News in Bet-Nahren, Assyria

The Fate of Karkuk
by Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) - May 5, 2000.
Posted: Wednesday, May 31, 2000 06:44 pm CST


KIRKUK, Iraq (AINA) - Recent reports have uncovered a proposal by the Iraqi government to resettle up to a half-million Palestinian refugees from various Middle Eastern countries into the Karkuk area of northern Iraq (AINA 04-01-2000). The probability of placing an already destitute, persecuted and disenfranchised refugee population in the midst of the smoldering cauldron of ethnic strife in northern Iraq has not escaped the Palestinian leadership. On February 24, 2000 Mr. Hassan Abdel Rahman of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in Washington declared the PNA's opposition to the plan. Clearly concerned about the prospects of wedging his refugee civilian population between the Arabizing policies of the central government and the ethnocidal policies of Sorani-Behdanani-Kurmanji tribesmen, Mr. Rahman stated that the "Palestinian Authority was opposed to any form of ethnic cleansing as a basis for the settlement of refugees."

The response from Sorani and Behdanani tribal leaders has been quite ironic. Sensing a threat to their ill-gotten Assyrian lands and the extensive oil resources contained therein, the Sorani and Behdanani leadership have now become self-described victims of "ethnic cleansing and Arabization" by the central government of Iraq. The Sorani-Behdanani leadership's inconsistency conveniently neglects to address ethnic cleansing of Assyrians by the central government as well as by these same Sorani and Behdanani tribes.

Well known to Sorani and Behdanani political elites is the fact that in the 1970's over 200 Assyrian villages were destroyed by the central government and then subsequently resettled by Sorani and Behdanani tribesmen often related to the tribal hierarchy of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). More recently, over 50 Assyrian villages have been expropriated by various Sorani and Behdanani tribes since the Gulf War. Attacks aimed at expelling Assyrians from their ancestral villages have continued in the Nahla region (AINA 10-16-1999) despite KDP denials. Facing an erosion of international sympathy for the Sorani-Behdanani tribes as ethnically persecuted minorities, some militants have even compelled vulnerable, unarmed Assyrian villagers to deny attacks against their villages (AINA 01-21-2000) despite confirmation by international organizations.

In a November 8, 1999 press release published by the Kurdish Observer, the Mayor of Aqra, Mr. Rasheed Hussein Ahmad also attempted to deny the ongoing attacks against the nearby Assyrian villages in Nahla. The denial, however, was accompanied by an historic admission regarding attacks against Assyrian villages. Referring to the destruction of Assyrian villages during the previous conflict between the central government and Sorani and Behdanani tribes, Mr. Ahmad acknowledged that "Indeed, the Assyrian villages were evacuated, and in an attempt to instigate division between the Kurds and Assyrians, the Iraqi regime repopulated these villages with Kurdish factions allied with the regime." Conspicuously absent from the Mayor's statement was an explanation of any concrete steps taken by the KDP and its subordinate regional government to repatriate Assyrians to their ancestral homes or pay just compensation especially in the past ten years when the KDP administered that territory. Nor was there an explanation for the continued expropriation of over 50 additional Assyrian villages following the Gulf War and the subsequent institution of the "Safe Haven."

Sorani, Behdanani and Arab claims on historic Assyrian cities and villages have continued. Claims on Karkuk are especially infuriating to Assyrians. Having historically suffered and survived wave after wave of slaughter and persecution, Karkuk Assyrians continue to inhabit the city. The most infamous massacre of Assyrians was recorded in 448 A.D. when the Persian King Yasdegard II executed 10 Assyrian bishops and 153,000 clergy and laity in "several consecutive days of slaughter on the mound of Karka d'Bait Sluk (Karkuk). Local tradition still asserts that the red gravel of the hillock was stained that color by the martyrs' blood, and the martyrium built over the bodies remains to this day. (Introduction to the History of the Assyrian Church page 138)"

Founded as an Assyrian city millennia ago and having sacrificed hundreds of thousands of martyrs, Karka d'Bait Sluk (Karkuk) remains forever etched in the collective consciousness of the Assyrian people. Whether illegally settled by Soranis, Behdananis, or Palestinians, Karkuk remains essential to the Assyrian national awareness and identity.

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