WikiLeaks: 2005-02-11: 05ANKARA800: Assyrian Christians in Iran: Looking for a Way Out
Viewing cable 05ANKARA800, ASSYRIAN CHRISTIANS IN IRAN: LOOKING FOR A WAY OUT
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UNCLAS ANKARA 000800 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PHUM PGOV CVIS IR SUBJECT: ASSYRIAN CHRISTIANS IN IRAN: LOOKING FOR A WAY OUT ¶1. SUMMARY. Two deacons of the Assyrian Christian church in Iran told Conoff that although Assyrians in Iran do not experience outright harassment, most of the small Assyrian community that remains seek to emigrate due to the lack of economic opportunities. END SUMMARY. FEW ASSYRIANS REMAIN IN IRAN ---------------------------- ¶2. The two deacons - from Orumiyeh (the traditional center for Assyrians in Iran) and Tehran - were interviewed in February after receiving immigrant visas to work at a branch of the church in the US. Each described their respective congregations as consisting of around 1,000 people who attend on major holidays, with 50-100 regularly attending services on Sunday. Overall, they estimated that 15,000 Assyrian Christians remain in Iran, down from 32,000 listed in Iran's 1976 census. Other estimates available in the press place the number of Assyrians in Iran at 10-11,000. NO HARASSMENT, BUT ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES LIMITED --------------------------------------------- ----- ¶3. The deacons stated that they personally had never faced harassment from the police or authorities, and had not heard of any stories of harassment of Assyrians. The greatest concern for the community is the lack of employment opportunities within the government. The economic situation of their congregations varies widely based on the type of work in trade and light industry they are able to find. The only problem related to religion they mentioned was that regular church attendance is low because Sunday is a workday in Iran. ¶4. The deacons were uninterested in Iranian politics and neutral towards their political representation in parliament. They felt that their representative was trying to advance the position of Assyrians in Iran, but that he was not effective. In December 2004, Yunaten Betkolya, the Assyrian representative in the Majlis, was quoted praising the treatment of religious minorities in Iran and criticizing the US human rights record in Iraq. LITTLE HOPE FOR THE FUTURE -------------------------- ¶5. When asked about their communication with Assyrian communities outside Iran, they said they are in active communication, particularly with groups in Australia and Canada, but receive little support. Again, they were pessimistic that financial aid or other support could do anything to improve the status of Assyrians in Iran. ¶6. They stated that most Assyrians in Iran are interested in leaving the country, and that those who have not left have not pursued refugee status because they don't have the financial resources to do so. Overall, they had little identification with Iran as a whole and stated that they consider themselves Assyrians first, then Iranians. EDELMAN