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Interview with Mr. Romel Gewargis Eliah the Assistant Representative to Zowaa in America and Canada
by Marian Younan - December, 1998
Posted: Friday, June 09, 2000 06:17 pm CST

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Romel Gewargis Eliah, the Assistant Representative to Zowaa in America and Canada. Mr. Eliah was born in Baghdad and is a Mechanical Engineer. He moved to Chicago about 1 year and 7 months ago.

The following is a direct translation of my interview with this amazing man. I noticed during our conversation, that he did most of the translating himself for me, him being fluent in several languages, including Aramaic, Arabic and English. Aside from my own impression that here was a well-learned, well-read man, I also sensed his extreme love for our nation. And beyond all of that, a profound optimism that is rooted in the reality of the situation in Bet Nahrain. The following are Mr. Eliahís words:

Q) In your opinion, what is the current political situation in our homeland regarding the Assyrians there?

"First of all, when there is a chance for one nation to work in one place, maybe that place is not ideal, but when that opportunity arrives, we must take it! For instance, in Baghdad, we canít work under the Assyrian name due to the government and surrounding countries in the Middle East. But now we have that chance in our Homeland. That chance is conflicting, difficult and not always smooth, but our voices are louder there.

Weíve learned from history that when we raise our voices in one place, there will be pioneers who must work to raise that voice. Now, when that voice gets louder, it may not be in conjunction with the wishes and numbers of the general population."

"In Northern Iraq, Zowaa was able to foster a belief, a hope, to participate in the legislative/executive branches of the very government which is now controlling the North. This is the current situation in Northern Iraq:

Zowaa is a party which is participating in the Iraqi opposition. Zowaaís objective is a democratic free Iraq, which recognizes the rights of Assyrians in their ancestral homeland.

These objectives are realistic, they are accepted as such by both the Iraq opposition and the Iraqi people. The reality lies in the connection between our identity as Assyrians and our nationality as Iraqi citizens. And this reality becomes more prevalent when Zowaa distinguishes between the aspirations level and the practical level in the concept of national interest. We believe that in the political field, sometimes we announce some objectives that we can do, but these objectives are simply means for future, long-range goals. In all of this, the reality becomes apparent when you announce the objectives that are the social/political/cultural capabilities of a nation. There are two things, Theory: which is a democratic free Iraq, and the Reality, which is a process of trial and error."

"In the reality of Zowaa, we have a foothold on the soil of Iraq. We have gained acceptance, stepped on the right path. Maybe our steps are small, maybe they are not what our Omta wants, but they are on the right path. And those steps are very determined, and with that determination, we must continue on this path. We have been accepted, but there is still opposition. Itís in the interest of any nation to work for itself and stand in opposition to threatening forces. As Assyrians, we must be intelligent and think of the present and the future in terms of those opposing forces. We must hold our own against them. We must draw close and raise up against any threatening force which threatens the brilliant ring of Assyrians in order to progress into the future. We see, that the future of politics in Northern Iraq, we might face some difficulties. We are preparing our selves for those changes, and we are hoping that Omta will support us. But with all of this, we would like to acknowledge that we are working with the Kurds, not so that we may take our right from them, but we are working with the Kurds and the Arabs in the north so that we may have a pluralistic, free democracy, with various nations/parties. We will be respected and recognized by our country of origin, and be happy in that state."

Q) What is the current social/cultural climate in North Iraq?

"Every nation, in order to survive, must do so on the basis of NATIONAL VALUES. National Values are those things that exist to foster our social/political/cultural identity. Zowaa has a large role in the keeping of our National Values, such as language, culture, and the connection of our people to the soil, and the return of our cultural traditions (Awatit Nissan.) These all empower and give hope to our people living there, and also keep our customs/traditions alive as it has been for thousands of years."

"Zowaa accomplishes these values through a number of ways: The Assyrian Cultural Center, which serves as the meeting place for visiting scholars, lectures, dialogues, and houses a extensive library. The Media Center is the center of our broadcasting programs, and includes a TV station, with programs every day, a radio station, a newspaper and magazine. The programming includes cultural/historical information, interviews with various people, and news updates. These are all in our own language. These types of programs all play a huge role in fostering the traditions of our people, by giving them the tools and facilities to keep their national identity strong in their homeland."

Q) What is the current status of education in North Iraq?

"In 1992, negotiations on the subject of Assyrian education began in the Kurdistan parliament. Assyrian members of that parliament, that are Zowaa members, argued for, and received, primary school and secondary school acceptance. So we began teaching, and once our students reached the sixth grade, it was time to extend their education in our mother tongue (lashana id yima) beyond that level into high school. Zowaa once again played an important role in the planning for this High School. At the same time, the parents of these sixth grade students also played an important role in standing up for the education of their children." "And so now, we bus about 52 students into Dohuk (Nohadra, the school is called Nisibin.) The students come in from Sarsink, Perzaveh, Komanah, Deralok, and Deana. We give these students housing in dorms, food etc., for the week, and they go home to visit their families on the weekends.

Along with these 52 students, there are 140 others who already live in Dohuk and are also are in the same class in this high school, learning in the Aramaic language. The principal of the school is Mr. Bahmoud Hanna Shimoun. We would like to thank all of the participators that made This school a reality, including the mayor of Arbil, Mr. Franso Al-Hariri and many other supporters."

Q) Can you comment on the status of Children/ Youth in North Iraq?

"Following the economic sanctions against Iraq, many hardships fell on the Iraqi people, including, of course the Assyrians who live there also. Our children and our youth have many needs: clothes, food, medicine, books, games, and entertainment. These are all scarce, there is a severe shortage. But on the other hand, there are many beautiful things that they have in plenty: our children are learning in their own language, the generation gap between parents and children in our homeland is very small, and they can take pride in our nation." "Even if these things are not material, they all have meaning in life. In fact, the secret of life does not lie in the material, but that we live for something, that life itself holds meaning for us. From this view, there are of course negatives, but there are also positives in our current situation. It is the responsibility of the entire nation to strengthen those positives and lessen the negatives."

Q) What are some of the critical factors facing the Assyrians in the next millenium?

"In our long history, until the second half of this century, our national demographics lay in one specific region: a geographical area located North West of Iran, South of Turkey, North of Iraq, and East of Syria. Demographically, we were simply not as dispersed as we are today (especially as we have been in the latter half of the century). Today we are in a state of Diaspora, with one-half our nation residing in Europe, America and Canada, Australia, and the other half of our nation residing in our homeland. But we must not forget that the technological information and communications revolution is making our world smaller."

"Thatís one side, the other side is that this technological/scientific wave of the future is different, the thoughts of the world today are different from yesterday. The future includes states taking their place in democracy, the call for human rights will increase, diplomacy will take the place of violence, International Law will reign, and with that, economic competition will have effect for a peaceful change in the world. We will see the UN strengthen itís international role. Thatís another factor in the future."

"The first factor, our Diaspora, is of course, detrimental to our people. But the second factor, the wave of technology, can serve to empower our people. Because our nation is a peaceful peoples in the Mid-East, the future is in the best interest of our people. The things are that are taking place today in the homeland are putting a foundation/basis for the future of our national and the furthering of our national cause. The nationalist awakening of our people today is much better than 50-100 years ago, even if it is not fully organized, because we are awakened now. Our capabilities are much more focused now Than they were 50-100 years ago."

"If we ask as Omtanaya, ĎWhere are our national interests? Where is our national security?í We will put forth the plans we need and the specific strategies to achieve those plans. But if we do not have cooperation if we do not support each other, if we are narrow-minded, we will forget the bigger picture and regress (go back). Everything is within our power, our hands. If we are strong, we can do anything. If we are weak, our opposing forces can enter easily into our nation and destroy us. I think in the coming millenium, we will continue to evolve. And so people donít think Iím being too optimistic, I want to say to those people that the strongest optimism is that which is borne of the deepest past pessimism, that which has seen it all, felt it all, and remains hopeful and optimistic."

Q) What is the connection between Assyrians living in the West and Assyrians in the Homeland?

"It has been said here in the West that Assyrians living in our Homeland are the roots, and we in the west are the branches. If they are finished, we will die out also. This thought is simply one side of the coin, the other side is: if we are not organized and supportive in the west, those problems that plague our social/cultural clubs here will weaken our peoples in our homeland. We must work for positive changes in the west also because those changes have a direct effect on our people in Bet-Nahrain. With our strength here, we can empower them, but only if we know how to unify and organize ourselves. And since we are all sons and daughters of the same nation, it is our duty here to understand the complete circumstances of their life in our homeland."

"Since we have a political party, Zowaa, which we all know, even with all of our ills, it is an active party, a active entity, an active cell in our Assyrian body, raising the hope of more opportunity. Through Zowaa our hope is strengthening our nation, breaking the silence of our nation in the international arena. Our gains are in moving forward, our only loss is if we do nothing at all."

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