Posts tagged ‘assyrian’

The Spark that started a revolution: Navigating Four Crucial Trends Post the Assyrian Wedding Fire in Baghdada (Qaraqosh), Iraq

By Ashur Sada, founder and webmaster of Assyrian Voice Network

Can the town of Baghdeda (Qaraqosh) take more hits?
In the 2010 Baghdad church massacre, a lot of those affected were from this town and surrounding areas in the Nineveh Plain region. Then a few years later, the town and the whole region in general was invaded by ISIS, causing unimaginable destruction and hundreds of thousands of people to flee for years. And after a few years of relative stability, where a lot of people went back to their homes, we thought things are finally turning around. Not so fast! There was something as bad or worse than all previous hardships and tragedies: a deadly fire that would kill 110+ people, in a happy occasion like a wedding out of all places!

The recent tragic and catastrophic fire at an Assyrian wedding in Baghdeda , north of Iraq, has left an enduring mark on the hearts and minds of not just the Assyrian and Iraqi communities but has resonated globally. A local man from the town said it best: “even during the 2014 ISIS invasion, we didn’t suffer this much. At least back then we had a warning and most of us could flee. Not so much with this fire”

While it may be premature or even insensitive to make any conclusions or make predictions about future implications, it is an unavoidable topic. Given the magnitude of the tragedy and the unimaginable suffering people have experienced and will experience for a long time, this will mean changes, new adjustments, and a frankly a revolution from the old way of how things were done. Here are 4 shifts that I think will result or change as a result of this. This is not to suggest these are all good changes, but simply changes that will come out of this calamity.

While it’s true that not all weddings and venues are unsafe, especially in the diaspora where safety measures are more enforced and strict, this wedding tragedy prompts people to reconsider large celebrations. Regardless of safety concerns, the focus shifts to the joy derived from smaller weddings, with fewer attendees and in more intimate venues, creating an overall more intimate experience. While there was already some traction towards smaller celebrations in the west, this will eventually gain traction in Iraq and the middle east in general as well. Not just the size and celebration, but the whole approach to weddings and how complicated they have become in recent times. A wedding should be a cause for celebration and joy – something to look forward to – and not something we dread or makes us feel exhausted.

As mentioned earlier, people in the region can only take so much. After enduring terrorism, ISIS invasion, political infighting, a lack of services, and now this horrific tragedy, residents may ponder, “What comes next is not a question of if but when, as we feel this region is effectively cursed, denying us peace even in our happiest moments.” The town of Baghdeda (known as Qaraqosh in Syriac or Hamdanya in Arabic) in the Nineveh Plain region lies at the heart of the dwindling Assyrian presence. If immigration resurfaces as a threat, the region won’t withstand further population loss, having already seen hundreds of thousands depart since the 2003 U.S invasion of Iraq. While Assyrians exist in other parts of the country, the Nineveh Plain is the heartbeat of the Assyrian nation. If this heartbeat stops, revival becomes challenging. While people will not leave because there was a very tragic and deadly accident at a wedding – accidents happen everywhere – it is about the broader picture, and how corruption, lack of safety measures etc. could have led to this very preventable tragedy.

This segue into our next and very important topic: safety
Safety is a shockingly strange concept in Iraq.
While reading foreign coverage and discussion of this tragic fire, I was struck by some online commentary on pictures from the aftermath. These were some of their reactions, which puts the whole thing into prospective:

I’m looking at the pics and those guys just walking around with the roof hanging like that !??  oh naw”
“Right? The guys walking around fire wreckage with sandals on are going to tell us that indoor pyrotechnics are safe…”

These two comments truly puts how safety is approached in Iraq in a whole new prospective. Imagine, even in the aftermath of such a historical fire, people are still paying no attention to safety whatsoever. By safety, we are not talking wedding safety only, but the way people live and operate in Iraq and the middle east in general. The incident underscores the need for a thorough review and potential strengthening of safety and building codes in Iraq. It highlights the importance of having stringent regulations in place to ensure the safety of public gatherings. Future implications may involve more rigorous inspection processes and increased enforcement of safety measures during events, especially those involving large crowds. The incident may prompt a reevaluation of certain traditions, such as the use of fireworks indoors, whether or not they eventually are found to have caused the fire. People should refuse to hold their events in venues that don’t have basic safety and fire code requirements, such as sprinklers, adequate safety exists and signs and a proper emergency plan. We really take these things for granted when living in the west, and while it is not perfectly safe here, the idea is to be mindful of what it takes to be safe, while enjoying the occasion.

Imagine this: in response to this horrific tragedy, it took some time for a fire truck to finally arrive on the scene. Even more shocking, the truck had a limited water supply, and it eventually ran out. In other words, they arrived both late and inadequately prepared! Some reports allege that the second truck sent also faced similar issues with an insufficient water supply. We place our faith in governments and civil defense forces to assist us in times of need, but, in reality, they often fall short. In this instance, when firefighting services were most needed, they failed miserably, at least in the crucial first hours of extinguishing the fire and rescuing people. This easily explains why the death toll is so high, in addition to the initial safety red flags that have been pointed out as a cause. This all goes back to the broader discussion of services, or lack thereof. While Iraq has had a lot of tragic accidents in recent two decades since the toppling of the previous regime, this one should hopefully renew discussion about basic services the government offers to the public, how good they are, and whether they meet their basic needs. More importantly, in a country where bribes are rampant and public firings are used as a dress rehearsal to show an intent to make a change, getting the government to pay more attention to how it delivers services to its citizens is the least we could ask for. It is starts with more ownership, responsibility and accountability from all those involved, be it business, government or even those using these services and venues. People are already hopeless and think like many tragedies in the country in the last few years, this one will soon be forgotten and the findings will not get to the bottom of what really happened.

While it might seem inconsiderate to suggest, in a country like Iraq where positive changes are rare, it often takes a once-in-a-lifetime tragedy to ignite meaningful transformations. Unfortunately, many of us harbor doubts about the likelihood of such changes occurring. With the government more focused on rhetoric and public image than on taking tangible actions for genuine improvement, individuals may find themselves compelled to take matters into their own hands. Regrettably, this could involve the difficult decision to leave the country and seek refuge in the West. Let us fervently hope and pray that the tragic spark that led to this devastating fire will, in turn, spark positive changes rather than further negative consequences for our people in the region.


Shame on Iraq for Allowing the Attacks on Christian, Assyrian Churches

bombed by extremists and terrorists.

There has been a very public and loud condemnation of these attacks, from Assyrians and Christian Iraqis everywhere.  Most have been very sad, upset and enraged by what happened, and rightly so.

This is more than a terrorist attack on the innocent Assyrian Christian people of Baghdad and Iraq in general.  It seems like some high planning would have gone into it, not just from the terrorists themselves, but well beyond it.  This begs the question: what do these attacks, the fourth of such horrific nature since the US war in Iraq started in 2003, mean for the Assyrian and Christian presence in Iraq? is this a hint from our haters that we are not welcome, and that those who are left, or thought of returning, should think twice about staying or returning to Iraq?

In addition to all the scare and terror it puts in our already fragile community, these attacks are more than what is needed to make the remnant of our community, to pack and leave.  As I mentioned before, Assyrians and Christians in general have been targeted hundreds and hundreds of times ever since the US war in Iraq ended and the insurgency started. But of these countless and senseless attacks on the Christians in Iraq, 4 have had a very big and lasting impact.  They caused a big wave of Assyrian exit from the affected region or the country altogether:

  1. A series of coordinated attacks that targeted several churches on July 1st, 2004.

  2. The freely-moving insurgency in Doarh in 2006-2007, aided by Al-Qaeda, which terrorized and pretty much emptied the city from its Assyrian and Christian residents

  3. The attacks on Assyrians in Mosul in late 2008, which caused thousands of families to flee, most of whom are yet to return, if ever.

  4. The latest attacks on July 11, 2009

It seems like every time there is a calm and hope for the Assyrian Christian population to return to normal, something of this magnitude happens.   We know the security situation in Iraq has generally improved recently.  But the so-called ‘security improvement’ is a relative phrase.  All it takes is one bombing to make our fragile community rethink its eternal decision to be part of Iraq, let alone a series of bombings targeting our most sacred and holy places.  If the terrorists or whoever is behind these attacks, is provoking us and making us think about staying, they are having some limited success.  Success in the short term at least.  Iraq without its native Assyrian population and the salt of the land, the Christians, is not worth much.  With all due respect to all the other good and great people of this country.

So I will say it as an Iraqi Assyrian myself: shame on Iraq and Iraqis in general for allowing such thing to happen to their Christian compatriots.  Sure they can’t do much about it, as their own mosques and even government institutions  have been bombed, but there is more to it than to just stop a terrorist from bombing a church.  It is about the public opinion overall and how Christians are looked at in the country, and whether they are of a second class or equal to the average Iraqi?

As stated before, it doesn’t take much to weaken our already fragile community in Iraq.  Which is why the Iraqi government, as well as the Iraqi people in general, should make it a priority to protect the Christian community.    Not just protect it, as there is more to life than to just be protected from danger.  They should help them thrive in this country which is rightly theirs.  A country they have contributed so much to.  Why are all their contributions and goodness forgotten all of a sudden? for personal and political interests? we all know these won’t last forever.

Our people, even as tolerant Christians, can only have so much patience.  Eventually, they too will either pack and leave or have a response to what is happening to them.  Protecting the native sons and daughters of Iraq, the Christian Assyrian population, will pay you dividends in the long term.


July 1st, 2009: 5th Annual ‘buy from an Assyrian’ Day

It was close to 5 years ago when Assyrian Voice first pioneered the ‘Buy from an Assyrian’ day. On this day, which falls on July 1st, every Assyrian is asked and encouraged to go out and buy from their local Assyrian stores and businesses. Your support of Assyrian businesses on this day is merely symbolic and the hope is thY every day is like ‘July 1st.’

What is so special about this day and why do we have to help Assyrian businesses and stores? Shouldn’t they be helping the Assyrian community. Well, without the community’s support as a whole, these businesses will not be able to help us in turn. All other cultural groups help their own businesses, creating a small economy within another bigger economy, so why can’t we do it?

It is very simple. Go buy an Assyrian music album, dine at an Assyrian restaurant, or do your shopping at an Assyrian store. And if you are not close to any Assyrian store or business, you can buy from the various online Assyrian retail stores.

The idea is to create a self-enforcing cycle of support. The community supports Assyrian businesses and these businesses in turn will return the favor by supporting community events and charities. This was actually evident at the recent April. 1st Assyrian New Year gathering where there was various sponsors who in turn were selling their products, to a very receptive and supportive attendance.

You don’t have to spend in the
hundreds, unless you want to of course. Even a few dollars will do. Remember, the idea is to get people buying from these stores for the long term and not just one day on the year. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be on July 1st, but can be done any other day you can make it.

The hope is that these businesses will continue their sponsorships and supporting of local Assyrian events, charities and even fund projects for our people back home. We are helping build the fundementals of a small virtual economy. Done collectively wherever there Assyrians, you will get a massive influx of money ending up in the pockets of Assyrians. They in turn will use it for all that we mentioned above. It starts from you though!


Is there an Assyrian ‘Susan Boyle’ Amongst us?

By now, and unless you live in a cave with a complete isolation from the rest of the world, you have most likely heard of Susan Boyle.  She is the British Idol show sensation who wowed the crowd, despite being laughed at and ridiculed before she even started her performance. Ever since, Susan Boyle has been the talk of the media and the web, with her performance clip on Youtube being watched over 100 million times in a matter of ten days or so. Astronomical numbers in any way you look at it.

But why and how did Susan create such a buzz? Is it her great voice? While that has a lot to do with it, it is more about the expectations people had of her, given her looks and age. It is a perfect and classic illustration of “judging a book by its cover and not necessarily by what is in it.”

Do Assyrians have a Susan Boyle amongst them? Or maybe more than one Susan Boyle, and this includes from both genders.  You bet we do.  The Assyrian Susan Boyle is that person in our Assyrian society whom we dismiss and not give a chance to show us what they have got.  Whether it is a talent, a skill, an idea, we are sometimes too quick to dismiss people in our society based on their looks or appearance only.  We don’t even give them a chance to show what they have, and discharge them before they have even had a chance to impress us.

How many times have you seen an Assyrian with a good idea or a plan, only to be laughed at or even ridiculed? And this is even before we have had a chance to hear or see what this ‘Assyrian Susan Boyle’ has to offer.  We may judge the person based solely on their appearance, looks, background or even tribal affiliation.  If he is not from my tribe, I am not giving him a chance. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? This also applies to our presense in Iraq: just because we are a minority and Christian, doesn’t mean we should be dismissed and marginalized. Give Assyrians of Iraq a chance too!

If Susan Boyle has taught us anything, it is that a person should be given at least one chance, and you never know what could happen in that one chance.  A person could fail his chance, or could really impress us.  We are not even asking for many chances: let us give those in our nation just one chance to show us what they got. We never know, they may impress us after all.  This includes any and all segments of our society, be it political, social, music, business, entrepreneurship and other areas.  If we just give a person one chance, you never know what will come out of it.  They may just need that one chance and support from us, and the rest will just grow beyond expectation and imagination. Isn’t that what happened with Susan Boyle?

Finally, and to all the Assyrian ‘Simon Cowells’ amongst us, be a little more open and fair in your judgment.  Give a chance to a person, and don’t ridicule them before you have even had a chance to see what they have to show.  By doing this, you will have saved yourself any future mockery.  Next time an Assyrian comes to you with an idea, listen to them and give them a chance.  Otherwise, and with no ideas to build from and on, our nation will have no future artists, businesses, entrepreneurs, singers, politicians, scientists, infrastructure.  Or we may still have them, but they will not be working under an Assyrian name, because their own Assyrians didn’t give them a chance to begin with.


Assyrian Independence: Indian Way? American Way? or the High way?

What is the common thread between Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, and Benjamin Franklin? they have all, in one form or another, secured independence for their people, be it a political, religious or spiritual one.  In fact, there is one more common thing, at least between two of the three: their independence was granted from the British, who ruled India and the United States.  Benjamin Franklin did it the US way, the mostly rebellion and violent way.  Mahatma Gandhi did it the rather quiet and peaceful way.  Jesus did it in the most peaceful way, although ironically, his own blood was spilled to save the nation.

Looking at these three examples, one wonders if any of them can fit our Assyrian experience, in a way than can be applied, to gain the independence we need through it? which one should Assyrians use? It doesn’t matter which one they have been using so far, rest assured that no one single approach will work, instead we need a combination of all three. Yes, that means mixing the High way with the more violent American Way!

The Indian Way

What characterizes the Indian Way and what makes it such? to begin with, there is no such thing as ‘Indian Way/Approach to Independence.’ It is simply an example we use here of the different methods that nations employed to gain independence. It is characterized by a mix of peaceful opposition to colonization and the occasional and ever-increasing refusal to cooperate with the government of the colonizing power.  In the case of the Indian independence, Mahatma Gandhi was the main architect and engineer, employing no use of any force or violence.

The Civil Disobedience Movement represented what Gandhi was all about: disobeying the public order and law imposed by British authorities, to a point where order and law in the country is virtually non-existent.  This of course was not a good thing for the Brits, and thus resulting in the signing of the famous Gandhi-Irwin Pact March 1931. In it, the British Government agreed to set all political prisoners free in exchange for the suspension of the civil disobedience movement.  The ‘Nationalist Movement’ played a big role too, rarely resorting to the use of violence.  The blend of all of these parties, without the use of any violence against the British, culminated in the eventual independence of India.  As you can see, non-violence worked to secure the independence of India, thanks to the engineer of the whole movement, Mahatma Gandhi.

The American Way

Since the early 1600s, the new colonist in the new discovered land of America, attempted to separate from the British mother land.  Most of these attempts were violent in nature, as well as a mix of rebellions and oppositions.  The British made matters worse for themselves by continuing to oppress the people of the new world, imposing various unnecessary and harsh taxes and laws on them.  “Taxation without Representation” was one of the factors that led to the ignition of anger for Americans, which sought to take taxes from the colonies without giving them any real representation.  Then came the “Stamp Act” which imposed various levis and fees on all papers, documents, cards etc.  This all finally escalated to an all out war between the colonies and the colonizing British, ending in victories for the Americans.  Finally in 1776, the Americans, led by Benjamin Franklin, declared it independence, and thus separating themselves from the mother land.  The Brits continued to try and regain their control over their former colony, sending various armies to quash the new republic, but failure was usually their fate.

In 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, forever ending the colonization of the American land, and approving of its independence.  As we can see, the Americans did it the hard and violent way, even though their opposition was the most powerful empire on earth.  Violence and full scale war worked in this case.

The High Way

I bet you, this way of gaining independence the “High Way” is new to you. It is something you have never heard of, or maybe did but in a different form.  Its main architect and engineer is Jesus himself, the son of God.  “Jesus engineered an independence?” you may be asking yourself. He did. Albeit, a spiritual one, where the blood of none of his people was spilled, but only his.  You see, there is more than one unique thing about the High Way to independence as mastered by Jesus.

Comparing it to the other ways above, it is the only way through which the leader gave his own blood, thus sparing his own people from spilling their blood.  It is also unique in that it was mostly peaceful in nature, with full reliance on help from God above.   Of course, it is also different from all other ways in that the independence it secured was not land or nation based.  It was purely a religious and spiritual one, which is why a lot of Jews were disappointed, as they were awaiting a savior in both a religious and political sense.  Again, the reliance on help from above and God, is what makes this way, the High Way.  Full or complete reliance on help from above to achieve your objective, without ever relying on violence or anything that contradicts the Bible and Ten Commandments.

And the Winner is…?

Having read all the various ways through which nations and people gained their independence, which one appeals to you the most? before answering this question, it would be helpful to examine what Assyrians have used in the past.  To be clear, independence, doesn’t necessarily mean to have your own state, although that is included too.  Assyrians, for the last 50 years or so, have relied mostly on the Indian and High Way to independence.  There have also been some flashes of the American way, but I wouldn’t think of it as significant enough.  If anything, our use of military options has been mostly to defend ourselves, and nothing else.  The many martyrs we gave the last two centuries are an indication of our self-defense and willingness to die for our nation.  But then again, our reliance on the Indian and the High way have been the most noticeable.  We have always trusted God to be the one leading us through all the difficult times, and we trust him to take us to the promise land, whatever that land looks like.  We also believe and trust in all the biblical verses which foretell a future for Assyrians.

Beside our reliance on our churches as our peaceful leaders in these rough times, our reliance on Zowaa and various other organizations was also a peaceful one.  Zowaa has always conduced its business in rather peaceful way, from its beginnings to our day today.  They have given up many martyrs, but like mentioned earlier, these were mostly self-defense and the readiness of the members to offer their life for the cause.  In fact, even in today’s Iraq and all its difficulties, Zowaa and the other Assyrian representatives in the region, have been the voice of reason and peace.  Violence and aggression have never been a part of their solution. Only peace.

From the above history, it is clear that Assyrians, for the last 50 years or so, have used a mix of all three, although very little of the American way.  The Indian way and the High way has been used more than anything else, and very little of the American way.  Should this percentage stay the same? if anything, the mix should stay there, and more of the American Way should be mixed into the percentage, albeit for self-defense purposes.  But we should definitely give more thought to the Indian Way, because it can be very effective, if mastered correctly.  Of course, we need our own Mahatma Gandhi, someone who embodies his nation’s desires and hope.  People may agree or disagree, but we already have some characteristics of Gandhi in our own Mar Dinkha, the leader of our church as well as in Younadam Kana, the secretary of Zowaa.

The Indian Way is very fit for our world today. But to use it effectively, we have to meet its requirements. One of the requirements, is to build yourself well into the community and society you live in.  Make Assyrians an important part of any community they live within. Once that is achieved, they will be able to build their lobby, which will have a big influence on decisions and matters relating to the Assyrian issue.  As part of the Indian Way, our people also have to be very active, educated and socially mobile. Mobile in the sense that they can move from one place to another, doing whatever it takes to make their voice heard, in a mostly peaceful manner.

In the long term, when Assyrians have wise fully and effectively placed themselves in society, they can manipulate the public opinion, change rules and laws in their favor.  But whatever you use, our people and officials should always mix the three ways to independence.  Of course, at the end of the day, there are many many variables to consider, all depending on preferences and the circumstances.  A salad is never a good salad, when it only has one vegetable, and not a mix of many, although one vegetable like tomatoes or lettuce could be the most used.