Bishops Present a Compelling Vision for
Chaldeans in New Iraq
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May 10, 2003 San Diego, California In a historic move reflecting the newly acquired confidence of Iraq’s Christian minority in demanding its involvement in the shaping of its own future in the new Iraq, the United States Chaldean bishops, representing the largest Chaldean community outside Iraq, presented a compelling vision for the Chaldeans. A vision that could well serves as the political program and agenda of the Chaldeans in the new Iraq.
Iraqi Christians, and for centuries, have been treated as second class citizens by its Muslim rulers. During the regime of Saddam Hussein an aggressive Arabization campaign was unleashed against Iraq’s non-Arab citizens, including its Chaldean natives. Tens of Chaldean villages and churches were razed to ground in the government efforts to crush the Kurdish revolt resulting in a massive immigration of Chaldeans to Arab towns and specifically to Baghdad. There, they were subjected to Saddam’s propaganda machine in an attempt to kill their Chaldean identity and replace it with an Arab one.
With the Chaldean masses closely attached to their ancient two-thousands-years-old church, the voices of the two Chaldean Bishops should add a powerful momentum to the Chaldean nationalist movement. It would also have a tremendous impact on the involvement of Chaldean laymen in the events currently shaping the future of Iraq and that of their nation; an involvement that would certainly have a positive impact on Iraq’s movement towards a democratic and pluralistic system.
Below is the historic memorandum of Bishop Ibrahim Ibrahim of Detroit, Michigan and Bishop Sarhad Jammo of San Diego, California:
CHALDEANS IN THE NEW IRAQ
A. Chaldean Ethnic and Cultural Identity
1) Contemporary Chaldeans are the descendants of the inhabitants of ancient Mesopotamia, and are the heirs to and the continuation of its civilization, particularly through their preservation of the Aramaic language, culture and heritage. Their ancestors converted to Christianity during the first centuries of the Christian era. Their Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church, in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, is the heir of the ancient Mesopotamian Church of the East.
2) Since the middle of the 16th century until the present time, the majority of Christians of Mesopotamia, today's Iraq, restored their ancient name "Chaldean" as the expression of their ethnic and cultural identity. This nomenclature in fact refers to the last national Mesopotamian Empire with its splendid Capital Babylon, before foreign invaders conquered the country (i.e. the Parthians, the Persians, the Arabs, the Mongols, and finally the Ottoman Turks). The language of ancient and contemporary Chaldeans is Aramaic, the same language that Jesus Christ spoke.
3) The cultural and ethnic grouping of the population of Iraq consists of the following ethnicities:
3.5% Chaldeans (approximately 650,000 inside Iraq)
2.5% all other minorities.
Though relatively a small segment in number, the Chaldeans of today's Iraq are more than a mere minority group. They represent the historic remnant of ancient Mesopotamia. Moreover, they have their ancestral towns and villages within the actual borders of present-day Iraq.
B. Political Background
1) The Iraqi Chaldeans, since the establishment of the Iraqi state in the early twenties, have been recognized as valuable force in the Iraqi cultural and political arena, and many of them have emerged in modern times as prominent civil servants. Several Chaldeans were appointed Ministers of Government; the Chaldean Patriarch himself served, until the establishment of the Republic of Iraq in 1958, as Senator in the Iraqi Senate. The regime of Saddam Hussein continued adopting the well established governmental attitude of relying on the expertise and skills of the Chaldean technocrats.
2) Nonetheless, because of their ethnic and cultural identity, different from that of the Arabs, and because of their Christian religion, different from Islam, Chaldeans endured discrimination and persecution since the Arab invasion of Iraq (A.D. 634) until the present time.
In the last century, until the collapse of the Baath Regime in Iraq, Chaldeans suffered greatly. Their Chaldean language, the major dialect of Aramaic, had no chance to be taught in schools and used in communication media; Arabization was sponsored and enforced by the State. Their villages and properties were confiscated or destroyed; their private and parochial schools were nationalized without compensation; they were forced out of their ancestral lands to become refugees all over the world.
Actual Political Implications:
1) The Chaldeans in the United States, approximately 150,000 strong, have in recent decades freely expressed an ethnic and cultural awareness of who they are, by asserting that Chaldeans are a distinct people different from Arabs, Kurds, Persians, Turkish, or Turkmen. In fact, they were recognized by the Census Federal Bureau as a distinct ethnic and cultural community.
2) The Chaldeans, being a distinct ethnic and cultural segment of the population of Iraq, genuinely rooted in its millenarian history, they will accept to be represented only by Chaldeans speaking in the name of Chaldean organizations, and maintain everywhere that they shall reject any non-Chaldean, political or otherwise, individual or organization, claiming to represent them.
Nevertheless, Chaldeans are ready to work in harmony and collaboration with all the other ethnic and religious groups in Iraq, particularly with the Assyrians, provided that the Chaldean identity is recognized and preserved.
3) The Chaldeans agree with the United States government policy in promoting a new Iraq that is based on the principles of territorial integrity, respect of human rights, minority rights, and of pluralistic democracy. As implementation of that very policy we present the following legitimate demands of Chaldeans in the new Iraq:
- Constitutional recognition of Chaldeans as an ethnic segment of the Iraqi
population, immediately after the Arabs and Kurds, with their cultural,
administrative, and political rights.
- Fair representation in all the government branches: legislative, executive, and judiciary.
- Equal right of access to governmental offices and positions, to mass media, and to free professions.
- Cultural rights particularly regarding Aramaic language, private schools, and associations.
- The right to return to their homes and ancestral villages and lands.
- The right to fair reparation for confiscated or nationalized properties.
- In areas where Chaldeans make up the majority of the population -around Mosul, Zakho-Dehok, and Erbil-- Chaldeans should be allowed regional self-administration.
- In regard to religion: It is imperative that the Iraqi constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, and that Islam is not the religion of the State, and that all citizens, regardless of their faith, are of equal rights. Therefore, separation of religion and state should be the clear law of the new Iraq.
C. Recommendations for immediate action
1) We recommend that the United States support the inclusion of Chaldeans as a recognized and valid partner in the process, currently being undertaken, that will expectedly result in a new government in Iraq, and that the United States will endorse, as well, a secured recognition of their rights in the new Iraqi Constitution and government.
At the present time, there are two Chaldean organizations working to express and
represent the political aspirations of Chaldeans; we endorse both of them:
- The Chaldean National Congress with world-wide branches and representatives.
- The Chaldean Democratic Union, operating within Iraq.
2) Since Chaldeans are numerically the third segment of the actual Iraqi population (being approximately 650,000 people inside Iraq) and since they represent 3.5 % of the total population, it is fair and democratic to mention them, in the official US documents and speeches, immediately after the Arabs and Kurds, i.e. before the Turkmen and the Assyrians and other minorities.
May 5, 2003
Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim Bishop Sarhad Y. Jammo
of St. Thomas the Apostle of St. Peter the Apostle
Diocese, USA Chaldean Catholic Diocese, USA
Chaldean News Agency