When Iraqi Christians from around the world participated in the January Iraq elections, most put their hopes on the ChaldoAssyrian Christian slate and the agenda of an autonomous region in Iraq for the ChaldoAssyrian people.
The only person elected from that slate to the Iraq National Assembly was Yonadam Kanna, head of the Assyrian Democratic Movement.
Gordon Lake spoke with Yonadam Kanna about the National Assembly, the Constitution, and the aspirations of the ChaldoAssyrian Christians in Iraq.
Gordon Lake: The first question I have is in the new Assembly what do you see that the ChaldoAssyrians could possibly accomplish and what leverage would you have to make that happen?
Yonadam Kanna: Well, we have four challenges in the new assembly. In addition to the general issues of Iraq we have four specificities here. We have to try the best for our selves and for Iraqi.
First of all Article 7 in the TAL (Transitional Administrative Law "Iraq's interim Constitution") which guaranties the freedom of religion and faith.
The second article is Article 9 which is about our mother language, education by our mother language to be free in the national institutes and national installations in Iraq. Same and equal as Iraq and Kurdish, and Turkomen as well.
The third challenge is that our representation in the future which was guaranteed in TAL in Article 13, but unfortunately in the implementation we were not as successful. Now we have only 6 members as Christians in the National Assembly instead of at least 15.
And the fourth challenge to the ChaldoAssyrians is article 53D which guarantees our administrative rights which means we have our homeland area in the east and north of Mosul in the Nineveh Plain. That our people there have rights to have some kind of administrative rights there like a providence or governorate together with our neighbors the Yazidis and Shabak
Lake: So are you looking for Article 53 D having that autonomous region to be guaranteed in the constitution itself?
Kanna: Yea to be there, it's in the TAL now and you have to fight for that to be kept in and for that to be guaranteed.
Lake: Who would be your supporters in the Assembly that would try to make sure that that's included in there, in other words are you looking at for example the four ChaldoAssyrians that are on the Kurdish list, the one independent that's on the Alawi list?
Kanna: Well, I don't think that any specific group must stand against our demands. I don't expect any opposition in the National Assembly on this Article specifically but I do expect from the people about our nation's name. Some Chaldeans are called Assyrians but today we have a big part of our community saying they are very tied to their denomination name or to the historical name of the Chaldean for example. And the secular part of our society was known Syriac or Assyrian. So also they have problems.
So maybe each church will ask for their own entity and own name and if that happens it is too bad because maybe then the category of our nation would not be as a category of a nation or ethnicity but categories for denominations, this is a tragedy, this would be too bad.
That's why is the 2003 October conference we have chosen the same like name as General Agha Petros who was a very unique leader of the Assyrians during the first world war. He used the word Assyro-Chaldean in France -- and now they have no problem. Their ethnic name is Assyro-Caldean there. Here we have chosen ChaldoAssyrian as a political name for our nation here for expedience since the knowledge of the people is very tied. They don't accept the name Assyrian for example or any other name. They are not united. So maybe they will use some people from outside of our society and some from inside. They will try to have different names, Caldeans and Assyrians and Syriac and this is too bad, this will effect very negatively on our rights.
Lake: So you're saying if you stay together under one name then you will have no problem getting that autonomous region?
Lake: And so do you feel that there are any other obstacles, does the ChaldoAssyrian community have to worry about not getting that autonomous region.
Kanna: Well for sure, first of all we have a legal base in TAL. We will try to keep that legal base in the constitution and then we can have some kind of support from our local and national parties. And there it will be the practical step.
It's known that the Nineveh Plain which is no more than maybe 10,000 square kilometers looks like Lebanon, to be in the east and north of Mosul city for those three components, Yazidis, ChaldoAssyrians and Shabak. And if you don't call it autonomous maybe it could be a new province or new governorate like Nineveh today or Kirkuk or others, and to have its own council and to be liberated from abusing Muslim people or any other region people occupying their land or changing the identity of the Nineveh Plain.
Lake: What is the Kurdish position on that area?
Kanna: Well I haven't any official position from them but mostly they prefer that this region to be annexed to Iraqi Kurdistan as for my understanding and until this moment, the people of this region I believe they have to have their own decision to decide where to stand independent as a province of governorate or to be a governorate annexed by central or KRV. That is the decision of the people not the political decision of the Kurdish leader or the Assyrian leader.
Lake: But do you feel that if the Kurds stand against the proposal that the proposal would have a hard time passing?
Kanna: Well I feel this is not the proper time to ask for, but this is our aspirations since there is very bad security situation in the country, we have not to move this suggestion.
Lake: What will happen if you are given the autonomous region up there, what will it become. Will it become mostly agricultural, industrial or what would it look like in the future?
Kanna: Well, today if you come and visit that region, you will see people living in the middle age still, and that their are very, very dirty persecution from Saddam's time that still exist till the momemt . The annexation program is still on. That part of Iraq is still not liberated. I am very sorry I can say that.
Just before two months, we stopped some Arabazation policy decision -- just before two months, that they were trying to distribute or to give land for some Saddam officers to build houses in our villages, some thousands in Baghdede and some hundred or some thousand in Telkepe, so it's including a tragedy situation. So when it is governorate or if it some special province for themselves among Iraqi provinces.
At that time we will take care of and try for reconstruction and development of that region economically and from all means, I can say. They will live a good life there, they will have good resources like water like land even like business and tourism or anything else.
Lake: The reconstruction funds that the US has provided, has any of that money reached the ChaldoAssyrian regions.
Kanna: Well I can't say in that region never, nothing. I can't say never or nothing. So that's why we are asking for the province or for some economics for that region to have their budget, to have their support, to be dealt with like Iraqis not secondary citizenship. So no one project was in that region. Even in other regions in the north, in Iraqi Kurdistan regions, I can say it rarely reached anywhere.
Lake: So with over a thousand U.S. projects right now in Iraq, and over 800 schools being built, you are saying not a single project is happening in the ChaldoAssyrian community.
Kanna: Well first ChaldoAssyrian communities are spread all over Iraq, so they get like any other Iraqis that's right. But specifically in that region nothing is done. I can say that over 80,000 are there among 350,000 people from Yazidis, Shabak, Arabs and ChaldoAssyrians, over 350,000 are living in that region so nothing is done yet.
Lake: And that region would be called the Nineveh Plain.
Kanna: Yes, it is the Nineveh Plain.
Lake: Okay and what's stopping the funds from getting there.
Kanna: Well every time the problem is Council politics. I am sorry to say that. And sometimes the high authorities in Baghdad make decisions under the excuse of security they are doing these very bad policies of the allotment or reconstruction and we tried and we tried and we tried but to no use because it must go through the regulations of the province council or the governorate council in Mosul or somewhere else. So every time when it comes there they are changing as they want the project to go where.
So the council members are, the majority are from Mosul city, so nothing was done there because of security situations sometimes and mostly because it's the security situation in the city because in our regions there is nothing, no car bombs or any attacks on terrorists. We need water supplies, we need sewage systems, we need asphalt pavement for the roads which are never paved and we need some type of schools repaired. Only schools were repaired, I can be more exact, only some schools were repaired, no more.
Lake: What can ChaldoAssyrians in the Diaspora do?
Kanna: Well first of all we appreciate their support for their brothers in the homeland but still we expect much more support because we fight in TAL, we fight for their rights to contribute in the election. It is their right as Iraqis and their duty toward their homeland. But unfortunately I can't say no more than 6% were contributing in the election from the Diaspora. So now we call them to contribute in the upcoming election because their vote is the strength for their home to get the people in the National Assembly to support their arguments and to succeed with their arguments. That is the first thing. The second thing is to be aware daily once they come here -- the media for example, to support the media as well.
Lake: Is there anything you would like to add?
Kanna: Yes my last point is that we appreciate our friends who support us abroad and everywhere. I call everybody to be more accurate when they publish something. Not to publish some slogans or some information that is anti our neighborhood brothers, either Muslim or Kurds because the ChaldoAssyrians and Arabs and Kurds are our brothers in this home and they are shared.
Maybe some portion of the Arab party is bad and they can speak against that party or somebody else among the Kurds, they can specifically speak and put pressure on that party. But not to speak against the Kurds and create problems between the societies here.
The Saddam Hussein regime has now passed and we have to build again strength and our good positive relations among each other, to build the new Iraqi nation regardless of ethnicity and religion and to be equal in this country, to have equal rights.
So that is why I am calling everybody, even the Americans or other supporters not to speak against any community in general but to go to the point to specifically what has happened and to be accurate for that information to be published. Sometimes you speak something and they publish something else, have facts twisted. This is too bad and this is harming us here.
Lake: Well thank you very much sir.