammuz Festival 6754
Every year the cultural and athletic festival of Tammuz is held in Urmia, Iran. In the last 6 years this festival has been organized as an olympic sports event, and this year's gathering was even more outstanding that the previous years.
Among the guests of honor in this year's Festival were Mr. Ali Abaadi, Vice President of Iran and head of the Athletic Education in Iran; Mr. Taqvi, head of the Minorities Affairs section of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Irshad; members of the Islamic Majlis (parliament); Governor of Western Azerbaijan province, head of the Urmia City Council, and the heads of the local organizations from Western Azerbaijan province. This year's events were held on Sunday, July 30, 2006 at Urmia's 6000-person Stadium.
At this year's Tammuz Festival more than 450 energetic Assyrian athletes, both men and women, from Iraq, Syria, Armenia, Georgia, and many Iranian cities, including Tehran, Karaj, Tabriz, Ahvaz, Urmia, participated in Football (soccer), volleyball, basketball, table tennis, tennis, and chess competitions.
The Assyrian society of Urmia and the surrounding region, under the direction of Mr. Levy Sayad Sangar as the host of this year’s festival, patiently handled many difficulties. They took all measures to make this year’s festival a complete success.
Mr. Yonatan Bet-Kolia took an active role in the festival and as the advisor to the Organizing Committee of Tammuz Festival worked diligently alongside the organizers and sponsors.
The cooperation of the following groups should be mentioned and warmly acknowledged here: Athletic education Commission , the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Irshad, Foreign Office, Information Office, the State Department, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s mass media, Security Forces and the Provincial Athletic Education Commission of the Western Azerbaijan who contributed to the outstanding organization of this year’s festival.
Also the tireless participation of the members of the Executive Committee of the Assyrian Society of Urmia and the organizing committee of the Cultural and Athletic Festival of Tammuz which includes Mr. Edmond Maryounani, Alfred Bet-Yosif, Ms. Audrey Younan, Mr. Ruben Sayad Sangar, Mr. Atour Khmouyan, Anoeil Bet-Yavary, Orahim Maryounani, Mr. Atour Morad, Mr. Joseph Shimun, Mr. Robert Sargizadeh and Mrs. Juliette Yadgarian who devoted time from their livelihood and families for the success of this event.
August 7 Seminar
Assyrians have suffered much in the past as millions of martyrs were sacrificed for the sake of humanity. The world owes much to this civilized nation, a nation that gave civilization to human kind, a nation that took steps in the progress of humans and founded the first laws, today it must travel from one city to another and from one country to another country, leaderless, so it can satisfy its vision alas it finds nothing ahead but a mirage whereas it has lost its original mission. The Bet-Nahrain that was created in the hands of the Assyrians is slowly withering away and is easily falling to the hands of the foreigners. This is only because of lack of unity among the Assyrians. When there is no unity nothing awaits us but death.
August is a sorrowful month for the Assyrians because between August 4th and 16th 1933 the blood of thousands of Assyrian martyrs flowed like the rivers from 65 villages of the 90 villages around Semel, Iraq.
Thousands of men and women, children and youth, Assyrian elderly fell under the sword and their heaviest crime was their Assyrian Christian identity. The bellies of the pregnant women was torn open and piles were erected using their innocent corpses in the squares of the villages.
The 7th day of August was marked by the Assyrian Universal Alliance as the annual commemoration of the Assyrian martyrs. A one-day seminar is organized by the AUA office in Iran under the direction of Mr. Yonatan (Edwin) Bebla Khanshan at the Social Hall of Mehmansara of Urmia.
At this seminar the representatives from Iraq, Syria, Armenia, Georgia, Australia, and the Iranian cities of Tehran: Tabriz, Ahvaz and Urmia and many religious leaders from the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Assyrian Evangelical churches in Urmia took part.
This seminar focused on the issues of the difficulties faced by Assyrians and ended its program at 6:00 pm at the end of the seminar with the suggestion of Mr. Yonatam Bet-Kolia, Secretary of the AUA in Asia, it was decided that every year on August 7, Assyrians of Iran will hold such a seminar and will invite other Assyrians to participate. This motion was agreed upon by the majority vote.
Spread the Word of Love & Forgiveness
I came across a post on an Assyrian forum and found myself obliged to comment. But because the brother of that person is a close and sincere friend of mine and has done me a favor for which I am grateful for the rest of my life I will refrain from naming that person. Nevertheless opinions and views should not be influenced or persuaded by friendship or relationship, but with facts and no matter how much the truth hurts, it should and must be said and revealed so that others will benefit from its outcome.
I can understand where that person is coming from being a member of the church committee and with that I have no issue, but outside the sphere that he is in, there is a difference of opinion and view that should be respected. As Assyrians we are taught to be prudent and parsimonious, to make good of bad and forgive and to tolerate and spread LOVE, the word of God. Brothers, no matter how much Love we share, we can always draw on more. As with love, so is with Wisdom. There is no end to how clever you can be or how lovable you are. We are encouraged to live within our means and not to expect a limitless support of what ever we treasure. It can cause us to forget that some things are truly endless. There is nothing wrong with an argument; we can learn more when we disagree, then when we live in a state of acceptance, there is nothing wrong with a problem. We can profit more from rising to the challenge rather than take an easy route. The issue is not “what have you got going on” but “how are you handling it”. Do we accept our present situation with grave and good faith or resent and reject it?
You are not stupid if people hold this opinion of you, it is because they are stupid for not understanding you. Instead of recognizing them in our own psychological make-up, we see them reflected to us and their behavior just as to find out things about our friends and companions that support us. We can make discoveries about ourselves. We are moving into a new phase of our unknown future. Don’t base our expectations entirely on what the past has taught us but what future holds. The current antagonistic alignment will influence us all for years to come and that appropriate culminates for the first time and you will notice the effect. The world is full of things you cannot do, but there is one thing you can do, and is perfectly possible and that is to spread the word of LOVE and FORGIVENESS and understand that the person next to you is your Brother and Sister. Hate him and you are both destroyed. Love him and you are both saved.
I am an ordinary person with no wealth or fame, but with this advice, I hope our National and Religious leaders will spare the agony of my offspring.
Luna Yakubova's New Film: Gates of the East
Fragrant cedars symbolize Lebanon . ‘’Gates of the East’’ is a new historical documentary of Ikar Production released in Armenia , August, 2006.
Lebanon, this small Mediterranean country, encompasses a great number of archeological sites and presents an extraordinary cultural synthesis of the East and the West. ‘’Kaleb Nara’’- the rock of the visiting cards with a wide range of inscriptions dating from the times of Ramses to when the last French soldier left Lebanon . Some Assyrian stelae still display their vague cuneiform characters, but in the great struggle of time, these exceptional pieces of history are slowly surrendering to the wind and the salty climate of the region.
In the whirlwind of history, the powerful Lebanese mountains have constantly sheltered members of religious minorities and exiles who had come to preserve their traditions and establish Churches in impregnable highlands.
Fleeing persecution, a Syrian Monk Maron Anachorite, a great example of monastic deeds of the Christians from the East, sought refuge in Lebanon . St. Maron is believed to be the founder of the Maronite Church . Michael Rodionov, a doctor professor of the St. Petersburg Ethnography Institute, shares his researches on Maronite's and Eastern traditions of the Maronite Church .
Lebanon is home of different Christian communities. Assyrians, having survived the genocide of the XXth century in the Ottoman Empire, found their shelters in Lebanon . Communities began to form. A piece of Assyrians settled in Zahle. David Alexandros, a resident of the Ksara village shared his memories telling us the story of his clan and the thorny past of his nation, the way how his family fled from the Ottoman Empire .
The community of the Syriac Orthodox Church live in the Christian part of Beirut.George Saliba, metropolitan of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Lebanon tells us the story of his flock.
The Assyrian Community in Beirut lives in the Assyrian quarter of Baabda, a suburb of the Lebanese capital. The church of Mar-Gewargez with its school and the residence of the metropolitan Mar Narsay, is in the Assyrian quarter. This is what ‘’Gates of the East’ is about.
Will the Sun Rise Again?
WILL THE SUN RISE AGAIN?
Montaha Kochou reveals every tender side to the woman in our community, breaking the novel into three categories – Emotional, Psychological and Spiritual, and their responses within a community. The community, first being the family, in this story the author speaks of the ever transparent, complicated human nature, whose reflection of what is fed during childhood is concealed throughout adulthood. Simply put, Montaha is brave and daring. She prolifically addresses the multi-dimensional human character, while many of us choose selective exposure to information.
The author opens the door to modern psychology, something that remains unpopular in our closely-knit community, associated with shame, instead, oftentimes calling to spirituality for aid. And while spirituality remains universally popular, it deepens as you travel further into the Eastern cultures. This is why the character of Joseline is portrayed as confused; as she is unable to base her decision on her own rationale, caught between her lustful emotions and her spiritual beliefs. And when things for her turn the other way, she is quick to punish herself and calls to God to condemn her.
“Will The Sun Rise Again?” the sequel to her first novel “Burning Desire, ” released in 2003, mirrors Kochou’s own confidence and honesty about every woman’s emotions. Montaha dares to go to places most of us would put on the back burner. Guaranteed, every woman will find herself in the pages of this novel. This book will grip the reader, isolating intimate emotions (desires) that are only felt in our darkest hidden secrets.
An honest work that speaks from the heart of a woman whom herself is a wife and a mother. Montaha Kochou is profound in her message and stays true to her feelings. Thank you for saying it for all of us. Chebo!
For ordering information, please visit the author’s official website, www.montahakochou.com.
To view a review of Montaha Kochou's "Burning Desire" published in Zinda click here.
Chicago's Bahra Radio
You are invited to listen to Assyrian Bahra Christian Radio Station 1590 AM.
Wednesdays at 8:00 PM Chicago Time
Call us live at 1-847-475-1555
Listen on this web: www.1590wonx.com
E-mail address: Info@bahraonline.com
AANF's Woman of the Year
For Immediate Release
LOS ANGELES, CA – September 2006 – For her contributions and the totality of her work in the Assyrian Community, including the publication of her epic and historical novel The Crimson Field and her testimony before a Congressional Committee of the 109th Congress of the United States on religious freedom regarding the genocide, massacres and persecution of Assyrians in Iraq, on Sunday, September 3, 2006, at the 73rd Annual Assyrian American National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, Mr. Pierre Toulakany announced that the Board of Advisors of the Assyrian American National Federation, Inc. (AANF) has selected Ms. Rosie Malek-Yonan as Woman of the Year. Mr. Robert de Kaleta presented Ms. Malek-Yonan with the award.
MEDIA CONTACT: Monica Malek-Yonan 818-249-2242 Monica@thecimsonfield.com.
Interview with ADO's Bachir Sa'adi
An interview was conduced by the Syrian Democratic Forum with Mr. Bachir Isaac Sa'adi, chairman of the Political Bureau of the Assyrian Democratic Organization (ADO, takasta). The interview was translated from Arabic for Zinda Magazine:
What are ADO's political demands?
Since inception ADO has put forward its concept of the political system it strives to achieve . It is democratic, secular system based on the principles of justice, equality, human rights and citizenship. A system that constitutionally guarantees the rights of ethnic minorities within the framework of the unity of the state and society, under the umbrella of one Syrian national identity that contains and recognizes national, cultural, religious and political diversity. We also demand that the Assyrians (Syriacs) be recognized as indigenous people in Syria, consequently, to acknowledge the Syriac language and culture as a national culture and language. Further, our Organization believes that the peaceful democratic struggle is the only way for achieving political ends, rejecting all forms of violence, extremism, fanaticism and terrorism, as well as all kinds of justifications for such acts.
Is there any difference between Assyrians and Syriacs, and is there any other Syriac organization with political goals different from yours?
The designation of Syriac is rather a linguistic expression derived from the Assyrian name. Starting from the Fourth century B.C. all the territories of Fertile Crescent(al-Hilal al-khasib) under the rule of the Assyrian Empire were called "Syria ", this passed on to us from the Greek language, and because the Greek language has no (sh) sound, all Mesopotamia until the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, was called by Greeks as Assyria and its people Assyrian. And through the Aramaic language which was the language of the entire Assyrian empire this new name has become "Souroyo" or "Souraya", from which came the name of "Syrian" in Arabic. Consequently, the name "Suriani" or Syriac is derived from the Assyrian name. It refers to one people, and thus from the Fourth century B.C., all Assyrian, Syriac and Aramaic inhabitants of Syria and Mesopotamia (al-Rafidein) were called "Seryan" Syriac and their language "Seryani" which consists of many dialects. Regrettably, many, even now, are not aware of this reality .
In Syria there is no party bearing the Syriac name. It was the national elite of the Syriacs who established the first political organization and called it "Athoury" which exactly means "Assyrian" according to the Syriac pronunciation .
Do the Assyrians in Syria suffer from ethnic or religious repression on the hand of Moslems of Arab and Kurdish origin, we mean by the public not the state?
Assyrians do not suffer from direct ethnic and religious repression by their Moslem neighbors in Syria. Nevertheless, part of the grievances of the Assyrians in Syria is due to the fact that they are not being constitutionally acknowledged as a national minority and as indigenous people, and because of the existence of some constitutional and legal articles that openly discriminate between Muslims and Christians on the other. These articles hurts the feelings of the Christians and makes them feel that they are second rate citizens in a country where Christianity preceded Islam by seven centuries and until the 1950's Christians formed 30% of the population. For example, Article Two of the constitution bans the Christians from becoming president of the state, further, the Muslim has the right to marry a Christian whereas a Christian is prohibited to marry a Muslim girl .
Why do we always hear about disagreement and difference in opinion between the Assyrian and Kurdish demands regarding the historical priorities and political claims?
As a matter of fact there are differences in assessment and interpretation of al-Jazira region's history among most of the Kurdish parties on one hand, and ADO and the Assyrian's general opinion on the other. Some Kurds consider Al-Jazira region a Kurdish territory and a part of Kurdistan, based on the allegation that Mittans, Khaches and Medians, who were Arian people and ruled al-Jazira region in the ancient past, were the ancestors of the present Kurds, so come to conclusion that the Kurdish presence is as old as history in the area and they go to the extent that their presence is even older than that of the Assyrians, Aramaean, and Babylonians.
We view this differently. The Al-Jazira region throughout the history has been an essential part of Mabein Al-Nahrein (Mesopotamia) on whose territory the great empires of the Babylonians and Assyrians were founded. Moreover, all the excavated hills and the historical monuments and ruins (their number are in hundreds) come to confirm its Assyrian and Babylonian origin. Undoubtedly many other people have settled in this region during successive historic periods like Arabs, Kurds, Armenians and others; therefore the region belongs to these people, but more importantly it is a part of Syrian territories consequently, home for all the Syrians.
As for the national rights of the Assyrians and the Kurds in the al-Jazire region it has nothing to do with the historic claims. Needless to say that Kurds have the right to have cultural, political and administrative rights in the places where they live in Syria as much the other minorities have, and these rights must be acknowledged and guaranteed constitutionally and through democratic solutions and as we have said earlier under the umbrella of one unified national Syrian identity that would contain all religious and national diversities .There are some Kurdish parties who consider themselves a component of the Syrian society and raise their issues as a part of national problems in general . They believe that their national rights would be resolved as a part of general democratic solution in the country. But there are other parties that adopt nationalistic extremist slogans and allege that al-Jazira region is a Kurdish territory that has been annexed to the Syrian map since The Sykes-Picot Agreement (1920), they further put forward the idea of right of self determination on their historical land namely the Syrian al-Jazira region.
Do you think that the autonomy or federalism as some Kurds strive to achieve is the best solution to the problems of peaceful coexistence in the north of Syria? To what extend this contradicts and affects the presence of religious and ethnic minorities in the area?
The Syrian al-Jazira is a multi-ethnic region, where Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians (Syriacs) and Armenians live. They are mixed and interwoven in towns, villages and governorates. That is why there is no ideal region for autonomy in al-Jazira for the Kurds or others. Demands like this may cause endless problems with coexistence. No minorities can be given rights over the others or on account of the others, and the best solution to me is the constitutional acknowledgement of the political, cultural and administrative rights of the minorities, and thus Kurds or others when they constitute a majority in any area, have the right to become major partners in the administration of their areas. Of course through ballot boxes, I mean that, democracy would solve the problem of the administrative representation for any ethnic minority, and when this condition is fulfilled there will be certainly a sort of autonomy in this or that region as a direct outcome of ballot boxes. Nevertheless we have always confirmed the unity of the Syrian identity and its unifying factor that would assimilate all the ethnic multiplicities, as well as the unity of the Syrian society and homeland a permanent home for all its sons
Do you think that federalism is the ideal solution to the issues of the Kurds, Assyrians, Syriacs, Turkmen and other ethnic groups living together in Syria?
No, I don’t think so, and I have explained myself in your previous question.
How do you view the question of peace, coexistence and national unity in view of the successive changes in Syria?
I think this is a very important question and it concerns every patriotic Syrian. We are all worried about internal security and stability and very keen on the national unity, but this is a sentimental issue and cannot be solved through slogans. The country is going through a real crisis, as a matter of fact a lot of crisis, political, social, economic in addition to serious external threats. Now before everything is lost, we have to seriously reconsider our situation, the regime has to take a bold and serious step towards a real political reform through a reform program that all the national democratic political forces would take part in shaping, via a national congress that would lay the foundation for a better future in a democratic free Syria.
Is the waging war now in Lebanon or about Lebanon?
It is in Lebanon and about Lebanon at the same time.
Is Hasan Nasrallah going to achieve what Abdul Nasser failed to do and will drown the Jews in the Dead Sea?
I don’t think that he is going to gain a victory over Israel in the long run, on the contrary, his approach may provide Israel with pretexts to wage new wars pretending that she is being threatened by Hesbullah and those supporting her.
Didn’t Syria’s presence in Lebanon come to an end? Who is manipulating the pawns there? Is what is happening in Lebanon now confirms the return of Syrian –Iranian hegemony over the Lebanese policy making circles?
Although Syria pulled out of Lebanon, nevertheless its political influence on the overall political arena continued though indirectly through her allies, like HezbAllah, Lebanese al-Baath Party, Syrian National Party, Palestinian factions, organizations and political figures. It is an oversimplification to think that the pullout of the Syrian army would end its political influence in Lebanon, hence I think that the last war in Lebanon does not mean the return of the Syrian or Iranian influence there, but rather it points out to the continuation of their political presence which was only partly influenced by the pullout of the army.
Can we consider what is going on in Lebanon in the interest of the democratic transformations in both Syria and Lebanon?
It may be so if the events moved into the direction of a permanent solution to the pending problem between Lebanon and Israel, that is the return of occupied Lebanese territories –Shaba’a Farms and Kafer Shouba as well as a consensus amongst all Lebanese parties to implement UN Resolution 1559 and extend the Lebanese sovereignty over all Lebanese territories in addition to agreeing on a workable formulas for implementing the Taef Accord. I think if this happened it may provide a conducive atmosphere for the restoration of stability and security in Lebanon, and this would be in favor of the democratic transformations in Lebanon. But I don’t see any direct connection or influence between the transformations in Lebanon and that of Syria.
Syria and Iran….Who is exploiting the other? And what cards Syria currently possess?
There is an alliance between Syria and Iran based on mutual interests, and I don’t think that any party is exploiting the other one. As for the Syrian cards, its internal potentials as a state are its close relationship with the Palestinian jihadist factions, Hamas, Jihad, Hezballa and other Lebanese forces and parties, in addition to its excellent relation with Iran.
Do you think that Syria’s compliance with some international demands pertaining to the Lebanese file as well as acknowledging some reforms would be as a security valve, or the findings of Hariri's investigation commission would reverse everything?
Syria is being pressured by the U.S., France and probably Europe. These countries want Syria to improve her conduct, i.e. they want her to help implement Resolution 1559, delineate the border, to close the file of Shaba’a Farms and give up its alliance with Iran, in another words, to be a friend of U.S. and carry out some political reforms. If Syria fulfilled these conditions, I think, there would be no problem with America, relations between them would improve and this might pave the way to negotiations with Israel that could lead to the return of Golan Heights and making peace with Israel. After that, the investigation in Hariri's assassination would become an unimportant point on the American agenda. This file is only used to pressure Syria in order to improve its conduct according to the American terms .
The Syrian regime supports Hezballah one way or another knowing that it is an Islamic party, whereas it banned the Moslem Brothers party and imposed harshest punishments on its members. Why?
Simply because the Moslem Brotherhood is a Syrian party, they have committed acts of violence and posed a threat to the regime in the beginning of 1980s, hence it was equally repressed and has become regime's number one enemy. The case of Hezballah is completely different, it is a Lebanese Party, it is an ally and friend to the regime and has no special agenda regarding Syria, so there is big difference between them.
How do you view the present pressures on Syria? Will this lead to regime change or change of conduct? And what are the possibilities of introducing change from outside as in the case of Iran's Shah?
Pressures weigh on the regime to make it change its opposition to the American policy in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. I think all problems with the American administration will disappear once the regime changed its policy, even more, America may support the regime as it does with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan and recently Libya's Qaddafi. So the crux of the matter is not exporting democracy as a neutral product, but as a product conditional on American terms. I think the continuing of outside pressures would not change the regime as they have not changed any other regime in the world. Change would come when forces inside the country are prepared for it, the current situation cannot be paralleled to that of Iran, we have neither Syrian Khomeiny outside, nor the ground is prepared for a change inside.
The Syrian mass media particularly the TV has become a propaganda tool for Hezballa these days. How do you view this?
It’s a natural thing; Hezballah is a major ally to the regime. Besides, it has been subjected to an Israeli aggression, so this support is normal.
What do you say about not opening the Golan front and dodging demarcation of Shaba'a Farms while Israel is fighting in South Lebanon? Don’t you think that Golan front is nearer and more important?
The opening of Golan front would mean the outbreak of a regular war with Israel the outcome of which would not be in Syria's interest, because the balance of power is in Israeli's favor, this is the formal excuse of the Syrian policy. Avoiding demarcation with Lebanon means one thing, dodging the question of Shaba'a and Kafar Shouba Farms, because the settlement of this issue would strip Hezballah of their raison d'etre - armed resistance, whereas keeping it unsettled would provide Syria and Iran with tools to pressure Israel and America as well as maintaining political influence in Lebanon.
Some say that Hezballah is not a Syrian card and that both Syria and Lebanon are tools in the hand of Iran to exploit them in her nuclear crisis against America and the West. Others say that this is a Syrian–Iranian deal aiming at reassessing both regimes' calculations. What is your position on what is happening?
I Think Hezballah is originally an Iranian product and its long arm in Lebanon, and a strong ally of Syria at the same time. I don’t think that Syria is an Iranian tool, rather, there is mutual interest and alliance between them. Further, the use of Hezballah, alongside the other Lebanese political allies, by Syria and Iran in their conflict with Israel and America looks very realistic. The confusion and chaos may come up with political conditions favorable to Syria and Iran; thus staving off dangers and pressures on them.
Some Israeli analysts say that the war served the interests of Iran's nuclear file and that Hezballah is Iranians military arm, used as a pressure tool to deter America and Israel from striking its nuclear installations, what is your comment?
I think the war was in Israel's favor in spite of the great loses it suffered, because Resolution 1701 fulfills what Israel wants ; distancing Hezballah from the south, far away from its positions, military bases and territories, then later on imposing its disarming in the hands of the Lebanese government through implementing Resolution 1559, creating an atmosphere conducive to civil war. Therefore the war was not in the interests of Hezballah nor the Iranians, what is more, I think this has created an international atmosphere sympathetic to Israel and showed her as a victim country defending itself against the Iranian-made rocket attacks of Hezballa on its towns and villages. Besides, the abduction of two of its soldiers gave her the excuse to declare that she is defending her population against what it calls " Arab and Islamist terrorism " who want to destroy Israel .
Some analysts and observers have agreed that the Iranian and Syrian regimes and their instrument Hezballah have given Israel and the international community the excuse to disarm Hezballa and marginalize its role and transform it into a political organization as they did with Muktada al-Sadder in Iraq. What do you say about this?
I don’t think that Syria and Iran's interests lie in disarming Hezballah in Lebanon, but the outcome of the last war made the issue of disarmament as settled according to Resolution 1701.
In your opinion what is required from Syria as a regime and opposition to avoid great losses and disasters?
I think it is possible to achieve safe and democratic changes provided the regime is convinced that there is no way to stop the oncoming changes or to resist them. Amidst this situation, I think, the best and the safest means is that the regime initiates a program for reform defined by constitutional amendments. First and foremost revoking Article 8 of the constitution, secondly, drafting a new law for political parties as well as an election law both acknowledging ethnic and political diversity and exchange of power. Thirdly, calling for the convening of a national conference with the participation of all national forces without exception to agree upon a workable reform program which will consist of: 1) calling for a new parliamentary and presidential elections that would secure the right of participation and competition for all, 2) releasing from prisons all political detainees and prisoners of conscious and closing the file of political detention forever, 3) freezing the emergency law as a first necessary step.
I think the Syrian opposition should welcome these initiative and cooperate positively with it. This, to my opinion, would be the best and safest way of transformation to the status of democracy without losses.
All opposition groups have agreed upon safe and peaceful democratic transformation, what is currently detaining their unifying efforts and why all the attempts to converge their different views in a general national convention has failed so far?
Most Syrian political forces have unified their efforts through a framework on 10 October 2005 under the banner "Damascus Declaration for Democratic Change " and most Syrian opposition forces as well as figures outside the country joined this forum. They are now preparing for convening a national congress after completing the structural organization of the Declaration, there was a little delay because of some subjective and objective circumstances regarding the Declaration. Nevertheless the signatories to the Declaration were able to consolidate their position in the political arena and win the public's support and sympathy, besides, they held some political activates recently. Generally speaking, I think the existence and continuance of the Declaration forces in these difficult circumstances ,is in itself a success.
Do you share the Moslem Brotherhood's view on changes in Syria, as they are now the strongest alternative to the regime according to the analysts. Do you wager on another alternative? You, for example? Do you find yourself an appropriate alternative?
We are in favor of establishing a democratic secular system based on the principles of citizenship and human rights, under the umbrella of a national Syrian identify encompassing all the components of the Syrian society with all its ethnic, religious and political diversity. I don’t think that Moslem Brotherhood's political platform comes closer to ours nor do I think that they are supposed alternative or better alternative. At the same time, I think that the democratic national alternative currently is not ready yet, it is actually under formation throughout "Damascus Declaration for Democratic Change". If the regime could be convinced of the new initiative for change, as you put it in the previous question, it will save the country from possible chaos that nobody wants. An initiative like this whose chances of success is diminishing day after day is the safest and fastest means of introducing or initiating chance.
You are one of the parties which welcomed Damascus Declaration, Do you view it as the ceiling of opposition's demands in the current stage?
Damascus Declaration together with its proclaimed documents and later statements is actually an intersection of many differing political views and programs and is further the summary of consensuses on these programs and in our opinion it is the right option and further, the only option in the current circumstances.
Where lies the opposition's strength? What are its advantages and disadvantages ?
The opposition strength lies in its determination to openly proclaim its political options and platform within Damascus Declaration framework, as well as in the continuity of its consensual activities that are being consolidated day after day despite the fact that it embraces the diverse components of the political spectrum in Syria. What unifies the opposition is the need for democratic change and their agreement on a document that summed up all their consensuses . As for the shortcomings, I thing the shortcomings of any party lies in its extremism and lack of political realism as well as the inability to cope with emerging conditions practically and sensibly .In fact I see that the Declaration forces all demonstrate realism and political wisdom, and this is an asset.
Some opposition groups -that call for a change in Syria- have gone to the extent of asking for foreign help, don’t you think that this is a cause for worry to the citizens that you are seeking to support?
I have not heard such calls, nevertheless, if there are some, they represent the individuals who voice them. I don’t think that the Syrian people who is known for its patriotism, would accept to entreat the foreigners for help to introduce changes in his country.
How do you assess the question of forging alliance with everybody who opposes the regime, following the saying " the enemy of my enemy is my friend " including the adversaries of the recent past like Khadam? To what extent do you agree with Khadam in his embracing the democratic values , a fact that he was opposing so much in the recent past? Do you have contacts with him?
I think political alliance should be based on principles i.e. it should include forces who have relatively close political approach or general political principles, and not on agreement on regime change and then start fighting over power. Secondly there should be among the allies a certain degree of credibility, sincerity and morality , there is no justification for an alliance based only on temporary interests. Therefore, alliance with dissenters like Khadam is a great mistake, it will make the national allied forces lose the public's credibility and trust. The dissenters can forge alliance among themselves and work separately with each others in the way they like, this is not our concern, but before this or that they must apologize to their people for their previous offences as a first step before thinking of opposition work. Concerning Mr. Khadam and other dissenters, I don’t think that they are sincere in what they say about democracy, because democracy does not serve them and is not in their favor, after their long history of corruption and repression. Further, We do not have any contacts with Khaddam.
Some considered the acceptance of Khadam among the opposition a change in positions and contradiction of the accepted directions. Do you actually act according to your theories or turn to the Syrian street? Or what?
I don’t understand your question, which opposition do you mean? If you mean Damascus Declaration, Kaddam is not a part of it, if you mean his formation ,together with some Syrian opposition forces months ago in Brussels, of an opposition front called "National Salvation Front ", this actually has nothing to do with Damascus Declaration, it only concerns those people acting under its banner. In my opinion there is more than one opposition, each has its own platform, in the end, it is the people who is going to trust this or that one.
There are some people who ask Khaddam to apologize for his history which was full of human rights violations, as well as for the radioactive waste deal and others, are you going to forgive him or enter into deals with him?
It is for the people to decide this man's fate, not us. But I think any dissenter before presenting his platform should first apologize for his offences and corruption. The dissenters should learn to respect the feeling and intellect of the people. They should forever forget the psychology of the ruler. I think they should give up public life and leave off politics. They shouldn’t ever think of returning back to their positions by putting on new masks.
The opposition is calling for peaceful dialogue and the regime is responding with violence and detention. What solution is there, to make the regime listen to the internal calls as it does with the external orders.
Damascus Declaration's opposition groups have got no way but peaceful struggle, this struggle though may take long time and demand sacrifices but it will bear fruits in the end and the regime can not ignore the opposition forever. I think the regime will be convinced of the necessity of reform, and the only means to this is through dialogue with the opposition and active national forces.
To what extent the slogan of overthrowing the regime, as Mr. Riad al-Turks calls for, is serious and practical? What are the means of putting this slogan into practice?
In Damascus's Declaration there is no slogan such as this, or in this context, what is being said is peaceful struggle for national democratic change, and I have already answered as to how to achieve this goal.
What are the chances of coordination between regime's and opposition's agendas for speedy real reforms? What are the barriers to such a cooperation as long as all call for these reforms?
I have already answered this question. The regime's concept of reform does not include political reform, what is being said is economic and administrative reform, and it seems that the circles that block the reforms till now in the country are the strongest.
What do you say about external funding? What are the conditions of accepting it as means of boosting the opposition since it is penniless?
We are against the outside funding, those who accept these funds become easy tools for outside sources. The opposition is not in need of funding, but it needs to complete its restructuring and broadening its grassroots, besides, determination and political realism. I see it is growing day after day.
What is you position on exporting revolution as the Bolsheviks did and exporting and importing ready -made democracy from the sophisticated West?
The promulgation of ideas is something normal and human. Throughout the ages the religious thought was promulgated either through evangelists or military campaigns. Spreading of thoughts is normally connected with political and economic interests and influence. The promulgation of democracy nowadays is very much like that of communism and socialism in the past. The powerful Europe and America have accomplished a democratic system which is the best, and they are trying to spread it across the world as their own model that would serve their own interests only. Promulgating new thoughts requires conducive and favorable environment . It is a mistake to transfer this experiment mechanically without taking into consideration the values ,customs and the cultures of the new settings, as well as the time it would take for these new ideas to be taken in by this new reality. By the way, the Syrian reality is still capable of digesting national, democratic ideas, besides, it has practiced these experiment successfully in the 50ies of the last century before the era of totalitarianism that started with the union with Egypt and is continuing up till now.
Why the opposition did not succeed in convening a national conference including all groups? Is it that each tries to present himself above the other? Or the regime divides to rule? What are the chances of convening a national conference and what is the criteria for representation?
The real opposition is inside the country, it is the force of Damascus Declaration, and the idea of convening a national convention is underway now and it is a matter of time, the delay was because of reasons I have already explained, but it will be convened in the appropriate time.
Some argue that the opposition comprises mainly of the elite and has no grass roots and has so far failed to polarize the street, beside, it is discordant and lacking any applicable real programs. What is the reason of this distance from the people? does it mean the regime is closer to them?
It is true that it is still an elite opposition and unable to polarize the street, with exception to ethnic minorities' parties who have broader bases. I agree that all these parties lack clear and workable political programs partly because there is no freedom for political activities. and the reason for the distance between the people and the opposition is the fear of politics. The regime is not closer to the people, people generally refrained from political activities because of frustration and distrust of regime's empty promises of change and reform.
The opposition does not have freedom of movement, most of its leaders are prevented from travel, they have neither the money, nor outside connections, nor the charisma, neither do they have applicable reform programs, nor have any respect by the regime .. Can this opposition be depended on for a change?
Revolutions and transformations sometimes begin with small incidents in a remote village or a street, then grow larger like a snow ball when the circumstances are ripe and ready for change, and when the people have become tired of waiting. Therefore, I don’t see any reason for despair, sooner or later change would come and the opposition, I think, is the mechanism and the promising snow ball for this change.
In the West people who have the capital become politicians, in the East people become politician to line their pockets. With exception to Mr. Akthm Barakat, there is no wealthy Syrian who has joined the opposition .What is your opinion on investing money in politics and engaging political capital in the process of change?
Politics is the administration of the society's overall affairs, in the West where democracy prevails, all sections of the society practice democracy each in his own way, whether through parties or civil society organizations. In totalitarian countries, politics is a monopoly of the ruling class and its allies whether parties or forces, so practicing it as an opposition becomes risky, that is why it is as elite practice and only those who are ready to risk their lives take it up. Further, businessmen and wealthy people, except for those who live abroad, are unable to combine between the two, in spite of the importance of their participation.
Briefly, what is your view on the change in Syria ? Are you an opposition per se, or you have a vision of an alterative?
Our goal is to achieve a democratic secular system based on the human rights and principle of citizenship, under the wing of a Syrian national identity that encompasses and acknowledges national, ethnic and political diversity. We further think, that this goal could be accomplished through a long peaceful struggle, transformations, achievements and reforms. We further believe, that the available mechanism at present before the opposition forces of Damascus Declaration is, consolidating the alliance among themselves, as well as coordinating with the other Syrian political forces who have the same vision, for with the growing forces of the opposition, they will have better chances of convincing the regime to begin real reforms. I wish the regime had this conviction and determination for reform, because this would save the country great chaos and crisis that nobody wants .
There is no mechanism to survey the number of opposition members, and every complainer builds a website on the internet and gives it a name and then boasts that demonstrators –his supporters - would sweep the governorates and Syrian cities soon , these are hot air and lies. To what extent can the opposition rely on Gandhi's means of peaceful resistance - demonstrations and sit-ins etc.- at a time when the regime can rally tens of thousands of supporters around behind her?
I think what you mean is Rifa'at Asad's propaganda machine that announced since the beginning of the year that the Syrian Governorates would welcome his return .Everybody knows that these are mere lies. As for Gandhi's option or any other similar peaceful political resistance means, I don’t think that this is impossible to happen.
Who is the Syrian opposition member? How is he different from the non-opposition member or an neutral person?
The true opposition member is one who is committed to an opposition political party, or is an independent having an opposing political thought and becomes activist through his writings or supporting various political activities, or he may be a supporter of an opposition party.
Rumors spreading in Syria say that Khadam is merely a political pawn used to foil the plans of the national opposition? To what extent this is true?
I have not heard this rumor, and I think that it makes no sense.
In your opinion what are the dimensions of the Kurdish file in Syria? Has it got national extensions or it is a case of denied human rights?
The Kurdish cause in Syria is the cause of a people who have a distinct identify, culture and language of its own. It constitutes a numerical minority like other minorities, Assyrians (Syriacs), Armenians and Turkmen. It has the right to its national, political cultural and administrative rights within the framework of unity of the state and Syrian society and under the umbrella of a Syrian national identity that acknowledges, off course constitutionally ,the diverse ethnic , political and cultural rights, equally for all ethnic minorities in Syria. I think there is intersection between the national and human rights issues, besides, the human rights charter including the Declaration of Human Rights and the relevant international Conventions and agreement s all recognize minority rights.
Where is your position amongst the political activities in the Kurdish street? Do you have public extension within their circles?
We have contacts with all the Kurdish parties and are close to them, our people, both Assyrian (Syriac) and Kurdish have been living on the same land and in the same country for a long time, we share with our partners Arabs, Armenians and others the same worries and issues. Our relations with the Kurdish movement was boosted since mid 1980s, we have together run for the parliamentary as well as Governorate and unions councils' elections, we have mutual contributions in various national or political occasions, we hold meetings and dialogues from time to time to exchange views and assess what is going on around us, and to further consolidate relationship between our people and other partners. Together with "Kurdish Democratic Alliance " and " Kurdish Democratic Front " we are members in the Damascus Declaration, and we have been able through our good relations with most Kurdish parties to strengthen the bonds between our two people and bypass many negative points that were disturbing our relationships in the past.
How do you assess the Kurdish reality with its different extensions and expectations? The advantages and disadvantages?
I think you mean the Kurdish reality in Syria. The Kurdish reality can be understood through their parties. These parties fall into two alliance frameworks, first, "Kurdish Democratic Alliance " and " Kurdish Democratic Front " each comprises of three or four parties, these parties view the solution of their issues as Kurds living in Syria and components of the Syrian community and within the framework of the Syrian situation. They are both involved in the Syrian opposition political activities and Damascus Declaration and their approach is moderate and realistic. There are other Kurdish parties, some of them have intransigent and nationalistic views, some say that parts of Syria are originally Kurdish and demand right of self determination for the Kurds. Some other factions are in fact extensions of PKK Kurdish Workers Party in Turkey. We see that the Kurdish arena is divided between the "Alliance " and the" Front ", they have support at grass roots level .As a matter of fact, What is positive about the Kurdish movement in general is, its being secular and democratic, there is no room for religious parties in their political arena.
Some Kurdish parties signed Damascus Declaration, some others completely rejected and considered it as a liquidation of the Kurdish issue. You are one of the parties that welcome it, do you think that it has the best solution to the Kurdish problem or it needs reconsideration as far as Kurds are concerned?
I think the formulation regarding the Kurdish issue in the Declaration is a good one and guarantees equal rights for Kurds pertaining citizenship, civil, political and cultural rights. I think it was better for the other Kurdish parties to accept it and engage, from inside, in national opposition work and seek to improve better formulas for the future. suffice is to say that the Declaration has recognized the term Kurdish Issue, and this is a positive thing, while it has ignored to mention other ethnic minorities such as Assyrians, Armenians and Turkmen.
In comparison to Damascus Declaration, do you consider The Kurdish National Council the best what the Kurdish movement has achieved since its inception?
I think The Syrian National Council which is supposed to include all components of the Syrian society and its political forces including the Kurdish parties members of Damascus Declaration, is the right choice, demonstrating the importance that the Kurds present themselves as a part of the Syrian people and the Syrian national case.
How do you view the future of the Kurdish file in Syria, and what are the means and prospects of its solution in the near foreseeable time?
The only solution to the Kurdish and the minorities' issue in Syria in general ,and to the issue of our people, Assyrian (Syriac) in particular, is through the recognition of its being an indigenous people in Syria, therefore, acknowledging its language and culture as national language and culture ( it is well – known that the name Syria is derived from Assyrian language), as well as through guaranteeing its national rights constitutionally in a democratic real system that recognizes national and cultural diversity, a system that depends on the principle of citizenship, human rights, within the framework of the unity of the state and the country and under the umbrella of a unifying national identity.
Everybody in Syria demands the opening of corruption files at the highest levels, and now, some corruption files of the ruling circles are being disclosed, the file of vice president Khadam and his sons. The parliament has started disclosing them. Aren’t you going to support this endeavor, and who will be the next?
I am in favor of opening all the corruption files and I do see it as the beginning of the reform process, but I am against the selective approach. Anyway, opening Khadam's corruption file will be useful, because it will disclose other corrupted figures if the process goes on seriously. I don’t know who is next, nor do I care who he is, certainly there are many others.
Don’t you think that, this is the true reform , when the regime itself speaks openly about it? Is this the beginning of a crisis or the an introduction to openness? ? Why the corruption files at this time? Who do you accuse of obscuring and covering this gross violations , embezzlement of state funds and the dirty deals of corruption?
Regardless of the political motives in the case of Khadam, I see it very important as I said before, but in order for this step to be a beginning of reform it should not rule out anyone, and no doubt those who bear the responsibility for years for covering this facts, is the regime itself.
Human rights organizations criticize the violations openly, a big number of detainees have been set free. In the light of that, how do you assess the condition of human rights in Syria?
Not good . Huge violations of human rights. Emergency and martial laws give the executive, judicial and security authorities opportunities to detain any activist or opposition member. But generally speaking, the situation has improved in comparison to the past.
What is the definition of prisoner of conscious. Apart from the statements and Internet bulletins. What have you done with regard to this issue as opposition parties?
Generally speaking there are no prisoners of conscious or opinion in Syria in the abstract intellectual, philosophical or religious meaning of the word. the prisoner of conscious practically is the political prisoner even though he may not have political affiliation. He is the person who has a political stance and thought, different from that of the state. We always, in our statements and bulletins, call for the release of all political detainees and prisoners of conscious as well as closing forever the file of political detention. We can't do more than this, neither we, nor others.
The prisons are still full of prisoners as people say. Do you open dialogue with the regime or mediate a third party for their release?
Neither we, nor others, I think, have had the opportunity to open a dialogue with the regime directly in this regard .The officials still close their doors in front of those who seek to talk to them. We hope these doors will open soon.
Some say the opposition has no vision, and the regime will issue a new law for political parties only a month after or before the mandate of president Bashar al-Assad, securing thereby another seven years for him. The law of political parties will come to undermine your power. Is it sensible that al-Baath party is going to issue a law of parties by itself? Why haven’t you opposed this move?
One of the recommendation of al-baath party's 10th congress held last year was issuing a new law for parties. Few months ago, two draft laws appeared on internet it was said that a committee of Baathists from the parliament have published them. They were disappointing and all those who read them wished there had been no law for parties, some described them as law for banning parties . This was all, and we haven’t heard more about this law ! Now the crux of matter is not the form, issuance of the law, but the content. Al-Baath party and the regime can abstain from issuing the law and carrying out reforms in the country, but I think this will further complicate an already complicated situation and will deepen the frustration and the dissatisfaction among the people, and this is not in the interest of the country. In out periodicals, we have sharply criticized the draft law and called it Law of Banning Parties. In addition, this draft law denied the existence of minorities in Syria, consequently banned the formation of any party based on ethnicity. As for referendum on a new mandate for the president, I think it has nothing to do with the law of parties, it has to do with article No. 7 of the constitution which obstructs and disrupts the principle of circulation of power and confines it to al-Baath party.
What is the use of preparing for elections if article No.8 of the constitution ,which allows only for al-Baath party members to become president, is not revoked?
I have not heard of anyone from the opposition parties who is running for the presidency . Everybody knows that the matter is settled through a referendum on one candidate recommended by the Regional Command to the parliament, which in turn nominates him as a candidate of the people. A free presidential election necessitates modification of the constitution, and unless this change takes place there will be no real reform in the country.
What are the chances of a Syrian Christian or Kurd's nomination and winning in a clean presidential elections?
The constitution does not allow a Christian to nominate for the presidency even if he is a Baathist and a member of the Regional Command. Regrettable, the constitution defines the president to be a Moslem, and this article hurts the feeling of every Christian, as well as the feelings of every civilized person in Syrian, where Christianity was the religion of its people 700 years before Islam, and is still deeply rooted in the history and culture of the country and is evident everywhere in the historic monuments and ruins across Syria. Off course, a Kurd can not be nominated because he is supposed to be a Baathist, namely an Arab.
Don’t you think that the referendum is a farce, and the result as usual will be 99,99 in favor of the president?
The referendum itself is a democratic process, it is an expression of a non-democratic provision in the constitution related to article 8 that limits the command of state and society in the hand of al-Baath party, hence, no circulation of power.
Dr. Bashar accepted to inherit the presidency, what makes you think that he would accept the result of the ballot box, since there is nothing to oblige him to do so?
The situation is changeable. No political status can continue forever, as no party or regime can rule forever. Every circumstance and phase has its conditions and rulers. Everything is changing and developing and this is the law of life. Therefore, I think change towards democracy is coming and I am optimistic.
Captain Stanley Savige:
Myth, legend or unheralded hero - ceremonies in Melbourne and Morwell mark an Australian solider whom some claim saved the entire Assyrian race and culture from extermination.
Sir Stanley Savige was an Australian Army officer decorated in both the First and Second World Wars; at home he was one of the key figures in the Legacy organisation - but for one group of people in Australia he's seen as something much more than that.
"The first time I heard of this story, it was from my grandfather, he was a First World War veteran, and I thought it was a fantastic story. Looking through the documents, through the archives... he was ordered the DSO for his services to the refugees, but his story was not written down," says Assyrian Levies president Gaby Kiwarkis of Morwell-born Captain Stanley Savige. He's talking of a story that has been passed down through generations of his descendants, but one which has not made headlines here in Australia.
First, however, Kiwarkis gives a background of who, exactly, the Assyrian people are descended from, and their place in world history.
"The Assyrian nation, you'd have to go back a fair way in time - about 3,000BC. They used to be prominent in Mesopotamia, what is now northern Iraq. They ruled the land there for about a thousand years, about 600BC the civilisation broke up, and the remnants gathered in the mountains, up until 1918, during the war," he says. It is here the fate of the Assyrian peoples became enmeshed in the events of the First World War; convinced by the Russians to join the fight with the Allies against Turkey, events conspired to bring them contact with one Captain Stanley Savige.
From 1917, because of the Russian Revolution, the Russians pulled out, so that left the Assyrians isolated. A small allied nation stuck in the middle of nowhere, and they couldn't reach the British,
and the British couldn't reach them. They were defeated in Turkey; they made their way further south and ended up in Persia, and that's when they first met the British column, and one of those British officers was Sir Stanley Savige," says Kiwarkis.
"[The Assyrian Army] was just about out of ammunition, they were holding on to a Persian city, fighting on their own for about eight months. They sent down a battalion to meet with the supply column, which was commanded by Captain Savige. When they met him... they started riding back to the city, were the Assyrians were. But in the meantime, the city was over-run by the Turks, and the entire nation... started moving south, towards the British lines.
"Halfway across, they met with Captain Savige. His job, you've got to remember, was to resupply the Assyrian army. There was no army left to resupply. What he was supposed to do was return - he had a lot of ammunition and money and was ordered not to let this equipment fall into enemy hands. But he made an extraordinary decision at that time; and I believe only Captain Savige would have done it. I wasn't surprised to find that Captain Savige was Australian and an ANZAC; he decided all that ammunition and that money he was carrying wasn't worth the lives of those refugees. He decided, on his own initiative, to protect them."
Savige's story echoes the defining characteristics of many Australian military legends; outnumbered, outgunned, far from friendly faces and surviving on wits, bushcraft and tactics, Kiwarkis details the legend of the Australian who saved the Assyrian people.
"There were only about 12 men. He left half [guarding] supplies and took six with him, and from that time he defended the refugees. He actually saved them. They were out of ammunition. Their rifles were useless. They had nowhere to go. They were starving, attacked mercilessly from every side... men, women, children... they were leaving none alive. It was a wholesale massacre," he says. "He supplied them with the ammunition they needed; he made sure they had the food, he sent riders back to the British line informing them of the situation; he showed them which direction to go, plus he took up defensive positions at the rear of the refugees. Now this column was about 15 miles long; he rode with his six men all the way to the rear... and waited until the last possible moment, when he was practically surrounded, before he pulled out and then took up another defensive position. He delayed the enemy in this way for about six weeks, until most of the refugees marched down to the British lines.
"He practically risked his career, risked his life - he said it himself in his memoirs that he placed himself between the Turks and refugees, he offered himself as a target so the Turkish commander would concentrate his men on trying to kill him, before the refugees... I mean, that's an amazing man...," says Kiwarkis, explaining how this story has inspired him to unveil a memorial at the Boorondarra cemetery, and how the Australian-based Assyrian community has taken on Savige's role in their history.
In Morwell, Savige's hometown, the Assyrian community is gathering again to commemorate the man who might just have ensured their place in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Assyrian American Christian School
On June 9, 2006, at 11:45 am, the Assyrian American Christian School concluded its first triumphant year of operation with the joyous dismissal of its students for summer vacation. The days that filled the time from the first day of school to the last instilled everlasting memories into the hearts and minds of everyone honored enough to have been involved. Accompanying these cherished memories are the worthwhile and significant academic contributions the school has made to the minds of our youth.
The academic goal of the Assyrian American Christian School is to pass information and knowledge to students from a position of instructive erudition, and to demonstrate secure and ceaseless guidance with which to apply that information and knowledge to all aspects of life. All of the school’s endeavors in this past year have been aimed at achieving this lofty goal, and Assyrians the world over should rejoice in its many successes.
The Assyrian American Christian School delivered on its promise to reach students on an individual basis. With an unparalleled student-teacher ratio, teachers treated students as unique vessels worthy of the attainment of knowledge, rather than as autonomous beings temporarily occupying a seat until the next round of students come along. Each and every student at AACS ended the school year with a greater understanding of core concepts than they had when they began. They improved in areas such as reading, writing, comprehension, critical thinking, and research, just to name a few. Most importantly, this information will remain embedded in their minds due to a continuation of individualized attention and instruction that is simply unattainable at any other academic institution.
The young men and women of the Assyrian American Christian School have taken their first steps toward continuation of the immensely rich history and tradition of the great Assyrian people. The 2005-2006 school year provided them with invaluable academic experiences that are building the foundation for future success. They have grown in body and mind, and are transforming into learned scholars, armed with an honorable education that could not have been achieved anywhere else.
None of these accomplishments would have been possible if not for the gifts bestowed upon today’s Assyrians by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Assyrian American Christian School is a Christ-centered educational institution, under the auspices of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East. Everything that takes place within its doors does so under the hallowed eyes of God, in the name of serving and pleasing Him.
The school is also deeply rooted in the long and storied history of the Assyrian people. Assyrians began spreading the word of Christ in the immediate aftermath of His ascension, and in doing so, have faced great persecution and endured several attempts at complete genocide. Throughout it all, the Assyrian name has endured, and the Aramaic language, spoken by Jesus Christ Himself, is taught as part of the school’s curriculum.
The Assyrian American Christian School is eminently proud to be the first Assyrian school in the entire United States. The AACS recognizes this profound responsibility and has acted accordingly in executing it. In the near future, Assyrian students across the nation will be joined in a communal brotherhood with the students of the AACS. The academic undertaking of this past year has laid the groundwork for an incredibly bright future, and through the grace of God, will provide Assyrians with many more schools and similar educational opportunities.
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