Showing posts with label Kirkuk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kirkuk. Show all posts

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Battle for Kirkuk looms

Kirkuk is a hotly contested city in northern Iraq's "disputed territories". Home to Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Assyrian-Chaldean Christians, oil-rich, hugely strategic Kirkuk is essentially Iraq in miniature.

The looming Battle for Kirkuk looms could well turn out to be the mother-of-all-wars. Turkey, regional Shi'ites, and regional Sunnis all have strong interests. Recently, the United States Institute of Peace identified Kirkuk the greatest threat to Iraq's stability. As the US withdrawal approaches, tensions are escalating and the stakes are being raised, leaving Christians exceedingly vulnerable.

See: Kirkuk’s Conundrum in the Wake of the American Withdrawal
by Mohammed A. Salih, for Rudaw. 10 May 2011

Background

After the 1968 revolution, Saddam Hussein consolidated Sunni Arab and Baathist control over Kirkuk's vast oil reserves through a policy of "Arabization". From the early 1970s onwards, hundreds of thousands of non-Arabs (mostly Kurds) were driven out of Kirkuk and replaced with loyal Arabs. This process was accelerated after the failed uprising of 1991.

However everything changed after the regime fell in 2003, and the process essentially went into reverse. Article 58 of Iraq's new constitution stipulated that all non-original residents of Kirkuk province (i.e. Arabs imported by Saddam Hussein) must return to their places of origin, and all displaced families (predominantly Kurds) must return to the province and claim their properties. This later became Article 140, which further mandates that a census be conducted ahead of a referendum to determine whether Kirkuk will be annexed to autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan or remain under federal control from Baghdad. The spectre of a referendum on status has only inflamed ethnic tensions. The situation is highly volatile.

But Kirkuk is not coveted by Arabs and Kurds alone. Kirkuk is also historically and strategically important to neighbouring Turkey, to pan-Turkists, and to Iraqi Turkmen. Turks do not want to see the Kurds further empowered, for not only do Iraqi Kurds provide sanctuary to Turkish Kurd PKK terrorists, but a strong Iraqi Kurdistan could fan Kurdish regional ambitions.

Meanwhile, the Turks would very much like to see Kirkuk's oil flowing north through Turkey rather than south through Baghdad and Basra.

See: The Challenge in Iraq's Other Cities: Kirkuk
By Lionel Beehner, Council on Foreign Relations. 30 June 2006

Claims in Conflict
Reversing Ethnic Cleansing in Northern Iraq
Human Rights Watch, 2 August 2004

Negotiating Kirkuk
Posted By Denise Natali, to Foreign Policy, Friday, 6 May 2011

After the city of Kirkuk fell to Kurdish forces on 10 April 03, the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITC) moved its headquarters from Arbil to Kirkuk. Arabs, many of whom had lived in Kirkuk for 30 years and more, were driven out at gunpoint, forced to leave all their possessions behind.

During the 2010 elections, in order to challenge the ruling Kurdish bloc, the ITC entered a coalition with Ayad Allawi's secular parliamentary bloc, Al-Iraqiyya, which is strong in the "disputed territories". A UN-sponsored meeting on Kirkuk scheduled to be held in Baghdad on 5 May, had to be cancelled after Arab and Turkmen representatives refused to attend unless the Kurds were denied participation. Kirkuk Arabs are requesting protection, claiming an escalation in Kurdish aggression against them. Distrust and hostility abound.

As Mohammed A. Salih noted in his article for Rudaw: "The Kurds dominate the police force, internal security, and most of the government departments, while the Arabs have a tight grip on the army and their powerbase is strong in the surrounding villages and towns. These two wings of Iraq’s official forces charged with keeping the country safe have never concealed their distrust towards each other.

"Recently, Kurdish security forces and soldiers from the Iraqi army came into armed clashes in the center of Kirkuk in broad daylight where two Kurdish security officers were killed. Insurgents on the other hand, have targeted the city’s population with car bombs and the police with roadside bombs whenever they have had a chance.

"An Iraqi security official told the Arabic-language, Baghdad-based daily Almada, on condition of anonymity, that the American withdrawal is 'a dangerous threat' to Kirkuk."

On 12 May, less than two weeks after Erşat Salihi became the head Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITC) Member of Parliament and ITC Kirkuk City President, Salihi's heavily -guarded home in Kirkuk was attacked with explosives while the family were all inside. While no-one was hurt -- the attack was clearly designed to send a political message -- this attack and the subsequent attack on investigating police, were highly organised. This marks the first time a Turkmen leader has been specifically targeted in Iraq, further raising the stakes.

See: Why violence against Turkmens in Iraq is increasing
By Hasan Kanbolat, Today's Zaman. 16 May 2011

IRAQ'S BESIEGED AND IMPERILLED REMNANT CHRISTIANS

Underneath it all, normally ignored by the media, is the smallest and most vulnerable of all Kirkuk's constituent groups: the Assyrian-Chaldean Christians. Indigenous to the Nineveh Plains of Upper Mesopotamia, they now constitute a mere remnant, comprising less than 1 percent. Consequently they are politically and militarily inconsequential: a threat to no-one. To Islamic fundamentalists, however, they are infidel 'dogs': i.e. unclean, undesirable and unwanted.

On Saturday 14 May 2011, terrorists abducted Ashur Issa Yaqub (29) -- a Chaldean Christian construction worker, husband and father of three -- demanding an unobtainable US$100,000 ransom.

On Monday 16 May, police found Yaqub's mutilated body, dumped in the open. According to provincial health chief Sadiq Omar Rasul, the body "carried traces of torture and the bites of dogs". But 'traces' of torture is a gross understatement. The torture that was inflicted upon this young man is beyond comprehension: his eyes had been gouged out, his ears cut off and his face skinned. He had also been attacked by dogs and partially beheaded.

Kirkuk: young Christian abducted, tortured and beheaded
AINA 16 May 2011

See: Iraq Assyrian Killed, Mutilated in North Iraq (WARNING: graphic)
AINA 16 May 2011

The gruesome murder -- which the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk, Mgr Louis Sako, labelled an "inhuman act" -- has sent shockwaves of terror through Kirkuk's remnant Christian community.

Archbishop Sako spoke to Compass Direct News from Rome. Compass reports: "While noting that the murder was unusually brutal, the archbishop said it was probably the work of criminal opportunists trying to make money, and that Yaqub was not necessarily targeted as a Christian."

This is wishful thinking on the Archbishop's part, for as Compass also reported, Ashur Issa Yaqub had already been singled out by al Qaeda militants who had pressured his employer to fire him precisely because he was a Christian.

Furthermore, while the kidnappers had demanded US$100,000 ransom, they could not even wait more than 48 hrs before they succumbed to their hatred and tortured this young Christian husband and father to death. Their hatred clearly could not be constrained, not even by the prospect of ransom monies.

If/when war erupts, Islamic jihadists will doubtless seek to exploit the chaos to eliminate the Christian presence, and not only in Kirkuk.

The Battle for Kirkuk could well be the last straw for Iraq's besieged and imperilled remnant Christians.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Turkish nationalism threatens Christians.

Date: Wednesday 5 December 2007
Subj: Turkish nationalism threatens Christians.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


This posting aims to give some degree of understanding the phenomenon of Turkish nationalism, its relationship to the persecution of Christians and the immense difficulties facing those hoping to secure justice and security for Christians through the Malatya murder trial. Turkey has only around 100,000 Christians left, making up less than one percent of the population.

HISTORY: TURKEY IS BORN

After World War One, all the Turks retained of the once expansive Ottoman Empire was Anatolia and Istanbul (Constantinople). Through the Treaty of Sevres (1920) the Allies sought to protect Christian minorities by placing most of Anatolia under Christian control: the Greeks occupied the west and the Allies (British, French and Italian) occupied the south, while the Armenian remnant declared an independent republic in the east. Moreover, the Turks were also supposed to grant autonomy to Kurdistan.

Under the leadership of military commander Kemal Mustapha Ataturk, Turkish nationalist forces in Anatolia, rejecting the conditions of the Treaty of Sevres, mounted a War of Independence. They fought and defeated the Greeks in the west and drove the Allied forces out of the south. They also drove the Armenian remnant out of their Armenian Republic in the east. Ataturk thus forced the Allies to return to the negotiating table. With the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), the modern state of Turkey was founded to be the successor state to the Ottoman Empire. The borders were set and the security of remnant minorities was to be guaranteed. Ataturk became Turkey's first president.

Thus Turkish nationalism rose from the ashes of the decimated Ottoman Empire and became established through the subsequent War of Independence. Turkish nationalism was born through Turkish struggles against Christian nations, both indigenous minorities and great foreign powers.

After becoming president, Aaturk committed himself to reforming, secularising and modernising Turkey. He imposed a program of secularisation that repressed Islam by force, liberating and enlightening multitudes (especially women and intellectuals) but confounding others, in particular observant Muslims. But whilst Ataturk felled the tree of Islam, cutting off its expression, he did not deal with the life-force within its roots, something he could have done had he facilitated an open and honest examination of Ottoman history and the Islamic ideology that drove it. Islamic expression was repressed, but Islamic ideology was spared. Consequently, as repression gradually lessened from the 1950s onwards, Islam slowly grew again, increasing in strength through subsequent generations.

HISTORY: THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE

People interpret history differently. The abusive master and the downtrodden slave view life on the plantation from quite different perspectives, just as high caste Brahmins and "untouchable" Dalits have conflicting views of life in Hindu India. In each case, the former boasts from their elevated position of a wonderful existence with prosperity and opportunity. The latter, at whose expense this prosperity and elevation was gained, has a rather different view. Furthermore, the former may expect the latter to appreciate the way they have been tolerated or let live, while the latter simply longs for liberty and equality. It is the same with Muslims and dhimmis, that is Jews and Christians subjugated under Islamic domination and rule.

Just because people see history differently does not mean that objective truth does not exist -- it does. Wilberforce revealed the shameful truth of slavery to the consciences of the British and the truth set multitudes free.

Muslims tend to interpret history though the prism of their Islamic ideology of Muslim superiority and the perfection of Sharia (Allah's perfect law). According to Islam, jihad for the advance of Islam and the implementation of Sharia results in perfect peace, harmony and security. Muslims therefore speak of Islamic Empire as something glorious and benevolent, while they either repress or do not see that the defeated, subjugated peoples had a rather different view. These peoples' lands had been invaded, conquered, occupied and colonised. The conquered peoples were stripped of their rights, disarmed, subjugated, exploited, heavily taxed of money and sons, persecuted and repressed. These were Christian peoples -- Greeks, Serbs, Armenians, Bulgarians, to name a few -- proud, ancient Christian cultures and nations that centuries of Islamic domination reduced to traumatised serfs or slaves.

As post-Reformation Europe rose through liberty and industry, the Ottoman Empire declined through endemic corruption and poor governance. As the Empire weakened, the long-subjugated Christian nations rose up, fought and liberated their people, lands and culture from the Ottoman Muslim yoke.

However, when Turkish Muslims look at the same events they conclude that all history proves is that acquiescing to Western demands is fatal and that Christians are an existential threat to the security and territorial integrity of the Turkish nation.

Salim Cohce is a professor of history and sociology at the state-run Inonu University in Malatya. He believes that missionaries working in Turkey are focusing on "destabilisation, manipulation and propaganda" and concludes, "If they are not controlled, this can be dangerous for Turkey." (Link 1)

As long as the truth of history is subservient to myth and "insulting Turkishness" remains a crime, then Turkey's Christians will have trouble as they will have to continue to bear the burden of Islamised history. Peace and reconciliation are the end products of a process that commences with truth and progresses through confession, repentance and forgiveness. There can be no peace and reconciliation without truth.

TURKISH NATIONALISM SOARS

The US-led invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam's regime put Iraq "in play", not only for pan-Islamists and Shi'ites, but also for pan-Turkists who would like to see an autonomous Turkman entity in Northern Iraq. At least 2.5 million ethnic Turkmen live in Iraq in a corridor that runs from the Turkish border south through Mosul and Kirkuk. It is a strip of land that also includes the bulk of Iraq's northern oilfields and the country's main oil pipelines. Consequentially, pan-Islamism and pan-Turkism have escalated dramatically since the drums of war started beating in mid-2002.

Pan-Turkist aspirations for northern Iraq have more to do with Turkish nationalism than irredentism or imperialism. When the Ottoman Turks and the British signed an armistice on 31 October 1918, the Ottoman Turks still occupied the vilayet (province) of Mosul. At the time, Mesopotamia (Iraq) was part of the Ottoman Empire and was divided into three vilayets: Basra (Arab Shi'ite), Baghdad (Arab Sunni) and Mosul (ethnically and religiously mixed). The British had captured Basra and Baghdad, but they had their sights sets on oil-rich Kirkuk. Within 48 hours of the armistice, Mesopotamian commander in chief William Marshall gave the order to take Mosul, and so the British forces pushed on and drove the Ottoman forces out of Mosul in violation of the ceasefire. Days later the war ended and in the words of Edwin Black, "The shooting stopped. The shouting would now begin." (Link 2)

Turkish nationalism is further provoked by the aspirations of US-backed Iraqi Kurds. For one thing, the territorial claims of Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi Turkmen overlap, most notably their common claim to oil-rich Kirkuk. Further to that, the prospect of autonomy for Iraqi Kurds is motivating Turkey's Kurds to step up their fight for autonomy or an independent Kurdistan, both of which would involve the partition of Turkey. Kurds, who make up more than 20 percent of the population of Turkey, are concentrated in south-east Anatolia. Terrorism from the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK: a Kurdish separatist terror group) has dramatically escalated recently causing Turkish nationalism to soar. It adds to Turkish angst that the PKK are proving to be "better capable of defence than hitherto believed". (Gregory Copley, International Strategic Studies Association, Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy 10, 2007)

The problem being, that one integral element of Turkish nationalism is a deep suspicion and fear of Christians and ethnic minorities that borders on paranoia. Turkish nationalism deems Christians to be an existential threat. As Turkish nationalism rises, so too does persecution of Christians.

MALATYA MURDER TRIAL

This environment of escalating Turkish nationalist and Islamic zeal is not the ideal environment for a trial that is supposed to deliver justice for three martyred Christians -- Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske -- who were tortured and murdered by Muslim Turkish nationalists in Zirve Publishing House in Malatya, Southern Turkey on 18 April 2007.

Compass Direct reports that after six months of investigations, criminal prosecutors charged Emre Gunaydin, Abuzer Yildirim, Hamit Ceker, Cuma Ozdemir and Salih Guler of founding an armed group and murdering Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske in a deliberate and organised manner. (Link 3)

According to Compass Direct, when the Turkish press reported the 23 November trial date, they did so in articles that sensationalised some of the scandalous allegations that the professed killers made during their interrogations, include that the Christians were linked with the PKK and were forcing local girls into prostitution. Compass reports: "Sabah newspaper's headline quoted Emre Gunaydin, the alleged ringleader of the five killers, as saying, 'We committed murder out of fear they would harm our families.'" (Link 3)

Isa Karatas, a spokesperson for the Alliance of Protestant Churches in Turkey told Compass, "These people want to portray Turkey's Protestants as enemies of the nation. [And] because honour is such an important concept in our culture, they are trying to accuse us of having weak morals, so that they can find a justification for their murders." (Link 3)

The trial commenced on 23 November, but as Compass Direct reports: "At the request of the murderers' defence team of lawyers, who declared they had not had sufficient time to examine the prosecution files and prepare the accused suspects to testify, the court adjourned the hearing until 14 January 2008." (Link 4)

Lawyers working on behalf of the victim's families have expressed outrage at the direction the investigations have taken. Of the 31 files the prosecutors assembled for the case, 15 give only limited information on the five murderers and their crime, while 16 files give detailed information on the three Christian "missionaries" and their "missionary activity".

Compass reports: "According to one lawyer quoted by Milliyet newspaper on November 20, this 'irrelevant' information looked like an indirect effort by the chief prosecutor 'to reduce the charges by making the victims' attempts to spread their religion look like 'provocation'." (Link 4)

Independent Turkish media network Bianet commented on the "biased reporting" noting: "There has been a dangerous shift of focus in news reports on the trial." (Link 5)

Bianet notes that the media, instead of focusing on the horrendous crime of torture and murder, focused on the Christians with the implication that their "missionary activities" provided some justification for their murder. Then, in the days before the trial opened, the media shifted its attention to the plaintiffs' attorneys, alleging that "among the lawyers there are some who have defended militants of the PKK terrorist organisation before".

Bianet reports that the Turkish media has published "the names of all the lawyers joining the hearing, together with the names of those whom they had defended before. There is thus a dangerous shift of focus from the presumed perpetrators of a crime to conspiracy theories linking Christian missionaries and PKK activities."

Orhan Kemal Cengiz, the legal representative of the Alliance of Turkish Protestant Churches, is a lawyer for the plaintiffs. He wrote a powerful column "What is going on in the Malatya massacre case?" which was published in the Turkish Daily News on 22 November. (Link 6)

Cengiz laments the sloppy work of the prosecutors who have focused more on the activities of the victims than of the murderers.

Most seriously, Cengiz complains: "The prosecutor retrieved all documents from the computers of the victims and put them in the case file as 'evidence'. Furthermore, these files, which are public now, may lead to new murders because they include many details on other Protestants who reside in different parts of Turkey. The addresses, emails, telephones of many other Turkish Protestants are in the files, which have already been in the hands of the murderers. The prosecutor failed to make a thorough investigation and he has also put many other lives in danger."

Cengiz also complains that the murderers were not properly investigated. Their membership of the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MPH) is noted in the files but not investigated. The confessed murderers gave conflicting testimonies, but these were not challenged or investigated. According to Cengiz, the files lack any details that could implicate others as instigators or motivators of the crime.

Cengiz notes that while the files cast suspicion over the "missionaries", they glorify the murderers by publishing letters they wrote to their families where they explain that they were acting in defence of their homeland.

Cengiz warns: "If state officials keep talking everyday that Turkey is in imminent danger, that there are internal enemies of this country, that missionaries are the agents of foreign states who try to break up Turkey and so on, such horrible crimes are inevitable. If 'internal enemies' such as missionaries are shown on countless Web pages as legitimate targets, and no legal action is taken against this mania, we will continue to see new murders, attacks and slaughters."


Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Murders shine spotlight on evangelical activity in Turkey
By Yigal Schleifer, 25 April 2007
http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav042507.shtml

2) Book: Banking on Baghdad
Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict.
By Edwin Black
Wiley 2004

3) Malatya Murder Trial Set to Open in Turkey
Local press sensationalizes killers' justifications for deaths by torture.
Compass Direct, 5 Nov 2007
http://www.compassdirect.org

4) Lawyers Slam Investigation of Malatya Murders in Turkey
Widows of slain Christians speak out at opening day of trial.
Compass Direct, 27 Nov 2007
http://www.compassdirect.org

5) Malatya Murder Case Postponed
There has been a dangerous shift of focus in news reports on the trial.
By Erol Onderoglu and Nilufer Zengin.
Bıa news centre, 26 Nov 2007
http://www.bianet.org/english/kategori/english/103126/malatya-murder-case-postponed
SEE ALSO
Judiciary under international spotlight in the murder of Christians in Malatya
The New Anatolian / Ankara, 26 November 2007
http://www.thenewanatolian.com/tna-29736.html
AND
Turks in Christian murder trial. BBC 23 Nov 2007
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7108607.stm
AND
Five on trial in Turkey for missionary murders
By Nicholas Birch in Istanbul. 24 Nov 2007
http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article3191522.ece

6) What is going on in the Malatya massacre case?
By Orhan Kemal Cengiz, 22 November 2007
http://www.turkishdailynews.com.tr/article.php?enewsid=89265

FURTHER ANALYSIS
Forum 18. TURKEY: What causes intolerance and violence? 29 Nov 2007
By Guzide Ceyhan. http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1053

Friday, January 30, 2004

Iraq: The Assyrians and a federation for Iraq

Date: Friday 30 January 2004
Subj: Iraq: The Assyrians and a federation for Iraq
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


------------------------------------------------------------------
IRAQ: THE ASSYRIANS AND A FEDERATION FOR IRAQ
------------------------------------------------------------------

Fikret Bila reports for the Turkish Press (12 Jan), "Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, the US civilian administrator in Iraq, said that a federation would be the best regime for the country. The Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq are pushing for an ethnic-based federation. They are planning a dual federation based on the Kurds and the Arabs. The ethnic Turkmen and others would not be taken into consideration. Bremer's approach shows that the US is leaning in the
same direction." (Link 1)

The civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, announced however that the U.S. would agree on establishing federalism in Iraq, but based on geographic and not demographic, ethnic partition, although he would be happy for the Kurds to control the northern regions with the exception of Kirkuk. ("Washington And The Kurds." By Abdullah Al Ashaal. Al-Hayat. 19 Jan 2004)

Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party regime exercised a policy of Arabisation, whereby Arabs were moved in to regions formally dominated by ethnic minorities, in order to change the demographics. The Kurdish claim is for an ethnic federation and a reversal of Arabisation. One thing that is not being talked about is the effect such a situation would have on the other inhabitants and ethnic minorities of northern Iraq, such as the Assyrians, who are the indigenous inhabitants of northern Iraq and are Christian.

THE ASSYRIAN CHRISTIAN REMNANT

According to Nineveh.com, "The Assyrians of today are the indigenous Aramaic-speaking descendants of the ancient Assyrian people, one of the earliest civilizations emerging in the Middle East, and have a history spanning over 6750 years. Assyrians are not Arabian, we are not Kurdish, our religion is not Islam. The Assyrians are Christian, with our own unique language, culture and heritage. Although the Assyrian empire ended in 612 B.C., history is replete with recorded details of the continuous presence of the Assyrian people till the present time." (Link 2)

Peter BetBasoo has produced an excellent summary history of Assyria and the Assyrian people on the website of the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA). He describes Assyrians as "a Semitic people indigenous to Mesopotamia". With a map he shows the historic Assyria as located in north Mesopotamia, spanning four countries - from the Euphrates River in north-eastern Syria, through the eastern corner of Turkey, western edge of Iran, and northern Iraq to about 100 miles south of Kirkuk. The plains of Arbil and Nineveh (Mosul) were the breadbaskets of the Assyrian people.

The Assyrians converted from Ashurism to Eastern Christianity in the three centuries after Christ. The Assyrian Church of the East was founded in 33 A.D. Once Assyria had been major military Empire, but after 33 A.D. it was to become a great religious empire with a large active missionary movement that took the gospel into China and beyond. Arab Islamic invaders captured Mesopotamia in 630 A.D. and subjugated the Assyrians under Muslim domination.

Kurds swept into Assyria in 1261 A.D. after King Salih Isma'il ordered them to emigrate from the mountains of Turkey to the Nineveh plains. Assyrians left their homes and fled to Arbil. Many lost their lives. When Timurlane the Mongol arrived in 1300 A.D he found the Assyrian people already traumatised and decimated. He massacred the Assyrians and drove them out until only a remnant remained.

Only a decade after the genocide of the Armenians (1915-23), the Assyrians suffered a major massacre in Iraq during the post-WW1 mandate period (1933). Actually the history of the Assyrian people, particularly since the arrival of Islam in the region, has been one of frequent massacres and almost continual oppression and persecution. (Link 3)

PRESENT THREAT

The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reports that the present Kurdish proposal "to establish an ethnically based autonomous area even beyond the current occupied northern provinces has alarmed various Iraqi communities including Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs), Arabs, Turkman, and Yezidis within Iraq and abroad. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's (PUK) Barham Salih recently declared that the Kurdish autonomous area ought to be extended beyond the three occupied and already diversely populated and contentious provinces of Dohuk (Nohadra), Arbil, and Sulaimaniya to include large portions of Diyala, Nineveh, and Karkuk.

"According to a December 25, 2003 Jordan Times article, Mr. Barham Salih asserted that, 'Karkuk is an integral part of Kurdistan, administratively, geographically, and historically.' In addition, Mr. Salih affirmed that the Kurdish map includes the historically Assyrian provinces of Arbil and Dohuk and now unabashedly extends the proposed area to occupy the remaining Assyrian towns and villages in the plains of Nineveh, the ancient Assyrian capital, which up until the war of liberation were under government control." (Link 4)

The escalation of fighting along ethnic lines in northern Iraq is cause for great concern. AINA quotes Mr. Abgar Maloul of the Assyrian Democratic Organization (ADO) as saying that "ethnic federalism built on the premise of the subjugation by one ethnic group of other minorities is not what we envisioned a liberated Iraq would resemble. We have long stood for a free, sovereign, secular, and democratic Iraq for all Iraqis." (Link 4)

Ashor Giwargis, born in Beirut in 1970, is a researcher and writer concerning the Assyrian cause. He writes out of great concern for the future of Iraq's Assyrian Christians. "Before the coming of the Ba'ath regime to Iraq in 1968, Assyrians constituted 65% of the population of the northern region, and the Kurds were about 15% and Arabs about 20%. During the 1st Gulf War, Kurdish tribes came in from Iran, supported by the Iranians, to fight against Iraq. They destroyed our villages. As a result, the majority of the Assyrians fled their towns and migrated to Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, seeking refugee visas to U.S.A, Europe, and Australia. That's why today we have some 3.2 million Assyrians in the Diaspora. The Assyrians make up 30% of Iraqi immigrants.

"In Iran the Assyrians were more than 150,000 before the coming of Khomeni in 1979, but now they are only about 30,000. We have churches that date back to the 1st century, built by St. Thomas and other churches from 2nd, 3rd, 4rth century. The indigenous people of Assyria are today scattered around the world. We are watching the news and hearing how the descendents of Tamorlane the Mongolian are announcing their 'Kurdistan' in Assyria, but we are unable to say a word for the great powers are busy with more important issues."

This is a situation to watch very closely. Christians worldwide must make it known that we regard the future and fate of our Assyrian Christian brothers and sisters as a very important issue.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Iraq Federation?
By Fikret Bila, Turkish Press, 12 Jan 2004
http://www.turkishpress.com/turkishpress/news.asp?ID=16667

2) http://www.nineveh.com/whoarewe.htm

3) http://www.aina.org/aol/peter/brief.htm
& http://aina.org/releases/2004/karkukaut.htm

4) Kurdish Autonomy Proposal Threatens Iraqi Territorial Integrity
Assyrian International News Agency. 8 Jan 2004
http://aina.org/releases/2004/karkukaut.htm

Recommended further reading:
Middle East Quarterly (Summer 2003)
Iraqi Assyrians: Barometer of Pluralism.
By Jonathan Eric Lewis.
http://www.meforum.org/article/558/