Author Topic: The Assyrian Ethnicity, Persecuted and Marginalized in Its Own Homeland  (Read 601 times)

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Offline A.G

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Dear All,

I would like to bring to your attention an article I wrote in Oct/2002, days before the so-called "Iraqi Opposition" conference took place in London, now we are witnessing the same problems and the same need to the same solution .. and still no work.

The Assyrian Ethnicity,
Persecuted and Marginalized in Its Own Homeland …
Till When ???

Lebanon; “An-Nahar” Newspaper, 01/Oct/2002

Ashur Giwargis – Beirut
Translated to English by Mary.c - Canada

In general, the Iraqi people see that it's time to get rid of Saddam's regime and replace it with another, which will bring Iraq to its prosperity, and deals with all the Iraqi people no matter what their ethnicity or religious creeds may be in accordance with international protocols. As such, intensive meetings of the Iraqi opposition groups were held abroad whereby many ideas were noted on the part of some Iraqi brethren while a question lingered; "Where are the Assyrians in the political agenda of the Iraqi opposition"??

It is important here to remind again of the Assyrian ethnicity whose history stretches for thousands of years and whose descendants lived in their historical, ancestral homeland "Assyria"(today's Iraq). They suffered throughout history of calamities and massacres either because of their religious or ethnic backgrounds. Thus, some peoples got during the twentieth century more than they deserved while the Assyrians paid the highest price in comparison to their number, and didn't claim in the process other than ethnic marginalization and forced migration from their historical homeland, so because of all this a remainder of about only 1 million Assyrians live in the homeland forming number wise the third ethnic group. All hopes are turning towards the Assyrians in the homeland to strengthen the Assyrian ethnic existence in Assyria despite the many difficulties surrounding them.

What matters to the Assyrians under the present circumstances is their fate after thousands of years, as a group rejected to be recognized as an ethnicity by the surrounding currents, because those Assyrians living in Iraq are divided in between two areas under two different regimes Arab and Kurdish. In what is called "Iraqi Kurdistan", the Assyrians found that they got rid of Baghdad’s Arabization to face the "Kurdisation" policy. Also, as the different Islamic Kurdish currents are increasingly active in what's called "Iraqi Kurdistan", and the increase of problems between the islamists and non-islamists as "political Islam" entered Assyria, in addition to the assassination of Assyrian clergy in Baghdad (1), one can't but wonder about the reasons behind all this and the disaster that may occur following the confusion which will befall Iraq in the event that the demands of any group of the Iraqi people remain un addressed.

It's important to have a simple historical representation before looking into solutions, for the Assyrian Cause has a historical background which makes the Assyrians, and very frankly till today, always cautious of the other ethnicities surrounding them, especially with the continuous persecution of the "De Facto Forces" which are dominating the Assyrian homeland, and their rejection of the Assyrian demands. As an example, the Iraqi regime, treated the Assyrians as Third class citizens or foreigners in Iraq in addition to intimidating actions to force their migration, such as destroying their villages and Churches which go back to the first centuries A.D.. Also, the detentions and executions in all Iraqi areas and prohibiting the use of the "Assyrian" name in all domains except at universities where it's mentioned in the subject of an arabized history (for they were not able to omit the Assyrian name from history). They would also detain the families of Assyrian politicians living abroad while torturing them in Baghdad's prisons to force their return to Iraq and giving themselves up. Also the detention in 1978 of more than 500 Assyrians members of the Bible Study Committee.

The Assyrians paid a high price due to Saddam's foreign policy and his war with Iran where the numbers of Assyrian victims reached to about 60000 between those killed, detained, and missing in action. The Assyrian town of Baghdeda (so called Qaraqosh), alone gave about 6000 martyrs. Because of the regime’s internal policy the Assyrians also suffered a great deal during Saddam's war with the Kurds, especially after the Iraqi - Iranian war when Saddam decided to punish the Kurds who supported the Iranians, thus came the famous "Anfal" operation where he destroyed a large number of Assyrian villages causing more than 40000 Assyrians to flee their villages along with the Kurds to neighboring countries. Those who remained were subjected to killings and abductions where hundreds of them are still missing till today with their wives and children (lists of names are available), all that to have revenge because the Assyrians refused to register as "Arabs" or "Kurds" in the 1987 Census... (2)

With every battle the Assyrians are bewildered for they fear the Kurdish anger if they don't stand by their side for they will consider them as “Saddam’s collaborators", on the other hand they fear Saddam's wrath if they side by the Kurds for he will consider them as "Kurds’ collaborators"... In addition to all this, tens of thousands were left homeless in 1991 after Saddam's strikes against the Kurds. Thus the Assyrian people always pay the price for others' wars on its own land when its fate clings to the struggles of others, while no one in the world would take notice of Assyrian victims, rather they would be either considered Arabs or Kurds, and this was confirmed during a visit of some Assyrians to meet with those who had fled to Turkey in 1991. All this as a result of Baghdad and Kurdish obscuring towards the Assyrian identity.

Following the invasion of Kuwait, the economy, defense ... and other important Iraqi elements were destroyed because of the Iraqi regime’s idiocy on one hand and the American-Israeli plan on the other which aims at striking back any forces which may threaten Israel in the Middle East. This is when taking advantage of the weak Iraqi regime, the Kurds announced what seemed to be a sort of independence in the North of Iraq with the help of the allied forces which destroyed Iraq, where this chaotic area of Kurdish rule is known as "Kurdistan Region" and is ruled by Kurds in a tribal manner.

For centuries the Kurdish tribes neighbored the Assyrians. The Kurdish historian; the prince Sharaf Khan al-Badlisi (16th century) mentioned that Kurds came to the area with the Mongol tyrant Tamerlane, and he says that the inhabitants of the area where known as "Asuri" i.e. Assyrian ... Relationships were established between the two peoples during which the Assyrians had already fulfilled the requirements of present day states (Land, authority, and population). Then it was the huge massacre in the middle of the 19th century when tens of thousands of Assyrians fell victims at the hands of the Kurdish leader Bedrkhan followed by WWI massacres which spread from Uremia in the West of Iran to Urfa (Urhai or Edessa) and Maraash in the south-east of Turkey. In these massacres two thirds of the Assyrian population perished and His Holiness Patriarch Mar Binyamin Shimmoun was assassinated in a treacherous attempt at the hands of Ismail Simko leader of the Kurdish Shikak tribes ... These events are still very painful to the Assyrians, this in turn has affected the Kurdish movement in present times as it is mentioned by Jalal Talabani the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (3).

Kurdish population can be found today in high density in the Assyrian homeland and they very much believe in their ethnic belonging, they are a rebellious, brave people who were able to impose their existence on neighboring countries and they repeatedly forced hostile regimes to negotiate with them despite the Saad-Abad treaty which was signed between Iraq, Iran and Turkey in 1937 which stipulated the subduing of Kurdish rebellions in those countries. Kurds stood against this treaty and rebelled for decades against the three countries and that drew the attention of the West, which used them as a pressuring card on these countries whenever it was possible. In turn the three countries took advantage of the Kurdish tribes using them as a pressuring card whenever conflicts arose between the three countries, and this is obvious when the Shah of Iran supported Mustafa Barazani against Iraq but suddenly withdrew his support following the Algerian treaty in regards to Shat el-Arab (Persian Gulf) signed between Iraq and Iran in 1975, resulting in Barazani instructing his fighters to give themselves up to the Iraqi authorities because he was bewildered how to deal with the situation, this caused a turn down in his popularity, and the Algerian treaty was amongst the main reasons for the failure of the Kurdish State project.

In spite of all that the Kurds committed against the Assyrians trough history, yet some Assyrian contributed very bravely and sincerely to the 20th century’s Kurdish movement under Mustafa Barazani’s leadership. One of the main reasons for some Assyrians joining foreign currents was that they saw in the Kurdish movement a way to freedom from the Baghdad regime, in the absence of Assyrian Parties during that period on the Iraqi scene and this is considered as a short sightedness on the part of Assyrian organizations abroad because the Assyrians in northern Iraq didn't find any other option to be freed of the Iraqi regime other than joining either the Kurdish movement or Iraqi Communist Party, and the two became as a refuge for Assyrian nationalists where many of them were able to hold the highest ranks within the Iraqi Communist Party, and within the Kurdish movement, which brought perdition to many of them, and in some military divisions Assyrians constituted about 15% (4). And the Assyrians remained sincere to the Kurdish movement well into the seventies of this century when the late Patriarch Mar Ishai Chamoun was invited by the Iraqi president Ahmad Hassan al-Bakir in April 1970, then the Assyrian leader Yakou Malek Ismael (one of the Assyrian National liberation symbols in the 20th century) who was invited in February 1973 and the Iraqi government proposed to both leaders forming an Assyrian force to strike the Kurdish movement in exchange for acknowledging some Assyrian rights, but both leaders refused that proposal (5) . In April 1979 the Assyrian Democratic Movement was established which changed the situation to be somewhat better as to preserving the Assyrian existence in Assyria as much as possible keeping at the same time the good relations with the Kurds to face together the common challenges in a spirit of sincerity and co-operation. However, the Kurdish treatment towards the Assyrians during the last decade wasn't as well as it was expected to be.

The area which is under Kurdish rule has several religious minorities (Christians, Yizids, and Muslims) distributed into several ethnicities (Assyrians, Kurds, Turkmen) ... In this mosaic tapestry the Kurds tried to gain trust in the way they ran their region in accordance with international norms in preparation of announcing a Kurdish state whenever circumstances permitted. Thus the Assyrians participated in the Parliament of what's called "Kurdistan" and Assyrian establishments were allowed to build schools in an attempt to gain foreign support and nothing more. The Kurds are well aware that the Assyrian demands are well within the same geographical area which they consider as " Kurdistan", and the Kurds will never accept the founding of another national existence whether be it Assyrian or another in that area, Kurds however look at all the other different parties who live in Assyria, as "Kurdistani citizens" hoping that one day they would turn into "Kurdish citizens". This is obvious to those who are aware of the events taking place due to the following facts:

1- The political Persecution: In regards to this fact, Assyrians are but Christians living within the so-Called " Kurdistan", in addition to the Kurdish leadership frankly considering Assyrians as " Christian Kurds". Plus the deliberate attempts of the Kurdish leadership to form Assyrian Parties under religious names in order to weaken the Assyrian front by attempting to politically undermine the popular base of the “Assyrian Democratic Movement” organization, creating divisions in the Assyrian parliamentary representation in what's known as the “Kurdistan Parliament”, adding to that the increase in political assassinations of politicians and members of the Assyrian Democratic Movement such as the martyrs Francis Shabo who was a member in the Parliament of the so-called "Kurdistan" and Faris Mirza , Samir Murad and others...

2- Cultural and Ideological Persecution: The educational curriculum at the Region's universities is geared politically, to consider the North of Iraq as a Kurdish land, just like the Baghdad regime forces the Arabization of Assyrians in its universities. The Assyrian students are obliged to study a history that considers Kurdish personalities, which were responsible for massacring their ancestors rendering them homeless away from their homelands, as heroes, or they would fail exams, and many more practices that can't all be mentioned here.

3- Corporal and Psychological Persecution: Reports showing tens of crimes against innocent individuals and families as well as immoral acts whereby volumes are needed to report them. What's amazing is that no one was convicted of any of these crimes but rather they would be attributed to "un-known" perpetrators, even though many of the assailants are either Kurdish figures or partisans.

4- Demographic Persecution: Forcibly occupying Assyrian villages and agricultural lands, obliging Inhabitants to leave in horror using bombs or arresting them repeatedly for no apparent reasons in order for them to flee even though a large part of land occupied by Kurds is still officially registered to Assyrian owners, who if not abroad, are living as refugees with their relatives in other villages. Also the names of tens of Assyrian villages were changed to Kurdish, misleading future generations, when as a matter of fact all of Iraq's regions carried Assyrian names before the coming of Arabs and Kurds.

5- Religious Persecution: Resorting in many instances to "Islamic Laws" in cases where the victims are Assyrians. Also, kidnapping girls of thirteen and sixteen forcing them to convert to Islam then marrying them to their kidnappers and the criminals are still free.

Thus the "De Facto Forces" proved again without any doubt, their failure dealing with minorities living under their rule, in accordance with international norms within the political, humanitarian and moral standards, especially that Amnesty International confirms every year the fore mentioned. Thus, we should wonder as to the fate of the Assyrian people under the domination of these forces, and what can be the best solution for the Iraqi people in general and the Assyrian ethnicity in particular.

The forced migration of the Assyrian people from their ancestral homeland reflected a rise in a more advanced national awareness beginning with a recognizable media and cultural movements abroad, which are at a high point now to accompany the present era and support the one third of all Assyrians around the word, living in their ancestral homeland, to help them face the developments which will bring radical changes to Iraq where there's a mix of both domineering and deprived ethnicities.

Like other deprived peoples, the Assyrians notice today that the international political situation after September 11 may provide them with what they've been deprived of for long centuries. Therefore, Assyrian organizations mobilized in a noticeable manner which made many American officials take notice in directing the White House's attention to the Assyrian suffering under the rule of Kurdish tribes. On October 26, 1999 three American congressmen presented a petition to President Bush to take into consideration the situation of the Assyrian ethnic group in the event of changes in Iraq. And on March 15, 2002, nineteen congressmen followed with yet another letter to President Bush in regards to this matter. On April 25th, 2002, Chairman of the International Relations Committee in the Congress Senator Henry Hyde in a letter addressed to Mr. William Burns [assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs], explained the persecutions of the Assyrian people in Iraq, and wondered about their rights, then followed that by another letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell on August 18th, 2002 protesting the exclusion of Assyrians from the Iraqi opposition meetings...

In spite of this negligence on the part of the Iraqi opposition, and because the Iraqi people in general are suffering of economical and social problems and as the minorities are suffering of marginalization, persecution, and of harassment to their politicians, taking all this into consideration, the Assyrians still share the Iraqi opposition in their concerns and support their demands because they feel that they are a part of that human fabric which constitutes the Iraqi people - builder of the future Iraq.

The Assyrian national movement is neither an enemy of the Kurds, nor is against Arabs as the Iraqi regimes have misled the people who are hopeless. Also the Assyrian national movement isn't against the State of Iraq having its own specific convocations in its relations whether military or economical co-operation with its region (as a state), but is against the " Arabization" & " Kurdisation" of Assyrians. History has proven that it's impossible to eliminate the national feeling of the Assyrians ... The Assyrians will always call for a democratic and free Iraq where justice would be for all its ethnic and religious groups and it's the duty of the forthcoming Iraqi leadership to work on the following:

1- Recognition of the Assyrian group as an independent, fully defined ethnicity distinctive ethnically from other groups in Iraq.

2- Elimination of the reasons which caused a continuous forced migration of Assyrians outside the historical homeland and that can be achieved by establishing the basis of democracy and equality in rights and giving lands and properties back to their rightful owners, then calling upon all Iraqis, Assyrians and others to return and help in the building of the new State of Iraq.

3- Reviewing the Iraqi educational curriculum to bring up a well educated generation, one that will be aware of the true history of his country in compliance with what scientists and historians have established and that by correcting the so-called "rewriting of history" which was done by Baghdad's regime in the late seventies through which ancient history was distorted accordingly with the Arabization policy and then changing modern history because of the regime's vindictive feelings and the sensitivity against all that is related to Assyrians without any reason.

4- Implementation of the decision dated 25/12/1972 by the Iraqi Revolutionary Council which decreed allowing to Assyrians who participated in the 1933 events [as claims the Iraqi regime] to go back to Iraq, so that those who wish to return to the homeland can do so and reclaim their Iraqi citizenship, considering that Iraq is the national homeland of the Assyrians.

This is some of what the Assyrians want in a unified Iraq, in the event that the present regime changes, it's better for a unified State of Iraq to continue on the basis of a direct central governing, but in the case that any Kurdish entity might be established whether under federalism or political and governmental decentralization in a form of a self governing rule, with reservation regarding the obscurity which surrounds Turkey's strong opposition towards the Kurdish case, plus the obscurity in both the positions of the American administration and the Iraqi opposition in regards to the future of Iraq, then it's not logically acceptable for Assyrians to live under the mercy of any other group for they deserve to have their own particular entity equal to other ethnicities according to what follows :

1 -Deriving from historical rights.
2 -Deriving from what the Assyrians have suffered and still do under the rule of "De Facto Forces" and because  of these forces' violation to all of the 30 articles mentioned in the International Declaration of Human Rights which is sanctioned by decision 217/A3 of the United Nations General Assembly 1948.
3 -The previous declarations of International organizations such as number /69/ of 15/12/1932 by the League Of Nations which stipulates on self- governing area in the north of Iraq, for the Assyrians.
4 -In reference to article /73/ of the United Nations Declaration of "Self Governing" law, and as the Assyrians are relied by the factors of nationalism, and particularly in Assyrianism {common language, history, and common traditions as well as the national feeling of belonging} ... and that in a very obvious and distinctive manner of other groups, wherever the Assyrians live.

The Assyrians have to impede any solution that doesn't equalize them along side with the rest of the groups within the Iraqi people; on the other hand every thing remains to be seen under the obscure American plan. And the Turkey's declaration on the 20th of August 2002 that Mosul and Kirkuk are historically Turkish lands arises a question mark around the future of north of Iraq.

What's odd and sad at the same time is the struggle of foreigners and their race for many years to seize the Assyrian land. For the Kurds it's Kurdish, for the Turks it's Turkish, and for the Arabs it's Arab ... While the Assyrians, the real owners of the land, exhausted of the calamities which befell them, await the mercy of the international community. The Assyrians' only ammunition today is their historical and human right, however, justice remains hanging on the Iraqi conscience in particular and the International conscience in general. And as long as there are voices rising after 2614 years of the fall of Nineveh, then there’s' no doubt that the Assyrians will continue to demand what is rightfully theirs until they completely obtain it.


1 - Father Philip Hilay was found choked to death in May 2002 and Sister Cecilia Hanna Moshe who was   found stabbed several times and beheaded at the Monastery of The Sacred Heart in Baghdad on 15/08/2002, the day of St. Mary's Commemoration.
2 –Jonathan C.Randal (an American journalist),“After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness?”,  1997, Farrar, Straus & Giroux – P: 303-304 (The Arabic Edition, Translated by Fadi Hammoud).
3 – Dr.Kamal Ahmed Mazhar (a Kurdish historian) -  “Kurdistan During WW1”
4 - Shmidt, A. " Journey Among Brave Men" . Boston, 1964, P. 71
5 - Haddad, Eva " The Assyrians, The Rod Of My Anger ". Australia, 1996. P. 18
« Last Edit: December 17, 2012, 12:56:35 PM by A.G »

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