The Great Non-Debate "Debate" on Assyrian "Autonomy"


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I love Assyrians, but some of them think just because they have passion for our issues, they are automatically qualified to be politicians for our issues or speak with some authority on our issues. Most of us do not.

I think - even now - most people do not understand what they mean when they say "autonomy", or "administrative unit", or "region", or use them interchangeably.

Most people think the KRG is something we can have "because the Kurds have it", forgetting that...although 1991 sealed those borders for the northern region - the KRG has been in existence since the early 1970's....with "autonomy". A fake autonomy, but it was called "autonomy" nonetheless. 

Here is a very nice, well written, clear description of the Great Non-Debate "Debate" on Assyrian "Autonomy" which was posted the other day to clarify a FB discussion on the issue. Again, I urge bookmarking of this topic, you'll need it again and again, I suspect. Anything written in purple is my clarification/addition. All other "bolds" or "italics" are also mine. This is a very detailed, very nuanced issue which is why so few Assyrians actually understand it well. The text below was not written by me.

Who knew FB would make such a nice conduit for this type of discussion.


Shlamaloukhun, clearly facebook is not the place to resolve such a debate. So I just wanted to add some conceptual clarity and nothing more.  "Autonomy" is not an entity, it is a condition/aspect/state of affairs, but it is not a fixed ?thing?. (In other words, people use it like a noun, when it is not one.)  It is something experienced within degrees. It is also assessed best along two dimensions: autonomy in name (on paper) and in fact (through practice/governance).  You can have no autonomy, a little, a great deal and absolute autonomy.  The Kurdistan Region of Iraq came into existence under Saddam Hussein in 1974. From 1974 until Gulf War 1, neither the KRG nor Kurds had "autonomy".  They had departments, a regional governing apparatus, etc., all in name but not in practice because it was ultimately controlled down to the last detail by the Ba'ath. Now, how can you make sense of autonomy in degrees? 1. no autonomy: easy, you have nothing.  2. A little autonomy: via local government with the powers and authority laid out for local government affairs. 3. A good deal of autonomy: a province/governorate. 4. Bundles of autonomy: KRG/any region. 5. Absolute autonomy: a sovereign state (e.g. USA, Iraq, Turkey, Iran, you get the point). 

The obvious question becomes why, or how, Mejlis Shaabi and/or Sarkis Aghajan are demanding 'autonomy'.  Their use of the term 'autonomy' is clever. It is adjectival; giving a type of symbolic meaning to their demand/proposal but in substance is technically an empty term.   It would be like mee offering every ?Blue?.  Can you hold it, what is it, is it everything blue?  ?Autonomy? has a fantastic emotional appeal.  It sounds like our dream fulfilled.  Ultimately, it will come down to a legislative proposal and if that proposal is for a region like the KRG's it will have bundles of autonomy, if it looks more like a governorate it will have a good deal of the stuff, and if it is simply a replication of local government then it will have a little autonomy.

Product Differentiation: It is not surprising and not conspiratorial that each group is 'branding' its proposal.  AGC's (Assyrian General Conference) plan is for a region.  You should all understand that very clearly. In this sense, their plan is probably the most ambitious.  Using the law of land return and repatriation, the AGC is expecting to reclaim most/all of Dohuk, some of Irbil and a good chunk of Nineveh.  Then using the referendum mechanism, they will establish a region just like the KRG's, and if they can do this it will have more autonomy short of establishing a separate state.  Note, the AGC's plan is completely constitutional (except that the KRG is on paper protected from any further territorial division), but it requires a phenomenal amount of work in the execution.  Anyone who supports this plan fully has a clear course of action: get your title deeds for your land in Iraq, submit to the land claims commission, get your land back and then move back there. Once you are back on your land, register to vote and begin the process of petitioning for a referendum to establish a region. Once you have 10 percent of eligible voters on the petition, be ready to win the referendum, which requires a 50+1 percent (simple) majority.

Mejlis Shaabi is proposing 'autonomy'.  They have proposals floating around describing education departments, social services departments, etc. etc., but they have not explained the following: a) how they are amending Iraq's Constitution to allow their claim of 'autonomy' (currently the Iraq Constitution never uses the word autonomy for any sub-national governing unit (not even the KRG!), b) their plan for then getting it passed in the Iraqi parliament which will require a majority vote, maybe even a super-majority vote (which means the Kurdish votes will fall far short of the votes needed). 

ADM is speaking of Art. 125/administrative unit.  Clearly this appears to be the most modest, and some would say pathetic, proposal.  However, like the AGC's plan, it is rooted firmly in the Constitution, except that it has yet to become law. But there will be an Art. 125 law, make no mistake.  It all depends on what that law looks like (the degrees of autonomy it might offer for any type of administrative unit - not only in the Nineveh Plain).  However, because Iraqis themselves already specified a particular federal mechanism and tied it 'almost', not fully, to minorities, it has a degree of consensus behind it.  Additionally, it also has the base population to begin executing the plan in the Nineveh Plain (if combined with Shabaks and Yezidis) and it also offers the chance for application in other difficult areas of Iraq where Assyrians and other minorities may have no direct interests.  What we do know from the Constitution, however, is that an Art. 125 Administrative Unit is something different from any other type of existing sub-national governing unit; meaning it is conceptually distinct and not beneath local government or even a region ? it is completely different from all of them and has potential for gaining a significant degree of autonomy (for details of this, see page 4-5 of the following:   


If the AGC plan can be realized, then an Assyria Region of Iraq would have all the current powers and authority of the KRG today. Additionally, because it shares borders with two important neighbors, it would become geo-strategically critical and gain political power as a result.  The Iraqi Government seems to respect KRG jurisdiction overall and presumably this would be the same with the Assyria Region of Iraq.  The same principle can be assumed to apply to an Art. 125 Admin Unit, if established.  The GoI would likely sustain its pattern of respecting the jurisdiction of sub-national federal units.  The Mejlis Shaabi plan requires careful thought.  A KRG report earlier this year made it clear that Mejlis Shaabi wants to have autonomy in the Nineveh Plains and for the Nineveh Plains to be annexed by the KRG.  Now, if the KRG has been on the record as violating most of our basic human, political, social and economic rights (see the reports of Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group, Minority Rights Group International and Department of State Annual Human Rights Reports), then one must ask whether we are actually going to be given autonomy in name or in practice.  If the KRG does not allow us to freely elect our own representatives, what makes anyone think they would allow us to run our own autonomous region within their region?

FINAL THOUGHT (if you bothered to read this far God Bless You!):  A good exercise for trying to be objective in how you decide which plan to support and why, is to try and pretend YOU ARE the Assyrian member of parliament. Your mission is straightforward; propose a piece of legislation that will get your people a sufficient degree of autonomy to ensure they can thrive but that will gain a majority yes vote in the current Iraqi Parliament.  So simple right? Now put your plan on paper (for autonomy in name, in practice, and also the legislative plan for getting it majority support in the Iraqi Parliament).    One final note that is totally personal (not conceptual); keep in mind that any time a plan has been proposed by an Assyrian political party that actually has some merit or poses a genuine threat, the KRG has used extraordinary means to marginalize and shut down that political party (AGC and ADM - for those that didn't know, the AGC was banned from operating in the KRG in 2006-7, despite the fact that they're very small in number, because they were considered a threat to the KRG territorial integrity.)); so ask yourself why the KRG is so comfortable with Mejlis Shaabi?s plan. My suspicion is straightforward in how the KRG sees these plans: AGC plan (threat to existing KRG territorial integrity), ADM plan (threat to the expansion of KRG territory into Nineveh Plain and even Kirkuk), Mejlis Shaabi plan (supports expansion of KRG territory and at the same time undermines the concrete plans of the AGC and ADM by promising us the stars and dreams while reality passes us by).

You have one last option (and I am not making light of it): forget about the political process, forget about the Iraqi Constitution because you reject it. Go for the military option.  Enlist roughly 25,000 trained Assyrian soldiers (and/or involve Shabaks and Yezidis). 25,000 well-trained fighters meet a basic strategic territorial defense requirement of 1 defender to 3 attacker ratio from which you can make a credible demand for autonomy.  However, once war begins and you are attacked, you must be prepared for a two front war (with the Iraqi Government and the Peshmerga) and have a plan to sustain and replenish your forces for an indefinite period of time.

Here are some points to take away from this:

1) A law on Administrative Units (Article 125) will be written. It is a mandatory component of creating the federalist structure of Iraq.  It is a moot point to ask "whether Article 125 will be implemented." The better and more accurate question is "How will Article 125 be implemented" (i.e., how will administrative units be defined in terms of levels of autonomy and powers). It can be either greatly autonomous, or not autonomous, or somewhere in between. But that it will be implemented is not in question. You can argue all day long about the political feasibility of attaining certain levels of autonomy, and those are all valid and fair points. But that the law will be written is not.

2) "Autonomy" is not a thing. It is not a noun. It is an empty term unless coupled with an actual governance structure (i.e., province, state, region, administrative unit, etc.) Autonomy has to be defined. If someone is telling you they're asking for "autonomy" in Iraq, it is as meaningless as saying "I am offering you freedom in Iraq." Well....okay, please explain, define, legislate, give me the legal authorities and powers which I have and define my degree of "freedom".

3) If you want a KRG-like Region in Iraq...then if I were you, I would be a staunch supporter of the Assyrian General Conference. They are seeking exactly that, its legal hurdles are described above, but technically, it is legal within this Iraqi Constitution".

4) Administrative units, provinces, governorates, and regions are all legal entities within the federalist structure of Iraq. None can be defined by ethnicity, but only by geography. Not even the KRG. That's why it's not the "Kurdish Regional Government", the "Kurdish Autonomous Unit", "The Kurdish Autonomous Region", but the "Kurdistan Regional Government". There is no doubt they are attempting to make it an ethnic enclave, but that does not mean it is technically legal. You and I can be angry about it and complain and write about the Kurdification of northern Iraq and the New Kurdish Ba'athism, that's fine. But that doesn't mean other ethnic groups can emulate what is being done in the North.

I realize this entire topic is very complex and nuanced.  I understand that people in general, especially us, think emotionally and want concrete, simple solutions that are not always pragmatic.  It's difficult to remember all the details involved in these matters, which is why I'm going to sticky this topic here and in the News section for all future reference.

The most important detail from the post above: "Autonomy" as proposed by Aghajan/Mejlis Shaabi is not real.  It's smoke and mirrors.  They scream "AUTONOMY" and then quietly under the breath mutter "but tied to the KRG."  That is not autonomy, that is annexation, a HUGE difference.
ateelaW said:
But an administrative unit can be autonomous. That's the point: autonomy is not a "thing", it is a level. Seriously did anyone read through the initial post!  :ranting:

Yes, it can be autonomous, but I was under the impression that the self-administered region that is currently being sought is not at the level of "autonomy" that is implied by the kurdistani Assyrians.  In other words, when the KRG and its apologists talk of granting us "autonomy" the implication among many is pretty much total self-government; just one step shy of declaring full out nation status.  In reality, that is really not what is on the table.

Did that make sense?  Leet, besa gajeneh mookhee!  :ranting: