On the morning of June 7th a civilian sedan containing four masked men drove into the Christian Assyrian Quarters (Hay Al-Athuryeen) of the Dora district of Baghdad, where the masked men opened fire on Assyrians on their way to work. Four locals were killed and several others seriously wounded. The three men and one woman who were murdered were identified by the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) as Isho Nissan Markus, Youkhana, Duraid Sabri Hanna, Hisham Umar, and Ramziya Enwiya (female). On the same day and in the same district, at approximately 5 P.M. another drive by shooting occurred, targeting Assyrians returning from work, mostly with the Coalition Provisional Authority. Three women, Alice Aramayis, Ayda Petros Bakus and Muna Jalal Karim, were shot and killed, along with their driver.
This incident is the latest in a series of crimes and acts of terror and intimidation against the Christian Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) of Iraq since the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein. On March 22nd an elderly Assyrian couple, Ameejon and
Jewded Barama, was brutally murdered in the district of Dora; the husband’s throat was slashed in the same manner as Nicholas Berg, and the wife was repeatedly struck on the head with a blunt instrument. In
the southern city of Basra, on December 24th, 2003 Bashir Toma Elias was killed by a single gun shot to the head, as he prepared to head home for Christmas celebration with his wife and five children. On
November 18, 2003 Mr. Sargon Nano Murado, the ADM representative in Basra was assassinated. In North Iraq, the Assyrian mayor of the Telkepeh district, Wathah Gorgis, survived an assassination attempt on January 24, 2004. On October 7th, 2003 Mr. Safa Sabah Khoshi, owner of a liquor store in Mosul, was shot and killed in his store, and his brother, Meyaser Karim Khoshi, was severely injured in the attack.

For the Assyrians, liberation has not brought the level of security they had hoped for. Instead, it shifted the politically motivated losses caused by the Saddam Regime to the more dangerous religiously motivated crimes. Of special concern to Assyrians and their community leaders is the nature of these attacks, the overwhelming majority of which have been religiously motivated. Often these attacks are accompanied by notes demanding that the Christian Assyrians follow the rules Islam or face the consequences. This has created an atmosphere of fear in the Assyrian community, not so different, ironically, from the fear they felt under Saddam’s regime, though the nature of it is different. Saddam Hussein ruthlessly suppressed any expression of national or ethnic identity, and by and large did not concern himself with religious issues. With the removal of Saddam, Assyrians — whose population in Iraq out-numbers the national individual populations of Kuwait, Qatar, Cyprus, and UAE — have finally succeeded in asserting their unique ethnic and cultural identity, and have been active participants in the political process, yet, in an ironic flip-flop, now they find their religious institution under attack by
Islamists.

The Reverend Ken Joseph, an Assyrian Evangelist currently based in Baghdad, reports that applications for baptismal records have soared in recent weeks. He quotes an Assyrian deacon saying, “We have been flooded with parishioners desperate to leave the country and as they cannot get an exit permit without a Baptismal Certificate from the Church we have been swamped with requests.” The Assyrians did not expect the liberation of Iraq to precipitate an exodus from their ancestral lands, yet this is the effect to date of the liberation of Iraq combined with unchecked Islamic aggression.

Assyrians are the only indigenous group of Iraq; they are also Christians, are ethnically distinct, and their language is neo-Syriac (modern Aramaic). As such, they see themselves as the litmus test of any democracy that is established in Iraq, which must guarantee, above and beyond reasonable expectations, their ethnic, religious and cultural rights. This has not happened to date, as the Transitional Administrative Law (English, Arabic), while making some historic concessions with regard to Assyrians, also declared Islam as the official religion of the Iraqi State. An Assyrian in Iraq, Robert, said, “We love the Americans! We are so grateful for them removing Saddam and giving us back our freedom. We do not want their effort to be a failure if the dictatorship of Saddam is replaced by the dictatorship of Islam.”

Copyright (C) 2004, Assyrian International News Agency. All Rights Reserved.

For the Assyrian International News Agency, http://www.aina.org/

AINA) — Less than one week after the deadly Assyrian Church bombings in Baghdad and Mosul (photo gallery), Iraq, Assyrians once again will gather to commemorate Assyrian Martyr’s Day. August 7 marks the memorial day for legions of Assyrian (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) victims of massacres, pogroms, and genocide in general, but in particular commemorates the fateful day in 1933 when the newly established Iraqi army massacred upwards of 3000 Assyrian civilians in and around Simmele, Northern Iraq (account of the massacre). This year’s Church bombings coinciding with the 71st anniversary of the massacre have rekindled the same Assyrian concerns about security in Iraq and reignited calls for a “Safe Haven” in an Assyrian administered area.
In the early stages of the last century, Great Britain enlisted the support of the Assyrians as an ally in World War One. The autonomous Assyrians were drawn into the conflict following successive massacres against the civilian population by forces of the Ottoman Empire consisting of Turks and Kurds. Although many geopolitical and economic factors were involved in provoking the attacks against the Assyrians, a jihad or “holy war” was declared and served as the rallying cry and vehicle for marauding Turks, Kurds, and Persians. Although the Muslim holy war against the Armenians is perhaps better known, over three-fourths, or 750,000 Assyrian Christians died by outright murder, starvation, disease and the all too familiar consequences of genocide, between 1914-1923 during the Assyrian Holocaust along with a significant number of Pontic Greeks.

The conflict and subsequent Assyrian Holocaust, commemorated on April 24 of every year as Sayfo (“The Sword”), led to the decimation and dispersal of the Assyrians. Those Assyrians who survived Sayfo were driven out of their ancestral homeland in Turkish Mesopotamia primarily toward the area of Mosul Vilayet in Iraq, Jazira in Syria, and the Urmi plains of Iran where large Assyrian populations already lived. The massacres of 1915 followed the Assyrians to these areas as well, prompting an exodus of many more Assyrians to other countries and continents. The Assyrian Holocaust of 1915 is the turning point in the modern history of the Assyrian Christians precisely because it is the single event that led to the dispersal of the surviving community into small, weak, and destitute pockets.

On account of the Assyrians siding with the victorious Allies during World War One, Great Britain had promised the Assyrians autonomy, independence, and a homeland in order to ensure their security and survival. The Assyrian question was addressed during postwar deliberations at the League of Nations. However, with the termination of the British Mandate in Iraq, the unresolved status of the Assyrians was relinquished to the Iraqi government with certain minority guarantees specifically concerning freedom of religious, cultural, and linguistic expression.

Many of the Assyrians surviving Sayfo had been gathered in refugee camps in Iraq pending final resettlement in an autonomous Assyrian homeland. In 1933, however, the Iraqi government declared an ultimatum giving the Assyrians one of two choices: either to be resettled in small populations dispersed amongst larger Muslim populations that had recently been violently antagonistic or to leave Iraq entirely. Some Assyrians chose to leave to neighboring Syria and so notified the Iraqi government of their intention. In response, the Iraqi government dispatched the Iraqi army to attack the Assyrians fleeing into Syria. In their subsequent defeat, the retreating Iraqi army massacred over 3,000 Assyrian civilians in Simmele and other surrounding towns in northern Iraq in August of 1933. Eyewitness accounts recorded babies hurled into the air and bayoneted and women and elderly being run over by vehicles repeatedly. Upon his return to Baghdad, the commanding officer, a Kurd named Bekir Sidqi, who executed the massacre was hailed as a conquering hero. Thus, the first official military campaign of the Iraqi army served as the newly independent government’s final solution to the Assyrian question. The demoralized Assyrian refugee population in Iraq was thereby resettled in dispersed villages while the other surviving isolated communities languished in the areas of Tur Abdin, Turkey; Jazira, Syria; and Urmi, Iran.

The lessons of World War I and 1933 remain fresh in the Assyrian psyche. On the one hand, deep apprehension about the peaceful intentions of their neighbors is coupled with profound suspicion about the reliability and commitment of Western powers. These same lessons were re-inscribed into the Assyrian psyche on August 1, 2004 as old wounds were once again torn open.

For Assyrians, today’s circumstances in Iraq mark striking similarities to those of 1933. Again today, Assyrians find themselves in a period of flux, insecurity, threat, and uncertainty. The official Assyrian political aspiration of an administered or semi-autonomous area in the Plains of Nineveh hark back to the appeals made to the League of Nations. The negligible commitment of the West to protect Assyrian Christians mirrors the neglect of the past as well. And now rising attacks against Assyrians1 climaxing in the bloody Church bombings rekindle the same Assyrian suspicions and apprehensions felt in August 1933 when Bekir Sidqi schemed to cleanse yet another region of Assyrians.

However, some welcome differences are not deniable either. Whereas in 1933, the government of Iraq marked the bayoneting of babies by Sidqi’s henchmen with parades and medals, today’s Iraqi government and leading Islamic leaders were quick to condemn the attacks. The rapidity of blaming the attacks on Jordanian born Zirqawi — a non-Iraqi Al-Qaeda operative — attempted to send a quick signal that this could not have been an inside Iraqi attack on fellow Iraqi Christians. One Assyrian analyst who welcomed the condemnations from across the Iraqi political and religious spectrum as a refreshing sea change, never the less viewed the quick declaration by the government that Zirqawi had orchestrated the attack as at least premature if not wholly disingenuous. “Clearly a non-Iraqi Al-Qaeda may have committed these attacks, but so too could have others such as Kurds, former Baathists or anyone else fighting US forces who may in their own twisted way link Assyrian Christian Churches to the American ‘Christian’ forces. For the government to quickly blame Zirqawi without an investigation or a claim of responsibility smacks of a political decision to absolve or whitewash — as it were — any Iraqi or Iraqi society itself for that matter of such a heinous crime. August 7, 1933 and the subsequent decades of persecution by successive regimes remind us that Iraq has been and indeed is capable of such acts. Sweeping such attacks under the rug will not serve the progress of Iraqi society due justice. The history of abuse and massacre of Assyrians by the Iraqi state must be recognized. Only when we come to terms with the historical facts and realities and accept the Assyrian people’s aspiration to live in security in their ancestral towns and villages in the Nineveh Plain can we begin to lay Assyrian concerns to rest.” On a hopeful note, the analyst noted “The early signs from Iraq with nearly universal condemnation of the attacks is indeed encouraging, however.”

This year, less than one week after five Christian Churches were bombed, Assyrians will gather on August 7 in their Churches, social halls, and cemeteries for poems, prayers, and recollections (story). This year, armed with haunting images of smoke billowing from their churches, Assyrians will again become determined to rebuild and refortify. This year, Assyrians will couple the memories of the Simmele massacre with fresh images of bloodied and dead worshipers as they redouble their efforts to transform the historical dream of a self administered area into a safe, secure, and lasting reality.

© 2004, Assyrian International News Agency. All Rights Reserved.

For the Assyrian International News Agency, http://www.aina.org/

(AINA) — The postponement of the deadline for a new Iraqi Constitution was received as a reprieve of sorts by Assyrian Christians. The two most important points of contention in the Constitution deliberations are also the two most critical for Assyrian Christians including the growing role of Islam and the ever expanding territory and autonomy in the Kurdish occupied region. Whereas for some communities the issues represent an opportunity for political and demographic muscle flexing, for Assyrian Christians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) and to some extent other minorities, the debates have transformed to matters of survival in an increasingly hostile Iraq.

On August 9th in the Dora district of Baghdad 22 year old Sargon Isho was caught in the crossfire of two militant groups near the Mar Zaya church.
On August 9th in Kirkuk 29 year-old, Saad Fawzi Abdiljabar was stabbed to death by his kidnappers in front of his home as he was leaving to work as an engineer in the Northern Iraq Oil company.
On August 8th in Mosul 20 year-old arts college student Anita Tiadoros Harjo, was kidnapped in the Zuhur district of Mosul where she and her family reside. She was on her way to a nearby internet café.
on August 6th in Bartilla, north Iraq the body of 42 year-old No’el Petrus, a pharmacist and a Bartilla native, was found on august 7th in nearby Mosul. Noe’l was kidnapped along with his brother, Amar, from his pharmacy in the city of Mosul and was later murdered. His brother was released after a $50K ransom was paid by the family.

Two weeks earlier, Assyrian Christian residents of the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad awoke to find a new fundamentalist letter posted on their doors warning of the consequences if the family did not convert to Islam. Responding to the threats of violence, the families appealed to the police for help, but were ironically advised to seek help at the local mosque. As one Assyrian explained “in the streets as well as the constitution committee, Iraqis are abdicating to fundamentalists.”

For Assyrian Christians, the prospects of an ever increasingly Islamized Iraq appear real. “This is not merely an exercise in semantics,” argued an Assyrian activist. These deliberations impact our daily lives from being forced to wear the veil to being assaulted as an infidel while shopping for food. When the State endorses a greater role for Islam, it automatically diminishes the status of non-Muslim minorities such as Christians, Yezidis, and Mandeans.”

In the north, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has capitalized on the impasse in the Constitution committee to establish more and more “facts on the ground” in order to de facto expand the Kurdish occupied area. Although the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL, English, Arabic) only allowed the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to occupy the areas they held prior to the war, Kurdish demands have recently increased to include Assyrian villages in the Nineveh plain. The landgrab envisioned by the KDP includes the villages and towns of the Nineveh Plain– the proposed Assyrian Administered Area.

Recently, the KDP established several checkpoints surounding Assyrian towns in the Nineveh plain, which lies outside the Kurdish region specified by the TAL. Assyrian Christians were routinely interrogated and sometimes abused by KDP paramilitary personnel. When an elderly woman objected to the harassment and the greater than life sized portrait of KDP warlord Masoud Barzani propped up on the road leading to her village, she was detained and threatened. She was only released after her local village elders intervened and reassured the local KDP paramilitary commander that the woman was frail and elderly and posed no real threat to the KDP tribal chief.

Assyrian Christians have not been alone as KDP hegemony has targeted other minorities in the north including Turkoman, Shabak, and Yezidis. On August 16, 2005, KDP gunmen shot at Shabak demonstrators protesting KDP policies in the area (AINA, 8-16-2005) According to one Assyrian leader, For Assyrian Christians as well as other minorities, the issue has become existential.” The possibility now really exists that Iraqi communities other than the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites may not survive the new Iraq.

The real challenge facing the future Iraqi Constitution, however, remains the upcoming referendum in October. If a majority of any three provinces vote against the Constitution, it will fail. Noted one Assyrian leader, “If there is too great an emphasis on Islam or if the Kurdish occupied region and its autonomy are expanded then Assyrians will feel compelled to vote against the new Constitution.” Another added “we may only be 5-7 % of the population inside Iraq (with several hundred thousand more outside), but with over one million in Baghdad, Mosul, and Karkuk, we could easily swing the referendum.” Moreover, “How can anyone expect us to willfully acquiesce to our formal subjugation as second class citizens or worse still, to surrender our legitimate national aspirations to an abusive KDP occupation?”

To most Assyrians, the only reasonable answer to ongoing Islamist attacks and ever expanding KDP abuse remains the security of an Assyrian Administered Area in the Nineveh Plain. Such an area would serve as a Safe Haven, a sanctuary for Assyrian Christians reeling from growing hostility and pressures.

“To lay the basis for a strong constitution that can last, it must meet the basic needs of all Iraqis, including Assyrians.” says Michael Youash, Project Director of the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project. These basic needs include “giving them territorial representation by forming a state out of the Nineveh Plain area, ensuring they are represented fairly in parliament by their legitimate leadership, establishing systems of revenue sharing ensuring access to Iraqi resources equitably and without Kurdish Authority political demands, and providing for basic freedoms such as the freedom of religion, conscience, and assembly.”

Copyright (C) 2005, Assyrian International News Agency. All Rights Reserved.

For the Assyrian International News Agency, http://www.aina.org/

Mosul, Iraq — She was running errands after leaving the local internet office when Anita Tyadors, 21, an Assyrian college student, was murdered by roaming thugs in the Zohoor region of Mosul, Iraq on August 5, 2005.

Ms. Tyadors was targeted by Muslim extremists because she studied and spoke English and wore jeans.

She had just exited the local internet office and was making her way back home when three cars abruptly stopped in front of the building, blocking her way.

An unspecified number of men rushed out of the cars and chased Ms. Tyadors with the intent of assaulting her. She ran very fast.

The assailants fought to keep pace, but found themselves under a barrage of foul language and spit, much of which landed in their faces.

Finally catching up to her, the assailants pistol-whipped Ms. Tyadors and threw her limp body into the trunk of one of the vehicles. She was driven to a remote location where she was brutalized beyond recognition.

All of the assailants jumped out of their vehicles and proceeded to beat Ms. Tyadors. She was very resilient and strong. She fought them off to the best of her ability, at which point they began stabbing and knifing her.

The assailants bludgeoned and gored her and then shot at her lifeless body and finished the job with a resounding final bullet to the head. Her broken body was discarded and left in the streets.

When she did not return home on time, friends, family members and neighbours went searching for her at local hospitals and in the streets. They found her on the following Sunday.

Ms. Tyadors is survived by her mother, a brother and several relatives in Baghdad and Toronto.

Copyright (C) 2005, Assyrian International News Agency. All Rights Reserved.

For the Assyrian International News Agency, http://www.aina.org/

I have been awed by Assyrian art twice: The first occasion was while standing before a huge ancient stone relief depicting a war scene exhibited in the British Museum during my university years. The second was a collection of silver ornaments called ‘telkari’ made by fine threads of silver. They looked like metal embroidery of the finest kind. Decades later I visited Mardin and Midyat to discover that long after the disappearance of the Assyrian Empire, the fine masonry they have left behind had lived on.

Indeed, the heirs of one of the magnificent civilizations of Mesopotamia are the Assyrian citizens of Turkey. I include myself here too, the elite city folk of Turkey know very little about them, indeed, nor have they read anything in our history or citizenship books at school about them, either. I felt ashamed of my ignorance and I still feel that as an academic and an enlightened citizen of Turkey I owe a duty to demonstrate some awareness of the needs and expectations to this talented — and one of the most peaceful — groups of the republic.

During each of my travels to the southeastern provinces of Turkey I witnessed the shrinking of the Assyrian population. Some villages have sought refuge in Europe as towns shed their Assyrian inhabitants by the thousands. Most of those who wanted to remain in the country moved to national metropolises, especially to Istanbul where their Christian creed was less visible and their craft (mostly gold and silversmiths) was rewarded.

They were neglected by officialdom because they did not fit into the official identity of citizenship defined as “Turkish in ethnicity and Sunni Muslim in religion.” Although they possessed the two other components of the official identity that are “secular” and “obedient to the state,” their Christian creed set them apart from the mainstream body of “trusted citizens.” Left alone, they did not enjoy the protection of official bodies. Reckless Kurds inspired to lawlessness by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) usurped their property and deterred them from staying on by destroying their crops as well as issuing outright threats on their lives.

I am a personal witness of this sad phenomenon: A powerful and prominent Kurdish figure in the Mardin area known for his righteousness is trusted with the trusteeship of the property of many Assyrians. The title deeds of dozens of expensive properties is transferred over to this man in return for his word that upon the death of their legal owners they will be handed over to their scions/heirs. What a pity for the citizens of a country who has to take refuge in the honesty of a few selected individuals rather than being protected by the institutions and officials to whom they bear allegiance.

However, lately it was very refreshing to hear and see that some of the Assyrians were coming back after decades of asylum in Western countries, at least to die in their own land or to spend a few peaceful years after the violence subsided. After all, this is their country. However, some have faced severe difficulties in recovering their property from loyal Kurdish village guards who had been instrumental in neutralizing the PKK in certain trouble spots. Some found it hard to obtain permission to build new residences to a much higher standard than the locals liked. Nevertheless, like rare and shy birds, they came back and brought gaiety to the gloomy Southeast, which had been a war zone for decades. Now that terrorism has been artificially resumed by the PKK to disrupt the peace and stability of the region and the country as a whole, Assyrians may shy away once again, thus leaving the region to militancy and the rule of force.

In the face of this danger they are appealing to every receptive heart and every listening ear for protection and the respect they most definitely deserve.

The situation is much worse to the south of the border, with Assyrians in Iraq crying out for help. Here are their own words concerning their concerns and expectations for the non-Arab and non-Kurdish groups:

“The Turkmen alone cannot survive against the aggressive Kurdish oppression. Turkmen politicians are in danger of their lives and they are being kidnapped. Kurdish militias and peshmergas oppress and threaten Turkmen businesses.

“The Assyrians are under even more aggressive political conditions than the Turkmens. There is the Nineveh Plain region with about 300,000 Assyrians, Shabaks, Yezidis and Turkmen. These people categorically refuse to be ‘Kurdified.’ This region is huge but the Kurds are trying very hard to incorporate it in a future ‘Kurdistan or northern Iraq. It’s still not under their administration and control officially. That is also why the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) prevented ballot boxes reaching this region during the previous elections!

“What the Kurds are doing in this region is a great crime. KDP offices are being built in even in the smallest villages; clerics are being bribed; civilians are being killed and alternative political parties of other peoples are being oppressed in a very aggressive way.

“Turkey must support the Assyrians who do not want to be divided into Chaldean, Syriac and Assyrian, as is written in the present Constitution. They wish to be referred to as ChaldoAssyrian, as it was in the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) representing all. “If Turkey only supports the Turkmen but refuses to support the Assyrians, Shabaks and Yezidis in northern Iraq, then a future Kurdistan in northern Iraq and Southeast Turkey will be a fact; even if the PKK is neutralized by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.”*

I have not added a word to this analysis and cry for help. Anyone with some sense and conscience should heed the words above if they really want peace and stability based on equality and justice in a region that could be the fuse of the next world war, not fought with nuclear weapons but with hatred and a militant ideology that is no less dangerous and devastating.

By Dr. Dogu Ergil

Dogu Ergil is professor of political sociology at Ankara University in Turkey and president and director of the Center for the Research of Societal Problems (TOSAV), an Ankara-based nongovernmental organization created to address the tensions between Turks and Kurds. The author of numerous books on Turkish-Kurdish relations and reconciliation, including Turkey’s Encounter with Herself (1997) and The Eastern (Kurdish) Question (1995), he was a visiting fellow at the International Forum for Democratic Studies in 1999-2000.


Views and opinions expressed in guest editorials do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of AINA.

For the Assyrian International News Agency, http://www.aina.org/

(AINA) — The World Maronite Union and its affiliate the American Maronite Union strongly condemns the attacks against five churches in Baghdad today. At 4 AM, on Sunday, the churches of Mar Yussef (St Joseph), Mar Yacoub (St Jacob), Mar Geries (St George), Mar Roum (St Roum) and Mar Tuma (St Thomas) were attacked with explosives.

The World Maronite Union and the American Maronite Union, on behalf of more than 8 million Maronites around the world, including in Lebanon, the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, Latin America and South Africa, considers such acts as an aggression against all Christians in the Middle East.

The Terrorists behind these cowardly acts against churches aim at emptying Iraq from its native Christian population, the ChaldoAssyrians and other Christian minorities. This Jihadist aggression not only targets the endangered Christian community of Iraq, but the entire multiethnic reality of the country and its emerging democracy.

The Maronite Union stand by their brothers and sisters in Iraq and calls on Christians around the world to pray and act so that a special protection be extended to the ChaldoAssyrian people of Iraq.

The World Maronite Union and the American Maronite Union will initiate a call for an emergency meeting in Washington DC with representatives of the Iraqi Christian communities and international organizations to study the appropriate measures to protect the endangered Christian communities in Iraq

Sheikh Sami Khoury
President
World Maronite Union

Dr Walid Phares
Secretary General
World Maronite Union

Tom Harb
President
American Maronite Union

Sheikh Sami Khoury is president of the World Maronite Union.

Views and opinions expressed in guest editorials do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of AINA.

© 2004, Assyrian International News Agency. All Rights Reserved.

For the Assyrian International News Agency, http://www.aina.org/

The rapid disintegration of Iraq’s armed forces at the conclusion of Operation Iraqi Freedom created a disastrous vacuum in authority and security for the people of Iraq. In Baghdad alone, news coverage of widespread looting and near anarchy were matched only by Kurdish terror raids into Mosul and Karkuk that erupted into full fledged ethnic firefights.

The looting of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad epitomized the extraordinary destruction endured by Iraqis in general and Assyrians in particular following the collapse of the government. For Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) these losses were doubly traumatizing because the lost artifacts documented the indigenous Assyrian, Sumerian, and Babylonian heritage of Mesopotamia. International outrage was quick and led to a UNESCO sponsored meeting in Paris on April 17, 2003 which, according to the Associated Press (AP) was called ” to assess the damage to Iraqi museums and libraries looted in the aftermath of the US-led invasion.” According to University of Chicago Professor Macguire Gibson, “It looks as if part of the looting was a deliberate planned action.” While at the conference, Mr. Gibson added, “I have a suspicion it was organized outside the country…”

Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, the Director-General of UNESCO, called for a UN resolution imposing a ban on Iraqi antiquities trading and the establishment of a “heritage police” force. In an apparent reference to coalition forces, Mr. Matsuura also suggested that responsibility for security of such cultural sites in Iraq rested with the “authorities on the ground.” French President Jacques Chirac described the looting as a loss for the entire international community and labeled the theft and destruction as “crimes against humanity.” President Chirac’s statements were also a not so subtle indictment of Coalition forces who under international law are ultimately responsible for establishing security as the occupying force following the liberation of a territory. Perhaps sensing the growing Iraqi and international outrage and recognizing possible American culpability in the losses, FBI director Robert Mueller announced on April 17 that FBI agents were already in Baghdad in order to help recover stolen treasures and artifacts. Mr. Mueller noted “We are firmly committed to doing whatever we can to secure these treasures to the people of Iraq.”

For Assyrians celebrating their first glimpse of freedom, the realization that it was primarily Assyrian heritage that was lost in the Museum lootings and burglary was a bitter reminder of the disproportionately high price paid by Assyrians for their liberation.

Assyrians did not fare better in their ancient capital of Nineveh (present day Mosul) or Karkuk. In these cities, Assyrians were subjected to terror raids by Kurdish bandits. Residents of these and other northern Iraqi cities were harassed, intimidated, and sometimes shot. Homes, businesses, and government buildings were looted and burned. News footage showed traffic jams leading into and out of the cities with empty Kurdish vehicles lined up trying to enter the cities to loot and over loaded vehicles full of booty lining up to leave the cities. In Karkuk, armed Kurdish terrorists evicted unarmed civilian residents at gunpoint without hearing or due process. One Assyrian observing the apparently premeditated terror inflicted by the Kurds lamented “They seem to relish being the perennial barbarians at the gates — forever the bandits waiting for a lapse in authority to reek havoc and ransack civilization.”

“The Kurdish onslaught was not supposed to happen!” cried another Assyrian. “We had been given assurances that they would not enter the cities.” Indeed, in the lead up to the war, the US expended enormous diplomatic capital in an effort to balance the desires of Kurdish paramilitary forces to march into Karkuk and Mosul with Turkey’s trepidation over the possible establishment of an economically viable Kurdish break-away regime in northern Iraq. According to earlier reports, an US -brokered agreement between Turkey, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), would keep Kurdish forces out of Mosul and Karkuk in exchange for Turkey not invading Iraq.

In a prewar interview with the leading French newspaper, Le Monde, PUK leader Jalal Talabani was quoted as saying “Kurdish fighters are looking forward to protecting the liberated Kurdish zone, but have no intention of occupying Mosul or Karkuk.” Another Kurdish leader, Mr. Azad Murin, the head of paramilitary operations of the KDP announced to Agence France Press that “American troops will, at first control… Mosul and Karkuk, and that the Iraqi Kurdish fighters will take positions in the surrounding villages once the strike on Iraq begins.”

Assyrians have remained contemptuous of Kurdish intentions from the very beginning. Kurdish statements that they would only move towards the villages surrounding Mosul and Karkuk rather than the cities were in themselves troubling to Assyrians since the villages around Mosul are almost exclusively Assyrian. In a tragically sad irony, Assyrian military resources during the war were primarily deployed to secure Assyrian villages in the northern Assyrian provinces, not so much to defend against retreating Iraqi forces, but to protect Assyrian villages from marauding Kurdish forces.

The peculiar and suspicious timing of the Kurdish terror raids did not escape the attention of some observers. Apparently, prior to the onslaught into the cities, Kurdish bands were kept in close check by their American counterparts. With the sudden melting away of the Iraqi military, armed Kurdish terrorists poured into the city. American forces who were supposed to secure the cities did not arrive till considerably later, giving Kurdish forces free reign for a time. Some Assyrians have complained, “We are still not sure why American forces let this savagery occur. We only know that at a time when we should all have been celebrating the downfall of Saddam, these terrorists succeeded in creating still more ethnic strife as though we hadn’t had enough terror and tyranny.”

Some Kurdish apologists have insisted on a Kurdish “right” to Karkuk as a Kurdish capital that they liken to their version of the Jewish Jerusalem. Those with a clearer sense of history, however, have likened such Kurdish proclamations regarding the Assyrian- founded city to a recent and artificial sentimentality born more of a brazen lust for oil than any genuine belonging to the land.

Assyrian disappointment has grown into rage. Reflecting on the damage suffered, one Assyrian noted “We have paid a heavy price for liberation. From the destruction and looting of our historical artifacts in Baghdad to the terror raids of Nineveh (Mosul) and Karkuk. We refuse to allow the substitution of the savagery of the Iraqi regime with the savagery of Kurdish terrorist forces. We refuse to continue to be occupied by these thugs.”

Assyrians have long chronicled a policy of persecution and ethnic cleansing under Kurdish occupation in the northern Iraqi provinces since the first Gulf War. The experiment in Kurdish self-rule has netted Assyrians torture, land expropriations, and assassinations. One Assyrian political leader concluded “Our experience in the north in the last 12 years has only been reinforced by these recent attacks. We cannot count on others to rule us. We must demand sanctuary for our people, our culture. We need a safe haven, a self-administered area- call it what you will- where we can safe guard our language, culture, faith- our villages, our people. Otherwise, Assyrians may not survive too much more of this celebration and this very strange form of democracy.”

For the Assyrian International News Agency, http://www.aina.org/

Turkey’s prime minister and the EU have criticised a court ruling ordering the cancellation of a conference about the 1915 killing of thousands of Armenians.

The conference of academics was to debate Turkey’s official approach to the disputed events of 90 years ago.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said stopping a meeting, when it was not clear what would be discussed, had nothing to do with democracy.

An EU spokeswoman said it was a bid to stop Turkey discussing its history.

The Turkish court ruling on Thursday, which followed a complaint by nationalists, comes just days before Turkey is due to start talks on joining the European Union.Discussing the 1915 killings has long been a taboo in Turkey.
 
Armenia accuses the then Ottoman rulers of carrying out a “genocide” – a claim backed by 15 countries, including France, Switzerland, Russia and Argentina.But Turkey disputes the charge, saying that a few hundred thousand died and that the deaths occurred in a civil war in which many Turks were also killed.Mr Erdogan questioned the court’s ruling.”The court has cast a shadow on the process of democratisation and freedoms in my country,” he said.Reform

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul agreed, saying the ruling was the outcome of efforts by opponents of the country’s EU bid.

“As 3 October is approaching, those at home and abroad who want to obstruct us are making their last efforts… There are few nations that can inflict such damage on themselves,” he said in New York, Anatolia news agency reported.

European Commission spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy said: “The absence of legal motivations and the [timing] of this decision a day before the conference looks like yet another provocation.”

The first attempt to stage the debate, in May, was abandoned after Turkey’s justice minister accused organisers of stabbing Turkey in the back.

The BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Istanbul says it was illegal even to discuss the issue until a very recent reform inspired by Turkey’s bid for membership of the European Union.

The university has the right of appeal, but lawyers say there is now little to no chance the ground-breaking debate can go ahead as planned on Friday.

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Istanbul

The rooms in Istanbul’s Sisli courthouse are tiny. There is barely space for a single wooden spectators bench squeezed between battered metal filing cabinets.
But on Friday one of these rooms will be the setting for a test case for Turkey.

Turkey’s most internationally-acclaimed novelist will go on trial here charged with “insulting Turkishness”.

The charges relate to a magazine interview in which Orhan Pamuk said 30,000 Kurds and one million Ottoman Armenians were killed in Turkey and no-one dares talk about it.

He could face up to three years in jail.

‘Hate campaign’

This high-profile prosecution has caused a stir in Brussels.

It has raised serious concerns about EU-hopeful Turkey’s commitment to the basic democratic principle of free speech.

A delegation of MEPs will travel to Istanbul to observe the trial alongside international human rights campaigners.
Orhan Pamuk fled the country after the interview was published amid what he calls a hate campaign.

Now he is back, determined to use his time in court to defend his comments, and his right to make them.

“What happened to the Ottoman Armenians in 1915 was a major thing that was hidden from the Turkish nation; it was a taboo,” the writer explains, at an Istanbul cafe overlooking the waterfront.

“But we have to be able to talk about the past.”

Armenia insists its people were victims of a genocide nine decades ago; Ankara denies any such thing.

Dozens of trials

Turkey implemented wide-ranging legal reforms as part of its bid for EU membership. But the new penal code still contains tight restrictions on what you can write and say.

Under Article 301 it is illegal to insult Turkishness, the Republic or most state institutions.

It is left to the prosecutor to decide what exactly constitutes an insult.
“The government is keeping this law to hit whoever criticises or bothers them,” Orhan Pamuk believes.

“If that person is not internationally known they are going to punish him and put him in prison. Article 301 should definitely be changed if Turkey rightfully – and hopefully – is to join the EU.”

There are currently more than 60 writers and publishers besides Orhan Pamuk on trial in Turkey for what EU officials call their non-violent expression of opinion.

Ragip Zarakolu is one of them.

He has made it his mission to expose Turkey’s hidden history – a decision that has earned him the dubious honour of “most persecuted publisher in Turkey”.

“We must face these realities to become a real democratic country. We are giving a struggle for this, to give light to the dark pages of our history,” Ragip Zarakolu explains, watching his latest book roll-off the printing presses.

“Some conservative, nationalist and even fascist circles are very disturbed by this, but we are in need of it. Not for the Armenians or any others – but for citizens of Turkey.”

‘Overstepped the mark’

The strict taboo on the fate of the Armenians was cracked last September when Bilgi University hosted a controversial academic conference.

Nationalists and staunch conservative protesters gathered outside the gates to shout their anger, convinced the event was sponsored by Turkey’s enemies abroad.

One group succeeded in getting the conference suspended temporarily – the same self-styled guardians of Turkishness who filed the complaint against Orhan Pamuk.
“He overstepped the mark,” insists group leader Kemal Kerincsiz, adding proudly that his association has also filed charges against eight other writers.

“Pamuk is a literary figure, but he made political comments that were ill-informed, untrue and anti-Turkish. We acted on behalf of all society. Orhan Pamuk should not have played with history, and with the sentiments of Turks.”

Reluctant symbol

Like many here, the novelist himself sees the writers’ trials as just one battle in a bigger war between competing forces in Turkey. The noisy street protesters are just the foot soldiers.

“I think the bureaucracy is resisting Turkey’s entry to the EU,” Pamuk explains.

“The right-wing, highly-conservative bureaucracy is upset by the freedom of speech that Turkey, the nation, is granting itself. I think in the long run Turkey will continue its road to the EU but it’s getting to be a big trouble these days.”

Friday’s trial has thrust a reluctant Orhan Pamuk into the role of political symbol. Now in the international spotlight, he says he feels responsible for less well-known writers suffering the same fate.

But the novelist admits he longs to return to his books more than anything.

“I feel this political responsibility, a solidarity with all these people who are being harassed. I am with them,” he says.

“But sometimes I think – am I losing my naiveness? Is the child in me – who wants to write novels – dying as I get more and more involved in politics? I don’t think so – I will get out of this with dignity, soon.”

Turkey and the EU will be watching his case closely to find out.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/europe/4527318.stm

Published: 2005/12/14 12:58:45 GMT

© BBC MMVI

By Elif Shafak
Sunday, September 24, 2006; B01

ISTANBUL

I am a novelist. When I write, I don’t calculate the consequences of what I’m writing. I just surround myself with the story.

That’s what I did in writing my latest novel, “The Bastard of Istanbul.” The tale of two families — a Turkish Muslim one in Istanbul, and an Armenian American one in San Francisco — is to me a book about memory and forgetting, about the tension between the need to examine the past and the desire to erase it. It tackles a political taboo — what we in Turkey call “the Armenian question” — but when it was published here in March, I didn’t think a work of fiction would get me branded a traitor to my country.

But others thought differently.

The novel unleashed a months-long campaign against me by a group of ultranationalist lawyers called the Unity of Jurists, who have forced high-profile prosecutions of as many as 60 writers, journalists, publishers, scholars and other intellectuals in Turkey over the past year under Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which prohibits “public denigration of Turkishness.”

Last Thursday, my own trial on charges of denigrating Turkishness through the words of some characters in my new novel opened — and closed, with a surprising but gratifying acquittal. It was the first case against a work of fiction under Article 301; if found guilty, I could have been sentenced to up to three years in prison.

I had waited two months for the trial. But when the day came, I wasn’t there. I watched the television reports about my own proceedings from a hospital bed not far away, nursing the daughter I had given birth to the previous Saturday. The court had refused to postpone the trial, even though I was due to deliver my first child soon.

Listening to the testimony, I felt torn: The writer in me wished I was there to defend myself. But the mother in me refused. At the same time, I was gratified by the huge outpouring of support I had received. And after the acquittal was announced, I felt a stirring of hope that my case could finally start breaking the back of Article 301 and the nationalists’ efforts to silence those who oppose their views.

Turkey today is experiencing a severe culture clash. On one side are those who want an open and democratic society that can come to grips with its past and its multicultural heritage, and who support Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

On the other are those who speak the language of fear. Believing that Turkey is surrounded by enemies and that the E.U. bid should be stopped, they do everything in their power to turn the country into an insular, xenophobic state. They are fewer in number, but their voices are so loud and their methods so aggressive that they manage to manipulate the political agenda and give the country a black eye.

They were certainly aggressive in my case. I was at the supermarket when I got the first call from my publisher, Muge Sokmen, in early June, informing me that a complaint had been lodged against us under Article 301 and that we were to be interrogated by a state prosecutor in a few days. I was surprised, but not too alarmed. I remembered that the charges against Turkey’s top writer, Orhan Pamuk, had been dropped last year before he went to trial. And no charges had ever been brought against a novel before. I thought we could make the case for freedom of expression, especially in a work of fiction.

The interrogation went well. The prosecutor was reasonable and heard us out. I pointed out that my novel was full of characters with many opinions. It was impossible to judge an author simply by plucking one or two characters out of a book and saying that they represented what I believe, as the nationalists had done. It would be like judging Dostoyevsky to be a criminal because one of the characters in his books commits a crime.

The prosecutor apparently agreed. In late June, we received a letter informing us that, having read the book, he saw no grounds for an indictment. He said he found no denigration in the book at all; on the contrary, he considered it constructive. We breathed a sigh of relief. I thought I was off the hook.

But about 10 days later, I received another call, this time from a Turkish journalist. He wanted to know what I thought about the trial. “What trial?” I asked, in shock. A higher court had overturned the prosecutor’s decision. My case was back on. I was to be tried under Article 301.

My publisher and I had kept a low profile up to then, but now all hell broke loose. The media began to clamor about my case; many journalists took my side. A well-known progressive newspaper asked: “Are we going to be the kind of country that prosecutes fictional characters?”

In response, the ultranationalists claimed that my novels are, in fact, planned and written by Western imperialist powers that want to destroy Turkey. They contended that in the book, despite being a Turk myself, I had taken the Armenians’ side by having an Armenian character call the Turks “butchers” in a reference to the Ottoman Empire’s deportation and massacre of Armenians during World War I. I had thus sold out my nation.

I don’t know precisely what happened in 1915. But as a writer, I’m interested in people — their stories, their silences, their pain. I believe in recognizing human grief. I find it sad that some Turks can’t talk about 1915, that ours is a society with collective amnesia. We haven’t come to grips with our past, nor have we recognized how bitter the Armenians are because their grief goes unacknowledged. I would like Armenians to forgive and forget one day, too, but we Turks need to remember first.

I had hoped that “The Bastard of Istanbul,” told through the eyes of the women of the two families, could be a bridge between Turks and Armenians, showing how similar our two cultures are, how much they share. I tried to tell my story with humor and understanding, but all this seemed to be lost on the humorless lawyers who were determined to put me on trial.

Early this month, they started circulating a vindictive notice on the Internet, labeling me — as well as many other intellectuals — sellouts and traitors. The message ended with a gallant call to “all patriotic Turks who love their nation and are aware of their patriotic duties” to be present to protest at the courthouse throughout the trial. Though I had been apprehensive before, this notice, with its alarming language of hatred, really got to me.

But their message of hate didn’t win out. At the trial, the lawyers and their supporters showed up in force. But for the first time, they were denied entry to the courthouse, which meant they couldn’t intimidate the judges and other court personnel as they had done in the past. And remarkably, they were outnumbered more than two to one by those who support freedom of expression.

Even as I was harassed from one side, I was receiving tremendous support from many other segments of Turkish society — women, Kurds, non-Muslim minorities, Sufis, liberals, conservatives, intellectuals, academics. My novel has been read freely, discussed freely and circulated freely. It has sold more than 60,000 copies, making it a bestseller in Turkey. I have received countless letters from people sharing their personal stories. “I am the grandchild of a most loving woman who I too late in life learned was an Armenian orphaned in 1915 and then converted to Islam,” wrote one. A young university student from Diyarbakir echoed: “I never had the chance to talk about her past with my own grandma, but I believe your novel put me in touch with her spirit.”

Since this whole ordeal began, I have felt a variety of emotions, ranging from anxiety to courage. But I have never felt alone.

Support came from other sources as well — the international and diplomatic community, and even my own government. The day before the trial, I received phone calls in my hospital room from the prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs, congratulating me on the birth of my baby and reassuring me that security at my trial would be tight.

They kept their word, and I think it helped my case. Watching the trial, I felt that I was seeing the start of a transformation in Turkish society, and the hope for a transformation of the legal system and the political culture that surrounds it. There is still a long way to go; others are still being charged and will go through the mill. But I believe my acquittal is an opportunity for Turkey to make a new beginning.

“The Bastard of Istanbul” is just a novel, but it set off a chain of unexpected events. As I look at my baby daughter, I only hope the chain will end in a free and open Turkey where she can grow up saying what she believes — without fear of any consequences.

Elif Shafak’s novel, “The Bastard of Istanbul,” will be published in the spring by Viking Penguin.