Chaldeans On Line

                 The Chaldeans/Assyrians Under The

                      Arab Baath Regime of Iraq

                                                                                                                                                              By: Ghassan Hanna

This is a modified version than the one published in December 1998 in al-Muntada magazine.
Reposted October 28, 1999.

The lack of any political movement among the Chaldeans, the largest community of the Chaldean/Assyrian/Syriac nation had had a profound impact on the political and national rights (or lack of them) of the Chaldeans/Assyrians of Iraq. While the Chaldeans/Assyrians of Iraq have always been treated as second class citizens of the modern state of Iraq, however, historically the Christians of the Middle East and since the advent of Islam have always been treated as less than equal to the Muslim citizens of those countries. Saying that, the intent of this article is not to indulge in a historical analysis of the lot of the Christians under the different Muslim rulers of Iraq as much as to discuss their conditions under the Arab Baath regime of Iraq since its ascend to power in 1968.

The Arab Baath party is a political movement that drives its program from an "Arab adaptation" of European ultra nationalist ideology mixed with a bad dose of interpretation of Arab Muslim history. The result is terror, wars, and racist and chauvinist policies in dealing with non-Arab ethnic groups living within the Arab World. Unfortunately, Iraq, that great cosmopolitan society ended up with a political party with such an ideology on the reign of power. Hence, every non-Arab ethnic group of Iraq had its share of attempts to deny, suppress, extinct through forceful Arabisation, or simply physical extinction if all of the above failed. Kurds, Chaldeans/Assyrians, Turkoman, Yezedis all shared in one way or another those Baathi policies of Arab nationalism. While other ethnic groups were able to put a sustained resistance towards such policies, our Chaldean/Assyrian/Syriac people reaction as an ethnic group and, especially that of the Chaldean community, was one that can be characterized as benevolent at best. Saying that, the followers of the Church of the East did react by establishing several political movements, and some even gave martyrs on that path.

 
To understand the reaction (or lack of it) among the Chaldeans towards those Arab Baath racist policies one has to tackle once again the question of the absence of political movements among them.
In a social sense, political movements arise as a reflection of the need of a group of people to defend or preserve oneís own national and ethnic rights or promote oneís own "special interests"
agenda. However, in the case of the onslaught of those racist policies, no major reaction took place among the Chaldeans to fight back, hence, the question that might arise is: Was there any Arab
Baathi policies directed towards our people that demand reaction? The following is a list of some of the major policies through which the current regime used to resolve the "Chaldean/Assyrian
Question":
     1. The Baath government openly and publicly denied the existence of any ethnic group in Iraq apart of Kurdish and 
         Arabic. It demanded (and still does) that all Chaldeans/Assyrians/Syriacs register their ethnicity as either Arabs 
         or Kurds (depending on the area with the majority of either of those two officially recognized groups). 
     2. The Baath regime and for the first time in the history of Iraq decreed regulations by which it forced all Christian 
         students of Iraq to study the Muslimsí holy book of Quran. 
     3. It unleashed a major campaign by which the Chaldeans/Assyrians were targeted for a thorough and complete 
         Arabisation. It also falsified history books by claiming that Assyrians, Babylonians, and Chaldeans of Antiquity 
         are actually "Arabs in disguise". 
     4. Assyrians/Chaldeans were denied having any access to the media (being radio, TV or printed matter) that they 
         could use to express their language, culture, or national aspirations. In contrast, the Kurds were allowed to have 
         that, albeit under the strict control of the censorsí pens. The Decree for Cultural Rights of Syriac Speaking People 
         that was issued in early 1970ís was quickly ignored. The radio station that was created as a result of it was 
         closed after only few months of operation. No school was allowed to teach Syriac (neo-Aramaic). Even the two 
         Chaldean Catholic schools that were run by the Catholic nuns were put under government control with their names 
         changed to reflect an Arab character. That is despite the fact that the two schools were privately run and taught 
         all their material in Arabic and had many Arab Muslim students. The two magazines allowed to be published 
         (Beth Nahrain and Syriac Writer) were printing their material 90% in Arabic. With restrictions on teaching Syriac 
         language, no wonder that the government used that to blame it on the inability of the Chaldeans/Assyrians to read 
         and write their own language, hence, no need for Syriac-based literature! Unfortunately, itís a fact that while 
         Chaldeans/Assyrians are the most educated group in Iraq (in reference to their percentage of the population), 
         however, at least 90% of them do not know how to read and write their own mother tongue, Chaldean/Assyrian/Syriac. 
    5. The government and at its highest figures are known to exchange prejudicial and insulting remarks when referring
        to our people. Hence, encouraging in that process an intimidating atmosphere towards all Chaldeans/Assyrians on
        the Muslim Street. Tikriti thugs like Khirallah Talfah (Saddam Husseinís uncle) was known to refer to Tariq Aziz,
        Deputy Premier, and an Arabised Chaldean Christian, in insulting remarks in reference to his Chaldean background.
        Mind you such insulting remarks were  made earlier by another Arab nationalist thug, the previous President Abdul
        Salam Aref who openly in a speech made his infamous remarks of "No more Hanna(s) after today"!! Hanna being a
         certain Chaldean/Assyrian and Christian name. Actually, such remarks were even seen fit to be singled out of all the
        prejudicial remarks used by the different ethnic groups of Iraq in reference to each other. It was printed out in a book
        and publicized  worldwide by some anti-regime figures the likes of the Iraqi National Congress member, Kanan Makiya,
         in his infamous book "Cruelty and Silence". (Mr. Makiya apologized to our people publicly after a request from the
        author of this article).

    6. The Baath regime imprisoned, tortured and/or executed any Chaldean/Assyrian with nationalist political affiliation.

    7. Hundreds of Chaldean/Assyrian villages were erased to the grounds in an attempt to fight the Kurdish movement
        and the support it was receiving from the Chaldeans/Assyrians of northern Iraq. In the process helping a mass
        exodus from our ancestral homelands and onto Baghdad for a better control and to be thrown at the altar of
        Arabisation. Actually, today there are more than 500,000 Assyrians/Chaldeans in Baghdad subjected to a daily
        dose of Arab nationalism and Baathi terror.

    8. The regime encouraged the "divide-and-rule" approach towards our nation. The Chaldean vs. Assyrian card was
        played out heavily (still is). Itís no secret that many followers of the different churches of our people inside Iraq
        feel so estranged towards each other that once they leave it and arrive to places like the United States they get
        shocked to discover that we are after all one nation!

While the regime was unleashing its campaign of terror against our people (as well as the rest of the Iraqis), it was also buying out its way into our community through individuals who were willing to act as its agents of "Arabisation" and its policy justifiers. It also used successfully the rise of the Shia Islamic tide to put fear in our people of the "unknown devil" and hence, pacify their reactions towards its policies.

As can be seen, none of the above Baathi policies can be characterized as "friendly", "tolerant" and definitely not "preferential treatment" towards our people as some Islamic political groups, especially the Shia, love to believe in. Itís those twisted conclusions that make our people so much suspicious of the real intentions of those Islamic groups.

In my last article "For Assyrian/Chaldean National Rights in Iraq" CLICK HERE FOR LINK , I attempted to discuss the reasons behind the lack of political movements among the Chaldeans/Assyrians of Iraq. Consequently, what I would like to point out now, is the ways and means by which we, the Chaldeans/Assyrians of the Diaspora, can help our people inside Iraq achieve a better life. Above all how to work for the survival of our Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac nation which is losing, daily, members of its own to become either "Arab Christians" as the Baath would love to see us or be absorbed into the different societies of our Diaspora.

The need for an organized political movement among the Chaldeans is a necessity thatís being dictated by the need for national survival of our own ancient nation. We should not allow the racist elements among the Arabs and Kurds drive us out of our ancestral lands in Iraq. We should become the helping hands for our people inside Iraq to achieve our national aspirations along with other ethnic groups that make up Iraq. Some of those goals (ethnic recognition, self-rule area, access to the media, the immediate halt of destruction of Chaldean/Assyrian villages.. etc.) can only be achieved through a combined national effort by all the different communities of our nation, Chaldean, Syriac, and Assyrian. We should work together to establish a national counter-policy to those of the Baath. In addition to that, a dedicated Chaldean political movement should work on the followings:

     1. Asses our economical strength in the US and use it to direct a powerful lobbying group that can influence the
         American policy makers to force the regime of Saddam Hussein to ease off its racist policies towards our
         people. This same influence should be also used against any other regime that wishes to continue in the foot steps
         of the racist Baathi Arabs.

     2. Itís a known fact that our Chaldean Church is engaged in a powerful campaign to lift the evil regime of economic
         sanctions on Iraq. However, a simple assessment of those efforts and any observer will reach the conclusion that
         none of the millions of dollars collected by our community and sent to Iraq, and none of the many hours of
         campaigning resulted in any recognition of our peopleís efforts. The least we should expect (or the Chaldean
         Church should ask for) is to force the regime to:

          a) Declare in one way or another a permanent halt to the off/on game of forcing our children to study the Quran.
              Our Christian faith should not be used to appease the Islamists enemies of the regime.

          b) Allow our Christian Mass to be broadcasted every Sunday over the radio and TV in parity with the Muslimsí
               sermon every Friday. To deny that should be considered as a reflection of the regimeís real agenda in refusing
               to treat one and a half million Christians of Iraq on equal footing with the Muslims. Above all it is a total
               insult to the thousands of martyrs our people gave in defense of Iraq during the two Gulf wars in addition to
               the ongoing exemplary efforts by our churches in working to lift those sanctions that are directed against all the
               people of Iraq.

When none of the Iraqi opposition groups has come any close to the anti-sanctions campaign run by our Churches for the last eight years, one must ask: While doing that, has the lot of our people improved as a result of those efforts? Has the regime recognized our efforts, which ironically falls within its own agenda? Has the Iraqi opposition recognized our efforts? Did that change the mind of the Shia Islamic groups (with its own constituency being the major benefactor of lifting the sanctions) towards our people? Have they asked their Iranian-based radio station to stop referring to Tariq Aziz in a prejudicial manner by adding "Hanna" to his official name to indicate a Christian background as if being Christian is something bad? Actually, what did we get in return for being the most outspoken and the most active Iraqi group in calling for lifting of the sanctions and against any American attack against Iraq? The unfortunate answer is neither the regime has changed any of its racist policies nor any Iraqi opposition has noted those efforts in a way that will reflect positively on our people. While this is by no means a call for stopping those noble efforts, however, we should and must demand recognition for our efforts. Also, I suggest the following:

1. All future donations must be channeled through a Charity organization that must have "Telkief" as part of its full
    name e.g. Telkief Aid Society. Telkief, being the street name that the Arab Muslims of Iraq refer to our
    Chaldean/Assyrian people in general. This should be our way of sending a message that "Telkief" is a great and
    beautiful name. That those who used to insult us in Iraq should realize how shameful their actions were and how
    magnanimous and honorable are our peopleís towards those who used to treat them as less than equal.

2. Our Chaldean people should be encouraged to support more strongly the efforts of existing aid societies that
    channel money for charitable as well as educational programs for our Chaldean/Assyrian people in the Kurdish
    controlled areas in northern Iraq.

Let me make a simple comparison, if Mar Raphael BeDaweed and the Chaldean Church attempted to fight back against forcing our children to learn the Quran as strongly as heís now fighting for the lifting of the sanctions, what would have been the reaction of Saddam Hussein? Most probably one of the following two scenarios; Mar BeDaweed would either have been forced into exile (probably assassinated similar to what happened to Mar Shamoun XXI, Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, in San Francisco in 1975). The second scenario would be, Saddam Hussein issuing a decree installing a new Patriarch for the Chaldean Church (similar to what he did by installing his own Patriarch for the Assyrian Church of the East inside Iraq).

The other issues that this Chaldean political group must work on are:

         1. Our Chaldean Church (and the Church of the East) has been throughout history, the bearer and protector of our
         national aspirations in addition to being the social structure through which our people saw their means to solving
         their problems among themselves as well as with the Muslim rulers. This integral and most cherished institution
         of our nation must be preserved by all means. However, with the changing times and the more complex problems
         facing our nation, new institutions must come into existence to complement our churchís efforts in areas where it
         can not function efficiently. Hence, the need for political organizations. Itís clear that our Chaldean Church is
         being bombarded with the Baathi Arabisation campaign. Arabic-based Masses are now more than half of all those
         delivered in Iraq. Jesus Christís language is giving way to that of the Quran! Our church no longer considers
         preserving our language as one of its tasks. The Chaldean Churchís 1995 General Patriarchal Conference held in
         Baghdad was conducted in its entirety in Arabic! We all know that our nunsí schooling is conducted in Arabic and
         not in Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ whom our own nuns are supposed to be symbolically in communion
         with!! The majority of our nuns donít even know how to read and write Aramaic! Actually, they are even taught to
         speak a strange Arabic accent that none of them has ever spoken in their own neighborhoods, let alone their own
         parents homes!

    In the US, the commentary delivered by the Chaldean priest, Fr. Emmanuel Bouchi, over the "Chaldean Voice" weekly radio program is conducted in "formal Arabic". All while his own sermon during the Mass is delivered in Syriac! The excuse is "our people donít understand well complicated terminology in Syriac", so I guess let us deliver the entire commentary in formal Arabic because our people would not understand "few" complicated terminology in Syriac! Hayfa Fakhory of the Arabic Council in Detroit writes a letter to Michigan Stateís officials claiming Chaldeans as Arabs, hence, the stateís welfare aid to them be directed to her group which is named ironically "Arab and Chaldean Council"! All this with our church silent and Saddamís Arabisation agents among us rejoicing in their acts!

    When a nation loses its language, assimilation becomes the norm. Our nation lost more than half of its members to the Arab Muslim invasion during the first few centuries of the Islamic rule. Today, and under the Baath regime of Saddam Hussein we are witnessing another holocaust unleashed against our people with one difference, Saddam does not want us to become Arab Muslims.. just Arabs! While that might leave our church intact, however, itís devastating our national existence. Hence, our Chaldean political organization must direct its efforts to encourage our own Chaldean priests to hold dear to their hearts the language of our Lord Jesus Christ. To reinvigorate our language and not surrender to excuses like "our people limited knowledge of their own language". Israel was able to reinvigorate Hebrew, why do our priests, the children of Nineveh and Babylon, think itís difficult for them to reinvigorate Aramaic, the spoken language of Jesus Christ? Our Church inside Iraq must be encouraged to fight Arabisation and in the process encourage our people to preserve their own language. Our priests must be informed that the high standing they have among our people is due to their historical role of being the representatives of the institution that upheld our national symbol. Once they lose that to Arabisation, that institution becomes no more than just a religious institution!

    2. We should work hard to educate our Chaldean people about their history and their correct ethnic origin. Pride in their heritage must be pounded hard. A nation that has no pride in its own history, is a nation that does not deserve to live!

    3. We should work hard with other Assyrian and Syriac political organizations that exist among followers of other churches of our nation to develop a strategy by which we are able to take our nation into the coming new century with hopes of achieving our national rights. This strategy must be able to work with other Iraqi political groups to save guard the rights of all the inhabitants of Iraq.

    4. This Chaldean political organization should work to encourage our Chaldean church to move forward with the unity steps with its historical half, that of the Assyrian Church of the East and vice versa. Those unity steps should not be approached with conditions like "either unity with Rome or no unity at all"!  or "either total independence from Rome or no unity at all". Our nation has bled enough due to our religious differences. Itís high time to put those stupid theological wars to rest. The Church of the East, the first organized Christian church in the world, must be reunited. Its past achievements must be told to the world. Its body must be once again ONE!

One last word, we should distinguish between being "anti-Arabisation" and "anti-Arabs". The Arabs are our neighbors whom we live among and weíll continue to live among till end of time. Hence, being anti-Arab is racist, anti-Christian, and above all should be totally unacceptable to any Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac nationalist. However, "Arabisation" is a process through which our Chaldean people are being forcefully assimilated into the Arab community. Itís a racist and criminal policy that should be fought by all means possible.

The above are some of my thoughts to take our people into the next century. I hope other Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs who feel the sense of urgency and danger that our nation is facing will share them. Individuals with Assyrian and Babylonian fire inside them to awaken the sleeping children of Nineveh and Babylon. Arabisation must be fought. Mass exodus of our people from Iraq must be halted. Our national rights must be achieved. Our great nation must survive through the combined efforts of all its children. Our national awakening must be sustained!
 

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