After Natasha Shino heard about the killing of more than 50 Iraqi Christians in Baghdad last week, she knew she couldn't sit idly by.
"It just hit home," said the 23-year-old Assyrian Christian student who lives in the South Loop.
A minority in Muslim Iraq, Assyrians are Christian -- among the first people to accept the faith -- and do not consider themselves Arab. Forced to assimilate to Arab culture, many Assyrians have fled Iraq.
"We're going through a silent genocide," Shino said. "We are near extinction."
Worldwide, Shino and other young Assyrians have joined forces to organize rallies Monday calling on the American and Iraqi governments to protect Iraqi Christians.
Dubbed "The Black March" because protesters will wear all black, the Chicago rally will start at noon at the Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St. Thousands of Facebook members have said they plan to attend similar rallies in other cities. According to 2000 census data, there are approximately 16,000 Assyrians in Illinois. But local Assyrian leaders say there are closer to 100,000 in the Chicago area.
Organizers, like Shino, said they've reached out to people of all faiths, including Jews, Muslims and other Christian groups, including Chaldean Catholics who have common roots in ancient Mesopotamia, to stand in solidarity with the victims of an Oct. 31 attack on a Syrian Catholic Church in Baghdad.
Al-Qaida militants reportedly took 120 worshipers hostage during an evening Mass commemorating the church's anniversary. The attack ended with at least 58 people dead after security forces stormed the church. At least 75 were wounded.
At Mar Gewargis Cathedral, an Assyrian church more commonly known as St. George's in Rogers Park, on Sunday, the Rev. Paulus Benjamin called for parishioners to pray for peace. The church's liturgy is said in Assyrian, an ancient language with roots in Aramaic.
Dozens of churchgoers bowed and silently spoke with God.
Among them was Ayad Khider, who lost his 50-year-old cousin, Salah Gerges, a father of three, in the Oct. 31 attack. His cousin's wife was injured in the attack and is in critical condition, he said in Arabic through a translator.
"We pray that she will be OK because who will take care of the children?" said Khider, 51, a mechanic who lives on the North Side.
In a letter dated Nov. 1, Mar Dinkha IV, the patriarch of the Chicago-based Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, demanded that the Iraqi government and the United Nations protect all Iraqi minorities.
Many at the church said they plan to attend the Monday rally to show support for their "brothers and sisters" still in Iraq.
"We are united with them," said Mary Yonan, 52, a teacher from the North Side. "We can be their voices here."