Mississauga, Canada -- Some 250 people gathered Sunday night in east Mississauga to remember Assyrians who lost their lives due to persecution and to protest in support of those who continue to be victims of ethnic cleansing.
The group met at the Mississauga Assyrian Society of Canada, located on Crestlawn Dr., near Dixie Rd. and Eglinton Ave., to mark Genocide Awareness Day, which fell three days earlier.
Candles were lit at the beginning of the evening in memory of those who have died, and also to symbolize the light at the end of the tunnel, organizers say.
According to pro-Assyrian groups in attendance, Assyrians have been facing mass persecution for nearly 200 years, with the intent of eliminating them from the mountains of northern Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Their Christian beliefs in a largely Islamic culture are at odds with those seeking to rid the region of ethnic diversity, they say.
Genocide Awareness Day has been gaining momentum each year at the Mississauga Assyrian Society, officials there say. The goal is to raise public awareness of atrocities that continue today. They believe the media tends to turn a blind eye to the plight of minorities in the Middle East.
Mariam Georges, a member of the Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac Student Union of Canada, hopes efforts such as Sunday's gathering raise awareness among Canadians.
Many of her family members are living as refugees in Syria and it's difficult to keep in contact with them, and ensure they're safe.
"I am a Canadian citizen, so I think of Canada as my own country," said Georges, who was born in Iraq and moved to Canada in 1995. "We work closely with the Canadian government. We really appreciate all that Canada does and we look forward to their continued efforts to make the situation better.
"We are not asking to separate from Iraq. We can live together if dialogue will happen," she continued. "As Assyrians, we would like to see Iraq be one. But we'd also like to have an administrative zone. This is only to ensure that we as an ethnic, religious and linguistic minority survive. Even Canada has minority provisions for its minorities. A minority cannot survive if it is engulfed within the majority."
Keynote speaker Frederick Aprim, an author and historian, spoke about what needs to change in order for the Assyrians to have an identity and culture within Iraq.
"United we stand, divided we fall," he said in his closing remarks, adding the Assyrian community here has come together to support its oppressed brothers and sister in Iraq.
David Sweet, Conservative MP for Ancaster, Dundas, Flamborough and Westdale, delivered remarks on behalf of the Conservative government, promising to keep the fight for the Assyrian people on the government's agenda.
By Stephanie Taylor