Posted: Monday, December 13, 2010 at 06:47 AM UT | Updated: August 14, 2014
The Assyria Council of Europe (ACE) is an independent body with the aim of raising awareness in the EU of the plight of the Assyrian people living on their ancestral lands in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran, an area known as historic Assyria.
The European Union, with its increasingly important role in the Middle East is in a good position to contribute to the maintenance of the native Assyrian communities in the Middle East.
The Assyria Council of Europe is the voice of the Assyrian Diaspora communities in the different EU countries.
The organization is supported by various Assyrian institutions and individuals in Europe and represents thus the general ambitions of the European Assyrians.
Assyrians were the victims of Iraq’s first genocide in between 7 and 16 August 1933. The ten-day killing campaign conducted by Iraqi troops, under direct government command,
resulted in the slaughter of around 3,000 innocent civilians in and around the town of Simel. It also led to the destruction of more than 60 settlements, the vast majority of which were never resettled. While the preamble of the Iraqi constitution mentions the persecution and massacre of every other ethnic and sectarian group in the country, this tragic episode of Iraqi history was left out of the new national narrative. Assyrians continued to suffer displacement from their villages in the northern governorates of Nineveh, Dohuk and Erbil throughout the period of conflict between Kurdish rebels and the central government between 1961 and 1988, losing scores of settlements. Amongst the 4,500 villages obliterated by the end of the Anfal campaign in 1988, for instance, more than 150 of them were Assyrian settlements containing more than 60 historical churches. Between 1991 and 2003, Assyrians were also among those in the country who were adversely affected by the government’s policies of “Arabisation” and “Nationality Correction.”
The Assyrians in Iraq currently number between 300,000 and 450,000. In 2003 their
population was estimated at 1-1.5 million, and they now constitute a third of Iraqi refugees in neighbouring countries. This has come about as a result of Assyrian churches, businesses and homes throughout Iraq becoming the target of coordinated attacks. Kidnappings, as well as verbal and written threats to convert to Islam, pay jizyah (an extortion tax imposed upon non-Muslims), leave the country or else suffer death, have also been commonplace. In February 2008, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Mar Paulus Faraj Rahho, was abducted and killed. Other priests and religious figures have also been murdered or kidnapped. In total, more than 413 Christians were killed between 10 April 2003 and 23 March 2012, and 46 churches were attacked or bombed, leaving 95 dead.
On 30 April 2014, Iraqi people went to polls to elect new members to the Council of Representatives and three Governorate Councils in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The joint UNPO-ACE Election Observation Mission (EOM) was deployed in the city of Dohuk, the capital of the Dohuk Governorate, located in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan in northern Iraq and carried out 30 different observations in polling stations across 18 different polling centers.
UNPO and ACE conducted a joint EOM in 2009 to the Nineveh Plain, focusing on the region’s ethnic and religious components and their participation in the electoral process. The current EOM was a follow up to this previous collaboration, considering the critical observations that had been made and the alarming reports that were received from Assyrian communities over the past years.
This report provides an overview of the election observations, and lists both positive and critical observations to the Independent High Electoral Commission, the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Government of Iraq.
The rich and colourful diversity that used to signify Iraqi culture and its historical roots are severely threatened at the dawn of the 21st century. Iraq’s road to stability is blocked by a flaring conflict between a resurgent Shi’ite majority and a humiliated Sunni minority as well as from the expansionist aspirations of an over-confident Kurdish administration in North Iraq. Given the huge exodus of minorities and continuing threats and violence in 2011, there is a genuine worry that Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) in Iraq may not survive the current conflict and that their unique culture and heritage will slowly disappear from Iraq.
Despite a general decrease of violence in 2011, Assyrians and other minorities are constantly experiencing targeted violence, threats and intimidation. They do not have their own militias to defend them and do not receive effective protection or justice. In addition, minorities are also subjected to a pattern of official discrimination, marginalisation and neglect, and suffer from the effects of corruption and a policy based on sectarian interests. Assyrians perceive that they do not belong to the current Iraq and that they are being excluded from civil society. Because of the continuing displacement processes, many Assyrians are not able to sustain themselves, lacking a regular source of income, opportunities and education, and neither the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) nor the central Iraqi government provides sufficient assistance. In addition to the lack of life opportunities, especially in the KRG region and in the Nineveh Plains, Assyrians and other minorities experienced a significant rise in hostile acts and riots inside the KRG boundaries in 2011 compared to 2010. Feeling desperation, Assyrians have become restless people moving from one place to the other, and often express the desire to emigrate.
The huge exodus that has taken place since 2003 marks the biggest threat to the survival of minorities in Iraq. More than half of the Assyrian community has left Iraq since 2003: From more than 1.5 million Assyrians, the Assyrians population is estimated at approximately 500,000 today. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), minorities make up more than 30 per cent of the 2 million Iraqi refugees seeking sanctuary in Jordan, Syria and across the world; the majority of these are Assyrian Christians. Moreover, they represent an enormously disproportionate number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of refugees who moved to neighbouring countries remain trapped in poverty and chronic uncertainty. Unable to return home or to resettle elsewhere, many face growing desperation with each passing year in exile.
In 2010, kidnappings, murder, church bombings, harassment and discrimination shaped the daily life of Assyrian Christians in Iraq. Seven years democracy have not brought stabilization to the precarious situation of this historically indigenous minority. Assyrians continue to live in fear and anxiety. Since 2004, the year 2010 has been the most dangerous year for Assyrian people in Iraq. Every month more than seven Assyrians were murdered. Every week at least one person died in a targeted attack. From January to December, 87 Assyrian Christians were killed in robberies, bomb attacks and kidnappings. More than 300 Assyrians have been injured.
Assyrians are being persecuted because they are neither Arabs or Kurds nor Muslims nor do they speak Arabic as a native language. They are strategically in an unfavourable position and completely defenceless and without protection since they have never had any tribal or militia ties. Assyrians are at particular risk because of their perceived ties to the West and to the multinational forces in Iraq.
Already 60 percent of more than 1.5 million Assyrians in Iraq have fled the country
until now. Questions arise such as should they continue to move European countries? Should we stand idly by while the homeland of one of the most ancient people in the world is being emptied out?
This human rights report gives you a view on the situation of Assyrians in Iraq in 2010.
This report is based on a six-week fact-finding mission in the northern Iraqi cities of Arbil, Kirkuk and Dohuk, the regions of Barwari-Bala, Sapna, Simel, Zakho and Nahla, and the towns or villages of Bakhdida (Qaraqosh), Tall-Kepe (Tell-Kayf), Tisqopa (Tell-Isquf), Batnaya, Beqopa (Baqofah), Alqosh, Ba'shiqa, Bahzani, Karimlish (Karemles), Baritleh (Bartillah), Sharafiyah, Bahindawaya, Ayn-Baqrah, Karanjok, Dashqotan, Pirozawah, Ayn-Sifne, Shaqlawa and Diyana.
The fact-finding mission was conducted between November and January 2010 to investigate abuses against Assyrians in the disputed territories of the Nineveh Plains and in the Iraq Kurdistan Region. For security reasons the Assyria Council of Europe did not visit the city of Mosul.
Before describing the conditions of Assyrians and members of other minority communities in northern Iraq, it may be helpful to remind the reader of the Iraqi central government and its responsibilities towards its minorities, as well as an outline of their legal rights, as stipulated by the relevant international, regional and national standards, including the country's new constitution. Much of this relies on information presented by Human Rights Watch in their November 2009 Report, and serves as a useful background.
The current events and political climate of the region are dangerous for the Assyrians and other communities because they are caught in a dilemma between two larger and more powerful ethnic rivals who have over half a century of animosity between them. Many members of these communities are mentally exhausted after years of oppression under the Arabs, and they also bear the emotional baggage of persecution, massacres and raids under the Turks and Kurds in Ottoman times. They now fear again being oppressed by the Kurds who under previous Iraqi governments also shared oppression, but now have returned as the oppressors. To strengthen their hold on Nineveh and to ease its inclusion into the IKR, Kurdish leaders are campaigning on two fronts. They offer incentives such as protection and financial support, whilst repressing them to keep them under control. The aim of this is to divide the Assyrians, who will not easily identify as Kurds, and get them to agree with the KRG's plan of expansion into the disputed territories by “referendum,” as well as pushing Yazidis, Shabak and Kaka'i communities to identify as ethnic Kurds.
To really understand what Kurdish authorities have in store for the ethnic communities of the Nineveh Plains if they do annex the disputed territories, one must fully comprehend their current situation within the IKR since 1991 and more specifically after the 2003 regime-change when the ruling Kurdish parties, no-longer fearing retribution by Saddam, became more open with their nationalist and exclusivist rhetoric. Part of Assyria Council of Europe's fact-finding mission was to investigate the actualities of Assyrian life in the IKR, and especially how they are treated under the KRG. The plain fact of the matter is that the IKR is practically a military dictatorship dominated by the KDP in Dohuk and Arbil provinces (where Assyrians and Yazidis predominate), controlled by its peshmerga forces, and closely scrutinised by its Asayish intelligence units which have centres in every town and district centre and strike fear into the hearts of those who oppose them. As was the norm under Saddam, portraits of Mas'ud Barzani (or his late father Mullah Mustafa) eerily smile from the walls of every shop, restaurant, hotel and government office. It is definitely not unusual to see Kak Mas'ud's image paired up with that of Iraqi President and PUK leader Jalal Talabani, as well as large images of KDP "heroes" such as Idris Barzani (Mas'ud's brother and father of former KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan) in prominent places. This is a culture which is already slowly creeping into the Nineveh Plains with Yazidi villages in the Shaykhan district displaying large images of Mas'ud Barzani at their entrances. The KDP does not even attempt to hide the fact that it is a front for the nepotism of the Barzani dynasty and thus, in many respects, Kurdish rule is no different to Baath party rule under Saddam.
This report focuses on the ethnic discrimination in the Iraqi police force in the Nineveh plain (NP), an area heavily populated by Iraq's vulnerable minorities such as the Assyrians, Yezidies and Shabaks. As the report shows the discrimination against the minorities is evident in the ethnic make up of the local police force. All numbers in the report have been collected through contacts with independent minority groups in Iraq.
Being the last area in Iraq where Iraqi minorities have a strong demographic presence, the Nineveh Plain plays an important role in many ways. A strong presence of the Assyrians, Yezidies, Shabaks, Turkmen and Kakais is essential to keeping Iraq a multi ethnic state. Especially non Muslim minorities such as the Assyrians and Yezidies play an important role in preserving Iraq as a multi religious society, having a moderating effect on Iraq with their presence and participation in society. Unfortunately Iraq minority numbers are decreasing rapidly as they flee the country due to them not feeling secure.
Security plays a crucial role for the future presence of the minorities in Iraq. As the continuous attacks against Assyrians show, the minorities are in urgent need of formal protection they can trust. This is what they urgently lack in today's Iraq.
Between 28th January – 2nd February 2009 three international election observers arrived in northern Iraq's Nineveh plain to observe the provincial elections on the 31st January. The team consisted of Mr. Andrew Swan and Ms. Margaret Murphy from the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and Mr. Afram Yakoub from the Assyria Council of Europe (ACE). The main report of the Observation Mission (OM) about the election process can be found at www.unpo.org and www.assyriacouncil.eu.
The ACE-UNPO Observation Mission was informed of electoral malpractice prior to arriving in Iraq. The most visible complaints were those of Mr. Ablahad Afram Sawa against the Ishtar slate and Mr. Amin Farhan Jajjos complaint against the Kurdish Nineveh brotherhood slate, both reported by Iraqi media. Whilst in Iraq, the Observation Mission continued to receive information about serious electoral law violations in the run up to the elections. The Observation Mission decided to invest one of its members, Mr. Afram Yakoub, to look into at least some of the many allegations made. The following is the result of what the OM managed to find out about violations during the pre-election period among the Assyrian minority in the town of Qaraqosh.
On January 31st, 2009, Iraqis cast their ballots for the third time since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The last provincial and parliamentary elections, held in 2005, were marred by violence that fuelled the onset of civil war.
In stark contrast, the lead-up to, and execution of, the 2009 provincial elections has been characterised by relative stability and great optimism on the part of Iraqi voters. Electoral candidates displayed new confidence, campaigning under their own names and distributing election posters bearing their photographs for the first time.
The joint UNPO-ACE Observation Mission (OM) was deployed in the Nineveh Plain region of Nineveh Province, north west of Baghdad. This region is the only area in Iraq where neither Sunnis, Shiites nor Kurds form the majority population. Instead the area is populated by Chaldo-Assyrians, Yezidis, Turkmen and Shabaks.
In 2005 the area suffered from widespread polling irregularities, so much so that an international observer presence was deemed necessary in 2009. Disconcertingly, the UNPO-ACE team learnt that they were the only international observation mission present in the entire, hotly contested, province.
This report outlines the findings and observations made by the OM over the course of five days spent in the Nineveh Plain area. It has been compiled using interviews, observations, and direct assessments of polling centre practice on the day of voting.
Despite the fact that the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) worldwide has far exceeded that of refugees, with the IDP figure in 2002 standing at between 20 to 25 million people, compared to that of 10.6 million refugees, paradoxically, a legal framework and a special institution exist for refugees whereas none exist for IDPs.2 In this context, Iraq too has seen its fair share of IDPs. As a result of Saddam Hussein’s Arabization policies millions of Iraqis, particularly members of religious or ethnic minorities, over the years were forcibly displaced from their homes in furtherance of these policies. The recent Iraq war has been no exception in this regard and according to UNHCR figures approximately 2 million Iraqis are now outside the country with another 2.2 million internally displaced. This paper will concentrate on some of the problems faced by Assyrian IDPs within Iraq set against the backdrop of both Iraq’s and the international community’s legal obligations towards them. Naturally, this should in no way be construed as downplaying the problems faced by all Iraqi IDPs however.
The right to vote in elections represents one of the most fundamental political rights a citizen can exercise and has now become entrenched in many international legal instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950, and many other regional legal instruments. The importance of this right is captured by the phrase ‘one (wo)man, one vote, one value,’ and in essence elections are the institutions by which the represented authorize their representatives to act for them.
The importance of this right cannot be overstated in new and fledgling democracies such as Iraq. After years of brutal oppression and persecution, the Iraqi people were finally given an opportunity in 2005 to participate in what were hoped to be fair and free elections for all Iraqis. Millions of Iraqis took advantage of their essential right to vote and went to the polls. Unfortunately, however, the enthusiasm which resulted from this new found freedom was not shared by hundreds of thousands of Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans or Syriacs) and a smaller number of other minorities such as Sabeans and Turkmen as reports emanating from Iraq, as corroborated by other international organisations, confirmed that voting irregularities and deficiencies on the day of voting denied them of their right to vote.
The aim of this paper is to raise awareness of the issues faced by Assyrians and other minorities in the Iraqi elections of 2005 which prevented them from voting and to propose possible ways in which the European Union (EU) can act and help the Iraqi government and the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI)
so as to prevent the events of 2005 which left hundreds of thousands of eager Iraqi citizens disappointed and without any redress from occurring in the upcoming provincial elections in Iraq which are scheduled to take place in October 2008.
Human Rights Reports, Political Resolutions & Other Documentation
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in the spring of 2003 the situation of the Iraqi people in general and the Assyrian community in particular in Iraq has caused particular concern on an international scale. It is generally accepted that although the situation of the Iraqi people had been regrettably dire following the fall of Saddam’s regime, the bombing of the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra in February 2006 marked a turning point in that ‘this incident led to targeted killings of thousands of Iraqis from both communities (i.e. Sunni and Shi’a) as well as other groups on the basis of their religious identity resulting in massive displacement of populations.’ This displacement crisis, according to Amnesty International, is now the fastest growing displacement crisis in the world with the number of displaced people now standing at 4.2 million.
The Assyrians, the indigenous inhabitants of Iraq and a predominantly Christian ethnic minority, have not been immune to such sectarian violence and have been particularly targeted in recent years as a result of their distinct ethnic and religious identity. The church bombings in 2004 are a case in point, but simply reflect just the tip of the iceberg.
Unfortunately, there still remains a large lacuna in the general public’s awareness and knowledge of the plight of Iraq’s Assyrian community and this is reflected by the paucity of media coverage on this issue in the western world together with a lack of initiative to resolve this issue within national and international political institutions. Although the recent resolutions emanating from the European Parliament and the Parliament of the United Kingdom, for which see chapter 2, are welcomed, it is clear that more must be done.
With this in mind, it has been felt necessary to compile a dossier containing various documents and information outlining the plight of Assyrians in Iraq with the hope that such a dossier can act as a reference tool for people to refer to when wanting to find out accurate information about this situation from reputable and reliable sources.