[Europe Section, "Mtakasta"]
An Exclusive ZENDA Interview with Ninos
by Zenda, May 27, 1997
ZENDA Online Newspaper, California USA, interviewed Mr. Ninos Gaboro, the Assyrian Democratic Organization (Mtakasta) representative in the U.S. and Canada, in Sunnyvale, California. The following is a complete text of this interview translated from Assyrian:
(Z): Mr. Gaboro, thank you for offering us some time from your busy schedule.
(G): I like to thank ZENDA for giving me the opportunity to talk about ADO and my own convictions on the future of Assyrian politics. I do not receive ZENDA regularly but I have read a few issues and have enjoyed them very much.
(Z): When did you first become involved in the Assyrian politics?
(G): Since 1962, when I first joined ADO.
(Z): In your opinion what are the most important social and political challenges Assyrian activists face every day?
(G): Assyrians succeeded in building up the "nationalism" movement in the past few decades. But now we realize that we have failed on the political front. Unaware of one another's positions and goals, the Assyrian parties struggle against one another. Another important factoris our divided identity: Many still identify themselves based upon their Christian denomination, and/or their affiliation to the countries they lived in, and even upon tribal association.
(Z): Why do you think such is the case?
(G): This is a two thousand year old problem. Our political organizations are influenced by the culture that governs the Middle-East where most Assyrians live. Many of the Assyrians have not been able yet to free themselves from the mentality of the authoritarian schools of the Middle-East, where the ideology of egalitarianism is nonexistent. Our activists are still following the general rules of policy-making and governance based upon the Iranian, Turkish, and Arab political ideologies. The Assyrian political leaders should go back to their drawing board and genuinely ask themselves: Why are our political parties so weak and lack the support of our people? How can we expect to effectuate a change if our own people do not support us?
(Z): What should be the immediate solution to this problem then?
(G): We have to take a realistic stand and should use our brain, not our heart. We must let our people decide the future of our nation and not individual political leaders that have less than 1 percent support of our people.
(Z): This is clearly a major shift from our current political parties' position. Does ADO truly believe in such a change?
(G): ADO now realizes that to save our nation from a complete self-destruction we all need to utilize a totally different approach, namely letting the people exercise political power and gather all segments of our people.
(Z): Then what would be the future role of our political parties if the decision-making was put in the hands of our people?
(G): Our political parties should have a true conviction and a clear vision so that our people can make a choice whom to follow and why. Our politicians ought to help bring about the following four changes:
1. concentrate on minimizing
dispersion of our peoples, especially from the Middle-East.
2. actively involve the educated segment of our society in the decision-making process and any other political and economic aspects of our lives. As we say in Assyrian "emotions do not make a leader", therefore we have an obligation to engage rational-thinking individuals at the forefront of our political and social struggles. We have always been confronting our shortcomings with our emotions and never rationalizing the causes and effects of our conditions. Our political parties in the past 50 years have been reacting to the events taking place in the Middle-East. We need to stop reacting and be proactive in our approaches to everyday problems at home. This requires us to develop a long-term plan for the future of our people at home and abroad. There is a big difference between wishing for something to happen and making it happen. It's time for us to make things happen.
3. gain economic power, and
4. organize ourselves more effectively. I suggest that we begin from the lowest common denominator and slowly move up. I like to remind you that inarguably we all come from the same ethnic roots and have the same fate.
(Z): How do you define someone as a "political leader?"
(G): A political leader has a clear conviction, principals and vision of tomorrow and he or she will follow his/her convictions to reach thisvision.
(Z): By that definition do you believe that our current political leaders can be truly characterized as leaders?
(G): It takes a man to admit a mistake. Not many of us have the clear vision and the convictions necessary to produce a more effective political and social value. The leaders of our nation, must remove any hints of selfishness from their characters and serve our people as true public servants. Attimes our egos are bigger than our nation. If this goes on there will be no nation to which upon we can base our unfounded egos.
(Z): Who are these "people" that you propose to hand over the "decision-making" role of our politicians?
(G): There are a lot of capable people in this great nation. We need our intellectuals to get involve regardless of their denominational affiliation. These include the largest group, the Maronites in Lebanon, followed by the Melkites in Syria and Lebanon, and the Chaldeans in Iraq. An Assyrian solution must include all denominations of our population.
(Z): Often we hear that the groups you just mentioned in your previous response dislike the term "Assyrian" or "Athouraya." How do you propose we can solve this issue?
(G): I do not think they dislike it; they have been using different related names for different reasons. But that is one of our problems we can only solve this in a civilized way.
(Z): What can our political activists do today to help implement your solutions?
(G): By contacting individuals who have the knowledge, experience, and the know-how from every religious denominations, institutions, and groups that we never approached before. ADO, for one, will listen to everyone's comment, suggestion, and ideology with an open mind. I am certain that we can all reach the same conclusion if we give each other the opportunity to openly and honestly discuss our situation.
(Z): The public perception of Mtakasta is that it's mainly a "Syrian-Assyrian" political movement. How do you plan to change this perception?
(G): By educating every Assyrian around the world about what ADO stands for. Although ADO was established in Syria, Bet-Nahrain, ADO has branches in more than 15 countries. Any interested Assyrian knows the facts, but we need to do more.
(Z): Explain the role that Assyrians play in northern Iraq in relation to other minorities and neighboring countries.
(G): He who does not know his own history, does not know who he is!. Under the current circumstances, the Assyrian cannot do much. In order to be effective and part of the power of the region, two pre-conditions must be met: Number and military power. Currently, Assyrians are out-numbered and out-powered. Additionally, Assyrians are caught between the Kurds in the North and the central government in the South. The problem is that some of our people speak in a way, as though they are about to re-establish "Atour" in the North while they continue to call our homeland "Kurdistan. " Also, they refer to Iraq as Bet-Nahrain and ignore other parts of the Middle-East which do lie within the greater Bet-Nahrain. What else can you expect from leaders who do not even know the history of our nation. Iraq is just one portion of Bet-Nahrain. How can we ask for our human rights when we do not even include our birth places as territories within our sanctioned settlements. Bet-Nahrain is the land encompassing the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. It includes both Syria and Iraq. In 1920 -there was no Iraq and yet Bet-Nahrain had been there for thousands of years. Had Saddam succeeded in taking Kuwait, would that have meant that the region of Bet-Nahrain had suddenly increased in size also? On the contrary, had the Turks taken over the Mosul Vilayet in the early part of this century would the size of Bet-Nahrain had decreased as a result? The answer to both questions is negative. Bet-Nahrain embraces an area independent of the established borders of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. This is why I say repeatedly that had we told our people the truth they would have not had such high expectations as they do now. Today, they are completely demoralized. I do not think that this is the choice the Assyrian people had hoped for. Everyone has to understand that we have to get all segments of our people mentioned above involved in the decision-making so we become strong enough to be part of the equation in the region. Otherwise we are still wasting another opportunity.
(Z): Does ADO have an active presence in Iran and Iraq?
(G): In the 1960's we had a successful collaboration with "Seeta Sapreta" (Assyrian Cultural Society; forerunner of the Assyrian Universal Alliance established in 1967). Later it was decided that we will not have a presence in that country. In Iraq, due to the shaky Iraqi-Syrian relationship we were unable to form an effective presence. On the other hand, note that one of the groups that helped form the ADM was the ADO branch of Iraq. We wanted something to happen in Iraq. ADO asked the branch in Iraq to assist in the creation of Zowaa, which they did. We would do that with any legitimate Assyrian organization, and help strengthen it.
(Z): Can you tell us about the current relationship between Mtakasta and Zowaa?
(G): ADO helped Zowaa when they desperately needed it. We helped them unconditionally and we will continue to do so. It is the national duty of every Assyrian individual or organization to help our people in the North. This, on the other hand, does not mean that we agree with the political decisions made by the Zowaa leadership. Then again, we will continue to help our people in the North. The cause of our people is greater than either Zowaa or Mtakasta.
(Z): How would you describe Zowaa's perception of Mtakasta?
(G): Ask Zowaa!
(Z): Why do you think Awyutha (Assyrian National Alliance) fail?
(G): In order to have an Assyrian front there must be a clear national and political agenda that all parties agree upon. This was not the case with Awyutha. All they agreed on was to invite Zowaa delegation and raise money for Zowaa. I think that this ought to be the role of the Assyrian Aid Society. All we and other parties accomplished was to demoralize our people. The Assyrian people no longer trust the leadership of our political parties. I am basically referring to all Assyrian political parties here. When Awyutha gathered to discuss issues, we hardly agreed on anything. But we kept telling to our people that all Assyrian political parties stand united. Delegates to the so-called "Alliance" for instance would tell us their unity is just a joke. And yet, hours later the same members would go to the podium inviting other groups and parties to join in their "unity. " This is utter hypocrisy; we are deceiving none but our own people. Our fellow Assyrians must be made aware of such mendacity and "brought to light. " Zowaa made it clear to us that they will not include any other Assyrian political organization in a decision-making concerning the Assyrian people. Zowaa leader believe that they are the sole representatives of the Assyrian people in the Iraq. There are over one million Assyrians living in Iraq, of which only small fraction, is comprised of Zowaa sympathizers. There needs to be a long-term strategy for the survival of our people planned and implemented in the North. Collecting donations is not enough. We have a great deal of respect for our people who have helped our cause to continue by participating in every front. But this is the same mentality of authoritarian regimes in the Middle-East. If other organization accept this and can work under such conditions, we wish them success. We cannot.
(Z): What changes would you had made in the 1950's and 60's if you knew then what you know now?
(G): First, in the early days, ADO had a very difficult time dealing with our people's use of different names. This was mainly due to our enthusiasmin vehemently opposing those who did not agree with the name 'Athouraya'; that was a mistake. Instead we should have dealt with the reality, that the majority of our people do not use the term Athouraya. Actually that should not be a prerequisite. Second, we also aliened ourselves with the Kurds without clear agenda from so-called "our friends" only to liberate Athour and handed over to the Kurds. We should work with other progressive forces to bring democracy to the region.
(Z): Mr. Gaboro, I like to thank you on behalf of the staff of ZENDA and our hundreds of weekly readers for your time and honest responses. We would like to end this interview with one last question: What has made you change your political beliefs as you so eloquently explained?
(G): I have not changed my political beliefs. I was an idealist; I'm now a realist.