AINA Editorial
Assyrians Should Leave the Middle East
By Peter BetBasoo
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(AINA) -- On June 10, 2014 ISIS captured Mosul, Iraq's second largest city. On August 7, 2014 ISIS drove into the Nineveh Plains north and east of Mosul, causing nearly 200,000 Assyrians to flee their villages.

It is no coincidence that ISIS chose to drive out the Assyrians on August 7, because August 7 is Assyrian Martyrs Day. It is commemorated worldwide by Assyrians to remember their fallen, including the 3,000 who were killed by the Iraqi army in Iraq between August 7 and 11, 1933 (see The Simmele Massacre).

Almost none of the Assyrians have returned to their villages. They have settled mostly in Ankawa, an Assyrian suburb of Arbel, and Dohuk (Assyrian Noohadra) in the far north of Iraq, near the Turkish border.

The Nineveh Plains was the last stronghold of Assyrians in Iraq.

Interviews with the displaced Assyrians reveal while some want to return to their homes and villages, the majority want to emigrate to Europe, the United States and Australia, where there are large Assyrian communities.

On February 23, 2015 ISIS attacked the 35 Assyrians villages on the Khabur river in the Hasaka province of Syria. It captured 253 Assyrians and drove 3,000 Assyrians from their homes. ISIS subsequently released 25 Assyrians, and still holds 228 captive. All 23 residents of Tel Goran, one of the 35 villages, were released but they all have abandoned their village and gone to Beirut. The other 35 villages have been liberated, but only a handful of Assyrians have returned.

Related: Timeline of ISIS in Iraq
Related: Attacks on Assyrians in Syria

Suffering centuries of persecution by Muslims (Arabs, Turks, Kurds and Iranians), the events of the past year have caused a fundamental psychological transformation of most of the Assyrian population. The low grade genocide since 2004 and the wanton destruction by ISIS in the last year in Iraq and Syria have caused most Assyrians to see the writing on the wall, and to acknowledge, consciously and subconsciously, that it is time to leave their birth land.

Assyrians see no future or hope for themselves in the Middle East. The numbers bear it out. In 2004 there were about 1.5 million Assyrians in Iraq. Today there are about 300,000. They fled to Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Lebanon. And now they are fleeing Syria.

Assyrians in the Middle East -- Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey -- have never had equality. Living in Muslim ruled societies, they are treated as second class citizens, even today, and denied equality in all forms.

For Assyrians the problems with living in the Middle East are many:

  • Oppressive Muslim governments
  • Lack of economic opportunities
  • Inferior educational institutions
  • Third world standards
  • Religious and ethnic discrimination
  • Treated as second class citizens
  • Unequal before the law
  • Limited social and political upward mobility
  • Corrupting influence of Muslim culture
  • Continuous danger of pogroms
  • Entanglement in Middle East politics, which pits Assyrians against each other
  • Impending war between Sunnis and Shiites

By all indications, the Middle East is a tinderbox ready to ignite, and Assyrians will suffer death and destruction in conflagrations in which they have no national interest or stake. Worse, they will be forced to fight on both sides and to kill each other for a cause that is not theirs.

The safety of the Assyrian people requires a paradigm shift.

To insure their survival Assyrians should leave the Middle East and go into the West. There are only about 3.5 million Assyrians in the world, and nearly 2 million are already in the West.

There are multiple advantages in living in the West:

  • Freedom from religious, ethnic persecution and discrimination
  • Superior educational institutions
  • Economic opportunities
  • Equality before the law
  • Unlimited social and political upward mobility
  • First world standards
  • Disentanglement from divisive Middle East politics

While every country has its challenges for living, at least in the West there is physical safety and religious freedom.

Assyrians who are in the West have been very successful in all aspects, economically, educationally, politically and socially.

Some Assyrians fear that in the West Assyrians will assimilate, but this happens also in the Middle East. Assimilation is a concern, but it is not inevitable and it is not because of the West, it is because Assyrians have failed to establish institutions in the Diaspora to insure the survival of their culture. Working to maintain and preserve a culture requires the will to do so.

It boils down to faith. If one believes that death is inevitable, he will succumb to fatalism and do nothing to prevent it. If one believes in the future and the progress of life, he will work to better his life.

It is time for Assyrians to leave the Middle East. One may think of it as a strategic withdrawal. In the future, when things have settled there, when there is equality, when there is peace and security, they may always return.

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