Posts tagged ‘assyrians’

Empowering the Assyrians in the Homeland

It doesn’t take much to satisfy Assyrians living in Iraq, and in the middle east in general.  Shelter and food, security, jobs, guaranteed rights etc.  And if these can be provided or even upgraded,  you have doubled the chances of satisfying and convincing them to stay.  But when even these basic rights and necessities are not provided, who are we, those living in the comfort of western societies, to demand that Assyrians not leave our ancestral homelands?

Empowerment is the solution!

Empowering is to provide and create an ideal living environment for the Assyrians in the homeland to be able to stay and not have to leave or be refugees in other countries. What is an ideal living environment and what factors are to be present?Let us take them one by one, from the most necessary to those that can enhance and improve their lives.

Food and shelter

It starts with the most basic of all life requirements.  If Assyrians don’t even have a place to live in or food to feed themselves, chances are they will give up and either migrate or worse yet be exploited by others.  When you are hungry and homeless, you will accept almost any help that is provided to you and not think about the future consequences and what you have to give up in return.

How can this be achieved? Assyrians living in the West should never hesitate to donate to the Assyrian Aid Society and other Assyrian charities.  They are the best insurance if you want your money to empower Assyrians through feeding and housing.


Our people in Iraq have become a minority, and with less and less security to make them feel safe, chances are, they will pack up and leave elsewhere.  All it takes is a murder or a death threat, to make them think twice about staying, let alone a terrorist bombing near where an Assyrian lives.  It is the reality, and we can’t deny it: our people have become very fragile, like the birds that fly away at the mere noise of someone walking by.  Assyrians just can’t trust the current security situation in Iraq, despite all the talked about security improvements.  After all, Security is a perception and a relative term.  We need to put pressure on the Iraqi government to spare no effort to provide the maximum security for our fragile community.


Once you have provided them with food, shelter and some security, next you need to provide them with jobs and an economy where they can utilize their skills,  open up their own business, and even attract foreign investments.  Not only does the central and regional governments have a responsibility to make this happen, Assyrians in the West and the Diaspora can also contribute.  For example, an Assyrian from the USA, Canada or any other country, can invest some of their money to open a business in an area where there is a large concentration of the Assyrian population (i.e Alqosh, Hamdanya, Araden, Doureh etc.) This way, you are helping by providing them with jobs.  If more than a few Assyrians from the Diaspora did this, you could look at a very high rate of Assyrian employment, and this can go a long way in empowering our Assyrian community in Iraq.

National Rights

It is ironic that we have put this last, because to some, this is a matter of life and death.  In fact, a lot of our fallen martyrs and heroes gave up their lives for this very issue of nationalism and rights.  To empower Assyrians, is to help them live their lives in accordance with their national identity, historical heritage and most importantly, be able to use their language freely.  But when they are living under an oppressive regime like the KRG in the North, these basic national rights are being denied.  If an Assyrian internet cafe owner can’t name his store a national or historical Assyrian name, you know there is a problem.  Empowerment can only go as far as how democratic and open the system you are living in, is. And in the case of the Kurdish regional government in Northern Iraq, where a lot of Assyrians currently live, this is lacking big time.  The West should  pressure the Kurdish regional government in Northern Iraq to give Assyrians more freedom and not to oppress them and try to quash them to the last drop of their national blood.  This also applies to our religious rights as Christians and for all the threats and intimidation based on our faith, to stop!

If you have studied psychology, I am sure this article somehow reminds you of ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs‘ , doesn’t it? and that is the idea: Assyrians are humans first, before they are citizens of a certain region or natives of a certain land. If you can’t even provide them with the basic necesseities of life, then why bother with the rest?  But to empower the Assyrians, is to provide them with the ability to live a decent life, and if possible, enhance it and imrpove it even further.  And once you have empowered them, they will be less likely to leave the homeland, thus lessening the chance of Assyrians one day becoming an extinct ethnicity in Iraq, which was one day known as their native Assyria!


Emptying Baghdad of Assyrians, One Region at a Time

Not too long ago, it seemed like the serious violence in Baghdad, wasn’t a serious deterrent for Assyrians to leave their homes in the Iraqi capital and depart. In fact, even now, it takes much more than violence and threats of killing and kidnapping to drive the resilient Assyrians from their homes, in mostly Sunni Western Baghdad. With the city of Dora being the epicenter of this new violence against Assyrians and Christians, things have been moving at a very rapid pace in the last few weeks.

Although Sunni insurgents have been the dominant force in this formerly peaceful region of Baghdad, things have changed dramatically. Unless serious action is taken against these insurgents and terrorists groups, Dora and other parts of Baghdad could risk becoming empty of Assyrian inhabitant. This could mean a serious blow to decades, even centuries old of a beautiful mix of different ethnic Iraqi groups living in one city.

It all started about a few weeks ago, when terrorists groups led by Al-Qaeda elements, started giving the Assyrians in the area three choices: to either leave and not collect any of your belonging. Or stay, and pay a monthly Jizya (Islamic protection tax from the times of the Khalifat and Abbaisen rule) Or you can stay, be protected and pay no protection tax, but pay the ultimate price for your soul: convert to Islam from

“If not stopped immediately, this could eat into the very unity and foundation of the Iraqi society”

Christianity. You wonder what would give these groups these extra powers to rise and demand this of the Christians in the region. Last time I checked, Dora is in the city of Baghdad, the same city where there has been a 3-month old security crack-down between US and Iraqi security forces. It is mind-boggling that extremists and Jihadists would be left to roam in the area freely, as it is it an island on its own. Dora is not a small city, relatively speaking. But it deserves every bit of attention from Iraqi and coalition forces, to pacify it and declare it back to its rightful owners and the Iraqi government.

Assyrians may have to leave the city or parts of the city for now. But there will come a time, when these inhabitants who have lived in this city for decades, are returned home and be given all that they owned and had before. Moreover, the same goes for our churches in the area, which have been abandoned, and its crosses and other of its religious symbols removed and ransacked. Again, last time I checked, we are living in the 21st century, and in the city in question is part of Baghdad. So when will the US military turn its attention to this city? A city whose recapture is vital to the victory in Baghdad, and a huge psychological boost.

Things continue to deteriorate. Assyrians and Iraqis alike, living outside of Iraq, feel helpless. But there is a few things we can do. For one, we have to raise the voice of reason, and let the world know about what is happening. People have a general idea about the violence in Iraq and Baghdad, but can’t be bothered by the specifics of it and who the victim of this violence is. Assyrians need to raise hell and pressure the US and Iraqi government to do something. Sooner or later, we will need to build not one, not two but three or more Baghdad Walls, to separate amongst all of its various ethnic and religious communities.

Ironically, this is also a time for our churches to come together and unite, because this hits home and close. More can be done by the Sunni community itself as well. A lot of pressure has to be put on Sunni states neighboring Iraq, especially Saudi Arabia, to denounce such terrorist and racist acts. As well, pressure has to be put on Harish al-Thari, the influential Sunni head of the ‘Association of Muslim Scholars’ who has ties to the insurgency. A simple public denouncement from him against the acts of violence against Assyrians, can go a long way. Al-Thari has been out of Iraq for over a year now, and is wanted by Iraqi authorities on charges of supporting the insurgency.

The threat is real and serious, and some have expressed concern that Christians in Iraq today, could become the Jewish of Iraq from last century: both going extinct. There are many differences between the two, which will not make a total exit of Christians from Iraq, a very likely future scenario. But it is serious enough for the UN, Iraqi government, US government and world governments everywhere to do something. Iraqis have also got to realize that this violence against Christians has already been committed against Shiites and other ethnic groups. Shiites have largely and long abandoned the Dora region. So if anything, this concerns all Iraqis, because their very national unity is at stake. If not stopped immediately, this could eat into the very unity and foundation of the Iraqi society

As I write about the damage being done to Assyrians and their churches in the Dora region, I could feel my father shaking in his grave: he happens to be the Assyrian engineer who built the beautiful St.George church in Dora.


Forgotten Christians of Mesopotamia; the Assyrians

HTML clipboard By: Alkan Chaglar

Assyrians have lived in South-Eastern Anatolia, Northern Iraq, Eastern Syria and Western Iran since times of antiquity. Living beneath the shadow of poplar and mulberry trees amid crimson poppies swaying in the wind, they number no more than a million in the entire region. Praying as their ancestors had done for over a thousand years in small earth-coloured churches surmounted by a dome and joined by a tower with plangent church bells, the community are descendants of a once great empire. The Assyrian empire once extended from the Zagros Mountains in the East to the coast of Lebanon. The Assyrians who are also known more generally under the umbrella terms for Nestorian Christians are not ‘Christian Arabs’ as some people believe, but speak a Semitic language, called Syriac. Although semblable to both Arabic and Hebrew, the language pre-dates both languages and is one of the oldest languages in the region.

The community has always been entrepreneurial, leading an active economic role in the jewellery trade in Turkey. Their presence is quite strong in the rambunctious Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. Assigned to the role of ‘good jewellers’ the community is often overlooked by both the government and the media, which tend to focus on the situation of the more numerous Kurdish population.
Living in five mostly Muslim states in the Middle-East has often put the Assyrians in the line of fire. Assyrians claim to have been victim to a genocide committed by the Ottoman Turks, indeed, according to historian F.P.Isaac in the early part of the 20th century the Ottomans, faced with the break-up of their empire, expelled thousands of Assyrians. Sadly, matters did not improve much in the secular Republic of Turkey, which followed. From a presence of 130,000 Assyrians in the 1960s the number has dwindled down to 5000 today, of which only 2000 of which reside in South East of Anatolia.

Faced with ‘greater problems’ the Turkish state policy has done little to include the Assyrians in recent years to feel apart of the secular state that Turkey purports to be. This has fuelled the steady immigration of the community abroad.
Life is not much better for the Assyrians in neighbouring countries either. The Iraqi Chaldean-Assyrian minority was one of the prime targets of the Ba’athist party for their role in collaborating with the British during their occupation of Iraq. Today in post-Ba’athist Iraq Assyrians find themselves the target of Islamic fundamentalists and insurgents who hold them to blame for the actions of the ‘Christian occupiers’, the Americans and the British. Faced with growing Arabisation and Kurdification of Northern Iraq, Assyrians have been making a steady exit from Iraq to the West, where they account for most Iraqi immigrants.

In Turkey, Assyrians are recognised as a religious minority and not as an ethnic minority like the Armenians, this might seem as a simple difference in terminology but in fact it is quite a crippling status for the community. Unlike the Armenians, Assyrians still cannot teach in their own language, so this indigenous community is left manacled by the state. Being prevented from teaching one’s ancestral language to future generations of that community has been one of the key factors forcing this community to leave the country in recent decades.
Fortunately, the EU factor in Turkey coupled with the end of the worst fighting between the PKK and Security Forces in he 1990s is beginning to provide short term benefits to small minorities like the Assyrians, as the government in Ankara seeks to harmonise many of her own policies with those of the EU. Conditions are now improving for the community, which was previously on the brink of extinction in the region. An interest in Assyrian culture and its benefits for tourism is currently been explored and even the Turkish governor now visits the community to offer his support. Five years ago during the height of violence between the PKK and the Turkish security forces this would have not been possible.

With funds from the European Union, Istanbul Bilgi University opened an Assyrian cultural centre in the town of Midyat on the 29th of April 2006 for the first time and last year the city of Mardin hosted the first international symposium of Mardin history. Some Assyrians from the diaspora have repatriated to their ancestral region in recent years.
However, many of the children of those returning diaspora can only speak Syriac and have little knowledge of Turkish, faced with an absence of classes in Syriac, they are being prevented from a proper education. The absence of schools that teach Syriac is the result of an unofficial monoculturalist state policy aimed at Turkicisation preventing communities like the Assyrians from learning their language, while on the other hand encouraging the new arrivals to forget theirs.

Without downplaying the positive reforms in Turkey, the state, which strives to be secular and a “garden of different flowers” needs not only to be cognizant of the diversity of their country but needs to put this into educational policy. Policy makers that are negotiating Turkey’s EU accession can encourage the teaching and use of minority or regional languages without being detrimental to the use of official languages. It should be government policy to promote, protect, and preserve the Indigenous languages of the Republic; this would be mutually beneficial to both the ethnic group and the state in whose confines they reside.

While Assyrians are faced with uncertainty in Iraq and Iran, where insurgents are keen to destroy multiculturalism, Turkey should set a precedent by not just promoting multi-faith communities but multi-lingualism as well. Language like religion is a fundamental part of a community’s identity; it is used to transmit a community’s history, poetry, music and literature that will be forever lost without it. Like other minorities elsewhere without schooling in their own language, the future generations of Assyrians will be bereft of a future and unequal in their rights as Turkish citizens. The Turkish state needs to break away from post-independence policies of Turkicisation and extend full citizenship to all her citizens.