Archive for January 2011

Asia Cup 2011 and the Assyrian Factor

There is an interesting twist to the on-going Asia Cup 2011 in Qatar: all three countries where Assyrians mainly live in the Middle East are playing.

Iraq, Syria and Iran. As I write this article, all three teams have since been eliminated.

Of three teams, some were shocked that at least one of them had Assyrian players. In fact, not one but two-on the Syrian national team. These were Luay Chanko and Sanharib Malki.

As for the other two countries, Iran did have a Christian Armenian player, but no Assyrians. As for Iraq, the birthplace of many Assyrian soccer legends, it had none. In fact, it didn’t even have a single Christian player.

Teams are not chosen based on religion or ethnic affiliation, but given a country like Iraq with its history and ethnic make-up, it would have been a great gesture to include at least one Assyrian player. Even if this player never played and sat on the bench most of the time.  Having an Assyrian player on the Iraqi team would make a world of difference to virtually every Assyrian out there.

A lot of Assyrians from Iraq are already big supporters of the national Iraqi team. It is a passion that goes back to early childhood years when we used to watch the Iraqi team – with several Assyrian players – entertain us and beat other teams in different tournaments.

There are two sides to the question of whether to support an Iraqi team that doesn’t truly represent Assyrians: on the one hand, there are those of us who are very attached to the team for decades now and feel it is our team, even if it is representing Iraq and not Assyrians per se.

On the other hand, there are those who not only don’t cheer for the Iraqi team, they dislike anyone who does and think we are cheering for a team from a country that treats its Assyrian Christian people as second class citizens, therefore don’t deserve our support.

Each side has his or her point, but at the end of the day, this is a personal sport decision and no one should impose their view on others.

But back to the issue of Assyrian players on the Iraqi team. Though the current situation in Iraq isn’t ideal for us to worry about Assyrian players on the team, it is one that deserves some discussion. Although I am not from Syria, I found myself cheering for their team in their group stages simply for having two Assyrian players on it. It is not about a bias or only liking teams that have Assyrians. Rather, it is the fact that Assyrians make up a significant portion of Iraq’s population, ethnic and political make-up, not to mention its priceless contributions to advancing soccer in Iraq and putting it on the map.

Iraqi football committee should do its best to start including Assyrian Christian players on its future roasters again. It only represents the social demographic on the ground.

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The Terrorists on one Hand, the Government on the other with the Assyrians Trapped in the Middle

Assyrian Christians in Iraq are getting it from all sides these days.

No exceptions!

While it was obvious that our religion was making us the target of religious extremists, it seems like the Iraqi government is taking care of threatening the other part of the equation: our cultural identity!

On the evening of January 13th, the ‘Ashurbanipal Cultural Center’, an Assyrian social and cultural club in the Karrada district of Baghdad, was unjustly and surprisingly raided by the very Iraqi security forces and other politicians from the Baghdad city provincial council.  Not only was this raid unforeseen and uncalled for, it was even confusing to some of those doing the raid themselves! During the raid, various items were confiscated, furniture toppled, things broken and club members abused and beaten for no reason.

Raid on Assyrian Club in BaghdadAftermath of the attack on the center

The excuse given for this raid is that the club was serving alcohol to its members and attendees, something which is slowly and gradually becoming prohibited in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq.  But this can’t be the case because a member of Baghdad’s provincial council came out later confirming that Christians are excluded from the ban to sell alcohol and that this wouldn’t be a reason to raid the club.  But he didn’t know why it was raided either and instead announced a much welcome full investigation into what happened and why. The investigation committee is to present its findings and conclusions within three days of the announced date. We are not hopeful, though,  that we will hear anything earth-shattering or admittance of wrong-doing by the police and members of Baghdad’s provincial council.

In a country struggling with containing and defeating terrorism and insurgency, why the hell would the security forces instead focus their attention and resources on an innocent and very loyal group like the Assyrians? Worse yet, why target a cultural and social club which can only help restore some normalcy and civility to the Iraqi society? Talk about absolute wrong priorities.  But I am afraid it is less about priorities and more about hidden agendas and intentions. It is said that during the raid, some of the security force personnel (including members of the Iraqi police force) were on the phone with a Sheikh member of the Baghdad Provincial Council. The said Sheikh was quoted as telling the security officials on the phone “It is either me or this club, I want it shut down for good…”

There is a saying in Iraq that goes something like: “the guards happen to be its robbers” (حاميها حراميها) and it couldn’t have been more accurate in this case. The security officials that we entrust with spreading the rule of law and ensuring our safety, are the very ones who are doing the opposite. How can Iraq move forward and be governed with the rule of law when the very security personnel are doing such a lousy, unprofessional and bad job? It is ironic that the Iraqi PM Nouri Al Maliki ran on an election platform titled “State of the Law”!

Needless to say, the Iraqi government has to come down really hard on everyone involved with this uncivil raid and send a strong message to every Iraqi that enough is enough; the law is above everyone else. It is one thing not to be able to arrest an invisible terrorist or insurgent, but to attack a social and cultural club for no reason, will not help the reputation of the Iraqi security forces at all. As if its reputation for being unprofessional and lacking loyalty needed any more damage.

The original, nation-loving and loyal Assyrian Christian population of Iraq needs to be rewarded for its loyal behavior and not targeted like this. This will only make more of them leave and as a result degrade Iraq’s reputation in world opinion even more.

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Assyrians need a Clooney-like Celebrity to Promote their Plight

By: Ashur Sada

As the southern region of Sudan (Darfur) votes in a referendum on its independence today, George Clooney is already on the ground and all over CNN and other channels.  Mr.Clooney has been a fierce supporter of the south and has promoted their case all over the media since 2005.  He has been the face that represents the Christian south to the US media and people, if not the entire world.

It is no wonder that a lot of Americans and Europeans know what the word ‘Darfur’ means while little or virtually no one knows what ‘Nineveh Plain’ means!

Wouldn’t it be great if we had our own superstar celebrity to highlight and promote our plight on the international scene?  I think Clooney, much respected and admired worldwide, plays a much bigger role than expensive lobbyists would.  He has almost single-handedly given south Sudan their independence.  It is important to note that the war in Sudan between the ruling Arab government in the north and the ethnically African Christian south, has resulted in more than 2.5 million deaths in more than two decades of fighting.

Ultimately, It is up to us to do the hard work and not rely on others, but sometimes no matter how hard you work, the outside media is in a total black-out.  Celebrities such as George Clooney and Angelina Jolie have done so much humanitarian work and brought much needed attention to very poor and prosecuted parts of the world. These celebrities have done so much in their life and would like to pursue another purpose beyond fame and fortune.  That is when they take on these humanitarian and political challenges for the poor and underrepresented in the third world.

Unfortunately,  these Hollywood celebrities need to be told about the Assyrian Christian people of Iraq first,  otherwise they will probably never know how serious our situation is.

Lady Gaga or Bruce Springsteen, wanna take a shot at this?

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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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