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Persecution of Assyrian Christians

Posted: Friday, June 09, 2000 at 05:44 PM CT

[Mr. GUTIERREZ] Mr. Speaker, I rise today to urge my colleagues to recognize the religious persecution and ethnic bigotry confronting the Assyrian Christian community in Eastern Turkey, Syria, Northern Iraq and Iran. As we consider the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act, I believe that the record should document our Nation's concern and commitment to stopping the violence and oppression facing the Assyrian people.

The Assyrian people have faced persecution throughout their history. As a religious and linguistic minority throughout the Near East, Assyrian Christians have long been the victims of violence and repression. Forced assimilation and gross brutality against this persevering people have occurred too often. From the murder of thousands of Assyrians by the Iraqi military in August of 1933, known as the Simele Massacre, to the recent attacks on Assyrian villages in Northern Iraq by Kurdish terrorist factions, the Assyrian people have and still continue to be the victims of violent persecution for their beliefs and values.

More than 30 Assyrians have been killed in Southeastern Turkey during the past three years. Assyrian Christians are caught in the escalating warfare that has long engulfed this crossroads at the head of two ancient rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. The conditions facing Assyrian Christians continue to deteriorate. It is also clear that our nation must do more to protect the Assyrian people, their unique culture and their religious freedoms.

Reports of religious intolerance toward members of the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Church of the East have been documented by United Nations (UN) human rights observers. The education of young Assyrians about their history and the traditions of their ancestors has been prevented by national and local authorities across the region. This persecution threatens the ability of Assyrians to

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freely practice their faith in their ancient homeland. I believe our Government should pursue a policy that works to end this blatant religious bigotry toward Assyrian Christians. We must work with local and national leaders in Turkey to demand that the religious and civil rights of the Assyrian people be protected under Turkish laws. We must continue to pressure the various Kurdish factions across the region to respect the rights and autonomy of individual Assyrian towns and villages. We must also maintain the safe zone in Northern Iraq, to ensure that Saddam Hussein's tyranny cannot cause further destruction of the Assyrian community.

The traditions and customs of the Assyrian people have endured for countless generations. Our Nation must do all it can to ensure that these proud people can continue to abide and thrive in their ancestral homeland for countless more.

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