AINA Editorial
Assyrians Join Sunnis in Opposition to Iraq's Draft Constitution

(AINA) -- The draft of Iraq's constitution (English, Arabic) was submitted three minutes before the midnight deadline on Monday, August 22nd. It is a historic document for Iraq and may -- if ratified -- become the most influential document produced in the Middle East in the last one hundred years; it will have a profound influence on the development of democracy and human rights in the area and may well become the Magna Carta of the Middle East. However, viz-a-viz Assyrians and other non-Muslim minorities, it did not go far enough and takes more than it gives, and it remains to be seen how it will be interpreted and applied by jurists in protecting the minorities of Iraq, such as the Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs), Mandaeans, Yezidis, Turkomen and Shabaks.

The draft mentions Assyrians in three places:

Article 2, Section 4:

a. Arabic and Kurdish are the two official languages, and Iraqis have the right to teach their sons their mother language like the Turkomen and Assyrian in the government educational institutes.

Article Four

The Turkomen and Assyrian languages are the official languages in the Turkomen and Assyrian areas, and each territory or province has the right to use its own official language if residents have approved in a general referendum vote.

Article 135

This constitution guarantees the administrative, political, cultural and educational rights of different ethnic groups such as Turkomen, Chaldean, Assyrians and other groups.

These three items legally recognize the Assyrians, their language, their right of self administration and their areas. However, article 135 divides the Assyrians into Chaldeans and Assyrians. Chaldeans are Roman Catholic Assyrians and this wording will potentially be used by Kurds to divide the Assyrians and expropriate their lands and villages in North Iraq.

The Kurdish expropriation of Assyrian lands is codified in article 152 of the draft, which states:

Commencing the new Iraqi government, the Iraqi interim law (TAL, English, Arabic) will be nullified, excluding article 53 (A) and article 58.

Article 53 (A) of the Iraqi interim law states:

The Kurdistan Regional Government is recognized as the official government of the territories that were administered by the government on 19 March 2003 in the governorates of Dohuk, Arbil, Sulaimaniya, Kirkuk, Diyala and Neneveh. The term "Kurdistan Regional Government" shall refer to the Kurdistan National Assembly, the Kurdistan Council of Ministers, and the regional judicial authority in the Kurdistan region.

Depending on its interpretation, this can be viewed as a contradiction to Article 135, which guarantees Assyrians the right of self-administration in their lands. To date, the policies of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Kurdistan Regional Government towards Assyrians and other minorities have been to Kurdify the people and their villages. The constitution should guaranteee that legal license is not available for the continuation of that process.

The constitution addresses the role of Islam in Article Two:

1. Islam is a main source for legislation.
a. No law may contradict Islamic standards.
b. No law may contradict democratic standards.
c. No law may contradict the essential rights and freedoms mentioned in this constitution.

These seem to put checks and balances against Shari'a (Islamic Law). Because "democratic standards" are necessarily defined by other sources, and article C (in conjunction with other parts of the constitution) effectively does away with the Dhimmi system (where separate and oppressive laws exist for non-Muslims). Also Article A says "Islamic standards", not Islamic law, and "standards" are much more open to interpretation.

This constitution addresses the needs of Assyrians in many key areas, such as the protection of their language, their right of self-administration and the implicit recognition of their territories, but it potentially cedes control of these territories to the Kurdistan Regional Government. If Federalism, which is enshrined in this constitution, is to be applied uniformly then Assyrians must have their own regional government-- under their control or the central government but not under Kurdish control -- as well as Sunnis, Shiites, Turkomen, Mandeans and all other groups.

The Assyrian Democratic Movement's (ADM) center in Bakhdeda, Nineveh also rallied the locals in a public demonstration against the use of Assyrian and Chaldean in the constitution as if the two are distinct ethnic groups when it fact they are one. The demonstration was held in the Bakhdeda area near the church of Sargis and Bakus with participants from Karimlesh and Bartillah as well. A second demonstration was held in the northern half of the Assyrian region (Telkaif, Telsqof, Baqopeh, and Alqosh). This draft constitution did away with the common name ChaldoAssyrian which the community's leadership had worked tirelessly to include in the TAL.

As it stands the draft constitution poses a legitimate threat to the territorial integrity of Iraq because it is not an impartial document, and it sows the seeds of division and strife. A foundational document such as a constitution must transparently guarantee the rights of and accomodate all of the disparate groups within the country. Sadly, this draft constitution fails to do that.


Assyrians demonstrating against the draft constitution in Bakhdeda, North Iraq
Photos courtesy of zahrira.net



















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