Assyrian of the Year 6756
Sarkis Aghajan Mamendu
The truth about Zinda Magazine’s Assyrian Person of the Year 6756 is that he is the most perplexing individual who happens to hold in one hand enormous power in Iraq and on the other may determine the future of his people as never before. He is bifurcated between his loyalty to the Kurdish nationalism as seen through the eyes of the descendants of Mustafa Barzani and his love for his people who have brutally suffered under Mustafa Barzani’s countrymen. Similarly, Assyrians are divided in their affection for the man hardly any of us knew before the fall of Saddam Hussein. Yet today, no one wields more influence among the Assyrians in the Middle East and in the Diaspora as does the man both reviled and loved by his own people.
The editorial board of Zinda Magazine bestows the title of the Assyrian of the Year to the elusive Assyrian statesman of Arbil, Mr. Sarkis Aghajan Mamendu, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance and Economy in the Kurdish Regional Government.
Sarkis Aghajan, as he is commonly referred to, enjoys an overwhelming popularity. He moved up in ranks of power within the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) much like his other Assyrian predecessors – namely through blind-loyalty to the Barzani family, now led by Mr. Masoud Barzani – the current president of the Kurdish Regional Government. Masoud’s nephew, Nechirvan, is the KRG prime minister, who in turn appointed Mr. Aghajan as his Deputy in charge of the KRG’s financial affairs. Aghajan has been a friend of the Barzanis since the days of the self-exile in Iran when in 1975 the Barzanis were forced to leave North Iraq. Sarkis Aghajan and Nechrivan Barzani were students who later studied at the University of Tehran when the Assyrian Patriarch, Mar Eshai Shimun was assassinated in San Jose, California. In less than a year, the bishop of Tehran – of the same tribal affiliation as Aghajan and born in the same tribal region as the Barzanis - was consecrated the Patriarch of the Church of the East in London, England. In the coming years the bond between the three men from Iran grew stronger with every renewed promise of the Kurdish and Assyrian emancipation in North Iraq.
Thirty years later – after decades of chaos and humiliation - during meetings in Chicago and Washington, the Patriarch, the Prime Minister, and the Treasurer were discussing plans to implement the most ambitious reconstruction and public relations plans for the future nation-state of Kurdistan. The Patriarch’s financially bankrupt churches in the Diaspora were generally suffering from negative membership growth and his people in Iraq were waiting desperately for any opportunity to leave the bedlam in Iraq for a kinder and gentler life in the west. His Holiness needed the assurance that the ancient Church of the East – the longest withstanding Assyrian institution - will have a future in the land where it came from, and could support the weakening churches in the western countries.
Time was running out for the Prime Minister. Nechirvan Barzani’s government needed to build up the American and the European investors’ confidence in the ability of his people to transform the “no-fly zone” into “the Other Iraq”. In America, the Kurds were in the news connected to the “mountain people of Iraq” who were constantly escaping the wrath of Sunni Arabs. No serious investor could have taken these rock climbers seriously when the oil fields of Kirkuk were to be auctioned off to the highest bidders.
Enter Sarkis Aghajan! The man trusted by both the Patriarch and the Prime Minister was to become the architect of the spectacular public relations revue that has since baffled observers everywhere. First, the waning popularity of the Patriarch, in the face of the ever-increasing recognition of Mr. Yonadam Kanna, was given a boost by the dramatic 2005 melo-drama played out in Chicago when the bishops of the Church of the East met at the Holy Synod to un-seat one of their own. His Grace Mar Bawai Soro (nowadays referred to by his fellow bishops as Mr. Ashur Soro), who as many other priests and bishops had shown care for Mr. Yonadam Kanna’s Assyrian Democratic Movement was lashed out of the Church. The Patriarch was at once promulgated as the champion of the Assyrian identity and the fallen bishop as the catalyst bringing his Church closer to a final demise under the triumphant Roman Catholic Church. While the Patriarch and the Bishop’s court case awaits final judgment in the California courts, the puzzled supporters of the ADM wonder the increasing role of the Church in the political affairs of their nation. The result has been a disastrous decrease in support for the only independent Assyrian political party in Iraq, namely Zowaa. Mr. Aghajan has successfully absorbed all other remaining political parties in north Iraq under the KRG banner.
At home Sarkis Aghajan wears quite a different hat. Working closely with such figures as Danny Yatom, a former director of Israel's spy service, the Mossad, and his business partner, Shlomi Michaels, the Barzanis and Aghajan hired a lobby firm in Washington to help them secure 4 billion dollars from the Coalition Provisional Administration in Baghdad. On 3 June 2004, Barbour Griffith & Rogers agreed to represent the Kurdistan Democratic Party for $29,000 a month. In less than a month, the Kurds flew $1.4 billion in cash to Arbil on three helicopters. Aghajan now had more than enough to become the Great Engineer the Assyrian patriarchs had pushed him to become.
Mr. Aghajan’s masterful plan in 2006 reached beyond the affairs of the Church for which he was awarded peculiar saintly medals and orders from all three major Assyrian patriarchs. In 2004 the USAID office in Washington had earmarked over 30 million dollars to benefit the Christian villages and projects in north Iraq. By the middle of 2005, having already received over a billion dollars from the U.S. government, Aghajan was ready to spend millions on numerous construction projects for which he later only provided State Department investigators hand-written invoices in Arabic. The line items included such extravagant expenses as the wall-paint projects for single homes totaling eight thousand U.S. dollars per house. Soon after Zinda Magazine in an investigative report revealed an agreement between Mr. Barzani’s government (mediated by Mr. Aghajan) and the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East for the construction of up to 30 Assyrian parishes and a patriarchate in Ankawa – outside of Arbil. Quickly after the publication of this report, Mr. Aghajan initiated an equally hefty building project for the construction of homes in the Assyrian villages. Aghajan’s promoters in the U.S. tell Zinda Magazine that as many as 7,000 homes have already been built and as many are in the plans to be built in the next 12 months. Zinda critically doubts the validity of this information, yet the extensive building projects under the watchful eyes of Sarkis Aghajan can hardly be ignored.
The next item on Mr. Aghajan’s to-do-list was attracting the American investors to the Kurdish region. The Kurds had failed to secure a 20 percent share of the 18 billion dollar reconstruction budget that the Bush Administration had set aside for Iraq. They only received 7 percent. Aghajan needed much more to transition the KRG into a model economy.
Starting September 2005 the American businessmen, many of whom were Chaldean-Assyrians were invited to meetings with the representatives of the KRG, accompanied by U.S. officials who were also promoting business in the Kurdish regions. On 20 February of this year, Franklin L. Lavin, the undersecretary of commerce for international trade, traveled to Arbil to promote Kurdistan as a "gateway" for U.S. business in Iraq. By now even some priests of the Assyrian Church of the East were proud owners of businesses in the Kurdish region.
The next item on Mr. Aghajan’s robust public relations plan was Nechirvan Barzani’s most wanted scheme. In the second half of last year a 24-hour satellite television station began broadcasting from north Iraq. It was named after the Assyrian goddess, Ishtar, who is historically associated with the ancient Assyrian city of Arbella (today’s Arbil). The official logo of the Ishtar TV is the mis-colored Assyrian flag and its offices are just outside of Arbil in Ankawa where the Patriarch’s new palatial residence is built. It began airing news and reports, mini-dramas, music videos and children’s cartoons in Kurdish, Arabic, and Assyrian (Syriac) languages. In no time, Assyrians became familiar with the name Sarkis Aghajan – quoted often as "the Benevelont", "the Engineer", and "the Hero of the Iraqi Christians." Aghajan invited Assyrian entertainers to Arbil to sing his praises. The same singers who in the years past had praised the sacrifices of the Assyrian Democratic Movement were now flagrantly paying tribute to the man who was now single-handedly putting an end to the ADM legacy in north Iraq. Even the menion of the name Zowaa was forbidden on Ishtar TV. The ADM’s 2004 declaration of the Chaldo-Assyrian-Syriac unity was now replaced by Aghajan’s Chaldean-Assyrian-Syriac unanimity. Next to every Assyrian Aid Society building Aghajan began erecting a newer and more modern facility. With every new home, bridge, and church a new convert in the United States and Canada sang Aghajan’s praises. Everything appeared to be moving in the right direction for the Minister of Finance until the release of a UN report in April of this year.
The 2007 report of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) covering the first three months of this year provoked mixed reactions in the Kurdish region. The Barzanis accused the UN of "exaggeration and inaccuracy" while the Assyrian activists claimed that the extent of violations has been understated.
The 3 million dollar Kurdish lobby in Washington and Aghajan’s Assyrian mouthpieces had painted the Kurdish areas as the safest and most prosperous part of Iraq. The UN report was saying it suffers from considerable violations of human rights. The report noted that in the Arbil province alone 358 women have burnt themselves to death since 2003. Another 218 have tried to do so. Several journalists have been arrested by security services over the past few years. Others have been threatened or beaten by unknown persons.
Dindar Zebari, Kurdish Regional Government's coordinator for UN Affairs commented that this report is not precise in its investigations because in some cases it has relied on media reports. Last month, Zinda Magazine learned that a vigorous Kurdish lobbying effort is underway in Washington to deride the reports published in Zinda and AINA. Kurdish officials are sending letters to Congressional representatives and the State Department accusing these two Assyrian media outlets as manufacturers of anti-Kurdish propaganda. Moreover, Zinda offices are flooded with CDs and DVDs of Sarkis Aghajan’s building projects and life in “The Other Iraq”.
Today, the most absorbing issue at hand is the fate of the Nineveh Plain in north Iraq. The KDP is throwing most of its chips on the table in the hope of annexing the Nineveh Governorate or the area around Mosul to the “Kurdish Region”. Some reports indicate that there may be a considerable amount of untapped oil under the ancestral land of Assyria, beneath the Assryian towns and villages. As expected, as soon as the news of the discovery of oil in the Nineveh Province became public, Mr. Aghajan changed his colors and emerged as the champion of the Assyrian Autonomy in the Nineveh Plain region. He invited hundreds of his supporters to Ankawa to outline his demand for an autonomous area for the Christians in the Nineveh Plains. Yet another Assyrian member of the KDP, Ninef Matran Hariri criticized Mr. Aghajan for being too generous on this issue.
“I don’t want to see Nineveh Plain an independent autonomy, nor do I want to see it being part of the central [Iraqi] government,” says Mr. Hariri, a Christian advisor to the politburo of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and a member of the same Assyrian tribe as Mr. Aghajan. He continues: “The first thing is to make the Nineveh Plain part of Kurdistan, then through negotiations with the government we can have some form of self-rule like having our own police force and local administrators in our towns and villages.” Hariri proposes some form of a special status for Assyrians in the Kurdish areas similar to that of the American Indians. Mr. Ninef Matran Hariri was recently interviewed on FoxNews. During his entire interview he never mentioned the term “Assyrian”, using only the term Kurdish Christians.
In North Iraq the authority of the KDP members is unquestioned. KDP is the new Baath Party and its members regardless of their national affiliation believe in the ultimate success of a brand of Kurdish nationalism that is anchored in tribalism and familial proximity. Sarkis Aghajan’s public relations machine in the U.S. everyday is gaining momentum. Even the Christian Evangelicals are now telling us that Kurdistan is an important area, because such important Biblical figures as Jonah, Noah, and Esther lived there. What ADM (Zowaa) lacked significantly, Aghajan possesses abundantly: money and a knack for western-style self-promotion. For every Kurd in the U.S. there are 10 Assyrians. It only makes sense that the Kurdish officials utilize the power of the Assyrian grassroots campaigns to improve the image of the Kurdish region. Meanwhile, the risk-averse Sarkis Aghajan remains the man waving the magic wand in Arbil.
Event of the Year 6756
Christians Leaving Iraq as Refugees in Jordan and Syria
According to the Syrian officials over one million Iraqis from various ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds have arrived since the U.S.-led invasion. As many or more may be in Jordan. Reliable sources to Zinda indicate that as many as 10,000 refugees from a total 40-50,000 are Christians leaving Iraq every month.
U.N. officials say many are doctors, professors, business owners and recent college graduates, the intellectual core that officials in Washington hoped would rebuild Iraq. They are not assisted or housed in camps. Rather they have settled in the slums of Damascus and in its Christian quarter. Rents are high. Schools are overcrowded and there is the risk of health problems everywhere.
The displacement of the Assyrians within Iraq, caused by secterian violence and economic decline, is massive and is increasing. Typically Christians either move to the Kurdish region and the Nineveh Plains areas, or if they have the means they leave the country.
As soon as the refugees arrive in Amman or Damascus they look for work, but to no avail. The unemployment rate among these refugees is staggering. The Syrian and Jordanian governments are unable to accomodate the nearly two million refugees across their borders with Iraq - a number that is increasing daily.
With the worsening conditions for Christians in Baghdad the number of refugees is expected to rise many folds in the next few months.
A Chaldean Priest and Three Deacons Killed in Mosul
Courtesy of the AsiaNews
(ZNDA: Baghdad) An armed group gunned down and killed Fr Ragheed Ganni and three of his deacons. The murder took place right after Sunday mass in front of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mosul's Nour District, where Father Ragheed was parish priest. Hours later the bodies were still lying in the street because no one dared retrieve them. Given the situation tensions in the area remain high.
According to Mosul Police the Mass ended at 7:30 pm and all four victims got into the priest's car to drive away. After they had gone about 100 metres a car cut them off. Four armed men got out and shot them dead.
For some time since the fall of Saddam Hussein Christians have become victims of what amounts to an open campaign of persecution often denounced by Chaldean and Orthodox bishops.
Father Ragheed himself had been targeted several times in previous attacks. The Church of the Holy Spirit has also been repeatedly attacked and bombed in the last few years, the last time occurred but a few months ago.
Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni, 35, was the pastor of the Ruh Al-Qudus (Church of the Holy Spirit) parish and secretary to the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul. He received his Bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Mosul University in 1993, and studied theology in Rome before returning to Iraq in 2003. He had studied in Italy and was fluent in Arabic as well as Italian, French and English. In 2005 he had visited Italy where he gave testimony during the Vigil to Eucharistic Congress in Bari.
Today, hundreds of mourners attended the funeral of Fr. Ragheed Ganni and his deacons, Shamasha Basman Joseph, Shamasha Bassam and Shamasha Ghassan, one day after they were gunned down. Among the attendees were His Beatitude Mar Emanuel Delly, patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church and Mr. Sarkis Aghajan, Finance Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government.
Two Assyrian US Embassy Employees Killed By Al-Qaeda
Courtesy of the Assyrian International News Agency
(ZNDA: Baghdad) An Assyrian couple that worked for the US embassy in Baghdad has been killed by an al Qaeda-led group. The couple was killed on Monday, May 28. According to Reuters, after the husband went missing late last week his wife went to look for him and then she too appeared to have been abducted.
U.S officials, who wish to remain anonymous, told AINA the couple's car was stopped and the husband was abducted while the terrorists screamed "you filthy Christian traitor." When the wife, Amal, attempted to deliver the ransom to the kidnappers, described as a Sunni group, she was killed.
The self-styled "Islamic State of Iraq" said in a statement published on the Internet "God's ruling has been implemented against two of the most prominent agents and spies of the worshippers of the Cross... a man and woman who occupy an important position at the U.S. embassy...The swords of the security personnel of the Islamic State of Iraq... are with God's grace slitting the throats of crusaders and their aides and lackeys."
The group said it was able to acquire a large amount of money from them. It did not give further details.
U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said only that two local Baghdad embassy employees were missing. "There are two local national employees of the embassy in Baghdad who are missing. Their whereabouts, at this point, are unknown," Casey told reporters in Washington. "We do have concerns about their welfare."
Mahdi Army Orders Christian Women to Veil Themselves
Courtesy of the Assyrian International News Agency
(ZNDA: Baghdad) An undated letter issued by Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army to Christians in Baghdad orders Christian women to veil themselves or face grave consequences. The letter, obtained and translated by AINA, states that the Virgin Mary was not unveiled and so Christian women should not be unveiled. The letter ends with an ominous note that committees have been established to monitor the Christian populace and enforce the decree.
For the Christian Assyrians in Baghdad, the imposition of Shari'a (Islamic law) is coming from both Sunnis and Shiites. On 18 March al-Qaeda moved into the predominantly Assyrian Dora neighborhood in Baghdad and demanded payment of the jizya, the poll tax demanded by the Koran which all Christians and Jews must pay. Families that could not pay the jizya were instructed to give a daughter or sister in marriage to a Muslim.
Here follows the Mahdi Army letter:
The Legal Veil
1 Sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam. This is an expression that Muslims use whenever the name of Prophet Muhammad is mentioned or written. The meaning of it is: "May the blessings and the peace of Allah be upon him (Muhammad).
Terrorists Sack & Occupy a Convent in Baghdad
Courtesy of the AsiaNews
(ZNDA: Baghdad) Terrorists, believed to be Shiites, on 31 May occupied the Convent belonging to the Chaldean Sisters of the Scared Heart in Baghdad. Sources in the capital in contact with the nuns denounced the event. The Angel Raphael convent lies in the Mikanik area of the oppressed Dora quarter where for months now a ferocious anti Christian campaign of persecution has been unfolding. The only two sisters who still lived in there tell that a group of terrorists broke into the building during their absence; on their return they found the convent had been sacked of all its goods and turned into a base for military operations.
According to anonymous sources, in all probability, Shiite militants are behind the attack; as they too join Sunnis in their anti-Christian campaign. A letter signed by the Mahdi Army, linked to the radical leader al Sadr, which imposes the Islamic veil on Christian women in Baghdad was distributed in Baghdad's Christian neighborhoods. Today a spokesperson for the group in Najaf, denied all involvement with the message, yet according to priests on the round, the situation is “very worrying”.
Sources maintain that the attack on the convent, “could be in response to the Chaldean, Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly’s condemnation of the attack on the Sunni Abdul Qader Al Dilani mosque”, which took place on May 28th in the capital. The leader of the Chaldean Church in fact joined the Council of Christian Churches in Iraq in denouncing the episode as an attack against “all Iraq and all Iraqis without exceptions, capable of undermining national unity and fomenting division and discord”.
Chaldean Church to Convene Synod in Iraq
Courtesy of Zenit News Agency
(ZNDA: Arbil) Leaders of the Chaldean Church in Iraq will gather for a weeklong synod and the issue of security in that war-torn land will be at the forefront of the prelates' discussions.
The meeting begins Friday in al-Qosh, near the ancient city of Nineveh.
Though the last synod was held in Rome for security reasons, this year, the bishops wanted to stay in Iraq.
"Despite security concerns, the patriarch and bishops chose to hold the synod on national soil to send a strong signal of solidarity to the entire community, to let them know that we are present and that their lives are dear to us," said Monsignor Philip Najim, the procurator for the Chaldean Church to the Holy See.
"The issue of the security of the community, halved by forced emigration, will be at the heart of the synod discussions," Monsignor Najim added.
He said other topics for discussion will include the future of Babel College, the only faculty of theology in the country, which was recently transferred to Arbil, and the conditions of dioceses in Iraq and the entire Middle East.
Bishops from the Chaldean diaspora in the United States, Canada, Australia and Lebanon will also attend, as will Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the apostolic nuncio to Iraq.
Immediately after the G8 meetings in Europe, President George Bush will visit the Pope in Vatican to discuss the situation of the Christians in Iraq.
Iraq's Christian Population Dwindling Due to Threats, Attacks
Courtesy of the Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
(ZNDA: Baghdad) Leaders of Iraq's Christian community estimate that over two-thirds of the country's Christian population has fled the country since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
While exact numbers are unknown, reports suggest that whole neighborhoods of Christians have cleared out in the cities of Baghdad and Al-Basrah, and that both Sunni and Shi'ite insurgent groups and militias have threatened Christians.
The gravity of the situation prompted Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani last week to ask Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi to take steps to protect the Christian community. Sunni imams in Baghdad have made similar statements to their congregations in Friday Prayer sermons.
The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq is responsible for the bulk of attacks on Christians from the northern Kurdish region to Baghdad.
Insurgents laid siege to the Al-Durah neighborhood of Baghdad earlier this month and demanded that Christians living there pay jizya, a head tax on non-Muslims living under Muslim rule, to the mujahedin or else convert to Islam. The Islamic State also hung posters throughout Al-Durah calling on Christian women to veil their faces. Locals report that nearly 200 Christian families have fled the neighborhood recently with just the clothes on their backs.
In other cases, families have been given 72 hours to pack their belongings and leave. Some have fled to Kurdistan, but the majority have left for Syria and Jordan, Christian leaders say.
"Al-Bayyinah" reported on May 10 that there are some 200 Saudi gunmen holed up in Al-Durah. According to a May 22 "Al-Sabah" editorial, the gunmen demanded that each Christian pay 50,000 dinars ($40) to the mujahedin as the price for maintaining their religion. Residents were told that "if they refuse to pay the tribute, they have to convert to Islam and marry their daughters to the mujahedin. If they choose to leave the city, their properties and belongings will be confiscated by the terrorists," the daily reported.
Meanwhile, the Islamic State has demanded Christians pay 250,000 dinars (about $200, the average monthly salary) to stay in their homes, according to aina.org on May 25. The website reported on May 18 that those who do flee Al-Durah must pay an "exit" fee of $200 per person or $400 per car.
Church leaders have also been targeted by insurgents. Over the past year, six Chaldean priests were kidnapped in Baghdad. In March, two elderly Chaldean nuns in Kirkuk were killed by insurgents as they slept. There are unconfirmed reports that a Christian teenager in Al-Basrah was crucified in October.
Moreover, 27 churches have been destroyed since 2003. Dozens of other churches and monasteries have been abandoned after threats were made.
Some Christian leaders have likened the targeting of Christians to an ethnic-cleansing campaign. "Christians in Iraq are on their way to extinction, cut off from the country's political process," said Father Bashar Warda, the rector of St. Peter Major Seminary, IRNews reported on May 25. He blamed the continuing crisis on the "indifference of Iraqi leaders," saying, "They do not consider us as belonging to this nation."
Other Minorities Also Threatened
Recent incidents in Mosul have drawn attention to the targeting of other minorities. Following reports last month that a Yezidi teenager who eloped with a Muslim man and converted to Islam was killed by her family, the Islamic State announced that it would retaliate.
According to an Internet statement this month, Yezidi leaders have formed a militia to protect their community. "According to the present circumstances in the Sheykhan area of evilness and aggression toward the Yezidi sect, the burning of their cultural and religious centers...and the silence that accompanied the aggression from those who sold their religion to the masters of material and power.... We have formed a troop of the brave and faithful from the Yezidi clan called the Malik Al-Tawus [King Peacock] troop," the statement said. The troop is "completely independent" from all parties and is charged with protecting the land and secret places of the Yezidis in both Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, the May 3 statement added.
The daily "Al-Sabah al-Jadid" reported on May 15 that the Sabaean community has been threatened as well.
Shi'ite Militias: Attackers Or Defenders?
Shi'ite militias have also targeted the Christian community. Fighters loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr this week warned Christians in Baghdad to wear the veil or face grave consequences, aina.org reported on May 30. A statement issued by al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army rationalized that since the Virgin Mary wore a veil, present-day Christians should too. The statement claimed that the militia has formed committees to monitor Christians and enforce the veiling decree.
The statement, signed by the "People's Foundation for the Master Al-Mahdi Army," referred to the writings of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (Muqtada's father) who the group claimed ruled, presumably through a fatwa, that women who did not veil themselves were adulteresses who should be locked up by their husbands if they refuse to veil their faces.
In a Friday Prayer sermon on May 25, Muqtada al-Sadr vowed that he was committed to protecting Iraq's Christian community, telling his followers: "I will not forget to say the blood of Sunnis and Iraqi Christians are prohibited to be shed by Iraqis as they are either our brothers in religion or in the homeland. They have sought our refuge, and we announce our readiness to defend them."Continuing, he said: "What Al-Nawasib [a derogatory term for Sunni insurgents] are doing in order to compel [Christians] to convert to Islam is ignominious, and contradicts the Koran, as God says, 'Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error.' I tell the Christian brothers so that they can know that Islam serves the needs of the minorities, and that it is the religion that always calls for interfaith dialogue."
Meanwhile, al-Sadr spokesman Hasan al-Zarqani claimed in a May 25 interview with Al-Jazeera television that the Chaldean community in Iraq has said the Al-Mahdi Army "was the only side that protected Christians in Al-Durah."
Government Unable To Deal With Crisis
The Iraqi government last week expressed its "solidarity" with the Christian community, and that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's cabinet discussed the threats and expulsions of Christian families and vowed to provide assistance to families displaced or adversely affected by insurgent attacks.
But it appears there has been little concrete support for Iraq's Christian community. Until Iraqi security forces can clear Al-Durah of Sunni and Shi'ite insurgents, the few Christians still living there will remain under threat. Those who have joined the millions of refugees and displaced, will be forced to continue living in limbo until an acceptable solution can be found.
There is little question that the targeting of minority communities has had an adverse impact on Iraq, a country that historically was known for its diversity. Already by some estimates, only 200,000-400,000 of the 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq in 2003 remain. For Iraq's Christians, many of whom trace their presence in the country to their Assyrian ancestors, the impact of such displacement is immeasurable.
Desperate Iraqi Refugees Turn to Sex Trade in Syria
Courtesy of the New York Times
(ZNDA: Damascus) Back home in Iraq, Umm Hiba’s daughter was a devout schoolgirl, modest in her dress and serious about her studies. Hiba, who is now 16, wore the hijab, or Islamic head scarf, and rose early each day to say the dawn prayer before classes.
Desperate, Umm Hiba followed the advice of an Iraqi acquaintance and took her daughter to work at a nightclub along a highway known for prostitution. “We Iraqis used to be a proud people,” she said over the frantic blare of the club’s speakers. She pointed out her daughter, dancing among about two dozen other girls on the stage, wearing a pink silk dress with spaghetti straps, her frail shoulders bathed in colored light.
As Umm Hiba watched, a middle-aged man climbed onto the platform and began to dance jerkily, arms flailing, among the girls.
“During the war we lost everything,” she said. “We even lost our honor.” She insisted on being identified by only part of her name — Umm Hiba means mother of Hiba.
For anyone living in Damascus these days, the fact that some Iraqi refugees are selling sex or working in sex clubs is difficult to ignore.
Even in central Damascus, men freely talk of being approached by pimps trawling for customers outside juice shops and shawarma sandwich stalls, and of women walking up to passing men, an act unthinkable in Arab culture, and asking in Iraqi-accented Arabic if the men would like to “have a cup of tea.”
By day the road that leads from Damascus to the historic convent at Saidnaya is often choked with Christian and Muslim pilgrims hoping for one of the miracles attributed to a portrait of the Virgin Mary at the convent. But as any Damascene taxi driver can tell you, the Maraba section of this fabled pilgrim road is fast becoming better known for its brisk trade in Iraqi prostitutes.
Many of these women and girls, including some barely in their teens, are recent refugees. Some are tricked or forced into prostitution, but most say they have no other means of supporting their families. As a group they represent one of the most visible symptoms of an Iraqi refugee crisis that has exploded in Syria in recent months.
According to the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, about 1.2 million Iraqi refugees now live in Syria; the Syrian government puts the figure even higher.
Given the deteriorating economic situation of those refugees, a United Nations report found last year, many girls and women in “severe need” turn to prostitution, in secret or even with the knowledge or involvement of family members. In many cases, the report added, “the head of the family brings clients to the house.”
Aid workers say thousands of Iraqi women work as prostitutes in Syria, and point out that as violence in Iraq has increased, the refugee population has come to include more female-headed households and unaccompanied women.
“So many of the Iraqi women arriving now are living on their own with their children because the men in their families were killed or kidnapped,” said Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf, a Syrian nun at the Good Shepherd convent in Damascus, which helps Iraqi refugees.
She said the convent had surveyed Iraqi refugees living in Masaken Barzeh, on the outskirts of Damascus, and found 119 female-headed households in one small neighborhood. Some of the women, seeking work outside the home for the first time and living in a country with high unemployment, find that their only marketable asset is their bodies.
“I met three sisters-in-law recently who were living together and all prostituting themselves,” Sister Marie-Claude said. “They would go out on alternate nights — each woman took her turn — and then divide the money to feed all the children.”
For more than three years after the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iraqi prostitution in Syria, like any prostitution, was a forbidden topic for Syria’s government. Like drug abuse, the sex trade tends to be referred to in the local news media as acts against public decency. But Dietrun Günther, an official at the United Nations refugee agency’s Damascus office, said the government was finally breaking its silence.
“We’re especially concerned that there are young girls involved, and that they’re being forced, even smuggled into Syria in some cases,” Ms. Günther said. “We’ve had special talks with the Syrian government about prostitution.” She called the officials’ new openness “a great step.”
Mouna Asaad, a Syrian women’s rights lawyer, said the government had been blindsided by the scale of the arriving Iraqi refugee population. Syria does not require visas for citizens of Arab countries, and its government had pledged to assist needy Iraqis. But this country of 19 million was ill equipped to cope with the sudden arrival of hundreds of thousands of them, Ms. Asaad said.
“Sometimes you see whole families living this way, the girls pimped by the mother or aunt,” she said. “But prostitution isn’t the only problem. Our schools are overcrowded, and the prices of services, food and transportation have all risen. We don’t have the proper infrastructure to deal with this. We don’t have shelters or health centers that these women can go to. And because of the situation in Iraq, Syria is careful not to deport these women.”
Most of the semi-organized prostitution takes place on the outskirts of the capital, in nightclubs known as casinos — a local euphemism, because no gambling occurs.
At Al Rawabi, an expensive nightclub in Al Hami, there is even a floor show with an Iraqi theme. One recent evening, waiters brought out trays of snacks: French fries and grilled chicken hearts wrapped in foil folded into diamond shapes. A 10-piece band warmed up, and an M.C. gave the traditionally overwrought introduction in Arabic: “I give you the honey of all stages, the stealer of all hearts, the most golden throat, the glamorous artist: Maria!”
Maria, a buxom young woman, climbed onto the stage and began an anguished-sounding ballad. “After Iraq I have no homeland,” she sang. “I’m ready to go crawling on my knees back to Iraq.” Four other women, all wearing variations on leopard print, gyrated on stage, swinging their hair in wild circles. The stage lights had been fitted with colored gel filters that lent the women’s skin a greenish cast.
Al Rawabi’s customers watched Maria calmly, leaning back in their chairs and drinking Johnnie Walker Black. The large room smelled strongly of sweat mingled with the apple tobacco from scores of water pipes. When Maria finished singing, no one clapped.
She picked up the microphone again and began what she called a salute to Iraq, naming many of the Iraqi women in the club and, indicating one of the women in leopard print who had danced with her, “most especially my best friend, Sahar.”
After the dancers filed offstage and scattered around the room to talk to customers, Sahar told a visitor she was from the Dora district of Baghdad but had left “because of the troubles.” Now, she said she would leave the club with him for $200.
Aid workers say $50 to $70 is considered a good night’s wage for an Iraqi prostitute working in Damascus. And some of the Iraqi dancers in the crowded casinos of Damascus suburbs earn much less.
In Maraba, Umm Hiba would not say how much money her daughter took home at the end of a night. Noticing her reluctance, the club’s manager, who introduced himself as Hassan, broke in proudly.
“We make sure that each girl has a minimum of 500 lira at the end of each night, no matter how bad business is,” he said, mentioning a sum of about $10. “We are sympathetic to the situation of the Iraqi people. And we try to give some extra help to the girls whose families are in special difficulties.”
Umm Hiba shook her head. “It’s true that the managers here are good, that they’re helping us and not stealing the girls’ money,” she said. “But I’m so angry.
“Do you think we’re happy that these men from the gulf are seeing our daughters’ naked bodies?”
Most so-called casinos do not appear to directly broker arrangements between prostitutes and their customers. Zafer, a waiter at the club where Hiba works, said that the club earned money through sales of food and alcohol and that the dancers were encouraged to sit with male customers and order drinks to increase revenues.
Zafer, who spoke on condition that only his first name be used, refused to discuss specific women and girls at the club, but said that most of them did sell sexual favors. “They have an hourly rate,” he said. “And they have regular customers.”
Inexpensive Iraqi prostitutes have helped to make Syria a popular destination for sex tourists from wealthier countries in the Middle East. In the club’s parking lot, nearly half of the cars had Saudi license plates.
From Damascus it is only about six hours by car, passing through Jordan, to the Saudi border. Syria, where it is relatively easy to buy alcohol and dance with women, is popular as a low-cost weekend destination for groups of Saudi men.
And though some women of other nationalities, including Russians and Moroccans, still work as prostitutes in Damascus, Abeer, a 23-year-old from Baghdad working at the same club as Hiba, explained that the arriving Iraqis had pushed many of them out of business.
“From what I’ve seen, 70 percent to 80 percent of the girls working this business in Damascus today are Iraqis,” she said. “The rents here in Syria are too expensive for their families. If they go back to Iraq they’ll be slaughtered, and this is the only work available."
Assyrians Demonstrate in Stockholm Against Christian Ethnic Cleansing in Iraq
Courtesy of the Assyrian International News Agency
(ZNDA: Stockholm) The Assyrian community of Stockholm held a demonstration last Wednesday to draw attention to the plight of Assyrians in Iraq, who are according to reports, undergoing ethnic cleansing. A large group of of demonstrators equipped with banners filled the streets of Stockholm, demanding protection for the Christians of Iraq.
Several members of the Swedish parliament called on the world community to act for the protection of the Christian Assyrians, who are being targeted by Islamists in war torn Iraq. Kalle Larsson from the Swedish left oriented party Vänsterpartiet said that Assyrians have the right to form their own autonomous region in Iraq.
Assyrians from many different organizations participated in the demonstration. Also participating were representatives of all the Assyrian church denominations.
ABC-Austalia Interviews Rosie Malek-Yonan
The following is the complete transcript of the interview conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Company on 30 May with Ms. Rosie Malek-Yonan, author of the historical novel, The Crimson Field.
Rosie Malek-Yonan: The Assyrian people are the indigenous people actually of Mesopotamia, before it even was Iraq. All of that area was Mesopotamia and is the original homeland of the Assyrians. They date back to over 6,000 years and were always concentrated in that region.
Stephen Crittenden: And Christianity was accepted by Assyrians, well virtually in apostolic times, right at the very, very beginning?
Rosie Malek-Yonan: Right. Assyrians were actually the first nation to accept Christianity as an entire nation, not just individuals, but the entire nation, and we built the first church of the east.
Stephen Crittenden: And what about language? Aramaic for church, but what language does a typical Assyrian family in Baghdad speak at home?
Rosie Malek-Yonan: Well the language that we typically speak is the modern Assyrian, which comes from the ancient Aramian, which is the language of Christ. The church liturgy still uses the ancient language, and we grew up learning it, and understanding it and knowing it, but it's not typically used at home. At home we generally will speak the more modern Assyrian dialect.
Stephen Crittenden: Now in early May, a fatwah was issued by a militant Sunni group in Baghdad, calling on the Christians in a particular suburb of Baghdad called Dora, to convert to Islam or die.
Rosie Malek-Yonan: Yes. Actually as we are speaking, I'm getting bombarded with emails, and one of them is a plea to help the Assyrians of Iraq. The women in particular - I'll just read you a little bit of this email - says the Virgin Mary put on a hijab (hijab is the covering) so why not all Christian women dress the same? They are asking all women to dress in that fashion.
Stephen Crittenden: I understand there's a lot of kidnapping and murdering of particularly of young kids?
Rosie Malek-Yonan: Absolutely. Our children are being murdered, they're being kidnapped for ransom, even when the ransom is paid they're still killed. Priests are being beheaded, nuns are being killed, and not just a beheading, they behead them, they cut also arms and legs, they hack them off and they return them in that manner. Little children, their heads are bashed with concrete blocks. This has been going on since the beginning of the Iraq War. This is isn't just an isolated incident here or there, this is an ongoing genocide.
Stephen Crittenden: I understand that there were 1.4-million Christians in Iraq before the American invasion, in 2003, and that many left at that time, and went particularly to Syria. How many are left?
Rosie Malek-Yonan: In Iraq there's probably between 600,000 and 800,000 left. The majority of the refugees that are now stranded in Syria and Jordan 40% of them are Christian Assyrians. They are not protected, they have nowhere to go, they have no shelter, they have no food, they're living in the streets in poverty.
Stephen Crittenden: And 300 families just in the last month, have been driven out of Baghdad.
Rosie Malek-Yonan: Yes. They don't know where to go. Right now they are taking refuge in churches, they take refuge in wherever they can.
Stephen Crittenden: How were the Assyrian Christians treated under Saddam Hussein?
Rosie Malek-Yonan: The situation is terribly worse now. It was much better for them then. They thought it was bad then. All the things that the Kurds had been complaining about during Saddam's regime now they are doing those things to the Assyrians, because the goal is to drive Assyrians out of the northern region so that the Kurds can take over that entire region.
Stephen Crittenden: Indeed, in your testimony before Congress last year, you talked about the fact that Assyrians also have a problem with the Kurds, almost as though the Assyrians in Iraq are even lower on the pecking order than the Kurds.
Rosie Malek-Yonan: Oh, absolutely. But now the Kurds have become powerful because the US is assisting them. So if they get assistance and Assyrians don't, the result is that they're going to bully the Assyrians out of there. They want them out of that area, they want to take the entire area and a so-called Kurdistan region and make it a Kurdistan region. Minus the Assyrians.
Stephen Crittenden: What are the American troops in Baghdad doing about these developments of the last month or so?
Rosie Malek-Yonan: They're doing absolutely nothing. If they were doing something, we would see something, we would see just a glimmer of hope, but there's nothing there. I mean there's reports of them saying 'We're not here to save you, we're not here to help you.'
Stephen Crittenden: Rosie, there are reports that the persecution of Christians in Baghdad at the moment is being directed by the imams in the mosques, that the loudspeakers in the mosques are telling Muslims to seize the property of their Christian neighbours and carry out their fatwah, that it's not just criminal elements, it's being directed from the mosques.
Rosie Malek-Yonan: Oh, of course. I mean look, any time we go to war with the Middle East, it is going to become a religious war. The Assyrians wear the face of Christianity, we are the first that are going to get hit. Our properties get seized, our homes are taken, and our lives are taken. That goes without a doubt, and of course it's the religious leaders that are doing this. It comes from them, and it also on the other hand, comes from the Kurds. We are getting it from every side, it's not just one element, and we're isolated, with absolutely no assistance. And the thing is, since 2003 when Assyrians started getting hit, we have never retaliated. We have never hit back; we have never fired back. They burnt more than 30 churches in Iraq. Not once has an Assyrian gone to burn a mosque in retaliation.
Stephen Crittenden: Rosie, you've devoted a lot of time, you've written a novel, and last year you made a documentary film to draw public awareness to the Assyrian genocide that took place at the same time that the much better known Armenian genocide was taking place, both at the hands of the Ottoman Turks during World War I. Tell us about the Assyrian genocide.
Rosie Malek-Yonan: The Assyrian genocide started in 1914 with the onset of World War I. It began in the hands of the Ottoman Turks, with the help of the Kurds and Persia at that time, or Iran as we know it now. The Assyrians that were being massacred were in South East Turkey (Hakkari), and also in the Urmia Region, which is north-western Iran. And this went on for nearly four years, till the end of World War I. But I believe more than that, there has been an ongoing, slow genocide that the Assyrian people have been caught up in. And actually even before the 1914 World War I Assyrian genocide, it began in 1895 in Diyarbekir where about 55,000 Assyrians were killed and about another 100,000 were forcibly Islamicised.
Stephen Crittenden: This is in Turkey?
Rosie Malek-Yonan: Yes, and this really paved the way for the Assyrian genocide in the shadows of World War I, with two-thirds of the Assyrian population totalling 750,000 were annihilated by the Ottoman Turks, Kurds, and Persians. And their crime was only being Christian, but it didn't stop there. Again, 1933 in Iraq, the Semele Massacre, we saw 3,000 Assyrian men, women, children unarmed, massacred by the Iraqi Army, and Kurdish warlords, and again, the Iranian Revolution, we saw what that did to the Assyrian population in Iran.
Stephen Crittenden: Just repeat for us Rosie, what is the estimate of the number of Assyrians who died in the 1914-1918 genocide?
Rosie Malek-Yonan: 1914-1918, 750,000 Assyrians. That's two-thirds of our population. Two out of three Assyrians died.
Stephen Crittenden: Well many Assyrians have left. There's a big Assyrian diaspora; where are they to be found in the largest numbers around the world?
Rosie Malek-Yonan: Around the world there is a very large number in Chicago; nearly 100,000 Assyrians in Chicago. And when I use the term 'Assyrian', I'm not differentiating the different religious denominations, whether they're Catholic, Calvians, or Protestants or Church of the East, I'm using the term as a general term for all Assyrians. So we have a big population in Chicago, in Detroit, in San Diego, in Sweden, Södertälje, Sweden, we have a huge, huge community of Assyrians. A lot of the refugees from Iraq are finding their way to Sweden. So we're pretty much spread all over the world.
The one thing I want to touch upon is when we don't address a genocide, or a massacre of a nation, it will keep on happening. When in World War I the Assyrian genocide was not addressed, and to this day there are people that don't know about it, that just set the precedent for the same thing to happen again. World War II, Jewish Holocaust. Hitler was the one who said 'Who remembers the Armenians?' By then Assyrians weren't even in the picture any more, because we don't deal with these issues, we just let them happen, we turn a blind eye. The bottom line is that the Assyrians in Iraq, they have to be protected, just like the Kurds were protected back in 1991. They were given a safe zone. We need an Assyrian safe zone. This has to be done, and it could only be done if the US decides to help them to do this, and the UN steps in.
Stephen Crittenden: Thank you very much for being on the program.
Rosie Malek-Yonan: Thank you.
Out of Iraq, A Flight of Chaldeans
Courtesy of the San Antonio Express
(ZNDA: Detroit) The journey north from Guatemala through Mexico to the Texas border lasted 17 days.
Finally, on the evening of Feb. 26, 2006, the young family of four saw the river come into view.
Weary and beaten, with the baby starting to fuss, the family was driven in a car right up to the Rio Grande.
And there, it stopped in a cloud of dust.
George and his wife, Baida, were Iraqi refugees. They fled their homeland because Muslim extremists had made two things clear: They didn't like the family's Christian faith, for one. What was worse, to the gunmen prowling the neighborhood, were the sons' names, George and Toni, which seemed to lionize President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The decision to hire a smuggler to get them to America was clinched after militants told George Sr., a milk delivery man, that he was next on the beheading list for being an "infidel Christian," and after caregivers at their children's nursery became untrustworthy.
"People started calling him George Bush ... so we stopped sending him to school in fear of him getting kidnapped," Baida, a hair stylist, later would tell American authorities. "Same thing with my young baby, Toni; they called him Tony Blair."
The journey from Iraq to the Texas border had been expensive and risky, especially moving inconspicuously with two young children through hostile, foreign terrain. But looking at the river, the family realized this was more than just a border. It was a river. They would have to swim across. None of them knew how.
Baida refused. George, too, couldn't bring himself to do it. The Mexican laborers who waited nearby for darkness got them going. Amused, the men urged the couple on, offering to help with the children.
My God, George thought, I came all this distance and there's America, finally, just right over there. And now you just have to do it.
So, with the help of the Mexicans, George waded in, carrying his older son over his head.
The family had come too far to go back. (The San Antonio Express-News has agreed to withhold the family's full name to prevent retaliation against other relatives still in Iraq.)
They had done what hundreds of thousands of other Christian Iraqi families have since the American invasion: sold everything in the face of horrific and systematic religious persecution, and fled north to Damascus, Syria, or Amman, Jordan.
Out of options, the family joined an increasing number of such refugees who are proceeding toward America, bent on crossing the border illegally.
A flight of Christians
Alarms go off along American borders among federal law enforcement authorities whenever immigrants from certain countries in the Middle East, North Africa or South Asia are discovered crossing illegally. Thousands have since 9-11, and when caught they're automatically labeled by the government as "special-interest aliens" and can be subjected to FBI interrogation and investigation as potential terrorists.
Since the war in Iraq spawned aggressive insurgent activity against American troops, the alarms have grown especially shrill when the captured immigrants are Iraqis.
Those caught crossing illegally in Texas and elsewhere along the southern border, however, are more likely victims of Islamic terrorists, the Express-News found after six months examining the topic. Still, border guards and federal agents can't be certain and have to employ special screening procedures to find out.
The war has set off a massive exodus that, ironically, has driven more Iraqis to America, making counter-terrorism officials all the more strained and anxious about who is crossing the border and what they intend.
Chaldean Christians are an ancient ethnic minority of Catholics who made up about 4 percent of Iraq's population. More than 600,000 of them, half the Chaldean population in Iraq, are thought to have fled the war to neighboring countries.
Chaldean Christian refugees in the U.S., Syria and Jordan say the American-led war unleashed Islamic militants who have targeted them because of their religion in vicious campaigns of murder, kidnapping for ransom and forced property expropriations.
Ordinarily, religious persecution can qualify victims for U.S. resettlement visas. But the U.S. State Department hasn't issued visas to Chaldeans and won't recognize them as especially persecuted for their religion, asserting that they are among many groups amid Iraq's sectarian strife who could make the claim. So they wait.
While most are sitting out the war as refugees in Syria and Jordan, other Chaldean Christians have chosen not to.
They are coming illegally to Texas, and to other border states, sometimes getting entangled along the way, in entire families, pregnant women, single mothers and young men going it alone or in small groups.
"They know there was nothing for them, so therefore they have to create an act of desperation like this," said Joseph Kassab, executive director of the Detroit-based Chaldean Federation of America. "Those people, most of them, were able to get some money, or sell homes before they fled Iraq, and the smugglers know about them and so they go to them and talk about smuggling them."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures show only about 100 Iraqis have been caught at the borders between 9-11 and the end of last year, more than 60 of them along the Southwest border and about 20 in Texas. But those relatively small numbers don't account for the months of this year when refugee outflows from Iraq have jumped.
In April, five Iraqi families with children were in detention at the federal T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor after Border Patrol agents picked them up in Texas and California; a half-dozen were in custody in the San Diego, Calif., area; 11 Iraqis were caught at a Mexican airport; and Belize authorities were trying to figure out what to do with 10 U.S.-bound Iraqis abandoned by their smuggler.
Umru "Crazy Tiger" Hassan, an interpreter for the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq until Islamists threatened to kill him, personifies the situation. Hassan, a Christian, divulged to the Express-News in Damascus that he was on his way to Texas.
Islamic militants in Iraq had threatened Hassan's life not because of his work with the U.S. military but because he had married a Muslim woman. They came around one day to let him know he'd better convert.
"It was a big problem," he said of the marriage, which is now on the rocks. "It was, 'Hey you, if you don't want to be Muslim, we're going to kill you.' But I'm not changing my religion. Why should I?"
He left his military job and went to Damascus about six months ago, where he and his sister make a subsistence living running a tiny laundry called "Iraq Cleaning." He was frustrated there with the lack of opportunity and money.
So Hassan decided a more prudent course was to plot a route to Texas.
He said Hispanic soldiers with whom he was serving told him how easy it was to cross the Mexico-Texas border, and they offered the help of their own families in Mexico. He plans to take advantage of the offer.
"If I make it successfully in this way, I'm going to bring my family the same way," said Hassan, who has a young daughter still in Iraq.
Lobby campaign stalled
Long before 9-11 and the war in Iraq, Chaldean Christians were sneaking across the U.S. southern border, mostly hoping to join relatives among the roughly 250,000 Chaldean Christians who have settled in major cities such as San Diego and Detroit.
Many of the Iraqi Christians have the financial means and the will to immigrate. In Iraq, as in the U.S., they tend to be educators, professionals and business owners.
Several U.S. prosecutions of smuggling rings that have specialized in Middle East clientele show that Chaldean Iraqis long have been favored because they tend to be affluent, or have relatives in the States who can pay smuggling fees of $8,000 to $25,000.
In almost every case, Iraqi Christians declare political asylum once they make it to U.S. soil. Indeed, these days, an Iraqi Christian stands a much better chance of gaining legal residency by coming across illegally than by applying for a visa.
For the past 18 months, the Chaldean Federation has lobbied the U.S. State Department and Homeland Security Department to issue 160,000 visas for Iraqi Christians on grounds of religious persecution.
"We would like them all to be admitted, like the Vietnamese," Kassab said. "They took 135,000 Vietnamese refugees in 10 months under President Ford. We want something similar to that."
The initiative has run headlong into a domestic political debate over Iraq war policy in which the Bush administration is not eager to acknowledge a permanent refugee problem by resettling large numbers.
Last year, the Bush administration granted about 5,500 admission visas for all of the Middle East, of which only 500 were earmarked for Iraqis, and none specifically for Chaldean Christians.
The number of visas earmarked for the Middle East next fiscal year was increased from about 7,000 to 25,000, and the Chaldeans expect some.
Officials have reportedly told Chaldean Christian leaders in the U.S. that a need to conduct thorough security background checks on all Iraqis who might be considered for resettlement has stalled the process.
"We know the big stumbling block at this time is the security check," Kassab said. "They don't want to budge on this issue. They consider all Iraqis the same. If anything, our people are victims of terrorists; they are not terrorists."
Peter Eisenhauer, spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, cited a different reason for not resettling Chaldean Christians in large numbers.
"We weren't going to do a population like that because there are a number of different Iraqi groups that are also vulnerable and at risk," he said.
The experience of several Chaldean Christian Iraqis caught crossing the Texas border shows the security dilemma American homeland security personnel face when one is caught.
Iraqi refugee Aamr Bahnan Boles, who was profiled last week in an Express-News series, found himself detained and sentenced to six months in prison with two other men who said they are Iraqi Christians because they couldn't prove who they were.
The Federation's Kassab said he's well aware that border authorities especially fear that a real terrorist from Iraq might try to pose as a Chaldean Christian. Kassab thinks he has a solution: The federation has drafted a set of secret answers to cultural and religious questions that could be asked of any Iraqi who claims to be a Chaldean Christian.
Kassab said he may be making headway on the issue. Recently, he said, the federation was allowed to train 25 immigration asylum officers and judges in Chicago in how to identify a Chaldean Christian with a high degree of certainty.
Pain in Detroit
Much anguish can be found in Detroit's churches, Chaldean-owned restaurants and domino parlors where men smoke shisha pipes on Sundays after Mass. The war has engulfed them with news of murdered loved ones and displaced families.
There are mixed emotions about who's to blame for what has befallen the Chaldeans. In the era of Saddam Hussein, many Christians felt protected from Arab Muslims. Some were left alone and flourished in business, academia and the professions. Top Saddam adviser Tariq Aziz is a Chaldean Christian.
Since Saddam's ouster, Arab militias have ravaged Christian communities.
Father Jacob Yasso, who has presided over the Sacred Heart Church and Chaldean Community Center on Detroit's West 7-Mile Street for more than 30 years, said he believes America owes admission to Chaldeans trapped and suffering overseas.
He remains proud of a picture of himself giving Saddam the key to Detroit's Chaldean community 30 years ago, after the dictator gave him $1.5 million to build his church and community center.
"America owes the Chaldeans justice," he said. "Let us come. Let us come."
As the stalemate between Detroit and Washington continues, thousands of Iraqi Christians in Syria and Jordan dutifully register with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a first step to securing resettlement visas to Europe or North America, and in some cases Australia and New Zealand.
But all too often that portends an indefinite wait that some are simply not willing to tolerate while scrabbling for a meager living in the dusty working-class tenement suburbs of Damascus and Amman.
George and Baida decided to flee to prevent this from happening to them. They raised $32,000 by selling their house, furniture, cars and salon equipment at cut-rate prices, then fled to Damascus.
There, they found, according to Baida, that "everybody is planning to go someplace — everyone."
George said he easily found a smuggler, a Jordanian who gave no name or information. He paid the smuggler $10,000. For that, the smuggler provided airline tickets and Guatemalan and Cuban visas for the family, as well as arranging a safe house in Guatemala City.
The family members flew to Moscow and then Cuba, where they spent three days in a hotel with no running water and buckets of water with which to flush toilets. Once in Guatemala, the family settled in for a couple of months in a Guatemala City safe house, a tidy home owned by a woman named "Maria" who charged $100 a month rent.
She grew so attached to George and Toni that when the time came she personally arranged for the best Guatemala smuggler she could find to shepherd the family to the Texas border. The man only gave his name as "Miguel" and charged $15,000.
"He charged me extra because of the kids," George said. "I didn't care; I just wanted to get my kids to America."
The following weeks were a blur of transferring from car to truck to van, staying in safe houses or sleeping in cars, and hiding under blankets in the backs of pickups.
Miguel never once strayed from the family's side, his word given to Maria not to, and he made sure to provide all of the family's needs.
Through it all, the parents worried about what would happen to their children if they were caught, and even more about bandits and killers who prey on immigrants. They fed the kids chicken, tortillas, rice and cookies.
When 9-month-old Toni would start to cry at a moment when silence was necessary, Baida would breast-feed him. A candy bar kept the older boy quiet when necessary.
After they swam the Rio Grande, Miguel told them: "This is America. You're safe now." They hugged Miguel and he turned back to the river.
Once on the Texas side, not far from the rural town of Los Indios, everyone in the group scattered through the brush, leaving the family to stumble on in the dark.
Eventually, George found a convenience store and hailed a taxi, water still dripping from his clothes. He asked the cabdriver to take the family to the nearest Border Patrol station.
When they arrived at one in Brownsville, George told the clerk on duty what most Chaldean Christians are taught to say in such situations:
"I am an Iraqi Christian. I want asylum."
Unlike other Iraqi special interest immigrants, the family members were released relatively quickly after some cursory interviews and a terror watch list check.
After all, how many real terrorists bring their toddlers along?
They're now with George's brother in Muskegon, Mich., living in a small two-bedroom apartment.
They await a verdict on their asylum claim in Brownville.
In Michigan, George said he is looking forward to "a normal life in America" where he can send his two boys to good schools and no one will politicize their names.
To show his appreciation to his new country, he pledged one of his two boys to serve in the U.S. military — when they grow up.
"They have to serve their country," George Sr. said. "This country helped us, and we have to help America."
Malankara Syrian Orthodox Family Conference in Europe
(ZNDA: Basil) Between 18 and 20 May, the Europen Family Conference of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Christians was held in Bienenberg, near Basel.
Nearly 300 Syrian Christians, including women and children, from Sharjah, Ireland, U.K, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Belgium, Netherland and Switzerland attended the event under the divine leadership of HG Dr. Kuriakose Mor Theophilose, Archbishop of Europe & Middle East.
In the evening of 19 May representatives of the sister churches attended the cultural event which was inaugerated by Mrs. Elena Jakob-Banz, a memebr of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch in Switzerland and Kantonsrätin SZ.
Special thanks to Mr. Thomas Kakkattu (Switzerland) and Very Rev. Cn. Dr. Z. Schariah (Switzerland).
Preserve Eastern Traditions, Pope Urges the New
Courtesy of the Catholic World News
(ZNDA: Vatican) Pope Benedict XVI met on May 28 with Major Archbishop Issac Cleemis Thottunkal of Trivandrum, The Indian prelate was visiting Rome for the first time since becoming the head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.
In paying tribute to the Syro-Malankara Catholic tradition, Pope Benedict said that he was "most grateful" to the Indian archbishop for his "eager wish to 'see Peter.'"
Archbishop Thottunkal was named in February to head the Trivandrum archdiocese, and thus the leader of the world's 500,000 Syro-Malankara faithful. Pope Benedict noted: "The precious heritage of your ecclesial tradition was placed in the hands of your Beatitude through the act of canonical election conducted by the Fathers of the Syro-Malankara Synod." The Pope offered his prayers for the welfare of the Eastern Church, and said that fidelity to the Syro-Malankara tradition "will enable the whole Church to benefit from what, in his manifold wisdom, 'the Spirit is saying to the churches.'"
The Syro-Malankara Church boasts a heritage stretching back to St. Thomas the Apostle, whose missionary activity reached to the subcontinent. The "Thomas Christians" eventually became Nestorians, affiliated with the Assyrian Church. But when Catholic explorers from Portugal colonized India, European missionaries restored ties with the Holy See. During the 17th century, Indian Christians, resentful of the Portuguese influence which they felt was destroying their Assyrian tradition, left the Catholic Church. However, they did not re-establish their relationship with the Assyrian church. Instead, when the Syrian Orthodox patriarch offered to take the Indian Christians under his care, they agreed--at the price of adopting the Syrian liturgy, and leaving behind their Assyrian heritage.
The resulting Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church was itself split early in the 20th century, and one group of bishops sought to be reconciled with Rome. By the middle of the century the trickle had become a flood, and the Syro-Malankara Church was growing rapidly. Today the number of Syro-Malankars is approaching 500,000--nearly all of them living in the Indian state of Kerala.
In 2005, Pope John Paul II raised Archbishop Cyril Mar Baselios Malancharuvil of Trivandrum, the head of the Syro-Malankara Church, to the title of Major Archbishop. His death in January 2007 led to the appointment of Archbishop Thottunkal.
Syria Interfering in Assyrian Church Affairs
Courtesy of the EasternStar News Agency & the Assyrian International News Agency
(ZNDA: Germany) His Holiness Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, based in Syria, has suspended Archbishop Julius Hanna Aydin of Germany, according to the EasternStar News Agency. According to Archbishop Aydin, his suspension is because a powerful block of pro-Syria bishops in the Church opposes him because he is not a Syrian national.
On 18 February, 2007, Raban Hanna Aydin was ordained Metropolitan and given the title Mor Julius by His Holiness Mor Ignatius Zaka I Iwas at a solemn ceremony held at the St. Peter & St. Paul Cathedral in Maarat Saydnya, Damascus.
His Holiness later appointed Metropolitan Mor Julius Hanna Aydin as patriarchal vicar for Northern Germany.
The sunthroniso of Mor Julius was held on 4 March 007 at the Monastery of Mor Ya`qub of Sarug in the Westfalian city of Warburg, Germany.
Archbishop Aydin was one of the founders of the Aramean Movement in Europe, which held that Assyrians are Arameans. This caused a schism within the Assyrian community and within the church body. Recently Archbishop Aydin recanted his support for the Aramean Movement and regreted having caused divisions within the Assyrian community. "Assyrians, Arameans and Chaldeans, no matter what we call ourselves we are one people and must be united,." he says.
According to some Assyrians in Germany, the Syrian secret service (mukhabarat) has undue influence over bishops in Syria and is attempting to divide Germany into three different Episcopal sees to more easily exert influence over the Assyrians.
Some church officials have stated that Syria does not want the Assyrians to unite. Archbishop Aydin, they point out, constituted no threat to the Syrian government and its representatives within the Syriac Orthodox Church in Germany when he was an anti-Assyrian. It was when he advocated unity and building bridges between different groups that he was stopped.
Fathers of the Zodiac Tracked Down
Courtesy of Nature
Using modern techniques — and some rocks — a US astronomer has traced the origin of a set of ancient clay tablets to a precise date and place. The tablets show constellations thought to be precursors of the present-day zodiac.
The tablets, known collectively as MUL.APIN, contain nearly 200 astronomical observations, including measurements related to several constellations. They are written in cuneiform, a Middle-Eastern script that is one of the oldest known forms of writing, and were made in Babylon around 687 BC.
But most archaeologists believe that the tablets are transcriptions of much earlier observations made by Assyrian astronomers. Just how much older has been disputed — the estimates go back to 2,300 BC.
Now Brad Schaefer, an astronomer at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, says he has dated the observations to 1,370 BC, give or take a century.
The tablets contain a number of different observations, including the day each year that certain constellations first appeared in the dawn sky. These dates change over the millennia because of a tiny wobble in the Earth's axis.
"It's like a big hour hand in the sky," Schaefer says.
By studying these dates and other astronomical information, such as the dates certain constellations were directly overhead, Schaefer nailed down the year the measurements were taken.
He also worked out that the ancient observers lived within roughly 100 kilometres of 35.1° N — an area that includes the ancient Assyrian cities of Ninova and Asur. The results were presented at the American Astronomical Society's summer meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii.
To double-check his measurements, Schaefer did his own observations at the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of Texas. Rather than using the observatory's massive 9.2-metre telescope, he stood outside and gazed at the stars. "The best equipment I used was rocks to mark where my feet were," he says.
Nevertheless, these measurements allowed him to pinpoint his own position and date more precisely than he could those of the Assyrian astronomers. He is not sure why his measurements worked better.
Schaefer's work will help settle a long-standing debate, says Hermann Hunger, an Assyriologist at the University of Vienna in Austria. Previously, historians had based their arguments on single stars or constellations on the tablets.
Schaefer's statistical analysis of all the observations on the tablets "will impress historians who cannot do the same on their own — including myself", Hunger says. He adds that most historians have settled on a rough date of 1,000 BC for the tablets, which agrees well with Schaefer's analysis.
Courtesy of the Modesto Bee
(ZNDA: Modesto) Five thousand years ago, in the magical age of heroes and demons, a group of people in the land that now is Iraq and Syria worshipped Inanna, goddess of love.
Townsend Opera Players is premièring excerpts from a new opera about this enigmatic figure as part of a collaboration with the Central Valley chapter of the Assyrian Aid Society of America.
Written by Indiana composer John Craton, the opera was inspired by the ancient Inanna poems, believed written by a high priestess in 3000 B.C.
The English-language production focuses on three stories: the tale of the huluppu tree, the courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi and Inanna’s descent to the underworld.
Tony Khoshaba, president of the aid society, said he learned about the opera on the Internet and asked Craton and TOP to stage it in Modesto because it reflects his people’s heritage.
TOP will debut the work at its “Classics by the Creek” fund-raiser Sunday and then perform it at the Assyrian Aid Society’s “A Mesopotamian Night Under the Stars” fund-raiser June 30, emceed by former Turlock resident Narsai David, a popular Bay Area food guru.
TOP founding director Erik Buck Townsend is considering staging the full production at the Gallo Center for the Arts.
“I listened to the music and it sounded intriguing,” he said. “It’s very harmonic to our ears -- some of it is a little off the wall, but it’s not dissonant at all.”
At least three singers will perform the excerpts, wearing elaborate costumes designed and painstakingly constructed by Turlock’s Irene Warda. She made them for Assyrian festivals but said she is happy to have them used in the performances.
“I don’t want to keep them in the closet,” she said. “I want people to see them. I love to show my culture.”
In a recent phone interview, Craton said he was thrilled that someone was interested in finally staging his work. He completed the opera in 2003 but has had trouble finding a group to present it because it has a large cast and is expensive to produce.
Craton decided to write the opera after reading several translations of the Inanna poems.
“Anything that old to me is rather enchanting,” he said. “To learn that people that many years ago were very much people like we are today. The world was different but people were the same.”
Khoshaba hopes the opera will draw a crowd to the “Mesopotamian Night” fund-raiser, which will help support Assyrian Christians facing persecution in Iraq. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune reported that Christians were fleeing Baghdad’s Dora district in droves after Sunni insurgents threatened to kill them if they didn’t convert to Islam.
“They are the most vulnerable and nobody is protecting them,” Khoshaba said. “People are desperate and need our help and there is not much that we can do unless we have support.”
Assyrian Craftsman Prefers Life in the Saddle
Courtesy of Zaman
(ZNDA: Mardin) Hamsih Uğurgel is the first Assyrian saddle maker in Mardin and has been plying his craft -- taught to him by his father -- since the age of 7. Despite a brief hiatus when he gave up his trade to try life in Europe, he soon realized that saddle making was his true path.
Uğurgel, who has been making saddles for the past 60 years, explained: “If you combine patience and craftsmanship when making saddles you will be able to create real art. But in today’s world there is no art or craftsmanship; everything is made with technology. People used to travel with horses, donkeys and mules, but today they compete to buy the most modern and most expensive car. Technology has taken over our lives and our careers. We even hear of people who stop farming.” The leather-working Luddite added that at one point he had tried a modern lifestyle. “I stopped making pack saddles and I traveled to Europe and Holland like other Assyrians. But I realized that no one can abandon their country for personal interests. I became homesick so I returned to the land in which I was born and raised and I started making saddles again.”
Speaking about his life in Mardin, the craftsman painted a picture of harmony and tolerance: “My closest friends are all Muslims. In all my 65 years this is the only place I have seen Muslims and Assyrians living under the same roof. They have a unique love and respect for each other. I relate this respect to tolerance between religions.”
Invitation to Attend AUA Conference in Tehran
Today is the time for unity, unanimity and integration. Today the Assyrian land and nation are waiting for a historical movement. Today Assyria, our ancestral land, is in need of our combined ambitions and efforts. Assyria with its glorious culture and civilization and with its historical monuments and ancient inscriptions is in need of all of our supports to survive. You, the Assyrians who are of the same religion (Syriacs, Chaldeans, and Jacobites), belief, language, and of the same nation, should realize that today the land of Assyria is striving for the last and only historical chance. In order to save and restore the ancient Assyrian civilization, this opportunity needs the help and support of every one of us. Dear Assyrian, realize that this chance and opportunity has come about due to the fall of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein's regime, and most importantly it will never be repeated again. Assyria and Assyrians must reap the benefits of it, and should take full advantage of this monumental opportunity.
And again be ware that after so many years of vagrancy, no place has yet been considered for us in the map of the Middle East and now the long time enemies of this nation are lurking a chance to deliver their last stroke on this nation’s dynasty and existence. We must not forget that in the bitter years of the massacres and genocides, what these enemies pretending to be friends did to this nation. The bloods of our dearest martyrs are still warm in Semali, Mosul, Arbil and Ankawa. The screams and cries of long live Assyria by Yosip and the many Assyrian martyrs, who were the foundation of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, are still ringing in our ears.
Now to safeguard and honor the blood shed of Assyrian martyrs, the Assyrian civilization, our culture, and in confirmation of the unaltered principles of the declarations issued in Turkey, Georgia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Iraq and the United Stated of America by the Assyrian societies all over the world, we want to invite all of your esteemed selves to the Assyrian Universal Alliance Conference which will be held in Tehran, Iran. This Conference will take place from July 24th to July 26th, 2007 with the presence of all Assyrian political parties, groups, organizations, societies and individuals.
As someone who is aware of his history and religion, I see it as my duty to extend my hand to you and am hopeful that you would join me and my fellow Assyrian nationalists in this Conference to help achieve a common goal.
Our goal is to have one leadership for our nation in our own ancestral homeland. Frankly, I believe those who are busy fighting and playing the games of my organization vs. your organization, my group vs. your group and etc are wasting valuable time and are traitors for not taking advantage of this last opportunity and uniting to achieve what should be a common goal: One homeland (our ancestral one) and one leadership.
The main goal and objective of this Conference is building and planning future strategies for our nation. For this reason and for avoiding any confusion you are kindly asked to announce your attendance and also keep us informed of your opinions by June 5th, 2007. In order to avoid any disorganization and due to sensitivity of time, any suggestions and ideas received after this date will not be considered.
Be certain that your attendance and expertise as a member of this union will be valued and remembered in the history of our great nation.
Assyrian Canadian National Federation
The diligent attempts and workshops to reach an agreement for all the parties on having an unifying entity that gather all the Assyrian organizations and activities in Canada have not stopped for the last three decades
Since the birth of the idea to integrate the Assyrian organizations, the unifying entity has become the urgent desire for our community, for it will bring them together under on umbrella and collectively gather their scattered efforts
This stage had witnessed failure and fiasco; however nothing has dissuaded our determination from achieving such dream. In order to have a brighter future for our coming generations to enlighten their path
The Assyrian Canadian National Federation was established by the following organization
1. Assyrian Universal Alliance / Canada
2. United Assyrian Youth of Canada
3. Nineveh Assyrian Club / Hamilton
4. Milad Assyrian Welfare Committee
5. Assyrian Athletic Club of Toronto
6. Assyrian Canadian Family Association
7. Assyrian Community Center of Canada
The Assyrian Canadian National Federation welcomes the memberships of all the Assyrian organizations and their activities all over Canada to join in.
A Message of Solidarity from Rosie Malek-Yonan
I am calling on Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ) to uphold his promise to me when I testified on 30 June 2006, before his Congressional Committee of the 109th Congress on religious freedom regarding the genocide, massacres and persecution of Assyrians in Iraq by Kurds and Islamists. This is what he said to me on the record:
“I thank you for that very powerful testimony. I just want you to know that you point out no one’s taking notice. The reason why we invited you and wanted you here was to try to begin to rectify that. To raise this issue with our own government and other coalition partners, especially the Iraqis. Your testimony will be used, I can assure you, to try and rectify things.”
Furthermore, my Congressional testimony is quoted in the May 2007 Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Despite this report, and although it has been nearly a year since Congressman Smith’s promise, the Assyrians are still patiently waiting on the fulfillment of these assurances. Instead we have witnessed the suppression of information in regards to the Assyrian crisis. Undoubtedly the matter is buried deep in Congressional archives. Unfortunately, so are Assyrians being buried everyday, with limbs severed and lives shattered and all hope dissipating.
We can no longer afford to remain complacent about the Assyrian tragedy unfurling in Iraq at the speed of light. We are in the midst of a crisis of unparalleled proportion. The status quo is failing. It is paramount that the U.S. and Iraqi governments take the initiative to immediately provide for an Assyrian Safe Zone. The U.S. was able to implement such a zone for the Kurds in 1991.
Assyrians are an integral part of the fabric of Iraq. If democracy is going to be implemented successfully in Iraq, then it stands to reason that the Assyrians must be protected. Change can come when the information and newsblackout onAssyrian interests in lifted in western media.
I urge every Assyrian and friends of Assyrians to contact Congressman Christopher Smith and demand a progress report on his promises to the Assyrians. This is where he can be reached: click here.
The Honorable Christopher H. Smith
Together we can make a difference. Please do your part.
Where are the Supporters of the War Now?
As an Assyrian with fair knowledge of our history and that of our
neighbors in the Middle East, I stood against the war on Iraq right
from the beginning and continue to do so. I spoke and wrote at the
time that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was the last nail in the
coffin of Christians in that country.
What happened to those of us who cheered and celebrated the invasion of Iraq and participated in marches and demonstrations in support of that unjust war? Why is it that we do not see them marching to Washington to demonstrate and be
heard by those who created the disaster facing the Christians in
Where are the Men of the Syriac Orthodox Church?
S. Sargon Elia
This a my purely personal response to the article by Mr. Said Saume Laho of Sweden entitled "What is going on with the Syriac Orthodox Church". Perhaps my response could be called "What is going on with the Syriac Orthodox Church Congregation - Where Are Its Men?".
Easter, Christmas, Pesach, and Ishtar
A short while ago I submitted an email on Easter to Zinda. I would like to present my background, the cause for the research which I presented, and a couple additional comments.
About 35 years ago I took a series of classes in Koine Greek with Dr. Ronal Tyler at Pepperdine University. A couple years later I studied Biblical Hebrew under David Nelson, a graduate student at UCLA. In 1975 I started to study Aramaic and then Syriac under Dr. William Sanford La Sor. I also studied Ugaritic in 1976 under Dr. Fred Bush. In 1977 I took a couple courses in Akkadian/Babylonian and a course in Sumerian from Dr. La Sor. French I had studied in secondary schools, and Spanish I learned from friends.
Given that my article was supporting the traditional understanding of Easter as specifically oriented towards the death and resurrection of Isho Mshikha, some folks probably wonder whether I might be some sort of Christian fundamentalist, and others, whether I might be some sort of missionary trying to convert folks. Neither guess would be correct. I am an ex-fundamentalist, having rejected fundamentalism about 20 years ago, with that rejection reinforced every year. I am however a devout Christian. I am certainly not a missionary of any sort, being fully employed as a computer programmer at an air cargo company.
As to my research, it came, as I had written, as a response to a presentation by a Seventh-Day Adventist speaker in Glendale in the early 1990s. At the time I had no internet access, and wouldn’t have considered that the internet would have been of any help. I used a number of dictionaries for my research, as well as a rather rare text on the liturgy of the Aramaic-speaking Palestinian Christians during the very early Middle Ages. I believe I found the information on Eostre in the Encyclopedia Britannica, though I have forgotten the specifics over the years. At any rate, my conclusion, which I also presented here in Zinda recently, was that there was no ascertainable connection between Easter and Ishtar, if we focus on the coincidence of the names. Speaking of which, the name Ostara or Eostre appears to be related to Eos, the Dawn, and to the word ‘east’. I’m not certain of the derivation of Ishtar (‘Athtar in Ugaritic, spelled ‘E thin taw rish).
During the 19th century, anti-papist writers attacked a number of feasts and holy days which the Protestants shared with the Roman Catholics. Much, if not most, of this material was written by Americans or Englishmen. The claim was that the Roman Catholic Church was engaged in idolatry, and that the major Protestant denominations, in accepting ‘Romish’ customs, had followed Rome into this sun-worshipping, Babylonian idolatry. As far as I am aware, 19th century English-speaking authors were the first to make this claim, usually basing it on Roman Catholic adaptations to Roman and Celtic feasts, Halloween (The Feast of All Saints) being perhaps the best known in the west (rejected by the Pilgrims and Puritans because it was a pagan celebration, as was the Maypole dance). This was the material utilized by the Seventh Day Adventist speaker to whom I’ve referred.
The following is in response to David Chibo’s fairly scholarly article:
Although little or nothing remains of the mythology, the goddess Ostara was mentioned in a German lullaby, which I can find and quote, if necessary.
The connection of eggs with ideas of spring, rebirth, and resurrection is easy to make, both because of the connection between egg-laying and spring, and because of the birth of a living creature from a hard, rock-like egg. I don’t see the commonality of eggs as symbols as signifying any ethnic, religious or philosophical connections.
I’ve never found any information connecting the Saxon goddess Eostre or the Germanic goddess Ostara with resurrection. Baldur (Spring) was reborn or resurrected; moreover he was killed by Hoder (Winter).
Since Winter births are the most fragile, and Spring births are the most likely to survive, I doubt the idea of a fertility god being born in Winter. Adar or Nisan would make a good deal more sense that either Kanoon. If you have any references for a Winter-born fertility god, let me know. I’ll be happy to read it, and change my mind if necessary.
As to the Christmas tree, I checked with a couple Senaya friends, who stated that they didn’t have Christmas trees in Senandaj. I was informed that once the community moved to Teheran, they started using Christmas trees (which they called ‘Hilana’, equivalent to the Aramaic/Syriac “Eelana”). Since the Urmizhnaya community (the greater part of the Teheran community) had by this time been under European (mostly English and American) influence for nearly a century, I posit that the Assyrian community adopted the Christmas tree from the European Christians, just as some Jews adopted the Hanukah bush.
I agree, ancient Assyrian imperial policy was generally not one of genocide. It was violently oppressive to non-Assyrians, and paralleled the later policy of Genghis Khan, giving enemies the choice of surrender or massacre. The scattering of defeated populations was also used by the Soviets, the Turks, and the United States.
Ninos the Great
A Short Story
“In President Karimi’s universe, conspiracy against the state has more definitions than flies on a horse’s rump,” said Rabi Oshana. “Everyone knows he can trump up a charge against a dissident from a sneeze.”
“So then all the teachers rot in prison?” Ninos regarded his grandfather.
“Most likely why they released Mr. Yousefi only after two weeks.” Rabi Oshana combed a hand over his proud mustache. “A fine young man, your teacher, but such an idealist. Your father was like that – fought with his heart instead of his head.”
Ninos popped a lump of hard sugar in his mouth and drank the last of his breakfast tea. He was dreading another day of pro Karimi rallies at the soccer stadium, even though it meant getting out of class. “You think Mr. Yousefi talked?”
“Was he into something?”
“There were rumors, Grandfather.”
“He might have talked.” Rabi Oshana shrugged. “Has family to support.”
If the stories were to be believed, thought Ninos, sooner or later all dissidents talked. Cousin Avrahim did, or else he liked walking with a new limp. Everyone in class said Mr. Yousefi was now a soprano.
“They tortured my father,” said Ninos, “but he refused to talk.”
“And the West did nothing to save him – so what was another Assyrian erased like the wrong word?” Rabi Oshana shook his head. “What happened to us that we’ve become invisible as a people?”
Ninos felt his throat tighten. After his father’s death he had watched his mother fade away from heartbreak, slowly, like the colors from a beautiful sunset, her voice sinking to a whisper before falling silent.
“Either way, my boy.” Rabi Oshana stopped and poured himself another glass of tea from the samovar. “You should only concern yourself with school.”
Too late for that, thought Ninos, and nodded to avoid questions about the circumstances of Mr. Yousefi’s arrest, especially the part when he rose in defense of his teacher and shouted that no one had the right to destroy the sanctity of the classroom. He could still hear the ringing in his ear as a security agent slapped him and threatened to put him in handcuffs, too.
“Karimi doesn’t frighten me,” said Ninos.
Rabi Oshana tucked in his mustache and blew out a defiant breath. “No braver man than the Ninos the Great, but remember that bravery’s wasted on the foolish. Besides, you’re all I have left.” He watched Ninos roll a chunk of goat cheese in bread for the bus ride to the rally. “Go, now, young man, and show our beloved leader how much you love him.”
They looked at each other and burst out laughing.
Ninos was a baby when President Karimi came to power. Relating the events leading to the coup d’etat, Rabi Oshana held that Karimi made more promises and deals than a hive of bazaar thieves. Soldiers and tanks came next. Then oppression. Assassinations. The press choked. And dissidents vanished like ghosts. “In the end it was like the guest who comes to your home,” he said, “and by morning you’re out on the street in your underwear, wondering how you lost everything.”
Later in the morning, with the bus convoy caught in downtown traffic, Ninos eyed the silent tank outside President Karimi’s party headquarters and wondered what part it had played in the coup d’etat. Perhaps it was even be the same tank he had encountered the afternoon he stumbled onto the bloody university student demonstration. It was two months to the day, he reminded himself.
His recollections of events that day were foggy, and sometimes he confused reality with dreams. Perhaps he had also dreamed about the tank coming at him like a giant bug and the stranger grabbing his collar and shouting, “Run, you fool.”
With Mr. Yousefi’s signal on the bus, the class exploded again with another chorus of President Karimi’s newest slogan:
Ninos ignored the chorus and froze his gaze on the soldier’s head peeking out from the tank turret like a target. He made a pistol with his hand and fired at the tank – “Bang! You don’t scare me.” Sitting next to him on the bus, his best friend George took aim and fired as well. “God, I love these rallies,” he said. “No class work.”
Ninos shrugged. “My grandfather says at this rate we’ll be fifty years old and still stuck in high school.”
“Your grandfather’s mouth is big like his mustache, my father says.”
“At least my grandfather has a mustache. Your father looks neutered.”
George jabbed him in the ribs. “Someday they’ll drag Grandfather away and you’ll end up an orphan, like Annie in the movie.”
“Not if I marry your sister and move into your big house.”
“And I can just hear my father –”
“Get that radical out of my house,” growled Ninos, laughing.
The class churned a chorus of the slogan, young fists punching the air on “Karimi.”
Ninos made a sour face and threw in his variation:
By the time the class dropped into the bleachers at the soccer stadium, Ninos had a raw throat. Little had changed at the stadium from the last rally. On the stage flags and banners waved in the wind like benevolent hands, the President’s massive portrait in the background dwarfing over them. His elite guard ringed the ground below the stage. Speakers blasted patriotic songs. And television cameras panned the stadium.
When President Karimi swept to the podium like an emperor, the stadium exploded with balloons and confetti. Directed by a cadre from the stage, masses of young voices in the bleachers fired chorus after chorus of the slogan. Karimi waved and applauded, beaming in his glittering uniform. It was a long time before he signaled silence and began his address.
Ninos wiped a sleeve across his forehead and considered Grandfather Oshana’s advice on dealing with the likes of President Karimi. They were bullies, he had said, and that the best way to defeat bullies was to outsmart them. That they also were masters at talking a lot and saying a little sometimes blinded them into forgetting that sooner or later people stop listening.
Long beyond listening to the same speech President Karimi gave in different ways, Ninos grew restless in his seat. His stomach complained, making him wish he had saved some of his bread and cheese for now. Worse, though, listening to Karimi’s voice boom through the stadium, Ninos felt the peculiar sensation that his head would fall off his body. Roll off his neck like a ball, just like that. So he stretched one arm across his chest and held the other under his chin just in case. After all, he would need that head.
This is a work of fiction. The people, events, and circumstances depicted are fictitious and the product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance of any character to any actual person, whether living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Fred Aprim & Firas Jatou Lectures in Europe
Dr. Matay Beth Arsan
Mr. Fred Aprim, author of the many books on the modern Assyrian history, the most recent of which is "Assyrians: From Bedr Khan to Saddam Hussein" and Mr. Firas Jatou of the Assyrian Academic Society and the Assyrian International News Agency will be visting the Netherlands, France, Sweden, and Germnay in June.
The table below lists Mr. Aprim's complete Lectures Schedule. Please refer to this table in the future for more updated information.
The coordination of these lectures are under the supervision of Ms. Attiya Gamri and the Foundation Assyria in Netherlands.
We thank the following institutions and persons for their help:
Yonadam Kanna: The Last ‘Iraqi’ Politician in Iraq
This past week, Assyrians were given another opportunity to assess the performance of their “elected” representatives in Iraq. Yet again, and unsurprisingly, these officials failed miserably those they are charged to defend.
On May 27, Finance Minister Sargis Aghajan of the Kurdistan Regional Government issued a press release to Ankawa.com (click here) stating the following points:
“This constitution guarantees the administrative, political rights and cultural and educational development of the various components Turkmen, Chaldeans and Assyrians, and all other components, regulated by law.”
In response to this situation, which Mr. Aghajan found unacceptable, he submitted the following to the Committee:
The positions taken by Aghajan are not new or surprising. The demands are a consistent repetition of what he has been advocating continuously and publicly. In this forum, however, I would like to focus on the more controversial elements raised: the allegation that other Assyrian representatives, sitting on the Committee, had submitted nothing.
On May 30, Yonadam Kanna responded to the matter by engaging in an interview with Ankawa.com (click here). He quickly asserted that “what Mr. Sargis Aghajan stated was not accurate.” However, it is not enough to simply claim inaccuracy in general. It is important to identify each claim made by Mr. Aghajan and whether or not each was “inaccurate” or not.
Fundamentally, Zowaa did not, and has not ever, issued any formal demands to the Iraqi Constitutional Committee. Even more troubling (though not surprising) is Mr. Kanna’s objection to Mr. Aghajan’s demand for autonomy. Mr. Kanna has two disagreements with Aghajan’s proposal for autonomy: i) that it violates the legal context of the Constitution by claiming rights in the region [Nineveh Plains] based on ethnicity or religion; and ii) it would “hurt the unity of the Iraqi people living in that region, which is a mixture of various nationalities and religions.” The first point is absurd: the entire raison d’etre and purpose of the Constitutional Committee is to amend the Constitution. If Mr. Kanna believes the Constitution is suitable as is, fine, but its existence is not a justification against autonomy. The second point is heartbreaking: he subordinates the rights of Assyrians and their claims to autonomy, as a people and a nation, to the “unity of Iraq”. After four years of war and after half of our Assyrian brothers and sisters have fled Iraq, Mr. Yonadam Kanna appears to be the last “Iraqi” politician in the country, putting Iraq ahead of the nation he was elected to serve.
Mr. Kanna goes on to say that any “autonomy” (or rather, “administrative rights” as he frequently states) in the Nineveh Plains should be established on a “demographic basis that would guarantee the rights of all inhabitants, including Assyrians, Yezidis, Shabaks, or Arabs. Our efforts must not be based on national or religious extremism but on an Iraqi national basis.” Thus, Mr. Kanna’s intention for the Nineveh Plains is exactly as it was for Iraq as a whole: that every individual’s rights be “guaranteed” as an Iraqi. I would ask Mr. Kanna how well this has worked out for our brothers and sisters in Dora, in Mosul, or in Basra? I would ask Mr. Kanna what would prevent hordes of other Iraqis, be it Kurd, Sunni, Shia, etc., from moving into this “administrative zone” and redefining its “demographic basis”? I would ask Mr. Kanna, as a member of the Committee charged with amending the Constitution, why he refuses to demand autonomy based on our nationality and religion? Our people are being slaughtered today because of our Assyrian heritage and our Christian faith. Our ethnic and religious identity is the entire point of our demand for autonomy. Autonomy based on “demographics” is not autonomy.
Finally, I would ask all readers to view this episode as a concrete test of our leaders and of their intentions for our people. People are free to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts. The fact is that Zowaa has confirmed, yet again, that they do not support autonomy for Assyrians. Zowaa’s proposal is for vague and frail “administrative rights,” established on a “demographic basis to guarantee the right of all”. If you believe that municipal demographic rights, with no national or Christian roots, will sustain our people and our identity in Iraq, then by all means continue to support Zowaa. ADM’s championing of “universal Iraqi” values have brought us nothing but bloodshed and marginalization. If, on the other hand, you believe our only future in Iraq depends on true autonomy as a nation and as Christians, then Zowaa will not deliver. By Mr. Kanna’s own admission, this is now a fact. The nation which gave the Assyrian Democratic Movement its name has dissolved too rapidly and has become too weak for Zowaa to stand on. To Zowaa, the “Iraqi Nation” now takes precedence.
The 40th Anniversary of the Six-Say War: 5 June 1967
Dr George Habash
On the morning of Monday 5 June 1967, I was sitting my last exam as a finalist at the University of Baghdad. The head of the examinations’ hall abruptly announced that the examinations would continue for the coming days as scheduled.
In my case it was the last exam anyway and I did not grasp the meaning of the announcement but a fellow student asked if the situations have deteriorated, then I knew what was happening. It meant the Arab-Israeli conflict was re-ignited.
Venturing out of the college you would see the jittering people of Baghdad; panic everywhere, gloom on every face and people glued to their radios or black-and white television sets for those who could afford it. Television was a luxury at the time and only the city of Baghdad was covered by television broadcast.
A brief history of the land starts with the Arabs’ conquest of the Holy Land in 638AD and during the Ottoman rule the Holy Land was part of Syria. After WW1 (1914-1918) Palestine became under the British rule and in 1921-22 Jordan was formed east of the Jordan River and ruled by King Abd-Allah. Lands west of Jordan River were portioned in 1947 between Israel as a Jewish state and West Bank cum Gaza Strip for Arab Palestinians, both run by Jordan and Egypt subsequently. The pre-war (pre-1967) demarcation was internationally recognised in 1949.
The state of Israel was formed on 14 May 1948 and that day is remembered by Arabs annually as yom al nakba (the day of setback). Golda Meir who played a significant part of her life in Israeli politics and former PM said in her memoirs that when the Israel flag was raised on 14 May 1948 tears filled her eyes. Next year is the sixtieth anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence and the fulfilment of Ezekiel prophesy that God will gather his people from many nations to the land He gave to their forefathers.
Israel conquers lands from Suez Canal to Jordan River and up to Golan
In the early hours of 5 June 1967 Israeli air force knocked down Egypt’s air force capability in a pre-emptive and startling 3-hour strike, a calculated war strategy. With Egypt’s air force wiped out this meant that the war has began and that would be advantageous to the Israelis and the first 10-12 hours of the war nearly crowned Israel’s domination of the war.
The Israelis fought on three fronts, the Egyptian front, the Jordanian front and the Syrian front and in six days only Israel captured from Arabs the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, the West Bank (Biblically Judea and Samaria) and the Golan Heights. Syria was the last to agree to a cease fire on June 10.
Yassir Arafat who founded the PLO in 1964 says in his biography that his men fought with light weapons and by this halting the advance of the Israelis. Here he derides the Arabs who either retreated or stopped fighting.
Some Israeli jet fighters even crossed Jordan and reached the Anbar province west of Baghdad where they were either shot down or crashed. Two Israeli pilots were caught and displayed on Baghdad television.
Egypt at the time was ruled by President Gamal Abd al-Nasser, a competent and a colossal figure in modern Arab history who would ignite the Arab feeling via the radio airwaves from Casablanca to Basrah. Jordan was under the Hashimite monarch Hussain and Syria under the radical leftist group of Noor al-Din al-Atassi and Salah Jadid.
The Arabs were caught with their pants down because they did not expect a pre-emptive strike or even a war because they relied on shuttle diplomacy to ease tension especially their friendship with the Soviet Union to bypass the crisis. France under President Charles de Gaulle also urged the Israelis for self-control and not to start the war.
On the other hand the Israelis have had enough from Arabs’ bellicose and brinkmanship behaviour and resolved that only war can settle the Arab-Israeli conflict and bring the Arabs to sit down and talk peace with the Israelis at the negotiating tables.
Prior to the war, Arabs would talk or encourage talk about pushing ‘tiny’ Israel into the sea and I well remember when I was in the middle school under Abd al-Karim Qassim’s rule, the first Republican leader, in the early 1960s of that satirical national song in Baghdadi accent which goes with these words, there is no escape O Zion- before you is the Mediterranean sea-we push you in and you die.
The Arabs’ mantra of pushing Israel into the sea made a boomerang effect and their fiasco turned into self-pity syndrome, by dubbing the events of 5 June 1967 as idwan khamsa huzairan (aggression of 5 June). But once browsing a magazine about the anniversary of 5 June 1967 I noticed with unbelievable shock a photo of Israeli fighters dancing after the ‘liberation’ of the West Bank (Biblically Judea and Samaria). See the difference, ‘aggression’ to some but ‘liberation’ to others.
During those six days of war and the daily advances of the Israeli forces, Moshe Dayan the veteran Israeli defence minister was helicopter-ed from one battle front to another accompanied by journalists. He never felt triumphant but told journalists that the Israelis are fighting Arabs today but one day we will live in peace with our Arab neighbours.
Arabs’ failure turns into anger
Following the ceasefire along all fronts on June 10, a mood of anger dominated the Arab streets from Baghdad to Cairo.
People demonstrated in Baghdad led solely by the left-leaning pan-Arab groups who poured their anger first against Israel for its triumph and second against the ineffectiveness of the Arab governments. Small communist groups tried to demonstrate but were instantly dispersed by security men.
Also anger was poured on the Soviet Union, Arabs’ ally, for failing the Arabs because the Arabs wanted the Soviet Union to win the war for them while their jails are full of Communists. Written protests were also submitted to the embassies of the socialist bloc of Eastern Europe.
Within days and on 9 June President Gamal Abd al-Nasser of Egypt offered his resignation, bearing the responsibility of defeat but about five million people thronged into Cairo demanding President Nasser to remain in office. President Nasser stays as President but dies three years later in September 1970 from the burden of defeat to be followed by Anwar al-Sadat, an opportunist-a half Egyptian and a half Sudanese, who would revive the Islamic tendency.
In July 1968, Aflaqites in Baghdad with tactical collaboration with other groups surrounded the Republican Palace, the President surrenders and flown abroad. A ruthless and bloody regime was installed that continued willy-nilly for nearly 35 years until 9 April 2003 when was ejected from power. The remnant Aflaqits now operate in some Arab countries with the largest clandestine and espionage centre in western hemisphere being based on the British soil.
In September1969, a colonel in the Libyan army, Muammer al-Gaddafi, admirer of President Gamal Abd al-Nasser, overthrows the monarchy. He still rules the country from his tent outside Tripoli.
In October 1969, Jaafar al-Nimeiry, a colonel in the Sudanese army seizes power in a coup de’tat who later Islamise Sudan in return for extra salary from Saudis.
In September 1970, Yasser Arafat, the leader of PLO and his militias confront the Kingdom of Jordan via street battles aiming to overthrow the monarch but the regime fights back that ended with the defeat of Arafat and his men who later retreated to Lebanon and will remain there until they ignite the Lebanese civil war in 1975.
In November 1970, Hafiz al-Assad, the defence minister of Syria and his brother Rifaat al-Assad, overran the Syrian Security HQ bringing the leftist government down and Hafiz al-Assad becomes President until his death in 2000 and to be succeeded by his inexperienced, ophthalmologist son Bashar al-Assad.
These events were not accidental but well planned and the main cause for all these takeovers was that the new comers accused their predecessors of corruption, incompetence and bringing shame to the Arabs for their defeat on 5 June 1967 and promised their people that they would mobilise their nations to obliterate that shame and bring victory over Israel.
Israel, Assyria, Egypt and Isaiah’s prophecies
The prophet Isaiah of ancient Israel (circa 8 th century BC) ends chapter 19 with three verses that every Assyrian youth should keep by heart and memorise for life. The prophet Isaiah foretold the formation of the nation of Israel, the nation of Assyria and the nation of Egypt by the power of God.
In 1948 one of Isaiah’s prophecies was fulfilled and in these latter-days the prophecy is notched up further. Full fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy will come in the end because God is faithful to his people. (Isaiah 19:23-25).
The prophet Ezekiel records in the Old Testament that God will gather his people from many nations into one nation (Ezekiel, throughout).
Elsewhere in the Old Testament God promises that he will gather the Jewish people into one nation (Israel) and the promise of rebuilding of the third Temple prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ.
In early Church days (the second century) there appeared a concept of ‘Replacement Theology’ which believes that the New Testament Church has replaced the Jewish people as the people of God, but according to some evangelical Christians such belief is not Biblical because the early Church was mainly Jewish and that Christianity has Jewish roots in the same way that the New Testament completes the Old Testament.
The evangelicals who advocate that the ‘Replacement Theology’ is a false teaching are known as ‘Christian Zionists’ who believe that the formation of the State of Israel (greater Israel or historical Israel) is prophesied in the Old Testament and support the present State of Israel. Note here that every Christian Zionist is Christian but not every Christian is a Christian Zionist and the term ‘Zionist’ comes from Zion the mount or Mount Zion and here means either Jerusalem or the State of Israel or both and has nothing to do with the ‘Zionist’ movement.
Since WW2 and the annihilation of the Jewish people in Europe in the Holocaust and the triumph of Israel in the six-day war in 1967, the position of the Church has been sympathetic to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel and this has led to many movements within the Jewish people to reciprocate this by coming to believe in the Messiah-ship of Jesus Christ like the ‘Messianic Jews’ and ‘Jews for Jesus movements (Ezekiel’s prophecy). These Jews believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament but they remain Jewish; they believe in the whole Bible, Old and New Testaments. These new believers are taunted by the main stream Jews who still deny Christ as the Messiah.
Fighting different type of war
When events flare up in the Middle East especially those linked to the Arab-Israeli conflict the media would describe Israel as the ‘superpower’ of the Middle East.
This term of superpower has dwarfed the Arab regimes especially those surrounding the state of Israel. It has become two-mentality sets, a set of a prowess cum superiority and a set of failure cum inferiority.
The defeat of the Arab regimes on 5 June 1967 has punched a dent in the psyche of the shabby Arab regimes but a war of words never stopped and the tendency of revenge was and is still bottling up.
In October 1973 the Soviet Union told the Arab chums that the time is ripe for an assault on Israel when the Israelis were napping and lax. Syrian and Egyptian armour poured into Israeli occupied lands and moved fast and despite early incursions by Arabs and heavy losses by Israel, within days Israel regained the upper hand reaching within a stone’s throw from Damascus and Arial Sharon the former military commander crossed the Suez Canal into the heart of Egypt before the ceasefire was declared.
Arab regimes especially those near Israel have realised that they cannot win a war against Israel by conventional means but alternative war may produce results.
After their defeat in October 1973 they raised the banner of al-naft silah fi al-maarakah (oil as weapon in the battle) causing oil prices to hike many folds and send crippling shudders into the Western economy. This slogan was initiated by radical Arab nationalists like the Palestinians and other leftist groups but failed to be the real weapon. The only beneficiaries from oil price increase were the ‘conservative’ Arab Sheikhdoms like Saudi Arabia and UAE. None of that huge revenue was earmarked for ‘struggle’ against Israel but was used to build Mosques, Islamic schools and Islamic centres in the west.
With 20m Muslims in Europe, another 20m in Russia and 6m in USA, the Arabs and Muslims are working hard to defeat Israel by alternative wars. One is to draw a wedge between USA and Israel, by antagonising the USA in order to make it jettison or abandon Israel which they think could not stand on its own.
Another type of war that is being initiated is to discredit the Jewish claim to the Holy Lands by: (1) Claiming that the Holocaust is a ‘myth’ and therefore the gathering of the Jews into Israel after WW2 is not legal. (2) Propagating that the Temple of Solomon never existed and if existed not in Jerusalem but somewhere else. (3) Denying that the kingdom of Judah and kingdom of Israel ever existed. (4) Claiming that Jesus himself was not Jewish but come from Arab background. (5) Arabs and Muslims went further by saying that the Jews are not the ‘Chosen People’ but the Chosen People are the Israelites, the lost 10 tribes. (6) Propagate that Islam is the Holy Spirit of the New Testament. All these claims by Arabs make the Jewish state in Israel as illegal and illegitimate.
Point 6 above was invented in late 20 th century some 10-15 years ago and was initiated by a South African Muslim and is drummed in our time even on our websites by a renegade and apostate Greek who instead of documenting the Ottomans’ atrocities against his own people, converted to Islam.
The Holy Bible is the true Word of God which I have read and continue to read and contravene such claims. According to my Bible and your Bible, the Jewish people are the ‘Chosen People’ of God and Jerusalem is the centre of the Judaic faith. The Holy Spirit came to Jesus Christ’s disciples on Pentecost day in 33AD some 2000 years ago and the Church was born on that day, centuries before Islam was initiated.
I have tried to be honest to the point to give an unbiased report on the Arab-Israeli conflict because gone are the days of diktat when we were instilled by false litanies and empty promises.
On 5 June 2007 comes the fortieth anniversary of that war and ever since the interminable bloodshed continue without end. The figure 40 is a Biblical number for it was the Israelites who wandered for 40 years in the desert before reaching the ‘Promised Land’ (Genesis 12:1-2 and 15:18). Noah in his Ark navigated for 40 days and 40 nights and Jesus our Lord fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Divine intervention after 40 years can bring permanent peace for the Middle East, and this seems the only way to achieve peace, where we the Assyrians, among other nations, are part and parcel of that region.
The Arabs and Israelis have to live in peace because a large proportion of the Israelis come from Arab and Muslim countries where they lived for centuries as sub citizens deprived from any real share in the national echelon and wealth. For example the Yemeni Jews were employed as street sweepers and imagine sweeping in that country when Yemen was the poorest and most backward nation on earth.
The Arabs have to propagate with honesty the slogan of ‘land for peace’ and mean it and not substitute it by ‘land for talk’.
Statistically in all the internecine between Arabs and Israelis since 5 June 1967 the ratio of the casualties is always at least 3:1 Arabs to Jews, but the Arabs are determined to kill Israelis as though killing an Israeli is honour despite their higher casualties. In prisoners exchange Israel will free hundreds of Arabs or even thousands for one or a few Israelis.
The West Bank and Gaza were under Arab control before 5 June 1967 but the Arabs failed to make it a homeland for the Palestinians because they wanted all, starting with the ‘wiping’ of Israel from the map. Now they demand the return of lands that were theirs.
The current Catholic Archbishop of Westminster writes nicely and it was Christmas when he wrote in a national newspaper 2-3 years ago. He said it is possible to kill many people in a crowd but to hug all the people in the crowd you have to do it one by one. The Archbishop did not elaborate but he left it to the reader. The first view is not Christian but the second view is purely Christian because Jesus our Maran command us to love and hug our neighbour and our neighbour is not only the one next door but is the other one an Israeli, Samaritan, or Arab (Luke 10:29-37).
(New International Version - Bible)
Blood of Iraqi Martyrs
Kenneth R. Timmerman
There is another tragedy taking in place in Iraq on a daily basis, far from the front pages and the TV news. It does not involve the kidnapping of U.S. troops, nor even the fire-bombing of Muslim shrines by other Muslims, both of which by now are familiar to most Americans.
This is a tragedy taking place in a total media vacuum. Even our government has remained silent as it continues.
Perhaps it’s because the victims are Christians. Indeed, members of the most ancient Christian communities in the world.
Over the past three years, Iraqi Muslim extremists have targeted Christians in systematic attacks, aimed at driving them from their homes, their work places, and their churches.
Just last week, a group of armed Muslims set fire to St. George’s Assyrian Church in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad, completely decimating what remained of a church already hit by a deadly fire-bombing in October 2004.
It was the 27th church to have been destroyed by Muslim gangs since the liberation of Iraq from Saddam and his thugs.
“The bombing of St. George’s Church should leave no doubt in any one’s mind that a process of ethnic cleansing has begun,” the Rev. Dr. Keith Roderick of Christian Solidarity International told me.
“Unfortunately, the US has put very little pressure on the Iraqi government to establish, as guaranteed by provisions in the Iraqi constitution, an autonomous federal unit of self governance and security for these minorities,” he said.
Father Roderick has been a tireless advocate for Iraq’s martyred Christians. Through Christian Solidarity International, he works closely with Christian communities throughout the Muslim world as they struggle against repression and persecution.
The May 16 attack is only the latest in a series of measures by Islamic militants aimed at forcing Christians to leave Iraq.
“There are estimates that nearly 50% of the Christians of Iraq have been forced to flee into exile,” Father Roderick said. “It is lamentable that the international community and the US have not treated this terrible human dilemma with an urgent response.”
Early this week, the Rev. Temathaus Eisha, pastor of the Church of St. Shimoni, said that his church was the last one in the entire Assyrian quarter that still conducted services. The other churches, including a number of monasteries, had all been abandoned.
The Christians of Iraq include Chaldeans, Syriac Orthodox, and Assyrians. All trace their roots to the early church and use a liturgy still written and sung in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.
Peter BetBasoo of the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) has been following closely the plight of his fellow Assyrians in Iraq. The stories that he and his news agency tell of Christian martyrdom in Iraq are chilling.
“Over the past 30 days, al-Qaeda has moved into the Dora neighborhood and started to collect the jizya,” he said. “They are telling the Assyrian families who remain in the area they must pay this protection money, or leave.”
The Jizya, sometimes referred to as a “head tax” or a “protection tax,” was instituted by the Prophet Mohammad in the Koran on non-Muslims as a means of enforcing their submission to Muslim rule. Those who refused to pay the jizya were to be killed.
The “Islamic State in Iraq,” a Sunni insurgent governing council dominated by al-Qaeda, recently appointed a local imam, Hatym al-Rizeq, as its “Prince” for the al-Dora neighborhood. He began demanding that Christian Assyrians pay the jizya last month.
According to AINA, al Qaeda units moved into the Dora area recently from al-Anbar province, where they were fleeing the U.S. security sweep.
The Dora neighborhood, some six miles southwest from central Baghdad, “seems to be abandoned by both Iraqi and Coalition” forces, AINA reported last month, when the mass exodus of Christians began.
Over the past week, U.S. forces have scoured the surrounding area in search of two missing U.S. soldiers who are believed to have survived a kidnapping by insurgents linked to al-Qaeda.
“We talked to many people within the American Embassy and the Iraqi Government, but it seems nobody really cares, because they have done nothing” to stop the anti-Christian violence, one al-Dora resident told AINA.
Another Dora resident, who is now a refugee in Syria, said he had spoken to a family who recently fled the neighborhood after “terrorists knocked on their door” and demanded that they pay the jizya to support the insurgents. If they refused to pay the tax, they were told to convert to Islam, “or leave the house within 24 hours or else be killed.”
That is in keeping with Koran 9:29, which exhorts Muslim to “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold forbidden that which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”
Al Qaeda is demanding that Christians pay 250,000 dinars (around $200) for the right to remain in their own homes, a sum equivalent to an average month’s salary in Iraq, AINA said.
"Christians in Iraq are on their way to extinction, cut off from the country's political process," said Father Bashar Warda, newly-appointed rector of the St Peter Major Seminary, which has moved from Baghdad to Ankawa in Iraqi Kurdistan for security reasons.
Ankawa has become known as the “city of Christ” because of the new refugees crowding the city.
When asked why nothing had been done since the liberation to protect Iraqi Christians, Father Warda blamed “the indifference of Iraqi leaders. They do not consider us as belonging to this nation.”
He said that other Iraqi groups take advantage of Christians “because we have no outside support or our own militia. They know that all we can do is make appeals and complain. [Iraqi] politicians act convinced that our community is bound to disappear in a few years.”
William J. Murray, chairman of the conservative Religious Freedom Coalition, tells me that he has called on President George W. Bush to “step forward and protect the Christians that have been placed in such grave danger by our actions in Iraq, even if the sole solution is to grant immediate asylum to all of them.”
The instability “caused in Iraq by our failed attempt to install a democracy has decimated the Christian community,” Murray added.
Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, international director of the Barnabas Fund, issued an appeal on May 11 to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and to U.S. leaders.
He recalled during a recent visit to Baghdad speaking to a Christian minister who had appealed to the local American military commander to beg for protection for Christians. “The answer he got was, ‘We are not here to protect you.”
Christian Solidarity International estimates that 100,000 Assyrian Christians have fled Iraq for Jordan, where the government refuses to grant them refugee status and has closed church schools because they are “teaching Christianity.” Many more have fled for Syria.
In 1987, the Christian population of Iraq was 1.4 million, Father Keith Roderick said. “Today it is estimated to bet between 600,000 and 800,000.”
Dora is not the only area in Iraq where Christians are being persecuted. Over the past two years, churches have been attacked or firebombed throughout Iraq, priests kidnapped, and women murdered, Father Roderick said.
Last October, an Iraqi priest, Father Boulos Iskander, was kidnapped and murdered near Mosul. His kidnappers placed his severed head on top of his chest, and his severed arms and legs around his head.
“The US military has rushed in to rebuild schools and mosques,” Father Roderick said. “It remains to be seen how quickly they will rush in to assist the beleaguered Christians rebuild their losses, such as St. George’s.”
Writing about the persecution of the early church by the Emperor Nero, Tertullian famously wrote that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
By this, he didn’t mean that the martyrdom was optional. He meant that it was a necessary condition for the advancement of the Christian faith.
Those are tough words – and a tough concept – for the families of those martyrs, who have watched in horror as their loved ones have been murdered and their corpses mutilated and defiled.
But they may be the only consolation to this story.
William Saroyan’s “Seventy Thousand Assyrians”
Ann-Margret (Maggie) Yonan
William Saroyan was an award winning American writer and play-write whose books and plays have been translated in nearly every major language. Most recently, a group of Armenian publishers, (Ohannes Kilicdagi, Aziz Gokdemir, and Arman Artuc, “Aras Publishing”) in Istanbul Turkey, published one of his most famous short stories, Seventy Thousand Assyrians, in Turkish, called Yetmish Bin Suryani. This is one of the most important achievements in the 21 st century for Saroyan’s legacy and the Assyrian and the Armenian people. For this important story to be read in the Turkish language, (the language of Assyria and Armenia’s oppressors) is quite a nail in the coffin of Kamal Attaturk and his “Young Turks.” To think nearly one hundred years ago, the Turks were massacring the Assyrians and the Armenians to rid the land of indigenous people struggling for the survival of their ethnic identity, and now a few generations later, the Turks are reading the story of the same massacred people, in TURKISH. Saroyan must be finally resting in peace.
Saroyan is one of the most celebrated American authors of Armenian descent. His mother, Takoohi and her three children leave Bitlis to Marseilles, France in 1906. After a few months of waiting, Takoohi and her three children board a ship and head to Ellis Island, New York, to join her husband who was a Presbyterian minister living in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was during her voyage to America that Takoohi gets seasick and an Assyrian woman cares for her children.
A few years later, the family moves to San Francisco and from there to Fresno. William Saroyan was born in Fresno, California in 1908. Ironically enough the same year the “Young Turks” movement was being established in Turkey to begin the process of ethnically cleansing Turkey from its Christian minority, (i.e. the Assyrians, the Armenians, and the Pontic Greeks.)
When William Saroyan is three years old, his father, Armenak, dies and William is placed at Fred Finch orphanage in Oakland, which is why he spends the rest of his life writing about death, destruction, displacement, disconnection, and loss. His early years were spent in Fresno, where there is a large Armenian community, many of whom are his aunts, uncles, and cousins. He writes about his relatives later on, and no doubt, his knowledge about Asia Minor, the Armenians, and the Assyrians begins with these relatives.
At the age of 25 years, William Saroyan publishes his first book, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, and the public begins to call him “William, the Daring Young Man.” This book was the most significant, for it announced his entry into the great American literary scene, and it was the beginning of the Saroyan phenomenon for the next twenty years. His writing style was fresh, unique and free-flowing, which is why it was called JAZZ. His works are known as Saroyanesque epics.
The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze is a collection of 26 short stories, one of which is Seventy Thousand Assyrians, in which Saroyan is a young writer who moves to San Francisco and settles in an apartment at 348 Carl Street. I have had the privilege of entering this apartment, to see the space in which Saroyan wrote about my people. I have also stayed at his San Francisco’s “House on the Hill” many times, through the generous invitations of his niece, Jacqueline Kazarian of New Port Beach, California.
Saroyan writes Seventy Thousand Assyrians to develop his writer’s identity and says, “ The story is a simple one, no complicated plot, nor fancy characters .” It is all about a young writer who goes to the Barber College on Third Street in San Francisco, where he meets an Assyrian Barber’s apprentice, Theodore Badal, to get a fifteen-cent haircut, and writes, “ This would certainly not make a TV series for the coming decade.”
The story opens with the following lines:
Dr Hagop Papazian of Paris, in his PHD dissertation writes, “This short paragraph in and of itself consists of a remarkable relationship to time and space, in a very oriental sense of the term. Any attentive reader would instantly realize that “forty days and forty nights” refers to the legends and allegories of Asia Minor, to the Thousand and One Arabian Nights, where the duration of stories, fasting, mourning, requiems, and celebrations last forty days and forty nights. Moses was said to have stayed on Mount Sinai forty days and forty nights, Jesus was said to have fasted forty days and forty nights in the desert, before being tempted by the “devil.” Therefore, the figure forty may be taken as synonymous with a particular moment of reflection, in the process of making an important decision, as is the case with the writer who meditates about his BE-ing……..the writer of the present short story as it is on the point of BE-ing written.”
The opening paragraph of this short story alludes to allegorical themes, for which Saroyan was so famous. He once wrote, “Everything I write, everything I have ever written is allegorical.” Therefore, the theme and content of Seventy Thousand Assyrians entirely presented in allegorical terms.
Saroyan continues to narrate:
In spite of these words, Saroyan went on to win many prestigious awards. In 1939, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his outstanding play The Time of Your Life, which he did not accept, sending the Pulitzer Committee the following note: “Art must be democratic, but at the same time it must be both proud and aloof. It must not be taken in by either praise or criticism. Wealth, I am sure, cannot patronize art and the strange impulse of wealth to seek to do so, is, I believe, a curious example of noble bad taste. A poverty-stricken nation with great art is a greater nation than a wealthy nation with a poverty-stricken art.” The following year, in 1940, he won the “Critic’s Prize” which he accepted graciously as a “great distinction.” Saroyan won an Academy Award in 1943 for the screenplay adaptation of his book, The Human Comedy.
Saroyan was anti-establishment, and an advocate for the underdog, which is why he uses words like “simple language” and “common people” to the extent he is about to discuss world events that affected ordinary people in extraordinary ways. Hence Saroyan wants to record these events in history which is why he says, “ I am merely making a record ” alluding to events taking shape in the year, 1933, in which he writes this story.
He gives us a hint of the helplessness and sadness he feels, and wants to do something to help humanity, and this becomes even more evident when he says in the next line, “If I have any desire at all, it is to show the brotherhood of man. This is a big statement and it sounds a little precious. Generally a man is ashamed to make such a statement. He is afraid sophisticated people will laugh at him. But I don't mind. I'm asking sophisticated people to laugh. That is what sophistication is for. I do not believe in races. I do not believe in governments. I see life as one life at one time, so many millions simultaneously, all over the earth. Babies who have not yet been taught to speak any language are the only race of the earth, the race of man: all the rest is pretense, what we call civilization, hatred, fear, desire for strength . . . . But a baby is a baby. And the way they cry, there you have the brotherhood of man, babies crying.”
Saroyan was mocking the rich and the sophisticated, commenting on the madness with which they were choking the world. The stock market had just crashed due to rich men’s manipulation of currency rates and the implementation of the Military-Industrial-Intelligence Complex, and people all over the world had lost their jobs, their homes, and most Americans were standing in soup lines, asking passersby, “brother, can you spare a dime.” Hitler was rounding up all the Jews in Europe, and was setting-up his “Thousand Year Empire.” America and Germany were racing to develop the Atomic bomb. Racial prejudice, hatred, fear and loathing being instilled in millions of people around the world, who were concerned with their own survival, babies crying from hunger, and men like Iowa, (the boy in this story) losing their dignity and becoming homeless tramps, moving from place to place looking for work, or becoming refugees like Badal, through massacres and genocides. To Saroyan, the only ones who were not engaged in this madness, and were crying out against injustice were babies, who had not yet developed the language of hatred and fear. This is evident in Saroyan’s next lines, “ We grow up and we learn the words of a language and we see the universe through the language we know, we do not see it through all languages or through no language at all, through silence, for example, and we isolate ourselves in the language we know. Over here we isolate ourselves in English, or American as Mencken calls it. All the eternal things, in our words. If I want to do anything, I want to speak a more universal language. The heart of man, the unwritten part of man, that which is eternal and common to all races.”
The reference to Barbarians will soon become evident, but the “hairy people” can be associated with Samson’s hair and the outstanding physical strength that those legendary old tales of Asia Minor told. In this manner, the reader is transported on a magic carpet ride, through time and space to the world of legends and myths that characterize Assyria.
Saroyan, no doubt had heard many stories about Assyria and Armenia and the relationship between the two. Of course, the most famous one was the story of the Assyrian queen Shamiram and the Armenian king Ara, a myth told by the Armenians to explain the death of their famous king. The story is about queen Shamiram of Assyria, who meets and falls in love with the Armenian king Ara. When he refuses the queen’s affection and attention on the moral grounds of the sanctity of his marriage, the Assyrian queen kills him in revenge. The second myth is about the battle between the Armenian Haig and the Assyrian Pell (also known as Pelus, Belus, Bel, Baal) who established Babylon, and who supposedly was later killed by the Armenian Haig. In this story, Haig kills Pell and establishes Hayestan, and this is how he earned the nickname, “fatherland.” Even in the oldest Assyrian story ever written, Gilgamesh, an Armenia king is mentioned, which is an indication of how far back in history these two ancient people can be traced.
These legends were transmitted to us orally from the 10 th century B.C., and were later reported by the historian Moses of Khoren, in the fifth century A.D. These were of course, literary expressions, depicting the conflicting relationship between old Assyria and Armenia. They explain the cultural and political connections between the two people.
Of course, these legends and myths would have been told differently by the Assyrians, but the important thing is that the Armenians and Assyrians have had a long history together. These legends and myths are kept alive in both communities. Armenians and Assyrians, being both of the same faith, have lived in the same geographical locations, and together they have developed Christian communities throughout modern history. Most Armenians and Assyrians of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Lebanon, speak each other’s language. For example, my father, Rabi Youab Yonan and his sister Aglenteen Warda, who grew-up in Camp Al Gailany, in Baghdad, although attended Assyrian primary school, both speak fluent Armenian due to the relationship they had with the neighbor, the famous Armenian singer Ohannes Badalian, who died a few years ago in Hyestan. These neighbors became virtually one family until Ohannes’s family moved to Hyestan. When Ohannes Badalian’s mother became ill, my grandmother, Anna Yonan, nursed both my father and Ohannes at the same time. Until the day he died, Ohannes called my grandmother “mayreek” (mother) and my dad “yekhpar,” (brother) and my aunt “kooyreek” (sister). The Armenians and Assyrians have inter-married for centuries, and have even shared the same church services on special occasions.
According to some Historians, ancient Armenians lived in Assyria and the two people were one. At one point in time, Armenians left Assyria proper to move northward and established Urartu, (ancient name of Armenia.). According to historical records, the ancient kingdom of Urartu was located in the mountainous plateau between Asia Minor, (Mesopotamia) and the Caucus mountains, which later became known as the Armenian Highland, centered around Lake Van. The kingdom existed from ca. 860 B.C., emerging from the Late Bronze Age, until 585 B.C. Some Armenian Historians suggest that the name corresponds to the Biblical Ararat. Wikipedia sources taken from Armenian writers, state the following, “ The name Urartu comes from Assyrian (a dialect of Akkadian) sources, and was given to the kingdom by its chief rivals to the south. The kingdom's native name was Biainili. Scholars believe that "Urartu" is an Akkadian variation of Ararat of the Old Testament.” In Assyrian, Ur stands for “cradle,” as in URMIA, (cradle of water).
Dr. Papazian writes, “Linguists and scholars agree that up until the 5 th century, the Armenians used the Assyrian alphabet and wrote and spoke Assyrian.” The two people were one, and Saroyan, being a history fanatic knew this, which is why he uses Biblical allegory, to write about this unity, to analyze their ancient origins, and to establish his own identity as an Armenian and as a writer. Papazian continues, “It is enough to look at the sculptures, statuettes, drawings, and inscriptions of daily objects of Urartu to see the immense influence of Assyrian art on the Armenian culture. These legends are part of the collective consciousness of Armenians, to the extent they are taught in every primary Armenian school, as part of history courses, or transmitted orally through grandparents or uncles who were supposed to be great story-tellers.”
When Saroyan was not writing books, he was in the public library, researching every aspect of his being, tracing his identity and his ethnic roots, and exploring his connection to Assyria. Saroyan had certainly heard these legends, moreover, had met many Assyrian immigrants who had close daily contacts with the Armenians and had settled in Turlock, the name of the town mentioned in Seventy Thousand Assyrians.
The storyteller of Seventy Thousand Assyrians has no name. His status in the structure of the short story is characterized as the young writer. The space where the events take place in the story is the Barber’s Shop. This is not a modern hairdressers’ shop in the writer’s mind. This shop is part of the Middle Eastern culture, and therefore it is a place where people discuss political or daily problems, a place where coffee and tea are served, along with the latest gossip, news, and exchange of information. In the old days, one could even have his tooth extracted and consult for medical advice. Furthermore, there are many expressions in the Armenian as well as the Assyrian culture and language where a barber’s shop is associated with wisdom. A man who has a beard is a wise man! Wisdom and the beard are associated, hence the Assyrian expression of “khwar diqna.” Consequently, the barbershop is a place where people meet, discuss and exchange ideas, tell stories and philosophize, which is why it is a place that characterizes wisdom, and therefore Saroyan puts it in the context of an educational institution, and identifies it as a Barber’s “college.” As we shall see shortly, this college has a deeper meaning for Saroyan.
Among other characters present at the barber’s shop, the writer tenaciously makes his protagonist an Assyrian barber’s apprentice, who is the subject of the young writer’s observation.
Saroyan’s narration “ we barbarians out of Asia Minor are a hairy people ” is an allegorical expression, and the meaning of the phrase manifests itself in astonishing ways. Saroyan is allegorically expressing a Western sentiment, where more often than not, defines and categorizes Middle Eastern people in “barbaric” terms, (uncivilized, uncultured, backward people.) Additionally, by making the “barber’s” apprentice an Assyrian, (an ancient race of people whose country was known as the Cradle of civilization) Saroyan relates the concept of “Barbarism” as being established in the West, more specifically the “Barber’s College” as an institutional structure. This will be the most profound statement Saroyan will make about East/West relations, and the concept of genocide, destruction, displacement, and loss. He sets the action of this story at a Barber’s “College,” where Badal, (change) will take place, and this young Assyrian will learn how to cut “hair,” (physical strength) of his own identity and learn to shave “beards,” (his own ancient wisdom.)
Saroyan chooses the name of the protagonist of this story very carefully. He writes, “ Theodore Badal, “a good name, genuine. A good young man, genuine. Theodore Badal began working on my head .” Of course, he means it allegorically, as a shrink works on people’s head to find out what is inside. Saroyan not only uses the name Badal in this story to mean “transformation,” but Theodorus, in Greek means “God granted.” Saroyan has at this point made a remarkable connection between the Assyrians, God, and God granting wisdom, culture, and knowledge to become the “Cradle of Civilization.” However, as we shall see, all of that is about to change, at the “Barber’s” College” where the Assyrians, their culture, and even the concept of God and God-granted wisdom will be transformed, which is why Saroyan says of Theodore Badals’ name, “a good name. Genuine. A good young man, genuine,” meaning Theodore Badal has been defined as a “good” human being, belonging to the oldest and most genuine, (indigenous) people on earth, who gave the concept of “God” to the world, but now this concept itself is about to change with the transformation of the Assyrians.
Getting back to the story, what does Assyria have to do with writing and style? Why Badal, an Assyrian, is the subject of a young writer’s short story and what is significant in this choice? We have discussed the relationship of Assyria and Armenia through legends and history. On the other hand, let us see what Dr. Papazian has to say, “Assyria is associated with Babel, (the Gate of God) which in antiquity was considered the “Center of the Universe” and its legendary Tower of Babel was considered the center of knowledge and wisdom, as all the roads of the world lead to Assyria. The first reference then, leads us directly to the Book of Genesis, and two famous quotations. Then we are going to underline certain expressions and establish parallels between the biblical text and that of Saroyan’s.”
Dr. Papazian maintains, “In Saroyan terms, it means that he keeps his own minority’s identity yet at the same time he has a universal outlook at the world.” Hence, Saroyan wants to define the Assyrian language as UNIVERSAL, still spoken by Assyrians, the oldest people still alive, who formed the first civilization, and built the first city after the flood, (BAB EL-the Gate of God) out of which the first language and people scattered abroad, making the Assyrian identity and language universal and the “heart of man.”
While Badal cuts Saroyan’s hair he is expected to chit-chat with him. When Badal does not say anything, Saroyan begins to narrate again, as follows:
Saroyan directly intervenes in the course of the story to introduce the subject of massacre and death. He makes personal observations from an Armenian perspective, to elaborate on the way in which genocide affects the lives of ordinary people, and groups of people, whom, as a result of massacres, become minorities, scattered about the whole world, and this ties into the Biblical theme of “scattered abroad.”
He continues by writing:
Saroyan, in this narration, is not only addressing the issue of genocide to the English-speaking world, but in his own way is asking the questions every “pious” person would ask when being massacred. “WHY”? By using the name Theodor, (God granted) he establishes a connection between God and the oldest people still alive, (i. e. Assyrians and Armenians) and at the same time reveals his disgust for a higher power that would grant monstrous rights to powerful individuals by “authorizing” them to become lynch mobs, going on a rampage to destroy “God’s people.” In other words, why would God grant such horrific notions to human beings, when the idea of “God” is to grant wisdom, knowledge, and creativity with which to build and civilize the world?
Saroyan is also searching for answers for his own father’s death at a young age, especially since his father was a minister, who is supposed to be “pious” when doing God’s work, and preaching God’s “word,” (another reference to language of God, and Assyria.) The obsession of Saroyan with language will be a recurring theme in his later works.
When he is finally finished narrating, Saroyan asks Badal again, “Are you an Armenian?”
The names of the Assyrian characters chosen in this story, as well as the description of their life, their occupation, their interests, and their death are significant. The Assyrian reader will especially understand that these names are not mere coincidences, when we know Elia comes from the ancient Assyrian word for God, (EL). Therefore, Nito Elia is an Assyrian, whose name, means “God,” and he is the son of the first people on earth to give civilization and “the word of God” to the world, thus giving humanity “salvation.” He makes Nito Elia a captain of the Salvation Army, because the Assyrians established the first armies and conquered most of the world, but gave it all up to become the first group of people to accept Christianity, and it is their Christianity that causes their death and martyrdom, only to give the world “salvation.”
Tony Saleh’s name is also allegorical to the extent that Saleh is “to solve,” which is why Saroyan describes Tony as a “clever boy, very good in arithmetic” referring to the Assyrian contributions of inventing mathematical knowledge and solving the universal issue of time and space. Saleh was also an Islamic preacher born nine generations after Noah. Saroyan has Tony Saleh die by a horse, a sacred animal for the Assyrians and the Arabs. These allegorical names and descriptions refer to ancient Assyrian inventions of horsemanship and mathematics, which the Islamic dynasties succeeding the Assyrians, carried forth and perfected, and Saroyan uses these inventions to document the contributions Assyrians made to civilization, to juxtapose the “Barbaric” notions with which the West characterizes the Middle East. This is Saroyan’s spontaneous reflection on the way in which these ancient inventors and mathematical geniuses of Assyria being systematically destroyed by the very civilization to which they give life.
The name Joseph Sargis also has Biblical connotations, as Joseph is supposedly the father of Jesus, and Sargis is a commonly shared saint between the Armenians and Assyrians. Naush Boghosian writes, “ St. Sargis Day is celebrated 63 days before Easter, on a Saturday falling sometime between January 18 and February 23. Popular and widely anticipated in Armenia and Middle Eastern countries, the Armenians celebrate the feast day of St. Sargis, the patron saint of young love, so that unmarried Armenian women will eat a piece of salty bread this night, ideally after fasting all day, in the hope of dreaming about their future husband. Tradition says the man who brings them water in the dream will be the man they marry. These types of marriage traditions are prevalent in other cultures in different forms. Assyrians, for example, celebrate a variation of St. Sargis, where the dreams of unmarried women are believed to be prophetic.”
Saroyan uses these names to reflect on lost civilizations, relationships, friendships, loss of childhood and childhood friends, as well as the loss of growth, love, marriage and children; and all the other elements which make up humanity’s hopes and dreams, which are lost in death and destruction.
Saroyan writes, “We began to talk about the Assyrian language and the Armenian language, about the old world, conditions over there, and so on. I was getting a fifteen-cent haircut and I was doing my best to learn something at the same time to acquire some new truth, some new appreciation of the wonder of life, the dignity of man. (Man has great dignity, do not imagine that be has not.)
Saroyan’s remarks about dignity of man is a moral comment on Badal’s dignity as a “good” Assyrian whose ancestors gave so much to the world but now homeless and nation-less, reduced to being the “barbarian’s” apprentice in the West.
Badal says to Saroyan, "I cannot read Assyrian. I was born in the old country, but I want to get over it." Saroyan writes, “He sounded tired, not physically but spiritually.” Saroyan attempts to link this spiritual tiredness to something much more sinister when he asks Badal, “Why?" I said. "Why do you want to get over it?"
"Well," he laughed , (meaning Badal) "simply because everything is washed up over there." Saroyan writes, “I am repeating his words precisely, putting in nothing of my own. ” Badal continues, "We were a great people once, but that was yesterday, the day before yesterday. Now we are a topic in ancient history. We had a great civilization. They're still admiring it. Now I am in America learning to cut hair. We're washed up as a race, we're through, it's all over, why should I learn to read the language? We have no writers, we have no news--well, there is a little news: once in a while the English encourage the Arabs to massacre us, that is all. It is an old story, we know all about it. The news comes to us through the Associated Press, anyway."
Dr. Papazian writes, “Thus the Assyrian language, as the essential element for the preservation of the Assyrian identity, and all of humanity, is discarded by Badal, and he retreats and wants to get over it. In other words, what’s worth learning the language if Assyria does not exist as a real state, or that the world is trying to wipe its own heritage”?
Saroyan writes, “These remarks were painful to me as an Armenian. I had always felt badly about my own people being destroyed. I had never heard an Assyrian speaking in English about such things. I felt great love for this young fellow. Don't get me wrong. There is a tendency these days to think in terms of pansies whenever a man says that he has affection for man. I think now that I have affection for all people, even for the enemies of Armenia, whom I have so tactfully not named. Everyone knows who they are. I have nothing against any of them because I think of them as one man living one life at a time, and I know, I am positive, that one man at a time is incapable of the monstrosities performed by mobs. My objection is to mobs only.”
Saroyan continues, "Well, " I said, "it is much the same with us. We, too, are old. We still have our church. We still have a few writers, Aharonian, Isahakian, a few others, but it is much the same."
"Yes," said the barber, "I know. We went in for the wrong things. We went in for the simple things, peace and quiet and families. We didn't go in for machinery and conquest and militarism. We didn't go in for diplomacy and deceit and the invention of machine guns and poison gases. Well, there is no use being disappointed. We had our day, I suppose."
Saroyan says to Badal, "We are hopeful. There is no Armenian living who does not still dream of an independent Armenia."
"Dream?" said Badal. "Well, that is something. Assyrians cannot even dream any more. Why, do you know how many of us are left on earth?"
"Two or three million," I suggested.
"Seventy thousand," said Badal. "That is all. Seventy thousand Assyrians in the world, and the Arabs are still killing us. 'They killed seventy of us in a little uprising last month. There was a small paragraph in the paper. Seventy more of us destroyed. We'll be wiped out before long. My brother is married to an American girl and he has a son. There is no more hope. We are trying to forget Assyria. My father still reads a paper that comes from New York, but he is an old man. He will be dead soon."
Then his voice changed, he ceased speaking as an Assyrian and began to speak as a barber. "Have I taken enough off the top?" he asked.
At first reading, this exchange between Badal and Saroyan seems to be all about death and destruction of the human spirit, of the dignity of man, of the hopes and dreams of Mankind, of the ways, means, and methods of peoples and their cultures being attacked and destroyed systematically by weapons of mass-destruction, by the powerful nations. However, the astute reader will realize that Saroyan was actually attempting to document the second Assyrian Genocide, which is known as the Simele Massacre in August of 1933, where thousands of Assyrians were killed in their own homeland. This is Saroyan’s tribute to all the Assyrians who were slaughtered by the Iraqi army, under the watchful eye of the British government, marching into simele and six other Assyrian villages in northern Iraq, and using a Kurdish general, (Bakir Siddqi) proceeded to massacre thousands of innocent Assyrian men, women, and children. This was the straw that broke the Assyrian back. Shortly after that massacre, the Assyrian leader, Mar Shimmon was exiled from Iraq to Cypress, and this is how England neutralized the last Assyrian resistance and attempted to stamp out the eternal Assyrian dream of establishing an independent Assyrian state. When Saroyan makes Badal to say, “we have no news. Well, there is some news, once in a while the English encourage the Arabs to massacre us ” he is referring to the news blackout by the Iraqi government, where the Iraqi newspapers were forbidden to write about the Simele massacre. If that young Lebanese journalist had not escaped out of Iraq and called the story to his editor in Beirut, the world would have never known about the Assyrian genocide in Simele, in August of 1933.
Today, the Assyrians are still being massacred and displaced, their lands confiscated, their homeland turned into Kurdistan (with the help of the ENGLISH, once more). The KRG, as we write this, is attempting to ban the Assyrian language in the Kurdish-controlled regions of Assyria, our artifacts looted by the powerful nations, in the hopes of destroying the identity of the last Assyrians remaining in Assyria. Assyria is once more up for grabs. Our churches bombed, Assyrian neighborhoods once more surrounded by Islamic extremists who are trying to impose a fatwa, where the Assyrians would have to pay taxation in exchange for their life. It is still the same story as it was in 1933. The English are back in Iraq dividing our homeland to conquer it, encouraging Iraq’s Muslim extremists to massacre us, except today, while threatening the Christian population, the Iraqis are fighting their occupation with their own lives, as the world watches it on television, hears it on radio, reads it on the internet and newspapers, and still NO ONE cares!
Saroyan describes Badal as tired, “spiritually,” not “physically” because Badal can no longer fight for his life, his homeland, his rights, his existence, as he is now in exile. He is disconnected from all that he once was, and is now in America changing and learning to cut hair, (cutting himself off from his own ancient wisdom and heritage) and cut-off from his own homeland, his identity, his culture, his language, which is why he says, “I cannot read the Assyrian language,” and wants to “get over Assyria.” Those that are massacred and displaced cannot possibly care about their language if their first priority is safety and survival.
Today, Assyrians have fled to the West by the millions, where we now have writers, newspapers, magazines and books, but no Assyrian schools. One may wonder why that is after nearly one hundred years of living in the Diaspora? The answer is simple: Genocide and displacement cause change, (Badal). This change is overwhelming to massacred and exiled people, to the extent that it would take decades to get “over it.” In the West, Assyrian survivors of genocide and destruction are forced to not only learn a new morality and philosophy, but a new language, as well, by which they can survive. This is why Saroyan writes, “These remarks were painful to me as an Armenian. I had always felt badly about my own people being destroyed. I had never heard an Assyrian speaking in “English” about such things.” Who can speak of such things in “English” unless they know how to speak English FIRST? The irony of these remarks is that by the time we learn to speak ENGLISH, we forget Assyria! Moreover, if Assyrians are in the exclusive business of being captains in the “Salvation Army,” we will have no time to build schools and learn the language.
Saroyan uses the word English twice purposely to identify Assyria’s enemy, and thus establish the masters of yesterday’s and today’s Assyria.
Dr. Papazian writes, “This threat of assimilation and loss of national identity as Badal says, “we’ll be wiped out before long………..We are trying to forget Assyria” is not a strange feeling for every Armenian alive. This feeling of “loss” has a close relationship to the author. This tragic sentiment of “loss” is not independent of the loss of language itself. Badal, although was born in the old country, doesn’t read and is not willing any more to learn the Assyrian language, “simply because everything is washed-up over there……Now we are a topic in ancient history.”
Saroyan ends the story by the following lines, “I am thinking of Theodore Badal, himself seventy thousand Assyrians and seventy million Assyrians, himself Assyria and Man, standing in a barber shop, in San Francisco, in 1933 and being still himself, the whole race.”
Dr. Papazian writes, “We have a good number of figures here, yet there is one that is constant, and it is the number SEVEN. The title of the story is Seventy Thousand Assyrians, after a real event where genocide was wiping out seven Assyrian villages at one time . Saroyan makes Badal himself stand for seventy million Assyrians. It is appropriate to observe that the number SEVEN is a Biblical number. God, after accomplishing his work of creating heaven and earth, rests on the seventh day. In Biblical terms, seven and creation are synonymous.”
The Assyrians, like any people, are God’s creation, and it is the creation of God that is fragile, susceptible to genocides, and therefore on the brink of extinction. In Genesis we read, “And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month upon the mountains of Ararat.” Saroyan takes us back to our beginnings, through God’s design of the “arc,” where mankind is delivered to earth, after a wave of extinction. We have already mentioned that Theodor means “God granted.” We are thus in the realm of myths, where God and men interchange roles; and the limit between the real and allegorical is but subtle. Dr. Papapzian writes, “We are in history, past and present, interweaved, all concentrated in one single magical word: ASSYRIA, seen through Badal’s deep suffering, “a young man lamenting bitterly the course of history .” It is to be noted that Badal is not conceived outside of history. In the past, ancient Assyria participated as an acting force in history itself, but now only a topic in ancient history. Furthermore, that a member of this nation of great past, simply trying to be a barber, in America, is a contrast between historical destiny and the individual.”
“Saroyan transcends reality. He goes from a particular language to a universal one, “the heart of man” and from one particular Assyrian, (Badal) Saroyan creates seventy million Assyrians. Dr. Papazian continues, “By multiplying, Badal becomes the concept of MAN himself. The idea here, is that Assyrians have no national territory, but through Badal, Saroyan gives them a universal dimension. “The race of man, the part of man, of Assyria as much as of England, that cannot be destroyed, that part that massacres cannot destroy.” That is why Badal stands for seventy million Assyrians, and man himself.””
“Assyria is the meeting point between God, the confounding of languages and different races, and since Theodorus means God-granted, then God is eternal, so is Badal, and consequently so is Assyria, as the concept of man.”
In this short story, in spite of Badal’s personal disappointment and surely in reaction to that, Saroyan makes him stand for the indestructibility of the Assyrians and Man; “that which neither massacres, nor famine, nor earthquakes cannot destroy. ” This theme recurs in all of Saroyan’s work, as he writes in another short story, “I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race.”
Dr. Papazian notes, “In Seventy thousand Assyrians, the narration has an intuitive sense of history. In the text, the writer tells a story within a story.” Therefore, the story of Theodor Badal is the story of MAN.
Saroyan has made his point, thus ending his story by writing, “The rest of the story is pointless. I said so long to the young Assyrian and left the shop. I walked across town, four miles, to my room on Carl Street. I thought about the whole business of Assyria and this Assyrian, Theodore Badal, learning to be a barber, the sadness of his voice, the hopelessness of his attitude. This was months ago, in August, but ever since I have been thinking about Assyria, and I have been wanting to say something about Theodore Badal, a son of an ancient race, himself youthful and alert, yet hopeless. Seventy thousand Assyrians, a mere seventy thousand of that great people, and all the others quiet in death and all the greatness crumbled and ignored, and a young man in America learning to be a barber, and a young man lamenting bitterly the course of history. “Why don't I make up plots and write beautiful love stories that can be made into motion pictures? Why don't I let these unimportant and boring matters go hang? Why don't I try to please the American reading public? “Well, I am an Armenian. Michael Arlen is an Armenian, too. He is pleasing the public I have great admiration for him and I think he has perfected a very fine style or writing and all that, but I don't want to write about the people he likes to write about. Those people were dead to begin with. You take Iowa, (the young boy in this story) and the Japanese boy, (also in this story) and Theodore Badal, the Assyrian; well, they may go down physically, like Iowa, to death, or spiritually, like Badal, to death, but they are of the stuff that is eternal in man and it is this stuff that interests me. You don't find them in bright places, making witty remarks about sex and trivial remarks about art. You find them where I found them, and they will be there forever, the race of man, the part of man, of Assyria as much as of England, that cannot be destroyed, the part that earthquake and war and famine and madness and everything else cannot destroy. This work is in tribute to Iowa, to Japan, to Assyria, to Armenia, to the race of man everywhere, to the dignity of that race, the brotherhood of things alive. I am not expecting Paramount Pictures to film this work. I am thinking of seventy thousand Assyrians, one at a time, alive, a great race. I am thinking of Theodore Badal, himself seventy thousand Assyrians and seventy million Assyrians, himself Assyria, and man, standing in a barber's shop, in San Francisco, in 1933, and being, still, himself, the whole race.”
The story of Assyria being the story of man should give us pause. What has MAN become? The race of man is now the nuclear race, a race towards the destruction of history, civilization, dignity, the death and starvation of children everywhere. Nothing much has changed since Saroyan wrote this story. The ENGLISH are still at the helm, plotting and planning man’s destiny through the relentless power of the multinational corporations and their multinational forces, strangling humanity into submission, using terror, poison gases, chemical weapons and other weapons of mass-destruction to secure their “interests.” We must ask the million-dollar question: WHAT are their interests and how are they different than the interests of the rest of the world? These powerful forces have no interest in democracy, only in siphoning our oil, looting our treasures, installing new dictators, such as the Kurds to replace Saddam, and creating death squads and mass-graves in our homeland. “It’s an old story. We know all about it.”
Assyrians, in the meantime have not learned a thing from history. They are still being used by the English, (to fight, to translate, to run agencies and arms deals for the Power Elite) and still doing the Imperialist bidding. Since their last massacre in 1933, the Assyrian population in Iraq had increased to nearly 2 million in the last 7 decades. However, with the recent war on Iraq and attack on Islam, the Assyrians are once again, caught in the middle of a war waged by the ENGLISH, and Kamal Attaturk has been replaced with Donald Rumsfeld and his cohorts, Cheney, Bush, and Wolfowitz.
Today, once again, less than 70,000 Assyrians remain in Iraq, and more than one million of them have left the country to become refugees in Jordan and Syria, starving and homeless, while their brethrens in the Diaspora argue over which of their religious leaders is more of a Theodorus, “God-Granted.” Most Assyrians are still in the Salvation Army business, trying to save souls, instead of Assyria. Today, Assyria’s own sons are the top commanders of the most powerful Salvation Army in the world, the Vatican, waging its war of TERROR on Assyria, and Man.
Today, as I write this, on May 1, 2007, Assyrians are racing to build bigger, more lavish churches, but not ONE Assyrian school on their agenda, so why should Theodor Badal learn the Assyrian language?
Saroyan’s Seventy Thousand Assyrians is not only poignant and profound, but still fresh, still relevant to the state that Assyria is in today.
William Saroyan was criticized by the Armenian community for calling this story by the title he gave it, instead of Seventy Thousand Armenians. Saroyan answers them by writing, “I suppose I goofed by calling us Assyrians, but not really, because in a sense, everyone in the world is an Assyrian, once a great race, now all but extinct.”
It is interesting that Saroyan, an Armenian, would make “everyone in the world” an Assyrian, but some of Assyria’s own sons, in particular, some so-called “educated” Assyrians, trained by the CIA, maintain, “The modern Assyrians are not the descendants of the ancient Assyrians.” Perhaps that is why Assyria’s enemies, the “English” just rewarded one of these “learned” men with a “college” of his own.
Saroyan, in his book, Obituaries, wrote, “My work is writing, but my real work is being.” Will Assyrians learn the business of being, and get out of the Salvation Army business?
Dr. Hagop Papazian PHD, is a philosopher in Paris, France. He is an Armenian from Boorj Hamoud, Lebanon, where he earned his Bachelors of Arts and Masters degree in comparative Literature from the American University in Beirut. He wrote his PHD dissertation on William Saroyan’s Seventy Thousand Assyrians at Sorbonne University in Paris, France, in 1984. He is one of the two world experts on William Saroyan.
I first introduced Dr. Hagop Papazian to Assyria in 1999, when I presented his doctorate thesis on AssyriaSat... I am happy to see that since then, the internet is full of Assyrian websites that have posted the story of Seventy Thousand Assyrians.
1-A Biography of William Saroyan, A Daring Young Man. John Leggett and Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2002.
2-Why Does A Writer Write? Saturday Review, February 25, 1965.
3-The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze-William Saroyan-A Zephyr Book-The Continental Book Company, London, 1948.
4-The Holy Bible, Genesis, 11: 1-9, and 8:4
5-Inhale and Exhale-William Saroyan-Random House, New York, 1936.
6-Assyria and Assyrians in William Saroyan’s Work-Dr. Hagop Papazian, PHD. Paris, France, 1984.
7- Naush Boghosian-The Feast of St. Sargis.
The following speech was made on 8 May 2007 in the first sitting of the NSW Parliament after the recent elections.
The Honorable David Clarke
The commemoration of Anzac Day on 25 April each year is a special time in the life of the Australian nation. It is the day when we commemorate, honour and pay homage to the bravery and sacrifice of those Australians who have fought in wars to protect our nation's freedom and way of life. It is also a time when we remember and honour our allies in these conflicts. Here in Sydney and elsewhere, contingents of allied ex-servicemen and ex-service women, including the British, Americans, New Zealanders, French and others, march side by side with Australian ex-servicemen and ex-service women. Among those who march each year in Sydney on Anzac Day, and who again marched this year as part of the allied contingent, were the Assyrians, under the banner of the Assyrian Levies Association. Indeed, the Assyrian-Australian community treats Anzac Day with a special and praiseworthy reverence because in both the Second World War and the First World War Assyrian troops fought alongside Australian troops.
On our recent Anzac Day I was deeply honoured to have attended a special commemoration organised by the Assyrian-Australian community in St Hurmizd's Assyrian Cathedral and the community's cultural centre, the Edessa Auditorium at Fairfield. This is the occasion each year when the Assyrian community remembers all allied service personnel, especially the Assyrians who served with the allies.
While the Assyrian community worldwide is not a large group, the history of the Assyrian nation goes back thousands of years. In fact, it recently celebrated its 6,757th New Year. The Assyrians are noted in history for many things: They constituted one of the greatest empires of the ancient world; they were builders of great cities like Nineveh and Babylon; they were pioneers in science, astronomy and medicine; they were builders of some of the world's first universities; and they have the distinction of being the first nation to convert to Christianity. Their language is the language spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Because they were our allies in two world wars, the Assyrians have a special bond with Australia. What a great bond that is—Australia, one of the youngest nations of the world, was allied in both world wars with Assyria, one of the oldest nations of the world. Australian troops are renowned for their fighting qualities, as symbolised by Gallipoli, Tobruk and the Kokoda Track. Assyrian troops are also renowned for their fighting qualities, as symbolised by their efforts in the Middle East and southern Europe. As I have said, this bond goes back to the days of the First World War, when the Assyrians fought with such tenacity and valour in the Mesopotamia region. For the first few years of that war they scored a series of stunning victories over the Turks, and in so doing won the admiration and respect of Britain, Australia and others. However, after the collapse of Russia and her withdrawal from the war, events changed dramatically, and for the worse. The Assyrians, now fully exposed to the Turks, found that they were on their own and greatly outnumbered. They paid a horrifying price for their loyalty to the allied cause. The Turks unleashed a campaign of unparalleled genocide against the Assyrian population, annihilating some two-thirds of its number. In percentage terms, it was probably the greatest genocide against any people in recorded history.
Following the Second World War the British, in admiration of the Assyrians' fighting skills, created what has become known in military history as the Assyrian Levies. In the years leading up to the Second World War, the Assyrian Levies played a significant role as part of British forces in maintaining peace in the Mesopotamia region. With the coming of the Second World War, the Assyrians wrote a new chapter in their military heritage. They served as parachutists attached to the Royal Marine Commandos, and in their own Assyrian Levies formations saw active service in Italy, Albania, Greece, Cyprus, Lebanon and Palestine. History acknowledges that they significantly assisted in defeating Axis domination of the Middle East.
So tonight I pay tribute to the fighting men and women of the Assyrian nation who over the past 100-odd years have stood shoulder to shoulder with Australia and other free nations in the defence of freedom. I pay tribute to the Australian Assyrian Levies Association and its achievements. I pay special tribute to the president of the association, Gabriel Kiwarkis, who has done so much to document the proud record of the Assyrian Levies. Both the Australian nation and the Assyrian nation worldwide can take great pride in his achievement in documenting the alliance between Australians and Assyrians encompassing the two world wars. Mr Kiwarkis has been tireless in his efforts and is highly regarded by the Returned Services League of Australia.
I also acknowledge the good work of the vice president of the Assyrian Levies Association, Paul Azzo, and Zaya Toma, who leads the Assyrian Levies Youth Section. As representatives of the new generation of Assyrian-Australians they epitomise the good qualities inherent in both peoples. In modern times the Assyrian people have faced perilous and difficult times. Their support of the allied effort in the First World War brought annihilation of a major portion of their population. They have also suffered persecution at the hands of Saddam Hussein and even now they suffer persecution at the hands of Islamist extremists in Iraq. It is a miracle of the ages that they continue to survive. I am greatly moved by the reverence and importance that the Assyrian-Australian community affords to Anzac Day and I am greatly inspired by the efforts of Assyrian forces in time of war. I am greatly moved that after so many years both Assyrians and Australians ensure that their fallen comrades are not forgotten. Lest we forget.
Younan Properties Acquires 30-Story "One Dallas Centre"
Younan Properties, Inc. (YPI) announced on 24 May that it has finalized its acquisition of One Dallas Centre, at 350 N. St. Paul Street on the southern edge of the Arts District in Dallas’ central business district (CBD). The 615,000-square-foot, 30-story Class A high-rise brings YPI’s Dallas assets to nearly seven million square feet—close to 10 percent of the city’s Class A office space—and its nationwide holdings to more than nine million square feet. Younan is now one of the largest owners of Class A space in the state of Texas and the top office landlord in Dallas.
YPI represented itself in the transaction. Evan Stone, managing director of Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. in Dallas represented the seller, Colonnade Properties.
“Zaya Younan and his team are true professionals, who consistently did what they said they were going to do. As a result, we had an on-time and smooth closing of this transaction. It has been a pleasure working with them,” Stone commented. “YPI’s plans for improving this Class A asset, combined with the firm’s hands-on, tenant-focused operating strategy, should put the building right on track as a top notch downtown property.”
YPI plans call for a $20 million renovation that will give the downtown high-rise a new identity and personality, reflecting a name change to “Patriot Tower.” The transformed property will feature a 10,000-square-foot lobby war museum with exhibits paying tribute to all the men and women who have sacrificed their lives serving their country, from the American Revolution to the present-day Iraq War.
“We are passionate about this project, as we feel that all Americans should pause more in their daily lives to think about the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the democratic values on which this country is founded,” said Zaya S. Younan, Chairman and CEO of Younan Properties, Inc. “Dallas is the ideal location for this museum, as Texas has more active military personnel than any other state in the U.S. We will be honoring them, along with all who have served their country over the past two and a half centuries.”
Younan noted that YPI will recruit a history professor from a Dallas university to make Patriot Tower displays as informative and educational as possible. “This will be an educational project and a great attraction for tenants, visitors and all who do business in this landmark property, who will be able to pay tribute to American soldiers and gain lessons in the history of our country, from 1775 to the present.”
In addition to the lobby museum, YPI plans call for extensive interior and exterior renovations, including common area enhancements, new landscaping and a complete mechanical upgrade, that will boost occupancy and bring the building back to the Class A+ standards for which Younan is known. Greyhound Lines is currently the lead tenant in the skyscraper, which is now 40% occupied.
“This is a beautiful structure that will be totally transformed with ‘the Younan touch.’ Our plans call for operational and cosmetic improvements that will return One Dallas Centre to first-class condition inside and out, enabling us to attract top corporate tenants as we lease up the building,” Younan said.
Designed by world-renowned architectural firm I.M. Pei & Partners, One Dallas Centre is among Dallas’ tallest skyscrapers, with a unique diamond shape rising 448 feet high on the city’s skyline. Two distinctive V-shape cutouts accentuate the building geometry and multiply the number of corner offices. An attached 10-story parking structure provides the highest ratio of parking in the entire Dallas CBD market.
Built in 1980 of aluminum spandrel with gray glass bands, One Dallas Centre offers an ideal downtown location adjacent to Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s St. Paul Light Rail station, a central hub of the city’s public transportation system. It also boasts connections with Dallas’ underground tunnel system, which runs throughout the CBD and features a wide array of retail shopping and dining venues. The Universities Center at Dallas, offering access to public upper-division and graduate-level education from seven universities and colleges, is within walking distance.
One Dallas Centre marks YPI’s third downtown Dallas acquisition in the past year. Earlier this year, the fast-growing firm added the 50-story Thanksgiving Tower to its portfolio of high-rise office properties, which also includes KPMG Centre in downtown Dallas. YPI also owns Energy Square I, Energy Square II and Energy Square III in Dallas’ North Central Expressway submarket, and Galleria Plaza, Lakeside Square, Four Forest Plaza, 9400 Plaza, Eighty-Eighty Central, North Central Plaza, Graystone Centre and Meridian Center in the city’s suburbs.
“We remain bullish about Dallas’ office market and confident that all of our properties here will continue to outperform others in the submarkets they’re located in,” said Younan, noting that YPI also has ambitious acquisition plans for Houston. The firm is currently under contract to purchase two Houston office properties: Northbelt Corporate Center, a high-identity asset that is strategically located on North Sam Houston Parkway in the highly desirable Greenspoint/Northbelt submarket, and 6464 Savoy, a mid-rise offering direct access to U.S. Highway 59, ideally suited for tenants that seek a smaller atmosphere and exceptional amenities. Both deals are expected to close in mid-June.
In addition to focusing on office markets in Texas, Younan Properties is aggressively targeting Chicago as it aims to become the nation’s largest privately-held commercial real estate investment firm. Its $1.5 billion portfolio currently includes assets in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Texas.
Known for its detailed, hands-on approach to improving operational efficiencies while maintaining top building standards for tenants, Younan Properties’ management team has more than four decades of experience in developing and managing commercial real estate in high growth markets throughout the United States. Headed by Zaya S. Younan, Younan Properties has accumulated more than $1.5 billion in real estate holdings since its inception in 2002.
About Younan Properties, Inc.
Headquartered in Los Angeles, CA, Younan Properties, Inc., a real estate investment group, specializes in acquiring Class A office properties in high-growth markets throughout the United States. As one of the fastest growing, privately held real estate investment groups in the country, the company is especially adept at turning around undervalued assets and maximizing the value of stabilized assets. Through the application of proprietary technologies and proactive management, Younan Properties creates immediate value. In fact, the company has delivered to its investors an average leveraged IRR of 65% on properties sold to date.
Since founding the company in 2002, Zaya S. Younan has accumulated a nine million-square-foot portfolio of well-located Class A office buildings valued at more than $1.5 billion in key markets within Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Texas.
For additional information about Younan Properties, Inc. click here .
Mr. Zaya Younan, CEO of Younan Properties, is an accomplished member of the Assyrian community. Zinda Magazine has learned that Mr. Younan philonthropy in the last few years has included support for the education of the Assyrian Church of the East priests in Rome, a housing project for its priests in Lebanon, and the Assyrian Christian School in Los Angeles run by the Assyrian Church of the East.
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