AINA Editorial
Conference on the Persecution of Assyrians and Other Christians in the Middle East
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Brussels (AINA) -- Concerned Christian organizations from the Middle East met in Brussels today under the umbrella of the Middle East Christian Committee (MECHRIC) to demand action on the brutal and merciless ethno-religious cleansing against Assyrians, Copts and other Christians taking place in the greater Middle East.

The message was simple: stop the massacres and cultural genocide against Christians in the Middle East.

Currently there exists an exploding situation where Assyrians and other Christians are being kidnapped, executed and driven out of their homes -- and found in mass graves. This persecution is being carried out systematically. These Christian communities must be recognized as persecuted nations.

The delegations to the conference consisted of Assyrians, Maronites, Copts, Chaldeans, Syriacs and Melkites. Each one reported on their respective issues.

Assyrians {also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs} from three continents formed the Assyrian Delegation at the Conference and at the European Parliament, and presented the latest reports of atrocities perpetrated against the Assyrian/Christian people in Syria by Muslims, and also reported on the human rights violations in Iraq, specifically by the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Former Secretary General of the United Nations Boutros Boutros Ghali, who is an Egyptian Coptic Christian, sent a letter of support to the conference, stating that it is very important that the suffering of the Christians in the Middle East be highlighted in the world arena.

"We came to Brussels to discuss the issues of Assyrians and other Christians in Middle East," said Aprim Rasho, vice president of Assyrian National Council of Illinois "We feel that this was a good beginning and we will of course follow up."

Behind the daily reporting about clashes between different Muslim groups and regimes, Christian communities all over the Middle East are persecuted both for their religion and their ethnicity. These current atrocities are a chilling reminder of the genocide perpetuated against Christians during WWI when 750,000 Assyrians were killed, as well as 1.5 million Armenians and 500,000 Pontic Greeks.

And now, tragically, nearly half of the remaining Assyrians and other Christians of Iraq have left the country (report) since the fall of Saddam and the exodus continues. The International Community turned a blind eye to the plight of Christians in Iraq (report). The same fate is now befalling the Syrian and Egyptian Christians. Approximately one million Middle Eastern Christians have been made refugees and are stranded in countries such as Jordan, Turkey, Chad, Sudan and even as far as Thailand.

"We have refugees all over the world and it's overwhelming," said Pauline Jasim, who worked for seven years on women's and minority issues in Baghdad for the US Embassy. "We need support from the UN and the leaders of the free world to shelter, assist, and ensure that countries are stabilized to enable these refugees to return."

The delegations met with top diplomats from various countries, including the Russian Ambassador to the European Union, who said "be assured that Russia will stand behind the Christians of the Middle East." Several members of the European Parliament attended the conference and expressed great concern.

The MECHRIC conference proposed that it act as an umbrella organization for all the delegations in leading an International effort to bring the plight of the Christians in the Middle East to the forefront in the free world.

The conference agreed to take the following steps immediately:

  • Provide emergency aid provided to Christian refugees in various countries.
  • Demand equal rights for the indigenous Christian populations in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Turkey and Lebanon by putting pressure on the respective governments.
  • Request self-administration to instill confidence among Assyrians in Syria and Iraq.
  • Pressure Egypt and Turkey to enshrine equal rights and protection under the law for all citizens.
  • Request funding for NGOs to draw attention to the plight of Middle East Christians by producing documentaries, conferences and reports.

According to the general sentiment of the Christian delegations at the conference, the only way to stop the ethno-religious cleansing is through a more muscular foreign policy that holds the regimes of the Middle East accountable. The European Union should apply pressure on moderate movements and regimes to stop the persecution. The delegates called for a high level special envoy to be appointed at the embassies in Middle Eastern countries for the sole purpose of monitoring the human rights of the Christian and indigenous peoples of the Middle East.

During the MECHRIC Conference each delegation presented its case. However, the EU specifically asked for country reports for Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. Five members of the EU dealing with religious freedom were present. At end of the meeting, they expressed their deep concern and astonishment of the atrocities committed against the Christians in Middle East.

In the Assyrian Delegation was Nuri Kino, winner of the 2010 European journalist prize, and Attiya Gamri, Member of Parliament in Netherlands and an Assyrian Activist. In his speech Mr. Kino spoke about Syria and the deliberate targeting of Muslim militants of the Christian population through systematic eviction, terror, kidnapping and executions. According to Kino, within the last few days at least two mass graves have been found.

"We, the Assyrian delegates, were well prepared," said Nuri Kino. "We have for a decade now gathered information about the ethno-religious cleansing. The European Union cannot now say that it didn't know." The Assyrian Delegation presented investigative and human rights reports to the other delegations and to the EU members. The Assyrian Youth Federation of Sweden (AUF) actively reviewed and summarized human rights reports for submission to the EU and the MECHRIC conference attendees.

"Whatever more evidence they need we will provide it to them," said Professor Malik Merza, who represented Assyrians in Sweden.

In her testimony, Attiya Gamri said "If the EU prefers to see Iraq devoid of its oldest people, language and some of the oldest churches in the world, then the Member States and institutions of the EU should close their eyes to this catastrophe." She said the Assyrians are not asking for more than what the other citizens of Iraq enjoy today, including an Assyrian police force for Assyrian areas, an Assyrian parliament, an Assyrian university and protection for ancient and historical churches and monasteries.

"We, the Christians of the Middle East, need to cooperate and make our plight known," said Sargon Lewie, former president of Assyrian American National Federation. "Copts, Maronites, Melkites and the various denominations of our people such as the Chaldeans, Syriacs and Assyrians must all stand as one against the atrocities. Our goal, and the only way to stop the persecution, is federal states for the Christians of Middle East."

Nuri Kino's Testimony

My name is Nuri Kino, I'm a researcher, an author, a filmmaker, a human rights advocate. I have been trusted to be the voice of many as I stand here before you today, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I speak for the surviving relatives and friends that a week ago uncovered two separate mass graves in Sadad, an ancient Syrian Christian town. And to the thirty Christian civilians that were found in those graves, including women and children. To the family, six persons, that were found in a well, shot in their head. And for those missing who still are to be found.

We, the Assyrian delegation, are here today to give you the truth about what is happening to Assyrians and other Christians in parts of the Middle East. A truth that is gathered on thousands of interviews, actually the last ones were done last night.

Syria. We are dying over there. We are being raped, persecuted and tortured. And our homes and land are being occupied.

We are followers of Jesus. When he lived among us, he refused to accept injustice, lies and persecution. That made a lot of people hate him. But it's not as followers of one prophet, one God or a religion the Christians of Syria should be looked at, they should be considered as what they are: A persecuted native minority.

The last days, while preparing our reports and speeches, we realized that in the final analysis it is about one question. Are you alright with the fact that your tax money might be used for massacres in Syria?

And are you alright with whatever comes next. A brutal Jihadist regime, that in the best case will force all Syrians that do not want a fundamentalist leadership out of the country for good?

If you think the world is out of ideas when it comes to Syria, we're here to tell you that we're not. If you think you're powerless. We're here to prove you wrong. Force the founders of terrorism, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to protect non-Muslims in Syria. Withdraw European tax money that goes to al-Nusra and other extremists. I'm Swedish and I have the right to know where my money goes to.

And if any of you have just given up on the mess that is the Middle East and that there's nothing you can do, that's fine. But then you cannot call yourselves leaders of the free world.

Because we will not stop speaking out for Mary who, was dragged out of her house for being an Assyrian activist. She was pushed to the ground in the middle of the street and shot in the head. Then the killers shouted that whoever would touch the corpse would also be killed. The same night dogs started to eat her body. We will not stop to talk about the Assyrian girls that are kidnapped and forcibly converted and married to Jihadists.

We know for sure that in some places, the rebels do not want to openly show that they are against non-Muslims or even moderate Muslims. They don't want their sponsors to stop arming them and sending them aid. Therefore, they let some "kaffirs" or infidels, as they call us, to remain in areas that they take over. Then they kill us one by one, causing the rest of us to flee voluntarily, so it doesn't appear as if they are committing massacres.

City after city is being emptied of Christians. On the eve of Syria's civil war, more than 200 Assyrian families, 1,000 individuals, lived in Tabqa. Nearly all of them have left the country, some of them are stranded all over the world, even in Chad in Africa, abandoned by cynical smugglers who failed to get them to Europe.

Three Assyrian families had remained in Tabqa. The rebels told them that they would not be harmed. The remaining Assyrians were poor, and were trying to maintain what little they had. One of them was 26 years old Ninar Odisho, a handsome young man.

Ninar was killed, brutally murdered by the terrorists. The reason he was killed we could find on his body. They burnt a cross into his face. That cross is a symbol of the ongoing persecution in Syria. Every day we get reports of atrocities. Our clergymen have been kidnapped and killed, our sisters and brothers have been raped and beheaded. Our nation and our religion are bleeding.

Why? Because we don't want to convert to Islam.

100 years after 1915, when we lost 4/3 of our people to the sword of Jihad, we are on the brink of another Genocide. Yesterday I spoke to a priest who cried in fear "what is it that you can't see? Please, please, I beg you, be our voice, be the voice of the slaughtered women and children before it's too late. They are here from more than 30 other countries to establish an Islamic state. That leaves no room for us." The priest was one of the people that just found 6 Christians, all from the same family, in a well, shot in their head. A family that the villagers thought had fled. Now they fear more mass graves will be found.

You are saying that you don't have any information, we are going to provide you with whatever evidence you need -- reports, video clips -- whatever you need to prove the ethno-religious cleansing we are experiencing. Now you can't say you didn't know.

The question is what are you going to do? We are asking you to help us before it's too late.

Nuri Kino

Attiya Gamri's Testimony

Iraq. Act before it is too late...

After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 the Assyrians in Iraq believed that this was the last chance for them to live in a country where they could without fear name their children using indigenous names, speak the Assyrian language freely, listen to Assyrian Music including songs touching upon feelings of patriotism , and generally feel freedom as an Assyrian woman or man living in the country where they have lived for more than 6,000 years, in the country of their forefathers which produced kings and queens like Ashurbanipal, Nebuchadnezzar, Gilgamesh And Semiramis (Shamiram).

But the situation in Iraq shortly after the fall of the dictator started to change for the worse and upon reflection nobody could imagine that neighbors would kill each other and women would turn themselves into suicide bombers. And most of all, that an ethnic group like the Assyrians, who were not part of this war, would bear the brunt of the instability and face extinction in their native land by falling in the middle of an internecine war between the Shiites and the Sunnis and being targeted for simply not sharing the same ethnicity or religion.

During the last few years, reports about Iraq reported that the Muslim groups, either Shiite or Sunni, attacked the Assyrians in Basra, Baghdad, Mosul, Ramadi, Kirkuk and other cities, resorting to killings, kidnappings and torture. Tens of thousands of Assyrians left the cities of Iraq and went to the Nineveh Plains (Iraq), Jordan, Syria, Turkey and other countries.

More than 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) went to the Nineveh Plains, the majority of these IDPs belonging to the Assyrian Christian denominations in Iraq. However, even here the Assyrians were not immune from Arab religious extremists and Kurdish nationalists who continued to oppress the Assyrians with the aim of their eventual extinction from that region.

The international community, unfortunately, has not fully comprehended the scale of the dire situation of the Assyrians, and one can even venture to say has not taken it seriously enough. When an ethnic group is the target of a systematic ethnic cleansing, the international community is under an obligation, both moral and legal, to protect them, and one can cite numerous examples from history where this has indeed taken place such as in Kosovo, and Iraq with regards to the Kurdish and Shiite communities in the 1990s.

But unfortunately to this day the international community has not taken any specific and tangible steps to protect this indigenous minority. During a fieldwork mission to Iraq I participated in the last 10 years I spoke with more than 1000 IDP families in the Nineveh Plains. Most of them asked me two questions: why is the EU not protecting them from the Arabs and Kurds and if they don't want to protect them why don't they provide them with financial assistance and other instruments so that they can protect themselves? If we are serious in bringing democracy and plurality in Iraq and protecting the rights of minorities, we must address these two questions.

If the EU prefers to see Iraq devoid of its oldest people, language and some of the oldest churches in the world, then the Member States and institutions of the EU should close their eyes to this catastrophe.

But if we cherish the fundamental values of humanity, respect and responsibility, we should be prepared to take a commensurate responsibility and discharge it with concerted action.

This is the reason why we are lobbying in Brussels and working with our colleagues in the EU to remedy the situation of the Assyrians in Iraq before it is too late. The world cannot afford inaction when it has proved so fatal in the past, Rwanda in 1994 being a case in point.

Attiya Gamri
Member of Assyria Council of Europe

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