Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Demonstration in Chicago
Background & Intent
In the midst of the heinous atrocities targeting the Assyrian Chaldean Syriacs and other Christians in Iraq, the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Select Committee of Chicago was established as a grassroots campaign for the awareness and publicity of the tribulations affecting our people in our Homeland. The Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Select Committee’s, a coalition of unity-minded and progressive national, religious, and student organizations, first pressing task was to organize a community-wide response in solidarity with our forsaken brethren abandoned and tortured in the crimson trenches of Iraq. The setting for this courageous demonstration was at the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building ( 230 South Dearborn Street) in Downtown Chicago between the hours of 12:00 noon and 2:00 pm.
The objective of this Select Committee was to emotionally illustrate the violent persecution affecting our people in Iraq due to their Christian faith and their indigenous identity under the watchful eyes of both the Iraqi Government and the US Administration. The challenge was paramount—to mobilize the diasporic Assyrian Chaldean Syriac community under the stresses of recent religious division and on a busy weekday. The secondary objective of this coalition for unity and awareness was not only to protest the horrible reality facing the indigenous Iraqi Christians, but to initiate the mobilization of our community at the onset of such crises and chaos.
For more than 30 years, our people only mobilized for celebratory events such as Kha B'Nissan, but it is time to be more politically and humanitarianly minded—especially when our brethren in Iraq are being persecuted and oppressed, not only because of their religion, but because of their identity--Assyrian Chaldean Syriac— that we take for granted and lightly here in the Diaspora.
As Christians, foremost, we wanted to peacefully and democratically voice our alarming concerns with the drastic rise in the precision of the violence singling out the indigenous Christians in Iraq. This has included but not limited to the bombing and hostile invasions of our most sacred churches under our possession for centuries, kidnapping and the beheading of our priests and deacons, the torturing and raping of our women and children, the forced veiling of our women accompanied with threatening demands to pay Jizya tax (tax for non-Moslems), and even the expulsion of our people from their homes with the orders of leaving all belongings behind.
With these upsetting and frightful images etched in our mind’s eye, the Select Committee began the publicity for the event through both American and Assyrian media outlets, hiring and scheduling bus transportation, recruiting churches and other Assyrian Chaldean Syriac focused organizations, and more importantly, from scratch, creating and erecting hundreds of leaflets, signs, posters, banners and flags to overwhelmingly illustrate our Nation’s plight at the demonstration.
The transportation to the demonstration was generously provided by the Select Committee and their sponsors. Busses were scheduled and publicized to be at a myriad of churches and community centers. They were scheduled and were at Mar Odisho Church (Old Calander), Mart Mariam Church (Chaldean Rite), Mar Gewargis Church (ACOE), Mar Andrious Parish (ACOE), Mart Mariam Church in Roselle (ACOE), ChaldoAssyrian Community Center, as well as the ANCI Center on Peterson.
Our religious leaders and community leaders, hand-in-hand, led the march and demonstration in the plaza of the federal building. Our religious representation was valiantly illustrated with unity by H.G. Dr. Mar Bawai Soro (Bishop of the Church of the East) together with Fr. Awiqam Pithyou (Archdeacon of Ancient Church of the East), Msgr. Sanharib (Priest of the Chaldean Rite), Msgr. Alfred Badawi (Priest of the Lebanese Maronite Church). Our unified community leaders embarking in the march towards national awareness were Mr. Aladin Khamis (AANF President), Mr. Sheba Mando (ANCI President), Mr. Sami Younan (ADM USA Representative), Dr. Adam Benjamin (ADM USA Past Representative), Mr. Robert Mulhim (AAS Chicago Representative), Mr. Napoleon (AAS Iraqi Representative), and Mr. Yosip Bet Rasho (Assyrian Media Center, Night Stars Radio).
Another visible achievement from this demonstration was the integration and leadership roles the youth adopted and excelled in. The Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Student Movement not only volunteered to staff the demonstration, but worked and planned in unison with the Select Committee many days prior to the demonstration in bringing to fruition the needed awareness of our struggling and ignored brethren in Iraq.
Unfortunately yet a stark reminder of the perilous situation in Iraq , the organizers broke news of a hostile takeover of St. Mary’s Church in Neyirah Geyana, Baghdad by Islamic terrorist groups. This fueled the momentum and amplified our resolve and voices. For how much longer will the Iraqi indigenous Christians have to suffer in genocide?
H.G. Dr. Mar Bawai Soro and Robert DeKelaita delivered poignant and powerful speeches that were based upon the courageous and tried faith and persecuted identity of our brethren in Iraq. It is time for a safe haven, a concerted effort for an administrative unit, a permanent solution in the Nineveh Plains to ensure the survival of and end the genocide strangling our people.
Soon afterwards, the religious and community leaders coined the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac “band of brothers,” visited both Illinois Senators Barack Obama and Dick Durbin to convey our Nation’s distressing message and pressure for a solution.
Over 1,000 people were present in Chicago on a busy weekday, where so many of us had work, school, and other major obligations. There was very little time to inform our employers and our professors regarding this event, however, more than 1,000 of our brothers and sisters embarked on this trip out of pure love, hope, and most importantly, loyalty for this unified Nation and our people patriotically in our Homeland.
Remarks by Bishop Mar Bawai Soro at the Chicago Demonstration in Support of Iraqi Christians
28 June 2007
Two Assyrians Killed in Mosul
Courtesy of Ankawa.com
(ZNDA: Mosul) Two Assyrians, members of the National Union of Beth-Nahrin were killed in Mosul on 27 June.
According to the police, Zuhair Youssef Astavo Kermles, 49, and Solomon Numan, 21, were killed in a drive by shooting.
The incident is just another example of the daily attacks, crimes and acts of violence and terror directed at the small Christian community of Mosul.
Chaldean priest, Fr Ragheed Ganni and three subdeacons were also massacred here near his parish church on June 3.
Chaldean Bishops in North Iraq Reject Latest Synod & Nineveh Plains as Safe Haven
Courtesy of the AsiaNews
(ZNDA: Kirkuk) – Concern for the country’s survival regardless of religion and the continued existence of the Church have pushed Chaldean bishops in the northern part of Iraq to adopt a joint position vis-à-vis the ongoing tragedy. In an official press release, the five prelates who signed it suggest what ‘hot’ issues the Patriarchate and the Holy See as well as Iraqi authorities and the international community ought to consider for the greater good of the population and the weak Christian community. Here in its entirety is the English translation of the press release sent to AsiaNews from the town of Ain Sifni:
During my long absence from Zinda Magazine, I kept myself informed of Diaspora and Homeland Assyrian political issues. In the last 6 months or so, the political dialogue seems to have deteriorated; Assyrians who have never been to Iraq are certain of corruption of political parties and theft; some who support the Assyrian Democratic Movement are slowly removing their blinders and starting to demand accountability from their only representatives in Iraq, but there still doesn't seem to be reconciliation with those who have demanded accountability from the beginning; others, who adamantly oppose anything that even starts with the letters A, D, or M, are still bantering about, calling for an autonomous Assyria in “Kurdistan” with their Patriarch as their temporal leader; another smaller group of church apologists, who have, in their minds, conceded to the disintegration of Iraq and accept that Assyrians must join forces with Kurds, are silently trying to build an institution around the appointed Kurdistanist leader, Assyrian Finance Minister Sarkis Aghajan, so that they may answer those who are trying to point out a single man isn't enough; still a final group is refusing to recognize "Kurdistan" and demand all lands be appropriated back to the Assyrians - and of course, only under the name "Assyrian" will they operate (if the "Chaldeans" or “Syriacs” don't like it, tough luck).
However, dear readers, I have figured out a concrete solution. While watching part of an interview with Napoleon Pattoo (head of Assyrian Aid Society-Iraq) last week, he had a very interesting answer when asked the question: "What would be the one thing you ask of us in Diaspora, that would be helpful to the nation", to which he replied, basically, "stop fighting". The reason I found it so interesting was because he had probably just stepped off of a plane from Iraq - where "fighting" is an understatement, as he is surrounded by violence unimagined in our memories here in the West. The Assyrians there are fleeing to other Assyrians. Assyrian organizations don't ask "which church do you belong to" to help the Assyrian needy – they simply provide. Despite unimaginable difficulties, they still hold elections, run their student organizations, build pharmacies, homes, dormitories and schools. So when I heard Mr. Pattoo's simple request for us to stop fighting, it hit me: We need the exact opposite...and declare full on war with each other.
Fifth, only the following weapons will be allowed: Ninja stars made from old Assyrian Democratic Movement lapel pins, swords with the emblem of the Christian cross on the handle, shields wrapped in the Assyrian star, and spiked maces with replicas of the various medals awarded to Finance Minister Sarkis Aghajan dangling from the end. And, of course, one’s own pure, brute force.
Sixth, no eye gouging.
Seventh, anyone proven to be a Ba’athist from “official documents” is disqualified. According to recent allegations floating across chatrooms and forums, it’s apparently around 80% of all Assyrians from Iraq.
Eighth, at the end of the 24 hour period, the team with the least deaths and the most blood on their hands shall be declared the undisputed champion of Assyria.
If these rules are followed, and we finally pick up arms and fight each other to the death, Assyrians in Diaspora may finally be united…well, mainly because they will have killed most of the people who had varying opinions…but I digress. The solution is a Super-World-Wide-Diaspora-Assyrian Death Match. Let’s roll.
$3.5M Purchase by Chaldean Church Approved
Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press
(ZNDA: Detroit) On 27 June Detroit City Council narrowly approved the sale of Camp Brighton, a more than 300-acre parcel of city-owned land in Livingston County.
The Chaldean Church is purchasing the property for $3.5 million. At one time, the land had been a summer camp and campground for Detroit residents.
The sale, approved on a 5-4 vote, is part of the $30 million in land sales Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick wants to make to help balance the city’s budget, a goal that is near, spokesman Matt Allen said.
Hamilton College Student Research on Nestorians in China
Courtesy of Hamilton Newspaper
(ZNDA: New York) As traders moved back and forth along the Silk Road, they carried more with them than luxury goods. Art, concepts, beliefs changed hands during the trade – but how to track this part of the commerce? Liuhong Fu, a student at Hamilton College in New York City is willing to try. This rising junior will spend his summer working with Professor of Religion, Jay Williams, and researching the development and change in early Christianity on the Southeast coast of China.
Fu is researching a branch of Christianity called Nestorianism, the result of a schism in 431 C.E. when Nestorius the Patriarch of Constantinople was accused of recognizing Christ as two figures, one human and one divine, instead of a single divine entity. Outlawed in the West, Nestorian beliefs continued in the East, and Nestorian Christianity reached China around 365 C.E., where it received the royal encouragement of the Tang dynasty.
The religion, which had flourished in the Chinese plain, declined with the Tangs and vanished after 907 C.E. During the Yuan dynasty, however, (1271 C.E. and forward), Nestorianism made a surprising recovery, appearing in port cities Fu-Zhou and Quan-Zhou, where it had not previously been common.
Fu will concentrate on this southern revival of the Church of the East, a blended form of Christianity which he described as Nestorianism heavily influenced by Buddhism and Daoism. He is considering two explanations for this revival: either that Tang Nestorianism had gone underground to a number of places in China including the coastal cities, or that the Church of the East was reintroduced to the coast through trade routes. Given the cultural contact which must have taken place on the maritime Silk Road, Fu finds it very likely that a mixed Christianity like the Church of the East might have arrived on the boats of the coastal trade.
Fu is based in China for the summer, spending time in both Fu-Zhou and Quan-Zhou. He is visiting museums which contain Nestorian artifacts, including several important and under-analyzed stelae (blocks of inscribed stone). He will also visit monasteries and religious centers, although the ones he has so far visited have not been as useful as he hoped. He is not too disappointed though; any information is exciting for Fu “since not many scholars have fully explored this field before.”
A rising junior, Fu has been fascinated by early Chinese Christianity and the Church of the East since his first year when Williams (now his project advisor) gave Fu a copy of The Secret Sayings of Ye Su, a book which dealt with a Greek-written manuscript found in the Central Plain in China. Although Fu, a double major in mathematics and religious studies, has been reading on his own time, he explained that “now it is time for me to close books for a while and go to the places for the first-hand information.”
Fu’s research this summer is funded by the Emerson Foundation Grant Program, which provides students with significant opportunities to work collaboratively with faculty mentors, researching an area of mutual interest. Recipients typically undertake some combination of fieldwork, laboratory investigation, library research and the development of teaching materials. A public presentation of their findings is required of all Emerson Scholars during the academic year.
Iraqi Christian Protest
Ever since the war started to disarm Saddam’s “WMD program,” several questions have possessed my thoughts about the war. Questions about operation Iraqi Freedom. Will the American occupation become the catalyst to eradicate the last remnants of the Iraqi Christians from their homeland? The same land they have called home since the very beginning of recorded history. Will they survive this trial?
It is hard to answer this question considering that 50% of the Iraqi Christians have already fled the country, while 90% of those that remain have relocated inside Iraq. Iraqi Christians make only 6% of 26 million Iraqis. Even though they have no political or military influence, the Iraqi-Christians have managed to survive and maintain their language and cultural heritage.
During the last four years, their crisis is deepening due to chaos and violence caused by war. The extreme lack of security, government, and protection.
Will the American forces protect us? The answer is an unfortunate no. Will the Iraqi Islamic government secure our freedom? The answer is no.
The Iraqi Christians are now facing executions, kidnapping, and bombings that have spread to their homes and churches. They have been threatened with the options to convert to Islam, pay Jizya “protection” tax, or leave the country all together. All of these injustices simply because we are like Christians from the west. These extremists consider us crusaders…they consider us the enemy.
These Islamic extremists were successful in reaching us here in America. We have to pay them from the US when a loved one is kidnapped in Iraq. Sometimes, our loved ones are not even released at all. We have paid continuously to help our families in Iraq to survive.
I ask one more important question: Why should we pay for the mistake done by others? Why do our finest soldiers along with the innocent Iraqis pay in blood while others collect the wealth of Iraq? For the Iraqi Christians, there is still the worst to come. Once the American Forces withdraw from Iraq, another genocide will begin.
I ask all fellow Christians around the world to speak out in protest. This suffering must end.
Call the White House Comments Line at 202-456-1111
Paul Batou is an accomplished Assyrian-Chaldean painter and lives in Southern California. His book "My Last Thoughts about Iraq" is now available in all major book stores and also can be ordered from his personal website at
America was my mother’s golden dream long before mine. Yet hers faded away along with her young life. For me that dream became my home, when, in 1957, I finally came from Tehran to Chicago.
I knew America only through the movies: In America the sun always shined, and romance came with the morning coffee. America was Nineveh, Nimrud and Assur wrapped up in Hollywood tinsel. Movies even made heartbreak romantic.
In 1956, the film Picnic flowed in my blood like Assurbanipal’s royal barge on the Tigris. I had skipped school to see Picnic at the cinema in downtown Tehran. Afterward I became William Holden, taking a breath of life from Kim Novak. Oh, how I soared in that romantic fantasy. The scene on that river in Kansas where Holden dances with the stunning Novak I played in my head over and over.
A year later I was going to America, where I knew someday I would have my own dance on the river.
But it took 11 years to find my golden dream. I came with my older brother Ramon, my father opting to stay behind to work. America at last. Half the world reached for the same gold nugget. I had already found mine. As the taxi made its way toward Grand Central Station in New York City, America loomed far beyond my wildest imagination.
The perennial Middle Eastern dust was blown under a dark-gray coat of Western air pollution. The open spaces between homes, and the wide boulevards of Tehran now were a designed clutter of people, buildings and cars. The sky had pulled the city into its belly, leaving a maze of narrow streets towered by skyscrapers. Foreign smells replaced perfumed spices in my nose.
I was overwhelmed and at the same time filled with joy and relief. Eleven years of waiting. America at last!
What a magnificent dream my mother had savored for her family. She had reached for the sky and given us her dream. She was one of the first to put us on the 1946 immigration quota. Her family belonged in America, not matter how long it took to get there. Now only my brother and I – and we would live with a loving aunt in Chicago. Neither he nor I spoke English beyond a few words.
Like the city, New York’s train station jammed the world into its core. Somewhere Bill Haley and the Comets beat out “Rock Around the Clock.” Elvis Presley and “Blue Suede Shoes” infused another familiar sound into the cavernous jumble. When I describe that image to my daughters Sonja and Sadie, they laugh and call it the dark ages. I suppose it was.
I tried to recall all the movie scenes I knew from this city of wonders. I looked for Robert Walker and Ava Gardner in One Touch of Venus and instead found two teenage girls puffing cigarettes behind garish makeup and strutting in tight shorts and skimpy blouses like runaway debutantes. I thought that was only in the movies. Reality shocked me.
Now I wonder what reaction people had to my brother and me as we dragged our life’s possessions and the stack of salami sandwiches on board the train to Chicago. How many immigrants had played the same routine? I can only laugh now. It’s stamped on my memory like a priceless picture. The dark ages, of course.
I came to America with the same basic values as Americans. The country accepted my old ways and offered me the new. In time I welcomed them. Embraced them. I became an American without forsaking my own heritage.
Years later, on my classical music radio program, I told the great Arthur Fiedler, the late conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, of my Assyrian heritage. Often I have to explain my heritage, but even then most people mistake me for a Syrian. No, I say, I am an Assyrian, and proceed to offer my stock rundown of Assyrian history.
The maestro, however, a brilliant man, already knew about the Assyrians. “There aren’t that many of us left,” I said. He nodded. “Well, then” he declared, “you’d better take care of yourself.”
The man on the train also inquired about my heritage. Unable to speak English, I pantomimed and somehow got the message across that I was an Assyrian from Iran. He had just finished reading a popular novel titled The Wings of Eagles, later made into a movie with John Wayne.
He gave me the book. Looking back, I think he was telling me to start learning English. That’s the best advice anyone could have given me. English was the language of my new country and I had to learn it the best I could. I continue to learn.
He pointed out the sights as we headed westward: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois. In each, lush land turned into drab, rich blended into poor, and back again. Unlike the Middle East, the distance between towns and cities seemed to last no more than a few blinks of the eyes. Town and cities sometimes overlapped.
At night the porter became a nuisance trying to shove a pillow under my head. I shoved it back. It was like a Laurel and Hardy routine. How could I make him understand I could not afford his 25 or 50-cent charge for the pillow? The road money was gone. He finally shrugged and slinked off with a bored look.
By the time my brother and I arrived in Chicago, a dime was all we had, and we used it to telephone my aunt. I was home at last, my new home. Whether I knew it, my life had already changed. The old one was left behind with my past. There was no going back, and who knew what the future had?
No matter, for mother’s dream had come true. Not for herself. For her children.
Speeding north along Lakeshore Drive in a taxi, dazzled by high rises and Lake Michigan, I felt her joy, her good wishes. Her prayers. Knowing her, I knew she smiled and said, “It was all for you, children.”
How right you were about your dream, mother. It is golden.
Assyrian National Nineveh School of Canada
ASSYRIAN CANADIAN NATIONAL FEDERATION (ACNF)
ACNF is proud to announce our first Assyrian national educational institute under the name of “The Assyrian National Nineveh School”
The following subjects will be taught at this school:
• Assyrian National Patriotism.
Start Date: July 7, 2007
For Registration, Please see info below
Seats are limited
Sebastian Brock to Give Lecture in New Jersey
Dr. Sebastian Brock, Syriac Scholar
Sebastian Brock, a renowned Syriac scholar, will deliver a lecture entitled “The Syriac Culture and Heritage” at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 14 at the Assyrian Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary, 644 Paramus Road, Paramus, NJ. The lecture will be followed by a book signing. The event is sponsored by Gorgias Press, an academic press in Piscataway, and the Aramaic American Association.
Dr. Brock is acknowledged as the foremost and most influential academic in the field of Syriac language today. He is considered to be responsible for the recent resurgence of interest in the field of Syriac studies. He has reintroduced the vast and varied literature of Syriac-speaking Christianity to many readers, and has published extensively in the field of Syriac.
A dialect of Aramaic, Syriac was used to help construct some of the dialogue heard in Mel Gibson’s recent movie, The Passion of the Christ.
Brock has brought new attention to St. Ephrem the Syrian, St. Isaac of Nineveh and other important writers. His work has demonstrated the many points of contact between the Church and the Synagogue. He was awarded the Medal of St Ephrem by Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas..
Until his retirement in 2003, Brock held the position of Reader in Syriac Studies at the University of Oxford. Sebastian Brock was born in 1938 and studied Classics (Greek and Latin) and Oriental Studies (Hebrew and Aramaic) at Cambridge University before doing a DPhil at Oxford University on the text of the Septuagint. He taught at the Universities of Birmingham and Cambridge before taking up his post at Oxford.
For more information regarding this event, contact Christine Kiraz at Gorgias Press, 46 Orris Avenue, Piscataway, NJ 08854; phone 732-699-0343; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lazar Malko Releases Latest Video
Artist: LAZAR MALKO
It is with great pleasure that after many hours of hard work we take this opportunity to announce the release of the latest Assyrian Music Video of LAZAR MALKO “Ladieleh Moyleh Brayah (Feat Reggae Artist Zen)”.
Ladieleh Moyleh Brayah, offers the listener/viewer both a touch of modern and folklore Assyrian music while at the same time keeping in sync the unique music and singing style of LAZAR MALKO .
To Watch this video on YouTube please click here.
Iraqi Kurdistan's Downward Spiral
Kamal Said Qadir
Many Western commentators say Iraqi Kurdistan is a beacon of democracy in an otherwise uncertain Iraq. As much of the rest of Iraq descends into violence if not civil war, it is tempting for U.S. officials to point to the placidity of northern Iraq as a rare success. In many ways, Iraqi Kurdistan's progress since 1991 is remarkable. But while Kurdish officials and their growing coterie of U.S. consultants praise the region's progress, an increasing culture of corruption, nepotism, and abuse-of-power has both eroded democracy and, increasingly, stability.
Iraqi Kurdistan: From Bust to Boom
The backsliding is disappointing given once high hopes. After decades of struggle, Iraqi Kurds won de facto autonomy in northern Iraq in 1991. As the Kurdish uprising collapsed, Turkish, U.S., British, and French forces established a safe haven around Zakho and Duhok protected by a no-fly zone; this later expanded to include Erbil. In a failed bid to starve Iraqi Kurds into submission, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein ordered the Iraqi administration to withdraw from the region. Kurdish parties filled the vacuum, establishing an area of self-rule approximately the size of Denmark. On May 19, 1992, the Kurdish parties held elections resulting in a coalition between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Party (PUK). Their alliance broke down in 1994 because of disputes about property ownership and revenue embezzlement at the lucrative Ibrahim Khalil-Habur customs post on the Turkish border. The resulting civil war killed or displaced thousands and caused a partition of territory between the PUK and KDP.
There was renewed hope in the wake of Saddam's fall that the bifurcated Kurdistan Regional Government could fortify its democracy. Such hope was dashed. On January 30, 2006, Kurdish authorities held new elections—the two dominant parties ran on the same list so as not to compete—and divided power equitably according to their leaderships' pre-election agreement. KDP leader Masoud Barzani assumed the presidency of the Kurdistan region, and his nephew Nechervan Barzani became prime minister, overseeing a unified, albeit inactive, parliament. They preside over more than forty ministers, all of whom receive hefty salaries, perks, and pensions.
Because Iraqi Kurdistan lacks a constitution, Barzani and other senior political leaders can exercise unchecked, arbitrary power. The absence of accountability and a free press has enabled corruption, abuse, and mismanagement to increase.
Nepotism is widespread. Not only is the prime minister the nephew of the president, but the president's son, Masrour Barzani, a scarcely-qualified 34-year-old, heads the local intelligence service. Another Barzani son is the commander of the Special Forces. And Masoud Barzani installed his uncle, Hoshyar Zebari, as Iraq's foreign minister when the political party heads were distributing patronage. Other relatives hold key positions in ministries or executive offices. PUK leader Jalal Talabani has only one wife and two children and so has less patronage to distribute. Still, one son oversees PUK security and the other is the Kurdistan Regional Government's representative to the United States. When the major Iraqi political parties divided up the ministry portfolios in Baghdad, Talabani awarded the PUK's slot to his brother-in-law. Another brother-in-law is the Iraqi ambassador in Beijing.
Other Barzani and Talabani relatives have monopolized telecommunications, construction, and trade. Those who have no relatives in power sit at the bottom of every hierarchy. Merit is seldom a factor in promotion. While it is possible for non-family members to become ministers, they must have a long record of submission to the Barzani or Talabani families. Many Iraqi Kurds welcomed Iraq's liberation, calculating that the presence of U.S. forces would also help solidify democracy in the Kurdistan region. They now question whether more than 3,000 U.S. troops sacrificed their lives to enable oligarchy.
Is Iraqi Kurdistan beyond reform? Not necessarily, but the entrenched parties have created a system which immunizes them from accountability and competition. The two major parties are modeled in both structure and role on Saddam's organization of the Baath Party. A small coterie of decision-makers presides over a large network of patronage and intimidation. The analogy is not loose: Documents recovered after Saddam's fall and published recently by two independent Sulaimanya-based Kurdish newspapers, Awene and Hawlati, show extensive ties between leading figures in the Barzani family and the Iraqi dictator. There were relations, too, between the PUK commanders and Saddam's security services, although more subdued. While some contacts were understandable, for example, in order to coordinate electricity distribution between areas of Baathist and Iraqi Kurdish control, documents surfaced after Iraq's fall which showed extensive intelligence sharing and business relationships between Nechervan Barzani, for example, and Saddam Hussein's sons.
Just as under Saddam, in Iraqi Kurdistan today, political party control extends down into the high schools and universities. Student unions are financed by political parties and act as their extensions. The KDP and PUK student groups act as eyes and ears for the security services of the two parties. They observe students and professors and submit reports of activities to their supervisors. Membership is often a prerequisite for academic degrees, foreign scholarships, employment, and promotions. It is not uncommon for the student with the highest grade point average to be passed over for scholarships or even valedictorian status should he or she not be a party member.
Smaller political parties have failed to act as a check over the larger parties. Several are co-opted, with their personnel given lucrative positions or even ministerial portfolios in exchange for silence. Others are intimidated. On December 6, 2005, a KDP mob stormed the office of the Kurdistan Islamic Union in the Duhok governorate and shot and killed its candidate. While new parties might form, the KDP and PUK can control their licensing through the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Abuse of Power
Abuse of power is one of the main characteristics of the Kurdistan Regional Government's administration. Iraqi Kurds speak often of arbitrary arrest, torture, and enforced disappearances. Awene, one of the two independent newspapers in the region, reported an incident in which a driver, who was stopped for a routine traffic violation in Erbil, seriously wounded the policeman. Other police officers arrested the shooter and brought him to the hospital with their wounded colleague. A short time later, ten armed men in the uniform of the KDP's Zervani peshmerga unit stormed the hospital to remove the suspect, a member of their unit, in order to prevent the judiciary from processing him on a charge of attempted murder. In the process of their raid, the KDP's peshmerga wounded a civilian but suffered no consequences as this second victim was not a party member.
The legal system of the region is both chaotic and compromised. There are five parallel judicial systems in Iraqi Kurdistan: the regular courts, state security courts to try political offences, military courts with jurisdiction over peshmerga forces, separate KDP and PUK party courts known as Komalayati (social) courts, and special tribal courts with jurisdiction only over the members of a certain tribe. With the exception of the regular courts that apply Iraqi laws, all the other courts are, in fact, illegal. Their judgments are arbitrary and often contradict the law. Komalayeti courts insure impunity for their members. For example, after a regular court sentenced PUK member Salih Muzali to life in prison for the murder of two sisters, PUK leader Jalal Talabani intervened to transfer the case to the Komalayati court, which set him free after the victims' families accepted a payment of US$170,000 "blood money." Human rights organizations protested this intervention for his release. According to Awene, sixty-eight suspects in crimes such as murder and robbery remain at large and under the protection of the KDP, PUK, and Socialist Party of Kurdistan.
Politicians also intervene in judiciary staffing. Judicial appointments require prior approval by the leadership of the dominant parties. In an interview on the fifth anniversary of 9-11, Rizgar Hama Ali, the first judge to preside over the special Iraqi tribunal to try Saddam Hussein and the current member of the court of cassation in Iraqi Kurdistan, expressed reservations about the independence of the judicial system in Iraqi Kurdistan and suggested political party interference in judicial affairs "seriously endangers the integrity of courts."
Rather than protect citizens, the courts have become a tool for political parties to harass and oppress them. I know. I suffered their arbitrary and politically-motivated judgments firsthand. On October 26, 2006, I was abducted by the KDP secret service and detained for nearly six months for publishing articles on corruption of the Barzani family and the ties between the late Mulla Mustafa Barzani—Masoud Barzani's father—and the Soviet KGB. The investigative judge acted as a representative of the secret service and not of the judiciary. When I refused to sign a confession prepared by the KDP—nothing I had written was untrue and so I saw no reason to repudiate it—a KDP security official told me that the investigative judge could order torture to gain confessions from detainees. After two weeks, I did sign the confession after being deprived of water and food for several days. I was tried on December 19, 2006, before the state security court in Erbil. I did not receive prior notification of the trial which, at any rate, lasted less than fifteen minutes. I had no access to a lawyer and was not allowed to produce evidence. A security forces officer entered the courtroom to give the chief judge a letter. The judge sentenced me to thirty years in prison for having published two articles on the Internet. I was told later that the letter contained instructions as to the verdict and sentence.
Illegal treatment is, unfortunately, the rule rather than the exception in the Iraqi Kurdistan region's detention centers. Disappearances remain rife. The parliament's human rights committee acknowledges at least twenty-one disappearances since 2003. Western human rights experts say that hundreds remain detained without trial in Kurdish prisons. Local papers have reported unlawful detentions as recently as September 2006. Appeals to Talabani and Barzani by relatives of persons detained by the political party militias, and subsequently disappeared, remain unanswered.
Torture is common. Ali Bapir, the head of the Islamic Group, told Hawlati, the region's other independent newspaper, that Kurdish security forces have crippled several dozen detainees in prison during torture sessions. These prisons are funded indirectly by U.S. aid. One of my torturers told me that he was trained by U.S. experts in investigative techniques, but he seemed to prefer his own methods saying, "U.S. investigative methods cannot be effective in Iraqi Kurdistan."
Unfortunately, those techniques that Kurdish interrogators prefer sometimes culminate in murder. Since the establishment of Kurdish administration in 1991, there have been hundreds of unsolved political killings. Disappearances peaked during the 1994-97 Kurdish civil war. The major political officials have refused calls to account for many of these summary executions or to return the bodies. Rather, summary detention and extrajudicial execution have continued, albeit with less frequency. In April 2002, for example, PUK security forces abducted Muhammad Ahmed al-Zahawi, a former member of the Kurdistan Human Rights Organization in Kalar. The Kurdistan Human Rights Organization had become a thorn in the government's side for its frequent abuse-of-power law suits against government officials.
He is not alone. Lawyers and judges who try to defend the victims of human rights violations or prosecute perpetrators in the region sometimes themselves become targets. Assailants have gunned down several judges who have investigated financial crimes and the drug trade. More recently, after an Erbil lawyer, Razwan Osman Ceco, successfully prosecuted a civil suit against a KDP military commander accused of forcibly seizing private property, the KDP militia twice attacked him, leaving him with severe injuries. In another case, PUK security forces arrested lawyer Bakhtyar Hama Sa‘id in Sulaimanya on August 13, 2006, as he prepared the defense for arrested demonstrators. The PUK only released Sa‘id a week later after the lawyers' union staged a strike.
While the judicial system may be broken, the problem runs deeper. Often, outside groups can provide a check upon abuse of power. This is what the Kurdistan Human Rights Organization tried to do. But independent civil society organizations are few and far between. Most organizations remain under the yoke of the two major political parties; they are often run by senior party members and serve as extensions of the political parties. Would it be possible to establish a truly nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Duhok, Erbil, Sulaimanya or, for that matter, Kirkuk? Probably not. The PUK and KDP use legal and financial means to control civil organizations. In many cases, they control licensing. In other cases, they dominate ostensibly independent organizations with personnel appointments. Union leaders, for example, are often senior party members. Independent NGO personnel—including those run by Europeans—say local administrations seek to force them to hire party members.
Nor is the press able to act as a check on political abuse. While there are now two nominally independent papers, their financial situation is shaky. There is no guarantee that they will continue to publish. The parties often seek to co-opt critical journalists with bribes or positions at higher paying party organs. While journalists may in theory be able to publish a wide range of opinion, in practice, party officials harass them with often arbitrary lawsuits. If they anger party officials and, for example, write about corruption within the Barzani family as I did, they may face criminal prosecution. Iraqi Kurdish law still employs the former Baath regime's criminal code. Article 433 equates almost any criticism with defamation. The PUK targeted editors at Hawlati after it accused PUK prime minister Omar Fattah of abuse of power. Security forces have assaulted other journalists. On March 12, 2006, PUK security beat Rahman Garibi, correspondent for Radio Azadi, as he covered anti-corruption demonstrations erupting in Halabja. In another case, the KDP's security service beat Al-Jazeera's Erbil correspondent. While independent Kurdish Internet sites such as Kurdishmedia.com, Kurdistan-Post.com, Dengekan.com and eKurd.net provide a vibrant outlet for independent commentary, their reach in Iraqi Kurdistan is limited so long as electricity is spotty. Many poorer residents in Iraqi Kurdistan cannot afford private generators and, at any rate, such generators cannot run continuously.
Corruption is endemic. Especially since Iraq's liberation, the region has been awash in foreign money and aid projects. There have been hundreds of construction projects since 2003, and two international airports in Erbil and Sulaimanya have opened.
Nevertheless, the economic growth has been hampered by the ruling families' stranglehold over the economy. They treat the treasury, built with customs and tax revenues, as personal slush funds. There is little transparency to differentiate between public, political party, and private family property. Outside a narrow circle of family members, there is no knowledge of how the budget is spent. On June 23, 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority transferred to Iraqi Kurdistan $1.4 billion dollars remaining from its allotment of the oil-for-food program. Much of the money has, apparently, disappeared. While the Iraqi Kurdish government may have spent some on public projects, much more appears to have vanished into individual bank accounts. The ruling families further involve themselves in major businesses. Family members or proxies act as silent partners in telecommunications, construction, and import-export businesses. Through arbitrary privatization conducted by government decree, they appropriate public property and valuable real estate. Talabani's oldest son Bafil, for example, now runs the Sulaimanya tobacco factory. Few if any large businesses can operate in the region without taking the political leaders' family members as ghost partners. Since returning to Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991, the Barzani family has amassed a fortune estimated at over $2 billion.
Land speculation has exacerbated the situation. The post-liberation construction boom has led land prices to skyrocket. The cost of housing in Sulaimanya is not dissimilar to that in Washington, D.C. Political party members have granted prime real estate to their supporters and family members for free or at below-market prices. Real estate development—construction of hotels or apartment buildings, for example—can provide the recipient of the land grant with a multimillion dollar profit. On December 7, 2005, the PUK-led government in Sulaimanya transferred a large property belonging to the municipality of Sulaimanya to the PUK-owned Nizar construction and trade company by simple decree. In another case, the KDP-led government transferred the ownership of nine publicly-owned parcels of real estate and buildings in the Erbil governorate by decree to the KDP politburo for a nominal price.
All of this makes everyday life unaffordable for ordinary residents. Because of inflation, it is not uncommon, for example, to see families living in incomplete houses. Others are forced to squat in corrugated tin structures.
Corruption and mismanagement has undermined stability. During commemorations on March 16, 2006, marking the eighteenth anniversary of Saddam's chemical weapons bombardment of Halabja, protests erupted against corruption and deteriorating basic services. The PUK security forces killed one demonstrator, injured six others, and arrested forty-two, half of whom appear to have been tortured while in custody. PUK security forces later attacked demonstrators in Chamchamal, Kifri, Shoresh, and Darbandikhan.
Security remains a major problem in Iraqi Kurdistan. Although Islamist groups have existed in Iraqi Kurdistan since the 1950s, apparent Iranian backing enhanced their threat after 1991. While their first targets were leftist activists and secular intellectuals, by 2001, they had begun to establish permanent bases. On February 18, 2001, Islamists assassinated Fransu Hariri, the speaker of the KDP's parliament and the highest-ranking Christian in the government, and on April 2, 2002, they tried to assassinate PUK prime minister Barham Salih. Islamists in the Kurdish parliament have called for Kurdish authorities to adopt Shari‘a (Islamic law) and abandon secularism.
Penetration by foreign intelligence services, especially the Iranian VEVAK and the Qods Force, might also undercut local security. Chako Rahimi, a senior member of the Iranian Kurdistan Democratic Party and the head of the party's security department, told Awene in an interview that the Iranian secret service, Ettela'at, had assassinated more than 204 members of his group in Iraqi Kurdistan since 1991 and that the Iranian secret service maintains more than fifty safe houses in Sulaimanya, a city controlled by the PUK which is headed by the current Iraqi president Jalal Talabani. The latest victims of Iranian terrorism in Iraqi Kurdistan were two members of the Kurdistan Revolutionary Union-Iran (KRU-I), who were shot in the PUK-controlled border town of Penjwen in June 2006. KRU-I speaker Shwane Mahmudi blamed Iranian intelligence. It is doubtful such assassinations could occur without at least tacit PUK permission. While the security threat is real, both political parties amplify it to silence opponents, simply by accusing them of being Islamist activists.
During my trips in Iraqi Kurdistan, I see how grateful ordinary Kurdish citizens are to the U.S. government and American people for the establishment of the safe haven in 1991, the no-fly zone, and Iraq's liberation. But the mood is changing. Today, the Kurdish parties misuse U.S. assistance and taxpayers' money. Rather than support democracy, the Kurdish party leaders use their funding and their militia's operational training to curtail civil liberties. What angers Kurds is the squandered leverage. Instead of demanding rule-of-law, the White House has subordinated democracy to stability not only in Baghdad and Basra, but in Iraqi Kurdistan as well. Rather than create a model democracy, the Iraqi Kurds have replicated the governing systems of Egypt, Tunisia or, perhaps even Syria.
It is true that such abuse of power is not rare in the Middle East, but Iraqi Kurds want more. They have listened to the rhetoric of the White House but see corruption in the Kurdistan region enabled, at least indirectly, by the United States. On Kurdish party-controlled television, they watch U.S. diplomats dining with KDP and PUK leaders at their palaces and private resorts. When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice or other senior U.S. diplomats visit, they do not challenge the Kurdish leadership on human rights abuses. Kurds wanted real democracy, like that in the U.S. and other Western democracies and not Potemkin democracy. Ultimately, Washington may pay a price for not holding Iraqi Kurds to a higher standard. While Erbil and Washington enjoy an alliance of convenience today, interests change. Undemocratic regimes in the Middle East are, at best, inconsistent allies.
Kamal Said Qadir is an Iraqi Kurdish writer based in Vienna, Austria. He was detained by KDP security forces on October 26, 2005, for criticizing corruption within the KDP but was released following an international campaign.
Assyrian Repairman Patents His Own Boiler
Courtesy of ABC News - Chicago
(ZNDA: Chicago) Andre Rayes is saving people money and helping the environment at the same time. After years of repairing boilers, Rayes invented and patented his own boiler, which runs on about half the fuel of traditional models.
Summer is no time to think of steam heat and hot water, not so however with Andre Rayes. He is the owner of a boiler repair business in Skokie and the inventor of a new kind of boiler that operates on 40 to 50 percent less fuel.
"This is the easiest boiler to work on, it's so easy you look at it, the way the door swings, and I came up with it," said Rayes, boiler inventor. "It's a steel boiler and it's repairable for 50 years."
Rayes started manufacturing his boiler two years ago, and thus far, 12 have been purchased and installed in various locations through out the area.
An Assyrian, Rayes was born in Lebanon and raised in France. In 1972, he settled in the Chicago area and took a job as a welder before opening his own business in 1989.
Rayes spent three years working on his concept of a new kind of boiler and the work paid off. On May 20, 2003 he issued a patent for its design.
One of Rayes boilers has been installed at Lifeway Foods in Morton Grove. The unit is nearly hidden by a large traditional boiler which it replaces. The company reports the Rayes boiler uses nearly 75 percent less fuel. Val Nikolenko is operations VP.
"This new boiler saves us a lot of space because its much smaller than our previous boiler," said Nikolenko.
The Rayes boiler has also been found to produce less pollution because of more complete combustion.
"I swear to God I've been so happy making the people saving the gas, I love to see my customers smiling with it," said Rayes.
To learn more about the Rayes Boiler click here.
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