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The dilemma of the Assyrians in Lebanon
by Mark Samuel
Posted: Thursday, February 01, 2001 05:52 pm CST

When speaking about a Middle Eastern country called Lebanon, almost not a single individual mentions a detail about its size, economy and politics. Nonetheless, the first thought thumping one's mind is the mission behind the existence of such a diminutive country. This mission is nothing but the torch of Christianity, which lead the Pope of Rome Jean-Paul II to declare: "Lebanon is more than a country; Lebanon is a message". This tempting light had its share on Assyrian Christians, that at one time, were frantically seeking refuge in a spot where religious atrocity would be crippled. Accordingly, some of those took off from different countries such as Iraq, Syria, former Soviet Union and Turkey to find a respectful life in Lebanon.

As most of the fleeing Assyrians, the minority that landed in Lebanon was drained by the lack of financial resources. This, of course, produced the first pile of poverty and pushed many children to leave school for labor. A young boy would work in construction while his hands were too soft to handle such a heavy task, or even as a mechanic to come back, by the end of the day, smeared and run down from work rather than from playing with his friends. A small number of those boys used to go to work in the morning and to take some English or French courses later in the evening while some others indulged themselves into gambling and smoking. This would have its impact on generations to come.

At first, Assyrians in Lebanon didn't possess the Lebanese nationality; a reality that kept Education away from their grip. This was due to the fact that studying in the Lebanese University (public university) necessitated the Lebanese citizenship of the candidate. Of course, private universities, although more flexible in dealing with this matter, were, tuition wise, out of the question. In 1958 however, during his days in power, former president of the republic Kamille Chamoun initiated a decree to offer every member of a minority group the Lebanese nationality if fulfilling the condition of a 10 years stay in the country. This seemed to unfold a new horizon for the Assyrian community as they felt they had become a noticeable wedge of the country. Theoretically speaking, acquiring the Lebanese identity would help them find better jobs and equal rights with their non-Assyrian Lebanese compatriots. The message was not clear. Some people applied for the citizenship and obtained it afterwards while others waited their turn with a temporary card such as the "Green Card" (Kaidil Dars). The horrible mistake was the companion of those who said: " We don't need it, we are just visitors or beggars here, we are never equal with other Lebanese citizens" and those people were numerous. The result was the shattering of society with respect to strategic planning.

Lebanon had always to pay a heavy price for the bumps of the Middle East. There was even a famous saying of the necessity of having war in Lebanon every 25 to 30 years because "That's the way it is". Nevertheless, the great civil war erupted on April 13th 1975 when clashes took place between "Les phalanges Libanaises " (Alkata'ib Alloubnaniya) and a group of Palestinians in a bus passing through the "Ainil Roummaneh" area. This was the spark for the long-term civil war mainly based on religious sense of domination. Assyrians were among the first to side with the Christian militias for the purpose of defending Christian territories from foreigners. Actually, they were often deployed in front lines since they were known to have endurance and loyalty. Many of those became martyrs for the principles they believed in and yet the community seemed to be in an inevitable degradation. Those days of war passed so harshly on Assyrians as they had to bear loads of tensions like all other Lebanese citizens, which, once again, opened the alternative of immigration whenever that seemed feasible. More than half of the community immigrated to the United States, Australia and Europe. Those dreadful conditions did not curb some people to stay in the country and pursue their education in order to improve their life quality. For the first time, Assyrians were somehow unchained from what was thought to be "a spell of ignorance". This new trend had its spread mostly amongst Jacobite Assyrians, which, for certain reasons, were more in favor of not leaving the country than those of the Assyrian Church of the East. Having in mind that a sole post would represent minorities in the house of senators, the challenge was not so difficult for Jacobite Assyrians to almost take over that chair. Unfortunately, this chair is presently taken away from the Assyrians since the Latin sect won it in the latest election of the year 2000. For instance, although some members of the Assyrian Church of the East were becoming highly educated, the Jacobites always outnumbered them since many of the educated members of the Church of the East found in traveling abroad better chances for prosperity. This produced disequilibria between different Assyrian sects erecting many barriers in front of those who tried to find similarities and, supposedly, create strong ties. Consequently, while some Church of the East members where excessively into Assyrianism, some representatives of the Jacobite Assyrians were trying to deny their Assyrian roots, thus claiming of having Aramaic origins just to be distinguished from those who are known in Lebanon as Assyrians. This predicament drew a line between two groups; the first stressing on Assyrian origins but with lack of knowledge and education and the other negatively exploiting education to conduct false philosophies of the impossibility of Assyrianism.

Today, those impediments still persist. However, times have changed and people are getting used to the fact that "a river never flows unless a drop of water pushes another drop in the right stream". Nowadays, the world of MEDIA & especially the INTERNET is offering a great favor to the Assyrians who, once again, are proving to be alive. "The world has become a small village" and everybody is invited to discuss his views about what he perceives to be "The precise logic". This is why Assyrians of Lebanon are ONLINE. Today, Assyrian organizations in Lebanon are trying, as much as possible, to fill the gaps of the past. They are attempting to preach Assyrianism in a broader prospective; that is, the idea of having different Assyrian sects unified underneath one Assyrian umbrella while respecting their diverse religious denominations. Due to religious misleading, many people are still convinced to be distinct from their Assyrian brothers, not to mention that lack of education still plays its tricks. This is hard to handle but HOPE is the key. Albert Einstein once said: " There is no such thing called PROBABILITY; everything is absolute for God". Believing that the Assyrian nation is yet to be reborn, Assyrians in Lebanon are focusing on how to team up with their brother Assyrians worldwide in their quest to unify an entire great nation.

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