Author Topic: Iraq’s persecuted Assyrian Christians are in limbo  (Read 921 times)

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Offline jujyjuji

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Iraq’s persecuted Assyrian Christians are in limbo
« on: July 31, 2014, 15:45:27 PM »
Iraq’s persecuted Assyrian Christians are in limbo

We must create an autonomous space for these ancient communities

By Romsin McQuade
12:05PM BST 30 Jul 2014

 TIm Stanley writes: The religious persecution in Iraq has seen one of the most vibrant Middle East Christian communities almost wiped out – forced to covert, driven from their homes or murdered. Conditions deteriorated after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, improved a little with the US-led surge in 2007 and now, with the advance of Isis, has descended to what might be described as genocide.

However, Romsin McQuade, a university student in America and a descendent of Assyrian Christians, argues that his particular community has always been subject to terror. The Assyrian Church of the East gained official recognition in the 4th century AD. It faced repression under the Ottoman Turks and shuffled around the region as a diaspora for much of the 20th century: moving between Iran and Iraq, while a large contingent found refuge in America. In this article charting the historical challenges facing his people, McQuade offers a solution: the creation of an autonomous safe haven.

At the dawn of the first millennium, the scattered Assyrian people placed all of their faith in Christianity.

Years later, they were court physicians, merchants, and top advisors to various Islamic Abbasid caliphs, while simultaneously managing to become the scapegoat du jour of that very Caliphate. Their houses were marked with pictures of Satan, hundreds of thousands of them murdered, and accused of pledging loyalty to the Romans, their coreligionists, to bring down the Caliphate.

Determined to remain in their ancestral lands – Ashur, Mosul, Tikrit– they found themselves in an all-too-familiar predicament: fleeing – but this time, from the first butcher of Baghdad, Timur, the Mongol ruler bent on exterminating them for being Christian.

Reduced to no more than a mere hundred thousand, most fled their cities to the mountains of Kurdistan in the Ottoman and Persian Empires.

Then, after the Ottoman Army has finished massacring 50 per cent of their population, 20th century Iraq also turned its back on its own natives, executing 3,000 of them in less than five days.

And somehow, those people – the Assyrians, the indigenous Aramaic-speaking people of northern Iraq – took a cursory glance at their wounds, said a prayer, and returned to their daily lives.

But on June 10, the Islamic State reminded Assyrians that those wounds were never closed: they were always open.

As Mosul is engulfed in flames and the tragedy unfolds, its Assyrians have fled to the Nineveh Plains, the heart of their ancestral homeland. And yet again, their monasteries and churches have proven to be not only spiritual, but also physical refuges.

Numbering 2 million worldwide, Assyrians have felt the walls of Nineveh crumbling down around them. As a semi-flourishing, yet continually fearful rural minority in a country that was once hailed for its ethnic diversity, they numbered over one million in 2003. Now, over ten years later, they number nearly 250,000– in their homeland.

Attacks on this ancient community have not ceased. The Islamic State’s dossier of systematic abuses against Assyrians reportedly includes: markings of the Arabic letter “nun,” for the Christian pejorative, “Nasrani” on their homes; execution of women for refusing to veil; church desecrations; rape of a mother and daughter for being unable to pay jizya; destruction of the Christian-revered tomb of the Prophet Jonah; kidnappings of children and clergy; forced conversion of disabled Christians in a Mosul hospital; and even cutting off clean water supply to Assyrian towns in the Nineveh Plains.

But a glimmer of hope remains: a solution that has been pushed by Assyrians since the early 20th century.

On January 21, the Iraqi government met to approve a plan that would make the Nineveh Plains – a large area composed of nearly 50 per cent Assyrians – a province. According to an Assyrian International News Agency interview between Assyrian journalist Nuri Kino and the Iraqi Minister of the Environment, Sargon Sliwa, the initiative would “insure the continued existence of our [Assyrian] community in the region.”

However, this is not the first time Assyrians had called for autonomy. Following the Ottoman massacres of 1914-1918, Assyrian delegations made a case for independence at myriad conferences – the Paris Peace Conference, Treaty of Sevres, Treaty of Lausanne, Constantinople Conference, and at the United Nations – none of which resulted in any form of action.

Disenfranchised and left to salvage their beleaguered, tiny nation, demands for a homeland stagnated, and under Baathist Iraq, eventually declined.

There has been a reawakening in calls for action in the last few days: Assyrian parties in Iraq – the Assyrian Universal Alliance, Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Popular Council, and Assyrian Democratic Movement, to name a few – have pleaded for a safe-haven; protests were arranged by UN offices in Erbil, Iraq, in support of international protection; and U.S. House Representatives Fortenberry, Eshoo, Wolf, and Van Halen are spearheading a resolution (H.Con.Res.110) to protect Assyrians in the Nineveh Plains.

In a recent 2000-response online poll on, an Assyrian news magazine popular in the Kurdistan region, the site asked what the best option for the Nineveh Plains is. 44 per cent of responders said a safe-haven protected by the UN is the best option – and the remaining results included various methods of securing autonomy.

In the past, Assyrian claims for a safe-haven were not taken seriously; the least we can do now is recognise their plight. Words of condemnation can only do so much.

Just as it had nearly a century ago, the existence of the Assyrian nation ultimately depends on the intervention and acknowledgement of their predicament by the Western world. Assyrians have been a part of the mosaic known as Iraq for centuries; seeing that very community disappear because of religious and ethnic persecution is nothing less than despicable.

In Joyce Bynum Lethin’s 1972 Western Folklore article on Assyrian proverbs, a woman named Shushan explains a common proverb: “Kisa swita litla khabra m’kisa spukta,” meaning “a stomach that is full does hear from a stomach that is empty.” Shushan says that when the Assyrians were being massacred, the world ignored.

Today, over forty years later – with Iraq’s inevitable balkanization – I fear that Shushan is right: will we ignore the plight of the Assyrians again, or will the West take a stand and support the creation of a safe-haven to maintain the magnificent culture of a dwindling indigenous minority?

What becomes of the Assyrians, whose history is one plagued with constant persecution, is dependent on a world that, through apathy, has ignored their cries for help. Without Western encouragement to implement the Nineveh Plains plan, a 4,500 year-old culture will be lost to the annals of history. As the last church zigeh, the bells, ring, a peoples’ heart rings with fear: a fear that, if only, could be understood.


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