Assyrian Democratic Movement
[Bet-Nahren, Northern Iraq] "Zowaa"
Strategy for leadership:
A progressive and pragmatic program by Dr. Lincoln Malik
Dr. Lincoln Malik is the representative of Assyrian Democratic Movement ("Zowaa") in the U.S.A. and Canada. This article, with some modifications, was published by the Assyrian Foundation of America in Nineveh magazine, Vol. 17, No. 1 & 2.
The valiant struggle of our people in Iraq, led by the Assyrian Democratic Movement ("Zowaa"), has forced the Assyrian national question in Iraq back on the political stage.
Thus, the time is ripe for Assyrian intellectuals to engage in comprehensive, dispassionate, reasoned, objective and constructive discussions toward developing a national consensus for an Assyrian strategy.
This article presents some of my personal thoughts and articulates the political program of the Assyrian Democratic Movement ("Zowaa").
Discussions of Assyrian Political agendas are framed by our history, our current conditions and the outlook of relations with our neighbors in Bet Nahrain. It is important that we keep a clear perspective of our history, as we chart our future. It is said that those who do not learn from history are condemned to relive it. However, we must not be mired in history to the point of being its slaves. Those who choose to live in the past do not have much to offer for the future.
No Assyrian need be reminded of the horrors and massacres we have endured as a nation. It has been taught to us while on our mother's bosoms. We shall never forget, nor should we ever forget. All our neighbors have oppressed and massacred Assyrians at one time or another in the last two thousand years. Yet, these massacres represent only part of our history, albeit its most painful part. We must look at history comprehensively and with purpose. Selective renditions of history may help win an argument in a coffee-shop, but are not useful for serious political deliberations.
To be relevant, the discussion must focus on the ideas and strategies offered our people in the current historical era. Abstract discussions of what might have been, or ought to be, will not deliver our people from their current national dilemma.
Following is a brief survey of the most prominent propositions before our people:
This is the simplest and, by definition, the most deadly solution. It calls for our assimilation in the cultures around us. In Iraq, the traitor Tariq Aziz has declared himself an Arab and invites the rest of us to follow suit. In fact he is an architect of the Arabization plan offered by the Saddam dictatorship to solve "the Assyrian problem."
This is nothing new, and there was a time when many Assyrians in Iraq believed in this nihilist solution. Some couched it in leftist rhetoric of internationalism. Others distorted history to claim that present-day Arabs and Assyrians are one and the same.
Zowaa preaches pride in being Assyrians, and seeks to lead our people in Iraq to maintain our unique identity and gain our legitimate rights, including recognition of our national existence constitutionally.
There are those who propose that we win our legitimate rights through appeasing those who persecute us. They claim that if we work with the dictator in Baghdad, he will bestow his blessings on us. It was not very long ago that a delegation of diaspora Assyrians went to petition the lion of Baghdad and commander of the "Mother of All Battles" to recognize us as a people and grant us the most basic of rights--equal citizenship. His answer was delivered by none other than Tariq Aziz, who declared in a mass meeting that there was no problem since "we (Assyrians) are all Arabs."
The Baathist regime in Baghdad is based on the most vicious form of Arab chauvinism. It plans to Arabize us, and failing that, it intends to root us out of our ancestral homeland. Assyrians who negotiated with Baathists in the early seventies (many of them traveled from the U.S. for that purpose) were tricked and found themselves used as pawns in the plans to Arabize our people and to liquidate us out of existence. If we are to forgive those who tried appeasement in the seventies for lack of understanding the true nature of the regime, today's appeasers have no excuse whatsoever. These people are bankrupt apologists for our enemies. Zowaa believes that appeasement is a dead end and the handicraft of sellouts and quislings.
A military solution (i.e., gaining our rights through force of arms) might arguably have been an option during WWI, were it not for the treachery of the British, and major miscalculations of our national leadership. Zowaa is the only entity, since the massacres of Simel, that has practiced armed struggle under Assyrian leadership, and for clear Assyrian nationalist objectives. Thousands of Assyrian youths are organized in military formations, irregular forces (freedom fighters) and village militia. However, this is not to propose that there is a military solution for our people. Participation in armed struggle against the dictatorship is a manifestation of our patriotic duty as Iragis, and a defensive measure to protect our people in the north of Iraq during these troubled times. As loyal Iraqis we love our country and will join the struggle to save it from the hated dictatorship. In this we are allied with the broad masses of the Iraqi people from the Kurdish north to the Shia Arab south. Those who wish to call our armed struggle a Kurdish alliance misrepresent the facts. When Zowaa joined the armed struggle in 1984, there were Kurds and Arabs in the north fighting the regime, even though the Kurdish forces were the most prominent. Today, Iraqis of all persuasions are engaged in the armed struggle against Saddam. This includes Kurds and Assyrians in the north, Suni Arabs in the center and Shia Arabs in the marshes of the south.
We also have a responsibility to defend our people. We know that we do not possess the numbers, nor the resources to win a protracted war with others in the area. Nevertheless, we will fight to protect our people if there is a breakdown in law and order. We have to be always prepared for the worst, as we hope for the best.
Culturalists believe that we need not involve ourselves with attempts to establish political rights. They will have us believe that teaching our language and sticking together is sufficient. However, history has proven over and again, that without political rights in our ancestral homeland, attempts at maintaining the culture are nothing short of impossible.
Lack of political rights in the homeland has meant that our people have been forced to endure discrimination, fear and humiliation. This has led to immigration, and/or assimilation. Those who do not have the stomach for the political struggle must contend with watching the homeland emptied of Assyrians.
Zowaa believes that, Like all other peoples in the world, we need to maintain our roots in our ancestral homeland, and that political rights are necessary to promote an environment for our people to develop their culture and to live in peace and prosperity.
Wishful solutions come in various shapes and colors. Perhaps the most prevalent is the wish that the clock turn back 2,500 years, and we live in the glory that was Assyria. We don't much talk about this secret dream, but we adorn our houses with pictures and reminders of that glorious past in silent testament to this sweet but wishful dream.
A more common wishful solution is the quest to find benefactors who will grant us our rights. The benefactors change from age to age. It used to be the British or the Czar of Russia.
Today it is more likely to be the United Nations or the U.S. State Department. Those who are still caught up in this form of wishful thinking, and it is sad to see that they are many, do not recognize that national rights are never given, they have to be gained. There is not a nation on earth that has had its rights bestowed by kind benefactors.
The world is full of peoples and nations whose rights are denied illegally and unconscionably. Twenty million South Africans have just now gained the right to vote in their own homeland.
Just consider the plight of Australian Aborigines, Tibetans, Kurds, Palestinians, Native Americans, Cossacks and many others.
None of them expect to gain their rights by marching to the U.N. with petitions in hand. Zowaa has approached the U.N. and foreign governments, not to plead for our rights, but to declare that Assyrians are engaged in a just struggle for their legitimate national rights, and are worthy of support to continue their struggle.
Pacifism is yet another wishful solution. Its proponents believe it possible for us to peacefully pursue our rights within an improving political system that ensures human rights and freedom of all of iraq's citizenry. Most Iraqis wish it were possible to rehabilitate the regime and peaceably usher in democracy. Yet, stubborn facts have produced an Iraqi and international consensus that the Baghdad regime is not capable of embracing democracy. This is a regime that has lived by the sword and will only leave at the sword.
Zowaa offers a progressive and pragmatic political program for achieving our legitimate national rights. It begins with the proposition that we are one people, and our homeland is Bet Nahrain, our inalienable human, cultural, political and administrative rights in our homeland must be recognized constitutionally. We condemn and reject the historical and present injustices imposed on our people, and shall struggle resolutely against them. We are also patriotic Iraqis and shall struggle for peace, progress and democracy for our country.
We believe that all nations and peoples have the right to self- determination, and that relations between peoples must be based on mutual respect, friendship and dignity. Zowaa categorically rejects national chauvinism and all notions that demean or insult others, especially those that have shared thousands of years of history with us. Assyrians have been the victims of bigotry, intolerance and chauvinism for more than two thousand years. We cannot allow ourselves to imitate our oppressors. Our commitment is to build a better tomorrow for our people under the banner of "Democracy in Iraq, and affirmation of our national existence in our homeland."
Our destiny in Bet Nahrain is intertwined with that of our neighbors. In north Iraq, our people are engaged in establishing a new and qualitatively new relationship with our Kurdish neighbors. Assyrians are represented in the Kurdistan parliament, as well as in the cabinet. We are allowed to teach in our language, our national holidays are recognized legally. We are free to organize socially, culturally and politically, and laws are passed to safeguard our lands and our rights. Zowaa also has good relations with all of Iraq's national opposition, and is represented in the Iraqi National Congress, which is the umbrella organization for most of Iraq's opposition forces. Some invoke the ugly past to question these new relationships. Zowaa believes that our future resides in building new and positive relations with our Arab, Kurdish and Turkish neighbors. We believe that it is in the best interests of Iraq to recognize and protect the legitimate national rights of all its peoples. Zowaa does not offer this as a mantra. It is a new vision for a nationalist revival. The road will not be easy. There will be setbacks and tensions as we proceed, but Zowaa firmly believes that Assyrians can, and must, control their own destiny.
Our people thirst for a dynamic leadership, well versed in the norms of modern times. A leadership capable of leading us to safeguard our national existence and to achieve our rights as the indigenous people of Bet Nahrain. Zowaa is that leadership for our people in Iraq. It is active in the struggle for unifying our people and ending centuries of confessionalism, tribalism and regionalism that have divided us. It is organizing our people, such as in the Union of Assyrian Students and Youth, the Women's Union, cultural centers, athletic clubs and village councils to name a few. It is helping meet our peoples economic, medical and security needs. It is engaged in the political life of our country at all levels.
Our achievements shall be in direct measure to our unity, resolve, perseverance and political acumen. Those who call on us to reach beyond our means provoke us to new national disasters. Those that are too timid for the struggle are obstacles in the way of seizing golden opportunities before us. We invite all true sons of Assyria to join us in the struggle.