Archive for the ‘Regional’ Category.

Balancing the Middle East with new independent Christian states

By: Ashur Sada

christianity in the middle east

It is time to reverse the tide and stop the persecution of the Christians in the Middle East (Assyrians,Chaldeans,Syriacs,Copts, Armenians and others) even if it means giving them their own independent states.

I don’t believe in dividing long established states, along ethnic and religious lines. Reason being that once you start, where do you stop? Virtually every country in the world is made up of different ethnic and religious groups. No country is 100% ethnically-homogeneous.

Having said that, it is becoming clearer and clearer that certain countries in the middle east are becoming too unstable and dangerous for certain religious and ethnic groups to survive. Specifically, Christians in the middle easy are increasingly and systematically being targeted by Muslim extremists, with governments powerless to do anything. In fact in some cases, even if they can stop this persecution, the government still turns a blind eye.

These extreme situations are becoming too hard to survive. With the lack of trust, safety and general regional stability, the already small Christian minorities in the region are getting smaller and smaller. Millions have been forced to flee to the west.

Not to mention countless others that have been killed just in the last few years. This can’t go on forever.   Something has to give. Fleeing to the West is not and shouldn’t be the only option. Dramatic measures-given the dramatic situation at hand-have to be taken to reverse this situation for the better for Christians in the middle east.
How about giving them their own state? One where they will manage and be able to have full control of protecting themselves. Who qualifies for such a feat? Let us go through a list of countries that haven’t done a good job of protecting the indigenous Christian natives of their countries, that we have no option but to cut and slice through their national borders in order to protect this important segment of their demographics make-up.

Iraq

The Christian community in Iraq (represented by the Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac , Armenian and other smaller groups)  numbered some 1.3 million about 10 years ago or about 6% of the population. Since then, and following the US invasion,  more than half have been forced to leave given the increasingly dangerous and desperate situation. Through violence and political marginalization, the Christians in Iraq are being squeezed by the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government in the autonomous  north. Coupled with persistent targeting by radicals, the Christians don’t have such a bright future to look forward to. Ideally, any future state or semi-autonomy would be in the northern Nineveh plain region, a series of towns and villages where a significant Assyrian Christian population currently lives. It also happens to be the region where the ancient Assyrian empire and its capital once stood.

Egypt

It keeps getting worse and worse for the Coptic Christians in Egypt, the largest Christian minority in the middle east. Numbering close to 8 million or about 9% of the population of Egypt, this ancient group has also been shrinking. And this has accelerated in the last few years, given all the political turmoil in Egypt, coupled with the rise of Islamist’ influence and popularity in the country. Just like the Assyrians in Iraq, the Copts in Egypt are extremely loyal to their country. But you can only take so much and eventually, you would like to have your own region or country to be able to control your identity, fate and safety, since the state is not able to do its job. Unlike in Iraq and given their bigger numbers, Christians are scattered throughout Egypt, though they do have certain pockets of concentration (including in the south, Alexandria etc.)

Syria

The brutal 2.5 years of civil war in Syria is tearing the country apart and making the situation in Iraq look like a walk in the park. And it is only getting worse. Christians in the country (Including Assyrians/Syriacs, Armenians and others) have been systematically targeted by the rebels and terrorists fighting to topple the current Syrian regime. They have already forced thousands of them to abandon their historical villages and towns, some of which they have been living in for literally thousands of years.  Depending on what transpires in Syria next, if the unfortunate happens and the country is divided along ethnic lines, the Assyrians and Christians in general may get their own region or independent state in the north east of the country, near the cities of Al-Hasakah and Al-Qamishli. This is a region where hundreds of thousands of Christians already live, in addition to many others living in other parts of Syria, including in the capital Damascus.

There are other examples in the region such as Lebanon and South Sudan. In both of these countries, Christianity is either the dominant religion or close to a majority. For the new country of Southern Sudan, they were able to gain their independence

from Sudan, all the result of government and Muslim prosecution of the Christian south.

Future implications of new Christian states in the middle east

The creation of new states in the middle east along ethnic and religious lines may seem counter-intuitive to the idea of balancing the middle east and making it more peaceful. And it may cause further segregation. But in the long term, it will be safer for a lot of people.  A middle east with more christian presence would only help to balance things out and that is always a good thing.

And this is not a foreign concept to this region, after all, the region was virtually all christian prior to Islam.  And since these new countries will have Christianity as their official religion, and with no sharia law to worry about, they will be much more peaceful compared to their neighboring Muslim states. Terrorism will also be none-existent. These countries would be models of democracy, peace, stability and human rights respect for the rest of the region. And with stability and peace come economic development.  Even for Israel, this would make things more safe and reduce its worry about having neighbors that are always at war with the Jewish state.

It doesn’t have to come to this and it shouldn’t. But it is becoming harder and harder for Christians to simply survive in the middle east, let alone thriving and having a good future. The rise of political Islam, terrorism and the absence of rule of law are making it impossible to have any hope for a better future.  Such harsh conditions will make it necessary for Christians to have their own autonomous regions or even states in the future.

Remember, the middle east was only formed as we know it less than 100 years ago. Unfortunately, the original planners didn’t do a good job or at least didn’t envision how things would turn out.  It may be time to look at these maps again and recreate them based on the new demographics and conditions on the ground.

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Assyrians in Syria learning from the mistakes of their fellow Assyrians in Iraq

A few days ago, a user on the Assyrian Voice forums shared a Youtube video that not only pumped us but put a big smile on our faces: it was of Assyrian soldiers guarding their Assyrian town in the Qamishly region. They were part of a newly formed Assyrian militia, created to guard against terrorists and other elements of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ which have been wreaking havoc on various peaceful Assyrian and Christian villages in Syria.

Assyrians in Syria (numbering about 50,000) are demonstrating that they have learned from the Assyrian experience in Iraq.  They already know what happened in Iraq following the removal of Saddam and in the last 10 years and reasoned that in order to defend yourself and be protected, you better take things into your own hands. No one else will protect you, not even the Syrian army. It is a civil war and everyone is out to defend themselves.  The way things are going in Syria, it is from bad to worse and it will get even worse before it gets any better. Given these deterioration conditions, it helps to have an armed force-however small-to defend you.

Now if we can only get Assyrians from the diaspora to offer support to these militias. You never know what and how big their mission will be in a few years from now, once the Syrian crisis has been resolved (however that will shape up to be)

If-and I know this scenario was crazy to even talk about a few years ago-Syria was to be split into smaller states, the only way we can get something is if we have an army that is ready to fight for what is rightly theirs.

We all hope the Syrian crisis will be resolved very soon, and peacefully. It has been 2 years already and some 70,000 or more have lost their lives.  This is making the 10 year Iraq invasion and insurgency look peaceful in comparison, where an estimated 130,000 have lost their lives (including US and coalition troops deaths) But until the Syrian crisis is resolved, our people there will do what it takes to protect themselves and they have my admiration and respect for being courageous and taking weapons in self-defense.

 

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Annahar Newspaper : Christians of Iraq And “Nineveh Plain” Conspiracy

Christians of Iraq

And “Nineveh Plain” Conspiracy


Ashur Giwargis – Beirut
Annahar Lebanese Newspaper: 25/09/2011

Assyrians today are considered the indigenous cultural group in what is known as Iraq. Throughout their history, they have been subjected to different kinds of national and religious persecution since the fall of their political entity in 612 BC. Their religion is Christianity, and they are divided into many sects: Syriac, Chaldean (Catholic) and Assyrian Church of The East. They used to form around 8% of the Iraqi population before the fall of Saddam, while today this rate has decreased to less than 3% due to frequent aggressions implemented according to strategies based on national and religious malice on one side, and international plots on the other side, especially after the Central Intelligence Agency controlled over the rule of Iraq (openly) since the fall of Saddam Hussain.

In the recent eight years, Assyrians have been reluctantly involved in the game of “new Iraq” which was no better than Iraq of Saddam’s time or that of the Islamic and the Ottoman ages. The Assyrian people well knows who blasts its churches and kills its elderly and young only to implant intimidation amongst the people, so that in the end Assyrians are forced to join a scheme much bigger than themselves and even bigger than Iraq itself, the scheme which aims at expanding geographic entities coined at their expense. These entities give greater weight to the powers conflicting in such an area that has been, throughout its history, under the focus of western powers’ greed since the days of “Silk Road” from Europe to the Far East.

In this big game today, Assyrians are playing the role drawn to them: victims, and not players. They are victims torn between the fires of Islamization and kurdification. And some international foreign channels talk about them every now and then to show dissatisfaction about the Iraqi government under internal bargains between kurdish and Islamic racism. And here, western politicians and their media succeeded in showing the problem as “Islamic persecution” and the solution for it is “kurdish protection”, note that kurds themselves executed all the massacres against the Assyrian nation over centuries, and Assyrian lands in occupied Assyria (northern Iraq) are still confiscated by kurdish leaders with the support of kurdish occupation authorities. In addition, the project of the so-called “Christian governorate” or “Nineveh Plain governorate” is nothing but a result of that policy, for the kurdish project of achieving the so-called “greatest kurdistan” is known for those who are interested in the middle-eastern affairs, and the demands of kurds in Syria today are nothing but a sequel to this project, because the map of the project, that joins lands from Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq, is still hanging above Barzani’s head in his office as well as in all offices of the kurdish parties under the sight of Iraqi politicians.

All that above is associated with crucial negatively important developments facing the future of the Assyrian nation as people and as culture. Unfortunately, lands and power, if any power, of the Assyrians make the major obstacle for the kurdish scheme. The so-called “Nineveh Plain” zone is considered the historical and national homeland for the Assyrians historically, demographically and truthfully, and is the point around which Assyrians crowd together; it is the most qualified for an inception towards the Assyrian national project which extends from Great Zab to the Tigris River (The Assyrian Triangle) within the one Iraq and along the lines of the other groups. However, unfortunately, this region is the strategic link of what is named “Iraqi kurdistan” to what will be named “Syrian kurdistan” (in case of any change to the Syrian regime). All Iraqi politicians in general, and Assyrian politicians in specific, are aware of this project and of the kurds’ intention to push the Assyrian “people” forcedly and by terrorism to seek kurdish protection under the slogan of “Nineveh Plain governorate” according to the article /35/ of the constitution of the kurdish occupation which, in turn, stipulates that Assyrians be given autonomy (by Kurdish occupation authorities) in the areas where they form the greatest population, whereby kurds avoid the conflict with Arabs of Mosul since the residents themselves demand, though unwillingly, a governorate independent from Nineveh governorate, when the Assyrians take the hit. Arabization has been launched anew against these Assyrians – Today thousands of hectares of their lands are being confiscated by Arabist trends in Mosul as a reaction to the kurdish project: “the Christian governorate”.

In addition, it’s well-known to everyone that:

– No “Islamic” offence has taken place to the kurds who converted to the Evangelist Church.
– No aggression or terrorist act has taken place to anyone inside the kurdish occupation areas.
– The terrorist acts against Assyrians discontinued after their politicians adopted the project of annexing their lands to the kurdish occupation.

Though the article /50/ was issued by the governing council on September 29, 2003, which states that: “All acts, decisions, regulations, directives, instructions and orders that are issued by what is known as revolution leadership council and other Iraqi officials (During Baath Rule), and which are issued for the purpose of changing the political and the demographic reality in Iraq, shall be cancelled”, this was selectively enforced when the Governing Council kept the effects of Al-baath decisions on March 11, 1970 which states the separation of the Assyrian Nohadra (kurdified to “Dohuk”) from the Assyrian Nineveh, hence Assyrians are still divided administratively, politically and demographically under two conflicting authorities: kurdification and Arabization.

Moreover, the project of kurdifying the Assyrian homeland is “constitutional” according to the “democratic” Iraqi state legislations and its constitutional article /143/, which approved to name Assyria as “kurdistan” (land of kurds) without any Assyrian representation (despite the presence of a “representative”), in the Iraqi state institutions.

In this status quo, Assyrians have hope neither in their parties nor in the Iraqi government being no less aggressive to them than Baath or the kurdish trends while their sole hope lies in the Assyrian Diaspora, especially those in the United States and Europe which are actively ruling Iraq and where Assyrians exist powerfully and heavily, the thing that enables them to be heard by international tribunes, for the international ethical duty requires that Assyrians must be treated as the indigenous people of Iraq according to “Indigenous People Declaration” stated by United Nations General Assembly on September 13, 2007 which declares the right of self-determination of indigenous people (articles /3/ , /4/) to reserve its entity and culture which are considered an international trust.

Hence, and according to the UN legislation mentioned above, Assyrians have the right to obtain (at least) a “safe zone” internationally protected just like the kurds since 1991, because Assyrians have no trust in the Iraqi state especially because it is a group of Islamists and kurds, and this will be the first step on the road to achieving “Assyria Region” like that of the kurds, and as long as the Iraqi constitution became mere ink on paper after contradicting the Iraqi state to article /7/ of its constitution, by establishing a racial region on a national basis under the name of “kurd-stan” (land of kurds).

Haaretz newspaper summed up the Assyrian tragedy in a couple of words in the issue of December 24, 2010 under the headline “Christmas requiem for Iraq’s Christian community” by the newspaper political analyst and the historian and ME affairs specialist, Dr. Zvi Bar’el who wrote: “The Kurds object to establishment of a protected Christian enclave, because they want to annex the Nineveh Valley, most of whose residents are Christians”. And the “governorate” project will be the first step to that, constitutionally, since the “Iraqi” constitution permits annexing a governorate to a region, and this is a clear sign to that in case the issue is not redressed by Assyrians themselves before the others, then the Assyrian torture journey will go on by appropriating Assyrian lands and confiscating them by Arabs in the so-called “Nineveh Plain” and also by kurds inside their entity which has been imposed on Assyrians and on others since 1991.

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Assyrians Facing Extinction in Baghdad, Iraq: what will stop it?

By: Ashur Sada

The Assyrian Christian people in Baghdad have done their best to survive in the wilderness that their city has become in the last few years. Unfortunately, the terrorists and insurgents have made sure they double the evil and bloody efforts to make sure they have the last word.

This is a city they have lived in, peacefully and joyfully, for decades and centuries. Even after the removal of the Saddam regime, and despite all these close calls, a lot of them still stayed. But ever since the ‘Baghdad Church Massacre‘, things have been quickly accelerating towards a complete collapse and loss of any control over the situation.

A whole mess has been unfolding ever since the massacre and it just won’t stop or even slow down. The systematic threats, targeting and killing of our innocent people in Baghdad is nowhere to be over, and it seems even the Iraqi government-despite all its promises to do its best-is unable to stop the attacks. Even when our people have defied everything else, the terrorist will come with something worse and test the will and resolve of our people to stay. You can’t help but feel that there may be a bigger plot and agenda behind this, aiming to empty the region of our people, the real indigenous component of the land.

So what is the solution?

Unless this genocide is halted, the fate of Christians in Baghdad will be similar to that of the Jews, whose population in the city is now virtually zero.  I keep thinking that this can’t be happening in the 21st century, but unfortunately it is reality and not some nightmare from the middle ages. Can our people just face the threats and stay strong? easy for us to say, since we are not living there.  It would probably make sense for our people to temporarily leave until the situation improves then come back. But in a place as wild as Iraq, this is not a viable solution, because by the time you come back, your home will probably be taken over and your very life may be in danger. Not to mention, some can’t afford leaving.

There has been talk about an Assyrian Christian security force, trained and operated under the direction of the interior ministry, to protect churches and other places of worship.  As important as it is to protect our churches, we have to remember that our people don’t live in churches, so not sure what safety this will provide them.  At the same time, you can’t possibly install a security force beside each Christian home. The Assyrian future in Baghdad will be uncertain unless a dramatic measure is taken by the government to find out who is behind the attacks and stop it.

To avoid this Christian extinction from the capital and the country as a whole, the international community needs to put more and more pressure on the government, so that they can get their act together and protect our people.  How serious the international community takes its relationship with Iraq, should be directly related and measured by how serious the Iraqi government is about the safety and prosperity of its indigenous Christian population.  Moreover, the Iraqi government has to realize that only through the actual and full protection of the Christian population and all other minorities, will it gain the real trust of the rest of the world.  Until then, not a lot of governments will or should give the government a free pass on how they provide security for the Christan segment of Iraq. In Iraq, talk is cheap, that is why we need to look at whether the government is ‘walking the talk’!

Of course, some may suggest that Christians can simply flee to the relatively more peaceful and stable North, and that is certainly an option. But let us not forget, that while your physical state in Baghdad is in danger, the north-with its Kurdish dominated population and government-presents a different kind of challenge and threat. A cultural and emotional one, where jobs are scarce for Assyrians, and your very identity is under threat unless you adhere and accept the demands of the Kurdish government.  Our people deserve better than to sacrifice their hands in order to save their arms.  They deserve and are entitled to all the basic life necessities and rights without having to compromise.

A more viable option, which has already been talked about, is the establishment of a safe heaven for the Assyrian Christian population in the already Assyrian-dominated Nineveh Plains. This is certainly one good idea, although the politics and logistics of making it work are still under discussion and negotiation amongst the various Assyrian parties and movements, as well the federal Iraqi government and the northern Kurdish regional government.  Although giving Assyrians their own province or full administrative unit in the region may not be an automatic guarantee against future terrorism targeting our people, it will certainly help. Both in a physical and psychological sense.  Should the situation in Iraq stabilize, and this is certainly a matter of time we hope, Christians are then free to move into different parts of Iraq or simply stay in their own province, however they see fit.

Despite all the solutions presented above, the fact remains that Assyrians in Baghdad and many other parts of Iraq are under a direct and real threat from the terrorists.  The intimidation, targeting, church bombings and killings has been so overwhelming lately that it has forced thousands of families to flee to the north or exit Iraq altogether. With the population already down to historical lows, how long will it be before our presence in Baghdad is more of a historical antiquity?

It will come down to the inhumane relentless of the terrorists versus the resistance and survivability of our people, with the Iraqi government, people and international community watching on the side.  Which side will those external factors be on: the side of the good and surviving or the side of the relentless evil?

We need a turning point that will help stop this once and for all. Our people deserve a break!

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Follow me on Twitter: @AssyrianVoice

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The “Baghdad Church Massacre”: It is Simele Massacre 2010.0

By: Ashur Sada, Nov 1, 2010

The Simele Massacre of August 7, 1933, is such a powerful and immortal reminder of the losses Assyrians gave up, that it has been designated as the ‘Assyrian Martyr’s Day’

That was the Simele Massacre. Although not the first massacre or genocide committed against our people, it was the first of its kind to be turned into a national day and have an entire historical literature dedicated to it.

It is unfortunate, but looks like we have Simele 2.0! This of course is the Sunday “Baghdad Church Massacre“, an attack that left hundreds of our innocent people dead and injured at the “Our Lady of Salvation” Syriac Catholic Church.  Worse yet, it has left an emotional hole that will be very hard to patch, for years and decades to come. Not to mention all the destruction caused to the church itself.  For more information, updates and photos from this horrific attack, visit our Assyrian Forums.

The attack was horrific, terrifying and crushing of the very basic and fundamental human rights, that even animals take for granted at times. Not so much for our innocent and peaceful brothers and sisters in Iraq who saw the worst of humanity’s worst, and couldn’t do anything about it, and neither could the pathetic and helpless Iraqi government and security forces.

We here at Assyrian Voice , are at a loss for words as to how express our deep sorrow, sadness and frustration at what happened. Using these adjectives is still not enough to really express how we feel.  We don’t think the English, or even the Assyrian dictionary have the words that are powerful enough to express how we all feel, collectively and individually.   What happened is extreme even for middle ages or ancient times ruthlessness.

Our people in Iraq are an ever dwindling minority and we can’t afford to lose more of them. Something dramatic and fundamental has to happen, even if it means putting a wall around us, and partitioning us from the rest of the Iraqi people.   We have nothing against the rest of the Iraqi people, as most of them are against terrorism too, but we just don’t know who to trust anymore. You don’t know who is the sheep and who is the wolf.  The good citizen may be mistaken for a wolf while a terrorist may be smart enough to disguise as a peaceful sheep. As we have seen from this incident and many other deadly incidents, trust doesn’t always work in our favor in this world of terrorism.

So where do we go from here? first and foremost, and despite sounding like a broken record, the Iraqi government has to take full responsibility for what happened. For one, it has been 8 months since elections were held, and we are yet to see an agreement on who the next prime minister will be.  The terrorists are exploiting this virtual vacuum in power to cause more destruction, death and division.  By striking at the powerless Christian community, the terrorists are able to embarrass the government and put it under the world spotlight.

Second, and despite the insistence by a lot of our political and religious leaders to the contrary, we do need our own administrative and semi-autonomous region in the north.  Even if this is a temporary measure, so be it.  Having virtually nothing to defend themselves with, our people need to have a choice as to where to live, work and worship safely and freely.  We don’t need to have an entire army guarding our churches.  That defeats the purpose. Rather, we need an area that is safe enough, not to need any protection for our churches.

Third, the government has to make it a top priority to protect our churches and community in Baghdad and all the other danger zones in Iraq.   This includes some sort of ‘Fatwa’ to forbid anyone or any group from taking over our churches or homes, especially if they have been vacated for safety reasons.  This will prevent certain interest groups from pushing an agenda to empty Iraq of its native Assyrian Christians.  Our churches should be given a special status, more than a religious status. They should be declared something like a ‘Heritage Site’ and any damage done to it is to be repaired at the expense of the government.

Our people have suffered enough, and enough is enough. For us in the diaspora, this is the time to unite and come under one Assyrian Voice. Enough divisions and splits.  If the killing of so many of our people and destroying our church will not unite us, God himself will not come down to do it for us.

May God bless those who lost their lives, and give strength to their families and loved ones.  And may God protect our nation and people in Iraq. We have survived in our land for thousands of years and endured worse and tougher times than these.  We can only overcome these bloody and hard times if we unite and come together.

There is no UN or international chart that specifies that Assyrians must constantly face genocides and massacres at the hands of others. But then again, these same nations that make up the United Nations should do much more to protect us and save us from an extinction.

Christians are the light and salt of Iraq. Without them, the country is not the same and loses its true identity and mosaic!

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The Shameful Lack of an Assyrian Community Center in Toronto and what to Do about it

I don’t have an exact official figure but in talking to church officials, various other organization members and seeing the big wave of new Assyrians arriving in Toronto lately, there must be at least 10 to 15,000 Assyrians living here in Toronto. The good news, we finally have an official and a beautiful big church (in addition to the various other smaller churches for other Assyrian denominations.) The bad news, we still lack a unifying community center where our people can come together, socialize, learn, debate and more.  Almost every ethnic community in the diaspora has an official community center, or various smaller ones.  It is almost a necessity more than just an option to have.

In Toronto, we are not so lucky.  Or maybe just not hungry and passionate enough.   Sure, we have a place called ‘Assyrian Society‘, but that unfortunately has been losing its lackluster and appeal amongst our people, given its distant location and relative inactivity as of late.  So if the Assyrian Society of Canada is no longer gathering our people in one place, shouldn’t we think of an alternative? Where should it be located? Who will own and control it?  And most importantly, what what can it do to appeal to people so they come and use the place?

Location is key to any new and future Assyrian community center in Toronto.  It must be close to where most Assyrians live. One area, where it is close to most Assyrians, is Woodbridge. It is  new, beautiful and close to most of the areas where Assyrians live.  Woodbridge itself has a significant Assyrian population numbering in the thousands. The reason why the Assyrian Society of Canada is losing people, has a lot to do with where it is located.  You need to drive close to half an hour from where most Assyrians live, to get to it.  Not to mention, it doesn’t have a clear program for the community (although it looks like that could be changing with a new committee)

Who should own or control the new community center? It does matter that the committee or body that will be in charge of any future community center, will have the trust of the Assyrian people, as well as the experience needed to run such a place.  Trust is important, so we know our money are being managed properly. Experience is also needed so that we can be sure about the sustainability of this place for the short and long term.

Building an Assyrian community center is not the main and final objective in and of itself.  What it does, and how it helps our people, is the real objective. In other words, what activities and programs should it have to ensure that people come and support such a place? The key is to have a variety of programs, be it educational, cultural, social and other fun activities.  It is a place where you can go to experience different things, and not the same thing all the time.  It is a place that should host Assyrian bazaars, food fairs, history lectures, kids activities, movie shows, cultural events,  political debates, bingo nights and more.  In essence, it is a place that will offer something for everyone.

As we have seen, it is not a question of whether we should have a community center in Toronto or not. That is a forgone and assumed conclusion.  It is more about where this center should be located, who will manage it, and most importantly, what can it offer to keep people interested and coming.  It is all about being close to where most of the Assyrian population lives and offering programs and activities that caters to everyone.

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Assyrians and the Elections in Iran

The bleeding and migration of the Assyrian population to the west is not exclusive to Iraq. Assyrians in neighbouring Iran have also suffered from this, with tens of thousands leaving since the Islamic revolution brought radical and sweeping changes to the country. It is estimated that there was around 200,000 Assyrians in Iran at the close of the 20th century to a modern low of some 10,000 to 15,000 (this out of Iran’s total population of some 68,017,860).

Thirty years later and following the recent much contested elections, there is hope of some changes coming to Iran. A hope that is becoming and getting closer and closer to reality. Although the incumbent president Ahmadinajad was declared the winner, the opposition claimed widespread fraud and has demanded a recount. Their supporters have been staging massive public demostrations for close to two weeks now and their mementum doesn’t seem to be slowing down, even after the election committee has concluded that the results are official and final.

Whether the results stay or change, the situation in Iran will never be the same again. The current demonstrations and protests are all hallmarks of something bigger to come. They are all little pieces in an upcoming and forming revolution that will undo the current 30 year Islamic revolution. The Iranian people are fed up and and will continue to push for reform and changes until they see them.

And with Assyrians having a relatively big presense in Iran, albeit a dwindling one, they too will be a big part of the new force for change. While Christians and Assyrians haven’t systematically been targeted for their religious and national ideology, like is the case in Iraq, they haven’t been made to feel very great either. In the last few years, we keep hearing about churches being shut down, and other evangelical institutions being forced to go underground, fearing a government crackdown.

A change and a more open Iranian regime would surely help to quell the migration bleeding of Assyrian Iranians to the west. Of course, with a regime change also come better relations with the west and a removal of the economic sanctions, which will help to improve their financial well-being, giving them yet another incentive to stay in the new Iran.

It is our hope that things in Iran will change without any or much bloodshed. Iraq has undergone a major change and would be nice if Iran was next. The two countries will be the new beacon of hope and democracy for the entire Middle East. A place where the native people of the land are treated the same as everyone else. Given the rich history and culture of both Iraq and Iran, and with Assyrians being a very essential component of this rich cultural mosaic, a change for the better in Iran is certainly welcome.

If Iran was to undergo a real change toward more freedom and democracy, you can bet a lot of Assyrians from Iran who migrated to the west, would make their way back. More than that, Assyrians from Iraq would find it easier to visit and communicate with the Assyrian communities in Iran.

I may sound very hopeful in my predictions, but one thing is certain: what seemed impossible not too long ago is looking a little more possible and even inevitable now. Assyrians and the people of Iran deserve better than what they have gotten in the last thirty years. The green revolution marches on…

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The Canadian Assyrian National Pentium

When buying a new computer, we have all gotten used to usually look for PCs that have the Intel Pentium processor inside. But what does the word ‘Pentium’ mean and where does it come from? The word comes from the Greek word ‘penta’ which means the number five. In this sense, the word Penta, Pentium or any other derivatives of the word come to represent anything that involves the number 5: ‘fifth’ as in ranking, ‘five’ as a combination or unity of five things or entities together etc.

Bingo! We now have a similar Assyrian version of the Pentium here in Toronto. This Assyrian Pentium represents 5 Political, cultural and social Assyrian bodies working together for essentially the same fundamental and final purpose.

The five entities are Zowaa, AAS, Ashur TV, ACSSU and this website, Assyrian Voice. Although there is no formal or official agreement between all five entities, they have come to develop a common approach and understanding when it comes to coordinating, planning and hosting different events.

Let us visit each one of these five players in this Pentium and examine what their role is and how they all relate at the end. Such a complicated yet very efficient coordination, which was clearly witnessed at the recent April 1st Celebrations in Toronto, has been lacking from our society for sometime and is sorely needed.

Zowaa: the Main Driving Force

Zowaa is the main driving engine of this Pentium. They started it all some 30 years ago and had been going strong ever since. In fact, the other four players of this ‘Assyrian Pentium’ can be argued to have been started or somewhat influenced by Zowaa.  Zowaa made it possible for our people to move from the ‘dreaming’ stage to a more manageable stage of ‘hope’.

Assyrian Aid Society: the Humanitarian Force

While Zowaa has done all it can to help our people and nation, AAS took the ‘humanitarian’ responsibility to help Assyrians worldwide, especially those in Iraq.  They have often worked closely with Zowaa and other organizations from this Pentium to coordinate and organize relief efforts for Assyrians in need and distress.  Locally and regionally speaking, AAS has been organizing different events that promote the Assyrian culture and help collect money for our people back home.

Ashur TV: the Power of Media

Ashur TV was launched following the toppling of the former Iraqi regime by American forces in 2003, and has been the media arm of Zowaa and Assyrians in Iraq.  During its first few years, it faced a lot of challenges in Iraq, mainly those relating to security and safety in Baghdad and other areas where the channel operated. Nevertheless, Ashur TV and its staff continued to work in the face of challenges, reporting on Assyrian news, events and more.  In 2005, an affiliate channel of Ashur TV opened in San Jose, California, broadcasting a few hours at set days every week.

ACSSU: the power of Knowledge and Academia

ACSSU, the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Student Union, was established in 1999 to address the academic and educational needs of our students in Canada.  Although not politically affiliated with any party or political entity, ACSSU has worked closely with various organizations, especially the ones already mentioned in this article.  In the last several years, ACSSU has worked hand in hand with ADM, AAS and other organizations, to organize events, rallies, community gatherings and more.  ACSSU is the one organization in this Pentium of organizations that readies and mobilizes our youth and students, so they are ready to take over in the future.

Assyrian Voice: the Power of the Internet

Assyrian Voice, the website you are reading this article on, has been serving Assyrians since 1999.  Furthermore, we have worked closely with, and supported the work of all the organizations mentioned so far (in addition to many other Assyrian organizations)  We have promoted their activities and initiatives, helped with organizing and coordinating and so much more.   We have used the popularity of this website to bring people’s attention to what is going on out there, whether it is happening here in Canada or abroad.  We believe that no matter how powerful an organization is, its message can only get so far, and there is always a need for a ‘booster’ or ‘amplifier’ that will help get its message farther and to more people. Assyrian Voice, using its very popular and successful presence on the web, seeks to do just that.  Assyrian Voice may not be recognized as an official organizer or supporter, but we have been doing our part lately, and our work doesn’t need to be recognized nor credited.

Ever Improving Coordination

The combination and close cooperation between these 5 organizations doesn’t mean they are the only players on the Assyrian scene. Not at all, and in fact, they are some of many that work for the good of our nation and people.  But regionally speaking, for Canada at least, these organizations have worked, coordinated and shared a lot together.  They are many pieces to one big and beautiful picture.  And together with other chapters, organizations and affiliates around the world, the hope is that everyone will work together for the good of our national future.  We should forget about the days of division, conflict and constant bickering between our people and organizations.  This is the time to come together and start working together.  It all starts from this Assyrian Pentium 5!

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Why Assyrians should be inspired by Malta

Those who know me know that I left Sweden to move to Malta just a couple of days ago, leaving darkness, cold weather and cold people behind. What none of you probably know though is the history of Malta and reading this won’t make you any wiser in that aspect.

There is just one thing that my mind can’t grasp. I am, not surprisingly Assyrian, dwelling in the ruins of greatness, picking my feet clean from fragments and splinters of my people’s history as I walk barefoot through life. I come from a great people with a magnificent heritage of mind boggling ingenuity, intelligence and forward thinking.

Where are we in 2008? Scattered, shattered, bickering, bitching and fighting over politics, dialects, flags and religion. We are all over the world (I have not yet found a single Assyrian in Malta though) and there are millions of us. Many of us forgetting or not learning our own language and history. Many of us not bounding, not understanding and not being given the chance or opportunity to form and uphold any sense of actually being Assyrian. This is what we are in 2008.

Now look at Malta. This tiny 25 km or so long island with its 400 000 inhabitants have been in bed with many countries but never became anyone’s bitch. In 2008 it is a country with its own language which is a beautiful love child formed through various “bed partners” into what is today the Maltese language. They have their flag and they raise it proudly. They are a member of the European Union, just converted to the euro and are well on their way to reach new heights in development both economical and infrastructural (you can thank the nationalist party for that).

So what is our problem? Granted, Malta has never been a threat to any nation and most would argue this is why Malta has been left alone. Okay, Assyrians were and are still heavily targeted because of their religion in a Muslim dominated area of the world but still. We are again, millions of people, most of us schooled and educated or at the very least not retarded but we are still following the same patterns, repeating the same mistakes, reducing ourselves to even smaller beings as far as Assyrianism goes.

Some Assyrians fight loudly, aggressively and passionately for their cause. Some have done it all their life, grown up in a family with active parents within the movement through various organisation and in that way had their Assyrian identity parallel with whatever life they lived in whichever country they were living. Then there are others, like me, who grew up outside of the Assyrian movement, with parents who themselves were raised without any greater insight or knowledge about the history which lead to these living generations of Assyrians. I didn’t wake up until one of these loud and passionate Assyrians introduced herself to me and engaged in discussions with me. Discussions which did not only change how I view my people but also how I view myself and my own identity, which made me loud and passionate about my cause, or our cause rather.

It is this awakening that is needed across all continents and tiny islands where Assyrians live but it requires that we are open to the change within. Untill then we won’t see any real change and Assyrians will still be divided, still bickering and still bitching and arguing over nonsens. Still to busy impressing friends, neighbours and family with superficial things instead of rebuilding, teaching, understanding and loving. I salute Malta and all active Assyrians this evening with my hand on my heart wishing Assyrians all over the world one day can come together as one.

-Emil Brikha. is an Assyrian from Iran, raised in Sweden, recently moved to Malta. Check out his website and more of his articles at:  www.LQP.se

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Woodbridge, ON is the new ‘Assyria Town’

It used to be ‘Jane and Steeles’ and ‘Kipling’. But these are now the old Assyrian spots in Toronto. Welcome to Woodbridge, the beautiful town, part of the bigger municipality of Vaughan: welcome to the new ‘Assyria Town’  Yes, this is where a big wave of the Assyrian population has been relocating to, since the year 2000. That is the year where a large urban sprawl started taking place here. If you go back just 10 years in the past, this land was nothing more than a big empty space, with a few houses here and there, and lots of farms. Forward to the future, about 10 years later, and you will be amazed to find that Woodbridge and the city of Vaughan in general is undergoing some major construction and development, making it one of the fastest growing cities in all of Canada. Woodbridge (as well as Maple, which are both part of Vaughan) have got some of the biggest theaters, theme parks and malls in all of Canada. This includes the VaughanMills, Canada’s Wonderland, Colossus Theaters and much more. So it is no wonder that a lot of Assyrians have been relocating to the North, and settling in this great developing city.

Business  and Retail Presence

This city doesn’t deserve the title of ‘Assyria Town’ just due to it having a big Assyrian population. That alone is not enough. It also got to do with all the Assyrian businesses that have been opening in the area, commercial and retail. In addition to that, Woodbridge has got some of the most popular Assyrian hang-out places, mainly Tim Horton’s Coffee spots and restaurants. The main one of course is on Weston and Rutherford, followed by the one on Weston and 407, and many others. There are also all the new Assyrian stores and retail businesses opening in the area. Baghdad Food Market was the first, opening in Vaughanmills Mall in 2005. It was followed by Sam’s Food Market in Woodbridge. And just this year alone, 3 other stores opened in Vaughanmills, including Kristine Hair Salon, Alexandria Boutique and Gril4U Shawerma Restaurant.

Social Presence

It is not just about the business and retail presence in this city, that would make it the obvious ‘Assyria Town’ of choice. There is more to it. The social side of it. When Iraq won the Asia Cup in the summer of this year, most of the celebrations for the Iraqi Assyro-Chaldo-Syriac community was centered in and around Vaughan. More precisely, at the Tim Horton’s on Weston and 407 and on Weston and Rutherford for the rest of the night. You had people coming from other parts of Toronto, to celebrate here. These celebrations clearly stamped the city as the new Assyrian front and their major new hub. The Assyrian Church has also taken some interest in the city of Woodbridge, holding their summer picnics in the ‘Polish Army Park’, located in a beautiful spot in Woodbridge.

Woodbridge is the Future and the Future is Now!

Given all this interest and visible presence by the Assyrian community in this city, it will be natural that more and more Assyrian businesses and even organizations will relocate to it. Consensus and urban trends in the GTA point to the fact that people keep moving to the North, and more 416ers are turning into 905ers. So the time has come for Assyrians elsewhere to follow up and take a look at relocating to this city, and be close to the community. Be it for business or living.  Of course, this is not to suggest that Assyrian communities elsewhere in the GTA, such as in Toronto itself, Mississauga etc. are becoming a thing of the past, as they are very established and rooted in their areas for decades. But Vaughan and its daughter towns including Woodbridge and Maple, remain the hottest new destinations for Assyrians in the city at this moment. Looking forward to getting a franchise Assyrian Society social club here in Woodbridge!

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