by Rosie Malek-Yonan
5 October 2008
Los Angeles (AINA) — On Sunday October 5, 2008, the Assyrian community of Southern California gathered at the Federal Building in Westwood to take a stance against the Iraqi Parliament’s recent removal of Article 50. Ms. Rosie Malek-Yonan delivered the following speech at the rally that was attended by several hundred Assyrians from different groups, organizations and churches of various denomination.
My name is Rosie Malek-Yonan. I am an Assyrian. Today I stand before you on behalf of my Assyrian nation in Iraq.
We Assyrians come from many communities and belong to various churches, denominations, political groups and speak many dialects. But today we have come together in a voice of solidarity.
The Assyrians are the indigenous people of Mesopotamia, presently Iraq. Today’s Iraq is our ancestral homeland. It was our home long before the Arab invasion and long before Britain carved Iraq out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920’s. Our handprint is everywhere in a region rich with Assyrian history, culture and tradition. We Assyrians still speak the language of Christ and were the first nation to accept Christianity in the first century A.D. We have lived in the region for the past 6,000 years even after the fall of Nineveh, our capitol. The Assyrian nation is deeply rooted in the region and has managed to maintain its identity for centuries despite political, historical and geographical changes throughout the centuries.
Since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003, the Assyrian nation has been under siege, facing far greater danger than the average Moslem Iraqis. As minority Christians living in Iraq, not only have we been denied our most basic human rights, but Islamic extremists have been forcing Assyrians out of Iraq through various tactics such as deliberate and systematic attacks and continuous abductions by merciless kidnappers who leave Assyrian families mourning their loved ones even when a ransom is paid. Assyrian lands and property are confiscated and families driven out of their homes.
Our churches have been targeted and destroyed because they represent Christianity. Our clergy have been brutally dismembered and murdered. Our children have been victims of hate crimes. Our women have been kidnapped and raped. Our men have been kidnapped and killed. Our businesses and homes have been destroyed.
We have been paying ransom to our captors since the beginning of the war. Our community has been dispersed but our spirit is still not broken. We will not be severed. Our 1.4 million population before the Iraq War has now been dwindled down to less than half a million. Assyrians still living in the interior of Iraq, are subjected to violent hate crimes and their human rights are disregarded. But we have not given up hope. We are still standing and have not sought revenge. We have not fought violence with violence.
Assyrian refugees who have crossed the border from Iraq into Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are living in squalor conditions. Where they were once productive members of society, they are now reduced to living as refugees in poverty and neglect. We, who have gathered here today, speak for them. We are the voice of members of our Assyrian nation in Iraq who cannot be heard today.
Recently Iraq’s three-member Presidency Council approved and adopted a new and long-awaited Provincial Election Law, removing the final stumbling block for polls to proceed in early 2009. This law will allow the new Provincial Councils to push ahead with economic reconstruction in Iraq.
On September 24, 2008, Iraq’s 275-member Parliament passed the Provincial Election Law but in a move that has stunned the minority citizens of Iraq, particularly the Assyrians, and has drawn criticism from the United Nations, members of the Iraqi Parliament removed Article 50, a key clause that would have reserved seats on Provincial Councils for Christians and other minorities.
The new law allows a fixed quota of 25% for women, but other Iraqi minorities, such as Christians and Yazidis, have been omitted with the removal of Article 50. We are calling on Iraq’s Presidency Council and members of the Iraqi Parliament and lawmakers to immediately reinstate Article 50.
On Thursday October 2, 2008, Staffan de Mistura, a UN special representative, disapproved of the removal of Article 50 and called for it to be reinstated by October 15. Despite the fact that this bill is now effectively a law, the Iraqi Parliament can amend the legislation.
The Assyrian nation is making an appeal not just to the Iraqi government, the United States and the United Nations, but to the citizens of the world to stand with us to reclaim our rights and the right to representation.
With the removal of Article 50, so-called “democratic” Iraq will shift back to being a conservative Islamic State that will no longer recognize the rights of its minorities, particularly the Christians.
The reconstruction of Iraq cannot succeed when the rights of the country’s minorities are stripped from them.
As the indigenous people born in the cradle of civilization, the Assyrian identity must be recognized and preserved and, therefore, Assyrians demand representation in the Iraqi Parliament as an integral part of Iraq’s future.
Regardless of their numbers, the Assyrians will always remain in the region and will continue to call the land between the Tigris and Euphrates their ancestral and rightful home. The Assyrians are entitled to fundamental rights and to representation in the government of which they are citizens.
Democracy in Iraq will fail if it does not treat all members of its society equally under the law. The removal of Article 50 will ensure the failure of democracy in Iraq and will ensure not only discrimination against Assyrians in their ancient homeland, but will treat them as 2nd class citizens.
Assyrians have already paid a heavy price since the beginning of the Iraq War. The liberation of Iraqis must encompass all its citizens, including the Assyrians, and not just the Sunni, the Shi’ites and the Kurds.
The removal of Article 50 suppresses the rights of Assyrians and other minorities. If this is a means to remove the ethnic structure of Iraq, it will not. The removal of Article 50 will not erase the diversity of cultures, religions and ethnicities that make up Iraq. But what the removal of Article 50 will do is to revert Iraq to the old path of dictatorship in dealing with its minorities.
Assyrians from all corners of the world, including Iraq, have come together in peaceful demonstrations in a voice of solidarity against the removal of Article 50. Today Assyrians of Southern California are adding their voice to our brothers and sisters around the globe. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, have stated in various interviews in the past few days that they will be amending the change in the law immediately.
Though one cannot always count on the promise of politicians, the Assyrian nation is counting on them to do the right thing and to restore Article 50 in order to ensure that the law protects the rights of Assyrians and all minorities.
If the removal of Article 50 is meant to act as a final blow to the systematic attacks on Assyrians to ensure a complete uprooting of these Christians from Iraq through mass migration or assimilation to result in a complete loss of the Assyrian identity, be rest assured that the Assyrian identity will never be lost.
© Rosie Malek-Yonan 2008. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Rosie Malek-Yonan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Note: Published in AINA (6 October 2008), Zinda (10 October 2008), and The Christian Post (6 October 2008)