In the First World War, the Ottoman Empire carried out its infamous ethnic cleansing against the Greeks, the Armenians and the Assyrians. Over a million indigenous ethnics perished as a result of the savagery of the Turks and Kurds. They drove the Assyrians out of part of their ancestral lands, the Hakkari highlands of south eastern Turkey. In the name of (Holy War) Jihad against the (infidel) Kafir Christians, the Turks and Kurds descended upon the Assyrian villages in hordes, killing and looting in the name of Allah. The Assyrians lost practically all their villages within the borders of modern Turkey. They also lost some of their best arable lands and beautiful meadows.
The Hakkari territory that the Assyrians lost to the Turks and Kurds is situated right on the tip of north west of present-day Iraq. The Assyrians, considering themselves still subjects of the Ottoman Empire, and north Iraq as an extension of their Hakkari territory, re-grouped and settled among their old kinfolk and Christian villages in south of Hakkari, in vilayet Mosul. At the time, the fate of the Mosul district, which had been a territory of the collapsed Ottoman Empire, had not been decided by the Allies. The Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq had not yet been created either.
The British, discovering exploratory oil wells which the Germans had earlier drilled and abandoned, realized the importance of the territory. The Mosul territory was rich with oil deposits and mineral resources.
In 1922, during the period when the disputed territory of the Mosul district in the north was under the British mandate, power play gave precedence to the security of oil and protection of their interests over the right of the resettlement of the Assyrian people in their own region. At the time, the British Empire was the all powerful and mighty, and its word was unwritten law. The British disappointed the hopes of the Assyrians. Again the Assyrians became the victims. Great Britain annexed the Mosul district to the newly created Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq. The British imported Emir Faisal from Saudi Arabia and crowned him king over Iraq. Their attempt to install him king over Syria earlier had failed dismally. The Assyrians became subservient to the British and as a result are suffering to this day.
The Assyrians are the native inhabitants and original dwellers of Iraq. They have survived for centuries. Yet, they live in their own land without any say in the government. Their human rights are denied. The government strongly suppresses their attempts to open schools to teach their own language, to promote their own culture and preserve their heritage. They have no official representation in the government to protect their basic rights. They are not recognized as the indigenous people of the country, and no provisions are made to guarantee their rights in the interim constitution.
Assyrians have suffered terribly at the hands of the past and present Iraqi regimes. The current despotic regime has broken every civil code and has denied the Assyrians their human right to exist as a people. They have dragged them from their homes in the middle of the night and drafted them forcibly into the army. They have denied them equal employment opportunity and freedom of expression by suppression and closing their schools and all their cultural centres.
Many Assyrians have at times been harassed, beaten, imprisoned and driven to near starvation. With little prospect of improving their lot and of survival under such harsh treatment, the Assyrians's only hope is to either resist, fight and die on their soil, or escape the bleak future and emigrate to a western county. During the Iraq-Iran war of the 80s over forty thousand Assyrians were killed or lost in action. This number of casualties for such a small nation is high indeed.
One of the main objectives of the government of Iraq is to Arabise the indigenous Assyrians. Its aim is to rid Iraq of the "Assyrian problem" and omit their name from the forthcoming permanent constitution without resistance. The regime's feverish attempt is to Arabise the Assyrians before its barbaric rule ends to gain credence among its radical advocates.
Being subjected to continuous oppression and humiliation, the Assyrians live in total anxiety. They are in constant fear of losing their jobs, their properties and their lives. They live in discomfort, seeing their culture and identity being gradually eroded by the domineering rulers.
Such repressive measures and inhumane actions have played havoc with the Assyrian way of life and have led to the dislodgment and disintegration of the Assyrian family. Thousands have already lost their jobs, their properties and parted from their loved ones and live in destitution. And thousands more are stranded all around the neighboring countries, and in more than twenty other countries throughout the world, extending from Iran to Thailand; from Turkey to Balkan states; from Syria to Armenia and Russia, and from Cyprus and Lebanon to Greece and many other European countries. In Jordan alone there are over thirty thousand Assyrians. They have gathered there, seeking a way out of their affliction.
Many have been trapped in world bureaucratic entanglements, uncertain of their future. Many depend on donations from their overseas relatives and friends. They are stuck there, awaiting the result of their applications for an entry visa to a western country.
Have any of the charity organizations made an effort to visit them to show some concern? Have any of the relief agencies of the United Nations checked to see how they are coping to extend to them a hand of assistance as a gesture of goodwill? Are they not entitled to be rescued as any other minority and individual human being? And if not, why not? Or is it that the Assyrian issue is somewhat foreign to them - out of their daily routine task. Though the name 'Assyrian' strikes a cord occasionally, they seem to dismiss it, since the world community has not yet seriously looked at the Assyrian issue to sponsor it officially.
While the Assyrian tragedy remains unresolved, the international community, as an onlooker, watches passively. It is a tragedy and what a tragedy of human conduct to the upholders of morality.
Several small nations such as Cyprus and East Timor, and minority groups like the Basques in France and Spain, and natives of South America, including the Assyrians in the Middle East, who have been wronged and oppressed for so long, have lost confidence in the international communities. They are dismayed with them because their sufferings have been dragging on for decades, while the aggressor is consolidating his hold and ignoring the international communities without any fear of reprisal.
Since the Assyrians have no official representation in their own usurped country or in world bodies, their individual appeals to the international communities seem to fall on deaf ears. The unrelenting effort of certain small Assyrian groups, though impressive in exposing the atrocities of the aggressor, is not enough to draw the attention of the world media and the right agencies to gain their support and condemn the atrocious acts of such a belligerent.
While the world is in turmoil, the Assyrian case is buried under a pile of unresolved problems of the world. Sitting there at the bottom of the tray, or shelved somewhere in the archives accumulating dust since the days of the defunct League of Nations, the Assyrian file is forgotten under an ever increasing number of new cases. Most of them are marked High Priority with little chance of the Assyrian legal documents ever being located and the Assyrian issue raised, offered for discussion and given a fair hearing. When will the turn of the Assyrian issue ever come up?
Some western countries such as the United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have recognized several aboriginal groups and indigenous people, restored to them part of their native land, extended official apologies to them for the atrocities committed against them and compensated them for their sufferings. What has the belligerent state of Iraq done other than suppress the native Assyrians and deny their existence as an indigenous people?
The rights of the Assyrians have been ignored by the world community for decades - since the outbreak of the First World War. It is high time that the free world turned its attention towards the forgotten people - the Assyrian people - the smallest ally of the free world. The Assyrians have, like the rest of the nations, contributed effectively to the war effort in World War II and paid their share in blood to free the world from fascism so that democracy may live and thrive. The Assyrian war effort, though small, is likened to the Sling of David. It was effective. With the timely operation of convoying materiel to Russia through the Iraqi Seaport of Basrah, and the Persian Seaport of Bandar Abbas in the south, the tide turned against fascism and the giant enemy was crippled. Strategically, it was the turning point that led to the defeat of the Axis. The Russian counter attack against the invading troops that followed later was the decisive turning point in the ultimate victory of World War II.
Being Christians and of good endurance, and having survived for centuries, does not mean that the Assyrians should accept being dispossessed of their homes and be denied of their human rights cruelly and unjustly.
They shall strive and continue unwaveringly in their struggle to resurrect their demand for the rehabilitation of their Assyrian people under the Charter of the United Nations. They will continue to demand the restitution of their human rights relentlessly and unabated. It is their legitimate right.
May the pleas of this suffering nation reach the ears of the world community leaders, prick their conscience and touch their hearts that they may care and rescue the Assyrian people and ease their chronic plight.
(Published in 'NINEVEH' Magazine, Fourth Quarter 1995, p.26)