Assyrian Government Network

Balgojevich, Bonior, Bolton Offer Support at Assyrian American Convention
by Assyrian International News Agency (AINA)
Posted: Sunday, October 01, 2000 at 08:19 AM CT

AINA - Although recent conventions of the Assyrian American National Federation (AANF) have showcased growing Assyrian political organization and clout in the U.S., especially noteworthy this year were addresses to the delegates by Congressional House Minority Whip David E. Bonior and Congressman Rod Blagojevich. The Congressmen represent districts in Michigan and Illinois, respectively with large, electorally significant Assyrian constituencies. Both vowed continued vigilance and support at the U. S. Congressional level for issues of interest to Assyrians throughout the U.S. and the Middle East. In the past, Congressman Blagojevich has staunchly supported Assyrian human rights in the Middle East and has fought to increase awareness about Assyrians within the Congress and State Department.

Mr. John Bolton, of the the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington based conservative think tank, addressed convention attendees specifically regarding Assyrian human and religious rights. Mr. Bolton is a member of the Commission on International Religious Freedom (CIRF). Although bipartisan and independent, the members of the CIRF are appointed by the U.S. President and Congressional leaders and are obligated to report annually regarding religious persecution throughout the world. Mr. Bolton was informed by various attendees regarding the predicament of Assyrian Christians throughout the Middle East and some states of the former Soviet Union. Mr. Bolton acknowledged the commission’s previous lack of full awareness of the persecution faced by Assyrian Christians and urged Assyrians to relay information about specific abuses to the CIRF for investigation and inclusion in the Annual Report. Formerly from the State Department, Mr. Bolton’s genuine empathy is highly signific! ant since he is expected to return to the State Department in the event of a Republican administration.

An estimated 8,000 Assyrians gathered in Chicago for the 67th Annual Convention of the Assyrian American National Federation between August 31- September 4, 2000. The AANF is an Assyrian American umbrella organization in the U.S. with 30 affiliate organizations across the U.S. The AANF was established in 1933 following the massacre of thousands of Assyrian civilians by the Iraqi army, in the environs of Simele in northern Iraq. The ascension to the Presidency of the AANF by Mr. Atour Golani of Detroit marked a continuation of the AANF policy of inclusion of all Assyrians, irrespective of their self-identification, begun in earnest by the previous two term President, Mr. Sargon Lewie. In his acceptance speech, Mr. Golani pledged to work on behalf of all Assyrian communities. He also pledged to support the Assyrian coalition of the four major Assyrian political organizations including the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA), the Assyrian Democratic Organization (ADO), the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM), and the Bet Nahrain Democratic Party (BNDP). Also in attendance during the Presidential banquet was Mr. Sam Yono, President of the Chaldean Federation of America (CFA) who vowed to “go to Washington together with you to demand our rights in the Middle East.” The keynote speaker for the Presidential banquet was Mr. Ninous Bityou, Secretary General of the ADM, who spoke on the current situation of Assyrians in northern Iraq.

In his presentation, Mr. Joseph Kassab, President of the Bet Nahrain National Organization (BNNO) re-emphasized that the titles Assyrian, Chaldean, and Syriac indeed denote one nation. He proposed a mechanism for greater involvement of the entire nation in the political mainstream of U. S. democracy including the long overdue creation of a political action committee along the lines of the Chaldean Political Action Committee, established in 1986. Mr. Kassab also encouraged the separation of the various Churches from the nation’s political domain. Finally, Mr. Kassab proposed greater coordination between the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA), the Syriac Universal Alliance (SUA), and the Chaldean Federation of America (CFA) into an international umbrella organization for the purpose of politically unifying the international efforts of the nation. A senior activist and native of the Chaldean village of Alqosh, Mr. Sallman Estephan argued that Assyrians, including the Chaldean and Syriac communities, constitute one people in Iraq and as such are entitled to all the national, political, and human rights of any other people in Iraq. Included in these rights is the right to self determination within the context of a federal Iraq.

Numerous other speakers presented including Mr. Matay Arsan from Holland who spoke on Assyrian activism in Europe with special attention to recent hunger strikes and demonstrations commemorating the 1915 Turkish and Kurdish genocide (Sayfo) of Assyrians. Mr. Arsan spoke on the galvanizing effect on the Assyrian community following the attacks on the hunger strikers by mobs of young Turkish thugs in Holland. Ms. Guita Hourani, representing the Maronite group of the Syriac community, emphasized the burgeoning Syriac awareness among Maronites as well as the growing importance of the Syriac language in enhancing grass roots activism.

On the cultural level, the annual AANF convention brought together thousands of Assyrians from throughout the world to join in reinvigorating and sharing their common Assyrian heritage. On the international political front, the convention successfully brought together Assyrian representatives irrespective of the various communities' self-identification, including Chaldeans and Syriacs. With such a fundamental ideological bedrock in Assyrian national awareness actualized, the combined strength of the total Assyrian people figures to be a still greater factor domestically within the U.S. as well as abroad. The focus of this enhanced demographic significance and combined political clout will inevitably remain in those Middle Eastern countries with an historic indigenous presence such as Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and, Lebanon. Undoubtedly, the politics of division, exclusion, and disenfranchisement as practiced by some Arabist regimes and espoused by some Behdanani and Sorani lead! ers in northern Iraq against Assyrians will prove to be considerably more difficult to actualize.

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