[Europe Section, "Mtakasta"]
A National School
by Abdulmesih BarAbrahem, A Brief Review on the 40th Anniversary of ADO
This year the Assyrian Democratic Organization (ADO a.k.a. Mtakasta) is celebrating the 40th year of its establishment. The 15th of July, the day of its birth, marks The day of Reunification and Self-determination. This is a good opportunity for a brief review of the history and the accomplishments of an organization, that has spearheaded the process of the unity of our nation and its national awakening. But no sober appraisal of these four decades can ignore the unrelenting press on our existence in the Middle-East. A realistic assessment of Mtakasta's role in forging unity and nationalism must also consider the schism which the unity efforts has spawned within our community.
Birth of a National School (Madrashto Umthonayto)
Established in 1957, Mtakasta is the oldest among the Assyrian national and political organizations still active today. Its inception has to be regarded as a consequence of various political circumstances on the eve of its birth. The most significant ones are the following:
An awakening process of Assyrian self-consciousness characterized by ideas and actions intended to identify the place of Assyrians in the new Middle-Eastern world. This came in the wake of a 1ong silence fo11owing the 1915 genocide of our people by the Turks, Kurds and Persians. We then saw the formation of new states in our ancestral homeland, and the 1933 massacre of Semele, Iraq. Of course, the awakening process itself can be regarded as a continuation of what had existed several decades before. In principle and from Mtakasta's point of view, it is linked to the political ideas of prominent (western and eastern) Assyrian thinkers and leaders such as Dr. Ashur Yousif from Kharput (1858-1915), Malfono Naum Faiq (1868-1930), Mar Benyamin Shimun (1868-1918), Tuma Odo (1853-1918), Boulos Behnam (1916-1969), Dr. Freydoon Athoraya (1891-1925) and others.
We have to realize that throughout the 1950s, a strong reform movement existed among the Orthodox Assyrians/Suryoye, led by Farid Nuzha (+1971) and other western national intellectuals in Syria. Nuzha who emigrated to Argentina, published the magazine Hdonoyutho Suryayto (Assyrian/Suryoyo Union), from 1934 till 1959, featuring articles in Syriac, Arabic and Spanish. His magazine had readership in the Middle-East and there is no doubt that it influenced the political discussions on modern Assyrianism. Most of the intellectuals subscribed to this publication whose nationalistic path was aimed at all Assyrians, regardless of their appellation. Ties existed particularly to the western Assyrian nationalists in North America such as Joseph Durna with whom Nuzha shared similar visions and political views.
Assyrian nationalism in Syria must also be seen as a reaction to the increasing pressure on Assyrian identity through the growing Arabization policy of the 1950s. As we know, Syria and Jamal Abd Al-Nasir's Egypt formed an Arab union under the aegis of a socialist Arab ideology. This development and the related propaganda resulted in highly repressive actions against Western Assyrian existence in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. In fact, Syria and Egypt succeeded in establishing their union in 1958, but it lasted only till 1961, although the general aspirations and drive of the Baath party in particular was to unite all Arab countries. The intolerance of the Baath in regards to other ethnic groups and the denial of their national identity remains a threat till today.
For sure we can conclude that the above circumstances provided the political environment that urged a dedicated leader like the late Malfono Shoukri Charmoukli ( 1974), a devoted pupil of Naum Faiq, and other young and educated Assyrian nationalists of all ecclesiastical denominations to start an underground struggle to get organized against all odds and establish the Assyrian Democratic Organization (ADO, Mtakasto Othurayto Demokratoyto) as the first modern and democratic national and political Assyrian organization. Later ADO has been known by its synonym, 'The Organization' (or 'Mtakasto' in Turoyo). Its main objectives have been formulated in its political agenda and are primarily aimed at:
Unity, language, history and homeland (Athra) and the ultimate goal of Assyrian self-determination are the main pillars on which ADO's ideology is built upon. The methodology to reach these goals is progressive and deeply rooted in democracy and independence.
It is a difficult venture to try to summarize achievements of an organization that has been in underground for decades in Beth-Nahrin (at least it is not officially accepted) and whose activities became spread over several countries in the Diaspora over the last two and half decades. Nevertheless, obvious cultural and national developments can not be ignored. As a matter of fact, a closer look reveals that Mtakasta transformed over the last four decades from being a national organization towards a political organization. The reasons for this development are multi-fold and also driven by its own accomplishments.
As a result of the educational and national effort of ADO, today Assyrians in their homeland and particularly in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey have achieved and are proud of a strengthened national and cross-denominational identity. The annual public celebrations of Kha- bNisan festivities that attract tens of thousands of Assyrians from the whole country in Syria are a result of ADO's struggle in a repressive political environment and can not be disregarded or ignored by anybody. Another remarkable achievement was the election of an Assyrian representative (Bashir Saadi) to the people's Parliament of the Syrian Arab Republic in 1990 for the first time in the history of the country. It has to be mentioned that Bashir Saadi won in a democratic election against eight (!) other candidates from our own community. This has proven the strong basis Mtakasta has in the homeland.
On the cultural front Mtakasta's efforts resulted in the initiation of a systematic revival of the Syriac language and in the early 1960s in the creation of Western Assyrian music (Turoyo) which did not exist before! This is highly important, since music is one of the marks of identity in a nation. For a small nation such as ours, the latter is a revolutionary achievement.
In various ways, ADO has to be regarded as the forerunner which paved the way for other Assyrian organizations in the national arena and in the political struggle. Its broad and advanced political ideas and methodology served as an example for other organizations established later. Specifically, ADO contributed to the establishment of Assyrian political organizations in Iraq and was present with 'Se'ta Spreta' in the founding congress of the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA) in 1968 in Pau/France. Because of its reasonable approach and its realistic assessment of the 'Assyrian Question' in general it retained its appeal for new generations and therefore it has been successful in maintaining continuity for the last four decades, and furthermore, even while adopting new political ideas. From today's perspective, we can conclude that Mtakasta has served as the most effective national school (Madrashto Umthonayto) for several generations. In the sixties, the national and political ideas of ADO reached the intellectual and academic circles in Turkey. As a result, cultural groups and associations were established in Midyat (Tur-Abdin) and Istanbul.
The establishment of the Assyrian organizations in Europe with their broad activities has to be regarded as a further evidence of the vitality of Mtakasta. Today, Mtakasta has internal and external publications and is well established in Europe and it has succeeded in creating an Assyrian lobby in the European arena. Furthermore, on an international level it has been the initiator of the Assyrian membership in the UNPO that it shares with the AUA.
In Europe, the first Assyrian social and cultural clubs were founded in the early seventies in Germany and Sweden. Assyrian students and activists of the ADO served basically as crystallization circles for the earliest national activities in Europe. With the increasing number of people immigrating into these countries, the need for social and cultural activities grew rapidly. EGARTHO (The Letter) was the first Assyrian Magazine that was published by Mtakasta activists in Europe, 1976 in Germany. The magazine became later the voice of the Federation. Assyrian Federations were later established in Sweden, Germany and Holland. Mtakasta with its leadership and educated cadres in all of these organizations provides critical support to the nationa1 agenda. While the Assyrian language (Syriac) was accepted early on as an official teaching and learning language by the Swedish Government, in Germany the joint efforts of Mtakasta and the Federation gave the Assyrian youth an equal opportunity to learn the Syriac/Aramaic language officially as a mother tongue at schools at cities of their settlement.
Mtakasta and Assyrian Political Organizations
ADO has been always convinced that our people must be nationally educated and politically mature in order to support their political cause. Driven by this conviction, it has supported various cultural and political groups, their consolidation and cooperated with them when needed. In the early 1960s it established contacts to 'Se'ta Sepreta' in Iran and welcomed the formation of the AUA and its broad unity idea. It worked closely from early years with the AUA and continues doing so in the context of the UNPO partnership. Similarly, ADO helped with the establishment of the political groups in Iraq, and contributed to the first political agenda developed in early 1970s specifically for Iraq, which served a basis for later movements. ADO's broad view in these matters and its understanding goes beyond the organizational-centric philosophies that are usually adopted by other organizations.
In 1985, ADO called for the first Assyrian united front. After several meetings with major organizations, the main objectives and some action points were formulated in 1986. Finally a 'United Front' was established including major political organizations which worked together for several years. Right after the 2nd Gulf War, ADO and ADM issued an agreement of cooperation, urged by the new political circumstances created in Iraq. This was a consequence of the common national views shared by both organizations. ADO helped ADM, when help was most needed. This help was unconditional. As a matter of fact, ADO was one of the first Assyrian organizations which helped and initiated further support for the mass of refugees who fled to Turkey, Syria, Iran and Jordan after the 2nd Gulf War. ADO has been a strong voice for the Assyrian cause in northern Iraq. It initiated reports and press activities in Europe. It supported massively humanitarian (medical and socia1) and cultural projects (e. g. school materials) and provided aid for rebuilding Assyrian villages. ADO is continuing these efforts because it considers this as a national duty.
Following the events in Iraq, and the elections in North Iraq, ADO realized that the Assyrian United Front ('Awyutha ') has not been very successful in coordinating Assyrian efforts and mobilizing the masses in a wise politica1 fashion while things were changing rapidly. Mtakasta got more and more unsatisfied with most of the actions pursued by this front. But to be clear on one thing: For ADO a political , disagreement with one organization does not diminish its commitment to continue support for the national cause and the Assyrian people - no matter where they live. This is based on the conviction that no single organization owns the ´Assyrian cause´, but it is the people who own it!
Some Critical Remarks
The most important reasons for the unhappy situation described above was the Awyutha's lack of a comprehensive political agenda. Things have been continuously deteriorating by the non-constructive atmosphere, caused by ADM's consistent refusal to provide more political transparency (not to say openness) on its undertakings in northern Iraq and to accept a thorough evaluation of Assyrian involvement there, particularly with the Kurds. Further reasons were the weakness of the other three organizations, namely Bet-Nahrin Democratic Party (BNDP/Iraq), Assyrian Liberation Movement (ALM), and AUA's Political Wing, their lack of having a clear political and national agenda, and the backbone to criticize ADM even when they knew that its political positions were wrong. Ironically, one of ADM's representatives described the situation of these three organizations with the following words: They are bankrupt and their own existence is subject to their membership in the Awyutha.
Events since September 1996 reveal that the Assyrian involvement with the Kurds in northern Iraq was lacking a solid foundation. Partly, it was based on the hope to be the 'tip on the scale' between the two tribal Kurdish parties. Obviously, this is not a basis for building a future. Furthermore, Assyrians have paid a high price for this course. In the last couple years more Assyrians have been assassinated in the North than in comparable periods. The most serious one remains the assassination of Francis Shabo, member of the Parliament. His case remains obscure; no report has been ever published by the so-called investigation committee of which ADM was part of. Since ADM claims to be member of the Kurdistan Government and a 'partner' of the Kurds, it must therefore accept also part of the blame for the series of attacks against Assyrians. It is important to realize, that Assyrians in northern Iraq politically find themselves again back in square one!
In regards to the Front (Awyutha) and its current condition, is visible, that it has been a weak shadow of the existing Assyrian politica1 power. With major Assyrian organizations not participating in it, even its legitimacy remains questionable. Its main purpose has been to assure the donation of money from the Assyrian Federation in the US to Zowaa's offshoot Aid Society. With both wings of Bet-Nahrain Democratic Party (BNDP) in process of unifying, 'Awyutha' becomes an isolated effort.
ADO believes that Assyrians succeeded enormously in building up the 'nationalism movement' in the past few decades. But now we realize that as people of a living nation we have failed on the political front. The massive exodus of our people from states currently existing in Bet-Nahrin, is the best evidence for this failure, even though Assyrian organizations can not be fully blamed for that. The reasons are beyond the scope of this review.
Mtakasta tried to oppose the emigration process by various projects. It has been very difficult, but partly successful. Another important factor for the political failure is our divided identity: We still identify ourselves based upon our Christian denominations, backgrounds, or even tribal association. An Assyrian solution must include all different religions and denominations of our population.
In a retrospect, ADO believes that it was a mistake to vehemently oppose those who did not agree with the name Athouraye. Because of this unrealistic approach our national movement suffered a major setback. Adding to that is the recently observed arrogance of some representatives of Zowaa who not only believe to represent the whole nation but also see themselves in a position to question our Assyrianism, because we hesitate to support their unclear political undertakings.
As a mission, Mtakasta must continue actively a broader national approach, a unity process that includes the Chaldeans, Maronites and Melkites regardless of the appellations used. It has to pursue a new approach in this field. We should be aware, that there will not be an absolute unity like many people dream of, because there are always groups which benefit from the current situation.