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.
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
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
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:
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.
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.
1. All future donations must be channeled
through a Charity organization that must have "Telkief" as part of its
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.
The other issues that this Chaldean political group must work on are:
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
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!
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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