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Assyrians Yearn for Regime Change in Iraq
For years, Assyrians have appealed to governments and to international human rights organizations through direct talks with government leaders; through attendance at many conferences of the United Nations on working groups on minorities and indigenous population and through organized demonstrations and protests in seeking and gaining support for our quest to be able to continue to exist in our homeland.
Our goal is to reunite our shattered and separated families, and what we seek in our plea is nothing more than what the world accords to other harried minority groups, who likewise have experienced invidious treatment involving spiritual, social, economic and human rights violations.
Along with the other opposition groups who have rallied to oppose Saddam's regime, the Assyrians are eager for the removal of this brutal and bloody regime. Obviously, a diplomatic solution for the disarming of Saddam and the dismantling of his weapons of mass destruction would have been preferable, as it would have spared many civilian lives. On balance, Iraqis of many nationalities and religions, including Assyrians, are prepared to pay the price of war casualties, provided it is the way to peace and freedom for all Iraqi citizens.
The Assyrian Homeland within Iraq
Imagine Iraq as a mosaic comprising a multitude of nationalities and religions. Some of the better known cultures are the Arabs, the Kurds, the Assyrians, the Turkomen, the Yazidis, the Sabeans and the Mandeans. Religions include Islam (both the Shi'a and the Sunni variety) and various Christian faiths (Chaldean Catholics, Church of the East, Syrian Orthodox, and Protestants).
The Assyrians (who are also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) are the indigenous people of Mesopotamia, where their written history goes back 7000 years. Over these millennia, they have developed cherished traditions, and their language remains Aramaic Syriac, which is an extension of Akkadian Babylonian.
To this very ancient people of Mesopotamia, the northern Iraqi provinces of Nineveh (Mosul and surrounding cities), Arbil and Dohuk are considered their heartland. Due to political hardship, the Assyrian population in Iraq has declined to 1 ½ million people, and most of them now live in the capital city of Baghdad and around their historical homeland.
Early in the 20th century, Assyrians in Iraq petitioned for their national rights, emphasizing constitutional recognition of their identity, respect for their culture, which is distinct from other cultures in Iraq, and for full and equal citizenship rights. Their plea availed nothing; their national identity continued to be denied, while the government carried on its oppression and massacres. The worst of the latter was the tragedy of Simel in August 1933, resulting in the slaughter of more than 3000 Assyrian civilians whose only sin was to demand their basic human rights in their own country.
The tragedy of Simel was followed by a systematic destruction of Assyrian towns and villages in the ensuing years. In further exacerbation, the Iraqi government forcibly expelled the national and religious leadership of the Assyrians, and in effect created large pools of Assyrian refugees who fled to Syria and other countries in the region. This painful experience — marked by immigration and scatter — marked a new low of despair and isolation in Assyrian history. This was characterized by the massive loss of our traditional lands, and the severe depopulation, which has left us politically weak and vulnerable to the merciless inhumanities of the despot Saddam Hussein and his corrupt BA'ATH Regime.
Assyrians and Saddam's BA'ATH Regime
After the tragedy of Simel, successive ruling governments in Iraq continued their inhuman policies against the Assyrian people, and without question, the ruling Ba'ath party of Saddam committed the worst atrocities. Those who protest the current coalition efforts to liberate Iraq are naïve innocents unaware of what suffering, such as that of the Assyrian people at the hand of Saddam, really means in human terms. When they compare President Bush to Saddam Hussein, their ignorance of history is sickening to the moral mind, if one considers the last 35 years in Iraq.
Over the past 35 years, over one million of our people have been forced to flee their homeland and seek refuge in the West. Those who remained in Iraq faced assassinations, kidnappings, land expropriations and forced conversions to Islam. There has also been a state of linguistic-cultural pressure through a ban on teaching the Assyrian Language, restrictions on the practice of religion, sanctions against the use of Assyrian names for newborn babies.
Also during the past 35 years, Saddam has destroyed over 300 towns and villages, which had been home to our people for thousands of years, to say nothing of the historical monasteries. These properties were subsequently expropriated by the Kurdish paramilitary organizations that ostensibly took over the government in the "Safe Haven" zone of north Iraq.
A master of the twisted word, Saddam used the 1977 census to force Assyrians to either declare either Arabic or Kurdish nationality. Those who lived in areas whose majority were Arabs were registered as Arabs, whereas those who lived in areas whose majority were Kurds were registered as Kurds. Those who insisted on declaring themselves Assyrians were interrogated; their declaration was deleted from the lists and changed to Arabic or Kurdish. Thus, the Assyrian who lived in the middle and south was registered as Arabs and the one who lived in the north was registered as Kurd. The same scheme was repeated in the census of 1987.
Sadly, though, Saddam's successes within Iraq to smother the legitimate identity of an ancient people weren't enough. It is an odd twist of fate that United Nations delegates kept asking "where is the smoking gun." Perhaps, they should have asked, "where is the smoking candy?" Had they done so, their question would have led them to the first international use of WMD for terror by a sovereign nation — in Australia, no less!
Assyrians Suffered the First