"We are All Hrant Dink"
Receiving death threats for those of us who question the authority every day in the pages of our publications is a norm; it comes with the job. However when these threats become a vicious act of barbarism, hatred frighteningly becomes a reminder of the vile side of our bestial nature. Since the start of the new year two Christian journalism staff in Iraq and Turkey have been killed, one Assyrian and the other an Armenian. The former, Hanna Warda Sliwa, distributed copies of the Assyrian publication of the Assyrian Democratic Movement - Bahra - to numerous stops in Iraq. The latter carried the message of truth in the face of injustice in the courtrooms of Turkey. Both were killed by racist killers who despise plurality and freedom.
Last Friday, Hrant Dink, a fellow journalist and the editor of a bilingual Armenian-Turkish newspaper called Agos, was assassinated outside of his office in Istanbul. Hrant was 53. His crime was his courage to discuss the genocide of the Christians in the hands of the Turkish government during the First World War.
When the police searched his office after his death some 2,600 death threats directed at him were found in his possession. In a magnificent display of support and solidarity, for every death threat discovered a thousand mourner marched through the streets of Istanbul, weeping and chanting: "We are all Armenians" and "We are all Hrant Dink".
According to Article 301 of Turkey's Penal Code it is a crime to "denigrate Turkishness". By discussing the Assyrian (Armenian and Greek) Genocide of 1915 Hrant Dink and the Nobel prize-winning novelist, Orhan Pamuk, both received jail sentences for insulting Turkishness, based on this meaningless ultra-nationalist penal source of prejudice and violent xenophobia. Until now, Article 301 has been the main source of Turkey's silence and denial. Now it is provoking the assassination of high-profile journalists and authors.
Article 301 must be repealed NOW and Ankara should make a serious effort toward a public recognition of the Seyfo Genocide of 1915 where millions of Assyrians, Armenians, and Greeks were decimated. Two out of every three Assyrian living in the Ottoman Empire perished between 1915 and 1923 as the result of this crime against humanity.
Zinda Magazine dedicates this issue to the memory of Hrant Dink, the latest victim of the Seyfo Genocide, and honors his struggle by publishing his last article in Agos. Hrant wrote this article shortly before his assassination.
The ‘Dove Skittishness’ of My Soul
In the beginning I was not concerned about the investigation initiated by Şişli Public Prosecutor under the pretext “insulting Turkish identity”. This was not for the first time. I was familiar with a similar case from Urfa. I was being prosecuted since three years because of my statement at a conference in Urfa in 2002 where I said that “I was not Turk but an Armenian and a citizen of Turkey” and there was again the accusation of “insulting Turkish identity”. I was completely unaware of the trials, I was not interested at all. Some of my lawyer friends from Urfa were dealing with the case in my absence.
I was sure of myself. But to my surprise, the case came up in court. Still I didn’t lose my optimism. So I even told to lawyer Kerinçsiz who accused me during a live Tv program that “he should not be so eager that I would not be punished due to this case and that in case of punishment I would leave the country.” I was sure of myself, I really did not have the will or intention to “insult the Turkish identity”. Everyone reading the whole of the series of my articles would understand this.
And indeed the committee of three academicians from Istanbul University who were appointed as experts submitted a report to the court revealing this understanding. I had no reason to be concerned, in this or that stage of the case this mistake would be erased.
While remaining patient, it wasn’t erased. The Public Prosecutor wanted to penalize me despite the positive report of the expert committee. Then the judge gave me six months imprisonment.
I was bearing all this and remaining patient with the expectation of the verdict of not-guilty.
My only weapon is my sincerity
But now the verdict was there and all my hopes were lost. From that time on, I was in the most embarrassing situation a man can experience. The judge gave the decision in the name of “Turkish people” and legally registered that I had “insulted Turkish identity”.
I could bear everything but not this. In my view, to humiliate people who we live together on the basis of an ethnic or religious difference is called racism and this is something unforgivable.
Just under the influence of such a psychology, I told the members of the press who were waiting for me at the door to check “whether I would leave the country or not” the following statement:
A bad joke
But the deep force determinant as it was to alienate me and to turn me to an open target found again a pretext to my statement and this time sued me stating that I was trying to effect the jurisdiction. This explanation was published and broadcast in all means of media but only the one in Agos drew their attention. This time responsibles of Agos and I began to be sued under the pretext of effecting the jurisdiction. It should be a bad joke.
I am a defendant. Who else should have more right to effect the jurisdiction rather than a defendant? But look at the comedy, that this time the defendant is once again sued as to effect the jurisdiction.
‘In the name of Turkish State’
I have to admit that my confidence to the “justice system” and to the concept of “law” was shaken to a large extent. It meant that the jurisdiction was not independent as many state officers and politicians dared to say. Jurisdiction did not defend the rights of the citizen but the State.
In fact I was totally sure that even if it was said that the decision was taken in the name of the people, it was actually taken in the name of the State. My lawyers would apply to Court of Appeal but who could guarantee that deep forces would not be effective there again as determinant as they were to make me down? And were all the decisions of the Court of Appeal right indeed? Was it not the same Court of Appeal having signed the unjust decisions confiscating the real estates of the Minority Foundations?
Despite the efforts of the Attorney General
We applied indeed, but did it make sense at all? The Attorney General of Court of Appeal, like the experts stated that there was no element of guilt and demanded my acquittal but the Court of Appeal found me guilty again. To the extent I was sure of my article so was The Attorney General of Court of Appeal of his decision that he objected the verdict and brought the case to the General Council.
Like a dove
It is obvious that those wishing to alienate me and make me weak and defenseless reached their goal. Right now they have brought about a significant circle of people who are not low in number and who regard me as someone “insulting Turkish identity” due to the dirty and wrong information. The diary and memory of my computer is full of messages from citizens of this circle full of rage and threats. (Let me note that I regarded one among them posted from Bursa as a close threat and submitted it to Public Prosecutor’s office in Şişli but got no result.) To what extent are these threats real and to what extent unreal? In fact it is impossible for me to know this. What is the real threat and what is unbearable for me is the psychological torture of myself.
What I have always in my mind is the following question: “What do these people now think of me?” Unfortunately I am more popular nowadays and feel the look of the people telling each other: “Look, isn’t it that Armenian?”
And just as a reflex action, I start to torture myself.
Like a dove I have my eyes everywhere, in front of me, at the back, on the left, on the right.
Just look at the price... This is the price
What did Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Gül say? What did Minister of Justice Cemil Çiçek say? “The issue of Article 301 should not be exaggerated. Is there someone found guilty and sent to prison?” As if paying a price always means going to prison... Just look at the price... This is the price...Do you know Ministers what a price it is to imprison someone to the skittishness of a dove?.. Do you know it?.. Don’t you look at the doves at all?...
The thing they call “life and death”
What I experienced was not an easy process... Neither for me nor for my family. There were times when I seriously thought about leaving the country. Especially at moments when the threats focused the ones close to me... At that point I always remained helpless.
What they call “life and death” should be such a thing actually. I could be the warrior of my own will but I had no right of exposing the life of near relations to danger. I could be my own hero but I had no right to reveal courage at the expense of another person let alone a kin.
Just at these helpless moments I found shelter around my family and children. I found the greatest support from them. They were trusting me. There would be together with me wherever I went. They would come when I said “Let’s go” and stay when I said “Let’s stay.”
To stay and resist
But if we go, where then? To Armenia?
But to what extent could a person like me tolerate the injustice as intolerant as I am at this issue? Wouldn’t I find myself in greater troubles there?
To go and live in European countries wasn’t my style either. I know myself. After three days abroad, I miss my country. What should I do there? Ease makes me uneasy! To leave “boiling hells” and go to “ready heavens” was against my understanding. We were sort of people desiring to turn hell to heaven. To stay and live in Turkey was our real wish and and also a must of respect towards all of our known and unknown friends giving the struggle of democracy in Turkey and supporting us.
We would stay and resist.
However if someday we had to go, then we would go like in 1915... like our ancestors.. Without knowing where to go.... Walking on the roads they had walked... Feeling their pain and agony...
Frightened and Free
I hope that we are never obliged to experience such an abandonment. We have enough hope and reasons not to live such a thing. Now I am applying to European Court of Human Rights. I don’t know how many years this case will take. What I know and what relieves me to some extent is the fact that at least I will continue to live in Turkey until this case comes to an end.
When a positive verdict is declared I will surely be happier and then this will mean that I will never have to leave my country.
Probably the year 2007 will be a more difficult year for me. Trials will continue, new cases will come up in court. Who knows which kind of injustice I will encounter. But while all this happens, I will regard the following fact as my guarantee. Yes, I can feel myself as restless as a dove, but I know that in this country people do not touch and disturb the doves.
The doves continue their lives in the middle of the cities.
Yes indeed a bit frightened but at the same time free.
David and Asuma's Wedding
This was the first sentence in the marriage invitation for our reporter in Australia, David Chibo. I had to unfortunately decline the invitation due to the tyranny of distance and hectic work commitments.
Little did we know it but the wedding had been planned to the finest detail not only taking place during the Assyrian New Year Spring festival but the wedding theme itself was the continuation of the ancient love story of Ishtar and Tammuz.
In the story Ishtar traveled to the netherworld giving up her powers, represented by veils in order to rescue her lover using the Waters of Life. Resurrected, both Ishtar and Tammuz return from the netherworld during the start of spring.
Unable to attend the U.S. staff and I instead sought permission for some select photos from their album be sent to us in order to be shared with our viewers worldwide.
Here are a few pages from David, Zinda's noble and courageous son, and Asuma's wedding album. As is said in the sacred lands of Assyria: "May you both reach old age on the same pillow."
How Assyrian Representatives Shelved Nineveh Plains Discussions in Washington
A Zinda Magazine Special Investigative Report
While Congresswoman Anna Eshoo’s staff was considering a proposed congressional resolution regarding the formation of an administrative area for Assyrians and other minorities, an act of national betrayal was committed with cold execution.
On Wednesday, January 17th, 2007, Mr. Fawzi Hariri, a senior Assyrian member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the appointed Minister of Industry in Baghdad, and Mr. Praidoon Darmo, Deputy Secretary-General of the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA), met with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and her staff. The result of the meeting was the Congresswoman’s temporary shelving of a critical congressional resolution that would support the creation of an administrative area for Assyrians and other minorities in northern Iraq.
Zinda sources in Washington confirm that the message conveyed by Mr. Hariri (KDP) and Mr. Darmo (AUA) were the following, that:
When the gentlemen were asked to comment on Mr. Yonadam Kanna, Secretary General of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (due to his party’s and his own efforts on creating an administrative area), they responded by saying that Mr. Kanna is a symbolic figurehead at the national level and not a factor in the north.
Mr. Hariri and Mr. Darmo concluded by commenting that more productive measures to secure the interests of this community were underway. Most prominent of these measures is the construction of a compound and massive church for the Patriarch of the Church of the East, to allow his return to Ankawa, near Arbil.
Zinda Magazine has also learned that no opposition to the resolution seemed to be based on its use of the unifying ‘Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac’ name. In fact, Hariri and Darmo did not defend the Assyrian name.
A short history
Washington is one of the priority parts of a plan to get support and encouragement as Iraqi-based Assyrian political groups and leaders work towards forming an administrative area where Assyrians can live free and prosper within Iraq. The creation of an administrative area has been formally part of the post-liberation Iraqi Assyrian agenda since October 2003. At that time, the well-known Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac conference took place in Baghdad, pronouncing the formation of an Administrative Unit for Assyrians and other minorities as a clear goal. The Nineveh Plains is a critical element of any such area.
Since then the political leaders slowed down on this matter, postponing it in parliament for approval. However, a shocking level of targeting Assyrian Christians from all sides in Iraq is now compelling Assyrian political actors to concentrate their efforts on the creation of the administrative area. Many observers in Iraq believe that if the Assyrian refugee problem continues, Iraq may be devoid of its Christian population and resemble Iran and Turkey in the near future. Creating an Assyrian administrative area is now the most pressing issue on the agenda of nearly all Assyrian political parties in Iraq.
Last year Congresswoman Anna Eshoo’s office requested language for a possible congressional resolution on this matter from the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project, a Washington-based group which promotes the rights of the Assyrians in Iraq. The request from Congresswoman Anna Eshoo’s office builds on a history of her support for this community’s interests in the Middle East, and her human rights efforts. It also came to being as a result of a series of visits by senior Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) officials expressing the urgency of creating an administrative area to exercise democracy and rights for Assyrians and other minorities.
In fact, from early October to mid-December 2006, senior ADM members have been covered by the Associated Press, Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, National Public Radio, and Radio Free Europe declaring this agenda. This effort has helped immensely to build momentum on the need for an administrative area.
The White House demonstration organized by the ‘Assyrians for the Christians of Iraq’ on December 4th, 2006, clearly expressed the will of the community in calling for the Nineveh Plain to be part of a solution to the Assyrian exodus from Iraq.
The name not an issue
Mr. Hariri (KDP) and Mr. Darmo (AUA)’s meeting in Washington was early on described as a means to protect the ‘Assyrian’ only name, in contrast to "Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac" title. Other Assyrian media sources, including the AssyriaSat Television have already presented Mr. Hariri and Mr. Darmo as guardians of the Assyrian name against a Ba’athist conspiracy. It is unclear if these media sources are part of a cover-up of events. A staff writer with Assyria Times on January 20th explained that “some elements of conspiracy against the Assyrian identity, the Assyrian national church, and the Assyrians’ political, national, and land rights in Iraq are trying to influence the U.S. Congress through the Assyrian Congresswoman, Anna Eshoo” and the AssyriaSat last week praised the efforts of Mr. Darmo and Mr. Hariri. Both AssyriaSat and the Assyria Times are services of Mr. Sargon Dadesho-led Bet-Nahrain Democratic Party.
Yet upon a closer investigation of this matter Zinda Magazine has learned that the name issue was never discussed at the meeting in Washington and both Hariri and Darmo’s primary goal in meeting with Congresswoman Eshoo was to prevent the establishment of an administrative area for the Assyrians in Iraq and the refugee problem for the neighboring countries.
According to a May 13th, 2006 report in the Arabist Magazine (click here), the United Kingdom-based company, Global Trading Group LTD, incorporated on 5 April 2005, is involved in arms transfers to Iraq and has purchased large quantities of small arms and light weapons for Iraq. According to UK company house data, Global’s business address is a private one, which appears to be the home of one of the directors of the company.
One of the directors of Global Trading Group Ltd is listed as “Fawzi Francis Toma”, described as a British citizen born in 1958. Mr. Fawzi Hariri liaises with foreign governments on behalf of the KDP and serves as chief of staff of the Iraqi foreign ministry, currently headed by Mr. Hoshyar Zebari, also of the KDP. According to Companies’ House documentation, Global Trading Group Ltd’s registered business address is at the home of another company director, Praidoon Darmo, who lobbied the UK government to support the war in Iraq in 2003. A Global Trading director stated that the weapons supplied by Global Trading Group Ltd were on behalf of another company in Jordan who held the contract with the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, but that the GTG director had seen the end user certificate which he said was issued on behalf of the Iraqi ministry of de fence and was sent to Belgrade.
Mr. Praidoon Darmo’s brother Andy is also identified as a British businessman with ties to providing supplies to Saddam Hussein during the days of economic sanctions against Iraq (click here). Zinda Magazine has obtained documents which show that Mr. Andy Darmo was awarded contracts in the 1990s by the Iraqi government for the supply of medical equipment. The two contracts were valued over $2.5 million. Among these documents are also letters between Andy Darmo and the United Nations and US government officials indicating that Mr. Darmo was lobbying to get Iraqi assets unfrozen so that the funds would pay for his contracts.
Mr. Andy Darmo serves as the chairperson of the church committee of the Assyrian Church of the East in England. He is also the head of the “Save the Assyrians”, a non-profit group in UK (click here), demanding the rights of the Assyrians in Iraq, with the exception of their full administrative autonomy.
Mr. Praidoon Darmo is second in command of the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA) and accompanies His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV, patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, to official visits – including the now famous meeting with the late Pope John Paul II. Mr. Darmo was also present (read “The Puzzle Unravels at the Ritz” – click here) at the October 2005 meeting of H.H. Mar Dinkha and Masoud Barzani in Washington where it was agreed that an amount of more than 30 million dollars will be provided to the Church of the East toward the construction of new Assyrian Church of the East parishes and a patriarchate in Ankawa, Arbil.
Both Mr. Hariri and Mr. Darmo were members of the Assyrian Delegation at the Iraqi National Congress gathering in New York between October 29 and November 1 in 1999 (click here), representing the views of the KDP and the AUA, respectfully.
The meeting of Mr. Hariri and Mr. Darmo in Washington earlier this month is in line with the demands of Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government in north Iraq. In 2006 the KDP explicitly declared the Nineveh Plain and other Assyrian lands as part of Kurdistan and is vehemently opposed to any autonomous administration of any part of that region. The only acceptable alternative, according to the KDP, is an administrative region under the Kurdish rule.
To put an end to any speculation on the extent of the involvement of other Assyrian groups in this matter, Mr. Dadesho’s Assyria Times recently wrote: “The Assyrian National Congress (ANC), Bet-Nahrain Democratic Party (BNDP), the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA), and some Assyrian Church of the East (ACOE) authorities will meet with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and contact other Congressmen and women to show their opposition to the draft resolution.”
“Success in Iraq”: What It Means and How to Achieve It
Captain Fred Furat Odisho
What follows in this article will stand in the face of everything that comes naturally to the United States military and, with few exceptions, its inspirationally courageous men and women. Written by anyone outside of the military family, it would instantly lose its credibility; but I have hope that it will gain an audience since it is coming from this Iraqi born, American raised, West Point forged, and Army Infantry tempered officer. The situation in Iraq has matured to a dangerous extent where we, the military, must undertake the unthinkable—stop chasing the elusive insurgent and start connecting and communicating with the common Iraqi citizen.
As American citizens and politicians await the anticipated recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Commission, this week’s testimonies to the House and Senate Armed Forces Committees by General John P. Abizaid of Central Command and David M. Satterfield of the Department of State probably left most wondering if there really is a way out this mess. There is.
Both men were resoundingly correct when arguing that success in Iraq depends on supporting its government politically, economically and militarily, and that increasing or decreasing U.S. troop levels would do nothing to help in the long-term. If this is true, then why has the status quo produced so few positive results? That is because the missing element to success in Iraq rests, not with what we have been doing, but with how we, and especially the United States military, have been doing it. United States Congressman Gene Taylor of Mississippi went to the heart of this issue when he asked “what are we doing to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, which at the end of the day, is what it’s going to take?”
War, like many things, has its stereotypes, and most associate it consciously or subconsciously with some form of struggle. In large-scale wars, commonly referred to in the military as high-intensity conflicts, the struggle is directly against the opponent. The opponent becomes the central and decisive focus of the campaign’s main efforts. However, we are not facing a high-intensity conflict in today’s Iraq. Rather, we are facing a low-intensity insurgency against a very cunning and ethereal opponent. In an insurgency, by default, the central and decisive focus of the campaign is the indigenous population of the nation—in this case, the Iraqi people. In order to reach this audience, the central struggle must shift from your opponent to your opponent’s legitimacy, and the main concentration of your effort must shift from combat to communication (i.e. the military discipline of Information Operations).
Ironically, an insurgency is fueled by popular support, much like democracy. It is much more akin to a political campaign, than a military campaign, where the different sides are struggling to delegitimize their opponents and gain the vote of the people. Insurgents without the popular support of the Iraqi people lose their power and momentum. They become stripped of their auxiliary and underground components and eventually lose their safe houses, their freedom of movement, their weapons supplies and their local funding. Similarly, a counterinsurgency without the popular support of the Iraqi people appears hostile, invasive and illegitimate. Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces, alike, become stripped of their just cause and lose the peoples’ trust, the peoples’ critical human intelligence, and the ability to distinguish the insurgent from the populace.
Given this framework, only three possible outcomes exist for Iraq. First, if the insurgents win the popular support of the people, Iraq will crumble into chaos and anarchy and there is nothing the United States military or the fledgling Iraqi government and its Security Forces can do to stop it. Second, if the United States military wins the popular support of the people, then we should forget about future exit strategies and move forward with Iraqi colonization. However, it is doubtful that most Americans and Iraqis would rejoice in making Iraq the 51 st State. That leads us to our third and final outcome, the only one that is beneficial to both the United States and Iraq and devastating to the insurgency and international terrorism. If the Iraqi government and its Security Forces win the popular support of the people, the insurgency will fade away and Iraq will blossom into a sovereign, unified, functioning nation.
Since late 2003, the Iraqi people have become more and more passive, indecisive and fractured. To date, not one of the three actors identified above—the insurgents, the United States military, or the Iraqi government and its Security Forces—has given the average Iraqi citizen anything to be faithful in or hopeful about. All have failed miserably in winning the support of the Iraqi people. This is the single most important reason why the average Iraqi citizen is still “sitting on the fence.” It also explains the recent rise in sectarian militias. With security conditions at a grave state and an insurgent strategy explicitly targeting ethnic and religious differences, the people have turned to local strongmen for protection.
Many supposed experts will argue that the sectarian, regional, ethnic, religious and tribal conflicts witnessed to this point were inevitable. They argue that modern Iraq is the “fiction of a British cartographer” and that it has been a diverse and divided community throughout recorded history. That is true to an extent, but does any nation exist in the world today that has a homogenous populace ethnically, religiously, racially, and culturally? Nations with heterogeneous populations are the rule, not the exception, and it is doubtful that anyone will argue this point. The Iraqi people can live together in peace, despite their differences, and have demonstrated that many times in ancient and modern history.
To deny that Iraq has had a singular identity dating back to the beginnings of recorded time is to deny the existence and rich history of the name Mesopotamia. The name has stayed the course of history and of the imperial aspirations of the countless empires that occupied it. Furthermore, to deny that Iraq has had a singular identity in the twentieth century is to deny the history of modern Iraq from its Revolution in 1920 through the rule of Brigadier General Abdul Karim Qassim in 1963. Any Iraqi citizen who recalls this era would staunchly claim that the patriotism and nationalism adopted by the vast majority of Iraqis during this turbulent period ran deeper than the Tigris and wider than the Euphrates.
The sectarian, regional, ethnic, religious and tribal conflicts witnessed in Iraq today were virtually nonexistent in 1963, and are the direct result of Saddam Hussein and his tyrannical and paranoid need to maintain control of the Iraqi people. To limit any threats to his reign, he intensified the differences and instigated infighting between all of the various communities in Iraq to keep them divided and misguided.
In the aftermath of the Hussein Regime, neighboring nations, determined to keep the United States definitively occupied in Iraq, further exploited these differences preventing the reemergence of any unified Iraqi identity. Instead of preventing this deliberate attempt by reemphasizing and rekindling the patriotism and nationalism of mid-twentieth century Iraq, the United States government and the mainstream media intensified the differences by examining and characterizing post-war reconstruction and governance efforts through very narrow-viewing lenses— Sunni vs. Shia, Moslem vs. Christian, Arab vs. Kurd, Kurd vs. Turkoman, or Kurd vs. ChaldoAssyrian.
Like any campaign for popular support, the side that dominates the communication spectrum—the lines of communication with the people—succeeds. Therefore, success in Iraq is not based on how many insurgents are killed or captured, but on how many people trust and support the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Security Forces. Unfortunately, in Iraq today, the insurgents dominate the communication spectrum, and efforts to prevent them have come too little, too late. Below are three examples.
First, despite the dangers of commuting to and from one’s place of employment, the average Iraqi citizen knows that he must work. Without a steady income, he cannot provide his family with the basic necessities of life—clean water, healthy food, and secure shelter. Yet almost four years after the initial invasion, unemployment rates have steadily risen and have reached or exceeded 70-percent in some areas. How can the Iraqi government expect its citizens to perceive it as legitimate and support it if it cannot even create employment opportunities for its people? Poor security is no longer a justifiable excuse for not creating jobs. Poor security has become the way of life for all Iraqis, and they will push forward and find employment despite it. Sadly, if the Iraqi government is not willing to create jobs for its citizens, then insurgents will and they have. When pushed to extreme levels of desperation, the average law-abiding Iraqi citizen would do anything to protect and provide for his family, even if it meant working for an insurgency with which he does not necessarily agree.
Second, not a single day goes by in Iraq where the citizens of the most violent cities do not hear gunfire or explosions in the background. To the average Iraqi citizen trapped in his home, this endless noise is a vivid reminder that his family and his neighborhood are not safe. It is a bold statement to the masses that, despite the overwhelming superiority of the Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces, they have not been able to silence the insurgents.
Third, killing in today’s Iraq never goes unnoticed. Unlike in the United States where murder is usually an act one conceals, murder in Iraq is a message. When the body of a local store owner is dumped in the front of his store in broad daylight, the act is an explicit message to the entire neighborhood not to defy the local insurgents. It is not simply a convenient method of disposing of the body. Did he support the Coalition or Iraqi Security Forces or did he defy the local strongman by not paying his dues? In either case, the message was delivered to the entire neighborhood in the most powerful, horrific, and definitive way.
The time has come for us, the United States military, to cast off our obsessive fixation with the enemy and to concentrate on what is truly important in achieving success in Iraq—the Iraqi people. Further, we must acknowledge that this shift in priorities means the inevitable shift from combat operations to information operations. Without communication superiority, without being able to drown out the insurgents’ messages with those of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Security Forces, success in Iraq will remain a bridge too far.
Listing and describing in detail the myriad of methods and examples on how to undertake the journey to achieve communication superiority is beyond the scope of this article. There is one exception, and the following method is critical because of its far-reaching ramifications. As the attention of more and more United States Soldiers shifts to training the various components of the Iraqi Security Forces, and rightfully so, we must be very cognizant of one very important aspect of this endeavor.
The Iraqi Security Forces are being trained by the most formidable fighting force in modern history; and like any student-soldier seated before the best teacher in the business, they have and will continue to emulate and behave like their trainers. Therefore, we must be wary of how we teach them the art of warfare. Whether in a training environment or on patrol down the streets of an Iraqi city, if the best army in the world focuses all of its attention on chasing down the enemy, paying no attention to the needs and demands of the local populace, the student-soldiers will follow suit. The successful performance of the Iraqi Security Forces from the perspective of the average Iraqi citizen is the single most powerful tool available to the Iraqi government in its campaign to win the popular support of its people. We have reached the point in this insurgency where we can no longer afford to preach “do as I say, but not as I do.”
The insurgents’ strategy in Iraq has always been to keep us and the Iraqi Security Forces occupied in trivial combat engagements, while they slowly strengthen their lines of communication with the Iraqi people. This unchallenged dialogue with the Iraqi people has been the suffocating grip that has made them prisoners in their own homes. The insurgents understand, as should we, that no one can succeed in Iraq without the popular support of the people. Therefore, to keep us off guard, they have played to our deepest desires, our inherent need to do what Soldiers are supposed to do in war—fight. We have entertained these elusive insurgents long enough in this figurative game of whack-a-mole; and they have dutifully provided us with the targets upon which to drop our hammers. The answers to all of our most difficult and puzzling questions about Iraq end with the Iraqi people; it is about time we brought them back to life.
Captain Fred Furat Odisho was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1978 and immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1981. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York and a commissioned officer in the United States Army Reserve. Captain Odisho deployed to Mosul, Iraq with the 11 th Armored Cavalry Regiment from January 2005 to January 2006 where he served as the Deputy Division Information Operations Officer for Multinational Force-Northwest. He is currently a graduate student in the Department of Political Science at Northeastern Illinois University.
ADM Member, Bahra Staff Killed in a Terrorist Attack
(ZNDA: Dohuk) Mr. Hanna Warda Sliwa, 48, married and father of four, was killed last week as he was delivering copies of the BAHRA newspaper.
A funeral was held in the victim's village of Koory Kafana near Dohuk in north Iraq, where thousands of mourners came to pay their respect to family and the Assyrian Democratic Movement. Mr. Sliwa was a member of Zowaa (ADM).
Assyrian Church of the East bishop Mar Yo sip conducted the funeral service at the Church of Mart Shmoni. The ADM leadership and representatives joined a solemn procession to the graveyards where Mr. Sliwa was rest to peace.
Mr. Sliwa dutifully distributed copies of the BAHRA (The Light) magazine to all centers of the Assyrian Democratic Movement. The attack was made during one such trips as he was on his way to the ADM headquarters in Baghdad.
Iraqi Christians Lose All Hope with Violence, Anarchy
Courtesy of the Christian Post
De Groot, who visits Iraq several times a year, says that every time he visits, a local believer tells him that the situation is worse than the last time he visited.
“Another Christian told me he had to buy new clothes for his wife because during a shooting on the streets, her wardrobe was riddled with bullets,” recalled De Groot. “A third man explained in detail what happened when he brought his son to school and a car bomb went off. The little boy ran inside the school and saw a human heart hanging against the window.”
There are four violent groups in Iraq: Sunnite insurgents who used to belong to Saddam’s Baath Party; Sunnites, who are fighting for Al Qaeda; Shiites; and a group comprised of criminals and gangs who don’t belong to any of the other insurgency groups, according to De Groot.
The Open Doors co-worker said that the violent groups attack Christians for the main purpose of money to finance their fights.
“Most Christians are shop owners and have some money,” said De Groot. “In addition, the small Christian minority has no armed branch which can take revenge or provide protection for them.”
Nearly half of the Christians in Iraq have fled since the early 1990s.
The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) call the massive exodus of Assyrian Christians, who make up the majority of the Iraqi Christian population, a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations reports that although Assyrians comprise only five percent of Iraq’s population, they make up nearly 40 percent of the refugees fleeing Iraq.
Assyrian Christians living in America have rallied, calling on U.S. leaders to help form an autonomous zone in Iraq for Assyrians and other Christians where they can practice their faith freely and work without persecution.
“Because of their small population, weak status, and lack of regional support, they have no one to protect them from all the violence,” said Paul Isaac, one of the organizers of the Christians for Assyrians of Iraq rally in December.
The Open Doors ministry operates several Christian cultural centers in Iraq to support the country’s Christian population through skill-building courses. The centers host religious dialogues and conferences where movies like Jesus Film are shown or discussions on Christian cultural topics are held.
Tariq Aziz Seeks Protection from Vatican
Courtesy of the Catholic World News
(ZNDA: Rome) Tariq Aziz, who served as deputy prime minister of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, has issued a plea to the Italian government and the Vatican for permission to live in Rome while he awaits trial on human-rights charges.
Giovanni DiStefano, an Italian lawyer for the former Iraqi official, explained that his client would like the Italian government and/or the Vatican to guarantee that he will appear to appear when his case is ready for trial. DiStefano said that he is asking the Iraqi court to release Aziz on bail.
Aziz was arrested in 2003, shortly after the US-led invasion of Iraq. He is now being held by US forces in Baghdad. He has insisted that he was not involved in the human-rights violations for which Saddam Hussein was convicted and executed.
Tariq Aziz, a Chaldean Catholic, has appealed to the Holy See in the past for help in obtaining medical treatment during his incarceration. His attorney said that his health has been fragile since a heart attack shortly before the 2003 war.
Aziz visited the Vatican in February 2003 to seek the help of Pope John Paul II in preventing the invasion of Iraq. After his meeting with the Pontiff the Iraqi leader made a pilgrimage to Assisi to pray for peace at the shrine there.
Babel College of Baghdad Transferred to North Iraq
Courtesy of the AsiaNews
(ZNDA: Arbil) The doors to the Chaldean Major Seminary and Babel College, Iraq’s only theological faculty run by the Chaldean Church, have reopened in Ankawa (near Arbil). The two institutions were officially inaugurated last Thursday.
The reopening of the college was marked by a mass in the Mar Eliya Chaldean Church, celebrated by Mgr Jacques Isaac, rector of Babel College.
In addition to many faithful, Mgr Andraous Abouna, vicar patriarch representing the Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly who stayed in Baghdad, and Sarkis Aghajan, a Christian and finance minister in Kurdistan’s regional government, were present.
About 25 seminarians are registered at Babel College but there are many other students who are studying theology and philosophy.
Moving the two institutions was a difficult decision. It was made official on January 4 but had been expected for some time.
Abductions, assaults and threats to the Christian community in the capital convinced the Patriarchate first to shut both college and seminar down, then to move them.
Sources in Baghdad, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that the Christians left in the city are poorest, those who cannot afford to move elsewhere.
“As for the rest, they have all fled,” they said. “Dora, the historic Christian neighbourhood is [now] in the hands of Sunni militias.”
Moving around the capital is increasingly difficult and dangerous. “If you try to go in or out of a neighbourhood you have to ask permission from militias who are in charge; otherwise you might end up kidnapped or killed.”
Great Minds Discuss Ideas
Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady of the United States, has been credited with quipping, brilliantly, that "Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people."
In this new year, again, there is an opportunity to set our priorities on the right path. I believe Ms. Roosevelt was right when she said "Great minds discuss ideas". Assyrians are having a conversation about their future on two very different levels, causing us to talk past each other, instead of to each other.
What I mean is: there are different priorities as to what is important regarding Assyrian politics in Iraq. Those in the Diaspora who support the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM), the largest Assyrian political party in Iraq with the only Assyrian representation in the Iraqi government, don't really care if it turns out they meddled in Assyrian church issues, or "trash-talked" someone, or forgot to rewind their video tapes before they returned them, or anything else as of yet unproven but gossiped about incessantly.
It is almost as "hilarious" as Kurds asking Turkey to stay out of the affairs of Kirkuk while they, the Kurds, simultaneously interfere with the affairs of the Nineveh Plains and Assyrians. Or when they, the Kurds, demand the Turks recognize their role in the Armenian genocide while simultaneously holding Kurds like Bedr Khan Beg and Simko - who viciously killed Assyrians and their leaders (Simko being a "man" who shot an unarmed Assyrian Patriarch in the back...when he was a guest...in Simko's home...) - in the category of "heroes". But I digress. I'll leave that to human rights activists to sort out.
No single political party, Patriarch, or person is a leader of the Assyrian nation. There are only political representatives. Nations to do not have "leaders" any more - this is the 21st century. We do not have "Aghas" and "Maliks". We have elected representatives whom we criticize, change, re-elect, or discard. Can anyone say that we can point a finger to a Patriarch and criticize him for foolish mistakes? Can we hold him accountable and ask for his removal? Can we even tell him he is wrong? Never. No wonder there was an offensive against a uniting name by the churches. No wonder none have shown support for the large political party, but rather a man who keeps us separate (thank you, Mr. Aghajan). That, in my book, is one of the lesser reasons to let go of Patriarchal leadership.
Politicians, as we all know, are slick talking back-room dealers. Such is the nature of politics. Iraq is certainly no exception. As a matter of fact, Iraqi political parties are probably a shining example of just how "back-room" politics can get. Arab parties, be they secular or faith-based, and Kurdish parties all come from a background of violence - Sunni vs. Shia, Kurd vs. Arab (vs. Turkish vs. Persian) - there is a long history of hatred and hostility. I don't think the ADM falls in these ranks. They have wisely - more wisely than their Kurdish and Assyrian counterparts - maintained their loyalty to Iraq and have befriended all factions of Iraq, be they Shia, Sunni, Kurd, Arab, Yezidi or Turkoman. It is, quite frankly, realpolitik in its rarest form in the Middle East. Regardless of their personal feelings, personal leanings, personal desires, the ADM has played their part wisely.
Bishop Meelis Zaia Awarded Order of Australia
(ZNDA: Sydney) On 26 January His Grace Bishop Mar Meelis Zaia, bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East for Australia and New Zealand became a member of the Order of Australia for "service to the community through the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East and through the development of a range of educational facilities."
The Member of the Order of Australia is awarded for service in a particular locality or field of activity or to a particular group.
The Order of Australia is an order of chivalry established by Elizabeth II on February 14, 1975 'for the purpose of according recognition to Australian citizens and other persons for achievement or for meritorious service'. The Order is divided into general and military divisions.
Mexico Holds 11 Chaldean Iraqis
Courtesy of the Associated Press
(ZNDA: Monterey) Eleven Iraqis carrying false passports and heading to California were arrested at Monterrey's airport, immigration officials said Monday.
Nine men, a woman and a two-year-old girl traveled from Madrid, Spain, to Monterrey, where they were detained Saturday, an immigration official said on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly about the arrests.
None of the Iraqi citizens appear on terrorist watch lists and they told authorities they were Chaldean Christians trying to get to California were they would request asylum, the official said.
They are being held at an immigration detention center in Mexico City pending charges for using false documents.
Chaldean Christians have a sizable community in southern California and frequently try to enter the United States through Mexico, saying they face persecution in Iraq.
Drug Smuggling Assyrian Grandmother Jailed in Australia
Courtesy of the MSN News
A 58-year-old grandmother who tried to smuggle heroin into Australia in her underwear will spend the next four years in jail.
Iraqi-born Fawzieh Nona Danial, from Fairfield Heights in Sydney's west, was surrounded by her extended family as Judge Christopher Geraghty handed down the sentence in Sydney's Downing Centre District Court on Thursday.
Danial had earlier pleaded guilty to charges of attempting to import a marketable quantity of a border-controlled drug, namely heroin.
She was frisked on arrival at Sydney Airport from Vietnam on March 24, 2006, and was found to have four suspect packages in her underwear, which police facts said were later revealed to contain a total of 239 grams of heroin.
At the time, Danial told customs officials she did not know what was in the packages, and she was sorry "for doing this stupid thing".
Danial, who was travelling on a New Zealand passport, told the customs officers of being approached by a Vietnamese woman at a Vietnamese KFC store, who offered to pay her $25,000 for taking four packages to Sydney.
She later claimed she needed the payment because her only source of income was her husband's disability allowance.
The couple sat hand-in-hand, with her husband offering comfort when the judge handed down his sentence and explained it to Danial, who is illiterate and speaks only Assyrian.
Judge Geraghty told the court he had taken into account the defendant's age, her relatively early plea and clean record.
However, he said the potential impact on Australian families remained a critical factor in determining her sentence.
Danial was sentenced to a maximum of six years in jail, and will be eligible for parole in 2011.
Several family members broke down upon hearing the sentence.
Failed Entrepreneur Karl Suleman Jailed
Courtesy of the AAP News
(ZNDA: Sydney) Failed dotcom entrepreneur Karl Suleman has been sentenced by a Sydney judge to a minimum five-and-a-half years' jail on 26 fraud charges.
The former director of Karl Suleman Enterprises (KSE) pleaded guilty to the fraud offences relating to more than $3 million he obtained from public investors for his supermarket trolley collection businesses.The former director of the failed Froggy group was charged with 15 counts of making false statements and 11 counts of using false documents between April 2000 and July 2001, following an investigation by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
The false statements were used to obtain $3.185 million from 15 investors.
The Downing Centre District Court was told the investors had sunk amounts ranging from $95,000 to $1 million into the business, but only two investors got their money back.
The other 13 lost a total of $828,915.
Sentencing Suleman on Wednesday, Judge John Nield said he had taken advantage of "commercially naive" investors so that he could live a lifestyle beyond his legitimate income.
"It is obvious ... that the offender was using the money that he had obtained from later investors to pay the guaranteed payments to earlier investors," he said.
Judge Nield sentenced Suleman to seven years and four months behind bars, ordering him to serve at least five and half years.
With time already served, Suleman will be eligible for parole in 2011.
Suleman had previously served a 12-month jail term for four unrelated fraud offences, after he made false statements to obtain loans to buy two Ferraris and a luxury yacht.
From Baghdad to Long Island
Courtesy of the New York Magazine
(ZNDA: New York) Donny George, man of history, had vowed never to leave Baghdad, where he was the keeper of the keys to the looted Iraqi National Museum. Then his teenage son opened a letter with a bullet inside and a threat to cut off his head because his father “worked for the Americans.” An estimated 1.8 million Iraqis have fled their country since the U.S. invasion, but George, an archaeologist, along with his wife, Najat, and 17-year-old son, Martin, are some of the very few—only 500 a year—who’ve been granted a visa to live in the U.S. Which is how the short, stout 56-year-old ended up in Long Island, driving a Mitsubishi Galant, listening to Shania Twain, and preparing to teach Mesopotamian archaeology at suny–Stony Brook this spring semester. His older children, Marian, 21, a medical student, and Steven, 23, a computer scientist, couldn’t get papers. They remain in Damascus.
In the month or so he’s been here, George has learned his way around the campus, but he hasn’t yet reckoned with the modern ziggurat of the multilevel parking garage. Apologizing, he drives against one-way traffic up the ramp. They’ve been searching the suburban groceries for familiar foods and spices, while explaining to curious clerks and furniture movers that they are Assyrian Christians, neither Sunni nor Shiite.
During the past two decades, George oversaw fieldwork at some of the most significant excavations in the world. In 1987, he was head of a field expedition in Babylon when Saddam Hussein paid a visit. “I met him and took him around. He was very calm. He was just listening. In one of the museums there, we had some inscriptions translated. In one, Nebuchadnezzar was saying that one of the gods had sent him to protect ‘the black-headed people.’ Saddam said, ‘You should change that.’ And I said, ‘No, sir, it’s scientific, we can’t change it, this is exactly as it was said. It doesn’t mean that people are black, it means “all the people.” Because if you have a crowd of Iraqis, all you see are their black heads.’ He wanted to change it to ‘all the people.’ And I said no.”
Later, “one of his bodyguards took me aside and said, ‘How can you say no to the leader?’ And I said, ‘It’s science.’ And he said, ‘Well, good. God bless you. Otherwise, you would have vanished.’”
In early 2003, as the invasion became imminent, George urged his bosses at the museum to protect the collection by sealing it up in the basement. “I begged them, ‘Please, for God’s sake, for the Prophet’s sake, we have to do this, it will be stolen.’ And all I heard was, ‘No, you are exaggerating. Saddam is here. Nobody will dare to come to Baghdad.’
George estimates that the museum lost 15,000 pieces and that Iraq’s archaeological digs lost much more. “From the site looting, we have retrieved about 17,000 objects, but if 17,000 came back, how much went out?” He’s heard that many of the objects have made it into growing private cuneiform collections in New York. “It’s very sad. There is one solution for this: If the American government will stop the tax deduction for people who donate it, the museums don’t buy it. But they encourage rich people to buy and then donate.”
George is politically cautious; he wants visas for his other kids too. He wouldn’t comment on the president’s plan for a troop increase. In the end, though, he says, “The solution is entirely political. And it involves Syria and Iran.” In his worst imaginings, he says, he never predicted that Iraq would descend into a religious civil war. “Even during Saddam’s time, all these differences were dissolving. I never asked my neighbor or friend if he was a Sunni or Shiite, and Muslims would not ask each other either. It was a shameful thing to ask.” Meanwhile, the Iranians, he says, have already penetrated Iraq. He heard that Farsi is heard in the markets of Basra as often as Arabic. Before he left, there were rumors he was going to be replaced by a Muslim at the museum. The church where he and his wife were married has been blown up. Still, he is convinced they’ll go home someday. “Listen, we know history. We are the people of archaeology. We know it is impossible for it to stay like this.”
He plans to give a few seminars on the American occupation at Stony Brook Manhattan this winter. The primary lesson he wants to impart is that Iraq has a heterogeneous past. “I would love Americans to know this is a country with multiple, different kinds of people—Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, Kurds, Yazidis—people of different religions. These people have lived together for hundreds of years.”
Renowned Professor Acknowledges Assyrian Genocide
By Afram Barryakoub, reporting from Sweden
(ZNDA: Stockholm) Prof. Israel W. Charny, Ph.D, President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) is one of the world’s foremost authorities in the field of genocide studies. Apart from his work at the Hebrew university in Jerusalem with psychology and family therapy, he is the Executive Director of the “Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide” in Jerusalem.
Professor Charny exclaimed “ I feel very strongly that the genocide of the Assyrians, and also the genocide of the Greek population, alongside the Armenians by the Ottoman Empire must be elevated to known historical facts and commemorated along with the Armenian Genocide that we finally have succeeded in making known public knowledge”.
Assyriska's New Managing Board
The extra meeting resulted in the forming of a new board headed by 29 year old lawyer Sargon Debasso. Resigning chairman Ferit Varli welcomed the results of the elections and welcomed the new board with the following words:
“I wish all luck to the new board. They have taken on a big responsibility, but it is important that we all share this responsibility with them. It is important that all of us who can help them also do lend them a hand, economically as well as practically”
And the new leader, Sargon Debasso, commented:
“It feels good with regard to the widespread support that we received, it is flattering to receive this confidence. The aim is to keep this confidence and create conditions for Assyriska to reach new successes”.
He also made clear that there will be no major changes in the team in the nearest future. But he emphasized that he will work to bridge the gab between the supporters and the board so that there will be more confidence between the two.
The new board includes:
School Preserves Ancient Culture
Courtesy of the Daily News
(ZNDA: Los Angeles) Their alphabet, once carved in stone or found on ancient parchment, comes alive in red and blue marker on a white board in a San Fernando Valley classroom.
They might not know it yet, but the dozen or so teens who write out the letters are making history by learning their history.
It's the only way their culture will survive.
"It's really nice to teach them, though it's challenging," said a patient Amir Dinkha, a teacher at the Assyrian American Christian school, the first and only private campus of its kind in the United States.
"They ask questions I've never heard of before."
The year-old Assyrian school has been a dream of the Rev. George Bet-Rasho, parish priest for St. Mary's Assyrian Church of the East in Tarzana.
He envisioned classrooms where Assyrian children could learn about their ancient and modern culture, their language and faith, as well as more traditional subjects like English literature and U.S. history.
"We feel the only way we can survive is to have a school," Bet-Rasho said. "It's been a dream and the talk of every church in the United States for a long time."
That the school is up and running, with donations and support from the community, is somewhat of a miracle, Bet-Rasho and experts said - especially now.
"It's a miracle we're even alive actually, considering all the persecution that we've gone through," Bet-Rasho said.
"Assyrians have faced tremendous obstacles in being a countryless nation," said Mehran Kamrava, who specializes in the Middle East as a professor of political science at California State University, Northridge. "They haven't had a piece of territory which they could call their own country. The ravages of history have been unkind. And at least in recent decades, the Assyrians have not mobilized militarily such as the Kurds, which is why we haven't heard of their nationalist struggle."
Guardians of culture
Without a country to display their flags and other symbols of nationalism, or to openly celebrate rituals, Assyrians must rely on passing down their language and culture to children in other ways, Kamrava said.
"For diaspora communities, identity is doubly important," he said. "This school is an important step for the Assyrian community in that it enables the proverbial elders to act as guardians of the Assyrian culture."
Humanitarian organizations have followed the persecution, including the hundreds of thousands of Assyrians killed during the height of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 to the "Arabization" of Assyrians under Saddam Hussein.
Assyrians are not Arabs but have been forced to adopt Arabic names and have been denied the right to speak their language, according to a 2003 report by Human Rights Watch.
"Even now, we're persecuted in the homeland," Bet-Rasho said. "Priests are afraid to walk in uniform in Baghdad."
There have been reports of beheadings and even a modern-day crucifixion of a 14-year-old boy. More than 100,000 Assyrians have fled as insurgents have made threats and bombed their churches, according to published reports.
Though Assyrians nationwide have petitioned governments to help secure the Ninevah plains once democracy is established, there has been little response. It does not surprise Bet-Rasho.
"We don't have the numbers," he said. "We don't have the money, the power, the voting bloc. We don't have oil. The only people who remember us are those who care about humanity."
The Assyrians, indigenous people of Mesopotamia, have a history spanning nearly 7,000 years. Their ancestors can be traced to the world's earliest civilizations. The empire ended in 612 B.C.
An estimated 4.5 million Assyrians live worldwide, with almost a million in the United States. Others are dispersed in Europe, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.
The school's principal, Richard Jensen, has helped open and establish other private Christian schools in Los Angeles but was surprised with the resilience of Assyrians.
"It's sad that people don't really realize who Assyrians are," he said. "These people have been scattered all over the world. They haven't really had a place of their own."
At home in school
On a recent weekday, the students in teacher Dinkha's class read aloud the Aramaic version of a Bible story. There are good-natured giggles along the way as their American-trained tongues try to grasp words similar to those spoken by Jesus Christ.
While the lessons can be tough, some students say they feel as if the school is their home. It is among each other where they have found their identity.
"It used to make me feel kind of down because I would tell people at school I was Assyrian, and they would say, `What's that? Syrian?"' said Justin Atneyel, 14. "I used to bring a book with me to school to show them."
Shereen Saado, 15, is all too familiar with the Assyrian/Syrian conundrum. She is both.
She said she doesn't have family in the Middle East but is saddened that those her age do not have the same opportunities.
"It upsets me to know that there are kids out there that can't get an education," she said.
Both Bet-Rasho and Jensen said their goal is to expand the school over the next 10 years. Now, there are more than 30 students enrolled in grades five through 11. Their hope is someday to offer all grades and have 350 children.
Bet-Rasho said he also wants the school to become more diverse, with children from other communities willing to learn about the Assyrians and how to speak a modern form of Aramaic.
"We want to plant a seed in every child who will live on after they come to this school," Bet-Rasho said. "We hope others will help us carry a torch. This is our dream and it's because we live in the United States we can do this."
By the end of the school year, the students might be ready to write to those who remain in their ancestral lands, Bet-Rasho said. He does not want the Assyrian American youth to forget where they came from.
"This school is dedicated to every hero who died of persecution in the homeland," Bet-Rasho said. "They died for their name, their language and their faith."
Univ of Chicago Team Traces Mystery of Oldest City
Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune
(ZNDA: Chicago) Archeologists tend to uncover puzzling questions along with ancient artifacts, and so it was when a team from the University of Chicago discovered a long-vanished city, 6,000 years old, in eastern Syria.
The problem was the city wasn't where it should have been.
"A hundred years of scholarship taught that urban life began farther south, in Mesopotamia," said Clemens Reichel of the U. of C.'s Oriental Institute, referring to the ancient name for Iraq. And unlike the cities in that area, Hamoukar isn't on a waterway.
Now Reichel thinks he's found a critical piece of the puzzle: obsidian. Though thousands of years old, the piece of shiny volcanic rock he held up in his office last week still held an edge that felt sharp enough to shave with. ("Actually, I did that with a piece we found at the site," he said.)
Hundreds of obsidian tools
Over several excavating seasons, his team has recovered hundreds of finely fashioned obsidian cutting tools in Hamoukar--industrial equipment for a preindustrial age. Large deposits of obsidian were known to have existed just north of Hamoukar in what is now Turkey.
Reichel theorizes that raw material was imported by the inhabitants of Hamoukar, sharpened and honed by local artisans and shipped downstream to Mesopotamia. Food was presumably imported with the profits.
When Reichel and his colleagues first reported their excavations, beginning in 1999, what was most impressive wasn't the contents of the site but its sheer size--and dramatic evidence of its fate. Six hundred square meters of ruined city walls and buildings silently witnessed a flourishing urban center that had been abruptly destroyed about 3,500 BC.
The ruins were littered with hand-shaped missiles, designed to be flung with a sling, and evidence of a house-to-house battle. At the same time, there was a massive fire. Hamoukar hadn't died of natural causes. Some invading force destroyed it in an early instance of the kind of street-by-street combat currently engulfing Iraq.
"In archeology we can only say something is the oldest until the next discovery," Reichel said. "But so far, it's the earliest example we have of a theater of urban warfare."
Great leap forward
Archeologists are fascinated by the evolution of cities, noted Guillermo Algaze, a professor at the University of California, San Diego. They are where the human race took a great leap forward, comparable in its consequences only to the Industrial Revolution, many millenniums later.
For most of their time on Earth, humans lived in small groups eking out a precarious living by hunting and subsistence agriculture. Then came what archeologists call the urban revolution, as substantially larger groups gathered together, specialized trades appeared and the hallmarks of civilization--commerce and writing--were developed.
"Somehow people were persuaded that if they came together to live in a city, they could have a better life than if everybody stayed home and produced their own food," said Reichel.
Scholars long assumed that urban life was a rare invention, with cities emerging in Mesopotamia about 6,000 years ago. From that beginning, they spread up the Tigris and Euphrates River valleys to the larger Middle East, then to Greece, Rome and Western Europe.
Yet the excavations at Hamoukar revealed a city at least as old as its supposed predecessors far to the south.
"So if you were aboard a spaceship hovering above the Middle East in the fourth millennium B.C., and a betting man," Algaze said, "it wouldn't have been a sure thing if civilization would emerge in the north or the south."
Still, for the north even to be in the running was puzzling. Rivers provide drinking water and a natural avenue of commerce, so Hamoukar seems an unlikely site for city life.
"Today, the inhabitants of the district live in small villages, just like those that must have existed in very ancient times," said Reichel. "But in between times, a city flourished there. We asked ourselves, why?"
If obsidian is the answer, it also might account for the city's demise--perhaps at the hands of a commercial rival or former customers who wanted the obsidian market for themselves.
Algaze thinks the Oriental Institute team is onto something. But as often happens in archeology, a new hypothesis leads to new questions. If Hamoukar reached the brink of civilization, why did that honor eventually go to the people of Mesopotamia?
"The north went down the drain; the south took off," Algaze said. "Why? That's question of the hour."
What Ancient Kurdish History?
Dr. Donny George
I read the fine and correct words of Mr. Fred Aprim in the last issue of your esteemed Magazine about the article that mentioned the Kurds and their history (click here). From my own specialty and my over thirty years of experience in the field of archaeology, and having hundreds of archaeologists as friends and colleagues, I have never heard of such big lie and falsification, and twisting of the history.
The Kurds, with respect to them all, have no ancient history and antiquities
according to the Iraqi Antiquities Law, the last of which was #55 in the year 2002. In that law anything that is older than 200 years is considered
antiquity and ancient history, and the Kurds are not included in that time
There is no shame in that some people have no long history, but it is shameful if these same people try to steal the history of other people. THERE ARE NO DOCUMENTS THAT
MENTION THE KURDS IN THE HISTORY OF MESOPOTAMIA, as far as I, a responsible person in the Iraqi antiquities, am concerned. No one has even heard of the Kurdish scholar mentioned in Aprim's article, and Mr.
Shayda is not an archaeologist. He is a surveyor working in the Inspector's
I do not wish to belabor this issue , but I need to say three things:
1. There are many attempts to re-write the history of the Kurds, and to grab real history of real people and attach themselves to that history, without any shame, as it is said in Arabic: "Unless you you feel shame, you will do what you want."
2. We must speak up, because the Kurds are working diligently to completely demolish and wipe out the Assyrians, and re-name them as "Christian Kurds", and all these attempts in the re-writing of history, fall in the same line.
3. The writer of the article should have asked a real historian and archaeologists and no one else.
Dr. Donny George is a world-renown archaeologist and the former Chairman of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in Iraq and the Director of the Baghdad Museum. He is currently teaching at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Read a recent New York Magazine article on Dr. George in this issue's NEWS DIGEST.
Time will Tell
Sargon B Yalda
Just like Paul Isaac, I too went proudly to the Assyrian National Council of Illinois (ANCI) in Chicago and proudly voted for Zowaa during the December 2005 Iraqi elections. Unlike Paul, however, I cannot say that I am ashamed of that.
The State of Assyria
Ann-Margaret “Maggie” Yonan
Assyrians all over the world are currently discussing an “autonomous, self-administered region” in the Nineveh Plains of Northern Iraq. This discussion is dominating the Assyrian airwaves, internet forums, coffee shops, and pal-talk sessions, but to date, the Assyrian people do not know WHOM this autonomous, self-administrative region is for, or by WHAT name this region shall be known. Nevertheless, Assyrians are consumed by this discussion without knowing any of the details, or how this region will be implemented, and the way in which it might change the demographics of the Nineveh Plains..
Those Assyrians that are avid forum participants, will remember that back in September 2006, I requested that ALL Assyrian individuals and political organizations claiming to be diligently working on the creation of an “Assyrian province”, or an “autonomous, self-administered Assyrian region,” to prove to us that they have “formally” requested this from the Iraqi government, or even the Kurdish Regional Government. I asked them to provide such proof by posting the formal request on the forum of their choice, so that Assyrians can see that this formal request has been accepted and is officially being reviewed, and the wording used in the proposal.
NOT ONE Assyrian individual or political organization came forward to prove their claim. Of course, ADM supporters like Johnny Michael posted a quote from the long-dissolved TAL, by pointing to some long dead article, trying to PROVE that ADM was working on such a “request.” When I pointed out that the TAL had dissolved without ANY Assyrians taking advantage of article 53C, Johnny Michael dropped the issue.
Since I posed that question, many months have passed, and many Assyrian individuals and political organizations are now claiming that they have since, “formally” requested it. I now receive numerous e-mails from the Reverend Ken Joseph, who runs, “The Good News Agency,” stating “they” have “formally” requested an “Assyrian Province,” and writes, “Whereas on September 19, 2006 the Formal Request For An “Assyrian Province” was officially presented to the Iraqi Government, to the Foreign Minister and President, at their request, signed for and currently being processed in the Iraqi Government. Whereas, article 121 of the Iraqi Constitution of 2005 promises an Assyrian Region as the "political" and "administrative" right of the Assyrian Nation.” To date, we have not seen the “proof”.nor do we know who the “THEY” are that Ken Joseph keeps referring to. Assyrians would love to know who are “THEY” that “formally” requested an Assyrian Province?
Then last week, in Zinda’s January 13, 2007 issue, Ninos Bithyou declared that, “ADM has put together a formal proposal for the Nineveh Plains Administrative Unit, legally, with the help of legal professionals in Iraq, we have created a proposal. Also, we have already spoken with all political parties in the Iraqi Parliament (Sunni, Shia, etc.) and they are aware of our proposal.” To date, we have not seen “proof” of such a proposal or the “legal” documents Mr. Bithyou is referring to, nor de we know in whose name is ADM asking for this autonomous, self-administered region, much less WHAT this region shall be named!
We now even have Pascale Warda, former Iraqi Minister of Displacement and Migration, and former ADM representative, who is asking for “a separate federal state for non-Muslim minorities in the Nineveh plain.” To date, we have NOT seen Pascale Warda’s “formal” request, nor do we know who the “Non-Muslim minorities” that she is referring to, ARE, much less WHO she is asking this region from!.
So far as we can tell, and this has not yet been validated, the only person who has “formally” requested an autonomous self-administered region for the “Christians,” NOT the Assyrians, in northern Iraq, was Sargis Aghajan, who claims he had formally requested it from the Kurdish Regional Government. To date, we have not seen these documents, nor do we know the wording of such documents! Mr. Aghajan, don’t you think the Assyrian people deserve to see these documents, so that you can prove to us you have done what you say, and how you have worded this request?
“I demanded the right of autonomy for our [Christian] people – Chaldean, Syriac, Assyrian – to be fixed in the Kurdistan Region Constitution,” Aghajan told Compass by e-mail. Aghajan publicly backed a statement last month by five Christian political parties calling on drafters of Kurdistan’s Regional Constitution to guarantee an autonomous Christian area in the Nineveh plain, Iraqi Christianity’s ancestral homeland north of Mosul” writes Mr. Lamprecht.
He further quotes Sargis Aghajan by writing, “Since the Nineveh plain falls within the expanded boundaries [of the Kurdish region], we propose to include in the constitution a clear text of our people’s right to autonomy within the said plain,” the November 10 document stated.”
We, the educated and intelligent Assyrian people gather that Mr. Aghajan is asking for an autonomous, self-administered “Christian” region, but what we do not know is who are the “five Christian political parties” that are backing his formal request? Doesn't he think the Assyrian people deserve to know WHO the five “Christian” political parties are? Or is it a TOP secret? Is there not a single literate person in Aghajan's organization or in the five political “Christian” parties backing him, that can put these demands of his on paper, and have one of the many “computer geniuses” post it on the forum of his choice?
It isn’t enough that all these Assyrians are requesting an autonomous, self-administrative “Christian” region, and one “Assyrian Province,” ( by reverend Ken Joseph) we now have Anna Esho, an Assyrian-American Congress woman from California, offering to propose a “non-binding” resolution” to be passed by the American government to back the “proposed” for a Chaldo/Assyrian/Syriac province in Northern Iraq. Ms. Esho, if this resolution of yours is NOT binding, why are you wasting our time?
Who are you people fooling? You have ALL requested an autonomous, self-administered region, but we have no proof from any of you, nor do we know any of the details! You people could be asking and saying ANYTHING in our name, without our approval!
We now even have the Kurds saying they want an autonomous, self-administered region for us, as declared by Nechirvan Barazani in the same Zinda article by Peter Lamprecht, “It is “their” right to have “their rights” recognized and fixed in the Kurdistan Regional Constitution, including “their right” to autonomy in Nineveh plain,” Iraqi Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said in a December 6 press conference. “This is our permanent policy.” To date, Assyrians do not know WHO Nichervan Barazani is referring to when he says “THEIR RIGHTS” over and over again, nor do we know WHAT this region will be called! Mr. Barazani, WE have a name! It is called ASSYRIAN!!! You know the people who’s lands you have stolen, and upon which you are now building a Kurdistan?
According to the same Zinda article of January 13, 2007, “disagreement exists over whether to cooperate with Kurdish leadership to form an autonomous area within Iraq’s Kurdish federal state, or to go it alone and create a new federal state solely for minorities. One Chaldean archbishop has said that either plan would only make things worse by creating a “Christian ghetto,”” but in the same January 13, 2007 issue of Zinda, ADM’s Ninos Pithyou was quoted saying, “ Our desire is to have all of the “external” Assyrian organizations speak with “one voice” about the Nineveh Plains, so that we all have one goal, and they all support this effort [for the Nineveh Plains Administrative Unit]…for the nation to have “one voice.””
HOW can Mr. Bithyou, or any Assyrian, expect that Assyria speak “with one voice” or have “one goal” regarding the Nineveh Plains autonomous region, when we now have the Syriani Orthodox leadership, the “Syriac” Orthodox Patriarch Mor Ighnatios Zakka Qadmoyo recently saying “We are Arabs, descendants of Bani-Taghleb, (an Arab tribe)." and the Chaldean Archbishop saying, “We do not want a “Christian Ghetto”? Who then is the ADM proposing this region for? That only leaves the Assyrians who want an autonomous, self-administered region!
It seems to me that the Chaldeans and the Syrianis have already sabotaged ADM’s efforts, so what is left for Ninos Bithyou and the ADM to talk about?
Another question that comes to my mind to ask Mr. Bithyou, is: Who are these “external” Assyrian organizations, other than his religious cohorts, the Chaldeans and the Syrianis, who do not even stand with him and his proposals? Yet, he keeps hounding us about “unity,” “one voice” and “one goal”! By the way, WHY do we need the ADM to now ask for the Nineveh Plains when Sargis Aghajan has already done it, and WHY NOW, when ADM had since 2003 to do it? Is Mr. Bithyou just trying to patronize us?
No wonder we are ALL confused!!! The Assyrian people have at the very least, 10 different individuals/parties ASKING for autonomy, (the five political parties backing Aghajan, Aghajan himself, ADM, Pascale Warda, Reverend Ken Joseph, and Anna Esho) and still we do not know WHO it is for, and WHAT it shall be called, and the Syrianis and the Chaldeans do not support these requests?
If ONLY the Assyrians want this autonomous, self-administered region, then WHY are Sargis Aghajan, ADM, Pascale Warda, and Anna Esho asking for a “Christian,” autonomous, and self-administrative region for the Chaldo/Assyrian/Syriacs? Does it make sense to ask for this in the name of three “different” groups, if ONLY Assyrians want this? Are they just trying to confuse us even more? Or are THEY, themselves, confused?
Any intelligent and educated person looking at all this MUCH ADO ABOU NOYHING, regarding this autonomous, self-administered region, would ask the following:
1) How can ANY one expect “unity” from a nationality who has torn itself into three different pieces, (i.e. Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Arabs.)
2) How can Pascale Warda ask for an autonomous, self-administered region for the “non-Muslim minority,” when the Syrianis are now part of the Bani-Taghleb, (an Arab tribe) and are part of Arab majority in Iraq? In other words, WHY would the Bani-Taghleb, an Arab tribe, need a province of their own, separate from OTHER Arabs?
3) If the Arab Bani Taghleb tribe, do not need an autonomous, self-administered region of their own, separate from other Arabs, then Sargis Aghajan, ADM, Pascale Warda, Anna Esho CANNOT include them in their “requests” for such a region!
4) If the Chaldeans do not want a “Christian ghetto” then Sargis Aghajan, ADM, Pascale Warda, Anna Eshoo, are wasting their time asking for a “Christian” province for the Chaldeans, and their name should be removed from such a request!
5) If ONLY the Assyrians remain in this equation, and they are not Arabs, nor do they mind a “Christian ghetto,” then why does Sargis Aghajan not just ask for an autonomous, self-administered region for the Assyrians, and call it Assyria?
What purpose would a “Christian” province serve? Assyrians do not want to be known by their religious name, but by their ethnic name, like all legitimate ethnic people around the world!
If the Assyrian nation can bring all its “lost” tribes together, like the Chaldeans, the Syrianis, the Maronites, the Copts, etc., to agree they are ALL Assyrians, we would be in the millions, and we would indeed NOT need a “Christian ghetto” but a REAL nation, known to the world by its legitimate and legal name, ASSYRIA! We have plenty of these Christian ghettos in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, turkey, and even in Western countries. But since we cannot force anyone to call themselves Assyrian, we need to move forward and demand that our representative in the Kurdish Regional Government, Mr. Sargis Aghajan ask the Kurds to enter our LEGAL name in the Kurdish constitution, which is ASSYRIAN, and ask the Kurds to help us legally establish ASSYRIA. After all, the Kurds owe us that much! They have built a Kurdistan on top of OUR homeland, and have used us to fight the Iraqi government for years now. The Kurds have called their struggle the Assyro-kurdish struggle for more than half a century now, with none of the rights attached to it. If the Kurds do not help us with this process, NOW, then Nichervan Barazani’s words mean NOTHING, and the Kurds cannot be trusted! They will go on killing us, ravaging our villages, and attempting to eradicate our identity.
As for the ADM’s Ninos Bithyou, asking all the “external” Assyrian organizations to speak with one voice about the Nineveh Plains, so that we all have “one goal”, and they all support this effort [for the Nineveh Plains Administrative Unit]…for the nation to have “one voice”, I would like to ask Mr. Bithyou the following:
1) WHERE is the “PROOF” that he has even asked for the Nineveh Plains?
2) In WHOSE name are you is he asking for such a region?
3) Since he hasn't yet heard that he has “lost” one third of his tribe to the Bani-Taghleb, and the other one third, (the Chaldeans) do NOT want a “Christian Ghetto,” that only leaves the Assyrians, and the ASSYRIANS do NOT want him and the ADM as their representatives. So WHY is he WASTING his time and ours by discussing “unity,” “one voice,” and “one goal”?
Seems to me that Mr. Bithyou ought to stop his nonsensical rhetoric and enjoy the remaining 6 months he has left, before the REAL Zowaa takes over his job! The Assyrian people would respect him much more if he remains the LAME DUCK he has been for so long and disappear into the sunset, so we can get on with the business of building an ASSYRIA! It is TOO LATE for him to talk about “external” Assyrian organizations when he made a conscious decision to ignore them from day one!
As for Mr. Aghajan, we the Assyrians ask him to first write a formal proposal so that we can clearly see what it is he is asking the Kurds on OUR behalf, so that it can be put to vote by the Assyrian people, NOT the numerous clergy whom have decimated us. This is the way to build consensus.
Awshalim Lazar Khammo, PhD
It is very sad to continually have accusations and criticisms coming from Assyrian organisations and individuals outside Iraq, targeting Assyrians in Iraq who are trying their best to serve our people. An example is targeting Mr Sargis Aghajan. He is called an outsider and a Kurdish puppet because he trying to help our people in Iraq. He has done this by being on the ground in the Kurdish territory fully cooperating and gaining an understanding with the Kurdish authority. Basically he won their trust. Most of the Assyrians and Christians outside Iraq talk about the right of the Assyrians and Christians in democratic Iraq, consequently demanding a province and full autonomy in the Mousul area. Obviously they believe that Iraq is a democratic country, because Mr Bush said he will remove the dictator Saddam and introduce democracy to Iraq. The sad reality is that what Mr Bush says and what is actually happening are not in parallel and therefore such demands do not help our people. Survival for the remaining Assyrians and Christians in Iraq can really only happen by working with our Kurdish neighbours.
Yes, Mr Bush did remove the dictator, but broke Iraq beyond repair and drove the last nail in the coffin of Christianity in Iraq and the Middle East and introduced Islamic sharia law in Iraq. As of April 9th Iraq lost all hopes for democracy when more than 6000 armed militias crossed the border from Iran under the banners of the Bader brigade and Mehdi army, full of hate and revenge, targeted Basra, murdered many known bath party members in revenge and murdered many Christian shop keepers for selling alcohol.
These crimes were reported to Mr Paul Bremmer, head of the Coalition of Provincial Authority (CPA). Through ignorance or through genuine belief Mr Bremmer said that such acts were individual cases and would eventually cease. However, the killing has not only continued but has intensified up to this day leading to sectarian killings. Following 5-6 months from the invasion, Christians from Basra started leaving their homes. Many dispersed from Baghdad and fled into Kurdish territory while others went to Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Europe and beyond – financial ability dictating their reach. I did not hear any Assyrian organisation complain or raise the issue in the world media regarding this exodus.
To survive, the Assyrians and Christians have to work in cooperation with the Kurdish authority in a similar manner to Mr Sargis Aghajan, Mr George Monsour and others. They need the Kurdish protection and support otherwise they will be like a flock of sheep surrounded by a pack of wolves with out protection. Look at Israel for instance, for nearly 60 years it has been under attack. The sword of Islam shall not allow democracy in a non-muslim state to exist in the region. For this reason they call Israel the cancer which must be removed – not quite the promised home (dream) land but a nightmare.
I am sorry to say that the majority Assyrians outside Iraq who are voicing their grievances of the Assyrians in Iraq have no idea what is going on at ground level. Today, if the Kurdish authority were to treat the Christians in the Kurdish territory as the Shiite Bader brigade and/or Mehdi army (kidnappings, rape and killings) these territories will also be Christian-free in a short space of time. The Kurdish authority need the Christians as they are known to be professional, honest, hard working people and trouble free. In return they are given protection and security. At present this symbiotic relationship appears to be stable despite the fact that there are a minority of Islamic Kurds who want sharia laws applied in the Kurdish territory and would be happy to remove Mr Sarkis Aghajan, as they did with the late Mr Al-Hariri. For the present time, as long as the majority of the Kurds are broad minded and that the fundamental Kurds are contained, the Christians and Kurds will live side by side in peace as neighbours. This may be a significant step towards maintaining the Christian community in Iraq.
If the Assyrians and Christians outside Iraq want to help the Christians in the Kurdish territory, they should help and encourage the building of houses, schools, clinics, churches, meeting halls supplied by a transport network covering the Christian and Kurdish areas so that our intension as Assyrians and Christians are obvious and clear. For the last 70 years, the Assyrian diaspora have successfully set up and established political organizations, clubs, churches and schools in their adopted countries with their well organised annual conventions which are well attended. However, one must ask the question, what have these Assyrians and Christians done for us in Iraq. Aside from some donations, we more often appear to be using the Assyrian issue for local consumption and to attack each other?
Assyrians and Christians in diaspora often accuse or blame church leaders for something or other. I believe the church leadership kept the spirit of the Lord alive in Iraq under the unbearable present situation. When the going was tough the majority fled from the hot spots leaving those who were not able to leave. Those remaining took refuge in the churches. It is these people and the church leaders who maintained the spirit of the lord alive in the north of Iraq and Kurdish territory.
My thoughts are derived from my observations during my time with the coalition. As a member of the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council (IRDC) working for the pentagon as a consultant in agriculture. I spent 14 months visiting Iraq and returned to the UK in June, 2004. The atmosphere was very destructive, it felt very much like there was a hidden agenda to destroy Iraq and hand the spoils to the sword of Islam in the name of democracy.
I hope the Christians outside Iraq will take this as a wake up call before it is too late. Today there are 7.5 Muslims in the USA with 4000 mosques and counting…. 7.1 million Muslims in the UK and 1400 mosques and counting…..20 million Muslims in Europe with mosques all over Europe; a grand mosque not very far from the Vatican. Within another 50 years god forbid you may have more mosques than churches in the USA and Sharia law will be in place in many areas. Slowly the sword of Islam (the flag of Saudia Arabia) may fly over the white house and over Europe. All this is no thanks to the new born Christian Mr George. W. Bush and his establishment. I hope and pray that our people outside Iraq stop dividing us and work significantly towards an effective bearable situation for our people inside Iraq – we need unity – not division.
May God bless and protect the Christians in the Kurdish territory and Iraq.
Turkey Disseminates Hatred Against Non-Muslims
ACSA Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac Association
The Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac Association recently wrote about the religious threats being continuously spread from the Turkish State Ministry responsible for the religious affairs, the Diyanet Isleri Baskanligi.
The European Parliament has demanded that Turkey stop these threats, but the situation remains. On the contrary, the threats have intensified.
As the whole world condemns the murder and mourns the death of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, and as tens of thousands of Muslims participated in the mourning of Hrant Dink, the Turkish state ministry mentioned above has published a statement on its home page (click here).
The statement on the home page says that, from a religious point of view, it’s unacceptable for a Muslim to participate in religious ceremonies of non-Muslims. It further states that Muslims are not allowed to pray for blessing or salvation for the soul of a non-Muslim.
The Mullah of Istanbul, who recently received the Pope and asked him to turn to Mecca, ”in the name of tolerance”, did obviously not bother himself to attend the funeral of Hrant Dink and show the same kind of tolerance he asked from the Pope.
Turkey, an EU-candidate, continuous to spread hate propaganda against non-Muslims, from highest authority, its own ministry of religious issues, even after the murder of Hrant Dink.
Ahmed Hakan, a Turkish writer, recently turned against the Turkish state in the leading news paper Hurriet, questioning the discriminating message of the ministry of religious affairs.
This state sponsored, Turkish, religious hate propaganda against non-Muslims must stop.
For how long will the EU and its member states turn a blind eye to these barbaric acts?
Turkey should not Fear the Assyrian Genocide
On December 27, 2006 Bulent Özdemir, head of the Turkish Historical Society’s (TTK) Assyrian section was quoted in Zinda on-line magazine arguing that claims regarding an Assyrian genocide during World War I are groundless and false.
It should be noted that the main financial supporter of the Mr. Özdemir and the TKK is the Turkish government. Therefore, one must presume that that there potential state influence affecting the results of Mr. Özdemir research. Mr. Özdemir’s predicament is exacerbated by the fact that the state from which he receives funding has a history of denying minority persecution. With all due respect, I cannot accept the results of his research as long as he continuously receives funding from the Turkish government. By virtue of accepting state funds, he is undermining the credibility of his work, in addition to tarnishing the reputation of his institution. It is unfortunate that the products of his research may not only be considered erroneous, but also irrelevant to serious scholarship worldwide. However, this calamity is hardly surprising considering Mr. Özdemir’s occupation, affiliation, and more importantly the proprietor of the TKK.
Only few notes are enough to expose the biases in Mr Özdemir’s research.
In the article Mr Özdemir presents his unsubstantiated theory on why the Assyrians pursue acknowledgment of the Assyrian genocide. He explains, “they use genocide claims as a means of identity". This statement exceeds all logic. Mr Özdemir is claiming that one of the oldest people on earth, with a documented history spanning more than 7000 years, have a weak identity. Things could not be more further from the truth.
In fact, his statement regarding weak identity is more applicable to Turks than Assyrians. Many of today’s Turks have the blood of Assyrians, Armenians, Greeks and other minorities running through their veins. Many children and young girls were made Muslims and Turks by force after their family members were killed during the genocide. When the younger today’s generation of young Turk’s realize that their grandparents were forced to become Turks they will start to ask questions. Fearing that this will erode Turkish identity, the state is now desperate to deny facts through state funded scholars like Mr Bulent Özdemir.
Furthermore, a conference on the Assyrian genocide will take place in the Swedish parliament in late January. Mr Bulent Özdemir is welcomed to attend and listen to the findings of independent scholars on the Assyrian genocide, Seyfo. In the meantime, Turkey should not fear the Assyrian genocide. The time of fear has come to an end.
Mr. Barryakoub reports for Zinda from Sweden. This article is Mr. Barryakoub's response to another article written by Bulent Özdemir published by The New Anatolian newspaper.
Where There is A Will There is A Way
During these past fifteen years I, Sharleen Will, have been a supporter of Bet-Nahrain, AssyriaSat, and Sargon Dadesho in every way that I could. I donated money, wrote letters, called in, and defended Sargon Dadesho which resulted in me being called every name under the sun. Everything I have done is from all my heart and by my own free will because, I am an extremely proud Assyrian and with a great love for my Umta. Sargon was defending the Assyrian identity (the Assyrian name), and that is one of the most precious things to me, that I will sacrifice my life for. Nevertheless, it is sad to say that during these past 3 years, I have been humiliated and insulted either on AssyriaSat by Sargon Dadesho or, on the Bet-Nahrain forum by Shamiram Daniali (sama). I ignored the insults because of the love for my Umta. For fifteen years I have always spoken as a very proud Assyrian and not as a Catholic. AssyriaSat was the best thing to happen to us. It started out very well, educating our people with our history and our values but, unfortunately that did not last. Again, in these past 3 years, AssyriaSat started a campaign against the Catholic Church and especially the Vatican. This campaign against the Catholic Church was made evident on AssyriaSat on Sargon Dadesho’s program, William and Hubert’s program (the most uneducated, aggressive, and anti-Catholic program I have ever seen) and, of course who else but Shamiram Daniali’s (sama) program. Also recently added to the list is Doobia who has joined in the campaign insulting and accusing the Vatican without evidence.
In one of his programs, Sargon Dadesho was ordering His Holiness Mar Dinkha to cut all the relations with the Vatican. The reasoning behind this is due to Sargon Dadesho’s belief that the Vatican is involved in all the problems surrounding the Assyrian Church of the East. I am providing to you a web-site link which I would like you to read (click here) and then look at the picture. After doing so I would like you to next judge for yourself whether or not the Vatican is involved with the problems surrounding the Assyrian Church of the East?
Two years ago I called Sargon on his mobile and asked him to stop all these attacks on the Catholic church. I told him that I had lived for nearly Eight years in Iran. I also added that a large majority of Assyrians living in Iran are Catholic and love their Church dearly as well as being Bet-Nahrain supporters. Not only did Sargon do nothing about it, he and the rest of the presenters started praising those who called AssyriaSat to make comments attacking the Catholic Church and the Vatican, calling them raabi (teacher).
After everything that Sargon did I still had love and respect for him. I even felt really bad whenever I was on the Assyrian forums and saw AssyriaSat was being called the “factory of lies”. Since last year and even till today, Sargon has been trying to prove that Saint Peter did not go to Rome, that he was not the first Pope and, that Saint Peter is writing letters from Babylon, the one in Bet-Nahrain. That is where I came and tried to help. I faxed him Four documents, Five pages in total, including a letter addressed to Sargon explaining why I was contacting him.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE TO THE READERS, ALL THE DOCUMENTS ABOUT BABYLON AND NEBUCHADNEZZAR THAT I SENT TO SARGON DADESHO HAVE BEEN SENT TO ZINDO MAGAZINE TO BACK UP WHAT I STATED IN MY LETTERS.
I would like to add here that the reason why I wrote the following second letter to Sargon Dadesho is because not only did he not read my first letter, or show the documents but, he also humiliated me, disrespected me, and insulted my intelligence, along with making fun of me on his program. Worse of all he made me out to be a liar. It is due to this reasoning that I have been put into the position to write a second letter to him. However I would also like to add that at the same time, he asked me for more evidence to prove to him that Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, conquered Egypt. I sent him seven documents, none of which he showed. I also sent him the best evidence possible, from the Bible. You will understand what I am saying more clearly in my second letter to him.
The reason that I am sending my letters to Zinda magazine to be published is because even though I sent Sargon all the evidence that he asked, evidence that was so easy to obtain that surely he should have his facts right before going on television, still he humiliated me and made fun of me on his programs. He left me no choice. You all know I could not call his program because if I had complained or called him a liar I would have been hung up on. I did not know what to do but try to tell MY side of the story. I now leave it to you to be the judge.
Congratulation to H.G. Bishop Mar Meelis Zaia
2007 Australia Day Awards
On behalf of the Assyrian Universal Alliance-Australia Chapter, I would like to congratulate our beloved Bishop, His Grace Mar Meelis Zaia, of the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East and General-Secretary of the Holy Synod, for receiving Australia Day Award.
His Grace is a most deserving Assyrian Australian, who for no reward and no expectation of special recognition, has gone out of his way to help the Assyrian community in Australia.
We are looking forward to work together with his Grace and other esteemed Assyrian organisations in this blessed country “Australia” in order to bring a mutual trust between various sectors of our society and subsequently to pave the way for constructive joint efforts to tackle our many problems and to bring unity, cooperation and understanding among the Assyrians people.
Your Grace, you deserve to be recognized for your hard work and dedication.
Congratulations to you, and all your fellow award-winners today. God bless you.
Assyrians of Armenia Ask for Ideas for Seyfo Monument
Translation to English by Redaktionen
The Assyrians of Armenia are about to conclude their efforts to erect a monument commemorating the victims of the 1915 Assyrian genocide, Seyfo. The monument will be erected in the Armenian capital Yerevan, in near proximity to the existing monument commemorating the victims of the Armenian genocide which parallels with the Assyrian genocide in time and place.
Assyrian architects, artists and other talented persons are called upon to donate ideas for a monument by creating a sketch. The tentative size of the monument is set at 3x4 meters squared and maximum 3 meters high.
Contributions should be sent to: email@example.com
The Akkadian Dictionary Project
One year and a half ago, the project of the Akkadian Online Dictionary was initiated by two Frenchmen, Jean-Paul Sliva and Olivier Lauffenburger. Akkadian is the ancient Semitic language spoken in Mesopotamia by Babylonians and Assyrians during several millennia until the first century AD. It was written on clay tablets using the cuneiform script, the oldest writing devised by man. In this language were recorded treasures of the world literature such as the Epic of Gilgamesh or the Babylonian Creation of the World (“Enuma Elish”).
The main objective of this dictionary is to give free access to Akkadian to scholars, students or anyone curious about this language. It provides the translation of Akkadian words into English and French and allows the reverse search of Akkadian words from their English or French equivalent. The Akkadian dictionary was designed from start as a collaborative project, where anyone (with enough skill or motivation) can contribute.
This project has been developing for a year and can not be made public. Although still incomplete with only 2,000 words, it has achieved an immediate success with more than 3,000 connections until now from people intensively using it.
We now need people wishing to help us by entering new definitions in the dictionary. The job consists of adding new words, which are later verified by an editor, corrected if needed and then validated. The work done by the author is recognized by having his name attached to the article and displayed at the end of the article.
We can provide assistance to beginners concerning edition rules, dictionary functionalities, Akkadian grammar and cuneiform script. We also consider sending by e-mail scanned pages of paper dictionaries for people who would not have access to such documentation.
There are several ways in which you can help us :
- Assyriologists, students in Assyriology or people with a knowledge of Akkadian can help reviewing and validating existing articles.
- People interested in the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations and languages can help adding new words.
- People with a knowledge of Arabic, Hebrew, Ugaritic or Ge’ez can help completing the etymological section of articles.
Most of all, we would like to stress that you do not have to be an expert in the field of Assyriology to help. The most important skill to have is some rigor in order to make the dictionary a useful and trustworthy tool.
You can get an idea of what the Akkadian dictionary looks like and how it works by clicking here and searching for the following Akkadian words : warqu, erbet, imeru, akalu, dianu, emedu, iziru, ki.
British Museum Exhibits in Alicante, Spain
The MARQ Museum in Alicante, Spain will undertake a special exhibition in April 2007 entitled: “Art and Empire: The Assyrian Treasures of the British Museum”.
According to provincial council president, Jose Joaquin Ripoll, this will mark the first collaboration between the museums, who in the future will exchange both exhibits and professors after an agreement was signed with the London institution.
He also stated that he hoped that as a result of the collaboration, more people would visit the MARQ that was voted the European Museum of the Year in 2004.
Free Trip to British Museum
New Generation Assyrians
In association with Firodil institute we have organised a FREE event on the Assyrian Lion reliefs and other Ancient Assyrian artifacts.
This event will be extremely interesting to everyone, including those who have seen the Assyrian artifacts before. Thanks to Firodil institute you will be treated to a detailed explanation of the artifacts on display. This is an event not to be missed.
The event will include the following :
* FREE breakfast at the Assyrian club
We have a maximum of 50 available places for this event, therefore REGISTRATION IS ESSENTIAL. To register please email your name, date of birth and telephone number to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for registering is the 12th of February.
You may view the flyer for this event by clicking here.
Princeton Conference on "Revolutionary Monotheism"
Princeton University's Center for the Study of Religion is pleased to announce a conference on the concept of Revolutionary Monotheism.
For further details please click here.
Reconsidering the Concept of “Revolutionary Monotheism”
Ever since nineteenth-century scholars proposed the theory of “Urmonotheismus” (i.e. primitive or original monotheism) with particular reference to those national gods, Assur, Marduk, and Yahweh, the field of Ancient Near Eastern Studies has continued to pursue the elusive question of the rise of monotheism. Due to an enduring concept of a “revolutionary monotheism” (achieved through revelation) and the resort to such polar categories as cultic religion vs. book religion, cultic ritual vs. intellectual ritual, and primary religion vs. secondary religion, attempts have been made to elevate either Egypt or Mesopotamia to a rank equal with Israel. One way of accomplishing this was to expand the category of monotheism into the concept of the One and the Many and to promote the idea that monotheism and polytheism should not be viewed as mutually exclusive concepts. The goal of this two-day conference is to refine this approach and to examine more closely the respective strategies of inclusive and exclusive monotheisms as well as explicit and implicit monotheisms by taking into account their historical and performative settings over time.
From very early on, an intensive intercultural exchange occurred within the ancient Near Eastern community across linguistic boundaries. Intellectual, theological, and political elites made conscious choices from a reservoir of ideas and transformed and adapted them to their respective religious discourses. Such a model of continuous creative adaptation fuels the understanding of the religions of the larger Mediterranean as engaged in an ongoing dialogue and dissuades us from perceiving polytheism and monotheism as static entities.
9:00 Welcome (Froma Zeitlin & Beate Pongratz-Leisten)
I. Morning Session (Chair: Michael Cook)
9:15-10:15 John Baines: “Between Many and One: Discourse Related to God and Gods in Late New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period Egypt”
10:45-11:45 Gonzalo Rubio: "Gods and Scholars: Mapping the Pantheon in Early Mesopotamia."
11:45-12:45 Beate Pongratz-Leisten: “Translating Universality into Cultic Omnipresence in Assyria and Babylonia in the 7th and 6th Century BCE”
II. Afternoon Session (Chair: Peter Schaefer)
1:45-2:45 Francesca Rochberg: “Deconstructing Divine Immanence and Transcendence in Ancient Mesopotamia: The View from a Polytheistic Cosmology”
2:45-3:45 Peter Machinist: “How Gods Die, Biblically and Otherwise: A Problem of Cosmic Restructuring”
4:00-5:00 Oktor Skjaervo: “Zoroastrianism—Monotheism, Dualism, or Plain Polytheism?”
5:00-6:00 Mark Smith: “Lost in Translation: World Theologies and “Monotheism” in the Eastern Mediterranean World between the Late Bronze Age and Late Antiquity”
III. Morning Session (Chair: Martha Himmelfarb)
9:00-10:00 Leong Seow: “Monotheism and the Problem of Divine Justice in the Book of Job”
10:15-11:15 Christoph Uehlinger: “Cult, Ritual and Monotheism: Considering the Rise of Judahite/Samarian Monotheism in Practical Terms”
11:15-12:15 Konrad Schmid: “The Quest for ‘GOD’: Monotheistic Arguments in the Priestly Texts of the Hebrew Bible”
IV. Afternoon Session (Chair: Patricia Crone)
1:30-2:30 John Collins: “King and Messaiah as Son of God”
2:45-4:00 Concluding Panel: Beate Pongratz-Leisten (presiding), Peter Machinist, Mark Smith and John Collins
Prayers CD in Aramaic by Behnam Keryo
Songs Immortal: Prayers & Psalms in Aramaic
Aramaic a millennia old language, is still spoken by more than two million people throughout the world. This language is still celebrated and practiced by at least ten millions faithful as a liturgical tongue. Stones agonize, time and centuries swallow empires; defying fatality, Aramaic is still a living language. A language of culture, a language of sciences, an international language for centuries and a bridge between people, Aramaic imposed itself from the IVth century BC in all the ancient Orient. The Aramaic alphabet is at the origin of almost all of our today’s alphabets. Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the disciples spoke Aramaic in among themselves. Many books of the old Testament had originals in Aramaic. St Matthew's gospel was first written in Aramaic.
Here is a Chaldean interpretation of the psalms. We all know these quivering songs like a loving heart blown to pieces; these shouts sprouting from the abyss calling for help; these eyes in trance; these trembling hands thrown to heaven; and these hugging and caressing words asking for a blessing, a forgiving, looking for a refuge, shelter, confort and peace.These texts tell us about a limitless confidence between two beloved: the faithful and his God. Here we hear about tenderness, love, suffering, fright, trap of death, and above all, the witness of a great hope.
Who wrote the Psalms? Are the originals written in God’s heart? These Mesopotamian hymns or Hulales and songs or Mazmures are prayed according to the traditions inherited from Babylon the beating heart and the living soul of humanity. They are sung in Aramaic, Jesus' language and our common cultural heritage. Kneaded in a heart of flesh, these praises are intense in their fragility, immense in their simplicity; they are universal, simply because they are genuine! These texts so contemplated, so meditated, so implored and so sung, have become living icons which exhale always and evermore the sent of incense. "May my prayer be set before you like incense, may the offering of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.
Behnam Keryo, PhD was born in Nineveh, Iraq. He is a former diplomat end a professor of International Relations. Prof. Keryo was cradled all through his childhood and adolescence by the centuries old Chaldean traditional songs at St Meskinta Martyr Cathedral in old Mosul. He is the author of many poetical works in French. He is in charge of La Maison du Scribe (click here) romoting old civilizations and scripts such as the cuneiform on clay, Arabic and Chaldean calligraphy.
Behnam Keryo feels at home everywhere in the world where he can watch the stars.
The texts are translated from the Syriac version of the Pshitta 2nd century
Learn Aramaic, a sacred language and a cultural heritage of humanity! Watch the script splendor of this blessed language where words so much written, so much implored, so much meditated and so much sung, they have become living icons from where gusheth light and which exhale now and ever more the scent of incense.
New Book by Rev. Misick on Assyrian Language & Literature
After the successful release of The Words of Jesus in the Original Aramaic Stephen Andrew Missick has recently published his follow up Treasures of the Language of Jesus: The Aramaic Source of Christ’s Teaching.
“I was very concerned about how so many Christians know nothing at all about Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, and know nothing about the Assyrians who still speak this ancient language,” Missick said, “I wanted to make this information available in an interesting and accessible form.” Missick’s first book The Words of Jesus in the Original Aramaic attempted to introduce Aramaic and the Assyrian Christian heritage through Aramaic terms that would be familiar to people who know the New Testament well. This includes words like “Maranatha” found in 1 Corinthians 16:22. “Maranatha” is Aramaic for “Come, O Lord,” and names such as Kefa, meaning “stone” and found in John 1:42, Martha meaning “lady” found in Luke 10:38 and Thomas, which means “twin” in old Aramaic and is found John 20:24. The New Testament calls the place where Jesus was crucified “Golgotha” at Mark 15:22 which is an old Aramaic word meaning “Skull-place.” The New Testament contains so many Aramaic words scattered throughout its Greek text that the vast majority of scholars are convinced that Aramaic was the language spoken by Jesus of Nazareth and his original followers. “The Aramaic terminology used by Jesus is very significant theologically,” Missick says, “To Jesus God was Abba-Father. The great Aramaic scholar Joachim Jeremias considered Christ’s revolutionary Aramaic “Abba” doctrine to be the central message of Jesus. Jesus calls God the Father “abba” in Mark 14:36 and this Aramaic word repeated by Saint Paul in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6. Jeremias proved that the Jews of Christ’s day avoided referring to God as “Father” as do the Muslims today. Jeremias proved that when Jesus called God “Abba” Father he was revealing God as an intimate and caring Father who dearly loves His children. This teaching deeply offended the Jewish leaders of His day. This is a uniquely Christian concept.” Reverend Missick also included a section on the Passion of Christ in his first book for those who were exposed to Aramaic through the movie on the crucifixion of Jesus entitled “The Passion of the Christ” that was directed by Mel Gibson. Mel Gibson filmed this movie in Aramaic in order to capture authenticity.
In the second book Treasures of the Language of Jesus Missick wanted to cover some new ground. “I decided in this book to break apart the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic phrase by phrase and to carefully examine it. I do the same thing with the Beatitudes in Treasures of the Language of Jesus. I also wanted to include in the Treasures book a brief historical overview of the Assyrian Christians from the time of their conversion by the Apostle Thaddeus to this very day.” Reverend Missick served as a soldier in the United States Army in Iraq during 2003 and 2004. Missick was stationed in Baghdad and while there he was able to associate with Iraqi Aramaic Christians. “I am very concerned with the hardships faced by Christians in Iraq and am trying to increase awareness within the Evangelical community of the terrible plight of Assyrian Christians in Iraq.” Missick is currently working on a comic book entitled “The Assyrians: The Oldest Christian People. “With the comic book I want to help Assyrians learn about their own proud Christian heritage and to also have an easy way to explain to curious people, and to other Christians, what it means to be an Assyrian.”
Reverend Missick is also the author of “The Assyrian Church in the Mongolian Empire” Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, Vol XIII No. 2 1999, “Mar Thoma: The Apostolic Foundation of the Assyrian Church and the Christians of St. Thomas in India” Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies Vol. XIV No. 2, 2000, “Socotra: The Mysterious Island of the Church of the East” Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies Vol. XVI No. 1 2002. These scholarly articles on the history of the Assyrian Church of the East are available online at the Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies at www.jaas.org. Reverend Missick is also the author of Mary of Magdala: Magdalene, The Forgotten Aramaic Prophetess of Christianity and distributes a short monthly newsletter entitled “Aramaic Herald.” Stephen Andrew Missick’s books can be purchased at www.amazon.com, www.aramaicbooks.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.
A Zinda Interview with Ashur Gewargis, Save Assyria Front
Zinda: We have witnessed many Assyrian conferences during the years. After the conference is over, almost nothing happens. Why should we believe that this one is different?
AG: This conference will be different because the invitations were very clear and the goals are specified and defined very clearly in the invitations. The first point is to work for the acknowledgment of the Assyrian people as the indigenous people of Iraq. The second point is to work for the recognition of the Assyrian identity as an inclusive identity for all the Assyrian sections without making any sectarian or denominational differences. The third point is to work for establishing the Assyrian region under the name of Ashur (Assyria) region equally with other groups in Iraq. This is a sign that the conference is serious. Other conferences have failed for two main reasons: The first reason: The obscurity in the names and the obscurity about the identity. They were calling people just to talk about what is our name and what are our rights. Fortunately we (SAF – Save Assyria Front) know what are our rights and our name. That is why our discussions have been going smoothly. The second reason is that the political result of all other conferences was a follow up committee. A follow up committee is doomed to fail. But a front, a political front, will create stronger ties between the political bodies who are working for the same goals. Everybody in the front will be obliged to work according to the final declaration of the conference.
Did you invite all Assyrian organizations?
AG: Yes we have invited all Assyrian organizations, regardless which names they use to work under and regardless their ideologies, they are all Assyrians and they must be invited to every Assyrian conference.
Did you invite the Chaldean parties ?
AG: Yes, we invited the Chaldean National Congress as an Assyrian party working under the Chaldean name.
You were asked about ADM and ADO and BNDP in one of your lectures in Stockholm, and you said they didn't attend, can you tell us why?
AG: ADM and ADO didn't attend for unknown reasons, and they didn't send any answer to our invitation, and the BNDP didn't attend but they sent their good luck wishing for the conference without mentioning the reason of their absence, I can't say why they didn't attend and you can address your question to them.
You are a newly-founded front; you lack funds, a professional lobby group, militia in Iraq or other essential components for waging a national struggle. How do you want to convince the average Assyrian that he or she should support you?
AG: If we had a militia and money and such things then we would not need the support of the Assyrian people. Having militia is not our main goal, the struggle of the SAF will be political, but the support and the funds of the front depend on the Assyrian people today. We are not counting on non Assyrians. Whoever believes in the goals of the front should support the front, but unfortunately the political fashion in today’s Assyrian society is such that we support this or that party because it is big or strong. And this is very wrong, because the people should support the rightful rather than the strong. As for the work here in Sweden, we have held many lectures about the conference and we have established many supporting committees from independent Assyrians belonging to all our churches in many Swedish cities as a start, and they are expanding day by day, the same will be done in other countries where Assyrians live.
Can you mention one practical activity the Save Assyria Front (SAF) will make in the near future for the Assyrian people, besides holding meetings or issuing declarations?
AG: As you know we are still in the beginning. We are trying to promote the front and make other groups join us. The first step is to promote the front, to make people understand what we are working for and make them understand that we are not against any other Assyrian political body. We are not established in order to face other Assyrian bodies and we also hope that Assyrian parties will not put obstacles in our way. The second step will be contacting non Assyrians all over the world. Other steps will be in action and people will know them in the right time
So you will work to expand the front and to make it known, but you have not mentioned one practical thing the SAF will do for the Assyrian people in the nearest future.
AG: We think it is enough to start by proposing an Assyrian cause, something that our people haven’t had for decades and this is one of the main reasons why the final declaration of the conference was like a surprise, it was the first courageous stand by organizations from Iraq and abroad at once because we never used to propose what is useful.
How will you deal with the fact that the SAF does not represent the majority of Assyrians?
AG: This is something very normal. We know that we do not represent the majority of Assyrians but at least we represent the Assyrian cause, the rightful aims, this is what we represent. Our work will not be only with Assyrians and we are not interested in elections or which party is representing the majority or the minority. All we are interested in is to get decisions, international and Iraqi decisions regarding the Assyrian situation. The international community does not look to how many people are agreeing with this or that party, they look at who is rightful and who is not, this is what we are depending on, we are thinking first of all to deal with the international opinion.
There are people among our nation who prefer to identify themselves as Syriacs or Chaldeans. And some of these groups don’t accept to be identified as Assyrians. How are you going to handle this issue?
AG: If I was to agree on any compound name I would ask myself: what are the goals or the national aspirations of those who are refusing the Assyrian identity as theirs? For example, what are the goals of the Assyrians who are claiming that they are a Chaldean nation? They didn’t show any case in Iraq, they didn’t ask for anything and the same regarding the Suryoye in Iraq. So how would we compromise with them about our/their identity to accomplish some goals while they are not agreeing with us on these goals? That’s why the project with the compound names has failed until now and even the goals of that project. So the identity have failed in Iraq and the goals have failed because we have wasted time with some people who are not interested in anything that is Assyrian, neither goals or identity. And here I am not talking about the Suryoye or the Chaldeans; I am talking about a few politicians from these both churches who are trying to deceive the simple Assyrians of those churches.
But how will you make those Syriacs and Chaldeans agree to be represented by the national name of “Assyrians”?
AG: We will not try to convince any Assyrian about the Assyrian name, and we will not discuss the Assyrian identity with Any Assyrian, but we will keep spreading awareness as much as possible. Some organizations, be it in Syria or in Iraq have compromised with the simple minded Assyrians by saying: Ok, we are Assyrian-Suryoye or we are Chaldo-Assyrians, and that Assyrian "and" Chaldeans "and" Syrians (Suryoye) are one people, as if someone says that French "and" Catholics are one people knowing that there are Catholic French... So there has never been an awareness campaign and I can assure you that when Assyrians who do not accept the Assyrian name will see that we are working for them under the Assyrian name as we are working for the Assyrians who believe in the Assyrian name, many of them will then support us. And I am sure they will finally understand that they can not take their rights if they don’t work under the Assyrian name. The best example for this is that all the compound names we have heard of so far such as Chaldo-Assyrians and before it we heard about the Assyrian-Suryoyo name but we have never heard any one working under the name Chaldo-Suryoye or Syrian-Chaldeans because they know very well that they will fail politically without the Assyrian name. And the enemies of the Assyrian nation will support every Assyrian who replaces the Assyrian name by sectarian names. If we want to know what our real name is, we should remember which name was fought against by our enemies. Which name was fought by Saddam and now which name is fought by the Kurds, it is only the Assyrian name. That is how we can conclude what the real name is, it's the name that can give us our rights.
You mean that our historical name “Assyrians” is a key for obtaining our rights in Iraq. But the Kurds have obtained a lot despite not having an historical name in the sense you refer to, so obviously historical names are not crucial for obtaining ones rights, as you claim.
AG: The Kurds may have political rights but no historical rights but knew how to work politically. We have both historical and political rights and we abandoned the both.
So it means that we also can obtain our full rights only by pursuing the political rights? So the historical is not important?
AG: No, the historical rights are important. We are attached to our identity because the Assyrian cause is a historical cause, but the Kurdish cause is not a historical cause. The land where the Kurds established their region is not Kurdish land. But the land where we as a people are trying to establish our region is Assyrian land it is Assyria and we are still preserving the Assyrian culture in the form of language, traditions etc.
You say that the compound name has not taken us anywhere the last few years, but many will say that neither the Assyrian name has taken us anywhere for the last 100 years.
AG: No, if we look at history in WWI, only the Assyrian name was used and we had an Assyrian cause and the Assyrian name was known all around the world. The church of the east fought for the Assyrian cause and we had support from many intellectuals from the Syrian orthodox and Chaldean church, but both those churches, as institutions, were against the Assyrian cause, and still are today. And I am not being sectarian when I say this, these are historical facts. So before proposing something called union attempts, we had an Assyrian cause until 1947 when Mar Ishai Shimun was proposing the Assyrian cause in the San Francisco 1st conference of the United Nations. But later some organizations started proposing new names, especially after the 70’s and even after the falling of Saddam, the Assyrian cause started to die because these organizations wasted all our time by compromising with some clergy or sectarian associations just for elections or financial support, and finally those clergy left them.
But how can a name give us our rights?
AG: First of all it is not a name issue, but an identity issue. As I said before, our cause is attached to history, we are an indigenous people identified as “Assyrian”. That is why our historical identity should be preserved and should not be divided or should not look as a sectarian or religious identity.
What is more important in your opinion: receiving our full rights in Iraq or having one single name for our nation?
AG: Both are important. We can not receive our rights with a compound name, because as you see we are today known as Iraqi Christians, why? Because we didn't respect our Assyrian national identity, we innovated compound names by putting the Assyrian name with sectarian religious names for the sake of personal and partisan agendas. Non Assyrians are not obliged to use the compound name, and for westerners it is easier to just call us Iraqi Christians instead of mentioning the compound name. That is why we will be understood to be only a religious group when we use sectarian names for the Assyrians. We should never promote the Assyrian name as a church name alongside other church names. Assyrians are the followers of the Church Of The East, the Syrian Catholic, Orthodox and the Chaldean church, who are living in the historical lands where Assyrians lived and who are practicing the Assyrian culture and traditions, are all Assyrians, and there may be Assyrians from other religion, also there are followers of these churches in India, and Arabs… those are not Assyrians but they follow all these churches, we should accept it because this is history, Giwargis the Bishop of Arabs was appointed for the Christian Arabs in Syria, in the 4th century by Mar Yaco Of Nessibis, so when talking about denominations let’s keep the Assyrian national name apart.
But if you had to choose between having one single national name and no full rights in Iraq or full rights in Iraq under a compound name, what would you choose?
AG: Your question is not correct. Before asking this question you should first hear some one asking for Assyrian federalism at least, even though under the compound name. Let them do it and then we will negotiate with them and present one single aim to the Iraqi government.
So you are actually saying that for the SAF, the name issue is negotiable?
AG: I'm talking about the aim, we will not negotiate the Assyrian identity, let them ask for federalism equally with other groups in Iraq and according to the federal Iraqi central constitution, and under the compound name if they insist, and we will keep asking for it under the Assyrian national name, and finally we would be asking for the same goal. But we have never seen any Assyrian group asking for federalism under the compound name… anyway, what will be the name of the region ? Here I'm talking about the proposed Assyrian Triangle (Nohadra and the so-called Nineve plains) together as one region, which is not negotiable.
What do you think about the Kurdish constitution ?
AG: We have no relation to this constitution and we are not concerned about it because we are not a part of the so-called kurdistan people, I didn't read it and don't care what it gave us and what it didn't give us, we have to focus on the Iraqi constitution and our aims should be presented only and only to the Iraqi central government according to the international laws as the indigenous people of Iraq, we are not the subjects of any Iraqi group be it Kurdish or any other.
What can you say about the future of this front (SAF)?
AG: We can not say much for now but we have already started in the right way and we have very expanded contacts with non Assyrians as we have with Assyrian society, be it in the west or in the Middle East or anywhere else. Everything is prepared and many non Assyrian parties have contacted us and offered their full support.
Is it Iraqi parties?
AG: Yes, Iraqi parties
Don't you think in this case you may be faced by the anger of some Arab or Kurdish sides ?
AG: We are not against Arabs neither Kurds nor anyone. But we are against every project that is trying to change the identity of the Assyrian people or land, and we are working according to the equality principals; if there is federalism in Iraq, we should have our own share within one Iraq.
Can you mention any names of parties who support you?
AG: L ater, in the right time.
Why can’t you mention their name?
AG: Because we didn't start until now, they have declared that they support our goals but nothing has happened yet. We are still planning for another meeting to expand the front as declared in our final statement, and then we will start meeting with everyone who is ready to support, be it Assyrians or non Assyrians.
Do you realize how huge the task ahead of you is?
AG: Yes we do, the task is not really hard, but the building of the Assyrian question is weak since decades and that’s why we believe the task is now hard. We have intellectuals, money, means, but the problem is that our people have not used this power yet or organized it. So to organize a people, or to convince them that they should support you, you should tell them that you are working for a better future for them, until now, none of our parties has done this, and the Assyrian cause is misunderstood to many Assyrians as being a humanitarian cause; sending money for refugees, building schools where our students get false education about the identity of the nation and land, and unfortunately many are still proud of this. And we have made the conference to put an end for this and re-build an Assyrian nationalistic ideology that will lead for the resurrection of the Assyrian nationalism after decades of submissiveness by our rooted parties and organizations.
You criticize Assyrian parties although SAF are new yourselves and you have not presented any activity for the Assyrian people. Is it correct of you to criticize other parties at this initial stage?
AG: Yes it is correct because the failure of those parties is one of the main reasons for making our conference, we wish if those parties worked for our mentioned goals so there wouldn't be a need for new organizations. In the political work of persecuted people, there are several steps. The first step is to propose your goals; the second step is to get the support of other sides and your own people. We have now started with the first step as a new established front and we have published all our goals in several languages. So if those parties are rejecting what I say about their failure in working for the Assyrian cause, then the question is: what is the Assyrian cause according to them? If it is not these goals that our conference has proposed then what is the Assyrian cause?
Other Assyrian groups accuse you for being naive and unrealistic about your goals.
AG: This is their nationalistic education, they are free to say whatever they think, but they should know that we are working for the truth and there is a difference between truth and fact, the truth is that our land is Assyria, but the fact is that it's being called Kurdistan, the truth is that we are Assyrians but the fact is that we are being called Christians of Iraq, and sometimes Christians of Kurdistan, so if we will keep accepting the fact we will fail nationally. A national movement is created to change a wrong fact, and if our parties will work according to the fact and for the fact then we don’t need them, because the fact already exists, with or without them. We didn’t understand until now what these parties want. Some are saying that they want to join the southern part of the Assyrian triangle to the Kurdish occupation. This is a Kurdish mission, it is a service for the Kurds, and it is not an Assyrian cause.
It is said that SAF has no existence on the ground in Iraq and it is therefore easy for you to talk about creating Ashur region.
AG: No, this is very wrong because The Assyrian General Conference (AGC) is working in Iraq. And now the AGC is the representative of the front in Iraq where it is a registered political entity. I want to say to the people who accuse us of not having any presence in Iraq: When their parties were first established they didn’t have any major support and this is the reality for every newly established political body. This front is joining together parties who have the necessary strategy or the necessary Assyrian nationalism or thinking in order to achieve the goals of every Assyrian, and I say again, The people should support the rightful weak rather than the unrightful strong, nationalism is a matter of principles and not a fashion.
Would you agree with others that what you are doing is dangerous, that you are putting our people in Iraq in greater danger by your claims for the Ashur region?
AG: No, there is no more danger than what our people already are facing in Iraq. They are facing church bombings, beheading of priests, kidnapping of innocent people and about 400 000 Assyrians have fled Iraq and so on. There isn’t any danger more than what we are witnessing. We have nothing more to loose. We lost our identity and we are loosing our land and people.
Why is the largest Assyrian party in Iraq, the ADM, not asking for establishing an Assyrian autonomy in the north?
AG: I think they are moving according to a special ADM agenda. I don’t like to interfere in other parties issues as a spokesman for the Assyrian conference. We will work with everyone who agrees on our goals and everyone who don’t agree with us we will not work against him, and if ADM is ready to present our announced goals in the Iraqi political arena we will support it.
The SAF want a region that is not under Kurdish rule. But Assyrians have been living under Iranian, Turkish and Arab rule for more than a thousand years. Why not live under Kurdish rule today?
AG: Because first of all the Kurdish rule is giving the land a new national name. If it was named “North of Iraq” we wouldn’t have any problems to live with Kurds, Turcoman, and Shabaks etc under the name of “North of Iraq”. But whereas the Kurds are imposing a national name we will be called in the future a part of the Kurdish people and this is unacceptable. The land is one of the national factors of every ethnicity; the land, identity and culture. Now our culture is being changed to a sectarian name, namely Syrian. Our identity is being changed to Christians because of the compound name, and the name of our land is being changed to a Kurdish name and all this is unacceptable.
The SAF does not recognize the Kurdish region, can you explain why?
AG: We don’t recognize the Kurdish region because it includes many Assyrian lands that were confiscated not only in Nohadra (Dohuk) but also in Arbil, so this region is illegal. That is the main reason for not recognizing this region. Assyrians should not acknowledge this region.
Will Save Assyria Front grow?
AG: We already have received many letters of support and people are asking for another meeting which will be announced soon. We have not decided the time and place yet. The other meeting will be held in order to join other parties and organizations to SAF, and then starts our contacts officially as SAF – "Save Assyria" Front.
You are being attacked or let's say criticized by some writers for your ideology, what can you say about this?
AG: All I can say is that every individual has the right to criticize and readers know already what this individual stands for and what is his national background, some are Kurdists who were and still are lost in working to promote the Kurdish occupation, and others who are not interested about their identity.. We can’t blame anyone even if he is wrong because we know very well what a big part of the Assyrian people faced, something that prevented them to be well organized and aware of the dangers surrounding them.
After the conference you were interviewed by the Kurdish and Arab radio stations in Sweden, and after you talked about the SAF goals and finished your interview on the Arab radio, a representative from another Assyrian party was interviewed as well, and he said that you are not Iraqi Assyrians and you have no right to talk about Iraq. How would you like to respond to that?
AG: I want to ask him to read our final declaration where he will see that the AGC is the SAF representative in Iraq. AGC was established in Iraq in August/2005 and is still working there officially as an Iraqi political entity according to the Iraqi laws, I also would like to remind him that his party was established by Turkish Assyrians (following his logic) and now it's working to join the southern part of the Assyrian triangle to the Kurdish occupation. Assyrian nationalism doesn't depend on ID cards; every Assyrian in this world has the right to interfere in Assyrian matters wherever Assyrians are threatened, but unfortunately some politicians are putting these differences to achieve their obscured agenda, this is a new destructive policy in the Assyrian political arena, and it's not the first time we hear such arguments, we already heard them after the falling of Saddam from other Assyrian parties who forgot that all their financial support was from the Diaspora, as they themselves used to say. According to these people, the non-Iraqi Assyrians (as they consider them) have always to support financially but they have no right to talk.
What do you think regarding the Assyrian groups who are asking for including the Nineveh plain to the Kurdish region?
AG: It’s not an Assyrian aim, but a Kurdish one, the main Kurdish goal is to tie what they call “Iraqi Kurdistan” to what they call “Syrian Kurdistan”, and joining the Nineveh plain to the Kurdish occupation in Iraq will be an important step for the main project which is the so-called “Great Kurdistan”. The Kurds have made it too easy for themselves because Assyrians are obliged to ask for protection from the terrorist attacks in Mosul which were non existent before the Kurds asked to join the Nineveh plain to the Kurdish occupation. It is a kind of a mystery that the terrorist attacks and the Kurdish demand both started in April/2004. Anyway, I remember some of our clergies as well asked for this at that time, and also some Yesidi chiefs asked for joining Sinjar to the Kurdish occupation, so it was planned by the Kurds before we heard these parties asking for it, but today we hear them because the Kurdish occupation needed Assyrian political organizations to call for this, not only some clergy, and they found what they wanted.
So what do you say to those Assyrian parties? Many would argue that they are dealing with the fact that we are not a majority anymore in the Assyrian triangle.
AG: We were a majority but the fact today is that we are not, and maybe the fact will be worse in the future, that’s why I said before that we should deal with the truth and not with the fact, the Kurdish existence as majority in the Assyrian triangle is illegal, and every Assyrian who submit to the illegal occupation of our land, is working against his nation. Either way the Kurds can’t give us any self governing, because the Iraqi constitution does not mention anything about it, nor did any constitution in this world, there is no self- governing into another self- governing, and these parties are wasting their/our time.
What do you think about Mr. Sargis Aghajan’s policy?
AG: He has no policy, it’s his party’s policy, the KDP, he is a Kurdish politician from Assyrian origin, and we do not consider him as an Assyrian politician because KDP is not an Assyrian party, I have nothing to say about him because we have many Assyrians who are Kurdish partisans and he’s just one of them.
Don’t you think that he is playing a big role in joining the Nineve Plain to the Kurdish region?
Yes he is, but he is an individual, and we should not make him look like a big obstacle, if our parties weren’t weak since the beginning, clergies and such people would never be able to take their place, and I’m sure that Mr. Aghajan is the Assyrian superstar today in the eyes of many simple Assyrians, this is what KDP wanted; to replace parties with individuals.
The Unholy Alliance
Ashur S. Solomon
It was unimaginable to think that the Assyrian nation which British historian, H.W.F. Saggs described in his last book as “The Might that was Assyria” to become so peaceful that it not only accepted and adopted Christianity, but promoted it vigorously with its missions reaching a vast areas which stretched from the Mediterranean shores to China, and established a vast Empire larger than that of their predecessors, the pre-Christian Assyrians, built during the zeniths of their power at the hands of the Assyrian Emperor Ashurbanipal ( 668-627 B.C.).
Speaking of such Assyrian Christian Empire, which was achieved by its two sister churches, i.e., the Nestorian and the Jacobite, it is essential to shed some light on how such a great mission failed to survive today.
In mid Seventh century A.D., the Arab Islamic spread like a lightening thunder conquering the Middle East with a great deal force that it cut off our churches from its center bases and centuries later causing it to dwindle in numbers and become a minority. Furthermore, the ongoing beatings of the Assyrian Christians continued at the hands of the new converts to Islam being the Arabs themselves and like the Persians, Turks and Kurds.
No doubt, that the Christians of the Middle East and the Assyrian Christians in particular, suffered a great deal at the hands of the Persians and the pre-Christian Romans, but what they suffered at the hands of the Arabs, Turks, Iranians and Kurds in particular which surpassed them all; and that is the sad and tragic saga of the Assyrian Christians which will be the main focus of our theme.
We learn from history that these Islamic nations, i.e., the Arabs, Turks, and the Iranians were fighting for supremacy while leaving the Kurds busy as a nomadic people who usually made their living on raids and intimidations of the peaceful Assyrian Christian people.
In order to shed light on the Assyrian relation with the Kurds, it will needs volumes, but we will go through it very concisely and reveal only the major events that impacted our people’s livelihood to the degree of uprooting them from their ancestral lands which we once proudly called “Mat Ashur/Assyria.”
The first wave of attacks came in the 11th and 12th centuries when these barbarians were constantly launching raids after raids that resulted in slaughtering our people and robbing their properties without any mercy, even though our people, in many occasions struck a deal with them by paying them a ransom in advance.
Bar Hebrews (1226-1286) in his book the “History of the Church” mentioned how the Kurds burned to the ground up to 400 Assyrian Nestorian villages after they killed their men and took booty their women and children. These constant Kurdish attacks caused the mass migration of the Assyrians to the mountains to seek refuge. Some of these people are of my own ancestral tribe of ‘ Tkhoma ‘ who originated from the Arbel area. But whenever the dust settled and life was getting back to normal, these people returned back to their Assyrian ancestral lands, where you find many families in Al-Qush and Tel Keppe who belong to the Tkhoma tribe. Some of the well known families which trace their origins to the Tkhoma tribe served as clergymen in the Chaldaean Rite such as the Audo and Ballo families. The same happened with other Assyrian tribes who were originally from the land of Ashur.
The second wave of aggression, was the tragic assault that took place during the years of 1843-1846 when a large-scale attack was carried out by the Kurds under the leadership of the Kurdish warlord Badr-Khan (aka Butcher of Botan) who invaded the Assyrian territories in the Hakkari region where it was documented that over 10,000 lives were lost as a result of these attacks which lasted until Ottoman rule was restored over that region. It is worth mentioning that during this same period, massacres took place in the mountain of Lebanon where Christians were slaughtered at the hands of the Duroz, another Kurdish group originally from Iran.
The third wave, was an all out war/ Jihad on the Christian population in the South East Anatolia during WWI (1915 -1918) where hundreds of thousands of Assyrians from Urfa/Edessa in Anatolia to Urmia in Iran perished or were displaced along with other Christian groups, the Armenians and the Greeks. It is estimated that two-thirds of the Assyrian population under the Ottoman Empire was annihilated.
The American historian George Lenczowski writes in his book , “The Middle East in World Affairs” published in 1980 by Cornell University that, “the Turks skillfully channeled the Kurdish ANARCHISTIC tendencies into war against the Christians, and in particular against their close neighbors, the Armenians and the Assyrians” , and in such operation our people paid a heavy price that even the Kurdistan Times Vol 1, No.2 , Summer 1992 , Fairfax, VA itself reported that about one million Assyrians were slaughtered in a barbaric way, and of course it blamed the Turks, while they were the real executers without any shadow of doubt.
The Lamb in the lap of a wolf
For the first time during 1950 and onward some Assyrians struck an unofficial alliance with the Kurds, where some Assyrians joined the Kurd’s struggle for independence. Such an alliance was led by the late Hormizd Checko and Margaret George whom later both lost their lives. Mr. Checko was killed in action and Ms. George was assassinated and the assailant was never identified. Such an alliance continued under the leadership of Geo Checko, the brother of the late Hormizd Checko, until the collapse of the Kurdish opposition movement to the Iraqi army in 1975 when the Vice President of Iraq at the time, Saddam Hussein, signed an accord with the Shah of Iran in Algiers, who was backing the Kurdish revolt against the Iraqi government at the time for his own political reasons.
It is worth mentioning that courting the Kurds was not confined to the Iraqi Assyrians, because an Assyrian delegation from the United States comprised of Mr. William De’El of the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA) and the late Slewo Samano and Said Quryaqus, both representing the Assyrian Liberation Movement also paid a tribute to Mulla Mustapha Barzani in the early 1970's. It was very clear that even in the past few years, many Assyrians in the United States, representing various political and social organizations were in a marathon race to receive or visit these warlord thugs, Barzani and Talabani, during their visits to the US.
Mr. Geo Checko’s mission to the U.S.A.
After the collapse of the Kurdish front in 1975 as a result of the renewed Iraqi military operation in the north which put an end to the Kurdish revolt, the late Mullah Mustapha Barzani enlisted the late Geo Checko (according to Mr. Checko himself) and sent him as an envoy to outline a new strategy with the Assyrians through the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA). Mr. Checko said, according to Mulla Mustapha Barzani, that the Assyrians in Diaspora make up a very influential community that could serve their cause very well. Mr. Checko met in the first leg of his tour in Chicago with a large number of AUA members, in a meeting which lasted a few hours where they debated the issue. When the meeting was adjourned, I happened to give Mr. Checko a ride to one of his relative’s home in Chicago. As we were on our way, I informed him, that there wss a very lengthy report by the National Geographic Magazine, March 1975 issue, about the Kurd’s struggle in Iraq (Iraq’s Embattled Kurds - by Le Roy Woodson, Jr.) and that the report does not mention anything about the Assyrians and the role they play in the struggle. To his surprise, he reiterated that “as far as I know every time an outsider comes to northern Iraq, the first people they meet are always our Assyrian people.” Furthermore, that Mulla Mustapha Barzani told him that “this is your (Assyrians) opportunity, because after I am gone you are not going be treated well by my son Mas’ud”. Such conversation was also confirmed to me by his son, Beto.
Since the National Geographic Magazine article was published, I adopted a very antagonistic view towards the Kurds. My perception was strengthened when I refresheded my memories as a child, listening to the horror stories from my grandmother and other elderly Assyrian people of how much they suffered at the hands of the Kurds, and to add insult to injury, these people today are trying to establish their homeland in the heartland of Assyria, when in fact, their original homeland is not in Iraq on the one hand, and on the other hand, their numbers in Iran and Turkey, where their legitimate rights lie in the first place, far exceed those in Iraq.
A New Assyrian Leadership with a New Concept
A new leadership emerged after 1979, and such leadership was a creation of a new movement and a new name, “The Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) or Zowaa” under the leadership of Mr. Yonadam Kanna. Keep in mind that the first group under the leadership of Geo Checko adopted the name “The Kurdistani Christians”. The new group preferred to have an Assyrian name. It was UNFORTUNATELY, still under the Kurdish umbrella and control, because it was considered a member of the Kurdistani Front.
The prime goal of such organization was to assert the presence of the Assyrian nationalism. This unholy alliance was becoming more visible after the First Gulf War where the Americans and the British created that evil Kurdish enclave of the three northern provinces of Dohuk, Arbil and Suleimania as a Kurdish future homeland. In fact these provinces have never been Kurdish in the first place, and historically, ethnically and geographically they were always parts of the Assyrian heartland.
In that EVIL enclave, the Kurds held their first elections on May 10, 1992 where about one million Kurds waited in lines to cast their vote in the first free elections held in Iraq to select a 105-seat National Assembly. Mr. Yonadam Kanna was elected a member of the National Assembly and later on became the Minister of Housing. Generally, the Assyrian block possessed five SWINGING seats as the Current History Journal reported in January 1993.
A New Terminology in the Assyrian Lexicon
No one denies that the ADM established many Assyrian schools and other projects in the North (Garbia), yet life didn’t get any better for the Assyrians as it was expected, in spite of every effort that was made to reconcile with the Kurds. For instance, a new terminology was introduced for the first time by the ADM that they are “OUR BROTHERS”. Eventually, matters worsened for the Assyrians of Garbia where all kinds of intimidations, harassments and even assassinations were committed against our people, while the ADM was blaming all those crimes on the PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party in Turkey. It is ironic, that all those cover-ups by the ADM didn’t succeed, and it was crystal clear to the Assyrian masses that the Iraqi Kurds were behind these acts in order to force the Assyrians to abandon their land and property and such tactics succeeded and were confirmed by another Kurdish leader, Mr. Jalal Talabani of the Kurdish Union Party (PUK) in his exclusive interview with a leading Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat, January 11, 1995. Today, the Assyrian Christian population in Northern Iraq has shrunk to one-third of what it was in 1991.
The Kurdish Plot and Ploy
It is reprehensible to say that our people are, unfortunately, being degraded by the Kurds to a point where they are being used to serve their interests, while pleasing few people by granting them political positions. These positions are granted by dumping one group to create a new one in its place, and if we follow the events of the last fifty years or so, we will see the “Musical Chairs” shifting from Hormizd and Geo Checko to Mr. Yonadam Kanna, and later from Mr. Kanna to Sargis Aghajan and Nimrod Beto.
It is very important to say, that because of our weak situation, caused by denominational divisions, and the fact that we are small in numbers, we will not be able to function successfully without having an alliance with others; however, it is very important to have such an alliance to be formed very carefully and not in a hasty manner that will cost us in life and material as it already has.
I am not against having such cooperation with the Kurds, but the cooperation must be mutually beneficial and our people must demand the following from the Kurds:
Firstly: The Kurdish leadership SHOULD ACKNOWLEDGE their crimes against our Assyrian people in the span of the last 1000 years or so.
Secondly: The Kurdish leadership should publicly APOLOGIZE to our Assyrian people.
Thirdly: they should recognize our geographical Assyria and not try to swallow up more Assyrian territories and must stop renaming ancient Assyrian cities and places with Kurdish names as they are doing in case of our Assyrian city of ARBEL/AERBEL which has preserved its name for over 4,000 years, and now it is gradually being changed to Hawler. This is a crime not only against the Assyrian people, but it is truly a crime against the human race.
In conclusion, if the above steps are not taken by our Assyrian people, i.e., political, social and religious institutions, it will not only be considered as a grave mistake that will not be forgiven, but treason against our Assyrian nation.
Ishtar: Documenting the Crisis in the Assyrian Iranian Community
Dr. Eden Naby
With permission from The Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA)
The dwindling of the Middle East's non-Muslim population is nowhere more clearly observable than among Assyrians, the last substantive Aramaic speaking population of the world. With the establishment of Iran's Islamic Revolution, the Assyrian population dropped within a decade from 100,000 to 20,000. This article examines the establishment and the demise of the periodical Ishtar, which illustrates the Assyrians' attempt to accommodate themselves to the new Iran in the hope that a workable solution to living within an Islamist legal, political, and social framework was possible. Should Islamist Iran become a model for Iraq, what will be the fate of Iraq's Assyrians?
The publication of the weekly Ishtar (1981-1983) marks a critical attempt by the Assyrian community in Iran to find a means of living within the cultural and political confines of the then newly established Islamic Republic (February 1979). Introduced during the tumultuous years of radical change in the socio-cultural institutions of an Islamicizing Iran and during the onslaught of the Iraq-Iran War (1980-1989), the position of this Assyrian publication mirrors the fate of other periodicals and cultural personages in Iran. Therefore, how Ishtar came to be established, published, distributed, and then terminated after 45 issues is instructive on how the Islamic Revolution affected Iranian culture in general, and minority cultures in particular.
English language analysis of religious freedom in Iran during the 25 years of Iranian theocracy has generally included little information about the Assyrians, one of the quickly disappearing Christian ethnic groups in the country. Rarely, however, is the minority language press analyzed for content. It is rather the main Iranian press--whether conservative or liberal--that provides the basis for most data. This is due to the obscurity of the minority press, its limited circulation outside the circles of the ethnic group, and the inaccessibility of the language of this press. In the case of the Armenians, the other ethnic Christian community of Iran, knowledge is more widespread than that of the indigenous Assyrians.
The Assyrians, the last Aramaic speakers in the world, are a transnational group with their largest Middle East population located in Iraq. Evidence pointing to the use of Aramaic in northwest Iran goes back to the pre-Achaemenid period. It is the second Semitic language of Iran after Arabic. Those who speak Assyrian live along the border with Iraq in northwest Iran. The Mandaeans of Iran and Iraq originally spoke Aramaic as well, however, they have adapted to Arabic. Prior to its destruction in World War I, the main Assyrian cultural base lay in northwest Iran and around the towns of Urmiyah/Riza'iyeh and Salamas/Shapur. Like the publishers of Varliq (1979-1997), the voice of Azeri Turkish intellectuals, some Assyrians saw in the heady early months of the 1979 Iranian Revolution the hope for a more egalitarian cultural and political framework for the country--one that would allow them a cultural presence. Soon, however, with Saddam Hussein's unilateral attack on Iran's oil-rich Khuzistan province, Iranian authority consolidated around an extremist Shi'a core, and it was no longer safe to express dissent.
The Ishtar project was started by men (and some young women) from among those Assyrian families who had stayed in Iran despite the terrible assault on their community during the First World War. However, their efforts largely failed. By 1989, the very families that had spearheaded Ishtar had left Iran for Western countries. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 ended up having as profound an effect on the Assyrian presence in Iran as did the killings of World War I. Once more Iran lost a major portion of its Assyrian population--this time to rapid emigration. Thus, while Iran's general population increased by about 150 percent between the 1956 and 1986 censuses, the Assyrian population shrank from about 100,000 to 20,000, or by 80 percent. Had the Assyrian population grown uninterrupted from 1914 to 1956 and at the rate of Iran's general population, it should have reached some 180,000 by the time of the first official census (1956), and 450,000 by 1986. Yet at the start of the twenty-first century, it is no more than 15,000.
The Assyrian population of Tehran underwent such humiliating changes in law and government behavior so as to test the determination of some of the most ardent members of this community to the breaking point. During the 1980s, many more joined their extended families and co-ethnics in Europe, Australia, the United States, and Canada. The already weakened institutions of church and secular organizations were still further weakened as a result of the loss of educated and dedicated men and women to emigration. Families with female children in particular found themselves under constant strain. Restrictions on dress and association, in place for Muslims, extended further into the social fabric of the non-Muslim population.
Ishtar's failure stemmed not from internal Assyrian factors, but rather from two realities of media control in Iran at least throughout the past century: the system's wide policy of licensing and censoring of media, and the heavy-handed means of dealing with politically suspect groups in the Iran of the 1980s. During the first decade of the Iranian Revolution, particularly during the years when the fundamentalists were eliminating all opposition (first from the liberal democrats, then from the left, and finally from its own dissidents), the control of media became especially severe. During the period of terror following the revolution, not even the voice of Ayatollah Khomeini could rein in zealous extremism.
The position of sanctioned religious minorities (aqliyatha-ye rasmi) protected in the constitution came under attack. Ishtar recorded many attempts throughout 1981-1982 to protect the rights of the community by pointing to the constitution of the Islamic Republic. Lead articles, as if anticipating the crackdown on minority rights and trying to ingratiate themselves to prevent the attack, intoned, "Today throughout Iran, different people, Kurds, Azerbaijanis, Arabs, Lur, Baluch, and smaller others live equally next to each other. And cooperatively, in their Islamic homeland, they stand against world hegemony led by America." In fact, during this period, the Kurds were in rebellion, Arabs in Khuzistan were agitating for a greater share of the oil revenue to remain in their province, and the landless Turkoman had become emboldened to take the properties of major landlords. On the Tehran political front, the struggle of the Mojahidin-e Khalq against the Iranian Revolutionary Party (IRP) resulted in the bombing of the IRP headquarters, in which some 100 party members were killed. Ishtar's pages do not reflect the political struggles within Iran.
The first crisis recorded in Ishtar was that of directive #62123 of Aban 20, 1360 (October 13, 1981) from the Tehran provincial office of education, which "sent alarm throughout the Assyrian community." The strict enforcement of such directives from the Ministry of Education and Training--and especially from the Ministry of Culture and Religious Guidance--led to eventual disintegration of Assyrian schools. Assyrian schools were forced to accept Muslim principals to conform to the law forbidding non-Muslims to serve as head administrators of any organization. Clearly this decision affected other minorities as well, including the Jews, Zoroastrians, and Armenians. Moreover, Assyrian schoolgirls were obligated to wear the hijab (veil) in accordance with Muslim Shari'a law. The schools were also forced to introduce Koranic instruction into the curriculum, as they accepted Muslim students. The hardest blow, however, was the ban on the teaching of Assyrian neo-Aramaic in the public schools run by the community; such instruction thus became confined to churches and clubs. Even appeals to the constitution and to the principle of the equal treatment of minorities could not withstand such determination to control education.
WHO STOOD BEHIND ISHTAR?
The licensing process for periodicals and the publication of books in Iran was fraught with obstacles. Many a less persistent Assyrian abandoned efforts to publish works of poetry and textbooks due to the unpredictable and tedious bureaucratic process involved. Such harassment of Assyrian institutions meant that literary works (poems and short stories) had to be translated from Assyrian neo-Aramaic into Persian and then taken to the censors. At times the censors would only request that part of the book be translated, but once that part had been translated would decide they wanted another part or even the entire book translated. The number of publications decreased, and eventually very little was published. Publication was resumed in 1991 following some leniencies in publication conditions after Khomeini's death in 1989. However, by then, most Assyrian publications appeared in Persian. Though Aramaic was still the dominant spoken language in the Assyrian community, Persian had become the more widely read language. Persian was also used to avoid problems with censors.
After the collapse of the strong Assyrian periodical press, following the destruction of the Assyrians in northwest Iran in 1918, only one Assyrian periodical had been published in the country. The periodical was bilingual, published in both Persian and Assyrian neo-Aramaic. In part, this reflected diminished literacy among the Assyrian community in their mother tongue. Censorship during the Islamic period in particular had added on many extra hours of work in translating the materials into Persian--time the volunteer activists could ill afford. Though the materials were translated into Persian, other Assyrians were recruited by the government to examine the original text in Aramaic--as the censors themselves were unable to read Aramaic--to check for any objectionable content. Understandably, Assyrian writers and editors assiduously avoided content that would provoke the censors' ire (i.e., love, wine, Assyrian national sentiment, or anything concerning foreign countries). In order to avoid treason charges (such as those that led to the dismissal and flight of men like President Abol-Hassan Bani-Sadr (1980-1981)), Ishtar printed anti-American material in its headlines and included pictures of leading Islamic religious politicians in the paper.
Dr. Sargon Bet Oshana (1927-1988), elected as the Assyrian (and Chaldean) representative to the first legislature (Majlis) under the Islamic Republic, was responsible for obtaining Ishtar's publication license. Though Assyrians were guaranteed representation in the monarchial period constitution and were allowed the same right under the Islamic constitution, they had only begun to exercise this right since the 1958 elections. Bet Oshana became the fourth Assyrian to hold that office.
Oshana was a medical doctor who came from a respected and accomplished family. His elder brother, General Philip Bet Oshana (1921-1976), was the highest ranking Assyrian in the Iranian military at the time of his service. The family came from Goegtapa. Goetapa was a small town that lay to the southeast of Urmiyah and historically had been one of the most important Assyrian cultural centers in the Urmiyah region. It had been the locale of good Assyrian schools before World War I. These Christian schools (1835) preceded the establishment of the Alliance Israelite Universal schools (1898), which, like the Christian missionary schools, initially served only Iranian Jews but quickly saw the benefit of admitting Muslims and Christians as well.
Dr. Bet Oshana had been politically active as well. His profile was high enough to have been included in the 1981 15-man Iranian delegation to the 68th Inter-parliamentary Union Conference in Havana, Cuba. As the Assyrian Majlis representative, he traveled often to Urmiyah and its villages. He wrote many of the political articles in Persian that appeared in Ishtar, and his image appears on many of its pages. In his writings, he sometimes approved certain questionable government actions. One such example is the imprisonment and eventual execution of Sadegh Qotbzadeh (1936-1982), a Khomeini aid and former foreign minister who had been tried for his involvement in a plot that resulted in the sidelining of the leading liberal cleric Ayatollah Shariatmadari. Dr. Bet Oshana maintained a trust in Iran's Islamic constitution as a means of protecting Assyrians, which, in light of the repression between 1981 and 1983, appear rather desperate. He saw to it that pictures of Khomeini, Khamene'i, and Rafsanjani--all prominently turbaned icons--appeared in the Persian section of the newspaper. Yet the articles accompanying the pictures did not display the same fawning and ingratiating attitude. Indeed, throughout the first several issues, the words "Islamic Republic" were rarely used. The term "Revolutionary Republic" appeared instead. In February 1983, in the general round-up of Communists (Tudeh)--which followed the crushing of the Mojahidin-e Khalq--Dr. Bet Oshana too was arrested.
Assyrian leadership in Tehran was concerned that it had lost its only legislative representative. A delegation consisting of a bishop, several priests and pastors, and the Editor in Chief of Ishtar Rabi Issa Benyamin, met with Speaker of the Majlis Hashem Rafsanjani to discuss the matter. According to Rabi Issa, Rafsanjani had the Assyrian delegation led into a room with a tape recorder on the table. When the machine was turned on, they heard Dr. Bet Oshana's voice repeating the confession extracted from him that he had been a member of the Tudeh Party.
Eventually Oshana was released, but was forced to leave Tehran for the eastern provinces. He never completed his term of office. For over a year, the Assyrians of Iran were unrepresented in the Majlis. In 1984, Atur Khnanisho was elected and served two consecutive four-year terms (1984-1992). Following Dr. Oshana's arrest, only two more issues of Ishtar were published. Publication ceased as the periodical had lost its license and the man who might have fought for its renewal.
Rabi Issa Benyamin ("Rabi" meaning teacher) was editor of the Assyrian section of Ishtar and the main force behind the publication. Rabi Issa, whose family was from Salamas (north of Urmiyah), has become best known for his imaginative calligraphy and his creation of several new and artistic fonts for the Aramaic alphabet. The Ishtar articles he wrote used the vernacular Assyrian neo-Aramaic, the main written language of the Assyrians of Iran (as opposed to classical Syriac, the extinct spoken language of church liturgy).
Many of Rabi Issa's calligraphic creations appeared in Ishtar. All Aramaic headlines were written by Issa, as at the time there was no printing capacity to produce bold-faced and enlarged headings. Eventually his daughter, Ramica, learned to type the articles on a manual Olivetti typewriter, one of a dozen or more that had been specially ordered from the Italian manufacturer by the Assyrian American National Federation. This was not the first time that an Assyrian writing product had made its way to Iran from the West. In addition to the modified eastern Aramaic fonts produced by the American missionaries and used in Urmiyah since 1843, an Assyrian by the name of Mirza Aurahim, son of Qasha (Reverend) Odisho of Golpashan, had brought a lithograph machine to Urmiyah around 1900.
The Assyrian articles in Ishtar carried less political content than those in Persian, and concentrated more on Assyrian matters. These included obituaries of those lost in the Iran-Iraq War, the passing of community stalwarts, and cultural news. Rabi Issa's strong political views--if they could be labeled leftist--grew not out of ideology, but rather like most Assyrians and minorities, out of the belief that a socialist system, exemplified by the Soviet Union, promised more reliable protection of minority rights. In many respects, the existence of an Assyrian diaspora community in Soviet Armenia and Georgia for nearly 200 years (with language, history, and folkloric content) gave many Assyrians in Iran faith in the Soviet nationality policy.
In 1948, Rabi Issa published a handwritten and lithographed issue of Surgada Umtanaya (Patriotic Calendar). He was thus the first person to succeed in reviving Assyrian publishing since the First World War. He enjoyed the trust of many in the community. A group of young Assyrian university students (including his own son Ramsin) helped with the paper. They contributed columns, for example to the sports section (in Persian). They also visited the five Assyrian churches of Tehran every Sunday to sell the paper for 25 rials per issue (then $40).
Ishtar was the product of volunteer labor. The volunteers all had other vocational responsibilities. Rabi Issa, for example, worked as the director of Human Resources at the Iranian Ministry of Environment. In fact, throughout the long history of Assyrian publication in Iran, Assyrian publications have been run by both men and women whose main profession was not in media. The Assyrian press has thus been a labor of devotion, not financial gain.
Ishtar's annual subscription rate of 1,000 rials brought little revenue and the project only broke even. It also received donations from other parts of Iran as well as from Tehran. The publication did not cease for financial reasons or due to lack of volunteer labor, but rather as the result of political repression.
LANGUAGE AND THE ASSYRIAN PERIODICAL PRESS IN IRAN
Prior to World War I and the destruction of Iran's Assyrian community, all Assyrian periodicals appeared in Assyrian neo-Aramaic. Moreover, Assyrian periodicals--with the rare exception of the Tiflis-based Kokhva d Madinkha (Star of the East) of the early Soviet-era--have only published Assyrian neo-Aramaic in the Aramaic alphabet. When the Assyrian press was finally revived in Iran during the years following World War II, most newspapers became bilingual, appearing both in Assyrian and in Persian.
Long before the publication of Ishtar, the Assyrians of Iran had attempted several times to resuscitate their periodical press. In Urmiyah in 1849, under the supervision of American missionaries, the monthly Zahrira d-Bahra (Rays of Light, 1849-1918) was established and became the first periodical published in Iran in any language. By 1914, with the start of Kurdish raids into Assyrian villages in the Urmiyah-Salmas area (just prior to and in conjunction with Ottoman entry into World War I), there were already four Assyrian periodicals based in Urmiyah. This was more than in any other language in the area. However, the only publication that could claim relative independence from missionary denominational interest was Kokhva (1906-1918).
In 1918, the Assyrian cultural renaissance in Iran was put to an end. By that summer, the Christians in Iran situated closest to the still ill-defined Turkish border fled from the Kurdish and Ottoman forces. Tabriz and its Christians were little affected by this turmoil, as the Armenians in Tabriz were protected by the local Muslim population. Having lost two-thirds of their population as well as most of their intellectuals and clergy, the Assyrians who managed to stay in Iran never recovered their cultural strength.
The political instability of the 1940s in Iran allowed little space for the minority language press. During the Mossadegh period (prime minister of Iran from 1951-1953), there were a few failed attempts to revive the periodical press, with the literary monthly Gilgamesh (1952-1959) the first to succeed. This publication accomplished the important task of preserving Aramaic poetry written by those who had managed to acquire a solid Aramaic education--despite the closing of many Assyrian language schools with Reza Shah's introduction of universal, strictly Persian, language education. Kerkha Yerkhana (Monthly Paper, 1962-1969), Ator (1968-1979), and Shvila (1977-1979) were the other titles that emerged. There exists no record of any other Assyrian periodicals in Iran. All of these periodicals were published in Tehran, though all of the editors, publishers, and writers had come from northwest Iran. On the eve of the Islamic Revolution, two Assyrian periodicals were circulating in Tehran. The first was Ator and the second was Shvila. However, the chaos of the revolution brought an end to these and at least a hiatus to many far more firmly based Iranian newspapers and magazines.
The 1960s and 1970s also saw a revival of Assyrian culture and society in Teheran. This included the institution of clubs, a school (Shoshan/Susan), theater groups, musical performances, and the publication of books and periodicals. In addition the instrumental Assyrian Youth Educational Committee of Tehran (Sita Sapreta Atureta d-Tehran) was formed along with other groups, such as the Graduate Assyrian Association of Tehran, which initiated and ran cultural affairs in a distinctly secular but strongly ethnic direction. The Tehran-based periodicals circulated in other towns as well including Abadan (where a large and wealthy Assyrian community worked in petroleum related professions) Urmiyah, Kermanshah, and Tabriz. Assyrian neo-Aramaic, which had been developed and strengthened in Urmiyah, had become the standard language of intellectual activity. This was true despite the fact that Persian was becoming more and more popular among the youth after the institution of universal Persian language education since 1934.
An important factor working against the retention of Assyrian neo-Aramaic was the difficulty in maintaining language schools. The Iranian government saw no responsibility toward minority languages. It only allowed private instruction in select languages that formed the basis of separate officially tolerated religions (Assyrians, Armenians, Jews, and Zoroastrians). Since the government did not provide any financial support for language study, the chief burden fell on each community. The communities ran part-time schools at churches or clubs. Had there been any encouragement of Aramaic at any period at the university level, perhaps the language might have progressed. Year after year, however, even after the acquisition of a printing press from India in 1948, the number of Assyrian language books (including poetry, history, and essays) declined due to lack of readership. Thus the history of the community, when preserved, turned increasingly to materials written in Persian or translated into Persian, by intellectuals whose knowledge of Persian literature and culture had begun to exceed that of their own culture. It is true that during the 1950s increased interest in ancient Assyrian literature led to adaptations of this material into the vernacular. Adday Alkhas (1897-1959), for example, put Gilgamesh into vernacular Assyrian. William Daniel (1903-1988) also introduced a modern epic, The Great Kateena, in vernacular verse. Yet the latter was made available on audiotape to accommodate reduced Aramaic literacy among the potential audience.
The second factor that reduced opportunity for the propagation of Assyrian neo-Aramaic was the emptying out of Assyrian villages, the main venue for language preservation and teaching. The emptying of the villages together with rapid urbanization of an educated and educationally appreciative population, led to the breakdown of compact population centers. Constant insecurity for Christians, especially from Kurdish marauders, drove many people to the city of Urmiyah. Families then moved to Tehran, and although they made attempts to live near each other or close to their churches, all neighborhoods contained a majority of Persian speakers. Children who grew up speaking their mother tongue at home gained greater proficiency and vocabulary in Persian once in school. They mixed in Persian words when speaking Assyrian, especially for technical terms that did not exist in Assyrian (i.e. radio, television, etc.). The Assyrian Youth Educational Committee of Tehran made a strong effort to create such new vocabulary as technical advancement required, but with limited effect.
Such factors led to the adoption of bilingual periodicals after World War II. With the exception of the literary magazine Gilgamesh, all others contained both Assyrian and Persian sections. Ator, edited by Dr. Wilson Bet Mansour, also included an English section after the collapse of Urmiyah's Assyrian base and the growth of a large Assyrian diaspora in Europe and the United States. Ator slowly began to circulate internationally and, as the Assyrians of Iran created an international Assyrian organization in 1968 (the Assyrian Universal Alliance), Ator acted in part as the voice of that international organization.
THE SHORT PUBLICATION LIFE OF THE ASSYRIAN PRESS
The longest continuously published Assyrian periodical continues to be Zahrira d-Bahra (Sixty-Nine Years), a monthly backed by the American missionary effort based in Urmiyah. The secular Assyrian Star (1952 to present), the second longest continuous publication, serves as the official publication of the Assyrian American National Federation. In both cases, the periodicals outlasted the lifetimes of their original editors and publishers. The other serial publications that have been published continuously and under different editors are the church publications. Institutional support, therefore, is critical for passing a publication on to succeeding editorial staff. Yet, among Middle East minorities in general, religious institutions are the only ones that enjoy the legal protections necessary for continuity. With few exceptions, other Assyrian periodicals worldwide have been the work of one man, sometimes together with a group of friends. Once the individual passes away or ceases publishing due to emigration, the periodical frequently comes to an end as well. Such was the case with Naoum Faik's widely read Beth Nahrain (The Assyrian Paper) (1916-1930), which ended with his death.
This phenomenon of the fate of newspapers and magazines being tied to the fate of their editors and publishers is not confined to the Assyrians and has also been seen in other institutionally weak environments (i.e., pre-Soviet Central Asia, Iran, and Afghanistan). Indeed, as with any periodical press, the publisher and/or editor's political point of view can also serve as a catalyst for a political party or inclination. In more politically and economically mature environments, the equation between a political party and a periodical is less direct and more flexible.
The explanation for short-lived periodicals, however, does not lie simply in weak institutions. In Iran it is also tied to the legal framework underlying the entire picture of the press as well as the financial underpinnings of periodical publication. Since there is no financial gain in the publication of many minority newspapers, there is that much less incentive to continue publication in the absence of personal devotion, especially in light of legal hurdles.
The case of Ishtar is instructive, especially because much information is available about its legal and financial framework, its rise, production, and fall. Dr. Sargon Bet Oshana, Ishtar's publisher and one of the two men critical to its success, has passed away. The other man critical to the publication's success, editor Rabi Issa Benyamin is still available for interviews. He has participated in almost every effort of Assyrian Iranians to advance culturally since World War II. Benyamin has also generously handed over his complete set of the periodical (presented to him when he left Iran) to the Harvard College Library for preservation.
Ishtar's publication history allows for a summary examination of Assyrian hopes that Iran would emerge from the 1979 revolution to grant minorities cultural rights that might even be supported by the state, as was the case in the former Soviet Union. Assyrians in the USSR survived despite purges and restrictions, because they were a recognized Soviet nationality. However, as the grip of the Shi'a establishment grew more oppressive, religious minorities began to lose even the communal cultural rights that they had enjoyed under the Pahlavi Regime. The ascendance of the Islamic Revolution has proven near fatal to the Assyrians, who--unlike Armenians and Jews--have never benefited from a level of outside support and recognition that would draw attention to the problems they face in Muslim-dominant states.
The situation of the Assyrians in Iran during the early 1980s has an eerie resemblance with that of the Assyrians in Iraq since 2003. Opposed to Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime, yet also allowed to conduct their religiously based institutions in an apolitical manner, Christians in general and Assyrians in particular have come under heavy attack in Iraq since 2004. While some of the barbarity, such as kidnappings for ransom, is criminally motivated, the attacks on churches and priests as well as the beheadings and crucifixions are the result of rabid Islamist zeal. With Iranian inspired Shi'as rising to power in Basra and Baghdad, Assyrians are increasingly being forced into patterns similar to Iran (i.e., the forced practice of hijab, restrictions on employment, and intimidation of immigration). If Iraq witnesses the same rate of decrease that has occurred among the Assyrian population in Iran, then the fate of Assyrians in Iraq is sealed. The largest and most compact Assyrian population of the Middle East--the last speakers of the oldest continuously written and spoken language of the region--may be no more.
Dr. Eden Naby is an independent scholar who specializes in religious and ethnic minorities of the Middle East from East Turkestan to the Mediterranean. An Assyrian by Iranian birth, she is co-author (with Michael E. Hopper) of The Assyrian Experience (Cambridge: Harvard College Library, 1999). She also co-authored (with Ralph Magnus) Afghanistan: Mullah, Marx and Mujahid (Westview Press, reprint, 2002), in addition to some two dozen articles. She is currently writing a general book about the modern Assyrians.
 The word ishtar comes from the name of an ancient Assyro-Babylonian goddess of light, fertility, and rebirth. See especially Riches Hidden in Secret Places: Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Memory of Thorkild Jacobsen / edited by Tzvi Abusch (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2002).
 Eliz Sanasarian, Religious Minorities in Iran (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
 Ali Granmayer, "Minorities and Press in Post-Revolutionary Iran," in Tudor Parfitt and Yulia Egorova (eds.), Jews, Muslims and Mass Media: Mediating the 'Other' (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), pp. 55-67.
 For a discussion of this newspaper as the community became a victim of Stalinist purges, see Eden Naby, "Les Assyriens d'Union sovietique," Cahiers du Monde russe et sovietique, Vol. 16, No. 3-4 (1975).. For a summary of the Assyrian periodical press world wide, see Gabriele Yonan, Journalismus bei den Assyrern: ein Überblick von seinen Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart (Augsburg: Zentralverband der Assyrischen Vereinigungen in Deutschland und Mitteleuropa, 1985).
 Eden Naby, "World War I and the Displacement of Iranian Assyrians in Azerbaijan" (forthcoming).
 Varliq, published in Tehran by a group calling itself Afkari-e Goruh-e Farhang/Adabi Anjuman- e Azarbaijan (The Ideas of the Group of Culture and Literature Committee of Azarbaijan), was a monthly established directly after the fall of the monarchy. It then became a quarterly and was published irregularly until at least 1997. It soon became a "one man show," and it is not clear whether its publication continues. Like other Assyrian periodicals, it was not published from Tabriz, the Azeri cultural base in Iran, but rather from Tehran. Like many of the Assyrian periodicals, it was bilingual, written both in Azeri Turkic and in Persian.
 Dominique Carnoy, "Chrétientés de la République islamique," Les cahiers de l'Orient, No. 48 (1997), pp. 85-91. Estimates of Iran's population prior to the 1956 census are available at the Utrecht University Library's Iran website, http://www.library.uu.nl/wesp/populstat/Asia/iranc.htm.
 Ishtar, No. 1, 1 Tishrin II (October 3, 1981), p. 2.
 This directive affected the several minority language schools run by Assyrians, Jews, and Armenians and signaled the end of their independently-run community existence by regulating personnel and introducing Muslim principals; Ishtar, No. 3, 29 Tishrin II (Oct 31, 1981), p. 1.
 For details on the comparative repercussions of such action in the minority communities, see Sanasarian, Religious Minorities in Iran, pp. 76-84. Sanasarian's greater familiarity with Armenian Iranians and her consultation of Armenian written sources allows her to understand the Armenian situation in greater detail than that of other minorities.
 One of the worst massacres of WWI took place in Goegtapa. By the late 1940s, Goegtapa already had a substantial Shi'a and Sunni population with only a few Christian households remaining. Following the Islamic Revolution, the town's Christian population was lost. For demographic information in the late 1940s, see Farhang-e joghrafiyai-ye iran, Vol. 4 (1330/1951-1952) p. 470.
 For a discussion of the impetus and result of the establishment of these schools for the Jews of Iran, see Faryar Nikbakht, "As with Moses in Egypt: Alliance Israelite Universelle Schools in Iran," in Houman Sarshar (ed.), Esther's Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews (Beverly Hills, CA: Center for Iranian Jewish Oral History, 2002), pp. 200-12.
 The author is grateful to Houchang Chahabi for identifying this reference; Preliminary documents: agenda, draft resolutions, and reports of the Inter-Parliamentary Union's 68th Conference, Havana, Cuba (Geneva: Secretariat of the Union, September 1981).
 In the Assyrian communities throughout the Middle East--especially in Iran and Iraq--the attraction of the Soviet Union lay in the promise of minority rights as represented by Soviet nationality policy. Within the Soviet Union, Assyrians--although scattered from Leningrad/St. Petersburg to Samarkand--enjoyed recognition as one of the 100 nationality languages.
 For a summary of Assyrian representation in the Majlis, see Homer Ashurian, "Iraniyan-e Ashuri: Mardomi ke bayad as now shenakht," Javanan, No. 901 (2004), p. 58-59.
 Rudolf Macuch, Geschichte der spät- und neusyrischen Literatur (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1976), p. 123.
 Private communication from Mirza Aurahim's grand-nephew, March, 26, 2005.
 For a discussion on Assyrians in the former Soviet Union, see Naby, "Les Assyriens d'Union sovietique."
 Browne affirms this statement but makes other mistakes, as discussed in Naby, "World War I and the Displacement of Iranian Assyrians in Azarbaijan." Jan Rypka describes both the early periodical press and confirms 1851 as the date of the establishment of the Persian language periodical press, two years after the Assyrian publication History of Iranian Literature. (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1968), p. 338.
 For a discussion of this period and the Assyrian press, see Naby "The Assyrians of Iran: Reunification of a 'Millat,' 1906-1914," International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 8 (1977), pp. 237-49.
 In 1946, the first "periodic" circulation of an Assyrian publication since 1918 appeared in Tehran. It was a calendar and almanac called Surgada Umtanaya. See Yonan, Journalismus bei den Assyrern, p. 61, who suggests a later date (1954) for the commencement of this effort.
From Assyrian Temples to the Churches
As a focus of worship, the early Assyrian temple undoubtedly differed from its much more recent Christian counterpart, yet there is a remarkable coincidence between religious architectural forms of this second millennium BC and early churches of the late pre-Islamic era. The conservative, persistent, transcendent character of Assyrian civilization has long been appreciated. In religion it has been remarked upon repeatedly.
Assyrian-ness survived the conquest of Achaemenid ( not by war, but revolt, betrayal and treachery) Greek, Parthian and Sasanian rulers, and did not even succumb to the Islamic conquest. There are even echoes of Gilgamesh in the Arabian Nights. Thus, a literary work as the Arabian Nights may owe much to its Pre-Islamic, local Assyrian antecedents, just as it displays distinctive, obviously new elements.
One area which seems not to have been investigated from this point of view is Assyrian Christianity, the dominant Christianity of much of the Church of the East during the long reign of the Sassanians. No doubt because of the historical and ideological watershed which Christianity seems to represent historical in the minds of theologians and historians, little thought seems to have been given to the degree to which the Church of the East in particular does or does not display some of the distinctively Assyrian characteristics which, in other circle of life, seem to have persisted long after the fall of the Assyrian empire. It is well known that scribes continued to write Sumerian and Akkadian on cuneiform tablets into the Achaemenid, Parthian period. It’s been known that the system of provincial administration which functioned, with some modifications, under the Greeks, Parthians, Sassanians, the earliest Caliphs and Ottomans, greatly resembled that which was in place under the Assyrians and can, in some ways, be traced back to the administrative reforms of Shulgi in the Ur III period which divided Babylonia and Diyala region into over twenty provinces. It is not the intention of this article to offer an interpretation of the Church of the East theology in light of our knowledge of ancient Assyrian ritual or the ancient Assyrian Pantheon. Rather , it is to draw the reader’s attention to some remarks which seem to have been overlooked by most scholars interested in the survival of the ancient Assyrian culture imprint on the later material culture of the Tigris –Euphrates valley.
Discussing the plans of the two churches excavated at Ctesiphon (Teesphoun or teshvoun).
Close parallels and more likely prototypes are offered by the temples of Assyria and Babylonia, where we see the same rectangular sanctuaries connected with the main body of the edifice only by the narrowest of doors.
Recent excavations at Kish have shown that the semicircular apse was well known to the Sasanians, and it was universal in Syria. The ancient religious edifices of Assyria had avoided it, however, and there can be little doubt but that we see the continuity of this ancient Assyrian’s idea in today’s churches.
The origin of the square ends to the sanctuary seems to be a feature of far earlier date, For it is such rectangular sanctuaries in Assyrian and Babylonian temples, and a comparison of the plan of such a one as the Anu Adad temple at Ashur with that of the Ctesiphon churches is, to say the lest, suggestive. It seems that we have yet another instance of the art or architecture of early Assyria exercising it influence in the Christian period.
There seems little doubt that the striking parallels between the early Assyrian temple plans discussed here and the Nestorian and Assyrian Church of the East Churches of Ctesiphon and Al-Qousour, near the center of Faillaka (Kuwait) deserve further study. More generally, they raise a point often overlooked in Assyrian studies and research into early Christianity but well-attested in ethnographic literature, namely the possible survival of ancient practices from Pre-Christian, Assyrian antiquity in Mesopotamia, principally Church of The East Christianity. Historians of Islam are well aware that there are many survivals from the religions of Pre-Islamic Western Asia which are detectable in Islam. It has been argued that the ritual sacrifice of a lamb as has been described in a Neo-Assyria text from the library of Ashurbanipal finds an undeniable parallel in the so-called ‘Aqiqa’ offering made seven days after the birth of a child. It is quite possible that ancient Assyrian religious beliefs, cult practices and paraphernalia (from portable – Objects to entire building complexes) may be reflected in Assyrian Christianity and Islam in ways which scholars have largely over looked until now, and the congruence between Assyrian temple plans Church of the East and Nestorian churches would appear to embody one such case.
Courtesy of the EuropaWorld
Internationally acclaimed as the man who coined the term 'genocide', Raphael Lemkin was born to Jewish parents in Eastern Poland in 1901. It is ironic that it was not the persecution of his own people which led Lemkin to not only invent the phrase but to dedicate his life to fighting its reality. This struggle did not start, as might be expected, after the atrocities of the Second World War but some years before they had even begun.
Raphael Lemkin was educated at home together with his two brothers. He studied philology at the University of Lwow before deciding on a career in law. He gained a doctorate from the University of Heidelburg in Germany and in 1929 began teaching at Tachkimoni College in Warsaw. He became a public prosecutor and for the next five years represented Poland at conferences all over the world. A prominent international figure Dr Lemkin also served on the on the Polish Law Codification Committee and helped draft the criminal code of a newly independent Poland.
In 1933 Dr Lemkin was deeply disturbed by the massacre of Christian Assyrians by Iraqis. His distress was compounded by earlier memories of the slaughter of Armenians by Turks during the First World War and the international jurist began to examine these acts as crimes in an effort to deter and prevent them. He presented his first proposal to outlaw such 'acts of barbarism' to the Legal Council of the League of Nations in Madrid the same year. However, the proposal failed and his work incurred the disapproval of the Polish government, which was at the time pursuing a policy of conciliation with Nazi Germany. He was forced to retire from his public position in 1934. Undeterred Dr Lemkin continued his work in private law practice until the German invasion of Poland in 1939 led him to experience at first hand the very acts that he was working to prevent.
Dr Lemkin was wounded whist fighting the Nazis outside Warsaw. He hid in the Polish forests for six months before finally escaping to Sweden by way of Lithuania and the Baltic Sea. The exile was to save him. He and his brother Elias were the only members of the forty-strong Lemkin family that were to survive the Nazi occupation.
Now a refugee in Sweden Dr Lemkin worked as a lecturer at the University of Stockholm, using his time in exile to study Nazism from the standpoint of jurisprudence. He analysed the legal decrees that had allowed the Nazi occupation and identified the instruments that had worked to systematically eliminate a people. He labelled this premeditated crime 'genocide' from the Greek prefix genos meaning race and the Latin suffix cide meaning killing. His work was later published in 1944 in the landmark book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. His analysis was used as one of the bases for determining the Nuremberg trials programme in 1945, where he served as. legal adviser to the US Chief Prosecutor.
The recognition of genocide in the Nuremberg trials was a considerable achievement. However since the trials handled cases of war guilt only and genocide in times of peace was not punishable under those terms, Dr Lemkin resolved to carry on his campaign for the establishment of genocide as a crime under international law. He presented a draft convention on the prevention and punishment of genocide to the Paris peace conference in 1945. As in 1933, his proposal failed. He had no funding, no office, nor did he represent any government or accredited organisation. Yet with the dogged determination that had become characteristic of Dr Lemkin's life, he continued his struggle.
His persistent and persuasive lobbying paid off the following year when a further resolution in favour of an international convention was put before the United Nations. The resolution was approved and Dr Lemkin became an adviser in the writing of an international treaty to that effect. On December 9th 1948, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly. It represented a triumph in the struggle that Dr Lemkin had begun some 15 years earlier.
Once the convention was in place Dr Lemkin continued to lobby relentlessly for its ratification. He did so until his death in 1959. Dr Raphael Lemkin was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work and was honoured with a number of other awards. These included the Grand Cross of Cespedes from Cuba in 1950 and the Stephen Wise Award of the American Jewish Congress in 1951. On the 50th anniversary of the Convention entering into force Dr Rapael Lemkin was also recently honoured by UN Secretary-General as an inspiring example of moral engagement.
March 5, 1920 – September 22, 2006
Charles Daniels, the eldest son of Yonatan and Nanajan, was born on July 24, 1920, in Hamadan, Iran. He attended the American Missionary School where the famed Assyrian educator Rabi Eshaq was the principal. A studious and intelligent student, he finished high school early by skipping the 11th grade while at the same time he was tutoring younger students. He just had finished school when his father passed away. In order to provide for his family - his three younger brothers were still in school - Charles went to Sultan-Abad where he worked as a contractor procuring food and other supplies for the British forces stationed there during World War II. The war dashed his hopes of participating in the Tokyo Olympics as he had qualified for the Iranian national Track and Field team.
At the end of the war in 1946 the Daniels Family moved to Tehran where Charles attended the University of Tehran majoring in economics. He started his own business importing electronic and household goods from Europe and Japan and became a successful businessman. He co-founded the Cofard Company which later became Iran National Corporation, the exclusive importer of Japanese electronics in Iran.
In 1957 he went on a three-month’s long business trip throughout Europe to find business partners. While in Hamburg he met Traute Kraemer. It was love at first sight and the couple wed a few weeks later in Hamburg on Sept. 23rd. After a short honeymoon in Geneva they returned to Tehran. A year later Traute gave birth to their daughter Soraya; nicknamed Sissi by her Assyrian grandmother.
While working as a businessman, Charles pursued advanced studies at the University of Tehran and earned a PhD in economics in 1966. His doctoral thesis was titled “Persian Gulf Oil Reserves in the Iranian Plateau”; a comprehensive study of the known oil deposits in the region and their potential economic impact on Iran and world oil markets.
Charles was very active in the Assyrian community and always ready to lend a helping hand to a fellow Assyrian in need. He used his own resources to register the Assyrian Presbyterian church in Tehran and, for a number of years, he was the president of the church elders and active in the Church Brotherhood Society.
In 1962 the government of Iran allowed the Assyrians to elect a representative of their own to Congress. Charles ran a strong but unsuccessful election campaign to become the first Assyrian representative in the Iranian Majlis.
In 1981 Charles immigrated to Germany and joined his family – which had left Iran two years earlier - in Hamburg, where his daughter was attending university. Charles kept active in Hamburg and until his health started failing him, he would travel to the US regularly to visit his relatives and friends. He was blessed with a dedicated wife and daughter who took loving care of him during his last years when he became physically and emotionally very ill. Charles passed away on Sept. 22nd, 2006. He is survived by his wife Traute, his daughter Soraya and son-in-law Alexander, and his two grandsons Roman, born in 1988 and Marco, born in 1995, and his brother Youtan.
Funeral services were held on Oct. 2nd, 2006, at the chapel of "Friedhof Bergstedt" cemetery, where his body is interred.
Charles could be stubborn and opinionated, yet he had a very soft heart and was very honest, modest, and considerate. He was very well respected in the Assyrian and Iranian communities and had friends from all walks of life. He will be remembered for his love for his family, compassion towards his friends, and his Assyrian activism.
Athir Shayota: Iraqi Portraits
The Jerusalem Fund Gallery in Washington, D.C. is currently hosting an exhibit of the works of Athir Shayota. The exhibit entitled “Iraqi Portraits”, opened on January 19th and will continue through March 2nd. At the opening night reception the artist welcomed guests from the local Iraqi and Middle Eastern community. Shayota answered questions from the audience and spoke about his early life in Iraq, his background and heritage, as well as his art and artistic influences.
Born and raised in northern Iraq, Shayota emigrated to Detroit in 1980. It was in Detroit where Shayota started painting details from the daily life of his Chaldean community. His parents, Hanna and Ferial were his most frequent subjects at that time. “My subject matter ranged from my father early in the morning bringing home warm bread from the Iraqi bakery, and then preparing breakfast, while my mother picked grape leaves from the grapevines in our backyard to prepare lunch, to evening activities, such as the men playing tawlee (backgammon). Dishes such as Dolma and Mazgoof prepared by my mother were also painted floating in the corner of the canvas.” These paintings of family, community and heritage reflected his deep love for his heritage and for Iraq and his fond memories of his childhood days there.
Shayota states that his subject matter is always Iraqi. “I paint my family members and friends, our Middle Eastern dishes and the emotions and psychology that to me are Iraq. In the late 80s and early 90s, my father and mother were painted more than ten times, requiring much labor, “Family Tree” (1991-92) taking two years to complete.”
Since 1990 Shayota has spent much of his free time protesting the wars and sanctions imposed against Iraq, attending numerous peace vigils and demonstrations. As he states, “not only had the Iraqi people suffered under a monstrous regime, they were also subject to the slaughter of the Gulf War in 1991, as well as the genocidal sanctions that followed. Today it continues with more war and occupation."
These feelings have had a major impact upon his artistic direction. He feels that all great works of art are politically conscious, where even techniques and style are aware of the political dimension. “The tragedies facing the Arab world today are many. Iraq has been tested continuously throughout its history. Over the past century, Palestine has been spared no cruelty. And within the last year, Lebanon has been viciously attacked, yet again.” All of these factors motivate Shayota to capture the humanity, dignity and complexity of the people depicted in his paintings. His portraits skillfully humanize his subjects, for example, in his painting "Tarik and Athir" (1995) Shayota is able to capture his close friend’s complex and defiant nature. Although portrayed with compassion, those depicted reflect the increasingly violent world in which they live.
Shayota’s wife, Maymanah Farhat, is a specialist in Modern and Contemporary Arab art. In regard to her husband’s work, she has written that his “Iraqi figures are guarded, showing no signs of vulnerability and displaying an intense indifference toward the viewer. They are captured in frozen moments in time. Refusing objectification with dignified and confident stances, his Iraqi subjects are positioned defiantly in front of the viewer, showing no sense of reliance on the viewer to come to his/her own conclusions. Shayota negates the Orientalist tradition of objectifying the "other." The use of Iraqi themes as subject matter serves as an act of defiance within the current political climate, an exemplification of Shayota's own political dissent in art. The portrayal of Iraqi figures in stoic postures, unaffected by the viewer's intrusive gaze, serves to counter Western hegemonic accessibility to Iraq.”
Concerning Shayota’s portrait of his father (“Hanna Shayota”, 1990), Farhat writes that “Hanna confronts the viewer with his stone-like, tension-filled posture reminiscent of the stoicism projected by portraits of kings in Sumerian and Neo-Sumerian art (as seen in the statue Seated Gudea, 2100 B.C.)”
“Direct references to the historical heritage of Iraq, as seen in the use of Mesopotamian imagery, is a common theme found in the work of many modern and contemporary Iraqi artists. With the continuation of the artistic heritage of their people, Iraqi artists preserve, reiterate and intensify the long and rich history of Iraqi visual culture, in turn projecting an unwavering sense of resilience.”
“Simultaneously, the sense of humanity that appears in Shayota's portrait of Hanna adds another level of complexity to the painting. The age and history seen on Hanna's face and hands, and the unsettled strain in the meeting of forms and lines within the rendering of his suit are the only clues that can be used to deduce the difficulties of Iraq's past and the almost foreboding of forthcoming events. This element overpowers the viewer, as the juxtaposition between stoicism and fragility has a perplexing effect.”
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