About 150 Assyrians -- a Christian group native to Iraq -- took to the streets of Saskatoon Saturday to call for action on what they are calling a genocide in their home country.
"It's devastating because many of the Assyrian people here still have family members over there; sisters, brothers, cousins, friends. The community is very close. Every Assyrian Christian can at least name one person who has been kidnapped or killed," said Reem Matlak, one of the organizers of the event.
The group began with a prayer at St. Paul's Cathedral before marching to city hall, chanting "save the Christians of Iraq," and "Stephen Harper, we need help."
The march was followed by speeches in English and Assyrian detailing some of the gruesome events that have shaken the community to action.
Violence against Assyrians has been steadily escalating since 2003, when the U.S. invasion fractured the country and spawned waves of sectarian conflict, says Peter Kiryakos, an Assyrian University of Saskatchewan student.
The power vacuum that followed has left the minority, which comprises about three per cent of the Iraqi population, unprotected from militant Islamic groups, he said.
"Ever since the war in Iraq started, there's been no one protecting them. It's genocide, essentially. They are systematically ridding the nation of Christian Iraqis."
Hundreds of thousands have died since 2003, say protestors.
Large numbers of Assyrians have fled the country since violence started, says Kiryakos. He estimates there are about 1,000 Assyrian people now living in Saskatoon.
Matlak, Kiryakos and a few other Assyrian youths organized the Saskatoon event to call on the Canadian government to help the Christians of Iraq.
"Do we stand for human rights? Do we stand for justice? If so, then this is not something that we can allow to happen. We always say years down the road, 'Where were we when the genocide in Rwanda happened? Where were we when the killing of the Jews happened? . . . Now at least all of us can say, 'No, years ago we shouted at you, we cried at you. Do something, Stephen Harper. Do something, United Nations.' "
The protest comes on the heels of an Oct. 31 attack on Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad, where 58 people were reportedly killed during mass.
This violent incident has raised a call to action from Assyrian communities across the globe, say protestors.
"It upsets me to say that it was the last straw. There should have never been a last straw. Six hundred thousand people have died, 66 churches were bombed, and now we're finally standing up? I'm glad that we're doing this, but I just wish we would have done something earlier," said Matlak.
By Rory MacLean