12 Incredible Assyrian Women Around the World

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By Reine Hanna

March 8, 2017 marks International Women’s Day. Here are 12 of many Assyrian women inspiring positive change across the globe. (The list is not in any order)

Attiya Gamri (Haarlem, Netherlands)

Born in Tur Abdin, Turkey, Attiya Gamri is an Assyrian member of parliament in the Netherlands. Attiya is also the President of the newly established Assyrian Confederation of Europe, and as such is the leading voice for more than 500,000 Assyrians across Europe. In this new role, Attiya advocates forcefully for the rights of Assyrians in the homeland, and looks to build stronger diaspora communities in European countries.


Rosie Malek-Yonan
 (California)

Rosie Malek-Yonan is a woman who wears many hats. She has gained international recognition as an actress, author, and activist—among many other things. Born in Tehran, Iran, she is a descendant of one of the oldest and most prominent Assyrian families. Rosie has dedicated much of her career to advocating for the rights of Assyrians, using her platform to bring attention to the Assyrian Genocide of 1914-1918. She has starred in major Hollywood films. As a human rights activist, Rosie has challenged world leaders for their failure to protect Assyrian communities in the Middle East.

 Jonta, “Yimma d’Nahla” (Nahla, Iraq)
Photos of Jonta bravely standing up to Kurdish police were all over Facebook and Twitter when Kurdish police attempted to block a protest organized by Assyrians. The protest was with regard to ongoing theft of Assyrian land in northern Iraq in response to attempted encroachment in her beloved hometown Nahla. Known a affectionately as “Yimma d’Nahla” meaning the mother of Nahla, she risked her life by demanding that Assyrians from Nahla be allowed to pass in order to reach Erbil and join the protest, proving no one is tougher than an Assyrian woman.
Helen MalkoHelen Malko (New York City, New York)
Dr. Helen Malko is a Research Associate at the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. Born in Iraq, she received a PhD in archaeology and anthropology from Stony Brook University, and a Master’s degree in archaeology of the Ancient Near East from Baghdad University. She also holds a diploma in Historic Preservation from Rutgers University. Her current research is focused on the ongoing deliberate destruction of monuments and historical landscapes in Iraq and Syria, and she was recently in Iraq doing fieldwork. She has also testified in U.S. Senate Hearings to address the cultural heritage crisis in Iraq and Syria.
Nineveh Dinha (Salt Lake City, Utah)

Swedish-born Assyrian Nineveh Dinha is the founder of HER Magazine. She spent a decade working as a journalist for local television stations in Arizona (KYMA, NBC) and Utah (KSTU, FOX) and made appearances on Fox News, before pursuing her dream of launching her own digital publication. Through HER Magazine, Nineveh seeks to recognize the pioneering achievements of today’s women – who are forging the path for others to make their mark.

Muna Yaku (Erbil, Iraq)

Dr. Muna Yaku is a Professor of Law at Salhaddin University in Erbil. She is a widely respected advocate for Assyrian rights in Iraq. She was elected to serve as the only representative of Assyrians on a committee formed when the Kurdistan Regional Government began drafting a new constitution in 2015. Members of the KRG Constitutional Committee sought to reduce the rights of minorities during the process. Despite the pressure, she fought forcefully for the rights of Assyrians. When it became clear that her demands would not be met, she bravely walked o the committee in protest, saying “These are my principles, and I will never betray my people. I will not take part in the exploitation of my people.”

Sumer Homeh (Nairobi, Kenya)

Sumer Homeh is the founder and CEO of LocalAid, an organization that strives to empower vulnerable children and marginalized communities in Kenya. Under Sumer’s leadership, LocalAid has established a number of sustainable development projects which are aimed at ending poverty, such as the LocalAid Community Health Clinic, providing free services for people living with HIV/AIDS, and the New Horizon Family, a home for former street children, providing all of their basic needs and practical education in sustainable agricultural skills. An Assyrian native to Australia, she is a long way from home.


Savina Dawood (Ankawa, Iraq)

Co-founding Etuti Institute is just the latest item to be added to Savina Dawood’s resume. A beloved Assyrian activist, Savina has made a name for herself by voicing human rights violations against Assyrians in Iraq and Syria. She has dedicated her life to humanitarian work, entering conflict zones and providing food, shelter, water, and medicine to internally displaced people. Through Etuti, Savina works to empower Assyrian children and young adults in Iraq and Syria—in the hopes of creating a new generation of leaders in the Assyrian homeland.

Atorina Zomaya (Chicago, Illinois)

Atorina Zomaya is the founder of Assyrian Kitchen—an interactive cooking show based out of her hometown Chicago. Assyrian Kitchen explores traditions and ingredients that make up the Assyrian cuisine. Known for her contagious smile and entrepreneurial spirit, Atorina has recently partnered with the Oriental Institute to host Assyrian cooking classes. She was also recently featured on Windy City Live for her newest product, Buried Cheese. Outside of the Kitchen, she has been involved in a number of cultural and humanitarian projects related to Assyrians.

Maryam Shamalta (San Jose, California) 

Maryam Shamalta has quickly become a household name in the Assyrian community worldwide. The host of “Khayla d’Attayouta” or The Assyrian Feminine Power on Assyrian National Broadcast, Maryam uses her weekly television program as a platform to empower Assyrian women. Each week, she invites inspiring Assyrian women onto her show to talk about their achievements in their various fields. In a community that has traditionally has been dominated by male personalities, Maryam has changed the game.

Kara Hermez (Stockholm, Sweden)

Kara Hermez is an Assyrian activist based in Sweden known for her courage. She is an international advocate for Assyrian rights in Iraq and Syria, representing Swedish Assyrians in the Assyrian Confederation of Europe. She has been featured in a number of television programs and various publications regarding her work as an Assyrian. Just last month, she returned home to northern Iraq with two Swedish journalists highlighting injustices faced by Assyrians in the region.

Samar George (Khabour, Syria)

Samar George is barely recognizable now as a soldier in the Assyrian Khabour Guards. In 2016, photos of Samar kneeling over her husband’s casket went viral after he was killed in action just months after they’d married. Not long afterwards, photos surfaced of Samar in uniform, training with the Khabour Guards. She decided to honor her husband’s sacrifice and carry on his mission by taking his place on the battlefield, defending Assyrian lands against terrorism and other threats. The Assyrian region of Khabour in northeastern Syria saw its darkest period when ISIS invaded its villages in February of 2015. It is said that Samar now carries her late husband’s gun.

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This article is re-published with permission from the author, Reine Hanna.

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Assyrian Martyr’s Day

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In August of 1933, the Simele Massacre would become the first of many massacres committed by the Iraqi government against the Assyrians of Northern Iraq. The systemic targeting of this Christian nation rapidly extended throughout 63 Assyrian villages in the Dohuk and Mosul districts resulting in the deaths of 3,000 Assyrians.

The Simele Massacre would also become the inspiration for Ralph Lemkin who would later coin the term “genocide.” In 1933, Lemkin made a presentation at the League of Nations Conference on international criminal law in Madrid. His essay on the Crime of Barbarity as a crime against international law was presented to the Legal Council. Based on the Simele massacre, Lemkin’s concept of the crime would later evolve into the idea of “genocide.”

Today, Assyrians around the world commemorate this event on August 7th as the Assyrian Martyr’s Day.

Rosie Malek-Yonan Speaks at the Simon Wiesenthal Center

(Los Angeles) – In the aftermath of the October 31, 2010 Massacre at the Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, California, hosted a Press Conference at the Museum of Tolerance on Monday December 20, 2010, to expose the crisis that the Assyrian nation has been facing in Iraq.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations with over 400,000 member families in the United States.

Assyrian activist, Ms. Rosie Malek-Yonan, and religious leaders of various faiths were invited to attend the conference to call attention to the extermination of Assyrian Christians in Iraq.

Conference speakers included Ms. Rosie Malek-Yonan, author of The Crimson Field, Dr. Carl Moeller, CEO of Open Doors, Fr. Alexei Smith, Director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Imam Jihad Turk, Director of Religious Affairs of the Islamic Center of Southern California and Swami Sarvadevananda, Assistant Minister of the Vedanta Society of Southern California.

Also in attendance were Randolph Dobbs, Secretary of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of Los Angeles, Nirinjan Singh Khalsa, Executive Director of the California Sikh Council and Joel Pilcher, V.P. of Communications for Open Door.

In his introduction, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of Interfaith Affairs at The Simon Wiesenthal Center noted that the systematic campaign of persecution of Christians in Iraq, namely the Assyrians, was a repeat of what happened to the Jews in the1940’s.  He thanked Ms. Malek-Yonan for bringing the plight of the Assyrians in Iraq to the attention of the Wiesenthal Center and said,  “We call on all people of faith, and all Americans, to speak up for the embattled Christians of Iraq and against the disturbing pattern of violence against other faiths and places of worship.”

In her media address, Ms. Malek-Yonan thanked the Wiesenthal Center and Rabbi Adlerstein for hosting the press conference but stressed the importance of not reducing the Assyrian Nation to a mere religious designation as it only served to further eradicate the Assyrians from their crumbling ancestral homeland.

An outspoken advocate of the Assyrian identity, Ms. Malek-Yonan said, “Assyrians were in the region long before Iraq was a country and long before the advent of Christianity.”  She spoke of the personal nature of the Iraq War against her nation.  “This war is personal.  It is my nation…my blood.”  Her heartfelt comments struck a chord with the attendees as I glanced around the room and witnessed the quiet nods in solidarity. “The Assyrians in Iraq will be playing a game of Russian roulette this Christmas.  They never know when they leave home to attend church, if that is going to be their last mass.”

Ms. Malek-Yonan spoke of the crimes committed against the Assyrian nation in Iraq since the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.  She criticized the silence of the western media in the face of the ongoing atrocities committed against her vulnerable nation including sixty-six bombed churches, massacre, kidnappings for ransom, murder and the total devastation of lives.

Ms. Malek-Yonan also touched upon the Assyrian Genocide of 1914-1918 and the Semele Massacre of Assyrians in Iraq and explained that the term genocide was coined as a result of the Semele Massacre.

The conference attendees called on the U.S. House of Representatives to pass HR 1725, a resolution “condemning and deploring the murderous attacks, bombings, kidnappings, and threats against vulnerable religious communities in Iraq.”

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the day came at the conclusion of the Conference, when Imam Jihad Turk, Director of Religious Affairs of the Islamic Center, expressed to Ms. Malek-Yonan his disdain for the maltreatment of the Christians in Iraq.

Ms. Malek-Yonan asked, “Why then do you not stand with us and make public statements condemning the acts of violence and aggression against Christian Assyrians?  Why have the peace loving Moslems not attended any of the Black Marches around the globe in opposition to the Baghdad Church Massacre?

“We didn’t know what was going on in Iraq.  No one informed us,” Mr. Turk replied.

“So now you know, Mr. Turk.  Now you are informed,” replied Ms. Malek-Yonan.

In a follow-up to the Press Conference, Ms. Malek-Yonan, was interviewed by Fox News that aired the same evening in a live broadcast.

The YouTube link to the Fox News interview can be found here.

After leaving the Museum of Tolerance, I sat down with Ms. Malek-Yonan to ask her a few questions.  She graciously obliged.

Miller: I noticed when you got up to speak today, you had a prepared statement but then you folded it and spoke from your heart.  Can you elaborate on that?

Ms. Malek-Yonan: I was very honored and appreciative to be given the opportunity to speak at the Conference, but I was also getting annoyed that the Assyrian identity was kept out of the equation by all the westerners.  Yes we are a majority Christian nation, but that is separate and apart from our national identity.  I had to address that fact and it became necessary to dispense with my prepared statement and speak from my heart.  I am very much involved in the Assyrian fight for recognition.  I’m part of the movement.  I live it and deal with it daily.

Miller: If you can describe Assyrians in one word what would that be?

Ms. Malek-Yonan: Tolerant.  And how befitting that the Press Conference was held at the Museum of Tolerance.

Miller: Why do you say tolerant?

Ms. Malek-Yonan: Just look at what Assyrians are enduring and yet they don’t retaliate against their oppressors.  When they bomb our churches, we don’t go bombing their mosques.  We remain tolerant.  Perhaps one day our oppressors will learn to be tolerant as well.  They will have to in order to become a democratic society.

Miller: What is your view on the Iraq War?

Ms. Malek-Yonan: You haven’t done your homework if you have to ask me this question.

Miller: I think I know your view.  I want others to know it as well.

Ms. Malek-Yonan: I am absolutely anti war!  I was against the Iraq War from the onset.  War was not the answer because there was no pending question that warranted the attack or invasion of Iraq.  Weapons of Mass Destruction was just a cover story.  Unfortunately the Assyrians and other minorities in Iraq became casualties of a senseless war that has caused devastation and loss of precious life on all sides.

Miller: What about the non-Assyrian or non-Christian Iraqi casualties of war?  Do you ever speak for them?

Ms. Malek-Yonan: They have louder voices and resources than the Assyrians.  There are enough activists and politicians fighting their cause.  But Assyrians have no voice.  As I said before, war devastates all sides.  It’s only natural that I speak for Assyrians.

Miller: What will you do next?

Ms. Malek-Yonan: Continue to write, speak and educate.  Continue to call upon Congress and the European Union to address the crises Assyrians are facing.  Though I know those calls will fall on deaf ears as they have in the past years.  But for the sake of the Assyrians in the homeland and the multitude of refugees still struggling in Iraq’s neighboring countries, we must speak out at every opportunity.

Miller: What keeps you going day after day?

Ms. Malek-Yonan: The belief in the basic goodness of humankind.  I hope that one day we will in fact witness democracy, equality and tolerance not just in Iraq but also throughout the world.  It many not happen in my lifetime, but one has to hold on to hope and work towards bringing that dream, that idea to fruition.  Assyria will never be abandoned because I am not alone in the peaceful battle for her.

Miller: Thank you for your candor and Godspeed.

Ms. Malek-Yonan: My pleasure.

by T. Miller

20 December 2010

Photo of Rosie Malek-Yonan Courtesy of John Chimon

The Baghdad Church Massacre: Waiting for Godot!

by Rosie Malek-Yonan and Soner Önder

23 November 2010

(AINA) — When on 31 October 2010, the Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad was purportedly seized by terrorists, Al-Qaida’s Iraqi affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), claimed responsibility and defined churches as:  “The dirty place belonging to the infidels that Iraqi Christians have long used as a base to fight Islam.”

The well-organized attack on civilian parishioners and priests resulted in a terrifying hostage takeover.  As the drama unfolded, it became one of the bloodiest massacres against the Assyrians since the beginning of the 2003 Iraq War.  Three priests and 68 non-combative parishioners were murdered and dozens of terrorized men, women and children wounded, leaving a nation forever emotionally bewildered and scarred.  Amnesty International called the barbaric attack a “war crime” while worldwide, Assyrians view this massacre as yet another attempt to uproot their existence from the Middle East.

In a press release, ISI stated: “All Christian centers, organizations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for the mujahedeen (holy warriors) wherever they can be found.”

However, the selection of Christian Assyrians as “legitimate targets” by fundamentalists is not a new phenomenon.  One can find similar events throughout the course of history.

But why do they want to target the Christian Assyrians?

The simple answer is that these fundamentalists want to rid Iraq of its Christian population.  Historically, one can find deeply rooted discourses towards Christians in the Middle East, which also constitute the background for the present-day discrimination, oppression and massacres.

Hostages and Infidels

It is common knowledge that Christians in the Middle East are viewed as “infidels” and “collaborators” with Western countries and as such have become targets whenever there is a crisis in the region involving Western countries, particularly if the west is the aggressor.   Fundamentalists such as Al-Qaida often act out their aggression against Western politics by attacking Christians in their own backyard.  The rapidly shrinking number of Christians in the region attests to that.

What is remarkable in the case of the Assyrians of Iraq is that they are not only in the midst of an ethnic cleansing but also a religious cleansing since they are essentially the people of the cross and as such, not only have they become hostages in their own churches, but are also hostages in their own homeland.  The tolerant behavior of the Assyrians particularly their acceptance of others in the region is viewed by the oppressors as being submissive and since the Assyrians do not strike back in retaliation, they continue to remain easy prey.

Even though Assyrians are the indigenous people of today’s Iraq, having been there long before the creation of Iraq and the birth of Christianity, they are treated as outsiders and are being forced to leave their homeland.  This peaceful nation has been turned into a “hostage nation” with no one negotiating a release.  They are hostages since so many have virtually nowhere to go and no means to help the situation they are trapped in.

The mass migration into neighboring countries in the past several years has produced catastrophic results.  Poverty, kidnappings for ransom, and the lack of provisions for even a meager existence is what this “hostage nation” is forced to contend with since the international community has until now to a large extent ignored this massive problem.  Their thunderous silence is a contributing factor to the ongoing violation of the human rights of the Assyrian nation and all Christians who call the Middle East home.

In the eyes of the Assyrians, this indifference to their suffering is nothing new.  The 20th Century was wroth with events that shaped the future of this small nation as it clung to survival through periods of genocide, massacres, discrimination, death marches, and forced mass migration to distant shores.  To say they are disappointed in the international community for not having shown interest in their crisis is indeed an understatement.

Sometimes it is difficult to find the right words when confronted with unbearable reality.  The bloody Church Massacre in Baghdad is indeed one of those times.  It leaves one speechless.  To convey mere words of condolences is simply not enough for the survivors and a nation in mourning.  This is more than just a tragedy when one hears the testimonies of the surviving eyewitnesses and studies the published and unpublished photos and videos of the bloodshed.  Bodies ripped to pieces, chunks of flesh stuck to wood and plaster and a desecrated house of worship turned into a house of death.

How does one begin the healing process?  How does one mend the minds and hearts of the survivors who will forever recount the long ordeal and the aftermath of such a tragic event?  The bombed church will be rebuilt.  Bullet holes will be repaired.  Shattered glass will be replaced and a new coat of paint will cover the bloodstained walls and ceiling.  But what does one do with the memories that will linger on at Our Lady of Salvation?  How can one push the ghosts away that will remain there for all eternity?

These collective images reconstruct the post-modern version of El Guernica.  For the minorities of Iraq, the war against human rights and humanity has reached its boiling point.  All polite social behavior is meaningless when despicable acts are unleashed on the meek. Offers of condolences are hollow words to the Assyrians who are facing extinction.

What this nation needs is a concrete plan of action to be formulated and enforced immediately for their protection.

Admittedly, the Church Massacre in Baghdad did generate a modicum of sentiment from the international community, more so than in the past.  But the overall reaction has been weak.  The obligation for a serious global address of the ethnic and religious cleansing of the Assyrians including all its various Christian denominations in Iraq is met by avoidance of the issue altogether.  Most Western leaders and in particular the U.S. are defining this critical moment in history by their words or lack there of.  It is not only this ancient civilization that is on the verge of extinction.  It is rather the beginning of the demise of all civilizations when humanity crumbles and no one attempts to stop the domino effect that will soon become a global epidemic.

Is it just wishful thinking on the part of the Assyrians and many other ethno-religious minorities to continue to wait for the Iraqi Government and the international community to bring about peace and safety to the region?

Samuel Beckett’s 1948 absurdist play, Waiting for Godot, serves as a grotesque metaphor for the Assyrians.  They are much like the two main characters of the play who wait for Godot while occupying themselves over a course of two days with everything from the mundane to even contemplating suicide.  And Godot never arrives.

Assyrians have been waiting for Godot for many years.  They waited for Godot during and after the Assyrian Genocide (1914-1918) when two-thirds of that nation perished in Ottoman Turkey and Northwestern Iran.  They waited for Godot during the 1933 Simmele Massacre.  They waited for Godot during the first and second Gulf Wars.  Today Assyrians are still desperately waiting for Godot.

ESTRAGON: What do we do now?

VLADIMIR: Wait for Godot.

ESTRAGON: Ah!

Silence.

VLADIMIR: …What are we doing here, that is the question.  And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer.  Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear.  We are waiting for Godot to come—

ESTRAGON: Ah!

Post Saddam: Unfolding the Assyrian Destiny in Iraq

Before the US-led invasion of Iraq, there were around 1.4 million Assyrians living in the Iraq.  Today less than 400,000 remain.  Following Saddam’s fall and during the reconstruction of Iraq, many NGOs reported that minorities have become even more isolated and discriminated against in all aspects of social and political life, inevitably turning into soft targets for Al-Qaida and related sub-contractor organizations.

To date, the Iraqi Government has proven to be incapable and grossly unmotivated to protect the ethnic and religious minorities who are citizens of its own country.  This indifference is resulting in massacres and mass exodus particularly in the case of the Assyrian Christians.  Assyrians are facing two choices: either continue to wait for Godot or flee from Iraq.  The latter is a difficult decision in light of the fact that many do not want to leave what they recognize to be their ancestral homeland dating back thousands of years.  Despite this, multitudes have been forced to leave for Western countries.

According to UNHCR statistics, although Assyrian Christians constituted 3% of the Iraqi population before the war, 15% of the registered refugees are in fact Assyrians of all Christian denominations.  According to church sources, 40% of Iraq’s post-war refugees are Christians.

Those who fled to neighboring countries continue to live in deplorable conditions.  There are numerous published reports on the alarming circumstances of these refugees in Syria and Jordan.

Refugees who are able to reach Western countries, more often than none, will face an unfriendly reception.  This attitude partly stems from the financial burden host countries are forced to bear, resulting in the development of inhumane and unethical policies in dealing with Iraqi refugees. Closing their borders and sending these helpless refugees back into the middle of conflict and doing almost nothing for their protection in Iraq, is unjustified and does not fit with democratic moral values.

The Approach of the International Community

Western countries have moral and political obligations to act effectively not only by voicing their concern, but by actively protecting the human rights of at risk nations. Why are they then casting themselves in the role of Godot?

On 26 October 2009, the US Senate adopted Resolution 322 whereby expressing the need to call for a more effective policy. However, the crux of the problem has not been addressed and nor has a specific measure been developed regarding the protection of the ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq.

A statement issued by the White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, in the aftermath of the Assyrian Church Massacre in Baghdad, is indicative of the superficial approach to this massive problem in Iraq: “The United States strongly condemns this senseless act of hostage taking and violence by terrorists linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq…”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has stated that it is time for the Obama administration to “ensure that U.S.-Iraq policy prioritizes the plight of the country’s vulnerable religious minority communities (…)”.

On the issue of “political agenda”, political scientist, John W. Kingdon (1984), theorizes that the first necessary step is the recognition of a question as a “political problem.”  Applying this to the situation of the Assyrians, their problems in Iraq are not recognized as a specific “political problem” to warrant the issuance of a strategic policy.  Thus, many countries are not becoming vested in this issue and do not see this as worthy enough problem.

One of the obvious pitfalls of isolating the Christian question is that since they are in fact Iraqi citizens, they are being treated equally and not looked at as a separate ethnic group that is internally under attack by other Iraqi citizens.  Inserting this kind of diplomacy is just a polite way of overlooking the question altogether.  This argument is definitely blind and unethical with regards to the specific problems of minority groups.

The March Towards the End of Time for the Assyrians and Other Minorities in Iraq

The end of time is close at hand for the Assyrians in Iraq.  On the heels of the Church Massacre there were additional attacks on individuals and on Christian Assyrian homes resulting in more murders and devastation.  One does not need to be an analyst to predict the future.  It is rapidly writing itself.

Assyrians have lost their patience after seven years of endless attacks, constant threats and the nonchalant shrug of the international community.  Peace is nowhere in their future and their homeland.

The UK based, Archbishop Athanasios Dawood, has openly advised all Christians to leave Iraq.  A week after the massacre, in an interview with an Assyrian, the respondent said, “In my neighborhood they all hate me…When you see people on the streets, they ask, ‘Why are you still here? You should leave…'”

Although it may seem wrong to advise people to leave their homeland or country of origin, however, one must consider the safety and welfare of the innocent who are caught in the crossfire of a situation not of their own making or choosing.

If this acute condition persists and no serious efforts are taken for the protection of these people, they will rapidly flee.  In that case, is any Western country ready and willing to receive thousands of refugees?  Is any government ready and willing to orchestrate a safe mass exodus without merely distributing them around the globe but relocating them near already established Assyrian communities in order that the integration into a new life will not be a complete culture shock?  They will need the support of their own communities in the diaspora.

It must be noted that German and French officials have offered asylum to Iraq’s Christians, however, according to the Washington Post (23 November 2010), Yonadam Kanna, the Christian Representative in Iraq, has rejected asylum offers from the west, criticizing them as “meddling in Iraq’s problems.”

No Democratic Future for Iraq Without Minorities

The U.S. must develop a clear and concrete policy to address the core problem it had a hand in creating.  The United Nations Secretary General must play a key role by taking immediate initiative to follow through with a solid plan to insure the security and well-being of these minorities.  Similarly, the European Union, particularly the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy must become involved in the process in order to develop a European approach to the question at hand.  Considering the fact that many refugees are seeking protection in EU Member States, this question should be of high priority to the EU.  International humanitarian organizations, the Iraqi Government and even other Middle Eastern countries must all step up to the plate.

In order to discuss the different dimensions of the problem and focus on finding common solutions, an international conference focusing on the situation of Iraqi minorities can be a significant starting point.  With the UN or Iraqi government’s initiative, such an international conference may be able to bring all concerned policy makers, including states and NGOs under one roof leading to the development of a new policy for the protection of all minorities in Iraq and eventually all minorities in the Middle East.

Finally, it is essential to consider as a viable solution, the realization of a self-administrative area in the Nineveh Plains in Northern Iraq where Assyrians and other ethnic and religious minorities constitute the majority of the population.  Aside from its potentially democratic function, a self-administrative area can become a “shelter” for Christian Assyrians and other minorities in Iraq.  If the true aim of Iraq is to realize a democratic society and not an Islamic state, it must tolerate and safeguard all its citizens regardless of differences in religion, language, ethnicity, race and gender.  As a matter of policy, Iraq should immediately provide effective security measures in Baghdad, Mosul and particularly in other areas where minority groups are targets of Al-Qaida and other terrorists groups.  With the disappearance of its indigenous people, there will be no democratic future for Iraq.  Without democracy in the region, the demise of the human race is at hand.

©2010 Rosie Malek-Yonan and Soner Önder.  All Rights Reserved.

Rosie Malek-Yonan, Author, The Crimson Field

Soner Önder, Political Scientist, Stockholm University

Published: Assyrian International News Agency

An Assyrian Tragedy

by Rosie Malek-Yonan

Assyrian International News Agency

23 August 2010

Los Angeles (AINA) — What will you do if a loved one is kidnapped?  To what extreme will you go to see them returned safely?  Will you pay a kidnapper to have your child returned?  What will you do if the authorities do not mount an investigation?  Will you give in to the demands of the kidnappers? How much will you pay to have your teenage son returned?  What if you can’t come up with the thousands of dollars being extorted for the return of a brother or sister?  Would you pay the ransom knowing there is a chance you would still never see your abducted father or mother?

These are not just hypothetical questions.  They are questions Assyrians have been forced to reconcile with since the onset of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.  The targeted kidnapping of Assyrian Christians in Iraq has been big business and will continue to escalate with the U.S. withdrawal from the region.

How to pay for the release of a loved one is a monumental concern for those who have no means to pay the kidnappers.  On the other hand, paying off kidnappers in Iraq carries a greater ramification as the U.S. treats these Assyrian victims as colluding with Islamic terrorists.

But what if you didn’t have the means to pay the ransom?  What then?

This is the anguish Yonan Daniel Mammo’s family has been living with since his abduction several weeks ago.

Yonan is married and has two small children.  They live in the Assyrian neighborhood in Kirkuk. Yonan’s sister and brother also live in the area.  His children have no idea why they have been separated from their father, though I suspect his six-year-old daughter will most likely understand more than her two-year-old brother.  She is old enough to know her mother’s tears are caused by her father’s absence.

Yonan graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from Baghdad University. He worked at Hammurabi Exchange Office on Al-Jamhwaria Street in Kirkuk and supported his family on a modest salary of $300 a month.

At 8 pm on 29 July 2010, when Yonan left his place of work, four armed gunmen jumped out of a BMW in front of the Exchange Office and took the Assyrian man as hostage.  According to witnesses, Yonan was stuffed in the trunk of his abductor’s vehicle.  That evening, Yonan’s family waited for his return.  There was no sign of him.  The family clung to hope and prayer.  Nothing else was in their power.  With the dawn of a new day, their hopes were shattered.

On 30 July 2010, the Muslim kidnappers used Yonan’s own cell phone to contact the family.  Yonan was allowed to briefly speak with his family.  He informed them that he was taken against his will. The kidnappers then demanded ransom in the amount of USD $150,000 for Yonan’s safe release.  When the phone went dead, Yonan’s family realized their nightmare had already begun.  Countless Assyrians had been kidnapped.  They knew all the stories.  All the lives that had been cut short.  And now the tragedy was theirs to live through.

Yonan’s family did not have the means to come up with this kind of money.

Two weeks dragged on.  When on 14 August 2010, the kidnappers realized that this was an impossible amount for the family to raise, they lowered their demand to USD $100,000.

On 23 August 2010, sources informed me that the local police in Kirkuk raided several locations in the city in search of Yonan but came up empty-handed.

There has been no other contact with the kidnappers.

This Assyrian tragedy has not come to an end yet.  Yonan’s future rides on the morals of his hostage takers as his family continues to hold on to hope that perhaps they will be able to raise the money to buy back Yonan’s freedom.

The Assyrian tragedy in Iraq is the hidden carnage that the world has chosen to ignore.  But what of the role of the elected Assyrian officials in Iraq?  What are their responsibilities towards members of their nation in these cases?  Why are they not publicly demanding the release of Yonan?  Why are they not publicly demanding a full investigation?  Why are they silent when so many Assyrians continue to suffer in this manner?  Why is Yonan’s release not being negotiated with the kidnappers?  Why must the family remain in isolation and live in fear of further retaliation from the kidnappers?

One family member writes in frustration, “Why am I Assyrian?  Why am I Christian?”  These are questions of frustration that stem from Islam’s intolerance of the Assyrian nation in Iraq.

What if Yonan were your father, brother, son, husband or friend?  What would you do?

© 2010 Rosie Malek-Yonan.  All Rights Reserved.

Rosie Malek-Yonan is an Assyrian actress, director and author of The Crimson Field.  She is an outspoken advocate of issues concerning her nation, in particular the Assyrian Genocide and the plight of today’s Assyrians in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. On June 30, 2006, she was invited to testify on Capitol Hill about the genocide and persecution of Assyrians in Iraq. The study of the Assyrian Genocide globally absent from the curriculum of educational institutions changed when in 2009 the SUNY system (State University of New York) added “The Crimson Field,” to its curriculum for a World Literature class.  She has worked with many of Hollywood’s leading actors and directors. She played the role of Nuru in New Line Cinema’s “Rendition.”  To schedule an interview with her please send your request to contact .

Akitu, Assyrian New Year 6760!

Akitu, is the Assyrian New Year Festival. In Assyrian it is also called Kha b’Neesan which translates into “the first day of Spring.”

The Akitu Festival began with the Sumerians. The word Akitu means “barley” in Akkadian. The Sumerian calendar had two festivals one in the Autumn beginning in the month of Tashritu in celebration of the “sowing of barley,” the other in Spring, beginning in the month of Nisannu celebrating the “cutting of barley.”

The Babylonians celebrated Akitu but only in Nisannu, a festival that lasted eleven days in honor of the supreme god Marduk and his crown prince Nabu.

The Assyrians also adopted the Akitu Festival when in 683 BC King Sennacherib built two Akitu Houses, one outside the walls of Assur, and the other outside Nineveh.

Modern day Assyrians continued to celebrate the festival but called it Kha b’Nisan, the first day of Nisan or Spring, however, it is usually observed on April 1st, which corresponds to the start of the Assyrian calendar. In recent years, the Akkadian name, Akitu has been re-adopted by Assyrians and is the most important national festival.

After the invasion of Babylon, the Persians adopted many Assyrian and Babylonian customs and practices. The celebration of Norooz (new day) on 21 March, has its roots in the Akitu Festival.

©2010 Rosie Malek-Yonan.  All Rights Reserved

Assyrians and the 2010 Iraqi Elections

With the onset of the 2004 US-led invasion of Iraq, the ancient Assyrian Christian community was at once under attack. An early sign of violence against the Assyrians was the bombing of the Holy Spirit Church in Mosul on 26 June 2004. To date, 65 churches have been attacked or bombed; 40 in Baghdad, 19 in Mosul, 5 in Kirkuk and 1 in Ramad

Thousands of Assyrians have fled their ancestral homeland in Iraq and are living as refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Western media and the press has willfully neglected to report the countless murders, rapes, kidnappings for ransom of Assyrians in Iraq. In 2006, a western source in Iraq informed me that there was a “blackout” on Assyrian stories out of Iraq. At the invitation of the U.S. Congress, on 30 June 2006, I brought these deliberate atrocities against the Assyrian nation in Iraq to the attention of the U.S. government in a testimony I gave on Capitol Hill. Congressman Christopher Smith assured me that he would look into all the crimes against my Assyrian nation. You can find the text of my Congressional Testimony here.

Six years later, the violence against Assyrians shows no sign of letting up. The Iraq War has now lasted longer than WWI during which time the Assyrian nation lost 2/3 of its population in a systemic ethnic cleansing in Ottoman Turkey and northwestern Iran.

With the 2010 Iraqi elections just a few days away a new wave of threats, intimidation and murder is being unleashed against my nation in “so-called” democratic Iraq in order to deter Assyrians from going to the polls.

On Sunday 28 February 2010, hundreds of Assyrians in Baghdad came out in a peaceful demonstration against the murder of ten Christians in Mosul. The murders sent Assyrians in a mass exodus from Mosul.  On 4 March 2010, the United Nations humanitarian arm reported that 4,320 Iraqi Christians were displaced following the recent unrest in the northern city of Mosul.

The International Assyrian News Agency (AINA) published the following list of the Assyrians who were murdered in February 2010:

♰ February 20: Gunmen entered the house of Aishwa Maroki, 59, and killed him and his two sons: Mokhlas, 31, and Bassim, 25.

♰ February 20: Adnan al-Dahan, 57, was found with bullet wounds to his head in the northern Mosul district of al-Belladiyat. He had been kidnapped from his grocery shop the week before in the neighborhood of Al-Habda, also in northern Mosul.

♰ February 17: The bullet-riddled body of Wissam George, a 20-year-old Assyrian Christian, was recovered on a street in the south Mosul residential neighborhood of Wadi al-Ain.

♰ February 16: Zia Toma, a 21-year-old engineering student, was killed and Ramsin Shmael, a 22-year-old pharmacy student, wounded.

♰ February 15: Rayan Salem Elias, a Chaldean Christian who ran a business dealing in a traditional meat dish, was killed outside his home in East Mosul.

♰ February 14: Fatukhi Munir, an Assyrian Catholic, was gunnd down inside his shop in a drive-by shooting.

The recent events in Mosul, should give the Assyrian communities outside of Iraq enough of an impetus to go out and cast votes without fear of persecution or loss of life. For those of us who live comfortable lives in the west, the importance of voting in the 2010 Iraqi elections are even greater than ever. We are at a turning point. In the upcoming Iraqi elections that will take place on March 5, 6, and 7, we are limited to five seats only!   Please take the time to vote your conscious and don’t remain unconcerned.

If you are an Iraqi citizen, or have a parent or grandparent born in Iraq, you are eligible to vote.  Please exercise that unique right!

But before heading out to the polls, here’s what you need to take with you to cast your vote in the United States:

Iraqi born citizens: Two forms of identification, an Iraqi passport and Iraqi citizenship and a US identification or passport.

American born citizens: Parent’s Iraqi passports or Iraqi citizenship documents along with either a US identification or passport.

You may cast your vote for any of the following slates and choose any of the 48 candidates on the slate. There are also three Christian candidates running in Prime Minister Maliki’s Party. You do not have to cast a vote for a candidate from a political party you do not agree with. You can choose any slate and any candidate from the same or a different slate.

Slate #389 (Two Rivers List) The Assyrian Democratic Movement

  1. Younadam Joseph Kanna Khoshaba
  2. Basim Jacob Jajo Balloo
  3. Basima Joseph Peter Jumaa
  4. Thabit Michael Shabeh Samaan
  5. Waheed Ablahad Hirmiz Michael
  6. Janan Nathem Joseph Antoine
  7. Adrees Mirza Maleel Mirza
  8. Emad John Jacoub John
  9. Khalida Shaba Elias Simon
  10. Nisan Mirza Greemo Mirza

Slate #390 The Assyrian Chaldean Syriac People’s Council

(Note: The Kurdistan Democratic Party and Massoud Barzani are openly supporting this slate since the candidates are card carrying members of the KDP and as such this vote will in essence be for a KDP member.)

  1. Khalis Chris Estepho John
  2. Louise Caroo Bandar Mansour
  3. Fahmi Sleewa Babika Banoos
  4. Ra’ad Emmanuel Thomas Alshmaa
  5. Fatin Nasir Jacob Nomila
  6. Edward Abraham Odisho Adam
  7. Rafeeqa Elia Saka Abraham
  8. Ameed Abdlraheem Jajoo Joseph
  9. Ra’ida Oraha David Naaman

Slate #391 The Chaldean Council

(Note: The primary candidate, *Hikmat David Elias Hakim, is a card-carrying Kurdistan Democratic Party member. Please be aware that this vote will be a KDP vote!)

  1. Hikmat David Elias Hakim*
  2. Thiyaa’ Peter Sleewa Hanna
  3. Viyan Jalal Marcus Abdooka
  4. Zuahir Sabri Peter Gabriel
  5. Fouad Matthew Thomas David
  6. Lamya’ Saa’ib Zaya Joseph
  7. Amir David Peter Alqas-Zakaria
  8. Atheer Eleesha Oraha Maqoo

Slate #392 The National Ur List

(Note: *Ablahad Efrem Sawa Hanna is a card-carrying member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Please be aware that this vote will be a KDP vote!)

  1. Ablahad Efrem Sawa Hanna*
  2. Ramzi Mikha Jajoo Sadiq
  3. Serwan Shabey Bahnan Marcus
  4. Limyah Abraham Dinkha
  5. Basim Jacob Joseph Jacob
  6. Talaat Mansour Aprim Mansour
  7. Widad Joseph Dinkha Esa
  8. Sa’id Matthew Peter Elias
  9. Rajaa’ Elias Saeed David

Slate #393 (independent) Sargis Jospeh Sargis

Sargis Jospeh Sargis Ohan

Slate #394 Ishtar Democratic Coalition

  1. Emmanuel Koshaba Youkhana Boodagh
  2. Habib Luke Hanna Nabatee
  3. Mary Hashim Shmoel Joseph
  4. Fathil Peter Poulos Matthew
  5. Arsanis Basa Abdlahad Mahmood
  6. Silvana Booya Nasir Kadoo
  7. Sammy George David Marcus
  8. Firas Fa’iq Kamil Iskandar
  9. Blandina Zia Abdoo Bla
  10. Amir Hormiz Hanna Habib

Slate #395 (independent) John Joseph Thomas Yousif

John Joseph Thomas Joseph

Slate #337 Prime Minister Maliki’s Party

  1. George Bakos (Maliki’s Political Advisor)
  2. Wijdan Michael Salim
  3. Kamal Fredrick Astanilos Field

Please get out to the polls and vote! Your vote will send a loud message to our brothers and sisters in Iraq that they are not forgotten and that we stand with them. If you are among the handful who are calling for the boycotting of the elections, I am asking you to take a hard look at the bigger picture. No one will care if we boycott. But they will gladly take what is rightfully ours because we will be giving it to them. Step in the shoes of members of our own nation who can’t make the trip from their homes to a voting place to simply cast a vote because they are being threatened. I am also asking you to please consider those who will bravely make the deadly trip to the polls.

Please vote! The alternative will be devastating for the future of the Assyrian nation.

by Rosie Malek-Yonan

4 March 2010