AINA - The sudden release of Youkhana Khaie on September 16th by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has been a major cause for celebration for Assyrians throughout Iraq as well as in Diaspora. However, Youkhana's release has left many disturbing and unanswered questions.
Youkhana Khaie is a 32 year old Assyrian resident of northern Iraq who was abducted on April 5, 2001 by KDP security agents. Youkhana was initially not allowed visitors, was hidden from visitation by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and was severely tortured. Throughout his agonizing ordeal, Youkhana was kept in solitary confinement, sometimes bound, and was not formally charged until late August, after Assyrian organizations and activists pointed out that there was no formal charge filed against Mr. Khaie.
The abduction and torture of Youkhana raised a firestorm of anger and protest by Assyrians in Europe and North America and prompted an official inquiry by the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA) Secretary General Senator John Nimrod. Inquiries by European parliamentarians as well as the U.S. State Department and Amnesty International (AI) highlighted the importance of this highly charged case. Ultimately, Youkhana's release is seen as a major diplomatic victory for the AUA as well as for Assyrian activism, most notably of the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Association. In his official response to the AUA inquiry, KDP strongman Mr. Barzani had suggested that "On your appeal, we would advise the authorities to consider his (Youkhana's) case on humanitarian grounds."
In an official AUA press release dated September 17, 2001, former Illinois State Senator John Nimrod noted that "Mr. Youkhana Khaieâ€™s trial was scheduled for September 2, 2001, however it was postponed and no new date had been set. We can only assume that his case has been dismissed..." It remains unclear whether charges against Youkhana were fully dropped or whether he still faces prosecution. Quite troubling for the international community, however, is that no official statement or explanation was provided by the KDP regarding the release of Youkhana. There have been no indications to date regarding a formal apology to Mr. Khaie for the savage and disfiguring beatings he suffered and the five months of solitary confinement he endured. There has been no public pledge to investigate his KDP torturers or to bring them to justice. Most troubling, however, is that there has been no formal KDP renunciation of torture as acceptable policy instrument. To date the only KDP statemen! t regarding Youkhana's torture was that the accusations were "exaggerated."
Fears for the safety of Youkhana and his family remain a major concern. During Youkhana's abduction, the Khaie family reported to AI that they had been threatened that any complaint to international organizations would lead to even harsher treatment for Youkhana. Even after intense international attention improved Youkhana's conditions during the last weeks of his abduction, Youkhana's father still had to travel outside the KDP occupied area to relay information to Youkhana's sister in Chicago. Now that Youkhana is out of the public eye and KDP custody, there is concern that KDP "hit squads" may attempt to exact revenge for the political embarrassment suffered by the KDP.
Questions also remain regarding the veracity of KDP charges regarding Youkhana's alleged ties to the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK). According to Assyrian political observers, the fallout from international criticism and the accompanying political cost proved too great. One Assyrian analyst noted "There really was no evidence of Youkhana's ties to the PKK; but, then again, the KDP has never before needed proof for their unsupervised and unmonitored show trials." The general consensus remains that if there had been proof, Youkhana would have never been released.
Youkhana Khaie's case represents the second well-publicized occasion that the KDP used fabricated Assyrian ties to the PKK as a pretext for terrorizing Assyrians in northern Iraq (AINA 11-30-1999). In 1999, KDP paramilitary bands embarked on midnight terror raids of Assyrian villages in the Nahla region of northern Iraq, ostensibly in retaliation for Assyrian assistance to the PKK. At that time as well, the KDP suffered a political embarrassment when denials of the beating of unarmed civilians were contradicted by United Nations (UN) and ICRC monitors. Although the blood feud between the predominantly Kurmanji tribes of the PKK and the Behdanani tribes of the KDP have become a convenient pretext for human rights abuses against Assyrians, in neither case did the allegations tying Assyrians to the PKK pass international scrutiny.
In their earlier signed complaint with AI, the Khaie family explicitly stated that the reason for Youkhana's abduction was that "They (KDP) are trying to take his land away from him." Sensing an angry Assyrian outcry and growing international isolation, the KDP political calculators determined that just this once it was not worth the political condemnations and cost. In the recent past, the KDP land grab has otherwise paid off handsomely for the Behdanani tribal leaders of the KDP. More than two hundred Assyrian villages razed by the Iraqi government have now been occupied by Behdanani tribesmen. In addition, more than 50 other Assyrian villages have been expropriated since the Gulf War- under the auspices of the UN mandated and monitored "Safe Haven" of northern Iraq.
In the future, though, tempting land grabs by the KDP may prove more problematic. The activism by Assyrians in the Diaspora in recent years has served notice that with careful and deliberate documentation data is being gathered pointing to the deliberate, premeditated and orchestrated terror campaign and ethnic cleansing of Assyrians from northern Iraq by both the Iraqi government and the current paramilitary occupiers of northern Iraq.