Assyrians - the Forgotten People, Part IV
Assyrian leaders that objected to Britain’s biased policy and resisted its dictates, like General Agha Patros, Malik Yaku, Malik Lawku and Mar Shimun Eshai Shimun and later Meoqra Yusif Malek were threatened with court martial, arrest, exile and reprisal. The British barred the Assyrians from representing themselves at the Council of the League of Nations. They considered the Assyrian lobbying as anti-British propaganda and subversion. The British took upon themselves the task of representing the Assyrians at the League of Nations, and presented the Assyrian case to the League Council. The case was concluded in contradiction to the high expectation of the Assyrian people. The British described the Assyrians as ignorant and their leaders as defiant and abusive to the point of being foolhardy. Britain quashed all attempts of the Assyrians to restore their land and regain their dignity. Carrying their cross with them, the Assyrians were left in a pitiable state, stranded and ignored as punishment for demanding their basic human rights. The Mandated Powers, in collaboration with the World Body, justified seizure of the Assyrian land and dispensing with it at will by applying the archaic British Imperial Terra Nullius1 law of 1788. The Mandatory Powers justified the effacement of Mesopotamia from the world map and dismemberment of Assyria by claiming that as an undefined territory Assyria lacked proper lineation borders and the infrastructure of a government system to have gained its people legitimacy over their country. According to their interpretation, Assyria was unknown territory and unexplored country. The Mandatory Powers’ excuse was that whatever action they took rendered it void of any legal effect and unaccountable as a result of their decision. The Terra Nullius law might have had some justification, if historically the Assyrians had not had an established imperial government system. The Mandatory Powers missed the fact that Assyria had been occupied by the invading Turks as any other occupied Balkan state. The only difference was that Assyria was situated in the Middle East and not in the Balkans, close to the doorsteps of Europe. Just because it had been occupied by foreign forces and its infrastructure destroyed does not mean that Assyria did not exist. Assyria did exist and so does its people. They do have an officially recognized history, a live culture a distinct language and a unique alphabet - a heritage that links them to their soil. Assyrians are the native and rightful owners of Assyria - not like the ethnic Indians of Fiji, who were dumped on the Pacific Islands, as cheap labor, to revive the ailing economy of the British Empire or the ethnic Albanians, residues of the Ottoman Janissaries, who after falling from favour, were dumped in the Balkans during the Ottoman retreat from Europe in the First World War. The Arabs and Kurds are the ethnic intruders, who have forcibly seized Assyria and claim it to be theirs and no one else. In addition, the power brokers literally ripped off Assyria, people and property, from the world map. The whole of Mesopotamia, including Israel, in the Middle East, whose territory extended from Jericho westward, to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea were ravaged by the ferocity of the Arab Islamic mobs. Their fanaticism, coupled with the upsurge of nationalist fervor, with later encouragement from the Allies, swept their undisciplined mercenary troops and militias throughout the Middle East in a state of barbaric euphoria, claiming the whole Middle East Islamic. There was no room for the existing aboriginal unbeliever (kafir) Christian and Jewish dwellers of the land to exercise their natural rights to independence from their adversaries.
The Assyrians were denied political rights. They were politically gagged. Their tribal and religious leaders were muzzled. They were prevented from presenting their case to the League of Nations. They were denied cultural, media and language rights. They were denied proper Assyrian schools and limited their language education to three years only. The recommended system of education for the Assyrians was of a very modest elementary syllabus, making Arabic a compulsory subject. They were allowed freedom of religion, but not freedom of worship i.e., the Assyrians were allowed to worship at their church and home but were not allowed to practice their Christian religion openly, freely or publicly.
Politically, nothing much has changed since. The Assyrians are obliged to travel with passports from their domineering rulers incognito of their Assyrian national identity. Thousands are still on the run, looking for a place to work, rest and live in peace. Thousands of families have been separated for years, stranded in several countries with little hope of re-union with their immediate family members. In Jordan alone today, there are over 30 thousand destitute Assyrians. They have gathered there seeking a way out of their affliction. The Assyrians number over three (3) million, of whom sixty per cent (60%) live in diaspora. They live in discomfort, seeing their culture and identity being gradually eroded. Their systematic persecution over the years has considerably reduced their number in their ancestral homeland. The Assyrians are not extinct as many are led to believe. Yet, the instability in the Middle East and deteriorating conditions in Iraq have added to their affliction in seeking refuge elsewhere. Many live in Iraq in the cities of Mosul, Erbil, Kirkuk, Baghdad and Basrah and in villages and towns above the 36 parallel line in the safe haven no-fly zone of northern Iraq. The majority lives in USA, Canada, and Western and Eastern European countries such as England, France, Sweden, Holland, Russia, Georgia and Armenia. There are about 30 thousand Assyrians in Australia, concentrated in Sydney and Melbourne and a few hundred families in New Zealand.
The Arab/Islamic states allege that the infinitesimal number of the Assyrians and other ethnic groups of the Middle East, no longer qualifies them to claim their ancestral land. The indigenous remnants, they allege, were residues of ancient kingdoms reduced to insignificant minorities by prior conquests. These states claim that over time the Assyrians lost their genuine identity, melted into the Arab/Islamic pot, and became extinct. Persistence of the international community in allowing the Islamic states to continue to use the archaic ‘millet provision’ is to ensure that fragmentation of the Assyrian people into several denominational groups remains so and continues until the word ‘Assyria’ is completely phased out. They think that such a policy will eventually weaken the Assyrian resistance, give in and accept citizenship of the Islamic states as a fait accompli. The fact remains that the Assyrians have become stronger in their resolve of uniting their ranks regardless of the foreign citizenship they carry.
Excuse of the culprit governments is the official document, namely, the "Decision of the Council of the League of Nations Relating to the Application of the Principles of Article 22 of the Covenant to IRAQ". This document encourages the Islamic states to pursue this overt racial and undemocratic path for the total effacement of the Assyrian nation. As a result, these Arab/Islamic states were given the legal mandate by the international community to possess Mesopotamia without consideration to the democratic and human rights of the indigenous peoples.
The Assyrians are a unique people. There is no common grounds between Arabs and Assyrians in language, religion and culture. Islamic communities, in general, are predominantly Asiatic in character, conservative to the point of fanaticism, vengeful and infamous for their unforgiving acts of vendetta and blood feuds. The Assyrians are liberal-minded, progressive, apt to change and more sociable. The cultural life between the Arabs and Assyrians is vastly different to the point that they do not mix socially and keep away from each other in social functions. The Arabs live in a closely regulated religious environment. Their conservative attitude reflects inherent cultural animosity towards other cultures at home and abroad. The Assyrians are inspired by their historical past that links their roots to their ancestral land Assyria. The Arabs want to revive their past glory of Islamic conquests and expand farther by adding more territory to their (umma) nation through constant incursions. Because of the deep division and irreconcilable differences, assimilation of the Assyrians is out of the question. Islamic states will never democratize their government systems in line with Western definition of democracy. Continued persecution of the Assyrians in the Middle East has imperiled their very existence. They have been dispossessed and denied their human rights cruelly and unjustly before the very eyes of the international community, who claim to be advocates of human rights and promoters of democracy. Islam advocates and promotes multiculturalism, outside its domain, because it serves as a unifying force among its community members and allows it a stronger foothold on foreign soil abroad. In this way, they gain strength and demand change to certain laws in defiance of the majority rule. At home, the Islamic government is against multiculturalism, as is the case now in Iran, Algeria, the Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan and belatedly Indonesia. It openly confronts multiculturalism and quashes it by applying the Millet Provision under the (Share’a) Islamic law - a pretext that in addition to freedom of worship, all subjects are equal citizens before the law, enjoy equal civic and cultural rights and equal employment opportunities. It sounds democratic. But in reality, all Arab/Islamic government systems are hedged between autocracy and theocracy.
The spread of certain cultures and increase in their population does not necessarily mean that such cultures are progressive, acceptable or popular. There is no justification for their intrusion on other people’s rights or imposition of their culture and lifestyle on other smaller nations just because of their sheer number. Claiming the whole of the Middle East as Arab/Islamic and dividing it inequitably among themselves is unjustifiable. The Arabs allege that the Assyrians having lost their country ages ago and not living on their land, whether voluntarily or arbitrarily, have forfeited their right to retrieve it - a weak argument by any standard that would fail to convince world opinion, as evidenced by the Jewish issue at the UN that was put to vote and won restoration of the statehood of Israel in May 1948. In recent years, several Balkan states in Eastern Europe were in the same predicament as is Assyria now, and to a certain degree Poland went through a similar ordeal in the mid-20th century. So did Greece during the First World War of 1914-1918 and Spain in the mid-fifteen century. They drove out their invaders, ended foreign occupation of their countries and legitimately reclaimed their sovereignty. The Arab and Kurd intruders, who in their heyday, were scattered all over the Middle Eastern region, grabbed and settled on other people’s lands arbitrarily. They claim that the whole region belongs exclusively to them and no other.
Many options to resolving the outstanding issue of Assyria are open to the United Nations. One option worth considering is the return of the Assyrians to their homeland in the highlands of the Mosul Province, including the Khabur region, with the assistance of the United Nations. If the international community could resettle seven to nine hundred thousand Albanians in Kossovo, Yugoslavia, at an estimated cost of 11 to 13 billion U.S. dollars, what deters it from considering resettlement of the Assyrians in their own portion of the Mosul province of Assyria?
The Assyrians are neither a millet nor a minority; they are a small nation - they should be treated as a separate and distinct people in their own right. The population of East Timor compared with Indonesia’s over 200 million is not a minority but a small nation. Had Kuwait been swallowed up by Iraq, the Kuwaitis being of Arab stock, would have been considered a minority in a population of 14 million Iraqis. Being Arabs, the Kuwaitis would have ultimately been fused into the Iraqi Arab majority. Assyrians are not Arabs; they never were and will never be. They are totally dissimilar and ethnically different in language, religion and culture. The mandatory powers feigned ignorance of this very fact and failed to recognise these fundamental differences. The Assyrians are a small disinherited nation.
After World War I, the Allies did not divide the ‘liberated’ territories according to the historic need and legitimate rights of the indigenous people. Had positive action been taken, it would have created a healthy equilibrium and struck a sound balance of power among the countries of the Middle East. Restoration of Assyria, in addition to Israel, would have added to the stability of the Middle East and consolidated peace, confirming the legitimacy of Israel and Assyria as a matter of fact. Instead, they left the Assyrians in a hostile environment, showing little interest if at all, in the plight of this small disinherited nation.
In the late 20th century the United Nations has played a greater role in supporting other subjugated people to obtain their independence from foreign rule, yet the Assyrian cause still struggles for recognition and active encouragement. The dispossessed Assyrians need to be granted an independent voice and the status of a disinherited, stateless nation to represent its dispersed people at international level to be able to resurrect its case and present it to world bodies. Redress of this long awaited issue, to rightfully reclaim their homeland, is long overdue.
To be continued in last Part V of Assyrians - the Forgotten People.
- the Forgotten People, Part IV