3 Adaar 6757
Volume XIV

Issue 1

22 February 2008

1- 8 6 6 - M Y  Z I N D A

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Are Politicians in Nineveh Pursuing An Agenda For Autonomy?

Click on Blue Links in the left column to jump to that section within this issue.  Most blue links are hyperlinked to other sections or URLs.
Zinda SayZinda Says

The Khabour River Drought, Who is Responsible?

Andrew Bet-Shlimon
  Conducting Research on the Assyrians of Northern Iraq Ann-Margret “Maggie” Yonan
  Assyrian Commentator Detained, Later Released, by KDP
  US Ambassador Ryan Crocker Affirms Significance of Art. 125 for Iraqi Minorities
AGC Opens Office in Syria
AAS-Iraq Relief Project Helps 400 Families in al-Zenjili
Fragments of Oldest Christian Manuscript Found in Egypt
World’s Oldest Temple Offers Glimpse of the Garden of Eden
Bus Mechanic Claims Civil Rights Violations in Detroit
Gang Member Gets 12 Years for Shooting at Assyrian Church
Walter Aziz to Release New CD on 11 March
  Expose Our Culture to Non-Assyrians
Saving Assyria…..An Idealists Dream
Avow and Apologize
Toronto Schools Add 1915 Genocide to Grade 11 Course
On Solomon’s Defense of Benyamin Yalda

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  Warm Dogs Obelit Yadgar
  First Assyrian Australian Convention
Zinda Recommendations from Gorgias Press

Saint Valentine’s Day & the Assyrian Origins of Romeo and Juliet
The Status of the Assyrian Nation in 2008
The Path for Progress
Habbaniya's Labor Strike Created Despair & Hope
Muntanda's 1998 Interview with Kameran Qarah Daghi

Stan Shabaz
Dr George Habash
Anthony T. Nasseri
Mikhael K. Pius
Zinda Magazine
  Esho Misho's Artwork in Nineveh
Assyrian-American Blogger Offers Fashion Advice to Chinese

Since Our Last Issue
A Chronology of Important Events

Thursday, 31 January An employee of Detroit's SMART bus system testifies at a Michigan Civil Rights Commision hearing that his colleagues made ethnic slurs against, Mr. Mazyn Barash, a Chaldean-Assyrian, and former employee of SMART bus system.
Tuesday, 5 February

The Turkish military strikes 70 targets in a 12-hour bombing run across the order into Northern Iraq.

Mr. Michael Younan, an Assyrian-American, became the Republican Congressional candidate for the 9th District in Illinois.  On 6 February Zinda Magazine endorsed Mr. Younan's candidacy.

Assyrian General Conference opens its office in Damascus, Syria.

A reputed street gang member is sentenced to 12 years in prison for shooting and wounding three people at a christening in the parking lot of St. Mary Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church in Yonders on 12 March 2006.

Friday, 8 February The Assyrian Aid Society-Iraq completes a relief project supporting 400 families in Al-Zenjili, Mosul.
Wednesday, 13 February Iraq's Parliament approves a law which holds that the provincial elections must be held on 1 October 2008.   The United Nations is responsible for assisting and supporting the election process under Resolution 1770, which was approved by the Security Council in 2004 and renewed last August.
Sunday, 17 February Johnny Khoshaba al-Rekani, a commentator and an Assyrian Church of the East deacon, is abducted from his home in the town of Telkepe (Telkaif) in the Nineveh Governorate.  He was released on 21 February.
Monday, 18 February Fragments of the earliest dated Christian literary manuscript, written in Syriac language, are found at Deir al-Surian, an ancient monastery in the Egyptian desert.
Tuesday, 19 February Walter Aziz announces release of his new CD on 11 March.
Friday, 22 February Turkish troops launch a ground incursion across the border into Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels.

Zinda Says
An Editorial by Wilfred Bet-Alkhas


The Khabour River Drought, Who is Responsible?

A Guest Opinion

Andrew Bet-Shlimon
Rhode Island

I was astonished to see the drastic changes that occurred in the Khabour region, in Jazeera province, during my visit to Syria this past summer. What was once an imposing river is now a dried out, desolate valley. Before I go into details of what happened to the Khabour River, I would like to outline a short chronology of the life of this river in the recent times, and its impact on the Assyrian villages in that region.

Khabour River in the 1970's... boats known locally as Kalak were used to cross the river from one village to another.

Khabour River, located almost entirely within Syria, was a tributary of the Euphrates River. It flowed southeastward through the city of Al-Hasakah, in the Jazirah region of northeastern Syria, and turned due south and ran through the semi-arid southern Jezireh to its confluence with the Euphrates River near Deir-ez-Zor. The river rose from the mountains of southeastern Turkey, nevertheless, it was mainly spring-fed from sources in Ras Al-Ain (Rish Aina), an ancient town in north-east Syria, and was recharged almost exclusively by precipitation. The river had a total length of about 200 miles and a natural flow, gauged at Hasakah, between 1.4 to 1.6 million cubic-meters per year at its heyday.

Following the Simele massacre of August 1933, the first of many massacres which targeted the Assyrian Christians of Northern Iraq, some 6,000 Assyrians who survived the massacre fled to Syria, where they settled along the banks of the Khabour River. Within a few years, these settlements expanded to thirty-five villages on both banks of this abundant body of water, stretching from the village of Um-Ghragan to Tel-Taweel.

With the hard work and ingenuity of the Assyrian settlers, who were mainly farmers by trade, Khabour region’s landscape was transformed from what was practically one vast wasteland into a viable agricultural region. The river provided enough irrigation water to expand the farming areas miles inland. Irrigation from the river was vital since the rainfall was often too light and irregular for any crops to fully grow. The area irrigated by the Khabour River was one of Syria's leading sources of wheat, cotton, and other agricultural products.

Khabour River Today:  This photo was taken last summer in Tel-Sakra and shows the river basin as a dry valley.

Cultivation along the river was limited to the floodplain, where traditional gravitational methods of irrigation were employed. However, in the last half of the 20th century, irrigation initiatives in Syria fundamentally altered the human and hydrologic character of the region with the broad introduction of the diesel-powered pumps, which allowed farmers to draw water from the river to irrigate lands well beyond the banks of the river. A canal (known as Skarba) was built in place along the River to bring water to Arab villages near Hassaka, but it was not active for summer irrigation.

In the early 1990s alone, two major dams were constructed along the Khabour River and plans to bring water to the Arab villages, miles away, were completed. The dams had a negative impact on the Assyrian villages, changing the character of agriculture in this region.

However, major impoundment occurred, when permits were illegally issued to drill artesian wells, around the groundwater basin. Along with the hydrologic impact of various water extraction and diversion schemes, this caused the underwater reserves to virtually dry out in the basin in and around Ras Al-Ain. Groundwater withdrawals between September 1990 and September 2000 were responsible for lowering the regional water table to the point where Khabour River is now totally dried out, a phenomenon previously unknown in recorded history.

The dry canal, aka "Skarba".

Between 1990 and 2000, over seventeen-thousand (17,000) artesian wells (deep drilled wells through which water is forced upward under pressure) were illegally approved for drilling, by corrupt government officials, to extract water some forty meters below the surface in and around Ras Al- Ain.  In addition, powerful diesel pumps were used to draw irrigation water. This act led to the drawdown of the water table and the depletion of the aquifers. The government had originally given only a few permits to drill in that area, however, a crooked government official by the name Abdul-Rahman Al-Madany, who headed the Ministry of Water Resources in Syria, was so corrupt that he received millions of dollars in bribes in order to allow an excessive number (17,000) of wells to be drilled. The level of water that fed the Khabour River began dropping at a rate of one (1) meter per year. As more wells were dug up, towards the end of last decade, water tables had dropped over forty meters (40 M) below the flow levels. It is estimated that it will take forty (40) years of seasonal rain and snow fall to replenish the aquifers that fed the river at the normal flow rate, in addition to the capping of all artesian wells that were illegally drilled.

The social and biophysical implications are grave indeed. The exhaustion of pure fresh water, adequate to the needs of tens of thousands of people who transformed this semi-arid land into a bread basket, and the changing character of irrigation in the basin had significant social and economic implications. People living in the Khabour region today earn their living working in the nearby towns and cities like Al-Hasaka, Ras-Al-Ain and Tel Tamar. Other Assyrian families rely entirely on money sent by family members and relative living in the United Sates, Europe, and Australia.

Despite the accusations that this shift in water resources was accelerated deliberately by corrupt government officials, Mr. Abdul-Rahman Al-Madany was never held accountable for his crimes and for the hardship brought upon thousands of Assyrians who still inhabit the Khabour region. He has since retired a very wealthy man.

Mr. Andrew Bet-Shlimon is the former editor of the Assyrian Star magazine.


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The Lighthouse
Feature Article


Conducting Research on the Assyrians of Northern Iraq

Ann-Margret “Maggie” Yonan


A Structural/Functional Analysis and Needs assessment to be conducted on the Assyrian community of northern Iraq, by which to gather demographic information, measure socio-economic conditions, and determine policy.

Historical Background on the Assyrians

The Assyrians are the indigenous people of Mesopotamia, (today’s northern Iraq, Western Iran, North Eastern Syria, and South Eastern Turkey) with Nineveh in northern Iraq as the main capital.   After the fall of the Assyrian empire, in 612 B.C., Assyria became a relatively small kingdom under the Parthian rule.   By 113 A.D. the small kingdom of Assyria was headed by Augaros the Osrehoenian, (king Abgar) who ruled it from Assyria’s provincial capital, Edessa, (Urhay).   By 116 A.D. parts of Mesopotamia were colonized by the Roman Empire, as far as Nisibis and Sinjar, with the frontier running down the Khabur River, from Sinjar to its confluence with the Euphrates.    In that same year, Roman coins were made in celebration of Armenia and Assyria being made a Roman province by Trajan, who marched down the Euphrates to Ctesiphon, (the Parthian capital).   Casius Dio writes, “In 117 A.D. Hadrian succeeded Trajan and gave up the province of Mesopotamia and Assyria.”   During this time, Assyria became Christianized and Syriac literature was flourishing due to the relatively autonomous state of Assyria within the Roman Empire.

During the Islamic conquest the geography of the Assyrian heartland did not change in any substantive way, but the Assyrian demographic composition changed dramatically by the sword of Islam. During the Ottoman rule in Mesopotamia, the Assyrian heartland was once again concentrated in northern Iraq, in a relatively autonomous state, encompassing Sinjar, Dohouk, Arbil, and Mosul.  

With the onset of WWI, the Christian Assyrians were caught between the British and the Turks, which resulted in the Assyrians becoming England’s “Smallest Ally.”   During the course of this war, the Russian forces, who were protecting the Assyrians in Ottoman Turkey, withdrew from the frontlines to contend with the Bolshevik Revolution back in Russia.   The Turks proceeded to massacre the Assyrians, the Armenians, and the Pontic Greeks to ethnically and religiously cleanse the “Turkish Fatherland.”    Three-quarters of the Assyrian population was slaughtered by the Ottoman Turks in the Assyrian genocide of 1914, using Kurdish mercenaries and nationalist Turks.  The effects of this war on the Assyrian community were devastating, and resulted in the Ottoman-ruled Mesopotamia being divided between Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, by the British colonialists, and the Assyrian community was formally split between these newly created political regions.    In exchange for being the “smallest ally” of the British, the Assyrians were promised an independent state of their own in northern Iraq, but this never materialized.

By 1920, Iraq was declared a mandate of the League of Nations, under the United Kingdom administration.   With only one quarter of the Assyrian population surviving WWI, the Turkish massacres and the redrawing of Asia Minor’s political map, the Assyrian community of northern Iraq was reduced considerably.   Splitting the Assyrians into various politically defined regions in the Middle East impacted the cohesiveness of the Assyrian community and devastated its socio-economic life-line.   Moreover, the British promise to the Assyrians turned into the British betrayal in 1933, when Britain allowed the Iraqi army to massacre the Assyrians in Simele and other Assyrian villages in northern Iraq, using the Kurds once again.   With thousands of Assyrians slaughtered, their political leaders all but assassinated and their religious leader exiled to Cypress, the Assyrian community of northern Iraq became an insignificant and politically powerless entity within the fairly modern state of Iraq.   The demographic terrain of the Assyrian region began to change dramatically in the wake of the new Kurdish invasion of the Assyrian homeland.   Adding to this geopolitical transformation of the Assyrian community, was the political, cultural and socio-linguistic oppression waged on the Assyrians during the 35-year reign of Saddam Hussein’s Baath regime, where the Assyrian identity, culture, and language were suppressed, their political parties banned, their villages razed, and their leaders executed, in a systematic campaign to Arabize the Assyrians of Iraq.

The modern Assyrian community of northern Iraq is comprised of Mosul province, (known to the Assyrians as the Nineveh Plains) which encompasses some 16 Assyrian townships, the city of Nohadra, (re-named “Dohouk” by the Kurds) and Ankawa in Arbil province, (the ancient Assyrian Arbella).   Smaller Assyrian communities exist in other provinces such as Kirkuk, Diyala, and Diyana.    The Assyrians have traditionally lived in the Assyrian Triangle, (their traditional ancestral lands) for thousands of years, and have faced numerous religious conquests, political and cultural invasions, occupations, and geo-political changes.   Starting with WWI, WWII, the Gulf War, and the recent war on Iraq, most Assyrians have fled their homeland and living in the Diaspora, due to the on-going political and military campaigns waged on their small nation.   

In the aftermath of the Gulf War, in 1991, and the carving of the new Kurdish enclave on the Assyrian homeland, the United States further decimated the Assyrian community, by providing the Kurds with a safe-haven against “Saddam’s tyranny,” on the Assyrian homeland, enabling them to establish their own parliament, assisting them with the creation of the new political entity known as the federal region of “Kurdistan,” the new American colonial post in the Middle East.    The implementation of this newly created Kurdish federal region has split the Assyrian community once more, where half of the Assyrians now live in “Kurdistan” under the Kurdish Regional Government, (KRG) rule, and the other half in the Nineveh Plains, tied to the Central government in Baghdad.   Moreover, with the insurgency and Muslim fundamentalism in Iraq on the rise, fuelled by America’s war on Islam, the Christian Assyrians are suffering religious persecution in ways that are familiar and reminiscent of both Assyrian genocides of WWI and the Simele Massacre of 1933, being forced to abandon their homes, evacuating their communities, fleeing Iraq by the thousands, or escaping to the relative safety of the northern region under the protection of the multinational forces.

The Socio-Political Community of the Assyrians of Northern Iraq

Today’s Assyrian community of northern Iraq is composed of two strata:  1) the indigenous Assyrians living in their historical Nineveh Plains, with Mosul as its capital, under the Central government rule in Baghdad, and 2) the indigenous Assyrians living in their ancestral and historical lands of northern Iraq, (Sinjar, Ankawa, Dohouk, Diyala, Arbil and Diyana) now part of the Kurdish-controlled region.   In addition to the indigenous Assyrian population living in their ancestral lands, there is an influx of Assyrian refugees fleeing war-torn Baghdad and Basra.   These refugees can be categorized as follows:   The first group is comprised of internally displaced Assyrians fleeing the war and the ethnic-religious cleansing in Baghdad and Basra to the relative safety of the Northern provinces, now under the control of the Kurdish Regional Government and the multinational forces.   The second group is fleeing Iraq altogether with the rest of the Iraqi refugees, temporarily settling in the neighboring countries of Jordan and Syria, applying for asylum to the West, or awaiting funding and possible resettlement in their traditional lands in northern Iraq.   While the Christian Assyrians make-up only 4% of the total Iraqi population, 40-50% of Iraqi refugees living in Jordan and Syria are Assyrians.   The Diaspora Assyrians are ethnically, linguistically, culturally, and economically linked to the Assyrian community of northern Iraq in ways that are visibly and invisibly manifested in their on-going struggle to maintain their ties to the relatives back home and their ancestral lands, as well as by lobbying for political and financial support from the West.

The Assyrian community living under the Kurdish Regional Government rule in northern Iraq is the largest Assyrian community, and is known to the Assyrians as “Occupied Assyria.”   This region is headed by the Barzani and the Talabani Clan, who lead the majority-Kurdish parliament, (KRG) with a few seats reserved for minorities, such as the Assyrians, the Turkomen, the Yezidis, the Armenians, and the Mandeans.   On the one hand, the KRG has entrusted several high positions to Assyrian political ministers who have proven to be loyal Kurdish affiliates, in an attempt to prove “Kurdish Democracy.”   On the other hand, the KRG has all but confiscated the majority of Assyrian lands in order to accommodate the overwhelming Kurdish population, resettling Kurds from Europe, Turkey, and Iran on the Assyrian lands.   The majority of Assyrians around the world view the Kurdish occupiers as the old “enemy” who helped the Turkish and the Iraqi army to exterminate the Assyrians during WWI and the Simele Massacre of 1933.   Moreover, the Assyrian ministers working for the KRG are viewed by the majority of Assyrians as “Kurdish puppets,” collaborating with the Kurds to “Kurdify” Assyria and legitimize “Kurdistan.”  

In the last two years, the KRG’s Assyrian Finance Minister, Sargis Aghajan, has rebuilt 60-70 northern Assyrian villages destroyed by Kurds and Saddam’s army, and has resettled hundreds of displaced Assyrians within the KRG region, accommodating the Assyrian refugees fleeing Baghdad and Basra’s sectarian violence, building them homes, churches, schools, cultural centers, and a satellite TV station, called Ishtar, all sponsored by “Kurdistan.”   But the majority of Assyrians see this gesture as building a Kurdistan, not Assyria.  

More recently, Sargis Aghajan has been instrumental in forming the Assyrian Council of Ankawa, an Assyrian Legislative body consisting of representatives from all Assyrian constituencies in northern Iraq, and several Assyrian global political parties who share his political goals for the Assyrians of northern Iraq.   But even this council is seen by most Assyrians as an illegitimate entity installed by the Kurdish regime to Kurdify the Assyrian homeland.  

To the extent that the Assyrian community of northern Iraq has suffered numerous and on-going political and social conflicts, as well as fairly recent geopolitical changes, the modern Assyrian community is in a fragile and vulnerable state.    It is in this historical complexity and ever-changing context that the fate of the Assyrian community of northern Iraq hangs in balance between the sectarian violence afflicting Iraq, the KRG political ambitions of expansion and control of indigenous Assyrian lands, and the military occupation of Iraq by the United States.   Hence, any attempt to conduct social research on the Assyrian community of northern Iraq is a difficult task, one that requires a sensitive and careful approach, not to mention somewhat dangerous, especially in light of the political instability in Iraq, the upward advance of the insurgency towards the Mosul district, and the on-going religious persecution, ethnic cleansing, and refugee flow afflicting the tattered Assyrian nation.

Important Research Factors Relating to the Assyrian Community of northern Iraq

Some of the factors that should be given important consideration when conducting research on the Assyrian community in northern Iraq are: 1-the insurgency movement throughout the country, 2-the Kurdish Peshmerga and the PKK armed groups operating in northern Iraq, and connected to the KRG, 3-the Assyrian households living in northern Iraq, (including the newly arrived Assyrian refugees, who have traditionally maintained ties to their ancestral homeland), and 4) the Multinational corporations operating in northern Iraq, in conjunction with the multinational forces, the “new occupiers of Iraq.”

Some of the challenges faced by social scientists attempting to conduct research on the Assyrian community of northern Iraq are apparent:

  • How do you design a sampling methodology in a region where there are no accurate or even available census data?
  • How do you run field work in war-damaged neighborhoods where ongoing violence disrupts transportation and communication, endangers interviewers and shuts down cities under curfews and roadblocks, and still achieve exacting scientific standards?
  • How do you craft questionnaires that probe attitudes on sensitive subjects without alienating skittish respondents and posing further risks to your field staff?
  • How do you establish agency for the households in this region, who are vulnerable and powerless, devastated by war, destruction, and religious and political persecution, and completely dependant on their KRG overlords?  

Literature Review

In reviewing the available literature on how to conduct research in volatile regions, it becomes clear that every completed field research in conflict zones has been conducted by well-funded international organizations, specializing in social research, employing professionally trained staff, and supported by national or international governments.   In most cases, the field work is conducted by aid workers employed by such humanitarian agencies as the Red Cross/Red Crescent, and in exceptional cases, by local citizens, hired and trained by professional agencies to conduct surveys.  In nearly every case, the methodologies used are designed by professional research companies in conjunction with local partners, who develop focus groups, provide professional moderators, translators, and data interpreters.   The majority of available data analysis is interpreted by professional social scientists and anthropologists, hired by governmental and non-governmental organizations, (NGOs) or research institutes, and the publications are available on the websites of many of these large organizations.  

The largest and most well-known organizations who have conducted most of the field research in war-zone regions are: The International Committee of the Red Cross, (ICRC), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, (UNRWA), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the Fafo Institute for Social Research, funded by the Norwegian government.   Large surveys, such as the nation-wide Iraq Living conditions survey (UNDP 2005), conducted in 2004 by Fafo and the Central Organization for Statistics and Information Technology, Iraq (COSIT) provide comprehensive data on the living conditions of Iraqi households, but these large-scale surveys are time-consuming and significantly more difficult, and potentially dangerous to complete.   Moreover, they lack ethnographic data by which one can obtain information on the Assyrian community of northern Iraq.  

The most comprehensive and elaborate social research in conflict zones has been conducted by the Fafo Research Foundation.  Their website boasts several research projects launched in conflict regions such as the Middle East, East and West Africa, and Eastern Europe.   One of their most notable staff, Dr. Kathleen Jennings, has recently published her review of some of these research projects conducted in conflict zones, and she provides a detailed and thorough analysis in her abstract, “The War Zone as Social Space:   Social Research in Conflict Zones.”

Dr. Jennings defines conflict zones as social spaces.   In the introductory paragraph of her analysis she writes, “As seen in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the late 1990’s, and in Iraq and Afghanistan today, it may be difficult to say with any certainty whether a conflict is in fact over, even once a political compromise or process is agreed.   Conflict zones are sites of both change and continuity.   At the same time, the chronic nature of many post-Cold War conflicts highlights how depressingly normal a situation of conflict may become for the affected population.” (Jennings 2007:1).  

Jennings admits that much of what we know about conflict is second-hand and descriptive, as the stories of participants and survivors of conflict are told to journalists, aid-workers, and officials concerned with the political and economic aspects of war.  This suggests that social research in conflict zones has been a fairly recent trend and more studies are needed to establish working models for social researchers, and to provide data by which we can assess conflict-affected populations.

Jennings maintains that violent conflict is often represented and understood as an exceptional phenomenon.   “This is merited, given what comes with war: large-scale death, destruction, refugee flows, political instability, humanitarian crisis, and long-lasting socio-economic impacts.   Yet the “exceptionalism” associated with violent conflict obscures two important points:   the first is that, in chronic conflict zones, conflict is not exceptional.   It might instead be called the “new normal,” often in quite resilient and remarkable ways.” (Jennings 2007:7).    This means conflict is not only prolonged to sustain the interests of those perpetrating war, but the affected population adapts to this “new normal” by adopting or inventing new coping mechanisms by which to survive.

Jennings divides the actors in conflict regions into three distinct groups:   The Armed Groups, the Elite Networks, and the Households.   She defines the term “armed groups” as a non-state, armed movement, fighting the government, and comprising anything from disciplined, military-style organizations, to armed wings of political or religious movements.  She posits that the way armed groups have been defined and understood by analysts and policy-makers, has always been affected by geopolitics.    “Presently the geopolitical current most relevant to the study and understanding of armed groups is the “global war on terror”.   Even at the time of September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, many armed groups were also considered to be terrorist organizations.” (Jennings 2007:10).   Among the armed groups she lists, who operate in various countries and who are labeled “Terrorist Groups,” is the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, (PKK) who are nowadays the subject of most news articles, fighting the Turkish government along Iraq’s northern border with Turkey.   The KRG denies any affiliation with this “rogue” group, yet their name bares the word “Kurdistan” as opposed to the Kurdish Worker’s Party, which would encompass all the Kurds of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey.   Taking into consideration the definitions of armed groups and their motives as described by Jennings, the military power behind Kurdistan’s power in northern Iraq is the PKK.   In that sense, the PKK’s role is to expand and sustain the conflict for the KRG in northern Iraq while the officially recognized Kurdish Peshmerga armed group secures the expansion and annexation of the Kurdish region.   Consequently, any attempt to conduct research on the Assyrian community in this region, is dangerous and politically complex, considering how many armed groups operate in this conflict zone.  

Jennings’s analyses of the motive of armed groups in conflict zones is based on the “greed and grievance” debate, formulated by her Fafo colleagues Berdal and Malone  where “the precise role of economically motivated actions and processes in generating and sustaining contemporary civil conflicts has been understudied, despite the fact that as the editors argue, economic considerations often shape the calculations and behavior of the parties to a conflict, giving rise to a particular war economy and a distinct dynamic of conflict.”(Jennings 2007:12).    This would explain the immense economic boom in the Kurdistan region during the course of the War on Iraq, where the Iraqi economy is globalized through the Kurdish regional structure.   Jennings adds, “Profit motive can be an important, if not primary factor determining the advent, continuation, and institutionalization of violent conflict; and that where conflict facilitates profit, the pursuit of economic interests supplements-and may even supplant-the traditional aim of war, namely defeating the enemy.”  (Jennings 2007:12).   She argues that attacks against military targets and infrastructure are thus accompanied (or replace) by attacks intended to appropriate and exert control over resource-rich areas, trade routes, and aid distribution, which in the case of northern Iraq is comprised of several different actors, not only consisting of Kurdish armed groups, but the US forces, as well, all of whom are involved in the process of gaining political dominance of northern Iraq, and economic control over resource-rich areas.   Hence in this particular scenario, America sustains the conflict, by creating “the war on terror,” and to that extent, the beneficiaries of the war on the oil-rich and strategically important Iraq are the American occupiers and their Kurdish emissaries.

As with armed groups, much of the policy and analytical work on elite networks, according to Jennings, “has focused on the important role of resource exploitation.   An elite network is not a single actor per se, but a group encompassing actors, relationships, transactions, and resource flows.” (Jennings 2007:21).   She maintains that the elite networks, working in conjunction with regime actors, state military forces, non-state armed groups, and corporations, often play key roles in transporting goods and services, and brokering the commodity chain of natural resources coming from conflict zones or otherwise poor and insecure states.   “They provide a link between local production and global markets in arms, drugs, diamonds, timber, finance, and people.” (Jennings 2007:21).   Bayart, Ellis and Hibou (1999) characterize this overlap as la politique du venture, or “the politics of the belly” in which the relationship between economic accumulation and tenure of political power does not preclude the conduct of illicit activities by the networked actors outside formal power structures.   The creation of the so-called “federal region of Kurdistan” in 1991 then, was by design, and that such an accommodation was a preamble for the war on Iraq in 2003.   To the extent in which the Kurdish elite networks have facilitated the multi-national corporate greed, and are serving as a vehicle for both cultural representations and goods of foreign origin, they play a key role in the process of globalization.   This neo-patrimonialism, according to Jennings consists of the privatization of the public which has two consequences: “the first is that political power, instead of having the impersonal and abstract character of legal-rational domination, specific to the modern state, is on the contrary personal power.   While the second is that politics becomes a kind of business, as it is political resources which give access to economic resources: politics is reduced to economies and recovers the depersonalized character inherent in the market.” (Jennings 2007:28).

The last group discussed by Jennings, are the Households, which she admits is the group least studied.   She posits that work on households in conflict mostly comes from anthropologists, epidemiologists, demographers, and to a much lesser extent, political scientists and economists.   Much of the survey work being done on households in conflict areas is conducted for the purpose of assessing humanitarian needs and/or impact.   “This work is crucial to effectively tailor policy and aid responses in crisis situations, and its relative neglect by both researchers and donors is highly problematic.   Much of the debate in this area still circulates on developing methodologies and indicators, and implies how much work remains to be done.”  (Jennings 2007:29).   This answers the question of why every completed research on households in conflict areas is conducted by humanitarian agencies and their aid workers, and to that extent, acceptable standards of social research and methodologies are not yet fully developed.

Jennings proposes that if we conceive of conflict zones as social space, then research into conflict should be conducted in an empirical manner, which would require researchers to observe connections, commonalities, and dissimilarities among the various elements active in a conflict zone, such as the relationships within and between armed groups, elite networks, and households and individuals.  This would enhance the effectiveness of research and policy.   In other words, conducting any kind of research on the Assyrian community in northern Iraq must entail observing the entire area in which the Assyrian households live and studying connections formed or are forming between the Assyrians and their Kurdish political overlords, the Kurdish elite networks, as well as the occupying American forces operating in conjunction with the multi-national corporations.   She uses as an example “the elite networks profitably” linking global arms, financial, and commodity markets to local production and consumption, which means that these households are largely impacted by the goods and services the American occupiers and the Kurdish elite networks produce, trade, and contract in northern Iraq.      She advises that it is a mistake to assume that the economic boom in conflict regions consists of or is controlled exclusively by foreign opportunists.   Rather, these elite networks are often embedded in their community and built on existing formal and informal authority structures within their regions.

A great deal of information has come out of the Kurdish region lately in the form of articles written by independent journalists reporting the immense corruption within the KRG, and how the Kurdish elites are siphoning both material and capital wealth to those who support them, while the rest of the Kurds struggle to survive. A great example of this is illustrated in an article titled, “Corruption in Iraqi Kurdistan” by Kate Clark, in which she writes, “Kurdistan's budget is large - more than $6bn last year - the region's share of Iraq's oil revenues. But there is a growing gap between ordinary Kurds and the political elite.”   (Kurdish Media: 1/10/2008).   There is no question that the Assyrians who are affiliated with the KRG are also profiting economically, and this is manifested in their life-styles, their newly acquired wealth and positions in the KRG, as well as the loyalty to the Kurdish plans for northern Iraq.    To that extent, the Assyrian households who live in this region, must either cooperate and become dependent upon them or fail to survive politically and economically.   While ordinary Kurds suffer economically, the Assyrians, who are completely dependant upon their Kurdish overlords, are living below the poverty level, and their communities are plagued with joblessness and hopelessness, similar to America’s ghettos.

Jennings also draws a link between the elite networks and the armed groups that serve them, by stating that “Armed groups also tend to establish relationships with, or constitute their own networks to market the exploitable resources and their control and ensure access to arms and other material.”   (Jennings 2007:17).   In many articles published in independent Kurdish papers, we read statements from former Kurdish Peshmergas and former KRG political prisoners who describe how the Kurdish elite networks provide armed groups with material wealth such as lands and capital in exchange for their support to sustain Kurdish power in northern Iraq.   Hence, it would be difficult to conduct accurate research using a sample survey by which to assess the socio-economic conditions of the Assyrians in northern Iraq without first gaining insight into the regional economic structure upon which the Assyrian households depend for their existence.

Jennings asserts that understanding conflict zones as social space may help to restore agency to those involved in or affected by conflict.   To the extent in which the different actors in conflict have varying interests, including simple survival, the advancement of political and social agendas, status and profit, it is crucial to examine the interests, motives, and strategies of those acting within conflict zones in order to understand if the Assyrian households could be put in a position of power to be able to assume agency if a research project is launched in their community.   In the case of the Assyrian households, they can only be empowered to assume agency if they are provided total independence within an Assyrian safe-haven, outside the Kurdish rule and influence.   Otherwise, agency for the Assyrian households would be difficult to achieve, given the fact that the KRG is totally imbedded in every aspect of Assyrian life in the Kurdish controlled region, and Kurdish officials operate in every Assyrian village, and dictate the course of political and social decisions, conferences, caucuses, ethno-religious events, and even local elections.    This is apparent in many of the events held in northern Iraq, where Kurdish officials are present in every Assyrian gathering, from eulogies, to memorials, to social or political meetings as well as the formation of the recent Assyrian Council in Ankawa.   Moreover, many Kurdish ministers treat the Assyrians as third-class citizens, and have made blatant and hostile remarks about the Assyrian rights within the Kurdish-controlled region, such as the recent statement by Mulla Bakhtiyar, who recently said, “It is known that nations have the legal right to establish their own states or regions if they had historic and geographical lands; however, the Turkomen and Assyrians are residing in Kurdistan and they have full citizenship rights in it, but they do not own/have any lands in Kurdistan and/or in Iraq." Mulla Bakhtiyar, head of the Foreign Relations Bureau of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, (PUK) under Jalal Talabani, (Iraqi president) as quoted in the Al-Malaf Press, October 22, 2007.   No other nation or people have more valid historical and geographical reality in northern Iraq than the Assyrians, yet Mulla Bakhtiyar is emboldened by the Kurdish power that is propped-up in Iraq by the American colonialists.


Given the political complexities and the dangerous and unstable circumstances in which the Assyrians of northern Iraq find themselves currently, it would be difficult if not impossible for an individual or group of Assyrians to launch an independent research project in the Assyrian community of northern Iraq, to empower the Assyrian households to assume agency, and to obtain accurate data on their living conditions, without risking intimidation and interruption from the Kurdish authorities, who are likely to be suspicious and want to intervene, disrupt, or even influence the research project.   It is vital that an independent, well-funded, professional and authoritative research organization be assigned to conduct such important research and be able to carry it through, without fear of reprisal from various formal and informal Kurdish authorities operating in northern Iraq.   This type of large-scale and sensitive project can only be launched by such groups as the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), or the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, (UNRWA), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), working in conjunction with the Fafo Institute for Social Research.  Only such organizations can truly be independent and empowered to perform such exacting and potentially dangerous work, in an uninterrupted and undeterred environment, where researchers, aid workers, data, and facilities can be protected and secured through a formal and legitimate structure which would enable the Assyrian households to assume agency.

A conflict zone, being a complex and multi-dimensional social space, requires research that is well-mapped and staged, incorporating several methods and techniques.   Hence, the following methodology is proposed:

Stage I

In the initial stage, the research project must entail a structural/functional analysis in the target region.   This would consist of a period of empirical observation and data analysis to determine the Assyrian social structure within the conflict region.  It is crucial to identify all the players, such as the regional government, military forces, corporations, private security forces, armed groups, as well as international and humanitarian agencies operating in the region, and to analyze the relationships between all these groups, and map the playing field.

Stage II

To the extent researchers may not have a choice who they might engage in the research, (be it officials, local, regional, and international bureaucrats) it is important to understand the social environment before conducting research.   At this stage it will be necessary to meet with key players to establish the agency, the security system that will guarantee the safety of the research project, the agency, the staff and the data, and to secure the research project through the American military operations in northern Iraq.

Stage III

At this stage, the choice of which humanitarian and professional research agencies from among the many large and well-established organizations must be established.   The ICRC working in conjunction with the Fafo Institute is the most likely choice for the Assyrian community in northern Iraq.   The ICRC is the only trusted humanitarian agency in Iraq to launch large-scale projects.   The Fafo institute has the most experience in conducting social research on ethnic groups, and is not only independent but funded by the Norwegian government to conduct research throughout conflict zones.   The choice of these two organizations would be the most expedient, efficient, and cost-effective.

Stage IV

At this stage, all the precautionary measures must be established by the research committee to allow for a sample design to be specifically tailored to the Assyrian community, taking into consideration the Assyrian religious and cultural mores, the linguistic specifications, and regional laws operating in northern Iraq.

Stage V:  Opinion Survey

The Questionnaire-The opinion survey would be designed to question Assyrian households on their war experiences and would incorporate questions on their living conditions within each strata. The questionnaire would be developed by a professional research company, in consultation with the ICRC, and would include questions needed to assess the following topics:

  • Characteristics of the community (infrastructure, access to services)
  • Demographic characteristics (sex, age, marital status, migration, fertility, infant and child mortality, maternal mortality)
  • Housing and amenities
  • Household possessions
  • Household income
  • Labor force and sources of income, including agriculture
  • Education (enrollment, attendance, literacy, achieved level of education)
  • Health (state of health, reproductive health, access to services)
  • Security
  • Autonomy

The survey being a multi-topic survey, would allow cross-cutting analysis of the distribution of living conditions along a range of dimensions, and can therefore provide identification of vulnerable groups, geographic disparities and analysis of particular parts of the population, such as IDPs, (internally displaced individuals).

Sample Design-selected by a stratified, multi-stage cluster sampling method.   The sample must be stratified to ensure representation from each of the principal Assyrian regions within the three governorates, (the KRG-controlled governorates of Arbil and Nohadra/Dohouk, and the non-KRG controlled governorate of Mosul).   A local partner hired to randomly select small geographic units within these two strata can achieve a better outcome.    

Within households, respondents would be selected using a kish grid (a respondent key that employs a combination of random numbers, alphabet codes and the number of available members in a household to identify the appropriate respondent) or the birthday criterion (a respondent selection process that employs dates of birth to determine appropriate respondent).   The demographic distribution of the surveyed respondents would be compared with the best available census data on education, age, household type and occupation that can be obtained from the Assyrian church records.  

- Survey Administration

The survey would be administered by the ICRC, with the assistance of a professional research group and local research partner.   Interviews would be conducted by the Red Cross or Red Crescent staff.   The professional research company would provide the training.

- Focus Groups

The focus groups would provide a relatively unstructured environment for people to discuss their war experiences freely, express their views on the geo-political changes within each community structure, the security situation, as well as the freedom to establish Assyrian cultural and academic institutions important in maintaining religious rites, linguistic and social traditions of the Assyrians.   In each governorate, 3-5 focus groups should be organized   The participants should be  recruited by Red Cross or Red Crescent staff, based on guidelines provided by a professional research organization.

The local research company should provide a professional moderator, who facilitates the discussions using the same guidelines.   The discussions should be held in focus-group facilities, school classrooms, hotel rooms, and even in the open air, if, for example, they involved guerrilla fighters.   ICRC, the Red Cross/Red Crescent and a professional Research staff would observe and listen from an adjoining location, with simultaneous translation in English.

- The Sample

The sample of the survey should be a comparatively standard two-stage cluster design. In the Ninveh Plains, the survey should be based on the 1997 census of Iraq. For the other two governorates of Arbil and Dohouk, where the 1997 census was not conducted, sampling frames should be based on lists of localities compiled by the local statistical offices.    The first stage of the sample should be selected with probability proportionate to the number of households in each unit (PPS). Each selected Primary Sampling Unit (PSU) should be mapped, all households listed, and 10 households randomly selected in each PSU.   Due to population growth, migration, displacement and exodus of the Assyrians, it is likely that the 1997 census does not accurately represent the population distribution of all three governorates.    A list of resettled Assyrians as well as a list of IDPs should be obtained from the Ankawa Council.   But parts of the population will most likely not be covered, in particular, recently displaced people who have moved to new areas.

- Fieldwork

ICRC staff would have to be extensively trained in implementing the survey tool by researchers from the Fafo Institute of Applied International Studies (Fafo AIS). The first round of training should take place within KRG controlled region under the protection of US military units operating in northern Iraq.   Core staff from ICRC’s offices in each governorate should be present under Fafo’s supervision.   Fieldwork should be completed within two months in the Mosul Governorate. Data collection in the Governorates of Arbil and Dohouk can be completed afterwards for comparison reasons.

After each selected PSU had been mapped and listed, interviewers should be sent to 10 selected households. Interviewers can be organized in teams of five, with individual supervisors who continuously provide guidance and check the quality of all incoming interviews. Furthermore, supervisors from Fafo staff should also visit the interviewer teams.   Upon completion of the interviews, the information should be sent to the governorate office for registration and inspection, then to the Ankawa main office for coding and data entry. During the data entry process, extensive quality control should be implemented, and questionnaires should be sent back to the Fafo headquarters in Oslo.   Completed data files should be continuously sent to Fafo’s headquarters in Oslo, Norway, where further quality checks can be implemented.

Areas Covered by the Survey-The survey would examine housing conditions, the availability of infrastructure and services, and environmental issues. The survey first must look at the delivery of basic services such as electricity, water, and sanitation, emphasizing not only households’ access to networks but also on the quality and stability of supply.

The households’ dwellings should be described with reference to the type, size, number of people in dwelling, and tenure arrangements, in order to provide information pertaining to the space in which individuals live. Furthermore, damages to dwellings caused by acts of war or lack of maintenance should be described and analyzed in relation to households’ plans and states of repair. The survey should also describe individuals’ satisfaction with different aspects of housing and the environment in close vicinity to the dwelling. The survey must look at households’ access to social services, focusing mainly on health and education services. All analysis would be done in relation to households’ geographical place of residence and socio-economic status.

The survey must describe and analyze the characteristics of the Assyrian population in northern Iraq. The dynamics of any population can be described in terms of births, deaths, and migration, paying specific attention to the population’s age and gender structure. Particular emphasis should be placed on infant and child mortality in the Assyrian community. The demographic effects of war and strife should also be discussed.

The survey would consider the supply, demand, and quality of education in the Assyrian community. The supply of education encompasses physical infrastructure and public spending; demand is related to various aspects of enrollment; and the quality of education refers to how the system works internally. Special emphasis should be given to enrolment levels and characteristics, as well as to the achieved education and literacy levels in the adult population. The geographic and socio-economic differentiation of educational achievements should be considered.   The survey should deal with labor-force participation and employment. The analysis would outline some of the difficulties inherent in estimating employment and unemployment in an economy like northern Iraq, and would consider aspects of both visible and hidden underemployment. The distribution of occupation and industries in northern Iraq should also be addressed.   The survey should describe the result of work, specifically the income and wealth of households. Data collected on household income, the material possessions of households, and subjective measures of destitution and poverty can be used to portray income patterns, which in turn would lead to an analysis of inequality. The data obtained may not allow for a full-fledged poverty analysis, but insight into the characteristics of poverty in the Assyrian community of northern Iraq can be gained through an analysis of how people perceive their situation.   The survey should include questions on Assyrian autonomy.   The households should be asked whether they would like to form an Assyrian autonomous region on their traditional ancestral lands. 

In all cases, the interviews must be conducted face to face, using a standard questionnaire, developed by professional research organizations.   Some 10 percent of the questions should be contextual, and in some cases unique to the governorate.

This research project would be the first of its kind conducted exclusively on the Assyrian community in northern Iraq.    This research would serve many purposes:

  • Define the geopolitical Assyrian community within the current Iraqi context.
  •  Identify the institutional structures by which the Assyrian community functions
  •  Gather statistical information by which to measure the demographics of the Assyrian community within the three governorates
  • Identify the geographic disparities within each of the three governorate structure
  • Determine the overall socio-economic needs of the Assyrian population in the northern Iraq region.
  • Identify the Assyrian political structure operating in northern Iraq
  • Establish the geographical outline of an autonomous, self-administered region for the Assyrians in northern Iraq.
  • Effectively tailor policy for long-term sustainability of the Assyrian community of northern Iraq within an autonomous structure.


Al-Malaf Press, October 22, 2007.

Bayart, Jean Francois, Stephen Ellis and Beatrice Hibou.   1999.   The Criminalization of the State in Africa.   Oxford.  

Berdal, Mats and David M. Malone (editors).  2000.   Greed and Grievance: Economic Agendas and Civil Wars.   Boulder.

Casius Dio.  LXVIII, 24, 1-2: 105

Clark, Kate.  Corruption in Iraqi Kurdistan. Kurdish Media: 1/10/2008

Jennings, Kathleen M.   The War Zone as Social Space: Social Research in Conflict Zones.   Fafo Institute of Applied International Studies-Norway.   2007.

United Nations Development Program.   Iraq Living Conditions Survey, Baghdad.  Central Organization for Statistics and Information Technology (COSIT) under the Ministry of Planning and Development in cooperation with (UNDP) and Fafo-AIS.   2005.

ICRC, (International Committee of the Red Cross.  The People on War Project. Greenburg Research.  Geneva. 1999.


Good Morning Assyria
News From the Homeland


Assyrian Commentator Detained, Later Released, by KDP

(ZNDA: Mosul)  On Sunday, 17 February around 6:30 pm, the Assyrian Church of the East deacon and writer Johnny Khoshaba al-Rekani was abducted from his home in the town of Telkepe (Telkaif) in the Nineveh Governorate in north Iraq by members of the KDP peshmerga loyal to the Kurdish President Masoud Barazani.

The peshmerga abducted Mr. Khoshaba from his home in the Nineveh Governorate and transferred him to Sekrene, a high-security prison facility near Sarsink, north of Dohuk in the Dohuk Governorate which is under the Kurdish control. Mr. Khoshaba was charged with criticising the Kurdish authorities and KRG Finance Minister Sargis Aghajan. He was also warned against writing about the corruption and sex scandals of the Assyrian Church of the East Bishop Ishaq Khamis and the bishop's loyalty to the Kurdish authorities.

Mr. al-Rekani uses his personal web site "alSarkha" (The Outcry) at alsarkha.uv.ro to bring attention to the unfairness of the Kurdish policies against the Assyrians.  Mr. al-Rekani also comments on how Kurdish officials exploit certain Assyrians to achieve their plans.  Previously, he has also used his website to report on the scandals involving the clergymen in northern Iraq.  Mr. al-Rekani writes, in one case, that he has tried contacting Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV about the corruption and scandals in his church when the patriarch visited northern Iraq, but to no avail.

The prison where Mr. Khoshaba was detained informed his immediate family that in order to secure his release, they must obtain a letter from Priest Yousip Benyamin requesting that all charges be dropped.  Mr. Khoshaba's family declined the request on the ground that " if that's what it takes to have our son released, we would rather he stay there than beg a corrupt and evil priest!"

Mr. Khoshaba was released on Thursday, 21 February.

The following is Zinda Magazine's partial English translation of an essay written by Mr. Khoshaba on 3 February 2008 in Telkaif in North Iraq.  To view the entire essay in Arabic click here.

              al-Sarkha … A Candle to the Hearts of the Living and a Sword in the Grip of the Ignorant

The ongoing events in our church in Dohuk is a natural reaction to the works done by the evil Bishop Ishaq. It is the expected outcome of what our parish has done there because of the wickedness that found its way spreading through our churches, wasted ways to reduce encroachment around the clean consciences...

I don't want to get deeper into what is happening in Dohuk, because that is not the reason for writing this article.  I have been absent in all those events and know how some parties try to misuse the name of alSarkha to taget this or that. The peron who uses al-Sarkha the most to fulfill the missions within his dark self is Bishop Ishaq… Bishop Ishaq wants to heat some of those who opposed him even before I released al-Sarkha or before I publish the scandal on several websites on the Internet, so he uses my name to settle old disputes with few people, among them Rev. Philip where he refers to as a 'supporter of Johnn'y or 'supports alSarkha' even though I mentioned in an earlier article that Rev. Philip has nothing to do with anything …
Before I get into more detail, I need to say that this is not in defense of Rev. Philip because he is capable of defending himself (if there was indeed something that needed to be defended), but I say all this to bring out the truth only, and nothing but the truth even if it was in the benefit of some and not to the benefit of others. 

To Ishaq, the deceptive bishop who is infested with the repugnant odor of adultery, I say, before you use my outcry [al-Sarkha] to incriminate anyone who does not walk the way you wish, or to make it a sword to cut the heads of those who do not bow to your abomination, look into the mirror and ask your reflection this: "Is what al-Sarkha mentions a horrifying nightmare that attacks you in the dusk of your nights or is it its truth that is eating you away in your deep conscious that you find no way out of, only to attack it, conspire against it or tempt this and that with your money to cover up for the collapse of your conscious… For it was you yesterday who were with your relative in that wicked bed, a fact known to those closest to you. It is you that used the adulteress who was searching repentance and you blemished her in that room across the alter by what she wanted to get rid of. It is you that uses the religious façade to make the alter a propaganda forum for certain politicians and it is you that makes sure to benefit from people like Sargis [Aghajan] to secure esteem position and abundance of money. It is you who uses his money to incite this against that, within your flock, so you would live in peace and calm using the divide and rule principle. Therefore, from this all, don't you see that it is you who attached a note to his back offering the price of your conscious, your specifics and the types of services that you might offer for he who pays with dollars…

Click book cover to learn more.

You [Bishop Ishaq] say that Rev. Philip supports Johnny, so here is the bitter truth that you avoid listening to… Rev. Philip did not receive anything from me with the exception of the paper that I sent to all the priests in Dohuk by name and in sealed envelopes… I did not sit with him on any day before I published the scandal. He did not offer any services whether before or after I published the scandal. All he did is that he listened to me only. During Patriarch [Mar Dinkha]'s visit he did not offer any help and said that he could not help me. However, he said that he knows who could and gave me the cell phone number of Rev. Shlimon of the church in Sarsink so I contacted him and he welcomed me and was approachable regarding the information that incriminate you. He [Rev. Shlimon] asked me to meet with him and so I did indeed. I went to his old home in Sarsink with one of my relatives. I sat with him and we had lunch, then he took us to the old church in Sarsink that was being remodeled at the time. I sat with him alone in a room on the second floor and told him everything and he was receptive to every word that I said and he offered to do his best to help me to reach the Patriarch. He picked up his phone and contacted Rev. Emmanuel [Baito Youkhanna] who was accompanying the Patriarch (as I know he serves one of our churches in Germany) and spoke with him and told him that I was sitting in his home. He [Rev. Emmanuel] recognized me well even though I had never encountered him from the scandal of Bishop Ishaq that I published. He welcomed the issue and because he was in good relations with Mar Narsai, Bishop of Lebanon and Europe, he was going to inform the bishop and he in turn could set an appointment with the Patriarch. He [Rev. Emmanuel] promised to call Rev. Shlimon and give him the answer as soon as possible. Here was the result of my meeting with Rev. Shlimon:  neither Rev. Shlimon, nor Rev. Emmanuel or Mar Narsai did anything and it seems that each was worried about what is hidden behind his own cross. As we left Rev. Shlimon's home, my relative asked about our conversation and I told him that every one of our priests has something against Bishop Ishaq and wants to get rid of him, but does not dare to do anything about it.  They see in Johnny the mean that would liberate them from the dictator bishop. I mentioned this incident to bring out the truth only and not to defend a person and that what Rev. Philip presented does not escalate to even one-fourth of what was presented by others. Furthermore, I wanted to show how some people were before they benefited from their Bishop Ishaq and afterwords. Greeting Rev. Shlimon and the bringing out the truth has now turned to ignoring me and avoiding my presence. I met Rev. Shlimon twice two months ago: first in one of Dohuk's hospitals and the other time in Telkaif where he was sitting in one of those Sargisi [belonging to Sargis Aghajan] cars that he got from his master, Ishaq. I am the same person and nothing new has happened to deny today what he believed yesterday. What changed is he joined the entourage of his master Ishaq under the leadership of their head, Sargis [Aghajan].

…I would like to send a message to all readers of al-Sarkha and those who follow it up that I will not allow anyone to use al-Sarkha to accomplish what he personally desires, whether the person is a religious man or part of the flock or nation.  Such people resemble the likeness of Rev. Shlimon; how he was happy with all the dreadfulness of his Ishaq and what he became after he bagan to benefit from him [Bishop Ishaq]. Al-Sarkha was founded to bring out the truth and expose the corruption under which our holy churches and great nation is succumbing… al-Sarkha is founded to cleanse our churches from the rotten minds that hide behind the cross; the rotten minds that recognize faith only through their mouths and not through their deeds…

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US Ambassador Ryan Crocker Affirms Significance of Art. 125 for Iraqi Minorities

Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project
Washington, DC
Tel: (202) 378-8082
Fax: 1 (800) 355-7228
Web: www.iraqdemocracyproject.org

For Immeidate Release                                                                                                                                        19 February 2008

In late 2007 US Ambassador Ryan Crocker affirmed the significance of Art. 125 for Iraq’s developing system of federalism, when responding to questions from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about minorities and their goal for a federal unit in the Nineveh Plain.

Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked about the political viability and response of the Iraqi government to the Art. 125/Nineveh Plain solution for minorities.  Sen. Biden prefaced his question to Amb. Crocker stating, “Some Iraqi parliamentarians have called for the creation of an autonomous region in the Nineveh Plains, home to a disproportionate number of Iraqi minorities, including Assyrians, Turkmen and Yazidis.”

Amb. Crocker’s response was clear-cut, writing that, “Some Iraqi parliamentarians and local politicians in Ninawa have called for an autonomous region in Ninawa province, citing Article 125 of the Iraqi Constitution.  Iraqi citizens can pursue the creation of a separate administrative region through processes consistent with this article.”

“Senator Joseph Biden’s committee is clearly investigating issues of federalism in Iraq that includes accounting for minorities, specifically Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriacs among others. Amb Ryan Crocker’s affirmation that politicians in Ninawa are trying to advance this agenda is a reflection of their success in profiling this goal”, said ISDP’s Project Director, Michael Youash.

The Iraqi Minorities Council, comprising an array of Iraq’s most vulnerable minorities, chaired by Dr. Hunain Al-Qaddo, is a strong voice for the creation of such a unit.  The Assyrian Democratic Movement was the first to champion this idea, but now virtually all other Iraqi-based minority political groups are actively pursuing this agenda.

Through meetings, proposals, and constant communication with relevant government officials, ISDP is working with Iraqi partners promoting the Art. 125/Nineveh Plain solution.  ISDP sees clearly that the goal of these minorities is a stronger more integrated Iraq, through federalism. The goal is true decentralization without partition, which the minority peoples overwhelmingly support.

“Some question the Art. 125 solution on the basis of misunderstandings of its significance in relation to Iraq’s developing federal system. Amb. Ryan Crocker’s response puts any doubts to rest.  ISDP is working to ensure that  senior-most US decision-makers are being equipped to deal with matters most vital to the survival of minorities in their homeland; the establishment of the Nineveh Plain Administrative Unit in accordance with Art. 125 of the Iraqi Constitution is a central part of that mission”, said Youash.

AGC Opens Office in Syria

Assyrian General Conference - Damascus Office
Kornesh Altejara
Shaban Building # 35
Damascus, Syria

For Immeidate Release                                                                                                                               5 February 2008

The office of the Assyrian General Conference has opened its doors in the Syrian Arab Republic, in the city of Damascus. The AGC office will be a channel of communication for our Assyrian community. It will contribute to alleviating their suffering and work diligently to achieve our goals as Assyrians.

We value the position of the Syrian government and thank them for granting us the opportunity to open our office, as well as thank the Syrian people for their nobility in welcoming the Iraqi people under the current situation.

Assyrian General Conference - Damascus office.

AAS-Iraq Relief Project Helps 400 Families in al-Zenjili

Michael E Bradley, Administrator, AAS-A
T: 510-527-9997
F: 510-527-6633

For Immeidate Release                                                                                                                                 8 February 2008

The Assyrian Aid Society-Iraq, sister organization of the Assyrian Aid Society of America, has completed a relief project supporting 400 families in Al-Zenjili, Mosul, site of a recent devastating terrorist bombing that claimed many innocent lives.

Accompanying this cover page is a first person account from the AAS-Iraq Relief Delegation to Al-Zenjili.

This project was funded entirely by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany.

The Assyrian Aid Society of America is a charitable organization recognized by the State of California and the government of the United States of America, dedicated to assisting needy Christian Assyrians in Northern Iraq and around the world. Over the past 15 years AAS-A has raised over $4 million to, with its sister organization, the Assyrian Aid Society – Iraq, to build schools, staff and supply medical clinics, facilitate life-saving surgeries, rebuild homes, irrigate farmlands, bring electricity to villages, and implement a host of other vital programs and services.

The following is a first person account by the AAS-IRAQ relief delegation to al-Zenjile, Mosul:

On Saturday February 2, 2008, a delegation from the Assyrian Aid Society-Iraq distributed humanitarian aid to the people in the destroyed area of Al-Zingili, Mosul, site of a recent terrorist bombing that claimed many innocent lives Much more was distributed than what was originally planned because of the great need.

Words are incapable of expressing the magnitude of the tragedy that happened in that region. This was the first opportunity for humanitarian aids to be distributed following the attack. With the assistance of the mayor and the people of the area, the delegation distributed by hand from street to street the essential materials to more than 400 stricken families. Our vehicles drove through the entire area and saw all of the families to give the assistance they so desperately needed.

The delegation was shocked to see the true extent of the devastation from the bombing. People of the area pointed out where two-story houses had been but there was nothing left to even suggest it had been a house or a building at all.

The local population had not expected this level of bombardment. Official authorities had instructed them to stay in their homes, advising them to leave their windows open so as to minimize the breaking of glass from blasts. But instead of suffering simple broken windows, these houses were completely destroyed and became tombs with human remains mixed with debris. The most dramatic story was the discovery of the body of a deceased mother with her dead baby in her arms.

We entered the houses with great difficulty because of the large amount of debris. We listened to many tragic stories, with each house having a more painful story than the one before it. Some had a dead father or mother or brother or sister, and some had lost more than one person.

But the most affecting scene was when we saw a child among the ruins, as his parents cleared the way for us to enter their home. They asked us to deliver their tragic story to the Government so that the authorities consider their unbearable situation and lend help, especially in this cold winter and their home without walls or windows for protection. The blast destroyed in seconds what had taken them years to build.

A father was beseeching us to come and photograph his infant son with a broken arm, thrown by the blast along with three other wounded brothers. A little girl wept after she saw us and then ran away because she was still in shock since the day of the explosion.

There were many such painful stories but our words will not be as expressive as the silence in the faces of children and the old people of Al-Zingili. Our words also will not reflect the cries of women and children showing their thanks and gratitude on that February afternoon.

One of the Sheiks said to us, “This aid will not bring back what we lost, a son or relative or house, but it is a good gesture from you and a token of love which introduced joy in our heart. Perhaps by you, others will pay attention to us. God bless you and keep you.”

The humanitarian distribution continued late into the afternoon. At each house we entered, we were greeted with expressions of gratitude, blessings, and thanks to everyone who contributed to this work.

The AAS-Iraq delegation to Al-Zenjili, Mosul
Report prepared by Christina Batto, AAS-Iraq, Dohuk, Iraq

Fragments of Oldest Christian Manuscript Found in Egypt

Written in 411 AD in Syriac, the text was hidden for over
1,000 years in a vault used to store olive oil.

Courtesy of the Art Newspaper
18 February 2008
By Martin Baily

The Monastery of Deir al-Surian

(ZNDA: Cairo)  Fragments of the earliest dated Christian literary manuscript have been found at Deir al-Surian, an ancient monastery in the Egyptian desert. Dating from 411 AD, these were discovered under a collapsed floor of a ninth-century tower. The fragments are from the final page of a codex written in Syriac (an Eastern Aramaic language) which was acquired by the British Museum library in the 19th century.

Few manuscripts have had such an astonishing history. In 1847, British Museum librarian William Cureton said that “among all the curiosities of literature, I know of none more remarkable than the fate of this matchless volume”. We can now add a final chapter to the story.

The manuscript on Christian martyrs was written in Edessa (now Sanliurfa or Urfa, Turkey), and at some point in the next five centuries it was taken eastwards. In 931, the abbot of Deir al-Surian travelled to Baghdad and brought it back to Egypt.

In 1086, a monk added a marginal note in the middle of the manuscript, expressing concern that the last page with its colophon (the scribe’s ending notes) might be lost. Since the book was by then already “ancient”, he wanted to record that it had been written in 411. The monk’s precaution was wise, since centuries later the last page did indeed become detached.


The European who found the main manuscript was Lord Curzon, who visited Deir al-Surian in 1837 in search of ancient texts for the British Museum. There were then only a dozen monks, led by a blind and elderly abbot. Lord Curzon bought three Coptic manuscripts, but he had heard rumours that earlier texts in Syriac were hidden in the cellar of the ancient tower, in a vault used to store olive oil.

He recounts producing a bottle of rosoglio (an Italian cordial), since with eastern monks “there is no better opener of the heart than a sufficiency of strong drink”. After plying the abbot with alcohol, he coaxed him into instructing a monk to lead him down into the cellar.

Adjacent to the main oil store, Lord Curzon found “a small closet vaulted with stone which was filled to a depth of two feet or more with the loose leaves of Syriac manuscripts”. He extracted four relatively complete codices, and talked the inebriated abbot into selling them for “a certain number of piastres”.

The abbot would only allow Lord Curzon to fill one of his camel’s saddlebags with manuscripts, since he did not want the other monks to notice what was happening. There was insufficient space for all his purchases, so Lord Curzon reluctantly left one behind.


A fragment of a manuscript.

Lord Curzon’s acquisitions whetted the appetite of the British Museum, and two years later it sent scholar Dr Henry Tattam to Deir al-Surian. Among the several hundred manuscripts he purchased was the one that Lord Curzon had been forced to leave behind. Back in London, the note made by the monk in 1086 was spotted.

The note on folio 239 read: “Behold my brethren, if it should happen that the end of this ancient book should be torn off and lost...it was written at the end of it thus.” The monk had then copied out the colophon, which stated that the manuscript had been written at Orrhoa (Edessa, now Sanliurfa), by Jacob, in the year 723 (in the Greek calendar, or 411 AD).

The original colophon was missing when the codex was acquired in 1839, but the monk’s note made it possible to date it. Four years later Cureton discovered two further pages of the manuscript among fragments which had been brought back by Tattam.

There was one further British Museum expedition to Deir al-Surian, undertaken by the Alexandrian entrepreneur Auguste Pacho in 1845. He successfully acquired nearly 200 volumes, plus fragments. Cureton went through the material, finding two further damaged leaves of the 411 manuscript. Attached to the second one was a strip of the adjacent leaf; it had text on one side, but the other was blank, suggesting it was the final page.

Cureton continued his search, looking through 20 bundles of small fragments. He eventually found three pieces from the penultimate leaf, and then a fourth one from the final leaf. By good fortune, this tiny fragment had the original colophon, recording the 411 date.

Jigsaw puzzle

There the matter rested for a century and a half. In 1998, the ninth-century tower of Deir al-Surian was renovated, and several hundred fragments of ancient manuscripts were discovered by the monastery’s librarian Father Bigoul under a wooden floor which had probably collapsed as long ago as the 14th century.

It is unfortunate that such drastic restoration of an ancient building was done so casually (surprisingly, it was authorised by Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities). No trained archaeologists sifted through the rubble, although Father Bigoul did his best to save what he could. Modern building materials were used in the reconstruction.

Nevertheless, the work did result in the discovery of the manuscript fragments. Analysing the find has taken time, but in 2005 two Syriac scholars, Sebastian Brock (Oxford University) and Lucas van Rompay (Duke University, North Carolina), recognised four small fragments which appeared to be in the same neat handwriting as the 411 manuscript.

In London they consulted the codex, and found that the four fragments were indeed from the final page. These wrinkled pieces have now been conserved at the monastery by London paper specialist Elizabeth Sobczynski.

After showing us the fragments, Father Bigoul took us down into the cellar, where he had discovered them. In an adjacent vault, there is still a pile of ancient amphorae once used to store olive oil.

Back in London, we looked at the British Library’s codex and noticed a stain in a corner of most of the parchment pages. Conservators confirm that it is olive oil.


For most of the 20th century, Deir al-Surian’s manuscripts were hidden away—and relatively neglected. The monks were understandably reluctant to show them to outsiders, since their collection had been denuded in the 18th and 19th centuries by European bibliophiles.

But despite these losses, Deir al-Surian still retains 1,000 manuscripts, of which 49 are in Syriac. It also has 150 ancient Coptic manuscripts and 15 Ethiopic texts. Recent cataloguing has uncovered the world’s oldest dated Biblical manuscript in any language, a Syriac version of Isaiah, from 459 AD.

Around a century ago, the collection was moved from the tower, where it had probably been kept for over 1,000 years. It was then stored in large wooden crates in the monks’ cells. Unfortunately, as recently as the mid-20th century, serious damage was caused by mice and insects. In 1970 the library was given its own premises at the top of a modern building.

Since 1997 preservation work has been spearheaded by Ms Sobczynski, working with international and Egyptian conservators. So far they have conserved a dozen manuscripts, and over 300 fragments.

The Syriac manuscripts were hidden away from outsiders until after 2000, and the extent of the holdings remained unknown. They are now being catalogued by Brock and Van Rompay.

Not surprisingly, monks and conservators have different perspectives. Most monks would have preferred the ancient manuscripts to be rebound in modern materials, whereas conservators want to preserve what can be saved of earlier bindings.

The library remains in unsuitable premises. Temperature and humidity fluctuate considerably, and a kitchen on a floor below is a serious fire hazard (smoke alarms were only fitted in 2000).

A purpose-built library and conservation studio is therefore being built within the monastery walls. Construction of the new “green” library building will begin this month, with completion scheduled for early next year. It will cost £400,000, and Ms Sobczynski has set up the Levantine Foundation charity to raise funds.

World’s Oldest Temple Offers Glimpse of the Garden of Eden

Courtesy of the Walrus
20 February 2008
Yigal Schleifer

(ZNDA:  Baghdad)  At a small archaeological site about twenty kilometres outside Sanliurfa, in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt climbs to the top of a hill, moving quickly despite the stifling heat. Schmidt is the fifty-three-year-old director of the dig. His face is red from the sun, and his only protection from its rays is a white cotton scarf wrapped around his head, kaffiyeh style. Atop the windswept hill, bare except for a solitary mulberry tree, he looks down on what may be the most remarkable archaeological find of the past century.

“The level of importance here is that of the pyramids in Giza, or Stonehenge,” says Schmidt, who speaks softly, with a strong German accent. “This is the first monumental work in the history of mankind. It’s a singular site.” Schmidt got an early start in archaeology, mucking around as a child in the caves of his native Bavaria in a fruitless search for drawings left by cavemen. His luck changed fourteen years ago when he first came to Göbekli Tepe (Turkish for “navel on the mountain”).

From where he stands, he can see four circles of large, T-shaped stone pillars arranged around two even larger monoliths — some five metres tall — that tower over the circles. Many of the forty-odd pillars are decorated with exquisite relief carvings depicting a lush landscape populated by wild boars, birds, reptiles, and lions. The level of representation becomes even more breathtaking in the context of the site’s age; the various layers were created somewhere between 7500 and 10,000 BC, according to carbon dating done by Schmidt. That’s before the invention of the wheel.

To put this finding in perspective, until the discovery of Göbekli Tepe, arguably the oldest temple excavated was at Eridu, in Iraq, which dates to 5000 BC. Stonehenge’s rough pillars, which look like the work of rank amateurs compared to the handiwork here, only go back to approximately 2100 BC.

It may sound as if Schmidt has been standing out in the blazing sun too long, but he’s no fringe archaeologist. He’s a veteran of another groundbreaking dig in Turkey and a respected member of the august German Archaeological Institute in Berlin. He and Göbekli Tepe have already created a serious buzz among other archaeologists who study the early neolithic period, when hunter-gatherers in the Near East started the process of cultivating cereals and producing their own food. “It’s a very important site, a central ritual site, like the temple in Jerusalem or the Oracle at Delphi,” says Ofer Bar-Yosef, MacCurdy Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at Harvard, who has visited Schmidt’s dig. “It has changed for many people the conception of what was happening during the neolithic period.

“The findings at Göbekli Tepe have given Schmidt and his colleagues a profoundly new understanding of this part of the world at that time. The local culture, he now believes, was much more developed and organized than previously thought. The builders of Göbekli Tepe could already muster — and feed — the enormous manpower needed to carve the massive columns and bring them to the temple site.

Even more surprising, Schmidt says, is the sophistication of religious expression found at Göbekli Tepe. Because of the lack of settlements nearby, Schmidt and others believe the site was a destination for pilgrims and a place of ritual. “What we have here is an expression of religion in a very stylized way that is not repeated anywhere else in the world,” he says. “We see that religion was existing in the early neolithic period in a way that we didn’t expect. Only religion could be responsible for what we see here.

“Something else is adding to the buzz around Göbekli Tepe — speculation that may tie the spot to the Bible’s Garden of Eden story. Some respected researchers, such as archaeologist Alan Millard and biologist Colin Tudge, both based in England, have put forward the theory that the Eden story was born of a collective memory of, as Schmidt puts it, “the transition from hunting-gathering to working the land, from being free individuals to working in the fields.”

From Göbekli Tepe, the flat and arid Mesopotamian plain stretches south toward the nearby Syrian border, a thin haze floating above it. Around the site, the landscape is treeless and rocky. But it wasn’t always like this, Schmidt says. When hunter-gatherers lived here, he explains, fruit trees and wild grasses grew in abundance, and there were more than enough animals to hunt. With its carvings celebrating the abundance of the surrounding countryside and the freedom of hunting life, was Göbekli Tepe actually a memorial to what was slowly becoming a paradise lost?

Schmidt is reticent about linking his work to the Adam and Eve story, worried it will be lumped together with such quasi-Biblical archaeological pursuits as the search for Noah’s ark and, well, the Garden of Eden. Various theories have situated paradise on at least three continents. But Sanliurfa, the closest city to the dig, has no qualms about making the connection. City hall is already happily promoting Göbekli Tepe as the birthplace of civilization — and home to Adam and Eve.

Bus Mechanic Claims Civil Rights Violations in Detroit

Courtesy of Detroit Free Press
Based on stories by Niraj Warikoo

(ZNDA: Detroit)  On 31 January, Mr. Joseph Mathis testified at a Michigan Civil Rights Commision hearing that a co-worker made ethnic slurs against, Mr. Mazyn Barash, a Chaldean-Assyrian.  Mr Mathis noted that Mr. Barash's supervisors and his employer, SMART bus system, failed to intervene properly.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights believes that Mr. Barash, 50, was insulted and harassed at his job at the SMART bus system. SMART lawyer Avery Gordon says the agency doesn't tolerate discrimination but declined further comment.

Mazyn (Mike) Barash was a bus mechanic for 15 years with SMART, metro Detroit's suburban bus system. Barash says he was forced to quit in 2004 after suffering racial abuse at work near the start of the Iraq war.

Ethnic Slurs
A sample of notes alleged to have been left for Mr. Barash by his co-workers at SMART bus system.

Mr. Mathis testified that the co-workers used offensive terms including "rag head" and "towel head" in Barash's presence. One coworker would ask him where his camel was. Another time, a coworker placed a towel on his head and imitated how he thought Arabs talked.

At one time a co-worker placed photos of terrorists on Barash's time card.   Another coworker once talked about killing all Iraqis in front of him.

After the start of the Iraq War in 2003, Mr. Barash received a letter at work that threatened him. The note called Barash a "sand" followed by a racial slur and warned that he would be hit (see opposite photo).

Workers at SMART also put up offensive cartoons and drawings that demeaned people of Middle Eastern descent, Barash said.

The irony, Barash said, is that he left Iraq to escape discrimination because he was part of the Christian minority only to face bias in the U.S.  His siser, Ms. Susan Kirma, comments to Zinda Magazine: "On June 20, 1966, our family migrated to the United States from Baghdad Iraq.  One of the reasons we left our homeland was because of the persecution against the Christian minority in that country.  My father wanted his five children, especially the boys to have a chance to succeed and live in a safe and healthy environment.  "  She continues: "Unfortunaly my brother Mazyn was the child who had to endure the same type of prejiduce that Christians faced in Iraq.  The difference was it happened at his workplace in the United States."

SMART Comments

A spokeswoman for SMART, Elizabeth Dryden, has said she could not comment on the case, and added that SMART does not tolerate discrimination.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights probed the case and found evidence to issue a charge of discrimination.

SMART General Council has also stated it has policies and procdures in place which allow any employee to anonymously call and report such allegations.  According to Ms. Kirma, these procedures were only put in place after her brother filed his complaint with the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. 

Fight Discrimination!

Mr. Barash and his family believes that his case should be an inspiration to anyone who has experieced similar type of dicrimination and is often intimidated to seek legal help and advice.

" My brother and his family have suffered not only at the hands of a particular employee at work, his superiors who chose to ignore the discrimination but at the hands of a system that takes years to produce results," comments Ms. Kirma.

Zinda Magazine will follow-up on the developments related to this case.  To view the complaint filed by The Michigan Rights Commission filed on behalf of Mr. Barash against SMART, click here.

Gang Member Gets 12 Years for Shooting at Assyrian Church

Courtesy of NewsDay.com
6 February 2008

(ZNDA: New York)  A reputed street gang member will serve 12 years in prison for shooting and wounding three people at a christening in Yonkers.

Judge Barbara Zambelli sentenced Abel Rojas, 26, after his conviction for first-degree assault. Rojas pleaded guilty as part of a deal that includes prison time and five years of post-release supervision.

He had been indicted on charges of attempted murder in the shooting of three people in the parking lot of St. Mari Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church at a christening party for a 1-year-old girl on 12 March 2006.

Rojas, a reputed member of the LaRaza street gang, was arrested by federal marshals Oct. 26, 2006, in Coney Island.

Walter Aziz to Release New CD on 11 March

“General Agha Petros Revisited: A Tribute To A True Assyrian Hero”

Walter Aziz
Walter Aziz Productions
(415) 756-1346

For Immediate Release                                                                                                       19 February 2008

“A must-have album for every Assyrian household.”

EASTJAM Music Entertainment is pleased to announce their new release by Assyrian recording artist Walter Aziz, titled “General Agha Petros Revisited: A Tribute To A True Assyrian Hero”. The album is a remake of his 1982 classic, “General Agha Petros”. It consists of the original 8 tracks with the same live instruments played in 1982, with a few minor enhancements. This time around, the tracks are digitally re-mixed and re-mastered with new vocals. The album pays tribute to the Assyrian World War I general.

On the title track, "General Agha Petros", Walter features 14 prominent and upcoming artists from different backgrounds and regions, under one nation. This is the largest collaborative project in modern Assyrian music.

"To me, the message of Agha Petros was to unite our nation, and with this song, my guests on the album and I will reflect that unity through music," Walter explains. This is a must-have album for every Assyrian household.
The album also includes three remixes by Paul Scriver, Walter’s right-hand producer/engineer now located in Montreal. The remixes incorporate Walter’s modern Assyrian Pop sound to the classic songs, “Tanzara”, “Broken Heart”, and “Lion Hunter”.

Here is the list of featured artists in “General Agha Petros”, in alphabetical order:

  • Adonee Odisho (Sweden)
  • George Gindo (Chicago, IL)
  • Jina Gindo Kena (Chicago, IL)
  • Jowan David (Chicago, IL)
  • Lazar Malko (Chicago, IL)
  • Munadhel Tomika (San Diego, CA)
  • Ninorta (Germany)
  • Ninos David (Australia)
  • Ramsen Sheeno (Chicago, IL)
  • Salim Sefo (Chicago, IL)
  • Shabeh Lawando (Chicago, IL)
  • Simon Kaplo (Germany)
  • Talal Graish (Canada)
  • Tony Gabriel (Canada)
Surfs Up!
Your Letters to the Editor

Expose Our Culture to Non-Assyrians

Elmer Abbo
United States

I'm motivated to write you from your recent email talking about developing Zinda into an online global Assyrian community and your editorial to promote and preserve the Assyrian language.  I myself am a young professional Chaldean Assyrian who never was taught the language but would like to learn it.  I'm currently in Chicago but was not raised here.  Although there is a large community here, I've found it very difficult to interact with other Assyrians without being able to speak the language.  In light of this experience, I've realized that, beyond the churches which really serve a different social purpose, there are no Assyrian institutions focused on the language and culture and promoting education amongst Assyrians. 

I'm inspired by your call for nondenominational educational Assyrian institutions.  We absolutely need schools for our own children in order to teach the language and culture, but I also think there is an equally important role for such an institution at the adult level that strives to both integrate all sorts of Assyrians but also reaches out to the larger society to give us more of an outward identity.  I would love the opportunity to learn Assyrian as an adult and have an network of other aspiring Assyrians.  And I suspect there are non-Assyrians who might also enjoy learning the language and being exposed to the culture if we weren't so insular.  (Notre Dame teaches ancient Syriac for almost all non-Assyrian students to be able to study ancient Christian texts.)  Greater recognition of our culture by non-Assyrians will bring greater pride in Assyrians themselves in their own unique heritage.

If I can be of help, I would be pleased to contribute to such efforts.

Saving Assyria…..An Idealists Dream

Atouraya Younadam

Between squabbling churches (and their congregations), disagreeing political parties, Kurdish sympathizers, compounded name issues, refugees adding to the already inflated Diaspora, etc, etc, etc…; it becomes more and more difficult to focus on the future of the Assyrian nation.

No more than 3 decades ago, our nation was thriving. Political groups were forging ahead and optimism was at an all time high. Churches did not infuse themselves (nor did we allow them to for that matter) in political affairs as they do today, for it was not their place. I remember growing up during those times; AUA was the flagship of our nations’ dreams and the only end in sight included a homeland we could call Assyria. It pains me to see what we have become. How did we backtrack so quickly? What went wrong? Can we fix it?

The problem, in my opinion, lies (primarily) in the “leaders” of our nation and many of the parents of our nation’s youth.

Our, so called, “leaders” have led us into an era of bickering and childish pride. You can clearly hear all of them calling for UNITY, but where is it? True unity doesn’t come from bad mouthing, name calling and boycotting! True unity comes from a few simple things: Respect, Love, and Compromise. These are the only things that will truly get us where we need to be. I have yet to hear any prominent figure ask for cooperation from their political rivals on any of the important issues we currently face. It would be nice to hear that Assyrian Aid Society-Americas, Bet-Nahrain, AAA, AUA (or what’s left of it), AANF, etc…, were all working together on a “joint” project, be it an Assyrian community center, Assyrian school, Kha b’ Nisan events, Martyr day events and any other project that is needed for the continued survival of Assyrians in Diaspora. However, this hasn’t happened. Those who continue to preach nationalism and are not willing to work together to ensure our future are nothing more than murderers of our nation, for if the average Joe sees you as a leader and all you are leading them to is segregation and isolation from their own people, what good are you? Our leaders, whether in front of the camera’s or behind the scenes, need to realize that what we need now is a commitment to do what is best for the Assyrian nation, not what is best for the person in the mirror or the organization/church you are a member of. Build schools in the Diaspora for our youth who know nothing of nationalism, hold educational events that will keep us interested in who we are, do something positive.

What about the youth? How have we, as a nation, made sure they are noticed? With the massive exodus of Assyrians from our motherland into these “foster” motherlands, we have begun to assimilate and melt into these foreign cultures. While we are thankful for the opportunities we have gained and the freedom we have seen, we must ask ourselves, “Is the price of luxury worth the loss of 6,758 years of ancestry?”

We cannot talk about our regression in nationalism without bringing up the nucleus of all Assyrians, our family. Before a child knows anything of nationalism, church, political organizations, or “millet”, that child knows family. If we are troubled with the thought that the majority of Assyrian youth do not speak Assyrian, we need not look no further than the child’s parents; for it is from the parents that we learn our language, culture, and history. It is, therefore, the parents’ duty to ensure that they speak to their children in Assyrian and that the children, whenever they’re in earshot, also speak Assyrian. Today, we see way too many Assyrian children being brought up in households where they do not speak Assyrian; whether at conventions, parties, weddings, picnics and even church, you will seldom hear anyone under the age of 30 speaking in our own language. We have reached a point in our nation’s magnificent history where the question arises, disappear or resurrect? Faced with this question, it now becomes ALL of our duty to make certain that the loss of our language does not happen. EVERY Assyrian must speak, especially to the youth, in Assyrian and expect them to do the same. Saving our nation is a heavy task that cannot be completed without the help of the majority.

As a youth myself (under 30), I am aware that a change needs to be made, luckily, so do a lot of people my age and younger. There is a segment of the Assyrian youth that is working hard towards true unity and for this I’m proud. I have been called an idealist by many; I guess that was their way of criticizing my views, but, I took it as a compliment. Without idealism, this world would be a horrible place to live; it was idealism that allowed Martin Luther King to power the civil rights movement; it was idealism that allowed the Jewish people get their own country; it was idealism that made Nelson Mandela a president after his captivity; it was idealism that saw Gandhi lead a peaceful revolution; it was idealism that brought Christianity to the world through the teachings of Jesus….am I to be offended by that term? NO.  It is the fruition of this idealism that will allow our people to work as one and, one day, achieve the total autonomy we so desperately need. Let us wake up from our lazy slumber and make the effort to correct our mistakes. Let’s break down the walls that separate us and build the bridges that will bring us back together. It is time for the youth to take control of our destiny; to move towards an a era of love, honesty and respect; to fuel compromise in place of confrontation, and then, and only then, will we move towards our dream…Assyria!

Avow and Apologize

Edward I. Baba

Recently, the Kurdish population of the Middle East has taken a staunch stance on the recognition of the genocide committed against them in Halabja in the late 1980s.

For nations to accomplish respectable stance throughout the globe, they must first review and comprehend their past successes, downfalls, and mistakes. With a complete assessment of their historical past, they must first recognize and attempt to correct and make amends for their past atrocities against other nations in order for them to move forward and progress within our global society. With the failure of such things, the Kurds have successfully overlooked their past carnage and have endeavored to create a movement to recognize the Kurdish genocide. Kurds have failed to take the skeletons out of their own closets before calling out others’ mistakes.

Throughout these past few centuries, the Kurds have committed many massacres against the innocent denizens of the lands they devastated. Rev. Edwin Munsell Bliss wrote in his book about the Assyrian Christians in Turkey:

“Though possessing only the old-fashioned flint locks, they are often a match for the Kurds, who are armed generally with Martini-Henry rifles. Yet it is only by the most fierce defense of themselves that they have maintained their freedom against the sanguinary Kurds. And it is not strange that they sometimes betray the same wild traits of character as their hereditary enemies. But despite their desperate stand for freedom and the fear in which the Kurds regard them, they have suffered terrible assaults, which threatened at the time to utterly exterminate them. Such was the case in the terrible massacres perpetrated on them by the bloodthirsty Kurdish Chief, Badir Khan Bey, in 1843. By bringing an overwhelming force successfully against Tiari and Tkhoma he succeeded in almost annihilating their populations. Layard, the British explorer of Nineveh, and subsequently Minister and Statesman, who was in the mountains both before and after these occurrences, has described the inhuman slaughter of the people of Tiari and Tkhoma in their homes, and the destruction of their churches and sacred books.” [click here]

The Sassun Massacre: During the spring of 1894, Kurdish chiefs in Turkey besieged the 40 Armenian villages in the Mush plains (now known as Sassun). While attacking the villages, Armenians attempted to defend themselves and killed two Kurdish militants. Kurdish chiefs dragged the bodies of their two Kurdish comrades to the Turkish government and through their propaganda machine deceived the government into thinking that the forty villages had an entire force filled with armed Armenian men “who were defying the power of the government.” After Kurdish chiefs met with Turkish officials, Turkey reinforced them with Turkish troops. It was declared at this moment that ethnic cleansing would be the solution to this “defiance.” [click here]

Seyfo Massacre of 1915: Ottoman Turks and Kurds read Jihad proclamation against Christians in Turkey at the end of 1914. In 1915, the Ottoman empire creates a genocide of the Assyrians, Armenians and Pontic Greeks. 700,000 Assyrians perish along with 1.5 million Armenians and 300,000 Pontic Greeks in the first genocide of the century. At the end of this world war (WWI), it was estimated that two-thirds of the Assyrian population were slaughtered.

In March 1918, Kurdish assassin, Simko (Ismail Agha Shikak), assassinated Mar Shimun XXI Benyamin along with 150 of his bodyguards. This vicious atrocity, though small in numbers, was still a dreadful massacre of the Assyrian people. These last few years, Kurds of northern Iraq have given Simko an honorary title and have praised him as a hero of the times in their textbooks.

The Simele Massacre of 1933: In the beginning of the summer of 1933, anti-Assyrianism was rapidly escalating throughout Iraq. As a result, Iraqis were falsely reporting Assyrian massacres of Iraqi soldiers to gain civilian advocates for what would be now known as the Simele Massacre. In early August, Kurdish general, Baqr Sidqi, viciously marched his troops into the district of Simele and began the massacre of the Assyrians. 3,000 Assyrians fall victim to this genocide—a term coined by a Polish-Jewish doctor named Raphael Lemkin after being disturbed by the news of this atrocity.

Identity denial by Kurds (present day) in Iraq: Recently, predominantly Sunni Kurds have called for the recognition of the Faylee Kurds who are predominantly Shia so that their identity may be preserved as opposed to their apparent need to bury the Assyrian name by continuously referring to us, as Massoud Barzani has (as he did in an interview on Al Arabia TV), as “Messiaheen” or in English as “followers of the Messiah” or “Christians.”

Two months ago, Mullah Bukhtyar disgustingly implies that Assyrians have no historical or geographical ties to Iraq, whereas, Kurds can declare possession of land as Kurdistan because they supposedly do. He quotes, “What is common knowledge to all that peoples have the legal right in declaring their region or country if they possess a historic and geographical land, but Turkmans and Chaldo-Assyrians are mere residents in Kurdistan and have the rights of full citizenship; but possess no Turkman or Chaldo-Assyrian land in Kurdistan and Iraq.” In a SBS interview with Nimrud Baito, he responded to the comments of Mullah Bukhtyar as those of “Eastern mentality” and not something of a worry or of necessity for apology to the Assyrian community. Rubbish. Nimrud should understand that Mullah Bukhtyar owes the Assyrian nation a public apology about his distasteful remarks.

(To listen to the SBS interview with Nimrud Baito click here and for more information on Kurdish brutality against the Assyrians throughout history, click here).

With this, Kurds must realize the cruelty of their ancestry, their current subhuman treatment of Assyrians and other nations, as well as their denial of our identity and attempt to progress through their contrite and formal recognition of this brutality in order to move forward in the recognition of their own genocide.

Toronto Schools Add 1915 Genocide to Grade 11 Course

The Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Student Union of Canada

Toronto District School Board,
Director of Education Gerry Connelly,
Chair John Campbell,
Trustees and others,

It is with great joy we read about the inclusion of the Armenian Genocide in the new full-credit Grade 11 history course “CHG38M, Genocide: Historical and Contemporary Implications” created by the Toronto District School Board. We fully support this courageous move for it shows that the river of blood shed by innocents is not forgotten. At the same time, it deeply saddens us that a nation that lost two thirds of its population in this Genocide is left unmentioned. The discussion of the Armenian Genocide will be incomplete without the mention of the 750,000 Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans or Syriacs) who were brutally butchered simultaneously along with the Armenians and Pontian and Anatolian Greeks.

Toronto is the home town for approximately 30,000 Assyrian families with thousands of Assyrian
students attending schools in your board. Assyrians are the indigenous people of Mesopotamia (present day Iraq and parts of Syria, Iran, and Turkey) with a history spanning over 7000 years. Assyrians embraced Christianity since its advent. They speak Syriac/Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus Christ. Assyrians, an ethnic and a religious minority within the region, were the target of horrific massacres and ethnic cleansing campaigns throughout history. This Genocide, more commonly known as the Armenian Genocide, along with other campaigns that targeted our people by various governments is commemorated annually by Canadian Assyrians on August 7th. The pain of the Genocide continues to cast a dark shadow over this community as some still remember how their family members were murdered or were driven away less than a century ago.

The Assyrian genocide is well documented in academia. A few titles, which depict and examine the
atrocious events of the genocide, are the following:

1. Gaunt, David. Massacres, Resistance, Protectors: Muslim-Christian Relations in Eastern Anatolia During World War I. Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2006.

2. Stafford, R.S. The Tragedy of the Assyrians. Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2006.

3. Warda, Ninos. The Assyrian Genocide in International Law.

The Assyrian Genocide is a subject of interest to many scholars around the world. Dr. David Gaunt, a
professor at Stockholm University, and Dr. Anahit Khosroyeva, a professor in Armenia, are two among many scholars who are actively working to research and create awareness of the Assyrian Genocide to the international community. In addition, Dr. Adam Jones, associate professor of political science at the University of British Columbia, is also a member of the International Genocide Scholars Association (IAGS). In 2007, a resolution was passed wherein the Assyrian genocide was officially recognized by the IAGS, declaring “be it resolved that it is the conviction of the [IAGS] that the Ottoman campaign against Christian minorities of the Empire between 1914 and 1923 constituted genocide against Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontian and Anatolian Greeks.”i

On behalf of our members and their families, and as Canadian citizens who have faith in the education
system in Canada, we ask for the just inclusion of the innocent Assyrians whose lives were lost along
with the Armenians in this Genocide. It would be historically inaccurate to study the Armenian genocide without mention of the Assyrian genocide as both nations were persecuted simultaneously by the Ottoman Empire during this period. It is also tragic to forget those whose lives were taken in such an atrocious manner for recognition is a crucial step in the reconciliation process. We echo the words of Trustee Gerri Gershon, of the Toronto District School Board, who proposed the course: “Our goal is … to explore how this happens so we can become better people and make sure it never happens again.”ii

Help us in preventing this from happening to the Assyrian people.

Please do not hesitate to contact us. For your convenience, Mariam Georgis (Genocide Committee
Chair) can be reached at georgm@mcmaster.ca. We are looking forward to hearing back from you.

i   Click here.
ii Click here.

On Solomon’s Defense of Benyamin Yalda

Mikhael K. Pius

First, I have to thank Solomon S. Solomon, my friend (or am I a former friend now?) for his fine testimony about the overall quality of HUSCA Magazine, from the editing to the photo layout to the articles.  He thinks the magazine was easily equal to the best issues of the two main Assyrian mainstream periodicals, namely Nineveh and Assyrian Star Magazines, during their heydays, which I presume he means during the late Julius N. Shabbas’ and Andrew Bet-Shlimon’s Editorships, respectively.  But Solomon stops short of stating whose handiwork was this fine product he’s praising, not to mention that more than half of every issue of the HUSCA magazine was also authored by the Editor himself, except for some help in research and proofreading by HUSCA’s two other Directors, Benyamin Yalda and Zacharia Odisho Zacharia.

But the reader doesn’t have to take my and Solomon’s word for HUSCA Magazine’s  superior quality; he or she can google “Zinda Magazine” and click on “Publications” and will have access to all eight issues of HUSCA published during 2002-2005 for his/her inspection and judgment.

Solomon also states that the reason I stopped producing the magazine—apparently now lamented by hundreds of readers—was due to “inappropriate conduct by the Administrative Manager, Benyamin Yalda, from mismanaged financial practices to the use of the magazine to create for himself a personality cult.” 

There you have it in a nutshell. Solomon has hit the nail on the head!  That was, and is, exactly my and Zacharia’s dispute with Benyamin Yalda—his botched-up accounting, the complete control of financial matters by him as well as his big ego to be “Mr. All” over us two—and others. 

Although according to the Articles of Incorporation all three of us signatories mentioned above are Directors of Habbaniya Union School & Community Association with equal power, Benyamin Yalda denied us two, access to some legal and accounting documents.  And he is still holding on to HUSCA’s discontinued bank account, some $6,000, under his sole control—with an unknown person instead one of us two as his co-signatory—even though Zacharia and I as the majority vote decided in May 2007 to donate the money to help disadvantaged Assyrian students to obtain higher education, in compliance with the Articles of Incorporation.  But Benyamin, the dictator that he is, is refusing to carry out the motion we carried, apparently having his own arbitrary plans for the money.  

I also agree completely with Solomon in regard to his quotations of my praise for Benyamin Yalda.  I did write all those things about him then and I still have high regard for him as an amicable, active and resourceful man. He was doing a good job in regard to the distribution of HUSCA and the maintenance of the mailing list and in helping me in my research.  I have never put him down for his zest, energy and work in this respect, but only for his improper accounting system, his monopoly of financial matters and his obsession with self-publicity, resulting in extravagant vanity printing expenses to the magazine.   Furthermore, although I had had periodic contact with Benyamin Yalda since the Reunion was launched way back in 1992, I only knew his mindset after I worked with him closely on HUSCA.

In Zinda of November 12, 2007, I penned my most harsh public criticism of Benyamin Yalda, but I have also given him credit where credit is due:

“Benyamin Yalda was one of its founders and the driving force of the [Reunion] movement. He is an active person, a good organizer, with a pleasant personality (especially to those he benefits from or wants in his corner to do his bidding) [like Solomon and a few others] and he and his family members, along with the other Founding Members and their families as well as the regional organizers, have all put in a lot of work into these bi- or tri-yearly reunions. 

“Benyamin Yalda has done this not because he is a dedicated nationalist ‘in a complex struggle to unite our people’…but because of his manipulative and obsessive personal ambition.  He has been ‘too restless, too impatient, too obsessed with their [his] goal,’  to be the top man, completely in control of all aspects of the Reunion… and not accountable to any one, while his current fellow Founding Members (especially two of the three) stand aside as figureheads to do only his bidding in order to highlight and glorify his actions. In addition, he has changed the course of a limited school reunion into a showcase of general celebration to spotlight himself as the ‘messianic hero’ of a larger assembly as well as to make an extra penny in the process. If that is not greed and vainglory, I don’t know what is.  Hasn’t he done the same thing with the Reunion’s sister Association, HUSCA?  His greed for power and control and his reluctance to share equally with his two fellow directors caused the Association’s break-up and the stoppage of the publication of the much-desired HUSCA Magazine?” 

Solomon has quoted only choice morsels of my writings, all in favor of Benyamin Yalda, but has left out those that are not in Benyamin’s interests.  For instance, he comments in his sixth paragraph about my 1991 letter-to-the-Editor of NinevehMagazine. He picks only short passages of what I wrote about what Benyamin Yalda did to help me in regard to my article on the Habbaniya Boy Scout and Girl Guide movement, and leaves out other persons, particularly the one who did more than Ben to help in the project.  And in Solomon’s quotation of my words “Ben has been doing a great job with the administration aspects of the Newsletter…for Ben has proven himself,” he leaves out the other part of the sentence in which I added “notwithstanding the fact that he has a tendency to try to hold sway over the whole domain.”  [Even at that early stage of our relationship I sensed that Benyamin’s goal in the Reunion was to be the boss and to control the operation.]

The Church of the East
Apostolic & Orthodox
Mar Bawai Soro

My one-page letter was in fact an overview of the process of writing of the article in question as well as my considerate individual acknowledgement, as it is my custom, of all those who helped in the project, even if they contributed a tiny bit. And the published article consisted of 20 pages (25% of the whole magazine) of text and (43) pictures (all captioned) and was a complete history of the Movement. As many as 18 knowledgeable former Habbaniyans were involved in the process of feedback of information and pictures and my main source of information (with some pictures) was Simon Putrus, who was Benyamin Yalda’s predecessor as the Senior Section Scout Master of the First Habbaniya (Iraq) Boy Scout Group.  Benyamin Yalda acted more as a liaison between me and the persons supplying information or pictures from Chicago rather than giving me feedback of his own.  Benyamin “proved” his knowledge of Habbaniya lore when he was asked by Wania Benyamin on his last year’s DVD “Welcome to Habbaniya” to tell the story of Habbaniya Union School, which is his domain.  Visibly blushing, all he could do was nudge his accompanying friend, Sargon Aboona, to provide information.

Solomon, with whom I chatted almost monthly during 2002-2005, knows about my journalistic resources very well and he should also know that although Benyamin Yalda is the Reunion boss, his informational resources on Habbaniya and its people are sparse, otherwise Benyamin would have launched his own magazine a long time ago—with help from his cronies, of course.

To indulge myself in some bragging, if Benyamin Yalda has “half a century of ‘impeccable’ service,” so have I and many others like us. I have been serving in my own field (writing) for half a century-plus (since 1951), and have produced ten 0.5” to 1.0” thick compilation volumes of my published writings, plus two small books—mostly on Habbaniya and its people—not to mention about 20 two-inch-thick files crammed with copies of my personal correspondence to a variety of family members and friends since 60 years.  Some of this correspondence is rich with historical research information.

Among all the fine qualifying names and adjectives Solomon applied to describe Benyamin Yalda in his biography, he classified him a writer.  I know Ben can write personal letters and letters-to-the-editor, but what has he published of significance other than Reunion Ad Booklets filled with ads and recurrent items, which are really group work, to give him the right to call himself a writer?   He will certainly be able to publish a magazine of his own with help from others, but I challenge him to produce, assisted by anyone, a magazine even remotely resembling HUSCA in visual appearance and contents and with journalistic professionalism and the English prose that was HUSCA’s hallmark!

Musing with My Samovar
with Obelit Yadgar


Warm Dogs

Some of the world’s memorable culinary treats come on the streets and in unexpected places, forming tasty nuggets from life’s simple joys that we prize so much. I’ve had my share, and despite time passed and miles traveled, I need only to call them up from the banks of my memory whenever I feel the craving. I know time and reflection influence perception and detail, like putting old pictures in new frames, but that’s to be expected. What remains constant is the experience. For me, that forms a part of who I am much in the way the solid building blocks make me into the Assyrian that I am.

When I came to America, a relative in Chicago asked me if I had tasted one of America’s national culinary delights called the hot dog. Except that he asked me in Assyrian, calling it kalbe d’ pshakhineh, which, to me, translates into warm dogs more than hot dogs. What in blazes were warm dogs? I wondered. As we rode in his car, he continued to build a dramatic picture of this mysterious thing I was to experience at any moment.

He ordered “a dog” from a little food stand at the Montrose Street beach. The plump aroma drifting from the window carried me to the kebob stands on the streets of Tehran. I felt homesick, but soon lost myself watching the man in the window assemble the hot dog. Moving with the precision of a samurai, he plopped a foot-long sausage (or saucisson, a French term used in Tehran to refer to all such deli meats) in an open bun, traced it with a thin line of yellow mustard, slapped on a spoonful of green relish, topped it with a five-finger pinch of chopped onions, and finished the fare with a pair of skinny hot peppers and a wedge of pickle.

Ach du liber! I bit into the cramped bun with relish, slowly as if entering a temple, careful to guard the mounds of condiments from falling overboard, and instantly soared on the wings of a magnificent gourmet delight. So . . . Kalbe d’ pshakhinah. Hot dog, Chicago-style: a saucisson that exploded like a galactic star with the perfect balance of spice and heat. Welcome to America. That was a long time ago, but I still find myself intoxicated with the memory.

Every time in Chicago, 90 miles south of my home in Wisconsin, my nose follows the scent to the nearest galaxy serving the perfect kalbe d’ pshakhineh. Many cities and regions in America hail their style of hot dog as supreme, as the ultimate in grandeur, but I still prefer the Chicago-style hot dog. Although no longer a novelty, the first bite of the hot dog still explodes on my palate with the same flavorful impact that welcomed me into the New World so long ago. That’s why I know that upon a return visit someday, I will experience the same pleasures I once did feasting on sizzling skewers of beef liver, heart and kidney kebabs on the streets of Tehran.

Until that momentous visit, I have only to close my eyes and imagine those tasty pieces of heaven frolicking on my palate.

In Tehran, Kebob stands of various sizes dotted the streets and the intersections like cultural signposts. Some permanent stands and others little mobile carts, they emitted a sense of timelessness, like an oasis. Years later I wonder if they still exist. I hope they do and that they have not been swept away in the name of progress. The kebob stands served not only as lively and colorful watering holes, but they also were conduits to the past and, therefore, a significant part of the city’s traditional and culture identity. Part of the city’s warmth and charm.   

The standard fare at these kebob stands was the triumvirate of beef liver, heart and kidney. Sheep testicles were popular, too, but somehow I always lost my appetite when I thought about them. Anyway, strips of the organs were thread onto thin skewers and cooked over an open flame. Salt and pepper on the side. That’s it. Simple. Of course, there was an art to dining in such luxury on the bustling streets of Tehran. It called for the chevalier’s poise standing there and clutching a fan of three or four skewers, the explorer’s bold eye in checking out passersby, and the swordsman’s controlled wrist in pulling the meat from the skewer. I can still picture it like a scene from an old movie.

I never had a kebob on the streets of Tehran or other towns and villages in Iran that I didn’t like. All were delectable. After all, thousands of years of tradition plus, I’m sure, influences from the Assyrians, Armenians and other ethnic people who inhabited the Middle East contributed to the taste of these simple culinary delights. If I had a favorite street kebob in Tehran, it was an exquisite fare of ground lamb, slightly bigger than American breakfast link sausages, and packed with a delicate mix of herbs and spices.

Chef de cuisine was an Armenian émigré from Russia, and every afternoon and evening he parked his little cart on a tiny side street off Avenue Naderi, several blocks from downtown. That my older brother, Raman, his friends, and all of my friends also raved about these kebobs makes me think that my recollection of them is more because of their superb taste rather than the sweet taste of nostalgia. The kebobs were topped with a five-finger pinch of chopped green onions and served open in a small flat of lavash bread. Oh, of life’s treasured delights.

Since I’ve never known a teenager to lose an eating contest with a horse, depending on how much money I had, I usually started with three skewers of the standard street kebobs. Consumption was upped to six of these little lamb kebobs for starters, or as fast as the nice man could flame them on his holy grill. They were habit forming, almost narcotic, and the taste was ethereal. In my next life, if I ever run into that master who grilled those works of art, I must make sure to also thank him for the occasional freebie kebob he threw in.

Another culinary nugget I especially remember was from a roadside diner in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains some distance from Ahvaz, a city in western Iran. It was a dish of plain yogurt that lifted me to a dimension beyond anything I had known. Yes, a simple dish of yogurt that I still taste as if it were moments ago.

I was traveling with my uncle, a trucker, to Khorramshahr, a bustling commercial city on the Persian Gulf. We had spent the night at the diner, sleeping on cots along with a dozen or so truckers, after crawling earlier in the night over a dangerous mountain pass through a vicious snowstorm. As I recall, one truck had tumbled over the edge, and there may have been others. In the morning we sat on the patio under the crisp mountain sun.  The air mixed a complex potion of flowers, exhaust fumes and dust. We had a breakfast of bread, butter with honey and fruit preserves, washed down with mounds of sweet tea.

And a dish of plain yogurt.

It was a sweet and creamy yogurt that shocked the senses into a new reality about something known more for being sour. But it wasn’t. It was silk. It tasted as if laced with honey. No, the gods had not made it. The villagers had. I watched the women come down the hills, their colorful petticoats swaying to the mountain rhythm, pots of the yogurt balanced on their head with the steadiness of a trapeze artist. The sight mesmerized me. I struggled to comprehend how something could be that beautiful. I still do. I don’t know how long I watched them, but it must have been a long time. Looking back, I try to recreate that portrait in my head by describing every element of it: every color, every smell, every taste. My mind discovers something new in every brush stroke.

Long after that morning I wonder if the yogurt was as good as I thought at the time, or that perhaps all of my senses combined to give me the gift of an unforgettable culinary experience. A gift of a masterpiece that life throws our way once in a while. But then I know that it takes a lot of complexities to make something simple. It took that wonderful morning in creating a simple yet exquisite dish of yogurt.

Montaigne said it best: “The art of dining well is no slight art, the pleasures not a slight pleasure.” I don’t think there is anything I can add to that, especially when I’m still wrestling with the proper way to say hot dog in Assyrian.


Surfer's Corner
Community Events


First Assyrian Australian Convention

“First ASSYRIAN AUSTRALIAN CONVENTION in Australia”, 3rd – 6th October 2008, never thought it would be possible. Acknowledging what the American Annual Convention offered the Assyrians in America, lead to a dream and the desire to embark on a journey of having a convention in our very own backyard - Australia.

Picturesque Blue Mountains, known to many overseas Assyrian guests as “The Three Sisters”, is the location selected for this momentous occasion. The convention is held in a resort that caters for the entire family. It offers a sense of communal greeting and socialising with an added incentive to reminisce with friends.

The importance of promoting the Assyrian Heritage is at the foremost of our objectives. Assyrian Arts, Culture and Entertainment will be on show with emphasis on education, relaxation and fun

A convention dedicated to the Assyrians in Australia and our international guests.

Exiting times lay ahead for the future of conventions in Australia. Be part of Assyrian Australian history and participate in the very first convention in Australia.

Looking forward to seeing you in Australia!

Please view our website for in depth details www.assyrianaustralianconvention.com.au   

Zinda Recommendations from Gorgias Press

For More Info
Manuscrits Syriaque Conservé dans la Bibliothèque des Maronites d’Alep (Syrie)
Francisco del Río Sánchez
$ 134

The Maronite Library of Aleppo is one of the most important private collections of manuscripts in the Syrian Arab Republic. This ancient library, belonging formerly to Mar Elias Cathedral, has been growing over the centuries thanks to the purchase of new manuscripts from Lebanon, Syria and the Gazira. Also the work of local copyists and the posthumous donations of books from many distinguished figures of this community such as Germanus Farhat, Bulus Arutin, Germanus Hawa, among others, increased the holdings.

The collection contains more of 1640 copies in Arabic, Syriac and Arabic Karshuni about Bible, theology, history, grammar, science, liturgy, poetry and literature. This catalogue offers the first detailed record and description of the 134 Syriac manuscripts belonging to the Maronite Library of Aleppo. The material is helpfully categorized according to the area of particular concern to the manuscript: Bible, grammars and dictionaries, miscellany and liturgy. The book includes also 48 images and full indices of titles, personal names, subjects and places.

Francisco del Río Sánchez is Assistant Professor in the Department of Semitic Studies at the Barcelona University (Spain). He holds an M.St. degree in Semitic Languages fron the Complutense University of Madrid and a Ph.D. from the Oriental Institute of Rome. He has written extensively in the field of Semitics, Arabic and Aramaic studies.

Jacob of Sarug's Homily on the Holy Sunday of the Pentecost Thomas Kollamparampil
Jacob of Sarug's Homily on the Presentation of our Lord Thomas Kollamparampil
Jacob of Sarug's Homilies on the Resurrection and the Sunday of Resurrection Thomas Kollamparampil
Jacob of Sarug's Homily on the Transfiguration of Our Lord Thomas Kollamparampil

Recognized as a saint by both Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Christians alike, Jacob of Sarug (d. 521) produced many narrative poems that have rarely been translated into English. Of his reported 760 metrical homilies, only about half survive. Part of a series of fascicles containing the bilingual Syriac-English editions of Saint Jacob of Sarug’s homilies, this volume contains his homily on the Holy Sunday of the Pentecost. The Syriac text is fully vocalized, and the translation is annotated with a commentary and biblical references. The volume is one of the fascicles of Gorgias Press’s Complete Homilies of Saint Jacob of Sarug, which, when complete, will contain all of Jacob’s surviving sermons.

Editor's Pick



Saint Valentine’s Day &
the Assyrian Origins of Romeo and Juliet

Stan Shabaz
Washington, DC

Saint Valentine’s Day is celebrated each year on February 14.  It commemorates an early martyr of the Christian Church named Valentine. He is the patron Saint of lovers and over the centuries the day of Saint Valentine’s memorial also became a day celebrated by lovers the world over.

But did you know that one of the most famous love stories in world history owes it origins to our ancestors? The story of “Romeo and Juliet” has captivated the imagination of the world since the day it was first performed. Many adaptations and variations of “Romeo and Juliet” have appeared throughout the centuries since Shakespeare’s day. Yet this story did not arise out of nothingness. It is in fact a retelling of a tale which the Roman poet Ovid put down to paper in his “Metamorphoses”. In book IV of that work he tells the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, an early incarnation of the Romeo and Juliet story. But, in that book, Ovid is in fact retelling the tragic tale of two ancient Assyrian lovers.

Pyramus and Thisbe, the two lovers were forced apart because their families were feuding. Ultimately the selfishness and short-sidedness of their families led them to a tragic fate. In honour of St. Valentines Day, I will quote Thomas Bulfinch’s summary of the story here:

Pyramus was the handsomest youth, and Thisbe the fairest maiden, in all Babylonia, where Semiramis reigned. Their parents occupied adjoining houses; and neighborhood brought the young people together, and acquaintance ripened into love. They would gladly have married, but their parents forbade. One thing, however, they could not forbid—that love should glow with equal ardor in the bosoms of both. They conversed by signs and glances, and the fire burned more intensely for being covered up. In the wall that parted the two houses there was a crack, caused by some fault in the structure. No one had remarked it before, but the lovers discovered it. What will not love discover! It afforded a passage to the voice; and tender messages used to pass backward and forward through the gap. As they stood, Pyramus on this side, Thisbe on that, their breaths would mingle. “Cruel wall,” they said, “why do you keep two lovers apart? But we will not be ungrateful. We owe you, we confess, the privilege of transmitting loving words to willing ears.” Such words they uttered on different sides of the wall; and when night came and they must say farewell, they pressed their lips upon the wall, she on her side, he on his, as they could come no nearer.
Next morning, when Aurora had put out the stars, and the sun had melted the frost from the grass, they met at the accustomed spot. Then, after lamenting their hard fate, they agreed that next night, when all was still, they would slip away from watchful eyes, leave their dwellings and walk out into the fields; and to insure a meeting, repair to a well-known edifice standing without the city’s bounds, called the Tomb of Ninus, and that the one who came first should await the other at the foot of a certain tree. It was a white mulberry tree, and stood near a cool spring. All was agreed on, and they waited impatiently for the sun to go down beneath the waters and night to rise up from them. Then cautiously Thisbe stole forth, unobserved by the family, her head covered with a veil, made her way to the monument and sat down under the tree. As she sat alone in the dim light of the evening she descried a lioness, her jaws reeking with recent slaughter, approaching the fountain to slake her thirst. Thisbe fled at the sight, and sought refuge in the hollow of a rock. As she fled she dropped her veil. The lioness after drinking at the spring turned to retreat to the woods, and seeing the veil on the ground, tossed and rent it with her bloody mouth. 
Pyramus, having been delayed, now approached the place of meeting. He saw in the sand the footsteps of the lion, and the color fled from his cheeks at the sight. Presently he found the veil all rent and bloody. “O hapless girl,” said he, “I have been the cause of thy death! Thou, more worthy of life than I, hast fallen the first victim. I will follow. I am the guilty cause, in tempting thee forth to a place of such peril, and not being myself on the spot to guard thee. Come forth, ye lions, from the rocks, and tear this guilty body with your teeth.” He took up the veil, carried it with him to the appointed tree, and covered it with kisses and with tears. “My blood also shall stain your texture,” said he, and drawing his sword plunged it into his heart. The blood spurted from the wound, and tinged the white mulberries of the tree all red; and sinking into the earth reached the roots, so that the red color mounted through the trunk to the fruit.  

By this time Thisbe, still trembling with fear, yet wishing not to disappoint her lover, stepped cautiously forth, looking anxiously for the youth, eager to tell him the danger she had escaped. When she came to the spot and saw the changed color of the mulberries she doubted whether it was the same place. While she hesitated she saw the form of one struggling in the agonies of death. She started back, a shudder ran through her frame as a ripple on the face of the still water when a sudden breeze sweeps over it. But as soon as she recognized her lover, she screamed and beat her breast, embracing the lifeless body, pouring tears into its wounds, and imprinting kisses on the cold lips. “O Pyramus,” she cried, “what has done this? Answer me, Pyramus; it is your own Thisbe that speaks. Hear me, dearest, and lift that drooping head!” At the name of Thisbe Pyramus opened his eyes, then closed them again. She saw her veil stained with blood and the scabbard empty of its sword. “Thy own hand has slain thee, and for my sake,” she said. “I too can be brave for once, and my love is as strong as thine. I will follow thee in death, for I have been the cause; and death which alone could part us shall not prevent my joining thee. And ye, unhappy parents of us both, deny us, let one tomb contain us. And thou, tree, retain the marks of slaughter. Let thy berries still serve for memorials of our blood.” So saying she plunged the sword into her breast. Her parents ratified her wish, the gods also ratified it. The two bodies were buried in one sepulchre, and the tree ever after brought forth purple berries, as it does to this day. [1]

That Shakespeare was aware of this tale is a certainty, for he includes a parodist performance of it in his play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Here is an extract from Shakespeare’s retelling of it:

This man is Pyramus, if you would know;
This beauteous lady Thisby is certain.
This man, with lime and rough-cast, doth present
Wall, that vile Wall which did these lovers sunder;
And through Wall's chink, poor souls, they are content
To whisper. At the which let no man wonder.
This man, with lanthorn, dog, and bush of thorn,
Presenteth Moonshine; for, if you will know,
By moonshine did these lovers think no scorn
To meet at Ninus' tomb, there, there to woo.
This grisly beast, which Lion hight by name,
The trusty Thisby, coming first by night,
Did scare away, or rather did affright;
And, as she fled, her mantle she did fall,
Which Lion vile with bloody mouth did stain.
Anon comes Pyramus, sweet youth and tall,
And finds his trusty Thisby's mantle slain:
Whereat, with blade, with bloody blameful blade,
He bravely broach'd is boiling bloody breast;
And Thisby, tarrying in mulberry shade,
His dagger drew, and died. For all the rest,
Let Lion, Moonshine, Wall, and lovers twain
At large discourse, while here they do remain. [2]

And in “Romeo and Juliet”, Shakespeare reworks the story but keeps the essence of the original. “Romeo and Juliet” would become one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays and would give the original tale a renewed life. Thus the tragic tale of these two Assyrian lovers, torn apart by fate and family has survived the millennia through the works of Ovid and Shakespeare.

Since then, the story resurfaces again and again in many different formats and adaptations. In paintings (Nicolas Poussin’s “Landscape with Pyramus and Thisbe” [1651] and John William Waterhouse’s “Thisbe” [1909]); ballets (Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet”); in music (Hector Berlioz’s “Roméo et Juliette” [1839] and Pyotir Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy” [1869]); and on stage and screen as in:

  • Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968, Oscar winning film, “Romeo and Juliet”
  • Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film, “Romeo + Juliet”
  • Robert Wise’s and Jerome Robbins’ 1961 Oscar winning film, “West Side Story”
  • The 1957 Broadway musical, “West Side Story”

Of course the list goes on and on: silent films, radio shows, animated films, television presentations, etc. Yet, despite the multitude and variety of adaptations appearing over the centuries in literature and on stage, screen, radio and television, the core story of two lovers forced into a tragic fate because of their families’ stubbornness still harkens back to the ancient Mesopotamian prototype tale of Pyramus and Thisbe. Thus, what started as a quarrel between two ancient Assyrian families has ended up bequeathing an enormous heritage to the canons of western literature, art and popular culture.
Lovers Reincarnated: The Pyramus River, Cilicia and Adana

An ancient myth evolved around the lovers whereby it is said that the gods took mercy on them and reincarnated them as a river and a tributary spring so that they might be joined together in nature for all time. The river containing their immortal souls was therefore called the “Pyramus River”, now also known as the Ceyhan River. It is located in Cilicia and still flows there to this day.

The region of Cilicia is on the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, just north of Cyprus and south of the Taurus Mountains. Cilicia was named after the Phoenician prince Cilix. [3] Throughout history Cilicia was always closely connected geographically, politically, economically and culturally with Syria and northern Mesopotamia. [4] In ancient times it had a strong Phoenician influence in terms of trade and settlements and would become a province of the Assyrian Empire.

In modern times, Cilicia had a large Assyrian and Armenian population which were subjected to an infamous massacre in 1909. In his important book, “Massacres, Resistance, Protectors”, Professor David Gaunt states that a “geographically limited, but nevertheless very bloody, massacre occurred in the vicinity of Adana, provincial capital of Cilicia. This took place during the two-week-long attempt in 1909 by Sultan Abdul Hamid to regain power and revoke the new constitutional rule….This massacre is important because, possibly for the first time, no distinction was made between Armenians and other Oriental Christians.” He continues that “up to 20,000 Christian deaths should be counted for the entire province, and among the victims were 850 Syriacs and 422 Chaldeans.” [5]

Threads of History

O, the ironies and intricacies of history! On the day of the martyred Saint Valentine we honour love: and the greatest love story of all time has its origins in the tragic tale of two martyred Assyrian lovers who first found love near the rivers Tigris and Euphrates; lovers who embraced each other in death near the tomb of King Ninus; lovers who were believed to be reincarnated into the mighty Pyramus River: a river which flows through the tragic Cilician province of Adana where thousands of Assyrians and Armenians were massacred in 1909. Martyred solely because of their Christian faith, just as the original Saint Valentine was.

Thus all these various narratives and histories start to merge together: themes of life and death; faith and love; religion and myth; history and geography have become inextricably woven together throughout the millennia creating an amazing historical tapestry. It is this magnificent and powerful cultural-historical legacy which has truly served as a fountainhead of world culture and civilization.

  1. Bulfinch, Thomas. “Age of Fable: Vol. I: Stories of Gods and Heroes”, 1913.
  2. William Shakespeare, “A Midsummer’s Nights Dream”, Act V, Scene I.
  3. Cilix was the son of the Phoenician King Agenor of Tyre. Cilix was the brother of Cadmus and Europa. Cadmus founded the city of Cadmea, later called Thebes. He was credited with bringing the alphabet to the Greeks. Europa was abducted by Zeus and her brothers were sent off in search of her. The continent of Europe was named after Europa.
  4. “The most ancient inhabitants of Cilicia seem to have belonged to the Semitic or Syrian race. And the river Pyramus is said to have been called at one time Leucosyrus.” in “Manual of Ancient Geography” by Dr. Leonhard Schmitz, 1857, Pg. 296
  5. Gaunt, David, “Massacres, Resistance, Protectors: Muslim-Christian Relations in Eastern Anatolia During World War I”, 2006, pg. 44-45.

The Status of the Assyrian Nation in 2008

Dr George Habash
United Kingdom


Anyone who calls himself Assyrian must adhere to Assyrianism, believe in the unity of Assyrians worldwide and endeavour by all possible means to re-create or re-establish the Assyrian homeland in our historical heartlands. The term, re-create or re-establish does not mean invention of a homeland from nowhere but the re-birth of a nation that has been forcibly denied existence.

This nation ought to have been re-established directly after the armistice of 1918 along with other new states but ended up divided along the current southern Turkish borders, cutting it into four states, where above the border Assyrians, were wiped out and below denied autonomous status or even national rights.

Spring 2003 brought “winds of change” but that change has resulted in political morass and mob culture and the spirit of freedom, freedom of individual and liberty of community, was short-lived.

To respond to that liberty Assyrians surfaced alternative options to alter the administrational grip of the centre in order to enabling them to practise their Assyrian way of life that is compatible with their faith and culture but so far all seems as a pipe-dream squandered by Assyrianless Assyrians and Chaldean supremacists.

The Chaldean Supremacists

Between 12 and 13 March 2007, an estimated 800-1600 purposely-handpicked delegates (according to which source you believe) attended the meeting in the Assyrian town of Ankawa, sponsored by the Kurdish fiscal minister Sarguis Aghajan. These people came from nowhere and invented an ideology that the Chaldeans and Syriac and Assyrians are one [with mutated DNA] led by Chaldeans. In other words their purpose was to legitimise the words Chaldean and Syriac as groups regardless of reason and historical facts for the definition of our nationality.

The gatherers under the patronage of Sarguis Aghajan adopted the triple name and also pioneered the principle of autonomous rule that will be attached to the existing Kurdish fiefdom centred in Arbil.

The gatherers invented a theory, as they say, that after 1918 our people were divided among four states (each having a quarter of us) and now Yonadam Kanna want to divide this quarter by 2 (here we will become one-eighth). They argue that keeping the current quarter together is wiser and this be done via Aghajan’s plan through Ankawa meeting.

They mean incorporating the Nineveh plain into Dohuk province and by this we will be united, as they say, in one geographic area ruled by the turbaned Kurds. This expanded province will be led by Aghajan as its governor as secrets are revealed.

This plan is deadly and leaves me incandescent with rage; it means handing over the Assyrian heartland on a golden plate to the Kurds who will later mistreat us as their brother Arabs did.

The Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Tripledom of Ankawa is another front for fictitious Chaldeanism by Chaldean supremacists in disguise. Their philosophy is Chaldean first, Syriac second and Assyrian bottom third. By this they believe they can deliver a mortal blow to the Assyrian inspiration and the century-old Assyrian struggle for freedom.

The Assyrian dilemma

Any Assyrian involved in politics, especially those living in the homeland and does not speak up for the Assyrians and their cause is a traitor. Any Assyrian or Christian who reduce our current suffering as part of the national suffering is a criminal.

When Prophet Jonah preached to Assyrian Ninevites in about 800 BC, evangelist Billy Graham described that event as the first evangelistic mission in history; it brought Assyrians to God. And it was that preaching in 800 BC that brought the Assyrians to eternal life in Jesus Christ in the early apostolic mission of the first disciples as was put by a junior evangelist J. John.

All that great work of Jonah and the first disciples is now overwritten by traitors among us in the homeland who see the slaughter and expulsion of our people by Islamic Jihadists and the new regime but fail to stand for our people.

A regime run by Islamic zealots is no beneficial to the Assyrian Christians whom they see as infidels and apostates. These will shed no tears for the tragedy of the Assyrian Christians and the soon the land is empty of them, the Islamic triumph is their.

Kanna and his coterie will argue that the plight is all people’s plight and the head of the Chaldean Church says when asked about the Christians, do not ask me about the Christians but ask me about the whole people. This is a false testimony.

The Chaldean bishops digressing and shirking their ecclesiastical duties worked to commute the death penalty on the former defence minister who was sentenced to die but they do nothing for their own people. Every Christian in that land is sentenced to death.

A tragedy of a nation, half of whom left the country since1990 that peaked under the new Islamic regime (2003-2008) and under the watchful eyes of our collection of misfits, Looney Tunes and squalid criminals, as once was phrased by former US President Ronald Reagan.

Mahmoud Abbas, the West Banker demanded 2400 miles square from Israel’s Holy Land for his statehood and this is roughly 50 by 50 miles. Why Kanna does not demand a homeland for the Assyrians (the native people who inherited the land) from our own occupiers who sequestered our land?

Most dangerous is Kanna who is using the legality of past ADM history to destroy the Assyrian Nation. See what has happened since 2003 under his auspice; Christians killed, Churches destroyed, residential areas emptied and Assyrian towns encroached by Muslims to alter their demographic structures.

When the total destruction of Assyrians is complete, Kanna will be asked by his hidden masters to leave because his time is up and the job is done. He will then resign and at a press conference he will be asked some questions one of them about the reasons for his resignation and he will have the answer ready-poor health and old age.

The Fifth Column

The Holy Bible says by their fruit, you will recognise them (Matthew 7:16), and the fruit is death and destruction in every corner and a nation dispersed from its heartland. The collection of misfits responsible for the destruction of the Christians (Assyrians) in our homeland is exemplified in Sarguis Aghajan Mamendo, Nimrod Baito Youkhana, Ablahad Afram Sawa, Fawzi Franso Hariri, Nenif Matran Hariri, George Mansoor, Romeo Nissan Hakkari, Gewargis Khoshaba Michael, Yasho Majeed Behnam Hadaya, Albert yalda, Yonadam Kanna, Ghassan Hanna, Fuad Boudagh, Hikmat Hakim, Said Shamaya, Polous Shimon, Jameel Zaito Abd Alahad and the Chaldean bishops.


Do not listen to the fifth column (Assyrianless Assyrians and Chaldean supremacists) but listen to others what they say. Barnabas Fund says there are 1.5 million refugees from that country in Syria, 300,000 among them are Christians. Another study reveals that the Christians are 2.65% of the population.

There is parallel here in the example of the Christians in Turkey; in the year 1500 AD Christians were 50% of the population and in 1914 just before the war the Christian population declined to 33% and in 2008 it dropped to 0.1%. Turkey is now 99.9% Islamic. This is analogous to what is happening in our homeland.

Kanna, his coterie and the Chaldean bishops are working for the same outcome, the depletion of the Christians (Assyrians) from their homeland. Do these people know that when a half million Christians flee the country is equivalent to14 million Muslims leaving the country and when one Christian is killed is equivalent to 28 Muslims are killed (from proportional study).

No wonder the Chaldean bishops recently made it known that they welcomed the invading Muslim armies in 637 AD and they did not have links to the past “Crusaders” nor to the current foreign “occupier”- all carrot and no stick and in following these bishops and non-bishops our destruction is certain.

The Path for Progress

Anthony T. Nasseri

The true history of a nation depends upon its struggle for progress and survival, generated by the creative powers of those individuals who truly represents the aims and aspirations of their people. From the fall of our last Abgar Government onward, we as a nation lost our governing identity. Consequently, the renaissance of our nation was menaced with two interrelated ways. First, by the new appearance of feudalist tradition, associated with the launching of religious warfare against us. Secondly, a continuous wave of general warfare against us began after the death of Islamic prophet Mohammed. It would be presumptuous to judge the outcome of our nation without the rule of feudalism and religious onslaught. Yet our strong faith in religion and our obedience to the rule of feudalist were the essence of all our tragedies. 
My research and  evaluation of our recent history, directs  the way to the effects of the oligarchical forms of social and religious policies. Which  have been essential elements of the chronic disposition for failures in our modern nationalistic labor. The result of such policies and practices, have been the recurring pattern of moral and intellectual degradation of the majority of scholars, educated and political class of our people. It is apparent through that degradation, our people have been controlled. Until we develop the great majority of our educated citizenries to become the composition of our reigning moral and intellectual elite, in conformity with other struggling nations. Our chances for securing a small domain in the land of our forefathers will continue to be an uncertain proposition.

Those among us have risen to the rank of true statesmen, come, sooner or later, to understand this point. “The Best Man” rarely wins the post for which he is best qualified for service of his people’s true interest. More often, when the potential of a suitable Assyrian with capability is placed aside, he seeks seclusion in a quiet place, away from the nationalistic needs of his people. This has been our problem for the past two thousand of years. Because, when a scholar or a capable man is snuffed in the cradle of forgetness, you then begin to feel the state of backwardness.

Nonetheless, win or lose we should as I have done, to keep the torch of freedom alive. I wholeheartedly believe that we as a nation are destined to survive because, we are the seeds from  the people with ancient wisdom. We are the sons of tenacious people from an ancient Empire. If we have endured the political storms of the centuries this long. I am sure, we can wait for our educated children to achieve their long awaited aspiration, which is  the salvation of their Assyrian heritage. May be we are poor at present. But hope and confidence are getting stronger. Seeing our new generation in Europe, Australia and the Americas are seeking the knowledge of the time and education of the day, in order to improve their standing in their new environments and live with dignity in their newly adopted foreign societies.

I am firmly anticipating, sometime in this century, there will come a day. Those craving for human justice and human rights. Will witness the emergence of a new generation of educated Assyrians, which will become the champion of the people. A new generation of young men and women, who will become the founders of a new Assyria. A new Assyria with pure nationalistic ideology and with a rational path of labor. With a set of political beliefs, designed to achieve our belated aspirations. Through which, the people will base their actions. On which they will base their hopes on foreseeable salvation. Rather than on emotions and religious beliefs.

My assumption for the revival of a new crusade, among our young educated people, is based on personal experience, which deserve commendation. A small group of educated Assyrian became the founders of a realistic nationalistic labor during the middle of twentieth century in Urmia, Iran.(l)  These young patriotic Assyrian, moved to Teheran to acquire higher education in the university of Teheran. They establish “Sita-Sapreta” and were the founders in conjunction with noted Assyrians in the United States. The “Assyrian Universal Alliance” also known as “AUA”  ,in 1968 at Pau-France. With the exception of “Takasta” I do not recall having any other political, social and educational organization among our people. That was the foundation for initial start of our modern nationalistic work.

These patriotic Assyrians were not seeking personal fame in their community. Rather they were men and women of sturdy character, who were exploring to flourish their cultural heritage. As soon as the news of Assyrian alliance spread throughout our communities in the world, there were over fifteen political parties appeared in the dawn of Assyrian skies. There function has been not to improve our standing in the world arena. Rather to weaken each other so that we would not be able to achieve our belated aspirations. In other words, the main task of these various political parties has been to inflict a severe degradation to the nationalistic work  of each  party. So that no one gets credit or  (Chebou) for work conducted. 
Although, I am not an authority on proposing a new set of rules to govern our affairs in this modern era of human progress. Yet I declare openly, whatever life I have left, will endeavor with dedication to express my concern for deserving salvation of our people. Why our nationalistic efforts of the past have not prospered. Why the aims and aspiration of our people have been kept stagnant. Why we are unable to reach a suitable solution in resolving our religious ethnicity differences?

Jesus Christ our Lord did not create these differences. The present differences are the products of religious men of the past. Why this nation has to suffer for those ideals today? Why we have not been able to secure a small piece of real-estate in the land of our forefathers. To live in harmony and peaceful coexistence with our next door neighbors. Why we can not  benefit from the abundance of the  natural resources available at the country of our domicile for better life of our people. Because we never had dedicated Assyrians, equivalent to religious Deacons, Priests, Bishops, Cardinals and Patriarchs to obtain our salvation and work for the uplift of our worldly life. I am a Christian, born into a Christian family. Raised under supervision of Priest father, the late Rev. Akhona Tooma Nasseri of Iran, with deep conviction in Christian faith. Yet I am not happy of the continuous stagnation in our nationalistic work.

For the past two thousand of years, our religious leaders have been concern that our people to join with them in the rank of Christianity. Maintain membership in their faith, in order to earn an eternal life. No Assyrian of sound mind is against that notion. I also reject the notion that the Assyrian patriots being concerned of the welfare of their people in this world are against Christian endeavors. In all honesty with the exception of a limited numbers of the past and the present Patriarchs of the Assyrian Church of the East. The history does not show any serious concern of other ethnic religious leaders, to resolve their religious differences with other Assyrian adversaries. In order to create a harmony among our people, so that they become a strong tool for obtaining their lost human rights.

There was no Church of the East, Chaldeans, Jacobites, Maronites, Soroyo, Syriani, etc.., in ancient history. But there was as Assyrian nation with millions of people when we lost our governing identity. All these Christian ethnicity were derived after the church of apostles  was taken over by the Assyrians of Mesopotamia. While they profess to the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet each of these varied Christian ethnicities  are the product of one person with a different doctrine derived from the Christian ideals. They have elected to live continuously in a small minority of believers and maintain only, their own identity. The result has been a severe division among our people. As a result the Assyrian of today have become the wanderers of history and people of Diaspora.

To be able, now, at present, to meet specific challenges thus posed to us. To settle our people’s domain in the valley of Nineveh, and elsewhere in the northern, Iraq. Also there is a consideration planned and proposed for the human rights of our people. Let us for the first time awaken from our past mistakes. Forget our inferiority complexes. Commit ourselves with dedication to the principles, envisioned for our initial salvation by present the Iraqi Government. Our task is to act and behave in concert with those who wants to assist us in this endeavor. We also should be desirous to cooperate in creating peaceful coexistence with all the inhabitants that are targeted to join us in this effort, regardless of their ethnicity and religious belief.

If an Arab or Kurd of Sheia or sunni sect elects to live in harmony as a member of one nation. So should we to live, with brotherly co-existence with other ethnicities of the Christian faith. Ye Assyrians understand the essential fact. The trunk of all those existing today with a different Christian doctrine is Assyria. This is undeniable historical fact. If a Chaldean or a Soroyo does not elect to be called Assyrian, leave him alone. Live with him in harmony with brotherly affection. There will come a day for the realization of equality between nationalistic and religious identity. Although I will not be a participant in those day. Yet  I am delighted for them now. Because, that would be the day of reckoning.

The tragic containment of our people in one segment of life for long, has been the product of the past religious leaders. Because, each religious ethnicity dwells in a dream world of his adopted religious culture. Fortunately, the time of our Era has brought a change in the behavior of our people. While they continue to profess to the ideology of their religious ethnicity. While their knowledge of the real world is limited. Yet within which they aimlessly wander, and are seeking refuge in various progressive democracies with the Christian faith, for the sake of their children. My real anticipated optimism is derived from the success of our new and future generation in their newly adopted progressive societies. Our new generation will blossom in their new intellectual environments. With proper education and acquisition of added knowledge from prestigious universities. Will equip them with added capabilities, which will be instrumental to be a useful citizen not only to his adopted country. Also a useful advocate for the salvation of his sacred heritage.

It is therefore essential and a matter of utmost importance  that we begin to plan seriously and prepare for that anticipated aim. With this in mind I take the courage to propose a permanent union of educated people, from the Assyrians in Europe, Australia and the Americas. We also need the outline of the following;

To create an Assyrian  nationalistic organization, from among our educated people, with college graduate. Membership should be open to all, regardless of their faith and Christian ethnicity.

To create a nationalistic center and a complete Web-Site with purpose to compile the data of ANO’s  activities, to include:

  • Membership registration,
  • Communication and programming,
  • Promotion and making decision,
  • Establish a secretariat to undertake the administrative functions.

This is a preliminary proposal subject to change, if its embraced by those who deem it is necessary and a  sound resolution. If this write-up interest you. Please E-Mail your comments to the Zinda Magazine, attention ATN.

Habbaniya's Labor Strike Created Despair & Hope

Mikhael K. Pius

An abortive local labor strike that took place in the Royal Air Force Station of Habbaniya in Iraq, on June 9-10, 1952, left in its wake a few Assyrians wounded, several others jailed, and the general Assyrian community of CC (Civil Cantonment) in despair for months. But it also induced and encouraged a growing number of non-Iraqi Assyrians to obtain Iraqi nationality and leave the fenced-in RAF Station and seek better employment and improved living conditions in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Basra, Mosul and in Iraq Petroleum Company’s Pipeline Stations and elsewhere, prior to the handing over of the air base by the RAF to the Iraqi Government on May 5, 1955.

Although the strike lasted two days, it was actually put down by the RAF, forcefully, in its very first few hours.  On the third day the civilian employees went back to work‚ having gained nothing other than humiliation and the vindictive resentment of their British employers, plus the loss of two days’ wages.

How did the strike begin?

There had been some grumbling among the local working community of some three thousand employees about the low wages RAF was paying in Habbaniya vis-a-vis other employers elsewhere in the country, but no collective demand was submitted to the RAF beforehand for improved wages and benefits. Such demands were voiced only during the strike. 

The strike started after Assyrian employees, along with members of the minority groups of Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Indians and Pakistanis, gradually arrived in the morning at CC Gate, the main camp exit to their work places in the RAF Station.  To their surprise they found the gate closed and armed RAF policemen posted at the door, which normally was manned by one or two unarmed chokidars (local guards). This action created suspicion and tension, especially because the previous evening the RAF police had picked up ten Assyrians from their homes, accused of being ring leaders, after the RAF authorities had been “informed” that there was a “communist group” instigating the Assyrian community of CC to make trouble. (Actually, many Kurds were communist sympathizers, while communism among the Assyrians was rare.) The RAF authorities were even afraid that Arabs would also come from the nearby towns of Falluja and Ramadi, 18 miles to the east and 15 miles to the west, respectively, and join the “insurrection.”   In fact a handful of Arabs from these towns and from the nearby village of Abu Fleis, who worked in Habbaniya, were stopped at the London Gate and prevented from entering the air base.  Due to a duty-bound agreement with RAF, RAF Levy Assyrians, however, were not involved in the strike.

Some of the morning’s early-arriving workers had quietly slipped out of CC gate and gone to work. But later the bulk of the labor force was blocked from going out. This caused employees to dam up at the closed gate and to form a big noisy multitude that milled around near the camp fence.  Realizing that they would not be allowed to go to work, some returned home, but a big crowd stayed, some of them zealots for the cause and others for the excitement of the occasion.

An RAF Flight Lieutenant, accompanied by two chokidars, came inside the gate. The officer asked the crowd to disperse, but the crowd stood its ground and shouted demand slogans, creating a great commotion. When the officer turned to go, an Assyrian girl named Marjaney cast a stone and struck the officer on his back. Encouraged, a few others followed her example, and the officer ran out of the gate to protect himself. Next, on order from the officer, the firemen standing ready on a RAF fire tender that had been parked earlier on the road inside the gate, water-hosed the crowd, scattering it momentarily. But soon after, some Kurdish young men sneaked up into the fire truck and grabbed fire axes from the vehicle. Fearing violence, the firemen abandoned the vehicle as the usurpers started damaging it. Armed servicemen then fired blank ammunition to scare the people away.

Earlier, when the workers had first started gathering at the gate, “Officer” Shlimon, an ex-Levy officer who worked for the CC Office, had spotted several teenagers among the crowd carrying sling-shots. He had gone around and confiscated their “weapons” and deposited them into the CC Office.  So when the protesters realized that the bullets were not live, they forced open the gate and the group of youngsters stormed CC Office. They retrieved their slingshots and began to shoot stones at the several armed servicemen, chasing them away. Some older men in the crowd set fire to two motorcycles, one of which belonged to the local Iraqi police commandant. They also overturned a jeep that was parked nearby.

Half an hour later, three armored cars were rushed to the scene. This action inflamed the crowd even more, and the “sling sharpshooters” slung a few stones at them, too. Then an armed serviceman opened fire into the crowd, wounding several persons, among them Gitton Goriel Daniel, Maria Akhku, Esha Zaia (son of Maria “Nurse”), a Persian named Qassim Ameer Bashi, and two other Assyrians who are remembered as William and Yosip. Those seriously injured were Gitton Goriel Daniel, whose elbow was shattered, and Yosip and Qassim, but the rest suffered superficial injuries. And no RAF serviceman, however, was seriously injured in the melee. It was said that the order to shoot, to kill if necessary, was given by a RAF Air Commodore named House.  Two weeks after the strike, the Air Commodore was whisked back to England.

When the crowd was scared back into the camp, armed servicemen came inside and prevented the wounded from being taken to the nearby CC Hospital dispensary. But the wounded were helped by their comrades back into the camp, and were taken to the local Iraqi police station behind the CC Cinema, a couple of hundred paces away. Apparently fearing uncontrollable violence, the policemen had already deserted their post. But the wounded were given hasty assistance there and their wounds tied up with makeshift bandages by the neighborhood residents.

Shortly after, someone went and told the servicemen at the gate that the wounded were losing blood and might die and that they needed hospital treatment. A few armed airmen came and inspected the wounded and permitted them to be taken to the dispensary, provided each patient was accompanied by only one companion. At the dispensary, their wounds were cleaned and covered up with proper bandages by Assyrian nurses. And a couple of hours later, an ambulance picked up the seriously injured and took them to the RAF General Hospital inside the Station where they were properly treated and returned to CC Hospital for confinement.

Whose hand was behind it?

One belief is that the strike was initiated by former senior members of Habbaniya’s underground Assyrian nationalist movement called Khait-Khait-Allap (Khoubba Khouyada Atoraya, meaning Assyrian Love and Unity), even though the movement was uncovered by the RAF and disbanded four years earlier.  Others thought it was inspired by its spirit. Another contention was that the strike was incited by local Kurdish communists. Yet another version was that the strike was not prearranged by the Assyrians, because no labor demands were presented to the RAF authorities beforehand, but that it just happened spontaneously after the RAF detained the eleven Assyrians, posted armed policemen at the CC gate, prevented their civilian employees from exiting the gate and going to work, and enforcing this with fire hoses, armored cars and gunfire. But the predominant opinion was that certain persons of three non-Assyrian races in CC plotted the detention of the eleven Assyrian employees and goaded certain gullible Assyrians into inciting the protest. Their motivation was to ingratiate themselves with the British, impede Assyrian administrative employment progress and pull down the Assyrian community in general from British grace.  One of the Judas in this plot was thought to be a Pakisatani, a Mr. Naqvi, who sneaked out of Habbaniya immediately after the strike like a fox with his tail on fire and was never heard of again! And it was rumored that at least a senior Pakistani Khan Sahib and two prominent members of the Armenian community also had each a dirty hand in it.

Seven of the ten Assyrians originally detained, namely Sargis Babakhan, Fraidon Patros, Nikhamya David, Baba David (not related) and his son Yonan (father and brother of Ammo Baba, the legendary soccer player and coach in Iraq), Makhsud Goriel, and RAF Assyrian Employees’ Club president, Avimalk Yonan, who were all non-Iraqis, were rearrested ten weeks later, by the Iraqi police authorities and were jailed in Nugrat Salman prison in Sulaimaniya.  Evidently, the British had made a political issue out of the event.

It is believed that Yonan Baba, only a teenaged apprentice, and Sargis Babakhan, a benign skilled laborer, were mistakenly arrested in place of Avimalk Yonan (who was arrested the second time around) and Sargis Michael, respectively, both of whom had senior administrative positions with the RAF and were prominent members of the Assyrian community. Later, because of their parents’ origin, Maksud Goriel, was, for some reason, exiled to Turkey and Nikhamya David to Iran. They suffered rejection and untold hardships at the borders for some time before they were finally able to sneak back to their families in Iraq. The other five in Sulaimaniya were released for lack of evidence after ten months imprisonment without trial.

Whatever the reason and whoever the “Black Monday’s” incident plotters, the 1952 strike definitely dealt a hard blow to the spirit of Assyrians in Habbaniya. Ironically enough, it also induced some of people to throw off the British yoke and to venture to seek success and progress outside Habbaniya’s steel fence.

The aftermath of the strike had an adverse effect on me personally and, according to my perception, on the average Assyrian in the community. My following three relevant diary entries (which were reproduced in my little 2002 book An Assyrian’s Youth Journal) paint a picture of the tense situation and also define my reaction to it:

>>  Habbaniya, Wed. July 16, 1952: The community atmosphere in the Civil Cantonment is pretty tense these days. It has been so ever since the recent abortive local labor strike. Our people go to work and return home, eat and rest, take a stroll in the evening, and then go to bed. Life is colorless!  Worse than that, there is no security. You feel like a trapped animal. I have talked to other people; they, too, have a similar feeling.  It’s insecurity.


The unplanned or mis-planned, if you will, strike took place in CC on June 9-10. Eleven Assyrians were detained a day before the strike and a few others were wounded by RAF gunfire on the first day of the strike. One RAF fire engine, a motorcycle and a Land Rover were badly damaged by the strikers. But the strike was forcefully put down quickly and people went back to work two days later with their tails between their legs, having gained no benefits. 


The RAF attitude towards us has changed for the worse; the British are grim and unfriendly. They are wary of their local employees and seem to distrust us Assyrians. They have also tightened the security measures in and outside the camps. We are no longer allowed to leave the Cantonment gate in the evening for excursion into the Station. They keep asking to see our passes wherever we move.  Our people feel so worried and insecure that they are apprehensive of holding dance parties, wedding celebrations and even going to the club. They are afraid to stand on the street to chat or discuss things openly between themselves as they used to do. They have a feeling that SIB (RAF’s Special Investigation Branch} have planted spies in the Cantonment to weed out possible ‘trouble makers.’ The Assyrian community as a whole is now regarded with suspicion and distrust. There are rumors that certain persons of three other elements in the Cantonment conspired and goaded us into the middle of things to sully our reputation and pull us down from grace, and are now gloating over our predicament. The RAF have already down-graded some of our people and fired others since the strike. To keep us under their yoke, rumor has it that the RAF authorities have made sure that we can’t find favor with the Iraqis outside the air base fence. And our people are fearful of an uncertain future.


>>  Habbaniya, Thurs. July 31, 1952: The feeling of insecurity and disillusionment in CC continues. Assyrians are still feeling uneasy and uncertain. Many of them are distressed by their circumstances and worried and apprehensive of their apparently insecure and uncertain future with the RAF.  Some are trying to sneak out of this fenced-in camp to try to work and settle elsewhere. But the RAF authorities are not only trying to pin us down by making it difficult for our people to find other prospects, but also to kick out whomever and whenever they like. They are keeping a check on our movements.  It is said that they have arranged with business concerns they can influence, in Bagdad and elsewhere, to turn down applications for employment from Habbaniya employees unless they receive the green light from them. I don’t know how much of this is true, or for how long this cat-and-mouse game will continue. But it seems it will not end or ease up any time soon. The general outlook is that it’s getting worse every day. 


Worker is suspicious of fellow worker, the boss has no respect for his subordinate, and the British officials are sterner in their dealings with us. Work now feels like drudgery, and knock-off time is always an awaited relief, like release from prison. But even at home, rest and peace of mind are elusive. The summer heat in our uncooled quarters is sometimes unbearable! To refresh our bodies and minds in the evening, we bathe or wash and dress up and go out for a stroll.  But because we run into bad news, even the outing often proves mentally taxing, and we go to bed "defreshed" rather than refreshed, dreading what tomorrow might bring. we hear that person has been fired, the other man has been downgraded, so and so is down with a serious illness, that man’s family is being evicted from the camp, that friend’s family is in a serious economic condition, and so on and so forth. Now that we are huddling together for comfort, like sheep, and our Assyrian community members feel a closer kinship with each other, such news is depressing to all of us. On top of all of this, corruption and sin is also on the increase in the Cantonment. 


Is a bad world becoming worse? Or are we the bad seed?  I wonder! 


>>  Habbaniya, Sun. Nov.23, 1952:  Seven  of  the  eleven  of our people, the non-Iraqis, who were arrested a day before last June's  labor  strike  as  agitators and soon after released, were rearrested on 20th of last August.  And  after  the harshness of two months of jail and the mental torture of the alternating  threats  of  exile  by  the  Iraqi  Government and hope of release, they were finally sent last month to Nugrat Salman in Sulaimaniya, a maximum security prison, for indefinite confinement.           


I’m sure the RAF knew that these seven people were innocent, but to save their own face with the Iraqi Government, they sacrificed the poor men’s freedom and reputation and their family livelihood as well as their people’s loyalty on the unjust altar of His Britannic Majesty’s power politics, as they have done to us as a people since the end of the Great War. Only God knows what will happen to the poor wretches later on.


The RAF allege that they have nothing against the men, that their fate is in the hands of the Iraqi Government, while the Iraqi officials allege that the RAF have accused them of agitation and trouble-making. Thus the poor men and their families are left to fry between two fires!


A feeling of insecurity and fear of the future still prevails in the Cantonment. Our people have been brainwashed over the years into fearing that once the RAF leaves this country they will be hard put to make a living. And they know the Iraqi people who, due to their defeat at the May 1941 Battle of Habbaniya, have a bitter resentment towards Habbaniya in general and Assyrians in particular, will try to make things difficult for them. It will be hard to get a job, and perhaps harassment and even persecution might develop.


Here in Habbaniya conditions are now far from good. Since the labor strike, the RAF personnel have been regarding us with suspicion, and seem to be trying to break our spirit. The general belief is that, we the Assyrians, were  the originators of the strike, though it is certain our people had not  prearranged it but were tricked into it. And for that, not only seven of our people are now suffering in prison but that even our whole people's economic security and national reputation and fidelity with both the RAF and the Iraqi Government are at stake. Our people have always been pushed into murk not only by the deviousness of others but also sometimes because of our own simplemindedness, shortsightedness, and disunity!               


I’m sure the RAF authorities are convinced of our loyalty, but they are taking advantage of our weakness to strengthen their own policy in this country. They are doing to us only what they have done in the past: used us, misused us, and abused us! We have always been martyrs to someone else’s cause. And now, despite our long loyalty to the British, they are considering us agitators and trouble-makers!  


Our people now realize that the British are faithless, that they will not do anything for us as a people except making us more wretched. Although a long and difficult process, entailing sizeable bribes, some Assyrians, as an option, are now trying to obtain Iraqi nationality in the hope of securing employment and residence elsewhere in the country.  No thanks to the British, the Iraqi Government’s opinion of us Assyrians is now less than favorable. And maybe they are justified, despite our good faith. To exploit us, the British have always planned to prevent us from being friendly with our hosts, the Arabs, but it is perhaps partly our own fault that we have not been able to gain their confidence. We are gullible and have relied too much on British support, and there are a few among us who have sacrificed national cause for personal favor or gain.  But I don’t think naturalization is too late or is a bad idea. Obtaining Iraqi nationality and sneaking out of this British “cage” is still a wise decision. There is no secure or bright future for us here.   Examples are our poor parents.  They have not only served the British loyally for decades but have also fought and spilled blood for them since the Great War. What have they got for it in return?  Nothing but a hand-to-mouth existence and fear of the unknown future in their old age!


In spite of everything, however, we Assyrians believe that we have Jesus Christ as our friend, who is greater than all of them and who will always protect us.


Author’s Note:   Of the many former Habbaniya residents the author has interviewed many years ago, he gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the following persons who supplied, or corroborated, some of the information in the main body of this article: Simon Putrus, Gitton Goriel Daniel, John Isaac and the late Ben Warda, Shlimon G. Daniel, Sargis Michael and Fraidon Orahim Is’hak.

Muntada's 1998 Interview with al-Hayat's Kurdish Journalist, Kameran Qarah Daghi

In May 1998 the editorial staff of al-Muntada conducted an interview with Mr. Kameran Qarah Daghi, a senior Kurdish journalist at al-Hayat, a leading Arab newspaper in London, England. 

The Interview was conducted in Detroit, Michigan by Mr. Fouad Manna, the Editor-in-Chief and Mr. Talall Samona the magazine correspondent.

The following is an unauthorized and complete English translation of the interview, kindly offered by Mr. Ashur Beth-Shlimon for Zinda Magazine.


Talall:   Mr. Kameran Qarh Daghi, could you please introduce yourself to Al-Muntada Magazine readers?

Qarah Daghi:  I am Kameran Qarhah Daghi, a Kurdish journalist from Iraq, living and working in London, England since 1980. I have been employed by the Al-Hayat International Newspaper, based in London, England, for the past ten years.

I am here (in Detroit) by a special invitation from some friends. My views here are personal and don’t have any connection with Al-Hayat, and any expression made by me is considered a personal opinion.

Talall: What is the nature of the disagreement between these two Kurdish Parties, i.e., the Kurdish Democratic Party/ KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Party /PUK?

Qara Daghi:   The nature of such struggle is based on struggle for power, hegemony and monopoly of the Kurdish leadership. In my opinion such struggle is not in any way serving the Kurdish high interest or the Kurdistan region. Furthermore, such struggle is deeply rooted; it is a struggle for hegemony and power which are the nature of such tragedy, it is a struggle for hegemony and control between the two party   leaders, and precisely by Mr. Mas’ud Barzani and Jalall Talabani.

Talall: It seems that the Kurdish people are paying the price for their personal grievances?

Qarah Daghi:  In fact, this is the reality of the Kurdish problem and the leadership of both parties since 1991.  With the uprising in the Kurdistan region which resulted in the Kurdish Front taking control of the situation and the general elections that followed, where a Kurdish government was formed. This gave the Kurdish leadership a legitimacy as a result of the elections of 1992 which paved the way for the Parliamentarian elections, which could be considered relatively a free one, and a standard by the Middle Eastern countries measures, where a government was formed by these two parties that was in function for two years before the war broke up and divided the region between the two rivals.

We all remember those tragic events which were the results of such wars; this is the main problem where both rivals control the power centers and possess weapons and the financial capability. They have monopoly on the limited Kurdistan’s imports and taxation revenues collected from foreign trades between Iraq and Turkey or Iraq and Iran. Some of these trades could be considered legal; however some of it is illegal.

The fact remains that the people in Kurdistan are not free, because the people in the whole region depends on one of the two parties, and this caused a problem in my estimation that both of these two parties betrayed the people’s will, and the will which was gained through the elections of 1992, because these two parties have a monopoly on the situation. In my opinion and evaluation, the majority of the free Kurdish elements do not trust these two parties, which were mandated on them, because if the Kurdish people were having freedom and the right environment   to freely express themselves in a free elections, where these two parties didn’t possess any power or weapons, in that case, I strongly believe that the Kurdish people would have refused the current Kurdish leadership which was responsible for the tragic situation.

Talall: Regarding the Kurdish people who are currently in a revolutionary mode and divided amongst  the neighboring countries, How do you explain that one of these Kurdish  political leaderships ( KDP) is backing Turkey against the Kurdistan Workers Party/ PPK who have the same common goals that the Kurdish people have in general ? How will a Kurd fight his own Kurdish brother, could you explain?

Qarah Daghi:   Any internal fight is a tragic situation for the Kurdish people. And such phenomenon is not a new one; the history of Kurdistan witnessed many of such incidents throughout the centuries. Unfortunately it is a continuous situation.

Kurdish Affairs are very complex, and it is not that easy to give a simple impression. As we know that one of these problems pertaining to the Kurdish   people, which is divided amongst deferent countries, possesses many important internal, and geopolitical dimensions which influences the Kurdish movement with peculiar circumstances in each of these countries… the problem that there are many streams inside the Kurdish movement calling to unite them in a common goal of the Kurds in the host countries which they reside. The Kurdish movement has its special circumstances in each country; these conditions influence them because they are divided geographically among these countries which dictate the framework in each state which each movement resides.

In regard to the Kurdish movement in Iraq and Iran, the main goal is to get their rights based on the standards of these countries.

In Turkey, the setting is a different one, to a the certain extent, which created its current situation since seventies and the early eighties; it started, from the beginning, with a violent nature, calling for independent and a separatist feelings in a reaction to the aggressive move by the Turkish government toward the Kurds in general and for long decades of denial of the Kurdish national existence. That was the reason behind the Kurdish movement to start its armed struggle since 1984 under the leadership of the Kurdistan Worker Party/ PKK, which implemented violent methods to a point that it espoused terrorism in order to achieve its general goal.

The current Kurdish problem in Turkey is that, the PKK always tried to impose its will on the Iraqi Kurds, where it was directly interfering in the affairs of both struggling factions in Iraq. And this by itself is a big problem because of the fighting that is going on between the Iraqi Kurds and this party-PKK- which is imposing itself on the Iraqi Kurd.

In my judgment, whatever was said about the KDP under the leadership of Barzani, I don’t think for one moment that he is fighting the PKK willingly or to serve Turkey, but to serve his own interest, because such party (PKK) is threatening the status quo. In fact the PKK attempted to impose its will on the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan. They know as we all know, that it has its special circumstances, that there is an elections, a united Parliament, and a Kurdish united government, but the PKK tried to be part of it, and further interfered in the Iraqi Kurdistan affairs and continued its activities and presence inside Iraq, which is one reason for the Turky’s continuous armed incursion and interference.

Personally, I do believe that this is what the majority of the Iraqi Kurds and the Kurdish movement in Iraq alike believes as well, that the PKK has its own agenda that it is struggling inside Turkey with its own military operations against the Turkish army.

Talall: But it is one area..!

Qarah Daghi:   That is right, Kurdistan is one area … this is a reality … and the division imposed certain and special conditions on the Kurdish movement. For example, take the Kurdish movement in Iraq, no matter what; still considers itself part of Iraq, and attempts in its declared goals and its programs through its institutions to function in such structure. The 1992 Parliament issued a decree to guarantee the work to achieve their rights (the Federal Solution) in a Democratic, Free and united Iraq with the cooperation of the other opposition Iraqi groups, an attempt that it never bonded with, because it was always seeking to form a free Kurdistan. That is the reason I believe of the oddity of the Iraqi Kurdish movement in relation to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).

Talall: How the area was called ‘Kurdistan’ in fact that the Assyrian people considered the region historically an Assyrian Land and see themselves the real owners, what you make of it?

Qarah Daghi:    We must go back in time historically, and try to know how such a term; ‘Kurdistan’ appeared for the first time.  As far as I personally remember, since then the terminology spread in the political dictionary of the area – I think, the Kurds never invented such a  terminology of the word Kurdistan. It is clear that  ‘Kurdistan’  terminology appeared after WW I, as it appeared for the first time in the records of the Sevres Treaty( 10 August 1920- between the Ottoman Empire and the Allies) I do    believe that it is not right and or there is no privilege to any Kurdish movement in Iraq to have a monopoly on Kurdistan.  Kurdistan, as it is known is a common home for several peoples, for the Kurds and the Assyrians which is a historical matter. It is possible that the Assyrians were found there for thousands of years and it is possible even before the Kurds. Personally, I believe that the Assyrians (in Kurdistan) have all the right to have an equal and a complete right in the land. And it is not right to think how some Kurds think, that they are above or better than the Assyrians.  Or even better than the Turcomans who settled in the area since the days of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) and in general, any people inhabit any given area should become part of that area..

Mr. Fouad Manna:   We hear from time to time, that delegations from both parties are conducting negotiation with the(Saddam’s) regime. Could you elaborate on this and tell us how accurate is that?

Qarah daghi:  This is true, which is regretful. It is a result of the inside struggle between these two parties which is strengthening the position of Saddam Hussein’s regime.  It is clearly due to the increasing struggle between these two parties where each one tried to ally itself with regional states or outside powers, in order to weaken the other front. As far as we know, the KDP started their negotiations with Baghdad before Talabany, and such cooperation (between Barazani & Baghdad) reached its peak when in August 1996, the Iraqi armed forces helped the KDP in Arbil. Then we observed that the PUK also moved towards that direction to have negotiation with Baghdad, not in the interest of the Kurdish movement or interest of Kurdistan, but the purpose was to not let such a card in the hands of the KDP only. It is also known that both rivals had their delegations in Baghdad and they had some meetings under the supervision of Ali Hassan Al-Majid, the one called by the Kurds ‘ Ali Al-Kimyawi ‘ who was responsible for the ANFAL operations and the bombardment of the Kurdish villages with the Chemical bombs which is a very regretful incident and not acceptable period. But the fighting between them continued to a point where they became very weak to confront the Saddam Hussein’s regime, and he was able to steer his policies in Kurdistan while sitting in Baghdad.

Fouad Manna:   It is well known that Iraqi Kurdistan is inhabited by the Assyrians and the Kurds, side by side and the common history between them carried a lot of bloodsheds and tragedies. How could we dress/heal these wounds, when we hear in times that the Kurds make incursions into the Assyrian villages by attacking them?

Qarah Daghi: I personally and truly speak for myself and express my views as a Kurdish citizen. I  do believe that the past wounds must be addressed with a complete forgiveness and openness, and I think –Yes in deed, the Kurds did commit such acst  and oppressions against the Assyrians , further we remember that the Kurdish tribes participated in attacking operations against the Assyrians during the Ottoman empire and against the Armenians too.

I also think, these reasons had no basis or roots of national or religious hatred, and if these acts of oppressions against the Assyrians and the Armenians were waged in the name of the Islamic religion, as it was the situation when many Kurdish tribes participated. Nevertheless, due to frictions which were appearing at the time, there were many dishonorable stands the Kurds played a part in against the Assyrians. I personally, as I see it, it is a must for the Kurds or the Kurdish leadership and its representatives to offer an apology to the Assyrians for their crimes. It is well known such apologies are a civilized phenomenon and it is practiced by many nations and civilized states in Europe and other places, as we earlier, witnessed how the Pope in Rome, two weeks ago, issued an apology because the Roman Catholic Church was silence for what happened to the Jewish people during WW II. And a Kurdish apology to the Assyrians for their crimes is not going to degrade them, but will boost their credibility. In the event of issuing such an apology, it will give credibility to the Kurds and to set an example in dealing with the others in a civilized spirit, and work towards healing these old wounds, because it happened at various historical and mindful aspects, which makes it unacceptable today.

Talall: During the uprising of March 1991, where were some Kurdish battalions, and why they chose to stand idle?

Qarah Daghi:   As far as I know, when Saddam Hussein’s army invaded Kuwait, there was a movement of the Kurdish Front (KF) which was comprised of the Kurdish parties and one Assyrian group to evaluate the situation if there is any possibility that the Kurdish movement could take advantage of. Finally, efforts were made and agreed upon to have the KDP and the PUK take action. As soon as these parties moved, the KF tried to establish communication with some groups of the Iraqi opposition. Personally, I did have good information about it, where there were other groups involved, like the Islamic Revolutionary Higher Council under the leadership of Baqir Al-Hakim and other national movements.

The Kurds were planning to do something in Kurdistan, as you know, from the early stages of the Kurdish revolt in the early sixties under the leadership of Mulla Mustafa Barzani, as well as their cooperation with other factions from the opposition groups. However, because of their circumstances, the opposition groups were having their own differences, the Kurds realized that it was very difficult to persuade the opposition groups to accept its movement in Iraq and to have the groups represented and guided by the Kurdish opposition movement. It was self evident that such features were considered by the Kurdish movement. When the southern uprising (Shia area) occurred and spread, the KF,  which was at the time operating outside of Iraq, and was preparing to take action since the eighties, saw that there were new circumstances and geographical factors to be taken in consideration.

During the months of February and early March, falling snow creates difficult condition for movement and fighting, but in spite of that, the Kurds started planning to move in Iraqi Kurdistan by the middle of March, immediately after the snow started melting and conditions were helpful.

There was a movement that was not planned in advance  for the city of Raniah, which forced the Peshmarga fighters  to engage itself in a  hard environmental conditions , because of the rugged terrain that prevent them to  move at  the right time.

Later on we learned the details, when the KF was able to impose its control on the Kurdish areas; there was a plan that the KF will attack the city of Mosul in cooperation with the other Arab opposition movements. The Arab opposition groups hesitated to move from Syria and join such an operation. That was the reason the Kurds refused to attack the city of Mosul as an all Kurdish force only, and by attacking the city, it feared it will create some animosity towards tha Arabs, since Mosul is in the Arab sphere.

As far as I think, this was one reason that the Kurds were postponing their movement with the Arabs in the south.

Talall:    Thank you very much Mr. Qarah Daghi, hoping we will have more interviews with you in the feature.

Assyrians at Their Best

Esho Misho's Artwork in Nineveh

Esho Sora Misho, Nineveh, Iraq.

Zinda Magazine has obtained a photograph of the recent work by Mr. Esho Sora Misho, a Council Member in Nineveh (Mosul), Iraq.  Mr. Misho is an engineer by profession.  He is also a professional Assyrian calligrapher whose work adorn the walls of several churches, monastaries, and the offices of the Assyrian archbishops in Nineveh (Mosul), Nohadra (Dohuk), and Baghdad. 

Through his work Mr. Esho intends to renew greater interest in the old Assyrian stonework and engraving.


Mr. Misho's Assyrian caligraphy and engravings adorn the wall of a monastary in Nineveh (Mosul), Iraq.


Assyrian-American Blogger Offers Fashion Advice to Chinese

Courtesy of the China Daily
21 January 2008
By Viva Goldner

(ZNDA: Beijing)  When American Nels Frye first took on the cyber identity, Stylites, he had little inkling his blog would become a barometer of Beijing style, keenly watched by marketing professionals and others monitoring consumption trends in the world's hottest economy.

While Frye's finger is firmly on the pulse of young China, it was not initially the objective for this trend watcher, who arrived in the capital in 2005 to work for American merchant banking firm, Kamsky Associates Inc.

Then, Frye had seen himself as having something in common with the Christian ascetic, St Simeon Stylites, a Syrian monk who lived in isolation on top of a pillar in ancient times. Named after this religious figure, Frye's blog, Stylites in Beijing (www.stylites.net), was originally a platform for personal musings, but evolved as a broader commentary on fashion and local street style.

"It turns out that works very well, because most people just assume the website's name is derived from 'style'. Actually, I was kind of feeling hermetic here in Beijing, like a bit of an ascetic myself," the 26-year-old Massachusetts native says.

Nels Frye says China's fashion industry has inspired him to experiment more with his personal style. Photo Courtesy Of Nels Frye

Today, of course, there is nothing about Frye's lifestyle that brings to mind a hermit. During working hours, the University of Chicago history graduate works with Kamsky as an investment consultant assisting multinational companies with market entry strategies.

On weekends, he takes to the streets with his camera in search of Beijing's hip, young things. Regular haunts include busy malls such as Xidan, Oriental Plaza and Jianwai SOHO, the eclectic Nanluoguxiang and Gulou Dajie downtown strips, the expat haunt of Sanlitun, and Houhai Lake. Frye's photos are posted online, with comments on the subjects' threads of choice, while a selection of pictures are also published by the monthly local listings magazine, That's Beijing.

Stylites in Beijing echoes the format of the popular fashion blog, The Sartorialist, although Frye is quick to draw distinctions between his platform and the New York site launched in 2005 by Scott Schuman, who was last year named one of Time magazine's Top 100 Influences in Fashion and Design.

"Mine uses his as a model to some extent, (but) Beijing isn't a place that you would call a fashion leader. His has the most stylish people in the world, which is not what I'm doing. Mine is more anthropological, in the sense that I am documenting the development of personal expression here through style," Frye says.

"A lot of people tell me that the people I am photographing aren't that stylish but my response is these are people that are at least trying to be stylish, and that are catching my eye.

"I'd also like to expand the profile aspect - how these people buy and spend, how they think. The ideal is for the website to be a resource for people in the fashion industry and people who are interested in tapping into this incredible marketing industry that is just starting to hunger as China becomes more and more a consumer economy," he says.

Frye cites the broader social aspects of increasing urbanization, Internet and foreign media penetration, and more opportunities for residents to study or work abroad as key drivers of China's fashion market.

More specifically, he notes the emergence of youth subcultures, such as hip-hop, skateboarding and gay liberation. The diversification of the local entertainment scene is also impacting the growth of the fashion industry, Frye says. While a night out for most Chinese youth once entailed visiting a restaurant or karaoke bar, today's nightlife and professional networking events are varied, and socialites are increasingly dressing to impress.

China Daily meets Frye on a Sunday afternoon in the small tailor shop that is his joint venture with Chinese business partner, Sen Li, a Shanghai-trained designer.

Apologizing for being late, Frye smoothes his dark blue corduroy suit (created by Sen Li) and adjusts the pink-and-purple polka dot scarf tied at his neck. He wears a bright, blue sweater over a collared shirt with floral print, and pink-and-white striped socks peeking out from brown brogues. The look is finished with a peaked, brown cap - which Frye says he added because he was due for a haircut.

While admitting to being "a pretty vain person", Frye says his fashion obsession was something of a recent development, having emerged in the last three or four years. A longtime devotee of thrift-store chic, the "clean slate" of China's fashion industry has inspired him to experiment more with his personal style.

"Probably if I were to be in the West I wouldn't be a very stylish person. With people in China, there is not much of a knowledge of rules if they don't care, why should I?" Frye says.

"I think Beijing people, or those that I have photographed, have a distinct style, and they want to be fashionable, not just buy the latest brands and follow. (But) it is hard with the products that are available here to have a look that is both distinct and tasteful."

Locally, there is a gulf for youth seeking fashion options between stores selling cheap, mass-produced clothing and high-end foreign brands. Much of Frye's own wardrobe is either custom-made or sourced overseas, from consignment stores or through eBay.

"I had been very anxious to get nice clothing made, and in that process I have pretty much used every tailor in Beijing," he says.

Frye was a client of tailor Sen's before the two formed their business collaboration.

"He wants to do something that is different from the others," Frye says of his partner's style.

Frye's broader interest in China backdates his focus on its fashions. A student of the Chinese language since high school, he says his curiosity about the country was sparked by a video game based on Luo Guanzhong's classic historical novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Today, though, his eye is firmly on the future. "The thing I am most focused on is the trend-watching," Frye says.

New influences in local fashion include Korean and English styles. Military-inspired garments and natural colors are becoming more predominant, while growing environmental awareness among youth is spurring an eco-fashion movement.

Mr. Nels Frye is the son of Professor Richard Frye and Dr. Eden Naby.  Prof. Frye is a scholar of Iranian and Central Asian Studies, and the Aga Khan Professor Emeritus of Iranian Studies at Harvard University.  Dr. Eden Naby is a specialist on the modern Middle East with a concentration on the area from Iraq to Central Asia.  Dr. Naby's articles have appeared in the past issues of Zinda Magazine.

Thank You
The following individuals contributed to the publication of this issue:

Naures Atto

Fred Aprim California
Alda Benjamin Canada
Dr. Matay Beth Arsan Holland
Mazin Enwiya Chicago
George Gindo Chicago

Namrood Shiba

Stavros Stavridis Australia

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