Many ancient cultures have been lost to the fabric of time and space, and one of history's oldest civilizations is fighting for its survival.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, many secular scholars attacked the Bible's historical and archaeological credibility, and Biblical cities such as Nineveh, Ur, Sodom and Gomorrah were deemed to be myths. But as time passed and knowledge increased, the Bible's claims were revisited, and new discoveries forced the world to take its contents seriously.
Discoveries made in Iraq during the 19th century revealed that the ancient Biblical cities of Mesopotamia truly had existed -- and so had the people spoken of in the Bible. Explorer, historian and archaeologist Austen Layard carried out the groundbreaking excavation of the cities of Nineveh and Nimrod with help from local Assyrian archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam.
Related: Brief History of Assyrians
The Assyrians were not extinct.
In the Bible, God told Jonah to go to the people of Nineveh. Although Jonah famously balked at the idea of preaching to the Assyrians, he eventually did end up in Nineveh to deliver God's message: "Leave your pagan ways or suffer the fate of the other nations who rebelled against me."
In 800 B.C., the ancient Assyrians were one of the most advanced superpowers in the world. The stories of beautiful palaces, hanging gardens, impressive libraries and glorious kings were literally set in stone. But at the height of its power, Assyria repented and turned to the God of Israel. In the Bible, God used many nations to accomplish his will. Israel was called "his inheritance" and Egypt "his people." And the Assyrians were deemed to be "his handiwork."
In 612 B.C., the Assyrian empire fell to Medo-Persia and Babylonian forces, and the Assyrians lived in Mesopotamia under many occupiers for more than 2,500 years.
Then, during the First World War, the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks became the victims of a genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire and Kurdish and Arab tribes. Approximately 3 million Christians were eventually killed in that slaughter. In 1933, the Iraqi government -- along with Kurdish tribal leaders -- attacked the Assyrian village of Simele in northern Iraq, killing between 3,000 and 5,000 innocent men, women and children. Since then, on average, the Assyrians have experience genocide or persecution every 20--30 years.
The last 100 years have been the most damaging for the nation. It is more than evident that the Assyrians need an answer, and that answer lies in the same plains that Jonah reached 2,800 years ago.
Related: Timeline of ISIS in Iraq
Related: The Assyrian Genocide
Related: Genocides Against the Assyrian Nation
The Nineveh Plains is the last stand for Assyrians in Iraq.
The Assyrian Democratic Movement, the major political party supported by most Assyrians, has taken the lead in political and educational progress in the Kurdish region, and the American government eventually recognized it as one of six major opposition groups against the Arab political party known as Ba'ath. The ADM has promoted democracy, human rights and the importance of a secular government for all Iraqis, and has called for a self-administrative region for Assyrians in Nineveh since 2005.
According to the Charter of the United Nations, "All people have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political statues and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development." The Iraqi constitution, Article 125, guarantees "the administrative, political, cultural and educational rights of the various nationalities such as Turkmen, Chaldean/Assyrians and all other constituents." So why do so many in the Iraqi/Kurdish governments oppose Assyrian and other minorities' quest for self-determination?
According to reports out of Nineveh, the Kurdish Peshmerga sent out an order demanding citizens to turn in their weapons to local Kurdish authorities. Two weeks later, the Islamic State invaded Mosul, and the disarmed populations were left to slaughter. Following the Islamic State's devastating invasion in 2014, the already vulnerable Assyrians and Yezidis suffered unimaginable atrocities. Approximately 1.5 million Assyrians lived in Iraq prior to the Iraq War of 2003. Today, 300,000 remain.
During both world wars, the West called Assyrians "our smallest ally." Under the British mandate of Iraq, the Assyrians joined the Iraqi Levies (which later became known as the RAF Assyrian Levies) and were commanded by the British Royal Air Force; there, they fought bravely against the Nazis/Axis powers.
Although the Assyrians fought, bled and died alongside the Allied powers during both world wars, in the end, they were left empty-handed and betrayed by the West. If they have learned anything during the past 100 years, it is that depending on Western powers for rescue is futile. Freedom isn't free, and the Assyrian nation must take a strong political stance if it desires a future.
Unlike Americans, who will die for others' freedoms, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters living in Erbil see no reason to fight for the Yazidis or Assyrians in Nineveh. Arabs who lives in Baghdad will not go to battle in Mosul.
Shortly after the Islamic State's invasion, the ADM and local citizens of the Nineveh Plains concluded that Iraqi and Kurdish forces had repeatedly abandoned and neglected their native citizens. So they decided to act, establishing the Nineveh Plain Protection Units. The NPU holds that the people who lived in Nineveh are the ones who should protect and defend those lands. So far, the group has liberated four villages from the Islamic State's control.
The NPU has been officially recognized by the Iraqi and American governments and has joined the Nineveh Liberation Operations Command. For the first time in history, America is coordinating with Assyrians. The work is far from over, and the road is a long and treacherous one. But the Assyrians are ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for their families and lands.
President Donald Trump recently met with dozens of Muslim leaders, calling them to take a stand against radical Islam, which has spread into Europe. His speech sent a strong message to the Muslim world. Will Muslim leaders join him in promoting moderation and reform?
Today, Assyrians still fight for survival, and if their pursuit of a safe haven in the Nineveh Plains is not realized, Christianity in Iraq could end.
I encourage my Assyrian friends to study history, especially the story of Israel's independence and the Israeli ideology. The nations of Assyria and Israel share a unique connection and often parallel each other. Both have been scattered in diaspora and both have lived without a homeland for thousands of years. Both have seen continuous persecutions, genocides and mass migrations in their timelines.
But I believe in the Assyrian ideology and in the hope that those who have left will return to a region they can truly call home. For Nineveh truly is the last stand for Assyrians.
Nerary Yousif is an Assyrian-American activist born and raised in Chicago, Ill. to Iraqi immigrants. Studying to earn a degree in history and Biblical archaeology. Nerary has worked closely within his community for many years. In 2009 and 2010, he was chosen to be sent to Iraq as part of a student organization, to help connect with Assyrian students in Iraq for educational, political and humanitarian purposes. He has been involved with politics and advocating for democracy and human rights in the Middle East.