10 Tdabbakh 6758
Volume XIV

Issue 9

31 July 2008

1- 8 6 6 - M Y  Z I N D A

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Click on Blue Links in the left column to jump to that section within this issue.  Cover by Farooq I.
The Lighthouse
  Learning from Past Mistakes: Assyrians and the Iraqi Elections Ninos Warda
  Islamist Group Threatens Assyrian Churches in Mosul
Nouri Maliki Asks Pope to Urge Christians to Return to Iraq
Maliki Offers Iraqi Christians Protection
Iraq's Christians Form Militias to Combat Islamic Extremists
Popular Council Rep. Admits to Receiving Kurdish Funds
Chaldean Group Seeks Autonomous Rights in Northern Iraq
Sunni Sheikh Offers Support for Iraqi Christians
Bet-Kolia Says Christians Living A Good Life in Iran
Chaldean Christians Hold World Youth Day in North Iraq

  European Parliament Conference Highlights Assyrian Suffering in Iraq
Ishaia Isho Ousted from AGC Exec Committee
Swedish Parliament Refuses to Recognize 1915 Genocide
Visiting Iraqi Christians Tell Exiles in Australia to Stay Strong
Assyrian Actuary Swims Across the English Channel
Assyrian Beauty Reaches Finals at Mrs. World Contest
Final Statement of Mor Jacob of Edessa Symposium
Assyrian Flag Shows Up at Euro 2008 Soccer Game
2009 Christians in Ottoman Empire Conference in Canada
Cartoonist Gary Trudeau Lampoons Coverage of Assyrian refugees
Iraqi Bishop Protests World Youth Day Visa Denials
AAS-A Set to Achieve BBB 'Seal of Approval'
Daylight and Darkness in a Baghdad Women's Home
In Memoriam: Melina Oshana 1940-2008
Iraqi Refugees Condemn EU Decision on Their Intake
Assyrian Man Arrested for Drug Trafficking Through US-Canada Border
Chaldean Festival Set for August 9 - 10

  May is Beauty Queen
The Pot Calling the Kettle Black
Climbing the Rigi Mountain to Remember Seyfo Genocide

Click to Learn More :

  Golden Fins Obelit Yadgar
  AUA-Australia's Plans for Martyrs Day in August
Hannibal Alkhas' Paintings on Display at a Dubai Gallery
Treasures from Assyria in the British Museum
Oriental Institute Examines the Looting Iraq National Museum
Sabri Atman Lectures in Greece about Seyfo-The Genocide
Requesting Support For Chronicle of Michael the Syrian
Zinda Recommendations from Gorgis Press
  When Hindu Temple was Our Christian School
Paul Batou Demands Audience and Respect for Iraq
For Iraqi Christians, Money Bought Survival
Papal Address to Mar Dinkha IV
Cardinal Kasper on the Assyrian Church of the East
Iraqi Bishops Ask for Help Protecting Their Flock

Mikhael K. Pius
Helen Talia
Andres E. Kramer
Official Address
Cardinal Kasper
Deal Hudson
  Fadi Pataq  

Since Our Last Issue
A Chronology of Important Events

Friday, 6 June Vatican said today that Islam has overtaken Roman Catholicism as the biggest single religious denomination in the world. Muslims make up 19.2 percent of the world's population and Catholics 17.4 percent. All Christian groups together make up 33 percent of the world population or about two billion people.
Monday, 9 June

A Symposium commemorating the 1300th anniversary of the passing away of Mor Jacob of Edessa is held in Aleppo, Syria

Wednesday, 11 June More than 100 guests attend a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels on the situation of the Assyrians in Iraq.
Thursday, 12 June

The Swedish Parliament, with 245 to 37 votes (1 abstain, 66 absent), rejects a call for recognition of the 1915 genocide in the Ottoman Empire.  The debate lasts over three hours.

A huge flag of Assyria is seen waving in the audience during the Croatia vs Germany football (soccer) game.

Thursday, 19 June The Executive Committee of the Assyrian General Conference (AGC) removes Mr. Ishaia Isho as its executive member.
Saturday, 21 June

Pope Benedict XVI receives in audience in Vatican His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV, Catholicos patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East.

Turkish publisher, Ragip Zarakolu, is jailed for insulting the Turkish nation by publishing a book on the mass killings of Christians in 1915 (the Seyfo Genocide)

Monday, 30 June Monalisa Lazarof, an Assyrian from Southern California, represents Iran at the Mrs. World 2008 contest in Kaliningrad, Russia.
Wednesday, 2 July An Islamist group calling itself the Batallion of Just Punishment sends threatening letters to Christian families in Iraq in retaliation for the formation of an Assyrian Police Force in the Nineveh Plains.
Sunday, 6 July Some 100 people from around the world participate in the climbing of the Rigi mountain in Switzerland to commemorate the Seyfo Genocide of 1915.
Tuesday, 8 July Sheikh Ahmad al-Rishawi, head of the Sahwah al-Iraq (The Awakening Movement), offers protection for the Christians in the al-Anbar province and elsewhere in Iraq.
Tuesday, 13 July The Assyrian swimmer, Kaise Stephan of Australia, swims the English Channel in 12.5 hours and raises over $100,000 for the Children’s Hospital at Westmead.
Wednesday, 16 July 6600 Chaldean Catholic youth participate in the Youth Day in north Iraq. Chaldean youth were not granted visas to join the Youth Day held at the same time in Australia.  Their Assyrian counterparts in Iran similarly held conferences in Urmia, Iran.
Thursday, 17 July Zaia Petros, director of the Chaldean National Council, says the Chaldean Christians in northern Iraq may be seeking autonomous rights and form a coalition to run in the provincial council elections.
Thursday, 24 July During a radio interview conducted by Sweden's Radio Qolo, Mr. Gibrael Marko, of the Popular Council of the Chaldean Syriac Assyrians acknowledged that his organization receives Kurdish funding.
Saturday, 26 July Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki asks Pope Benedict XVI in Italy to encourage Iraqi Christians who have fled their country to return, citing the improved security situation.   He also asks the Pope to visit Iraq.
Wednesday, 30 July Iraqi Prime Minster, after returning from Vatican, says that the Iraqi government will offer protection to the threatened Christian community in northern Iraq.
Thursday, 31 July

Yonatan Bet-Kolia, parliamentary representative of the Assyrians in Iran says in  a speech in Urmia: "Religious minorities live in peace in Iran and are free to perform their religious ceremonies.

The opening ceremonies of the 23rd Annual Tammuz Games are held in Urmia, Iran. Over 400 Assyrian athletes from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Armenia, and Georgia participate in this year's competitions.

The Lighthouse
Feature Article


Learning from Past Mistakes:
Assyrians and the Iraqi Elections 2008

Ninos Warda
Assyrian Council of Europe (ACE)
Brussels, Belgium


The right to vote in elections represents one of the most fundamental political rights a citizen can exercise and has now become entrenched in many international legal instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950, and many other regional legal instruments. The importance of this right is captured by the phrase ‘one (wo)man, one vote, one value,’ and in essence elections are the institutions by which the represented authorize their representatives to act for them.[1]

The importance of this right cannot be overstated in new and fledgling democracies such as Iraq. After years of brutal oppression and persecution, the Iraqi people were finally given an opportunity in 2005 to participate in what were hoped to be fair and free elections for all Iraqis. Millions of Iraqis took advantage of their essential right to vote and went to the polls. Unfortunately, however, the enthusiasm which resulted from this new found freedom was not shared by hundreds of thousands of Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans or Syriacs) and a smaller number of other minorities such as Sabeans and Turkmen as reports emanating from Iraq, as corroborated by other international organisations, confirmed that voting irregularities and deficiencies on the day of voting denied them of their right to vote.

The aim of this paper is to raise awareness of the issues faced by Assyrians and other minorities in the Iraqi elections of 2005 which prevented them from voting and to propose possible ways in which the European Union (EU) can act and help the Iraqi government and the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) so as to prevent the events of 2005 which left hundreds of thousands of eager Iraqi citizens disappointed and without any redress from occurring in the upcoming provincial elections in Iraq which are scheduled to take place in October 2008.

The Importance of Election and Representation in Iraq

Before going on to deal with the problems minorities such as the Assyrians faced when voting in the 2005 Iraqi elections, it is helpful to briefly touch upon the specific importance of elections and representation in Iraq.

Genuine elections are no doubt the bedrock of any democratic society and a society can not claim to be truly democratic if it does not hold genuine elections. In countries such as Iraq, which possess very pluralistic and diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic communities, genuine elections can foster national unity and reconciliation particularly after the country has been affected by war or dictatorial regimes. As voting itself is an act of direct participation in public decision making,[2] the participation of minorities in elections is crucial as it not only helps to create a feeling of national unity and brotherhood but it also provides minorities with a real opportunity to participate in the public and political life of the state, thereby preventing any resentment or envy surfacing between different ethnic or religious groups in the event of members of a specific group being prevented or unable to participate in such a process. The importance of this should not be underestimated and can be gauged by events in Iraq itself the past few years which have seen different groups jostling for political power.

With regards to minorities however elections also provide a golden opportunity to elect genuine representatives of the people they claim to represent and this is no more so than in the case of Iraq which has a myriad of different ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities. As Katz has cogently argued, the notion of representation suggests that the elected represent the electors to the extent that they are like them in some significant way, i.e. the point would be that representation requires the representative to share the interests or opinions of the represented.[3]  It makes sense to assume that many members of minority groups would rather elect members of their own communities to office as they believe they can best understand the needs and wants of such minorities and therefore be in a better position to influence governmental policies in such regard. Again, one only has to look to the results of the elections in Iraq in 2005 which generally correspond to this trend for proof of this.

Therefore, in pluralistic societies such as Iraq it is imperative that all citizens and especially small or vulnerable minorities are given free and well-informed choices to be able to vote for whom they think can represent them best and that this right should not be subjected to any impediment.

What Went Wrong?

In its International Religious Freedom Report 2005, the U.S. Department of State reported the following with
regards to the Iraqi January elections in 2005:

“Many residents on the Ninewah Plain, who are mostly non-Muslim, were unable to vote in the January elections. According to the Assyrian International News Agency, only 93 of 330 polling places opened, ballot boxes were not delivered, and incidents of voter fraud and intimidation occurred. This resulted from administrative breakdowns on voting day and the refusal of Kurdish security forces to allow ballot boxes to pass to predominantly Christian villages, denying as many as 100,000 Assyrian Christians and smaller numbers of Sabeans of their right to vote in the elections. After an investigation of these allegations, the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) acknowledged that the voting facilities in Ninewah were inadequate. The IECI claimed that these irregularities were a manifestation of the poor security situation in Ninewah, Anbar, and other regions and not a problem that exclusively affected a particular segment of the population.”[4]

According to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), six major Assyrian towns and villages in the Nineveh Plains around Mosul including Baghdeda, Bartilla, Karamlesh, Shekhan, Ain Sifne and Bahzan did not receive ballot boxes which were stored in Arbil.[5] According to another AINA report, Susan Patto, chief of staff to the Secretary General of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) [6] in Iraq said that her organization contacted officials in Mosul who responded that the security situation prevented delivery of the vote boxes which caused Baghdad officials to then instruct election personnel in Arbil to deliver the boxes, but failed to do so. Subsequently, after the election hours ended on Sunday a U.S. helicopter delivered four boxes, two designated for Bartilla and two for Baashiqa, and election officials instructed local officials to permit three hours of voting on Monday morning to compensate for the previous day’s problems. According to Patto, “The next morning people headed again for the centers, but there were no staff, no ballots and no ink – just the boxes.”[7] According to the ADM, the Tel-Kaif district also did not have enough voting ballots, preventing hundreds of people from voting in towns such as Al-Qosh, Tel-Sqof, Batnaya and Tel-Kaif.[8] The voting irregularities in the Nineveh Plains prevented the minorities residing there, which make up the bulk of the population, such as the Assyrians, Shabaks and Yezidis, from voting in the elections. Estimates differ as to the number of people affected. The U.S. Department of State International Religious Freedom Report 2005 states that as many as 100,000 Assyrian Christians and a smaller number of Sabeans were prevented from voting,[9] whereas other figures range from 50,000 Assyrians[10] up to 250,000 non-Kurds[11] being unable to vote in the elections.

Naturally, the disappointment engendered by the inability to vote caused the affected communities to take to the streets to protest against their inability to vote in towns in the Nineveh Plains such as Baghdeda[12] but also outside the Green Zone in Baghdad.[13]

The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) admitted that there had been irregularities with 40 ballot boxes used in the January elections in the Ninawa Province; the IECI found that only in the town of Bartilla, with 15,188 voters, did the vote not take place.[14]  An IECI investigation found that security issues were the main causes of the irregularities with some materials being stolen forcibly from some electoral centers by armed groups, members of the commission being subjected to physical assaults in the region by some armed groups, and some ballot cards were stolen by an armed group and then returned in irregular bags.[15]  Unfortunately however, the IECI failed to take steps to ensure that the minority communities prevented from voting were given adequate means of redress, i.e. an opportunity to vote at another time.

Ensuring Genuine Elections in 2008

Provincial elections are scheduled to take place in Iraq in October 2008. Having experienced the irregularities which took place in 2005, both Iraq and the international community must take urgent and effective measures to ensure that the problems which afflicted some communities then are not allowed to recur again this year. As this paper is mostly concerned with how the European Union can help in this regard, attention shall thus now be focused on what role the EU can play to ensure genuine elections in Iraq.

In its Report on the European Union’s Role in Iraq, the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament recommended to the Council that the EU, as a global player, should assume its responsibilities for building up a new democratic Iraq and that the Council should adopt measures ‘strengthening electoral procedures at the local level in order to ensure that provincial councils are fully representative of all local populations.’[16] In addition, the report recommended that the EU and its Member States, in close consultation with the Iraqi authorities and other partners, such as the UN agencies and NGOs, ‘continue to provide technical assistance for the organisation of fair and free elections.’[17]

Taking into consideration the events which took place in 2005 which prevented large numbers of minority communities from participating in the elections, and the added complications faced by the IECI in ensuring that internally displaced persons (IDPs), currently estimated at 2.4 million,[18] are also able to vote in this year’s elections, the importance of preparing well in advance to ensure genuine elections for all Iraqis is not to be understated.

A major contribution the EU and its Member States, all of which share a long tradition of democracy, can make to ensure genuine elections in Iraq in 2005 is by assisting the Iraqi government and the IECI in designing and implementing an electoral system which is equitable to all Iraqis, specifically minority communities. Such assistance would be completely in line with the European Commission’s Electoral Assistance activities under its External Cooperation Programmes which has supported electoral processes in post-conflict situations such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti.[19]

As this topic would require a paper solely dedicated on this issue, it is helpful to just briefly touch upon the important issue of minority representation within electoral systems.

As the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has correctly noted, when looking at electoral systems, the result of an election, as a group of representatives who are elected, should reflect the makeup of the society it represents.[20] As noted above with regards to the issue of representation in pluralistic societies such as Iraq, the importance of this cannot be underestimated. In the 2005 January elections, in which elections took place for 15 governorate councils, the IECI adopted a system of proportional representation with closed lists and the seats were allocated through a formula of Hare Quota and largest remainders with a natural threshold.[21] The presence of thresholds makes it harder for minority communities to successfully elect representatives from their respective communities, thus prompting UNAMI to recommend that for future governorate elections, legislation should not include any reference to thresholds, in order to facilitate the election of minority groups.[22] Another way to circumvent the problem of the lack of minority representation, in addition to the lifting of thresholds, is by creating reserved seats for minorities.

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This is where a number or percentage of seats can only be contested by candidates from, and sometimes only voted for by voters from, designated historically under-represented groups.[23] This should apply especially so to indigenous communities such as the Assyrians in Iraq who have had a long history of political suppression under the previous Ba’ath regime where they were forced to deny their nationality and register themselves as either Arabs or Kurds in Iraqi censuses. Thus, in Iraqi provinces such as Ninawa (in which are situated the Nineveh Plains with their large Assyrian, Shabak and Yezidi minorities), Kirkuk, Baghdad, etc., which all house significant numbers of minority communities, seats should be reserved in governorate councils for minorities to ensure an adequate representation of all communities in the governorate councils. The EU, which itself has a long history of dealing with minority representation, can provide indispensable assistance in this regard.

UNAMI has also voiced concerns about the system of voter registration which may be used in Iraqi elections this year. The reason for this is that the Public Distribution System (PDS) used to draw a voter registry from may prove to be inadequate due to the number of internally displaced persons within Iraq[24] and the number of refugees outside Iraq, thus leading to the possible disenfranchisement of millions of Iraqis.[25] According to UNAMI, creating a new voter registry from scratch can take between 12-18 months, thus rendering elections in October 2008 either impossible, or reliant upon use of the PDS system with its serious deficiencies. The EU, working together with the UN and NGOs in the region, can utilise its financial clout and the number of NGOs with specific expertise in dealing with electoral systems and elections headquartered in the EU to help organize a new voter registry system which can be created in an expeditious and equitable manner so that disenfranchisement of voters can be kept to a minimum, if not prevented completely.

In addition to providing electoral assistance in Iraq the EU can also send an Election Observation Mission (EOM) to the country. EOMs are specifically important because they ‘do not just serve to assess election days but also observe the whole electoral process as a way of gauging the state of democratic development in a given country at a particular time’.[26] Thus, such a mission could gauge whether an election is genuine by touching upon important issues such as whether the legislative procedures for establishing “ground rules” are transparent and inclusive; whether the election administration is independent, impartial, transparent and accountable; whether the rights to freedom of expression, association, movement and assembly are upheld;27 whether a timely judicial review and accessible dispute resolution mechanisms are guaranteed; whether rules on campaign financing grant all with reasonable access to campaign funds; whether equal access to the media permits all parties/candidates to convey their message[28]; and, whether security forces do not place undue restrictions on certain parties/candidates.[29]

According to Council Decision 9262/98, the following pre-conditions must be met for the work of observers:

  • The EU has been formally requested to monitor (i.e. observe) the election by the recognised
    government of the host country;
  • The involvement of EU observers is supported by all the main contesting political parties or
  • The EU has previously been monitoring political developments in the host country for a period of time and has the political capacity to assess developments through EU Heads of Missions (HOMs);
  • There is enough lead time for the leaders of any EU monitoring (i.e. observation) team to be in
    place sufficiently in advance, in order to monitor (i.e. observe) the political and judicial environment and take part as appropriate in preparatory work prior to the election campaign itself.[30]

According to the Handbook for European Union Election Observation Missions, the first part of the mission, the ‘Exploratory Phase’, is required to proceed at least 6-9 months prior to Election Day. Arguably, if the first two pre-conditions set out in Council Decision 9262/98 can be overcome swiftly and if the political will for such a mission is present, there is still adequate time for an EOM to be operational in Iraq by October 2008.

Such a mission may be particularly beneficial to Iraq as it can enhance public confidence in the electoral process, particularly in the wake of the complaints about the process in 2005, it can deter fraud, strengthen respect for human rights, and also contribute to the resolution of conflict, issues which are amongst the main objectives of such a mission.[31] Any such mission can also be of vital importance to minority groups in Iraq as the observation mission can also concentrate attention on issues such as whether or not national minorities have a reasonable chance at representation under the election system selected; the establishment of election district boundaries in minority regions, and the quality of the voter registry regarding national minorities; and whether or not sufficient attention is paid to voter education in national minority languages.[32] Furthermore, as deployment is intended to take account of areas containing sizeable ethnic and/or linguistic minority populations,[33] voters in heterogeneous areas in Iraq such as the Nineveh Plains, Baghdad, Kirkuk, and other areas may feel a sense of reassurance knowing that observation missions are operating in the region, thus helping to prevent voter intimidation from occurring and maximising voter turnout.

  1. Katz, R.S., Democracy and Elections, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 104
  2. Ibid, p. 105
  3. Ibid, p. 104
  4. U.S. Department of State, Iraq – International Religious Freedom Report 2005,
    http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/51600.htm, (Accessed: 9th April 2008)
  5. Assyrian International News Agency, Assyrians Prevented from Voting in North Iraq,
    http://www.aina.org/releases/20050131003708.htm, (Accessed: 9th April 2008)
  6. An independent Assyrian political party established in Iraq in 1979. In the 2005 elections the party received 47,263 votes, thus allowing them to obtain a seat in the Iraqi Council of Representatives. It is represented in the Council by Yonadem Yousef Kanna, the current Secretary General. For this, see, Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, Certified Council of Representatives Candidates, click here, (Accessed: 9th April 2008)
  7. Assyrian International News Agency, Iraqi Christians Claim their Votes Blocked, click here.
  8. Assyrian International News Agency, Assyrian Democratic Movement Protests ChaldoAssyrian Vote Lockout in North Iraq, click here, (Accessed: 9th April 2008)
  9. See footnote 4
  10. See footnote 7
  11. See footnote 5 and Assyrian International News Agency, Assyrians, Turkomen, Yazidis Protest Outside Green Zone, click here, (Accessed: 9th April 2008). The ADM claimed that the deliberate failure to deliver ballot boxes to the major Assyrian districts in north Iraq prevented up to 300,000 people from voting. On this, see, Assyrian International News Agency, Assyrian Democratic
  12. See footnote 5
  13. Assyrian International News Agency, Assyrians, Turkomen, Yazidis Protest Outside Green Zone, click here, (Accessed: 9th April 2008)
  14. Assyrian International News Agency, Iraqi Electoral Commission Admits Ballot Box Irregularities, click here, (Accessed: 9th April 2008)
  15. Assyrian International News Agency, Iraqi Election Commission Report on Voter Lockout Inadequate, click here, (Accessed: 9th April 2008)
  16. European Parliament, Report with a Proposal for a European Parliament Recommendation to the Council
    on the European Union’s Role in Iraq, click here, (Accessed: 9th April 2008)
  17. Ibid
  18. Ibid
  19. On this click here.
  20. United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Governorate Council Elections: Considerations for
    an Electoral System, February 2008, click here, (Accessed: 9th April 2008), p. 5
  21. Ibid, p. 4
  22. Ibid, p. 9
  23. International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), International Electoral Standards:
    Guidelines for Reviewing the Legal Framework of Elections, (Stockholm: International IDEA, 2002), p. 24
  24. As an example, according to figures from the Assyrian Aid Society, a registered Assyrian charity working
    in Iraq, there are 7085 Assyrian families which are internally displaced in the Nineveh Plains and another
    2902 Arab, Shabak and Yezidi families with the same status. (These figures are as of 29th January 2008). If
    the PDS system is used to register voters, any eligible voters within these families may be prevented from
  25. UNAMI, Governorate Elections in Iraq 2007, click here, (Accessed: 9th April 2008)
  26. Click here.
  27. For example, in the 2005 elections, the Assyrian General Conference (AGC - Slate 800) reported that
    they had been prevented from campaigning in Assyrian villages in the Dohuk Province such as the village
    of Mangesh by armed members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). According to the AGC, the armed
    men took down campaign posters from the walls, confiscated 3000 posters, 25 banners, and ordered the
    group to leave Mangesh. On this, see, Assyrian General Conference, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)
    Stops Assyrian General Conference from Promoting Slate 800 in Northern Iraq, click here, (Accessed: 9th April 2008)
  28. For example, AshurTV, a local television station in Iraq owned by the Assyrian Democratic Movement
    (ADM), has been forced to close and stop broadcasting due to lack of funding. Television stations and other
    forms of media are vital to political parties representing minorities in that they allow them to convey their
    messages to the electorate so that the electorate can make an informed choice of who to vote for when
    participating in elections.
  29. On these, see, Handbook for European Union Election Observation Missions, click here, Accessed: 9th April 2008)
  30. Ibid, p. 17
  31. Ibid, p. 21
  32. Ibid, p. 49
  33. Ibid, p. 55

Good Morning Assyria
News From the Homeland


Islamist Group Threatens Assyrian Churches in Mosul

Courtesy of Adnkronos
2 July 2008

(ZNDA: Mosul)  An Islamist group has sent threatening letters to Assyrian churches in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, asking them not to cooperate with US forces.

The letter sent by The Batallion of Just Punishment, Jihad Base in Mesopotamia, also opposes the establishment of a sectarian Assyrian-Christian police force.

"We caution and warn anyone who tries to rob us through dealings with the Americans or through the spreading of American forces and/or police to protect the Holy Shrines in the Islamic Republic of Iraq, that these shrines would remain target of the freedom fighters," the letter said.

"We remind the dhimmi people [Jews and Christians] that Iraq is for the noble Iraqis and not for how you are now."

The Islamist group also refers to Assyrian Christians as 'Dhimmi', or a non-Muslim subject of the state governed by Islamic Sharia law.

"I suspect this letter may have actually come from Ansar Al-Islam," said an unnamed Assyrian community leader, referring to the Kurdish Islamist group affiliated with al-Qaeda.

"The Kurds don't want us to have our own police force."

Assyrians are an ethnic group in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Nearly all Assyrians converted to Christianity during the first century A.D.

Most of the Christians in Iraq belong to the Assyrian and Chaldean Catholic denominations. Others groups include Syrian Orthodox or protestants.

During Saddam Hussein's secular regime they were free to worship - one of the regime's most prominent Christian members was Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, growing religious intolerance and sectarian violence have prompted many Iraqi Christians to flee abroad.

Nouri Maliki Asks Pope to Urge Christians to Return to Iraq

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times
26 July 2008
By Ned Parket and Tracy Wilkinson

Pope Benedict XVI receives a gift from Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.  Photo by Osservatore Romano / EPA.

(ZNDA: Vatican) Prime Minister Nouri Maliki asked Pope Benedict XVI in a meeting on 26 July in Italy to encourage Iraqi Christians who have fled their country to return, citing the improved security situation. 

He also invited the pontiff to visit Iraq.

"I . . . appealed to his holiness to encourage Christians who left the country to go back and be part of the social structure of Iraq again," Maliki told reporters after his session with the pope at the pontiff's summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.

More than five years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the country remains deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines and is struggling to put an end to the violence that has characterized the post-Saddam Hussein era.

"His visit would represent support for the efforts of love and peace in Iraq," said Maliki, who has been visiting Germany and Italy this week.

The pope condemned the violence suffered by the Iraqi people and lamented the plight of Iraqi refugees, saying he hoped they could one day return to their homeland. He stressed the importance of inter-religious dialogue and made a special appeal in behalf of Iraq's minority Christians, frequent targets of attacks and kidnappings, saying they were in grave need of better security.

The pope "renewed his condemnation of the violence that hits diverse parts of the country almost every day, without sparing the Christian community, which strongly feels a need for greater security," a statement from the Vatican said.

He also "expressed the hope that Iraq can decisively find the way to peace and development through dialogue and the collaboration of all ethnic and religious groups, including minorities."

Maliki bristled at the notion that Christians were targeted any more than Muslims in Iraq's sectarian violence. Maliki said the pope understands that "bad people exist in all religions, whether Christian or Muslim."

"This sound, realistic, objective understanding by his holiness is the best answer to those who claim that Christians are persecuted in Iraq by Muslims," the prime minister told reporters.

Iraq's Christian minority has been targeted by Sunni Arab militants, who have viewed its members as American allies and heretics. In 2007, Christian residents were expelled from the Baghdad suburb of Dora by Al Qaeda in Iraq sympathizers. In late February, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of the northern city of Mosul was kidnapped; he was found dead two weeks later.

Christian parliament member Yonadam Kanna said the situation for Christians in Baghdad had improved in recent months, but the circumstances were still horrible for his faith in Mosul.

"In Mosul, the situation is the same as it used to be and it's getting worse," Kanna said. Before 2003, Iraq's Christians were estimated to number about 800,000, but many have fled the country.

Maliki Offers Iraqi Christians Protection

Courtesy of the Middle East Times
30 July 2008

(ZNDA: Baghdad)  The Iraqi government will offer protection to the threatened Christian community in northern Iraq, the prime minister said on Wednesday.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Baghdad will ensure Iraqi Christians are protected, following a meeting with the head of the Chaldean Catholic Patriarchate of Babylon, Emmanuel III Delly, Voices of Iraq reported.

"Maliki asserted to Delly his government's keenness to protect Iraqi Christians and provide them with all services to make them feel secure and stable in their country," a government statement read.

In early July a group calling itself "The Battalion of Just Punishment, Jihad Base in Mesopotamia" issued a series of threats against Christian churches in northern Iraq.

The meeting with Cardinal Delly follows an earlier visit by the Iraqi premier with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

Maliki said he would push for a multi-religious conference in Iraq to gather church leaders from around the world to highlight the "brotherhood in Iraq," the government statement said.

In response to the growing threat to their community, Christian leaders in Iraq have established armed militias in northern Nineveh province and announced earlier this month they may form a coalition to run in the provincial council elections.

Iraq's Christians Form Militias to Combat Islamic Extremists

Courtesy of London Telegraph
27 July 2008
By Damien McElroy

Civilians in Christian villages in northern Iraq have established their own security in an attempt to deter murders, abductions and would-be car bombers.    Photo: AP

(ZNDA: Mosul)  In the five years since the Anglo-American invasion of 2003, murders and abductions have driven about half of the 800,000 Christians who once lived in Iraq to flee the country.

Checkpoints manned by civilians armed with heavy machine guns and assault rifles have received official backing in Christian villages on the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq, where their presence dates back to the missions of St Thomas the apostle.

Father Yusuf Yohannes combines the duties of parish priest with overseeing security from a converted post office in the village of Karamlis, 10 miles east of the local capital, Mosul. Informal patrols by his parishioners started last year but the effort is now a fully-fledged operation, with 250 employees and official approval from the US army base in Mosul.

"We are facing the threat of wipe-out," he said. "I have not left this town in three years because of the danger. The situation here was like a bowl without a base for Christians, we were just tossed around. By establishing our own security we have the chance to stand steady again."

Radios supplied by the US-led coalition keeps the command post in touch with guards in Karamlis and three hamlets nearby. A heavy machine gun protrudes from the guardpost on St Barbara Street, pointing towards a road shared with Sunni Muslim neighbours. The gun's purpose, said Saleem Yusuf, the checkpoint commander, is to deter would-be car bombers. "We have not used it in anger yet. Thank God," he said.

Iraq's primate, Cardinal Emmanuel Delly, made a public plea for military assistance for "defenseless" Christians in March. The persecuted minority was at it lowest point, reeling after loss of the political protection it had enjoyed from previous regimes over the last century, ranging from British colonial authorities to Iraq's monarchy and Saddam Hussein's government.

But local politicians in Mosul opposed the obvious route to Christian self defense - the creation of militias, equipped and armed by the coalition, a model pivotal to the dramatic drop in violence elsewhere in Iraq.

These objections have now been dropped, but Christian village guards are still only authorised when they act as auxiliaries to the Iraqi police. Consequently, the guards in Karamlis are paid only £100 a month, compared with the £150 given to militiamen elsewhere in the country.

But the patrols have already had an impact. New buildings are going up in Christian areas and there is a renewed willingness to resist the demands of Muslim radicals. "Why should Christians face arrest for not fasting in Ramadan?" asked Fr Yusuf. "Why is it that women should cover their faces if God loves all human beings? We reject these things and want the right to our own culture."

Cardinal Delly was able to travel to Karamlis for an ordination last Friday. The man he raised to the priesthood symbolises the ordeal of Iraq's last Christians. Yusuf Rabat assumed the title "Father Paulos" in tribute to the late Archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Farai Rakha, who was kidnapped and murdered four months ago. Pictures of the dead Archbishop are pasted on lamposts across Karamlis.

Popular Council Rep. Admits to Receiving Kurdish Funds

Courtesy of the Assyrian International News Agency
24 July 2008

(ZNDA: Stockholm)  On 24 July, during a radio interview conducted by Sweden's Radio Qolo (The Voice Radio), Mr. Gibrael Marko, a representatives of the Popular Council of the Chaldean Syriac Assyrians - an Iraqi-based Assyrian organization - acknowledged that his organization receives Kurdish funding.

Radio Qolo is a radio program produced for the Assyrian community in Sweden. Mr. Marko reluctantly admitted during the radio interview that his organization, which was set up in 2007, receives regular funding from Kurdish sources, thus confirming the suspicions of other Assyrian political groups.

According to the publicly made aims of the Popular Council of the Chaldean Syriac Assyrians, the organization seeks to expand the Kurdish area to include Assyrian lands in the Nineveh plains. The group muscled great economic resources despite its fairly recent establishment and has been distributing food and other aid to Assyrian families who are encouraged to support the goals of the organization.

Chaldean Group Seeks Autonomous Rights in Northern Iraq

Courtesy of the UPI
24 July 2008

(ZNDA: Arbil)  Chaldean Christians in northern Iraq may be seeking autonomous rights and form a coalition to run in the provincial council elections, according the Kurdish Globe last week.

According to Mr. Zaia Petros, director of the Chaldean National Council, the Christian community would work to assert its rights in Iraq through representation in the provincial councils where the Chaldean and Assyrian communities live in northern Iraq.

"We will work in order to add Christian autonomy in the constitution and to make it acceptable to the many sides in the Kurdistan region and to officials in Baghdad," Mr. Petros said, adding the list could be called the National Ishtar List.

Petros said the Christian communities need to work with the Yezidi, Shabak, Kurds and Arabs in the region to form the list.

The Christian population in northern Iraq has slowly left the region since 2006, as there is no incentive to stay amid rising sectarian violence, Mr. Petros said.

The head of the Chaldean Cultural Assembly, Mr. Qazwan Alias, supported claims laid forth by Petros, noting Baghdad has not stepped in to alleviate the situation. "We think achieving Christian autonomy in the district is the only solution, especially after the efforts that the blocs and other sides have put forth," he said.

Sunni Sheikh Offers Support for Iraqi Christians

Photo taken by William McCallister on 14 December 2007 Sheikh Ahmad Al-Rishawi flanked by Maj Gen Allen (left) DCG, MNF-W and Maj Gen Gaskin (right) CG MNF-W.

(ZNDA:  Baghdad)  Zinda Magazine has learned that Sheikh Ahmad al-Rishawi, head of the Sahwah al-Iraq (The Awakening Movement), has offered protection for the Christians in the al-Anbar province and elsewhere in Iraq.

The Awakening Movement's forces patrol the streets to ward off any al-Qaeda activity or attacks.

According to some Arab media another Sunni leader, Sheikh Iyad has added the title of the "Protector of the Chaldean Catholics" to his titles.  According to a tribal tradition, a Chaldean will be regarded equal to that of a member of his tribe.  The killing of a Chaldean would then be treated as the murder of the Sheik's tribal member.

Moreover, money will be provided from the Sahawa al-Iraq treasury to rebuild the churches and cemeteries destroyed by al-Qaeda.

The Awakening Movement is a part of the on-going Surge Offensive implemented by General Patraous, US Commander of Multinational Forces in Iraq.

Bet-Kolia Says Christians Living A Good Life in Iran

Courtesy of Tehran Times
31 July 2008

(ZNDA: Tehran)  The Assyrian representative in Iran's Parliament (Majlis), Mr. Yonatan Bet Kolia, said today that religious minorities live in peace in Iran and are free to perform their religious ceremonies.

The MP also said the Iranian officials are committed to an equal treatment of minorities in the country.

The Christian lawmaker went on to say that religious minorities are ready to defend their country in the face of any foreign threat.

“They (minorities) are prepared to defend the country against any external attacks as they did so during the (1980-1988) Sacred Defense,” Bet-Kolia said in the opening ceremony of the Eighth Tammuz Festival in Urmia, Iran.

Four hundred Assyrian athletes from Armenia, Georgia, Iraq and Syria participated in this year's 10-day festival.

Chaldean Christians Hold World Youth Day in North Iraq

Courtesy of the Catholic Leader
1 August 2008

(ZNDA: Beirut)  When Iraqi youths were not granted visas for World Youth Day in Australia, Iraq's Chaldean Catholic bishops decided they would bring World Youth Day to Iraq.

The bishops organised processions, catechesis, the Way of the Cross and Masses in several northern Iraqi cities.

More than 6600 Iraqi youths participated in the alternative World Youth Day.

Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq, invited Lebanese Capuchin Father Joseph Azzo to travel to Iraq for the July 16-20 gatherings.

Fr Azzo invited Lebanese singer Abir Nehme to accompany him.

Even a day before their departure from Lebanon on July 14, the small entourage of Fr Azzo and musicians still did not have the needed funds for their airfare to Iraq.

Fr Azzo said he prayed and, "miraculously, three benefactors came through just in time to pay" for a large portion of the trip.

Ms Nehme, a 26-year-old Maronite Catholic, said it was her dream "to go and see the Christians of Iraq and to do something for them".

Fr Azzo is no stranger to Iraq. The 42-year-old Chaldean Capuchin had visited 11 times before to preach to Iraqi Christians.

Ms Nehme said the experience was totally different than she had imagined.

Iraqi Christians "have so much love to give, so much innocence. So much purity," she said.

"They believe in tomorrow in a way that's amazing. They believe that tomorrow is a better day.

"You always see death and pain on TV's images of Iraq. We saw that. But we also saw peace, joy, hope, singing, music and living faith," Ms Nehme said.

Ms Nehme performed traditional Maronite and Syriac hymns and praise songs.

A French delegation from the peace movement Pax Christi also attended the gatherings.

The celebrations culminated with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Sako at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Kirkuk on July 20.   About 2000 Iraqi youth attended.

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European Parliament Conference Highlights Assyrian Suffering in Iraq


Assyria Council of Europe

On Wednesday 11 June 2008 more than 100 guests attended a conference at the European
Parliament in Brussels on the situation of the Assyrians in Iraq. The event was organized by the Assyria Council of Europe in cooperation with the European Peoples Party-European Democrats, the biggest bloc in the European Parliament, and touched on crucial issues and questions regarding the plight and future survival of Iraq’s indigenous people. Subjects discussed included the plight of Assyrian IDPs throughout Iraq, Art. 125 of the Iraqi Constitution and the protection of minorities, territorial and extra-territorial federalism, the situation of other Iraqi minorities, and EU aid to Iraq. The general consensus throughout the conference was that the situation of the Assyrians in Iraq is precarious and more must be done by the international community, including the EU, to protect the Assyrians.

His Eminence the Ambassador of Iraq to Brussels, Mr. Mohammed Al-Doreky, made it clear that it saddens him when Assyrians leave Iraq and that as the indigenous people of the land they have a right to remain on their ancestral homeland. In a very thought-provoking analysis, Dr. Willy Fautre of Human Rights Without Frontiers also discussed whether territorial federalism alone in Iraq will suffice to protect its minorities or whether there needs to be some kind of extra-territorial federalism also to ensure the survival and protection of minorities wherever they reside in the country. Mrs. Pascale Warda of the Hammorabi Human Rights Organization and the former Minister of Migration and Displacement, was adamant that the Iraqi government must do more to ensure the protection of the Assyrian Christian community and reminded all the participants that since 2003 at least 44 churches have been bombed throughout the country.

In addition to a good number of MEPs present at the conference, there were also representatives of various NGOs, journalists and representatives of other Iraqi minority communities. Furthermore, His Beatitude the Bishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Belgium, Severios Hazail Soumi, together with the Syriac Orthodox Church Bishop of Mosul, Severios Hawa, was also present at the event. In particular, His Beatitude Hazail Soumi asked the panelists why a safe haven in Iraq isn’t being created for the Christians whereas in the 1990’s steps were taken to protect the persecuted Kurdish and Shiite communities of Iraq. Mr. Ninos Warda, ACE Project Director stated that, ‘This event has been a profound success because it has raised the profile of the suffering of the Assyrians in Iraq in an institution which has on many occasions released resolutions expressing its concern for the suffering of these people.’

It should be noted that the Assyrian community in Iraq is made up of various denominations including the Syriac and Chaldean Catholic churches, the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East, the Syriac Orthodox Church and also Protestant churches.

Ishaia Isho Ousted from AGC Exec Committee

(ZNDA: Chicago)  Based on a 'proclamation' dated 19 June the Executive Committee of the Assyrian General Conference (AGC) has determined that Mr. Ishaia Isho will no longer represent the said group and its executive members.  The following note was submitted to Zinda office in Washington on 19 June:

We would like to inform the supporters and friends of the Assyrian General Conference (AGC) that Mr. Ishaia Isho is no longer representing the Assyrian General Conference and its executive committee. Mr. Isho has caused numerous problems within the structure of the Conference and its executive committee. He is the person responsible for making individual decisions without consulting the executive committee and referencing the AGC internal bylaws. He has caused the closure of the Conference site for more than a month and caused the non-issuance of the Journal of the Conference for more than a year. The executive committee members took the responsibility upon themselves to re-open the site and try to issue the journal (Ashuriuon) if possible until the next AGC conference in order to put all things straight for the sake of our just cause and oppressed nation.                                       

Namrood Shiba
Assyrian General Conference - AGC

Swedish Parliament Refuses to Recognize 1915 Genocide

Courtesy of the AZG Armenian Daily
13 June 2008

(ZNDA: Stockholm)  On 12 June the Swedish Parliament, with 245 to 37 votes (1 abstain, 66 absent), rejected a call for recognition of the 1915 genocide in the Ottoman Empire.  The debate lasted over three hours.

On 11 June, Swedish MPs debated the report of the Foreign Committee on Human Rights and the including five motions calling upon the Swedish government and parliament to officially recognize the 1915 genocide.

A majority consisting of the ruling alliance parties together with the Social Democrats (opposition party) proposed that the motions be rejected, whereby the Green (Miljöpartiet) and the Left (Vänsterpartiet) parties announced their reservations, forcing the Parliament to have a debate in the main chamber before the proposal was voted on.

The motion to recognize the genocide was rejected based on four main assumptions:

- "…no particular consideration regarding the Armenian situation has ever been in form of an UN Resolution, either in 1985 or any other occasion."

- "The Committee understands that what engulfed the Armenians, Assyrian/Syrians and Chaldeans during the reign of the Ottoman Empire would, according to the 1948 Convention, probably be regarded as genocide, if it had been in power at the time."

- "There is still a disagreement among the experts regarding the different course of events of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The same applies to the underlying causes and how the assaults shall be classified."

- [in regard to the development in Turkey] "…in the time being, it would be venturesome to disturb an initiate and delicate national process." [which could fuel the extremists in the country]

Mr. Yilmaz Kerimo, Assyrian and an MP in the Swedish parliament defied his own party - Social Democrats - and defended the recognition of the 1915 genocide.

Visiting Iraqi Christians Tell Exiles in Australia to Stay Strong

Courtesy of the Age
28 June 2008
By Julie Szego

(ZNDA: Sydney)  Iraqi Christians George Eshaq and Romel Moshi bring a message of stubborn optimism to their exiled compatriots in Australia. "We tell them, 'Keep your connection with your people back in Iraq'," Mr Moshi says. "We hope and believe Iraq will be peaceful one day … and maybe then you can come back."

The two members of Iraq's Assyrian Democratic Movement — a party representing the country's Assyrian and Chaldean Catholic minorities that holds seats in the federal parliament — know they face an uphill battle selling this line. Despite their tiny numbers, since Saddam's fall Iraqi Christians have found themselves at the front line of the battle for Iraq's soul.

Seeking help: Iraqi Christians George Eshaq and Romel Moshi (centre) with Melbourne Assyrian community members Valentine Aghajani (left) and Wilson Kando (right). Photo: Roger Cummins

Their religion makes them an easy target for Islamist fanatics, while insurgents have tended to single them out as "collaborators" with the US military. It is estimated that since the US-led war almost half of Iraq's 1 million or so Christians have been forced to flee, with hundreds of thousands stranded in Syria and Jordan. Australia recently announced it would lift its refugee intake by 500 in the coming year and leaders from Melbourne's Assyrian community, such as Wilson Kando and Valentine Aghajani, believe their people stand to benefit.

Emissaries Moshi and Eshaq are in Melbourne to rally distant supporters — their party scored about 8000 votes in the 2005 Iraqi elections from Australian expatriates — and feast at places such as the Babylonian-themed Aghadeer restaurant in Brunswick.

"Their position is not to encourage the Assyrian and Chaldean community to leave Iraq," Mr Kando says. "But our people are stuck in Syria and Jordan for years, our children have sacrificed their education, our women have been forced into prostitution."

Mr Moshi and Mr Eshaq have themselves endured a rocky journey, which began in the 1990s when they joined forces with Kurdish reformers in the semi-autonomous north. After Saddam's fall in 2003 they joined a Christian militia and patrolled a country descending into anarchy. Eventually they reached Baghdad where their comrades had occupied the former headquarters of Saddam's notorious paramilitary group, the Fedayeen. They bunkered down as shadowy forces picked off Christian and civil society leaders. Catholic clerics were murdered, along with many Assyrian Democratic Movement activists.

Mr Eshaq, who still lives in the movement's Baghdad headquarters, says of the recent drop in violence that has followed the "surge" of US troops: "A few months ago we never left the base. Now we go out until the evening; in the shops, in town, there's more freedom now, more safety." Mr Moshi says there's also fresh hope for national reconciliation since the Iraqi Government launched a military campaign in March against radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. "The Sunni minority began to change then, they felt encouraged." The two want US troops to stay for as long as the Iraqi army and police force need backing.

But what of their movement's aim of building a secular, democratic Iraq that safeguards minority rights? "It's very difficult," Mr Moshi concedes. Says Mr Eshaq: "We believe the only thing that will change the minds of religious people to be secular is economic progress. It's very easy for someone who doesn't feel like they lead a comfortable life to kill and be killed."

Assyrian Actuary Swims Across the English Channel

Kiase Stephan successfully swam across the English Channel on 13 July.

(ZNDA: Sydney)  The Assyrian swimmer, Kaise Stephan, successfully swam the English Channel in 12.5 hours on Sunday, 13 July.

Mr. Stephan left Dover Beach at 2:30 PM and arrived in France at 3:00 AM on Monday, 2 July14. His total swim path was around 35 kilometers long.

"After a quick photo shoot on the beach with support swimmer Ryan [Ainley] and the [Australian] flags, he returned back to the boat very cold and emotional in disbelief, relief and joy,''  said Mr. Hanna Stephan, Kaise's brother.

Mr Stephan said his brother had been "sleeping on the boat ever since'' and was to go to bed once back on shore.

During the swim, cargo ships and ferries passed alongside Mr Stephan.

To keep his energy levels high, he was fed bananas, diced fruit salads, water, energy drinks and power bars. The water temperature was 15 degrees.

Mr Stephan trained for 2 years before swimming the Channel - from England to France - to raise money for the Children's Hospital at Westmead.

Before the Channel swim, Mr Stephan, who is an actuary with Munich Re, had swum just six kilometres in open water.

He decided to take up the challenge after witnessing his cousin, Mark, successfully battle leukaemia at the hospital.  Mr. Stephan is the son of Dr. Said Stephan, a former president of the Assyrian Australian Academic Society (TAAAS) and the current president of the Assyrian Aid Society in Australia.

For more information click here.    To view a promotional video on YouTube click here.

Assyrian Beauty Reaches Finals at Mrs. World Contest

Monalisa Lazarof, represented Iran at the Mrs. World 2008 contest in Russia in June.

(ZNDA: Los Angeles)  On 30 June the annual beauty contest for beautiful married women, titled Mrs World, was held in Kaliningrad, Russia.  Mrs. Ukraine, Nataliia Shmarenkova, was crowned Mrs. World 2008.  Among the top 10 finalists was the beautiful Mrs. Iran, Monalisa Lazarof, an Assyrian from Southern California.

Monalisa Lazarof was born in the city of Shiraz, Iran in 1966. Her father, Mikhail Khachi, was a mechanical engineer and the head of Engineering Department at the National Iranian Oil Company (Sherkat-e Melee Naft-e Iran).

Her mother, Valentine Daniel Vardeh, taught as a professor at the All-Girls College (Madrese Auli Dokhtaran), teaching fashion design.  Monalisa left Iran in 1978 when her fathered was sent on assignment to London, England.

Her family moved to several European countries until they settled in the United States in 1980, where Monalisa graduated from high school in San Mateo, California and then completed her Bachelors in Business Administration with a Minor in Entreprenership at California State University.

In 1989 Monalisa married Dr. Sargon Lazarof, a past clinical professor at the University of Southern California school of Dentistry and the inventor of the Sargon Immediate Load Implant.   Monalisa began working in 1995 as the Regulatory Affairs and Quality Assurance manager at Sargon Enterprises.

Mr. and Mrs. Lazarof have two daughters, Rebecca, 11, and Sagonia, 14. 

Monalisa is very active in charities, such as The Las Floristas Children’s Charities, the Breast Cancer Foundation and her daughters' schools.  

Monalisa's hobbies are Hatha Yoga, dancing, making custom jewelry, cooking gourmet foods and interior designing.

Final Statement of Mor Jacob of Edessa Symposium


Aleppo, Syria

The Symposium commemorating the 1300th anniversary of the passing away of Mor Jacob of Edessa, the prominent Syrian polymath was held in Aleppo, Syria, June 9 – 12th, 2008.

Click above photo to enter official website

The Participants who came from Austria, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States as well as Lebanon and Syria enjoyed the papers presented at the Symposium, included contributions from scholars and specialists in Syriac studies.  These contributions, which included twelve papers that were delivered in five sessions, discussed the writings of the celebrated scholar Mor Jacob of Edessa as a chronicler, man of letters, grammarian, exegete, theologian, and as a major contributor to church liturgy and canon law.

The proceedings of the Symposium also included an opening session in which a welcoming address was delivered by Mor Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, Metropolitan of Aleppo and a keynote lecture by Prof. Dr. Malphono Sebastian Brock, as well as a final session.

The Symposium programme included visits to a number of archaeological locations of Syrian monasteries that for centuries were beacons of knowledge.  These included the Monastery of Tell’Ada, where Mor Jacob lived the last ten years of his celebrated life, and where he died and was buried on June 5th, 708; the Monastery of St. Simeon the Stylite, a major fifth century cathedral that was named after St. Simeon the Stylite, the founder of the Stylite Monastic practice; the recently uncovered Monastery of Qenneshrin, which was founded by Yohanna Bar Aphtonia in 538 and which remained active up to the thirteenth century; and the town of Mabug, the birth place of Theodora, the Syrian Queen, and the seat of Mor Philoxenus of Mabug ( + 523).

In its final session, the Symposium resolved the following:

  1. The proceedings of the Symposium will be published in English by Gorgias Press and in Arabic by Mardin Publishing House.  The full texts of the papers should be submitted to Gorgias Press by October 1st, 2008 and the Arabic translation of the texts to be completed by March 1st, 2009.
  2. Encouraged by the immense success of the Symposium and in order to promote continuity in the study of the Syriac literary heritage, and in recognition of Aleppo’s special place in this heritage, it was decided to hold a series of colloquia, each under the title Aleppo Syriac Colloquium (A.S.C.), every two years.  Each colloquium will be devoted to one theme or studying the works of one renowned historic Syriac Scholar.  The subject of the colloquium will be defined one year in advance and expert scholars will be invited to participate.  In this respect it was resolved to hold the next colloquium during the second half of June, 2010 in Aleppo and will address the work of the outstanding Syrian polymath Mor Gregorios Yohanna Abu al-Faraj Barhebraeus (+1286).
  3. The participants expressed their profound appreciation and thanks to the host of the Symposium, Mor Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, for his initiative to hold the Symposium, for his tireless efforts, which ensured its complete success, and for the generous hospitality.  As a token of this appreciation, the participants presented His Eminence with a book authored by George Kiraz that included on its initial pages hand written notes that expressed their appreciation.  The participants also expressed their deep thanks to the secretariat of the Symposium, to the monks and deacons and members of the different working groups of the Aleppo Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese, particularly the board of trustees of St George Church in Hay Al-Syrian, which accommodated the venue of the Symposium.


  1. Metropolitan Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim (Syria)
  2. Prof. Dr. Malphono Sebastian Brock (UK)
  3. Fr. Dr. Abdo Badwi (Lebanon)
  4. Prof. Dr. Khalid Dinno (Canada)
  5. Prof. Dr. Theresia Hainthaler (Germany)
  6. Prof. Dr. Amir Harrak (Canada)
  7. Dr. Andrea Juckle (Germany)
  8. Dr. George Kiraz (USA)
  9. Rev. Dr. Richard Price (UK)
  10. Prof. Dr. Alison Salvesen (UK)
  11. Dr. Aho Shemunkasho (Austria)
  12. Rev. Dr. Columba Stewart (USA)
  13. Jack Tannous (USA)

Assyrian Flag Shows Up at Euro 2008 Soccer Game

(ZNDA: Vienna)  On 12 June, to the astonishment of many Assyrian viewers of the Euro Cup soccer games held in Austria, an enormous flag of the Assyrian nation was seen waving in the crowd. 

Nineteen minutes into the soccer match between Croatia and Germany, played in Klagenfurt, Austria, the camera follows the German Player, Lukas Podolski, and suddenly the large Assyrian flag appears in the background.  To view the footage click here (YouTube Video).

2009 Christians in Ottoman Empire Conference in Canada

Courtesy of the PanArmenian.net
13 June 2008

(ZNDA: Toronto)   In a reception organized by the Canada-based Union of Middle East Christians to honor Arman Hakobian, Armenia’s Charge d’Affairs in Canada, it was noted that the Armenian Embassy may be possibly sponsoring an international conference titled the "Christians in Ottoman Empire" in 2009.

The Union of Middle East Christians includes the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic Churches, Chaldean and Assyrian Orthodox Churches and a number of others.

Pulitzer Prize-winning Cartoonist Gary Trudeau Lampoons Coverage of Assyrian refugees

Courtesy of Christianity Today
15 July 2008
by Susan Wunderink

Gary B. Trudeau’s Doonesbury, which newspapers publish either with the comics or the editorial cartoons, just wrapped up a series about Iraqi Christian refugees. Roland (in this series a Fox News correspondent) is trying to cover the story of an Assyrian family in a way that is flattering for the Surge. Doonesbury treats the imaginary Iraqis with a great deal of dignity. Fox News doesn’t fare so well.

Fox News actually did run an Associated Press story about “Christians Fleeing Violence in Iraq” in early May, which brings up the matter of ransoms most Christians pay for "protection."

The background--not in the comic strips, although alluded to--is that Iraq’s Christians, the largest non-Muslim religious group in Iraq , are represented disproportionately in the refugee population (although it should be mentioned that the Assyrian diaspora dates back to World War I). It's such a huge drain that some churches in Iraq have no members left. Christians can be identified by their names and ID cards, and they are often targeted for violence. The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) is calling it genocide. So, many Assyrians leave as soon as they can. Others, like the family in Doonesbury, wait until something unbearable happens.


CT suggested in an editorial that U.S. and Iraqi governments should:

Stop discrimination in aid grants by naming a special aid coordinator in Iraq to insure that Christians and other minorities receive a fair share of international assistance.

Implement the creation of a homeland for Christians in Iraq's Nineveh Plains to be governed jointly by Christians and other minority groups. (This is provided for under article 125 of Iraq's new constitution.)

Provide more comprehensive care for the estimated 3 million Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people. The United States should follow through with its commitment to resettle more refugees from Iraq. In 2006, only 202 were resettled, while a total of 20,000 had been authorized.

Remove religious affiliation from identification cards. There could hardly be an easier way to protect the lives of Christian civilians, such as Ayad Tariq, than issuing new ID cards minus religious labels.

AINA divides Assyrians up into five groups: Chaldeans (of the Chaldean Catholic Church) at 45 percent, Syriac Orthodox at 26 percent, Church of the East at 19 percent, Syriac Catholic at 4 percent, and other groups at 6 percent. In 2005, 2 percent of Iraq's population was Christian, according to the World Christian Database.

CT published an article on Iraqi Christian refugees in 2006.

Iraqi Bishop Protests World Youth Day Visa Denials

Courtesy of the Catholic News Agency
14 July 2008

(ZNDA: Sydney)  Chaldean Iraqi Bishop Philip Najim has accused the Australian government officials of "mistrust and bureaucracy" in approving only 30 out of over 170 visa applications for World Youth Day.

Catholic News Agency reports the Australian government has denied visas to dozens of World Youth Day pilgrims from Iraq, citing concerns that participants will not return home and instead will seek asylum in Australia.

One Chaldean Catholic priest called the decision "a slap at young people who wanted to go to witness to the faith and the joy of the Church’s living in Iraq despite sufferings."

Initially the Australian government denied visas for nearly 170 pilgrims, allowing only ten visas to aspiring World Youth Day participants, the SIR News Agency says. According to the website Baghdadhope, there are now only about 30 total visas available that will be granted "in extremis".

Father Rayan P. Atto, parish priest of Mar Qardagh Church in Arbil, told SIR News Agency that the concerns about asylum seekers were unfounded, arguing that, "for young Christian Iraqis, taking part in the WYD in Sydney was not a way to leave their country."

"Most of the group members come from northern Iraq, a quiet area," he continued. "They have no reason to escape and they would certainly not do it on an occasion related to faith."

Before it was reported that 30 visas would be available for pilgrims, Father Atto said the Australian Embassy in Amman, Jordan had approved only ten visas. "How can one reduce a group of almost 170 people down to just ten?" he asked.

The news of the 30 total visas did not satisfy Bishop Philip Najim, Chaldean Procurator to the Holy See.

"This is a real scandal, a slap at young people who wanted to go to witness to the faith and the joy of the Church's living in Iraq despite sufferings," Bishop Najim said, speaking to MISNA news agency.

"The dream of young Iraqis to participate in World Youth Day in Sydney shatters against the wall of mistrust and of bureaucracy, after the Australian embassy in Amman completely denied the visas in the beginning and then, today, granted 30 entry visas to the country… just 30, of which 12 are for religious and only 18 for young boys and girls, on a list of 170 people delivered since last year."

"The refusal of the entry visas to the young Iraqis who wished to attend the World Youth Day makes us very sad," said Chaldean Bishop Jibrail Kassab of the Eparchy of Oceania and New Zealand.

The Australian Embassy said that political, not economic reasons motivated their decision. The embassy said that in most cases the documents concerning the employment and financial situation of the pilgrims are missing.

However, CNA says that the embassy is reported to have been informed that the Church would guarantee the visa applicants’ expenses.

AAS-A Set to Achieve BBB 'Seal of Approval'

Courtesy of the Assyrian Aid Society - America
3 July 2008

(ZNDA: San Francisco)  The Assyrian Aid Society of America (AAS-A) is in the process of receiving Better Business Bureau (BBB) recognition as a national charity that adheres to the BBB's strong and comprehensive Standards for Charity Accountability, to clearly assure our donors and supporters that AAS-A is financially responsible, accountable, and trustworthy.

At it's meeting in Detroit on March 1, 2008 the AAS-A Board of Directors adopted a list of bylaw revisions written specifically to address the BBB standards, including institution of annual independent financial audits and requiring the Board to meet three times each year instead of only once.

The BBB standards are rigorous and demanding, having been developed to evaluate large non-profit charity corporations with multi-million dollar annual budgets. While AAS-A is not a multi-million dollar corporation, we invited those same standards to be applied to us in order to maintain the confidence of our donors as well as to make AAS-A a better organization.

AAS-A  has worked diligently with BBB representatives to insure that we are taking all of the necessary steps to meet their standards. We look forward to conducting that third Board of Directors meeting in November and thus being in full compliance with the standards of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance.

No other Assyrian charity organization has met the Better Business Bureau standards. We encourage them all to join us in pursuing this noble achievement.

Daylight and Darkness in a Baghdad Women's Home

Courtesy of the Washington Post
7 July 2008
By Andrea Bruce

(ZNDA: Baghdad)  Doris Yunan sits in the empty dining room where the sun can find her. With help from the wind, shapes and shadows tease her from the picture window. The sun winks at her from behind a bowing date palm. The light creates a sensation that sometimes, she says, overcomes her blindness.

Doris, 83, sits here in her regular spot especially when she prays. Arabic romance movies play in the next room, keeping the attention of 14 other elderly women who live at Beit Anya, a charity home in Baghdad run by Christians.

The home takes in women left abandoned by death or family or war. Most are old, some are handicapped. Before the war, when the home was opened, there were only four women living here. Now there are 47.

"When it hurts, I can't see anything," Doris says. "But now it is not hurting me, so I can see a little."

Eve Peters, a 21-year-old volunteer, sits half a table away, just in case.

Doris says it's nerve damage. She can't see the walled courtyard outside the window, the well-watered rose bushes or the hundreds of garlic bulbs hanging off the wrought-iron fence. But every morning she wraps a scarf around her head perfectly, in the traditional Assyrian style.

Her story is similar to those of most of the women here.

She married a widower. When he died four years ago, her stepsons escaped the war, leaving the country and abandoning her on the streets of Baghdad.

She lived on a bench in a church for a year before moving into Beit Anya.

Three times a day, she sits in one of the plastic chairs in the dining room, surrounded by walls lined with cheap prints of Bible scenes, and prays, one bead after another, with her rosary.

No one visits her.

Iraqi Refugees Condemn EU Decision on Their Intake

Courtesy of the Deutsche Welle
25 July 2008  

(ZNDA: Brussels)  The German push came at an EU Interior Ministers meeting last week in Brussels in which it was agreed to delay any decision on increasing Iraqi refugee intake until September.

The move aroused anger of many refugees who fled violence in Iraq.

"Germany has the right to refuse to take us in but it cannot ask other countries to deny the humanity of welcoming refugees," said one refugee.

Some Iraqi refugees think that the EU decision was influenced by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is seeking to bring Iraqis back home.

The refugees however say returning to Iraq would not be easy as most of them have had their homes appropriated by others after they fled.

Meanwhile, some Iraqi Christian refugees think that the EU offer to take them in has come a bit too late. "Why didn't it come in mid-2005 when killings and acts of violence were taking place," said one 61-year-old refugee.

Every month, Germany takes in an average of 600-700 Iraqi refugees, most of them Christians.

The EU decision was also criticized by the evangelical church in Germany and some human rights groups including Amnesty International.

Assyrian Man Arrested for Drug Trafficking Through
US-Canada Border

Courtesy of the Ottawa Citizen
30 July 2008

(ZNDA: Ottawa)  An Assyrian resident of Windsor, Canada faces federal drug charges after U.S. border guards at the Ambassador Bridge found more than 17 kilograms of ecstasy in the spare tire of his minivan. "

A tire normally has a hollow sound -- this one didn't. It was a thud," said Chief Ron Smith.  Adwar Odisho, 43, told border agents he was going to the United States to purchase auto parts but they became suspicious when a device designed to measure tire density produced a high reading.

A sniffer dog also reacted to the tire.  Mr. Odisho has been turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs agents.

Chaldean Festival Set for August 9 - 10

Chaldean Festival set for Aug. 9-10
30 July 2008
By Jennie Miller

(ZNDA: Detroit)  Embracing culture and tradition, and thriving with family fun, the local Chaldean community is inviting the masses to once again share in its celebration during the annual Chaldean Festival.

The event is set for Saturday and Sunday, 9-10 August, from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. on the front lawn of the Southfield Municipal Complex.

“We have such a large community and a very rich culture,” said Lisa Kalou, director of operations and events for the Chaldean-American Chamber of Commerce, based in Farmington Hills. She added that according to a recent household survey conducted by United Way and Walsh College, there are 120,000 Chaldeans in the metropolitan Detroit area.

“With this event, we wanted to put ourselves out there and show everyone our culture,” Kalou said of the third annual event.

The chamber, which has 1,200 members and represents the greater Chaldean business community in southeastern Michigan, organizes the event in partnership with the city of Southfield.

“It is a wonderful couple of days,” said Martin Manna, executive director of the chamber. “We’re very happy with the partnership with the city of Southfield. Being the center of it all, Southfield is a good place for us, because it’s also the home of the Chaldean Catholic (diocesan center) and the Chaldean Senior Home. We have a large Chaldean population, and Southfield is very central.”

The celebration is not just for the Chaldean crowd; all are welcome to attend, with a major purpose being to expose the masses to Chaldean culture, such as music, dances and food. There will be an estimated 100 food and merchant booths set up on the front lawn of the Civic Center.

“It’s great to see people attend this event, try our food, hear our music,” Manna said. “I think there is often a misconception about our community, and this is a wonderful opportunity (to dispel that misconception). Once we experience people’s cultures, we can gain a better understanding.”

The event is filled with fun for all ages, with children’s activities such as a dunk tank, a rock climbing wall and inflatables. There is also a raffle with a $10,000 grand prize.

“It’s a very fun, festive event,” Manna said, adding that an estimated 25,000 people came out to last year’s shindig. “We think that’s just going to continue to increase in our third year. It’s just getting bigger and bigger.”

The city is thrilled to host this event for the third time.

“We’ve always had a great relationship with the organization,” said Bill Waterhouse, director of the Southfield Parks and Recreation Department. “It’s a good time to come out and celebrate a little family fun. Whether or not someone is from the city of Southfield or the metro Detroit area, and whether or not they’re a part of the Chaldean community or just the general population, the Chaldean Festival has always celebrated families in a very special way. (It’s a chance) to come and learn a little bit about someone else’s culture.”

Admission is free, but some activities, as well as food and merchandise, carry a nominal cost. Proceeds from the event benefit the nonprofit Chaldean Chamber Foundation charity.

For more information, visit www.chaldeanchamber.com.

In Memoriam: Melina Oshana 1940-2008


Melina Oshana passed away on 29 June 2008.

Melina Oshana passed away on June 29, 2008 in Modesto, California, after a three-year struggle against cancer. She was 68.


She was laid to rest on July 1, at Turlock Memorial Park, following a church mass by Fr. Kamal Bidawid at Mar Toma Catholic Church in Turlock, with a memorial luncheon at the church hall where she was eulogized by her brother Basil Pius.


Melina was born in Habbaniya, Iraq, in April 1940. She was the seventh of eight children of Khammo Pius and Soriya Kakko Poloss. The family lived in Habbaniya for 15 years and 25 years in Baghdad, where her father and brothers had a prosperous book business from 1953 through 1973, established by her late brother Aprim.


Melina was married to Oshana Qomsor Oshana in December 1979, just before she immigrated to America with her younger sister Nina, to rejoin their older brothers Basil Pius and the late Rafael and Aprim and families. She arranged for her husband and his mother to rejoin her after a few months and helped her brother-in-law (edma) Sargon Oshana and family to rejoin them also in Turlock, California.


Melina and Oshana were blessed in Turlock with their first and only child Sargis, now a quiet, gentle young man of 27.


Melina worked for several years in canaries, and had a profitable alteration business in Modesto for the last 20 years, while also doing at times charitable work for the church.  She was a lively and sociable person, hospitable and generous, donating freely to Assyrian charities and causes, sometimes also to strangers who were down on their luck. She took care of her sightless mother-in-law at her home from 1980 to the time she died a year ago.


Melina had a strong faith in Jesus and His Mother Mary and maintained her conviction until the very end, receiving the grace of absolution and the Eucharist shortly before her death and the last rites while comatose. She never wavered in her faith, never indulged in self-pity till the end.


She also had very strong personal opinions about politics and our Assyrian nation, and being a close friend of Sargon Dadisho’s sister since Habbaniya days, she was a staunch supporter and contributed generously for many years to Bet-Nahrain’s membership, magazine and TV subscriptions and constant fund-raisers.


A faithful husband, Oshana took very good care of her and both he and his son were always at her bedside during her last weeks of agony in the hospital. And her cousin’s wife Barbara with husband Andy went out of their way to accommodate and help Melina and her husband in appointments and the processing of her medical papers  during their few trips to San Francisco.


Melina is survived by her husband Oshana and son Sargis; siblings Mikhael Pius (Modesto) Christina George (Sweden), Basil and Mishael Pius (Montana) and Nina Lazar (Denair-Turlock) and by dozens of cousins, nephews, nieces and in-law family members scattered all over America, Europe and Australia.

Surfs Up!
Your Letters to the Editor


May is Beauty Queen*

Mikhael K. Pius

May is called the month of flowers, and its beauty entitles it also to be named the Beauty Queen.

In May, spring attains the zenith of splendor and charm. The trees are in bright green, the colorful flowers and wild plants are in full bloom, and the weather is usually at its clement best. The outdoors with their natural beauty, enhanced by the singing birds, flitting and buzzing insects, warm, golden sunshine and, often cooling breezes, is a strong drawing card for hikes, picnics, fishing trips and such.  Even a simple walk on the street can be a delightful experience.

May brings in the month of Mary. During this month, Catholics all over the world offer special devotional homage to Mart Mariam Ptulta, and members of every faith in the U.S. share in the activities of the National Family Week.

May commemorates many national days in this country. Among these are the first air-mail service in the U.S. (May 15, 1918); Charles Lindbergh’s maiden transatlantic solo flight (May 21, 1927) and Amelia Earhart’s first woman’s solo flight across the Atlantic on May 20, 1932. (Five years later, while trying to fly her twin-engine plane around the equator, Amelia disappeared without a trace.) May 16, 1866 was the advent of the nickel, five-cent coin; May 5, 1865 was the first Memorial Day (observed each year on last Monday of May) when some Southern women decorated the graves of Confederate and Union soldiers during the American Civil War (1861-65); and on May 9, 1914, was held the first Mother’s Day.

May ushers in for us Assyrians special feasts and festivals, among them:  Mart Shmoni & her Children’s Day falls on first Tuesday of May; Feast of Our Lady of the Fields on May 15; and the other two days that we celebrate with devotional enthusiasm are Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May and Kaalu d’Sulaaqa, Ascension Day, falling usually in May, 39 days after Easter Sunday.

Mother’s Day has been celebrated by us Assyrians only during recent decades.  On this day, husbands, children, grandchildren and even close relations and friends love and pamper the mother.  They give her greeting cards with heart-warming verses and sometimes with scrawled personal messages of appreciation, love and devotion; flowers and gifts, plus, sometimes, a special meal treat by her family topped off by a “Happy Mother’s Day” cake with colorful balloons and lighted candles.  In addition, community club and church ladies decorate halls and throw Mother’s Day parties to fete and honor the mothers with speech, poem and song, often selecting a mother, either the oldest or an achiever, as “Mother of the Year.”

Kaalu d’Sulaaqa, which has a traditional history of its own, is when girls used to band together in groups, in Atra, dress up a pretty girl as a bride for each group and parade her around in the neighborhood, collecting “alms” either in money or food items, with which they held a celebration party. They ate, drank tea and beverages, sang, danced, played and made merry for hours. Oftentimes, young mothers, with their little children, also participate in the parties.

But in this country, nowadays Kaalu d’Sulaaqa is observed at Church halls and clubs, when the community women (and men) get together and celebrate with a music-and-dance party. (See detailed article in Zinda dated July 1, 2006). 

“During May,” wrote the well-known Assyrian poet John Alkhas in regard to Kaalu d’Sulaaqa, “the ancient Assyrians would observe the great feast of the goddess Baillit. It was during this feast that all the weddings would take place at the temples. After the official registration of the marriages, the brides and their bridegrooms would go around and visit the homes of their relatives to make known their marriage and to receive wedding gifts or, as we now say, to collect sabaghta.

“The feast of the Ascension of Our Lord to heaven also usually falls in the month of May. The Christianized Assyrians established this custom of taking little brides around on Ascension Day in a similar manner as the ancient Assyrian practice. That is why this tradition of Kaalu d’Sulaaqa has remained with us Assyrians till now. It would be a pity if it is forgotten.”

*Dedicated to May Philip, the impending bride in Canada, as a wedding present from her paternal grandfather’s second cousin.

The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

Edward I. Baba

History repeats itself. Preventing the destructive repetition of history, our youth are armed with the weapon of education. They are well aware of the tragedies that occur from theocracies and refuse to have Qasha Emanuel Youkhana or his patriarch define their political destinies.

Western civilization has prospered with the placement of separation of church and state. A line between these two very different entities is fragile, but should not be crossed. Religious figures are on that very same line and they should not even attempt to frolic over it.

I don’t recall any clergymen shedding blood and losing lives in defense of the Assyrians in Iraq under the vicious Baathist regime. I, however, recollect the lives Zowaa members lost in protection of the Assyrian communities within Iraq. Zowaa faced these harsh realities and they faced them head on with absolute refusal to succumb to oppression and with the idea of unconditional protection for our people. Qasha Emanuel Youkhana's attempts at becoming a successful clergyman were futile, what makes him think he can do a politician’s job? And what makes him think he can do that when he isn't even facing the same realities the Assyrians in Iraq are facing every day of their lives?

His appearance at the European Parliament to discuss the future of the Assyrians in Iraq seemed fruitless because of inabilities of getting his points through. No one really knew what to respond because no one really understood what he said. If Qasha Emanuel Youkhana's attempt to take on the role of political representation in a governmental arena as the European Parliament, it would be necessary for him to quit mumbling and enunciate properly in order for people to comprehend the ideas he is endeavoring to put through.

I’d like to begin to address some of his recent comments of comedic relief in regards to Assyrians supposedly having a “phobia” of Kurds. What are they, spiders? Do we have Arachnophobia? Our ancestors would destroy empires, why would we fear an ethnicity that has no diplomatic relations with the surrounding majority of the Middle East?

There’s an old saying of the pot calling the kettle black and I believe it fits this perfectly. When Massoud Barzani was interviewed by Arabia TV last year, he repeatedly failed to use our Assyrian name by referring to us as “Messiaheens” in attempt to conceal our identity. Mullah Bukhtyar, as well, kept deceptively imposing the belief that Assyrians had no relation to the land. Qasha Emanuel Youkhana is so vocal and hasty to falsely call out Assyrian “phobias” yet he failed to speak out against this deceit. His pen is a sword, why didn’t he use it?

While Assyrians in Iraq are burning and yearning for a breath of freedom, Qasha Emanuel Youkhana boast with audacity the idea that thrusting Assyrians under Kurdish control would ultimately be their best decision. Is he merely using this as a guise for his own ulterior motives of KDP satisfaction? Or has he been living under a rock for 30 years?                                  

Climbing the Rigi Mountain to Remember the Assyrian, Armenian and Greek Genocide of 1915

The Seyfo Centre

On Sunday, July 6 2008, approximately 100 people from all over the world participated in the climb of the Rigi mountain in Switzerland.  The climb was marked by the commemoration of the victims during the Assyrian Genocide of 1915. On top of the mountain there were symbolically a large number of black balloons released with the text: 'Turkey should recognize the Assyrian Genocide'.

The program consisted of a short lecture on Saturday evening, the climb on Sunday morning and a lunch on Sunday afternoon.  In the Assyrian (Suryoye) Association in the village of Ibach, an hours drive from the Syrian Orthodox monastery in Arth, a short presentation was held by Mr.  Sabri Atman, chairman of Seyfo Center.  During the lecture, the participants were told the importance of the recognition of the Seyfo and encouraged to climb the Rigi mountain the next day.

The ascent of the 1800 meter high mountain lasted more than 2 hours.  Among the participants there were a lot of elderly people.  The mountain, that was to be seen in wide outline during the climb, had many hurdles and setbacks.  People were injured and exhausted.  For many, this was the way to imagine how the deportations took place during the Assyrian Genocide (Seyfo) of 1915.

At the top of the mountain, all participants released a helium-filled balloon, with the text 'Turkey should recognize the Assyrian Genocide'.  After releasing, all the balloons disappeared behind the dark clouds, a symbolic closure of the climb.

After the climb, the day was closed with a pleasant lunch in a typical Swiss house.

During the climb there was also a camera crew present, Ahna Media, which follows Mr. Atman for a period of time for making a documentary.  A small part of the climbing event is, from Thursday and on, possible to see on www.ahna.nl.  The entire documentary will be released at the end of this year.

See video from Rigi mountain and pictures.

Musing with My Samovar
with Obelit Yadgar


Golden Fins

There was a time I could challenge dolphins by swimming the length of an Olympic-size pool for an hour non-stop. Up and down as if the world ran in only two directions. No, this was not some kid with golden fins. Or a Navy Seal out for a casual dip in the water. No sir. I was a 42-year-old chlorine warrior with the stamina of Ashurnasirpal’s infantry. I was Sargon II breathing fire from his war chariot. I was Tiglath-Pileser I on a lion hunt. 


Well, maybe the accolades are a bit too much, especially the parts about war and hunting, since I have an aversion to both. 

One thing of which I am sure, though, is that I had a great swim teacher, who was focused, methodical, and had the patience of a saint. She knew exactly what she was doing. My teacher was my older daughter Sonja. She brought me along slowly and carefully by setting realistic goals and hailing every little accomplishment. I often wondered who was the better teacher, father or daughter? Now a beautiful young woman, she continues to be my physical trainer, and as a professional dietitian, also my personal diet coach. Now, that’s something. 

“Teach me how to swim,” I had said. “Not just splashing around like some lumbering water buffalo. I want the real stuff – to conquer the water as if I had grown up on an island. Form, style and strength – that’s what I want.”

She didn’t regard my decision to learn how swim a whim, something in my head from watching Esther Williams movies. Nor did she think I was too old to learn. She knew better. She was raised to believe that you never stop learning as long as your mind is open and willing, and that ultimately curiosity and knowledge win over ignorance and empty chatter. She knew I was serious and that I could do it. In many ways we are alike, my Sonja and I. We both have the tenacity of a shark. After all, the same Assyrian blood runs through us.

I remember telling her that the Assyrians are tenacious in guarding the rhythm of their identity despite centuries of disruptions in its tempo and meter. That tenacity in preserving who they are has helped them to survive horrible crimes of genocide against them by the hordes of dead souls. Assyrians may have a different address now, but their old address will never change no matter whose home is built on top of it. Although Sonja was born in America, she knows about the Assyrian life and history from my long narratives on the subject – whether anyone’s listening or not. I hope in my attempt at educating her about our people and history I have been as thorough as she was in teaching me how swim. 

In the years I lived in Tehran in my early teens, there were only two swimming pools that I knew of, both outdoors and not always open in the summer. Not that I wanted to go swimming everyday, and even when I did go to the pool, I spent most of the time debating whether to brave the icy water – who had ever heard of a heated swimming pool? Besides, I preferred to daydream in the sun and be anywhere else except where everybody thought he was Rostam, the Persian mythological hero.

In Urmia, where I spent many a summer vacation with my grandmother in her village of Digala, now and then some of the village kids and I would spend the day at a small tributary of Shahr River a short distance from Digala. Not that any of us did anything that bore the least resemblance to swimming. What swimming? I mean who has ever heard of going to the river for a proper swim? Nah, we went to the river to horse around. To sit around in the sun and tell funny stories. To laugh. To daydream.   

In Chicago, my high school swim class was as tedious as a church sermon. Later in San Francisco, college gym classes included some swimming, which was even a bigger torture. There, I was encouraged to make an attempt at boxing, and I did until some guerilla flattened me with a surprise right hook that played Beethoven’s 37th symphony in my ear – and the great master had stopped at nine symphonies. After that I felt I was better off spending more time on literary and musical discourses in smoke-filled coffeehouses, a most enjoyable habit I had embraced in high school in Chicago.

American soldiers relaxing at the public pool in Baghdad.

In Vietnam, in 1968, aside from forging rivers in full pack, an occasional dip in the cool water – in the pacified areas of the country, even with the fear of a sniper sending me to meet Ashurbanipal – did wonders for the shattered spirit. Occasionally I found myself taking momentary leaps back to those carefree days in the river in Urmia. Sometimes my thoughts turned to the Assyrian soldiers of ancient times. I wondered how they felt when forging the Zab River in full battle gear or when resting their weary bones and nursing their wounds in the cool river. I felt a certain kinship with those who might have disliked swimming as much as I.

On my way to R&R in Japan, I splashed around in the South China Sea just for the novelty. I mean how often would I get a chance to stick a toe in the South China Sea? In the week or so spent in Tokyo I made two visits, as guest of an acquaintance, to the American Club, but it was more to appease my natural male curiosity rather than to splash around in the pool.

Not until watching my daughter compete in swim meets in the seventh grade did I gain a measure of interest in swimming. The kids were dazzling in the pool. They were young and powerful, bold and driven. They had the killer instinct to go for No. 1: to win for themselves and for the team. The years had tamed such fires in me long after I stopped playing soccer at school in Tehran. 

No, racing was for Sonja and the rest of the dolphins in the pool and not for me. Then why not swim as a student? I wondered. Why not overcome my dislike for swimming and at the same time conquer the fear of water? Besides, I would not dispute the exercise value in swimming. Something else, too: it would also give me time to myself and the chance to shut everything else out of my mind and think only about my action in the water.

“Sure, I’ll teach you how to swim, dad,” Sonja beamed. “It’ll be fun to teach my daddy.”

And fun it was. Pure joy. Most of all, though, I felt unbound pleasure to be taught by my daughter. It never ceases to amaze me how much we can learn from those younger than us. I think sometimes the older generation forgets the benefits of learning from the younger. I especially hope Assyrian elders everywhere will, at least, give younger minds their due respect. After all, it is a changing world and in some ways the young are better equipped to assess current social and political concepts and trends than those whose thoughts and opinions were formed in a different world. Wisdom and reasoning are not exclusive to the aged.

“Oh, Pops, it’s easy – just watch what I do,” my daughter would say when I faced frustration and felt like a clunker trying to drive like a Rolls Royce. Bah! Doing handstands on an airplane wing might have been easier. What had I got myself into? Sometimes half the pool ended up in my stomach. But I tried. No quitting for this aquatic wonder, especially with Sonja in my corner. She held my hand. She lifted my spirit. She said to relax in the water, and I did. One stroke at a time, she said, and I followed her direction. One stroke led to two, many meters to pool length. Clumsy strokes became refined. I gained strength. She said I could do it and that was enough for me.

In the end she proved right. Little by little I learned. I couldn’t lose with the world’s best teacher. Nor would I chance losing her respect for not trying. We did have to get a few things straight from the beginning, though. No way would I even attempt the butterfly stroke, a savage stroke if there ever was one. Breast and sidestrokes were more civilized, and within my physical prowess. Throw in the back crawl, too, if only in remembrance of Esther Williams. The front crawl, or freestyle, was a must, and it proved to be my favorite. Call it the royal swim stroke, the Rolls Royce of swimming.      

No big deal, all this. No stars for the record books. No medals. Being my own champion is what counted. Still does. Somehow I learned to swim, and my daughter said she was proud of me. That was the best medal anyone could pin to my chest.

It’s been some years since I was 42. If I try hard enough, I might be able to play dolphin again. Just might. Only if I want to. Either way, I know I still have the world’s best teacher and physical trainer in my daughter Sonja. She varies my daily exercise to cover a number of physical activities, even though she knows that these days I’d rather do something else, like pass the time in Café Mozart in Vienna, immersed in Goethe, sipping café mit schlag. Or to just close my eyes and return to my grandmother’s home in Urmia: to drink tea from her samovar and let the sweet air wash over me.

And if by the chance the village kids come around, they can count me in for a hike to the river.

Surfer's Corner
Community Events


AUA-Australia's Plans for Martyrs Day in August

Hermiz Shahen
Secretary, Assyrian Universal Alliance-Australian Chapter
Email: auaaustralia@optusnet.com.au
Mobile: 0407235349
Fax: (02) 9610 2499

The 7th of August has been designated, by the Assyrian Universal Alliance, as a memorial day for Assyrian Martyrs. Assyrians all over the world set aside this day for the remembrance of those who gave their lives for the preservation of their cultural, religious and ethnic identity.

The Assyrian Universal Alliance-Australia Chapter together with the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies are hosting a Seminar commemorating the Assyrian Martyrs and Genocide Day on 7 August 2008.

Details of the Seminar are as follows:

Venue:   Jubilee Room                                           Time:    6:00-9:00 pm
Parliament of New South Wales
               Parliament House
               Macquarie Street
               Sydney NSW 2000

Our guest speakers are:

Sabri Atman, Assyrian Seyfo Centre –The Netherlands
Dr. Panayiotis Diamadis, Director of Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Dr. Racho Donef, Assyrian Genocide scholar

The Administrative Board of the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA)-Australia chapter, are inviting our Assyrian people to attend this seminar.

To register your attendance, please call us on:
0407235349   or   0416 202089

Hannibal Alkhas' Paintings on Display at a Dubai Gallery

(ZNDA: Dubai)  The Basement Gallery in Dubai's Al Quoz district is showcasing the unique paintings of one of Iran's most celebrated artists, Hannibal Alkhas.

Hannibal’s exhibition entitled “Story of the ASSYRIAN”, running until 26 July will include 15 pieces of 1.30m x 2.50m each which collectively tell a compelling tale. His works have been deeply inspired by the ancient bas-reliefs and stone sculptures of Ancient Assyria, which was located in north Mesopotamia and spanned four countries; Babylon, which was the capital of Babylonia; and the era of Persian King Darius I who ruled from 522 to 486 B.C.

The artist’s paintings represent the dichotomies that exist between human emotions and thoughts including love and hate, the exotic and the mundane, victory and defeat, hope and despair, and pride and weakness.  Hannibal’s inaugural exhibition at BASEMENT highlights the universal notions of birth, death, hunger, the historical lineage of humanity, mythology, and visions of war and peace.

“Hannibal is considered to be an Iranian master and BASEMENT is honoured to host his inaugural exhibition in Dubai,” said Baharak Raoufi, one of the founders of the BASEMENT gallery.

Hannibal Alkhas was born in 1930 in Kermanshah, Iran and is the son of the famous Assyrian writer Rabi Adai Alkhas. He studied and lectured in the United States but returned to his homeland to lecture in Tehran. Since 1992, Hannibal has been teaching at the Azad Islamic University of Iran.  The artist has exhibited widely in the United States and Iran and this will be his first UAE exhibition.

Hannibal’s exhibition is the second exhibition at BASEMENT, one of Dubai’s newest galleries. BASEMENT opened its doors on 16 June with its inaugural exhibition of Iranian art, which included works by artists Shahpari Behzadi, Hossein Edalatkhah, Aisling Haghshenas, Rayka Milanian, and Farbod Morshedzadeh.

Created by a consortium of architects, art collectors and entrepreneurs, BASEMENT aims to raise the regional and international profile of emerging artists.

Treasures from Assyria in the British Museum

Sunday, September 21, 2008 - Sunday, January 4, 2009

From the ninth to the seventh centuries BC, the Assyrians emerged as the dominant power in the Near East, controlling all of present-day Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt, as well as large parts of Turkey and Iran. It was the largest empire known until that time. In their homeland in northern Iraq, in the area of Mosul, the kings built splendid palaces, their gates flanked by colossal human-headed bulls and lions, their walls lined with great stone slabs intricately carved in relief with scenes memorializing in fascinating and sometimes grisly detail the king’s exploits in warfare and in hunting, palace life, and court rituals.

After the fall of Assyria, the kings’ palaces were deserted and covered with sand, their names and those of the kings who built them remembered only in the Bible and by Greek historians. In the 1840s and 1850s, French and British explorers dug up the mounds covering these palaces, revealing the glory of ancient Assyria and the fabled cities of Nimrud and Nineveh. British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard excavated literally miles of reliefs and sent the most interesting to the British Museum. After the Second World War, excavations were carried out under Sir Max Mallowan (the husband of mystery writer Agatha Christie). The finds were divided between England and Iraq and, as a result, the British Museum today holds the largest collection of Assyrian art outside of Iraq itself.

“Art & Empire: Treasures from Assyria in the British Museum” includes the most powerful and moving of these reliefs. Military dress and equipment and horse trappings and harnesses illustrate life in the army. Carved ivories, furniture fittings, and metal vessels showcase the luxurious, cosmopolitan lifestyle enjoyed by the king and his court. An array of three-dimensional objects—figures of deities, clay tablets, clay seals and sealings—address the administration of the empire, trade, legal and social issues, and interrelationships between religion, magic, and medicine. Exorcisms, omen texts, mathematical texts, and literary compositions from the royal library (where the king sought to gather together all the world’s learning in one place) enshrine the wisdom of ancient Mesopotamia, the cradle of western civilization.

Oriental Institute Examines the Looting Iraq National Museum

The Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago is presenting an exhibit titled "Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past" in Chicago until December 31, 2008.  The opening date, April 10, marked the fifth anniversary of the looting of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad.

The looting of the Iraq Museum was widely publicized in the international press. However, it is less well known that ongoing looting of archaeological sites poses an even greater threat to the cultural heritage of Iraq. The exhibit “Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past” and the April 12 symposium (see below) examine the ongoing destruction and looting of Iraq’s cultural heritage.

Iraq, ancient Mesopotamia, is the cradle of civilization, the region that spawned the seminal inventions of writing, the calendar, the wheel, and even the concept of cities. The history of the world quite literally begins in Mesopotamia, making the loss of its cultural patrimony a loss for all humanity.

Archaeologists involved with the exhibit include McGuire Gibson, University of Chicago Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology, Geoff Emberling, Director of the Oriental Institute Museum, and exhibit co-curator, Katharyn Hanson

The exhibit is organized around the following themes:

  • The importance of archaeology to history and identity: Why does the past matter? What can it tell us about ourselves and our community?
  • Looting and damage to archaeological sites: dramatic photographs, including recent satellite images, show illicit looting and destruction of sites.
  • The threat of war: combat damage and the more significant construction damage being done by the US military at important sites including Babylon, Ur, and Samarra
  • The importance of archaeological context: how much context can tell us about an object and about the culture from which it came.
  • Looted artifacts: the routes that looted artifacts take from Iraq to art markets around the world, and where seizures have been made.
  • The Iraq Museum five years later: what in fact was looted and the progress of recovery efforts to date.
  • What has been done and what can be done? The exhibit examines what efforts are and can be made to stem the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq and on a local and national level throughout the world

A goal of the exhibit is to encourage people to think about the importance of archaeology and cultural heritage throughout the world, to ask questions such as: Why is archaeology important? What does the past mean to me, my family, my community and my nation? What can be done to preserve the past? How can individuals and communities as well as larger bureaucratic organizations safeguard the records of the past?

Sabri Atman Lectures in Greece about Seyfo-The Genocide

Seyfo Center
The Netherlands

Sabri Atman, representative of the Seyfo Center, has been invited to Greece to lecture about Seyfo- the genocide of the Assyrians during the First World War.

Apart from the Assyrians and Armenians, Greeks were also murdered during Seyfo. Before Seyfo approximately 3 million Greeks lived in Turkey. The Black Sea coast was demographically dominated by Pontic Greeks. Today there are no Pontic Greeks living at the Black Sea coast of Turkey.

Before 1915, the Christian minorities constituted one-third of the country’s population. Today the Christians are approximately only 80,000 in Turkey, a country with a population of 70 million.

All Christians, Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks were either murdered or subjected to ethnical cleansing. Sabri Atman’s trip to Greece has been noticed by the Assyrian media. Ahna Media in Holland and the Radio program Qolo in Sweden have interviewed Sabri Atman.

During the interview, Sabri Atman said that the trauma caused by Seyfo is still very strong and evident in Greece.
Click on the links below to see/listen to these interviews with Sabri Atman.

Ahna media Holland

Radio Qolo Sverige

Requesting Support For Publishing the Chronicle of Michael the Syrian

Last month, during a Symposium  on Mar Jacob of Edessa held in Aleppo, the Edessan Community—for the first time in history—gave permission for the publication of the History of Michael Rabo, in a special arrangement with Dr. Sebastian Brock and Dr. George A. Kiraz. The community possesses the only manuscript of this history. No scholar in the past was given access and publication permission. But with the efforts of the Edessan community and wise management of Bishop Mar Gregorios Yuhanna Ibrahim, permission was granted last month. Bishop Yuhanna Ibrahim himself will edit this volume. He wrote:

Bishop Mor Gregorios Yuhanna Ibrahim and the custodians with the manuscript.

It was one of the shortest and most important decisions in my life, that of the publication of the Chronicle of Mor Michael Rabo. I consider it one of the miracles of Mor Yacoub d'Urhoy, this great malfono and saint. He was behind the decision for this publication. It is after almost 500 years that this manuscript is kept in different places. Now the scholars and all those who are interested in this chronicle will enjoy this decision and be happy that our Symposium in Aleppo prompted the Archdiocese to publish this manuscript for the first time.

God Bless

Mar Gregorios

This Chronicle is a world history. It starts from creation and goes on until the 12th century (when its author Patriarch Michael the Great died). The 13th century polymath Bar Ebroyo used it as a source in his history. It indeed one of the most historical records of the Syriac church.


Gorgias Press agreed to help in this project, but needs to raise funds for it. Only printing-and-binding will cost $25,000 to $30,000. 


All contributors will be acknowledged in the book, and will receive free copies of the book. There are 3 levels of contribution: Silver (contributor gets 1 free copy), Gold (3 free copies), and Platinum (5 free copies).


Please help make this historical book available for the first time in history. Click here to help.


If you have questions, please contact Dr. George Kiraz at gkiraz@gorgiaspress.com.

Zinda Recommendations from Gorgias Press

For More Info
The Life of Severus by Zachariah of Mytilene

Lena Ambjörn


This biography of Severus, the patriarch of Antioch 512–518 AD, gives unique information about life in Mediterranean region at the end of the 5th century. It is an important source for studies on Late Antiquity and the early History of Christianity.

The biography is attributed to Zachariah of Mytilene, and focusses on the earlier days of Severus’ life and his time of study in Alexandria and Beirut. Zachariah and Severus, both from influential and wealthy families, studied grammar and rhetoric together in Alexandria, after which they moved to Beirut to study law. As students they became involved with the so-called philoponoi, “those devoted to work”, young Christians whose ideal was an ascetic lifestyle in combination with theological study. Their rhetorical skills were used to argue against the pagan values of the establishment, and some left all family obligations to go and live as monks in the desert.

Zachariah writes the biography in order to free Severus from accusations of taking part in pagan rites in his youth, and he does so by arguing that Severus was a devoted Christian already in his childhood, but that social circumstances – he was trying to make a career in a pagan society – forced him to fight paganism by discretely supporting his friends rather than by taking active part in violent manifestations such as the destruction of pagan books.

In spite of the wealth of information that this text conveys, Zachariah’s Life of Severus has not been available in English translation until now.

Lena Ambjörn is Associate Professor of Semitic Languages at Lund University, Sweden. She specializes in Medieval Medicine as documented in Syriac and Arabic sources, and has, among other things, published critical editions of Arabic medical texts from the 9th century.

Aphrahat the Persian Sage and the Temple of God

Stephanie K. Skoyles Jarkins $115
Click Here

Aphrahat the Persian Sage, (fl. 337-345 C.E.), was a Syriac Christian author who wrote twenty-three treatises entitled The Demonstrations. This book Aphrahat the Persian Sage and the Temple of God: A Study of Early Syriac Theological Anthropology examines “temple” as a key image for Aphrahat’s theological anthropology. The temple is central for both Jews and Christians; it is the place of sacrifice, meeting, and communication with the Divine. The temple image is the lens through which the author examines various aspects of Aphrahat’s thought including: asceticism, sacramental theology, Christology, and ecclesiology. For Aphrahat, the devout Christian person may be a micro-temple which then allows one to encounter the divine both within oneself and through a vision ascent to the heavenly temple. The community on earth is also somewhat a temple, however, Aphrahat writes more extensively about the individual person and the person’s relation with God. Aphrahat, a mid-fourth century Christian author, uses themes and ideas with ancient roots, including Merkabah traditions of the temple and applies these traditions to the Christian experience of God. Aphrahat’s theological anthropology maintains that the human person is a creature made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26). Because of the Lord’s self emptying in the incarnation (Phil 2:7), his follower may become a locus of the divine – a temple of God. The Lord’s kenosis allows for the theosis of the human. The person may then manifest the Spirit within, through love, humility, faith, and actions.

History of the Syrian Church of India

H.H. Mar Ignatius Yacoub III


This book covers the history of the Syrian church of India from its founding by the apostle Thomas in 52 A.D., until the first half of the twentieth century. That this church was subject to the See of Antioch is evidenced by the emigration in 345 A..D., of seventy- two Syrian families of Edessa (Al-Ruha) to Malabar. They came to be known by the native Syrians as “the Canaanites.” Unfortunately, the relations of the Church of India with the See of Antioch were interrupted by the rise of the Nestorian teaching. The coming of the Portuguese at the end of the fifteenth century, followed by the Dutch and then the British and their efforts to convert the Syrian Indians to their own persuasions, is discussed with fairness and objectivity. The several delegations of the Apostolic See of Antioch to India from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries form an indispensable account of the vicissitudes of a struggling native Indian church trying to preserve its Antiochene identity. In its entirety, the History of the Syrian Church of India is a great historical contribution.

The Crusades: Conflict Between Christendom and Islam  (Publications of the Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church ) Matti Moosa $221

This book sheds light on the first three Crusades (1097-1191) by introducing material from several medieval Syriac and Arabic sources and reconciling their accounts with those provided by Western sources. It presents the Crusades as an extension of the conflict between Christianity and Islam, which began with the Arabs’ first incursions into Christian territory in the seventh century and continued with their conquest of the Iberian peninsula. It discusses the evils perpetrated by both sides in the name of religion, and it details the internal struggles that weakened both the Muslims and the European invaders. The book is broad in scope, examining not only the Christians’ efforts to take control of Jerusalem but also relatively minor campaigns against other perceived enemies of the church. It portrays clearly those larger-than-life figures who played major roles in the history of the period, from Pope Urban to Richard the Lion-Hearted and Saladin. Although the Crusades ended centuries ago, the conflict they embodied is still being carried on today, not only in the Middle East but around the globe. This book allows the discerning reader to understand its roots.

Matti Moosa holds a Ph.D. degree in Middle Eastern history and culture from Columbia University. His publications include The Wives of the Prophet (ed.), Gibran in Paris (ed.), The Maronites in History (1986), and many translations from Arabic into English. Order Information

Editor's Pick

When Hindu Temple was Our Christian School


(School-day nostalgia)

Mikhael K. Pius

The end of the relatively cooler and drier August in sunny golden Modesto-Turlock area reminds me, strangely enough, of the blazingly hot and humid month in central Iraq. September in the old country was still summery hot, and cool relief often loitered about till the end of October. But September here is the beginning of fall when the heat lets up and nature breaks out in the splendor of the autumn foliage; leaves that turn yellow, orange and crimson before the blustery winds and drenching rains of November shake and beat them down, leaving the trees stripped bare of their grace and glory for the Christmas month, except in California's colder areas where their nakedness is clothed with the beauty of snow. 

End of August is summer's swan song and also the end of summer school recess. It ushers in yet another traditional scholastic year, when our children (or grandchildren) return to school. As I’ve made my morning walk on Snyder Avenue along the fence of Mildred Perkins’ Elementary School during recent years, I have often watched children playing joyfully various games in the school’s green ground during the 20-minute recess; some scrambling on the monkey bars, some practicing basketball or volleyball on the hard court or soccer on the green pitch, others chasing each other around and shouting and laughing, while a few just stand around in twos or threes or more, chatting. It reminds me of our preteen school days in Iraq in the mid-1930s. And regardless of time and place (and people) most of us treasure our school-day memories.          

Our school was in a camp called Maratha Lines adjoining the RAF [Royal Air Force] Station of Hinaidi. The air base was established by the British colonial power in 1922 several miles east of Baghdad. It employed many local civilian laborers of various trades and a local military force called Assyrian Levies. These RAF employees were of various races, including Arabs and Kurds, but with a majority of WW1 Assyrian refugees from Hakkiari Mountains of Ottoman Turkey, and Assyrian and some Armenian refugees from Urmia, Persia, following the 1918 Assyrian Irqa (flight) to Baquba in Iraq. All this population was housed in four RAF labor camps surrounding the air base within a two-mile radius.

Most of these civilian laborers, with their families, were housed in a big camp named Central Labor Camp, later dubbed “Kota” Camp, and attached to it was a smaller community called Coolie Camp, both less than two miles southeast of the air base. The contingent of Assyrian Levies, with their families, were accommodated in a number of  long military bungalows a mile or so northwest of the air base. But our small community of some sixty families, mostly Assyrians with a few Armenian and Indian families, lived in Maratha Lines adjoining the air base on its northwest side and a mile southeast of Levy Lines.

Our camp was a series of five long military bungalows. Each bungalow was partitioned, with hasseereh (rush mats), into ten or more “houses,” each family paying a monthly rent of 100 fils, equal to 30¢ then, to the camps’ administrator Mr. J. Ingram, a retired “Qota Masta” in the British Army (known as “Mr. Kota” by Assyrians) through his resident deputy, Mr. William Shabbas.  And a sixth shorter bungalow was our school. The school bungalow was formerly used as a Hindu temple by the Colonial Indian troops that were replaced by Assyrian Levies and repatriated to India some years before the local employee families moved into the camp in 1932.

Our school had one hundred pupils consisting of kindergarten and first three grades.  Some pupils came from the Assyrian Levy camp, even though there was an elementary school there taught by a Raabi Sargis Shumon, while a few older boys and girls from Maratha Lines and Levy Lines commuted a couple of miles to Kota Camp to study in Raabi Yacoub’s Assyrian & Armenian Union [middle] School.

Our lone teacher, Raabi Espanya Shimshon Barkhou, schooled all four classes himself, by turns in morning and afternoon shifts. He taught us arithmetic, the rudiments of the Assyrian and English languages, and simple songs and prayers. School tuition was a mere 50 fils monthly (15¢).  

Beside reading and writing, we had spelling competition when, standing in line, correct spellers slapped cheeks of those who misspelled and advanced in the line. The teacher also meted out punishment for other learning infractions or mischief, by switch lashes in open palms or by enforced kneeling-down for short spells.

I remember it was during a reading exercise of this kind that I once tripped over a couple of words. Raabi Espanya ordered me to kneel down, but I disobeyed, feeling that I didn’t deserve the punishment. And when the teacher walked over and physically forced me to kneel down, I bolted out of the door and ran home. The teacher came after me with a stick, but could not make me go back to school. Realizing my fault later, I was ashamed to face my teacher. It took the cajoling and chaperoning of my step-grandmother Dayi Murassa to return me to school the next morning, when I also apologized to Raabi Espanya.

Our school was one large classroom. Except for the teacher, no one had a chair or desk. We sat down on rush mats on the floor, cross-legged like Hindus, in our stockings, socks, or bare feet. But in wintertime, some of us sat on doshakyateh, personal homemade cushions. We left our shoes on a sheltered walkway just outside the school door to be retrieved when we went out. This reminds me of a poignant, though funny, incident:

One day when school was letting out, as usual we streamed out of the doorway in a rush.  We were a rowdy and noisy lot.  We pushed and jostled each other and squealed like piglets. And sometimes we really got into each other's hair. We dashed to the clusters of shoes parked just outside the door on the walkway. There were shoes of various sizes and shapes, styles and makes, and in different stages of wear and tear. We hastened to find our shoes and to put them on for a quick getaway.

 As I stuffed my feet into my shoes to hurry away, I heard the little-girl’s voice of my younger sister, Christina. “Mnash’shey, peesh'shu so’loukh!” she called after me in a shrill voice in our typical tribal dialect: She thought I was leaving without my shoes. In those days Assyrians spoke in various dialects and there were many. A few boys and girls overheard her. They giggled and began mimicking her remarks.

I was a shy boy and the teasing caused my big ears to grow hot and prickly! Cheeky boys and girls of other tribes, mostly of Bne-Gangachin, who were in the majority and who thought my sister’s remark and our dialect funny, teased and taunted me sometimes after that. I think I was then in the second grade, and my sister in kindergarten. It took me several years to live down that embarrassing incident! 

Our school was surrounded by a mud-brick-walled courtyard. And the floor was hard dirt ground, not green grass like today’s school grounds. During the daily recess, we played in the courtyard. There were no organized children's games and play things like today. Boys and girls improvised and played games of their own, among them shaqqa palla,1 khuny truny (hopscotch), riqda d’khola (rope-skipping), Mazreta (top spinning) Gimbulyateh (marbles), “soccer” (kicking a tennis ball around), or just chased each other around, yelling, squealing and laughing. 

And the beginning of the three-month summer recess was a joy to look forward to, to use and to "abuse" as we pleased. There were no after-school jobs to do, like doing errands or mowing lawns or such. It was the time to be free from classes and homework; to be outdoors most of the time, despite the sizzling heat. A time to play all sorts of outdoor games, as described above, as well as soccer and even hockey and tennis games; to swim in the fire-station mud pond or in the concrete irrigation canal; to walk miles just to swim (and fish) in Tigris River; to go sling-shot sparrow hunting; to sneak up into the RAF-forbidden trees lining the main Station roads—with an eye watching for RAF police!—to munch sweet and juicy mulberries and blackberries; to gnaw on khashkhashey (fruit of a kind of ground weed); to make and fly budwan (kite); to go on picnic and devour mom’s homemade durmakkeh (rolls) of cheese and mirtookha,2 washed down with gulps of honey-sweet tea, brewed in tin cans over outdoor fire; or to top it all off sometimes with a sneaked cigarette or two!

School days were indeed happy days of our youth. We cherish and remember them with nostalgia and fondness, even though a few of them were “painful” ones. They will always stay in our hearts and minds.




Note:    Some facts in this story are corroborated by Mr. Aprim K. Abraham of North Hills, California, who was an older schoolmate at Raabi Espanya’s school.

  1. Shaq’qa pal’la: The game was usually played between two contestants. Shaqqa was a two-foot strong wooden bat and palla was a half-foot, round thin stick with pointed ends. Palla was placed on the ground and was lightly struck at a pointed end with the bat. As it sprung up a few feet, it was struck hard with the bat to drive it as far away as possible. Then the distance driven would be measured with shaqqa. The play would be repeated by the other contestant from the point where palla had landed and the distance measured. Whichever of the two drove the palla farthest was the winner.
  2. Mir’too’kha: A mixture of flour fried in ghee, sometimes sweetened with sugar or molasses.

Paul Batou Demands Audience and Respect for Iraq

A Review of Paul Batou's Book:  “My Last Thoughts about Iraq

Author: Paul Batou
Publisher: Xlibris Corporation
Year: 2007

Helen Talia

A colorful book about Iraq‘s history and legends, people and traditions, religions and famous sites, war and disaster.


While a pharmacy student at the University of Baghdad, Paul Batou and his buddies did not know that war awaited them at the turn of the corner, bringing uncertainties to their lives and thwarting their dreams.  Suddenly, instead of attending lectures, they quickly learned how to sleep on empty stomachs, survive sanctions, and dodge bullets.


Paul gives an Olympian performance in this artistic reference manual addressing Iraq in three fundamental sections:  the history and loss of an ancient civilization ~ Mesopotamia, the betrayal of Iraq’s indigenous people ~ the Assyrians, and the tragedies of war.  The book is masterfully woven to take the reader on a journey into Iraq’s history, through the Gates of Ishtar, and the unprecedented aftermath of not one, two, or even three wars that have gripped Iraq into the 21st century and left its people defenseless and globally scattered.

In “My Last Thoughts about Iraq,” Paul Batou, now a native of California, constructs a poetic timeline of Iraq with himself in the middle of its ancient civilizations - Sumer, Akkad, Babylon, and Assyria.  The Greek, Persian, and Mongol invasions, the Arab conquests, the Ottoman period, World War I and the British mandate, World War II and the monarchy, the new republic, President Saddam Hussein, the Iraq-Iran war, the first Gulf war and weapons inspections, coalition troops, and even the Iraqi death.

A Village Called Tin

“Did you know?
The People in my village do not know how to write their names…
They are farmers,
In a tiny village called Tin,
Embraced by the valley called Supna…” 

Like a fetus that is being nurtured in her mother’s womb for nine months, Paul often speaks about the smallness and uniqueness of his tiny village that beams with pride in Northwest Iraq, until finally at her birth he reveals her name “Tin” to his audience.  But his beautiful virgin would not go untouched as the survival of the fittest and the downsizing of Assyrian villages at the hands of Kurds took their toll in Iraq in the 1960’s.


Likewise, from the very beginning, you can tell that Paul is a guy who's fallen head over heels in love with Ishtar who accompanies him throughout the book, including on the cover page, one of Paul’s paintings properly named “Journey with Ishtar.”  She alone understands the history of Iraq and the secrets to love.

Prelude to Baghdad

In a collection of poems inspired by his art, Paul takes a flashlight and digs in the smallest and darkest places tucked in Iraq’ spirit.  From the curse of Babylon to a hungry child in the streets of Baghdad, he dares to go places that otherwise would best remain untouched. 


In Iraq, school bells have been replaced with the sounds of sirens, mosque recitals and church hymns.  Music has been fine-tuned to accompany mothers wailing at the site of their defenseless soldiers’ caskets being carried to their doorsteps, killed in wars that gave birth to martyrdom.  And to the wake of bombs in the morning, children will live in fear and learn to hate.


Yes, in Iraq there seems to be a dark past that lingers in its people.  In Iraq there are prostitutes and hunger.  In Iraq girls have been raped, and suicide has become an alternative to communication.  But in Iraq there is “A Memory of Time and Place*” in Al Tahreer Plaza, Abu Nuwas, Saddon Street, Tel Mohammad, Baghdad Jadida, Ghadeer, Bataween, Karada, Zaiyouna, Shanashil, the sounds of Youssif Omar, the treasures of Badr, the birthplace of Jawaheree, and the Epic of Gilgamesh.  Who can forget the mid-day naps during Baghdad’s sizzling summers, and the afternoon tea time that brought neighborhoods together.  In and of itself it is an art being an Iraqi, knowing that the Tigris river divides Baghdad into two regions Karkh and Al Rasafah, and conjuring in pride that Nineveh is still the capital of Mosul.

The Author on Iraqis

“My goal has always been to change others by using figures of connectivity.  Despite the Iraqis having different religious beliefs, like the great Iraqi poet Badr who wrote about Jesus Christ many times and loved to be a Christian, Jawad Saleem the painter and sculptor who dreamed about absolute freedom, and Ali who lost his arms and legs in the war, I always want the Iraqis to see the beauty within and use it to love each other.  So when it comes to humanity, I speak for all, but the center of my pain is I lost Mesopotamia and I want her back.  I want to build a powerful human, and then that powerful human will build a free Iraq.”


My Last Thoughts about Iraq” is a personal invitation by the author into the Iraqiness of Iraq.  Paul Batou is superb in recognizing Iraq during its hype, while keeping integrity intact throughout this tiny 76-page book, filled with memoirs of Iraq.  A unique literature with attention to the smallest of details, Paul delivers a striking message that speaks on behalf of every Iraqi child whose dreams have been sanctioned.  He demands audience and respect for Iraq and offers solution to build awareness through education.

Final Thoughts

Today, the country whose hands have cradled civilizations, and whose Hammurabi laws have been indoctrinated into modern judicial systems struggles to find its own peace.  Even in Jawad Saleem’s “Nesbit al Hurreya” (Freedom, Arabic) relief, the Iraqis did not find freedom. *   Finally, if Iraq could speak, it would say:  I just want to be left alone.”         


* Jawad Saleem is a celebrated Iraqi artist (1921-1961) who erected “Nesbit al Hurreya” (Freedom, Arabic) relief in one of Baghdad’s famous plazas “Saha et Tahreer.” The relief is considered by generations of Iraqis as memory of time and place.

For Iraqi Christians, Money Bought Survival

Andrew E. Kramer
The New York Times
26 June 2008
Mosul, Iraq

As priests do everywhere, Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, the leader of the Chaldean Catholics in this ancient city, gathered alms at Sunday Mass. But for years the money, a crumpled pile of multicolored Iraqi dinars, went into an envelope and then into the hand of a man who had threatened to kill him and his entire congregation.

“What else could he do?” asked Ghazi Rahho, a cousin of the archbishop. “He tried to protect the Christian people.”

But American military officials now say that as security began to improve around Iraq last year, Archbishop Rahho, 65, stopped paying the protection money, one sliver of the frightening larger shadow of violence and persecution that has forced hundreds of thousands of Christians from Iraq. That decision, the officials say, may be why he was kidnapped in February.

Two weeks later, his body was found in a shallow grave outside Mosul, the biblical city of Nineveh.

Archbishop Rahho was among the highest-profile Iraqi Christians to die in the war. He was mourned by President Bush and Pope Benedict XVI before his role as a conduit for protection money paid by the Chaldean Christians to insurgents became known outside Iraq.

These payments, American military officials and Iraqi Christians say, peaked from 2005 to 2007 and grew into a source of financing for the insurgency. They thus became a secret, shameful and extraordinary complication in the lives of Iraq’s Christians and their leaders — one that Christians are only now talking about more openly, with violence much lower than in the first years of the war.

“People deny it, people say it’s too complex, and nobody in the international community does anything about it,” said Canon Andrew White, the Anglican vicar of Baghdad. Complicating the issue further, he said, some of the protection money came from funds donated by Christians abroad to help their fellow Christians in Iraq.

Yonadam Kanna, a Christian lawmaker in Iraq’s Parliament, said, “All Iraqi Christians paid.”

For more than 1,000 years, northern Iraq has been shared by people who for the most part believe and worship differently: Turkmen, Kurds, Yazidis, Sunni and Shiite Arabs, and Assyrian Christians — of whom the Chaldeans are the largest denomination. (The Chaldean Church, an Eastern Rite church, is part of the Roman Catholic Church, but maintains its own customs and liturgy.)

Since the time of the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, Muslims in the Middle East permitted that diversity in part through a special tax on Jews and Christians. The tax was called a jizya — and that is the name with which the insurgents chose to cloak extortion, Mafia-style, from Christians.

Officials say the demands could be hundreds of dollars a month per male member of a household. In many cases, Christian families drained their life savings and went into debt to make the payments. Insurgents also raised money by kidnapping priests. The ransoms, often paid by the congregations, typically ran as high as $150,000, several priests and lay Christians said.

In a paradox, this city, long the seat of Iraqi Christianity, also became known as the last urban stronghold of Sunni insurgents. Another, more painful, paradox is that many of Iraq’s remaining 700,000 Christians paid to save their lives, knowing full well that the money would be used for bombs and other weapons to kill others.

Archbishop Rahho was a man of God who preached peace in his sermons. How he was contorted into fulfilling the role of providing payments to the insurgents is a complex question. Part of the answer lies in the deteriorating local politics of northern Iraq under the American occupation.

The north, in all its ethnic and religious diversity, was at first calm. But a 2004 Marine assault on Falluja, west of Baghdad, forced leaders of the Sunni insurgent group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia to move north. The region then crumbled into terrifying mayhem. Christians, seen as allied with the American invaders, became targets of retributive attacks. “Leave or die” notes began appearing on their doorsteps.

“Anytime the Western countries go to war in the Middle East, it becomes a religious war,” said Rosie Malek-Yonan, the author of “The Crimson Field,” a historical novel depicting the 1914-18 massacre of Assyrians during World War I under similar circumstances.

Ms. Malek-Yonan, who testified on the issue of Christians’ safety in Iraq at a Congressional hearing in 2006, accused the United States Army of failing to protect the Christians out of concern that special attention to this minority would play into the hands of insurgent propagandists.

Instead, the task of protecting Christian neighborhoods in Mosul and villages on the surrounding Nineveh Plain fell to the Kurdish pesh merga militia and, later, to Kurdish-dominated units of the Iraqi Army.

The Kurds, however, have their own agenda: expanding the borders of their region. The Kurds claim five disputed districts in Nineveh Province, including two that were historically Christian.

Ms. Malek-Yonan and other Assyrian Christians and experts accuse Kurdish commanders of depriving the Christians of security in an effort to tilt the demographics in favor of Kurds. The expected result, she said, was an exodus of hundreds of thousands of Christians from Iraq. At least hundreds have been killed. One priest was quartered and beheaded.

Kurdish officials deny that they failed to protect Christians. “The Kurdish Iraqi forces in Mosul do their job without differentiation between sects, religion or nationality,” said Mohammad Ihsan, a minister for extra-regional affairs in the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Still, the Christian population of Iraq has fallen to roughly 700,000 today from a prewar estimate of 1.3 million.

Those who stayed behind faced an agonizing moral choice.

What was called the jizya was collected and paid by Jewish and Christian leaders to the insurgents operating on the west bank of the Tigris River. Archbishop Rahho, according to Mr. Kanna, the Christian lawmaker, made the payments on behalf of the Christians living in eastern neighborhoods of Mosul. He would have been an obvious choice: he had spent nearly his entire life in Mosul and was well known.

“He was the link,” Mr. Kanna said.

The archbishop’s cousin, Mr. Rahho, characterized the role as less central and emphasized the life-and-death nature of the choice to pay to save the lives of the parishioners. And the archbishop was certainly not the only person paying.

“We all paid,” said one Assyrian Orthodox Christian priest here who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from insurgents. “We were afraid.”

By several accounts by Christians who paid, the money changed hands quietly, according to a simple mechanism.

A man who introduced himself as Abu Huraitha, and who sometimes said he represented Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, made the menacing phone calls, the Assyrian priest said.

“He said: ‘I need money, I need money. If you do not give us money, I will kill you,’ ” the priest said. The bagman, however, was a fellow Christian, an elderly blue-eyed man who made the rounds of churches for the insurgents, the priest said. “If you do not give to him, they kill you.”

He said he paid 10 million Iraqi dinars, or about $8,000, over three years, until last winter, when the United States Army reinforced its garrison in Mosul with the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment. Military operations increased in the city. The American units built neighborhood forts and traffic control points that disrupted the insurgents’ movements. The racket started to fall apart.

During the fighting last winter, the Assyrian priest said, word trickled out that the Americans had killed Abu Huraitha. Many church leaders used the death of this contact to halt payments. Among them, perhaps most prominently, was Archbishop Rahho. He gave a speech on television in January denouncing the payments and saying that they should no longer be made.

A month later, on Feb. 29, he was kidnapped by gunmen after praying at the Holy Spirit Cathedral. They shot and killed his driver and two guards and bundled him into the trunk of a car. In the darkness, he managed to reach his cell phone and call his church. He implored them not to pay a ransom that would finance violence, church officials said.

Lt. Col. Eric R. Price, an adviser to the Iraqi Army units in eastern Mosul, said Archbishop Rahho, a diabetic, probably died from lack of medication before his release could be negotiated.

An Arab man, Ahmed Ali Ahmed, whom the Iraqi authorities identified as a member of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown group that American intelligence says is led by foreigners, was captured, tried and sentenced to death for the kidnapping, though Mr. Kanna, the Christian lawmaker, said that Mr. Ahmed was only the man who carried out the kidnapping and that the organizers remained unpunished.

In fact, the church had been approached about ransom payments. The price demanded, but never paid, was $1 million and then $2 million.

Papal Address to Mar Dinkha IV

The following is the address Pope Benedict XVI gave on 21 June 2008 when he received in audience His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV, Catholicos patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, and his entourage.

Your Holiness,

I am pleased to welcome you to the Vatican, together with the Bishops and the priests who have accompanied you on this visit. My warm greetings extend to all the members of the Holy Synod, the clergy and the faithful of the Assyrian Church of the East. I pray -- in the words of the Apostle Saint Paul -- that "the Lord himself, who is our source of joy, may give you peace at all times and in every way" (2 Th 3:16).

On several occasions Your Holiness met with my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II. Most significant was your visit in November 1994, when you came to Rome, accompanied by members of your Holy Synod, to sign a Common Declaration concerning Christology. This Declaration included the decision to establish a Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. The Joint Commission has undertaken an important study of the sacramental life in our respective traditions and forged an agreement on the Anaphora of the Apostles Addai and Mari. I am most grateful for the results of this dialogue, which hold out the promise of further progress on other disputed questions. Indeed, these achievements deserve to be better known and appreciated, since they make possible various forms of pastoral cooperation between our two communities.

The Assyrian Church of the East is rooted in ancient lands whose names are associated with the history of God's saving plan for all mankind. At the time of the early Church, the Christians of these lands made a remarkable contribution to the spread of the Gospel, particularly through their missionary activity in the more remote areas of the East. Today, tragically, Christians in this region are suffering both materially and spiritually. Particularly in Iraq, the homeland of so many of the Assyrian faithful, Christian families and communities are feeling increasing pressure from insecurity, aggression and a sense of abandonment. Many of them see no other possibility than to leave the country and to seek a new future abroad. These difficulties are a source of great concern to me, and I wish to express my solidarity with the pastors and the faithful of the Christian communities who remain there, often at the price of heroic sacrifices. In these troubled areas the faithful, both Catholic and Assyrian, are called to work together. I hope and pray that they will find ever more effective ways to support and assist one another for the good of all.

As a result of successive waves of emigration, many Christians from the Eastern Churches are now living in the West. This new situation presents a variety of challenges to their Christian identity and their life as a community. At the same time, when Christians from the East and West live side by side, they have a precious opportunity to enrich one another and to understand more fully the catholicity of the Church, which, as a pilgrim in this world, lives, prays and bears witness to Christ in a variety of cultural, social and human contexts. With complete respect for each other’s doctrinal and disciplinary traditions, Catholic and Assyrian Christians are called to reject antagonistic attitudes and polemical statements, to grow in understanding of the Christian faith which they share and to bear witness as brothers and sisters to Jesus Christ "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:24).

New hopes and possibilities sometimes awaken new fears, and this is also true with regard to ecumenical relations. Certain recent developments in the Assyrian Church of the East have created some obstacles to the promising work of the Joint Commission. It is to be hoped that the fruitful labour which the Commission has accomplished over the years can continue, while never losing sight of the ultimate goal of our common journey towards the re-establishment of full communion.

Working for Christian unity is, in fact, a duty born of our fidelity to Christ, the Shepherd of the Church, who gave his life "to gather into one the dispersed children of God" (Jn 11:51-52). However long and laborious the path towards unity may seem, we are asked by the Lord to join our hands and hearts, so that together we can bear clearer witness to him and better serve our brothers and sisters, particularly in the troubled regions of the East, where many of our faithful look to us, their Pastors, with hope and expectation.

With these sentiments, I once more thank Your Holiness for your presence here today and for your commitment to continuing along the path of dialogue and unity. May the Lord abundantly bless your ministry and sustain you and the faithful whom you serve with his gifts of wisdom, joy and peace.

Cardinal Kasper on the Assyrian Church of the East

Interview With President of Council for Christian Unity

There are signs of new hope that relations with the Assyrian Church of the East are advancing, says Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Cardinal Kasper met Thursday with Catholicos Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV, head of the Assyrian Church of the East. The patriarch had met earlier with Benedict XVI.

On that occasion, the cardinal granted this interview in which he summarizes the situation of relations between the Vatican and the Assyrian Church of the East.

Q: We seldom hear of the Assyrian Church of the East. Could you say some words on the past and present situation of this particular Church?

Cardinal Kasper: The Assyrian Church of the East is one of the smaller Western Churches, at least in the number of the faithful. Its historical roots are in the missionary activity of the early Church, when it moved eastward, in the direction of Mesopotamia and former Babylonia, outside the Roman Empire.

A New Book Detailing Life in a Peaceful & Progressive Iraq

Imagine an Iraq where people of different religions and ethnicity lived in harmony and peace, where children could grow up and be educated, where businesses both large and small thrived, and the basic necessities of life were within nearly everyone’s reach. Imagine a progressing, economically vibrant Iraq on its way to becoming a vital and functioning developed country. A new book, "Once Upon a Time in Iraq", by Basil Balian, offers such a view.

Balian, an ex-Iraqi and resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, memorializes his growing-up years in Iraq in this book. "Once Upon a Time in Iraq" provides American readers with a glimpse of a pre-Saddam Hussein Iraq in which ordinary life was possible. Described by one early reviewer as "informative, humorous, insightful and humanizing of the Iraqis," The book provides the reader with a vision of Iraq they’ve never seen before, a place of growth and progress but also traditions and customs, a place of human comedy as well as tragedy.

From his early childhood spent among the Kurds in Khanaqin, near the Iranian border, as the son of a British Petroleum Company executive, to his adolescent and young adult years in Baghdad and as a student at the American Jesuit high school, Baghdad College, Balian treats readers to personal stories in a place that’s become known only as a place where devastating explosions are a daily occurrence and American soldiers go to die.

Balian’s motivation for writing the book, he says, "came from friends and acquaintances who seemed interested in what I had to say about the Iraqis after our involvement in Iraq. They thought what I had to say needed telling."

He continues, "Iraq was going through relatively normal times during the decades that I write about. Iraq was pro-West at this time. There was an underlying strong nationalistic sentiment among the middle class and educated masses to be independent but the main outside influence was a western influence. Indications are that history is about to repeat itself. Maybe there are lessons to be learned this time."

"I believe the failure of the West in the past was that they did not take enough time to understand the Iraqi culture. I hope it will be different this time, and I hope this book will be helpful," he adds.

The 250-page book is available only from www.Lulu.com as an e-book for $6.50 or $16.50 for a paperback copy. To view a preview of the book, go to the website and type "Balian" in the Search button or click the book cover shown above.

In present day geography, we can say that Iraq is the original homeland of most Assyrian faithful. More recently, due to successive periods of persecution and hardship, a large majority of Assyrian faithful migrated to the West. Nowadays the Assyrian Church has dioceses in Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia. The patriarch himself has his residence in Chicago.

Like other Churches in and from the Middle East, the Assyrian Church of the East faces many challenges. There is the dramatic situation in Iraq, where Christians belonging to various Churches have their very existence seriously threatened. Assyrian faithful are also scattered in different parts of the world, and this does not allow for pastoral service to be assured everywhere by their own priests.

Benedict XVI has mentioned some of these challenges in his address to Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV. He also insisted on the need for and the possibility of further cooperation between Catholic and Assyrian faithful, wherever they live together.

Q: In his address to Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV, Benedict XVI also referred to the positive results of the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. How did the relations between the Assyrian Church of the East and the Catholic Church develop?

Cardinal Kasper: In 1994, an important Common Christological Declaration was signed by Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV. This declaration clarified some doctrinal controversies between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, controversies which go back to the Council of Ephesus (431). At that time, the Church of the East could not accept the Catholic concept of incarnation, and therefore also rejected the title which calls the Virgin Mary “Theotokos,” “Mother of God.”

Indeed, in this early period of doctrinal development, Syriac and Greek terminology did not articulate the same concepts with the same terminology. Nowadays, however, Catholics and Assyrians mutually recognise that they share the same faith in Jesus Christ “true God and true man, perfect in his divinity and perfect in his humanity.”

The signing of this Christological Declaration resulted in the creation of a Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. This commission has met every year between 1994 and 2004 and has done remarkable work.

In this period the commission mainly dealt with issues related to the celebration of the sacraments. Among the most prominent results of this dialogue, I wish to mention the recognition by the Catholic Church of the validity of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, and the preparation of a comprehensive document on sacramental life, a document which is ready for official endorsement.

In my opinion, however, these important results have not yet received the attention and response they deserve. It is not a matter of signing documents; it is a question that what is endorsed is genuinely accepted in the community.

Q: What happened to the dialogue after 2004? What fears and obstacles does Benedict XVI refer to in his address to the patriarch?

Cardinal Kasper: In 2005, the Assyrian Church unexpectedly decided to suspend the dialogue and not to sign the document which had been prepared on sacramental life. During a meeting in November 2005, moreover, the Synod of the Assyrian Church decided to suspend one of its members, a bishop, who had been among the architects of the dialogue with the Catholic Church and had contributed significantly to its successful progress.

The Catholic Church cannot intervene in the internal affairs of another Church, but deeply regrets this unfortunate development. Nobody is helped by further divisions in a community which already faces so many challenges, as I mentioned before.

These further divisions also cause difficulties for our ecumenical dialogue, since they are improperly used by some Assyrian media to cast doubt on the Catholic Church and its true intentions toward the Assyrian Church; such polemics should be brought to an end. We hope and pray that it will be possible to overcome these problems. Serenity should return and eventually allow the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue to resume its activities.

This is the sense of the appeal Benedict XVI addressed to Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV and to all concerned, so that together we may find the best solution.

Q: What do you expect from the visit of Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV for the future of relations between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church?

Cardinal Kasper: Immediately after the election of Benedict XVI, Catholicos Mar Dinkha IV expressed the wish to come and greet the new Pope. This may be a hopeful sign for the future of our relations.

Beyond this, I have three expectations. First, that more attention may be given by Catholic and Assyrian faithful worldwide to the difficulties met by their brothers and sisters in the Middle East and particularly in Iraq; these difficulties directly touch the lives of individual Christians and their families, and call for the attention and good will of everyone.

Second, that the results of our dialogue may be further explained and received, so as to allow Catholic and Assyrian faithful to better understand and help one another. Finally, that more effective forms of common witness and joint pastoral activities may be developed between Catholic and Assyrian faithful, particularly in the West, where Christians of all denominations are facing the same pastoral challenges.

What can we do together so that the young generations will be glad to belong to the Church and to give witness to their faith in Christ? These are the kind of questions I would like to see at the center of our future meetings, also with the Assyrian Church of the East.

Q: You also had a working meeting with the patriarch and the bishops who accompanied him. Have any further commitments or projects been made?

Cardinal Kasper: During our meeting, I insisted on the necessity of nurturing a serious and honest relationship. I also expressed the hope that through just and prudent decisions it would be possible to avert further division in the Assyrian Church. It became clear that more frequent contact between the patriarch and Synod of the Assyrian Church and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity would be helpful.

We therefore decided to prepare a third phase of our joint theological dialogue. In this way, I hope, a fresh impetus could be given to relations between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East.

Iraqi Bishops Ask for Help Protecting Their Flock

Deal W. Hudson

Bishop Mar Sarhad Jammo (L) and Bishop Mar Bawai Soro.

The numbers are stark, and the situation is getting worse. Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, there were 1.2 million Christians living there. Over 400,000 Christians have left the country since the war started. Many others have been kidnapped and killed; some have been crucified; a priest was beheaded, and an archbishop was kidnapped and killed.

One Chaldean and one Assyrian Catholic bishop from California presented a plan for protecting the Iraqi Christians who stay in spite of the danger and the ongoing discrimination and persecution. "The Iraqi constitution recognizes liberty of worship rather than freedom of religion," says Bishop Sarhad Jammo of El Cajon, CA.

The bishops told me it was "a make or break moment" for Iraqi Christians, and it is up to the United States -- and particularly to American Christians -- to help find a solution.

My interview with Mar Sarhad Jammo and Mar Bawai Soro took place just after their meeting at the White House with members of the National Security Council. Jammo and Soro want the United States to support the establishment of an "Autonomous Area" in northern Iraq where Iraqi Christians could hold the main governmental positions.

The area they recommend is on the plains of Nineveh, a loaf-shaped area of land between the Mosul province and Kurdistan. There is already a majority of Aramaic-speaking Christians living there, as they have been for thousands of years. Aramaic is the language of Jesus, which has been spoken there up to the present day.

Of the remaining 800,000 Christians, 65 percent are Chaldeans, 25 percent Syriacs, and 10 percent Assyrians. Many Assyrian Christians are not in communion with the Catholic Church, but Bishop Soro, who is Assyrian, recently united with the Chaldean Catholic Diocese in California along with thousands of fellow Assyrians.

Bishop Jammo, whose family originates from the Nineveh plains, sees this plan as the best way to put an end to the bloodshed and persecution and provide equality of rights to the Christian inhabitants, including the rights of religious freedom and cultural expression and activity.

Bishop Soro predicted thousands of Iraqi Christians, who fled Iraq in the last few years, would return if they were not subject to discrimination on a daily basis, especially if they would have full freedom and an autonomous area of their own. "In Iraq right now Christians are second-class citizens." Not only would the creation of this area defend and restore the Christian community, it also would provide a "stabilizing factor" in the entire region.

While the day to day hardships of Iraqi Christians have been little reported, some of the atrocities have received worldwide attention. The kidnapping and crucifixion of Christian children made the headlines, but it was the kidnapping and killing of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho that elicited protests from both Benedict XVI and President Bush.

The day of my interview with the bishops, the New York Times broke the story that the reason for Rahho's kidnapping and execution was his refusal to continue paying protection money to Muslim gangsters. Rahho somehow used his cell phone to call friends telling them not to pay any ransom for his return. His body was found twelve days later.

The bishops think their proposal is getting serious consideration by the Bush administration. They hope that their advocacy will develop into a concrete result.

Their proposal is titled "The Christian Initiative for a Successful New Iraq." This autonomous area would be established within the constitutional frame of Iraq, and would not be any kind of entity separate from Iraq, as some have suggested. Nevertheless, it would have a parliament "elected by all the adult Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian people of the area," as a component of the Iraqi population.

The bishops' initiative faces serious political challenges. A source very familiar with the situation told me that the idea of an autonomous area would have to be approved at many levels, beginning with the local governments who share the Nineveh plain, the Iraqi government including Prime Minister Maliki, various countries including the U.S., and the UN and its Security Council. Further, the proposal of an area under "Christian control" might actually increase anti-Christian tensions even further.

Bishop Jammo and Bishop Soro have heard these objections before, but they are not deterred. "I don't see how the situation can get any worse," said Bishop Jammo. When I asked him if the solution was the implementation of the Iraq Constitution," he replied: "The Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian People should have constitutional equality with Arabs and Kurds and that equality should include an Autonomous Area."

While Christians in Iraq are being persecuted every day and deprived of their constitutional rights, the United States is bending over backwards to maintain good relations with the Muslim community. In May, Maj. General Jeffrey Hammond held a meeting with Muslim leaders after a soldier used a Koran for target practice.

Gen. Hammond told them, "In the most humble manner, I look in your eyes today and I say, please forgive me and my soldiers."

The proposal the Chaldean and Assyrian bishops offer the United States is simply to ask for the same level of respect for Christians struggling to remain in their Iraqi homeland.

Deal W. Hudson is the director of InsideCatholic.com and the author of Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (Simon and Schuster, March 2008).

Assyrians at Their Best

Fadi Pataq

The winning design of Mr. Fadi Pataq at the Young Designer of the Year Award held in Venice, Italy was inspired by the shape of an alligator.

Mr. Fadi Pataq, 24, recently won the Young Designer of the Year Award at the World Super Yacht competition in Italy.  Mr. Pataq graduated this year from the College of Creative Studies in Detroit with a degree in Industrial Design.  The award ceremony was held in Venice, Italy on 18 April.

Mr. Pataq's entry, a 70.26 meter steel and aluminum motor yacht called Pelagia, brought together art and engineering to achieve the essential balance of form and function, according to the judges.   The inspiration for the design of Pelagia was the shape of the alligators' bodies.

Fadi Pataq is Assyrian and was born in the Assyrian town of Baghdeda in north Iraq's Nineveh Plains region.  He emigrated to Austria with his parents when he was 10-years-old and soon later came to America. Fadi is fluent in Assyrian, Arabic, and English.

Mr. Pataq receiving a Neptune award from mr. Trevor Blakely, CEO of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects.

The awards event was held at Foundation Giorgio Cini in Venice and was organized by the Boat International Media and sponsored by such boating heavyweights as Golden Anchor, Van Cleef Et Arpels, Marieux Interior Treasures.

Mr. Pataq received a "Neptune" (equivalent to the Oscars of the boat & yachting industry) from George Nicholson of the Camper & Nicholsons International.  C & NI and the Royal Institute of Naval Architects sponsored this particular award.

He's been interviewed and featured in the July 2008 issue of Boat International, Boat International USA as well as several Russian and international boat magazines.

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

André Anton Michigan
Dr. Matay Beth Arsan Holland
David Chibo Australia
George Donabed Massachusetts
Mazin Enwiya Chicago
Prof. Melody Ghahramani Canada
Marodeen California

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