AINA Editorial
Congressman Hyde Presses For Assyrian Rights in Iraq

(AINA) -- Political lobbying in Washington D.C. by Assyrian Americans at the grassroots and political organizational level has recently dramatically intensified as concern over Middle Eastern regional instability grows. On April 25, 2002 Congressman Henry Hyde, Chairman of the Committee on International Relations released a letter addressed to Secretary William Burns, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, formally declaring the Chairman's concerns over the future of Assyrians, including Chaldeans and Syriacs, in any future Iraqi equation.

Congressman Henry Hyde

Regarding the widely documented Iraqi governmental policy of persecution of Assyrians, Mr. Hyde asked specific questions regarding the "treatment of the Assyrian community under the current Iraqi regime as it relates to the reported suppression of their cultural and religious traditions." Responding to increasing reports of religious persecution of Assyrians by both the government of Iraq and the northern Kurdish tribes, Congressman Hyde asked whether " the fact that Assyrians in Iraq are Christians detrimentally affect their well-being..." and whether "they are required to use Islamic names and forbidden to use traditional cultural or religious names."

Regarding the condition of Assyrians in the northern provinces currently under United Nations administration in the so-called Safe Haven, Mr. Hyde asked "what protections are the Assyrian people enjoying under Operation Northern Watch?" Apparently referring to the past several years of persecution1 both in the government controlled portion of Iraq and in the northern area currently under Kurdish tribal paramilitary occupation, Mr. Hyde pointedly asked "How will the political and human rights concerns of the Assyrians factor into any future Iraqi political equation especially in Northern Iraq?" The specific reference to northern Iraq is widely believed to be significant by Assyrian observers because the northern provinces, most specifically Mosul (currently under government control), Arbil, and Dohuk (both currently under Behdanani tribal control) comprise the northern core of the ancient national heartland for the indigenous Assyrians.

Mr. Hyde added that "I remain a steadfast supporter of President Bush's policy of promoting regime change in Iraq. I hope that as the administration proceeds to implement this policy, it will be mindful of the unique concerns of the Assyrian community..." Asserting that Assyrian Americans retain "links of concern, family, and affection with their ancestral homeland," Mr. Hyde added "I share their concerns."

In a formal response to Mr. Hyde's inquiry, Mr. Paul Kelly, the Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, noted that "Iraqis of Assyrian, Turkman, and Kurdish ethnicity suffer additional abuses due to the ongoing Arabization' campaign of ethnic cleansing." Noting other abuses including the prohibition of all non-Arab broadcasting and publishing and the forced Arabization of personal names, Mr. Kelly added that "Abuses like these are a long-standing part of the Iraqi government's decade long campaign dedicated to eliminating the non-Arab presence in villages and towns under regime control in northern Iraq."

Referring to the UN administered Safe Haven under Operation Northern Watch, Mr. Kelly reported that "in northern Iraq Assyrian schools teach using the Assyrian language. Assyrian parties are allowed to print Assyrian language newspapers and broadcast Assyrian language programming on radio and television." Moreover, Mr. Kelly noted "Assyrian villages and churches destroyed by the Iraqi government have been rebuilt. Assyrian political parties participate in the regional administration."

Mr. Kelly's letter did not address the well-documented assassinations of Assyrian political leaders and civilians by the paramilitary organizations administering the northern provinces nor the abductions, torture, and land expropriations suffered by Assyrians under Behdanani Kurdish occupation in the north. Although a few villages and churches destroyed by the government have been rebuilt through the untiring efforts of Assyrians with little or no help from the northern Iraqi administration, more than 90% have not and most till today remain forcibly occupied by Kurdish tribesmen tied to the ruling paramilitary organizations and warlords. Assyrian secondary schools remain unfunded by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) administration in contradistinction to Kurdish language schools. Assyrian political expression remains tightly checked under constant threat of political assassination given any deviance from the party line.

None the less, Mr. Hyde's letter expressing Assyrian concerns regarding the future of Iraq represent an important elevation of the Assyrian cause within the U.S. government by the most influential Congressional leader currently engaged in the Middle Eastern issues. The Hyde letter follows an earlier March 15 letter to President Bush and Secretary of State Powell signed by 19 U.S. Congressmen advocating constitutional recognition of Assyrians in any future Iraqi governmental reform. Both letters point to successful grass-roots constituent-based lobbying efforts organized by the grouping of Assyrian political organizations under the Assyrian Coalition designed to increase Washington's sensitivity to the Assyrian cause. As for Assyrian Americans who have long hoped for real change in Iraq, enthusiasm for the opposition has been tempered by continuous reports of unfair representation by the Iraqi National Congress (INC) as well as the brutality of the KDP occupation in the north. By working through the representative branch of the U.S. government, Assyrian Americans are seeking assurances that any contemplated initiatives in Iraq factor in Assyrian concerns. Literally reeling from over a decade of persecution and terror at the hands of the government of Iraq, the so-called democratic opposition, and the paramilitary Behdanani tribes in northern Iraq, Assyrian Americans are poised to capitalize on their demographic superiority within the U.S. to heighten awareness of Assyrian concerns.

1 Click here for information on the persecution of Assyrians: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. See also the following reports:

AINA Report on Assyrian Human Rights

Amnesty International report on Assyrian Human Rights.

U.S. State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Iraq, 2001.


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