An Open Letter to Policymakers: Fight or Flight for ISIL Genocide Survivors?
The United States of America has an exemplary record of leadership and assistance for the most vulnerable people. Your leadership is critical in achieving formidable resolutions. Indeed, when an American leader speaks up, the world listens and changes accordingly. America always stands for human rights around the world.
The Assyrians do not have any form of effective representation in their ancestral homelands or abroad. There is no functional or basic democratic environment throughout Iraq. For instance, on April 13, 2016, a group of Assyrians (including elderly Assyrian women) attempted to travel to participate in a peaceful protest regarding illegal confiscations of Assyrian properties and lands by Kurds in North Iraq. The demonstration was planned to take place in front of the Kurdish Regional Government parliament building in Arbil, Iraq. However, the Kurdish security forces (e.g., Asayish) prevented the Assyrian civilians from traveling to Arbil by blocking the road through utilizing armed Kurdish security personnel. To complicate matters, all vehicles were stopped, checked, and were only allowed to pass if the identification card demonstrated the individual(s) were non-Christian (as designated on their respective identification card in accordance with Iraq’s Article 26; National Identity Card Law).
As an Assyrian-American, I have learned to accept the barbarity of duplicitous dictatorial strategies as the standard protocol for ethnic and religious minorities. There is no respect for the rule of law, or a substantive form of democracy in Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Nonetheless, as an American, it is unacceptable for the same KRG ruling class to vociferously parade in Washington D.C., and throughout different cities across the United States, masquerading as diplomatic agents of peace; in attempt to garner support, weapons, and other resources from the American government and international communities.
It is absolutely deplorable to welcome, embrace, and fully support the KRG; as the KRG vehemently deny basic and fundamental rights (e.g., peaceful protest, assembly, travel, etc.) to the average civilians under their control. This was evidenced most recently by the deliberate armed blockade of the peaceful protest in North Iraq. Adamantly supporting the KRG without holding them accountable, serves to empower and further embolden similarly brazen acts, deceptive strategies, and oppressive mannerisms toward ethnic and religious minorities who remain powerless under their rule.
At this critical juncture, it is imperative for policymakers to be the pivotal voice of the voiceless persecuted minorities throughout Syria and Iraq; as they continue to suffer in silence under tyranny and oppression. It is unconscionable for Kurdish authorities in the KRG to be compensated with millions of dollars in foreign aid, irrespective of rampant corruption, human rights violations, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, etc.
Consequently, there is no other viable long term solution for Assyrians but an autonomous area of their own, without Kurdish or Arab influence. Throughout history, the Assyrian population has been largely eradicated, dwindling to less than three million, scattered throughout the world. Most have been forcibly converted, deported, murdered, exiled, Arabized, Kurdified, etc. There are more Assyrians living in the diaspora than in the ancestral homelands of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran combined.
Assyrians have been largely decimated through deliberate strategies and calculated ideologies of hostile neighbors. The few remaining Assyrians are publicly ridiculed when they mention their heritage, with the following common remark: “there is no such thing as Assyrian”. The Assyrian identity is continuously diminished as Kurdish news outlets recurrently misrepresent Assyrians by deliberately mislabeling them as Arab Christian or “Kurdish Christian.” Their very sense of being and dignity is stripped from them as they are shaken at the core, to the point where Assyrians doubt their heritage. There is no Assyrian history taught in schools in North Iraq, hence, the lack of education assists in perpetuating the perpetrators’ maliciously ignorant claims. Assyrians have been denied their continuous and distinct historical identity by being routinely reduced to “Christians” in order to refute the Assyrians’ rightful and indigenous claims to their ancestral homelands.
Unfortunately, the illegal confiscation of Assyrian lands, homes, properties, and various villages throughout Northern Iraq is nothing new. Currently, there are numerous Assyrian homes and villages in North Iraq illegally occupied by Kurds. The rightful owners are exiled abroad or in refugee/IDP camps. There is no recourse to law. Even if an Assyrian has the deed and all the required paperwork to his/her home, an overwhelming majority of the KRG courts rule in favor of the Kurds as the “Kurds receive priority in law and challenges in court are not resolved in favor of non-Kurds.” This has been the KRG policy for decades, time and time again, with multiple documented evidence of such rulings. There are KRG laws facilitating the legalization of Kurdish squatter rights on Assyrian lands and properties throughout Northern Iraq. “The directive entitled ‘General Conditions for the Ownership of Illegally Obtained Lands’ mandates the conditions necessary for official governmental land deeds to be granted to Kurdish squatters.” This is precisely how human rights abuses successively correlate directly with ensuing genocides; slowly and with impunity.
The historical area known as the land between two rivers (Tigris and Euphrates) has served as the “Cradle of Civilization” and contributed immeasurably to humanity’s collective world heritage. History throughout time has made something unequivocally clear; Iraq is a safe haven for terrorists, corruption, radicals, and everything else in between. There is no security apparatus to protect civilians who are often caught in the middle.
While a myriad of groups and organizations attempt to lobby on behalf of Assyrians, the truth is that they will never recognize the full depth of the melancholy that accompanies the existential struggle of the Assyrians. It takes an Assyrian who has navigated the path of tragedy to fully comprehend the vast scope of the situation. It is abundantly clear: there is no viable solution to sustain Assyrians, or to preserve Christianity in Iraq. The exodus of Christians from Iraq is not simply expedited through ISIL. Recently, an archaic church in Basra, Iraq was destroyed to build an apartment complex. If not conducted through ISIL, the destruction and eradication of Christianity from Iraq is slowly commissioned through official channels of the Iraqi government.
Instability is rampant throughout Iraq. Due to the vacillating nature of Iraqi politics, the Kurdish authorities in KRG have capitalized on such integral flaws. The KRG holds the Assyrians and other minorities hostage as bargaining chips at a costly price; usually arriving in the form of foreign aid and foreign business/trade investments. This entails the assortment of NGO’s creating prosperity; invigorating the debilitated KRG economy, and beautifying the image of the Kurdish Region of Iraq as a stable, peaceful, and harmonious environment of co-existence where foreign investments have the potential to thrive. Needless to say, it is pure optics. The KRG theatrics continue as KRG officials promote and parade a few Assyrians as a demonstration of tolerance. The mechanisms of tokenism are propagated by lobbying firms and vigorous KRG lobbying campaigns. However, it is up to the individual to investigate the truth and hold others accountable. Otherwise, mistakes will be continuously repeated as has occurred for the past decades in Iraq.
To the untrained eye, the Kurds uphold the facade of appearing pro-Western, liberal, and democratic. KRG officials are successful lobbyists as they have invested millions of dollars in D.C. firms to uphold their image over the previous decades. Nevertheless, upon closer inspection and research, the true image of the Kurds is profusely clear. There is an immense quantitative difference between the KRG media campaigns and the reality on the ground. Moreover, the KRG forces barred travel and prevented Assyrians from protesting in front of the KRG parliament. The right for an individual to express oneself and the right to assemble is a fundamental indicator of a prosperous democracy. In addition, the KRG officials’ silence, rejection, apathy, and objection with respect to human rights reports speaks volumes.
Peaceful protestors are routinely intimidated, threatened, harassed, shot, illegally detained, murdered and violently subdued in the Kurdish Region of Iraq by official KRG forces (Kurdish Peshmerga, Asayish, etc.). The average civilian suffers injustice without due process of law. Another heartbreaking example is regarding the Assyrians in Nahla, Iraq. As Turkish airstrikes regularly target PKK militants, as well as PKK-affiliates, and their strongholds in Northern Iraq, the civilians are used as human shields. The testimony provided states that the PKK militants and their respective affiliates continue such atrocities freely, as they are closely related to the KRG de facto leader’s wife.
Likewise, there are relatively increased rates of human rights abuses, FGM, “honor killings”, domestic violence, and “suicide by self-immolation” in the Kurdish Region of Iraq. Several months ago, a group of Kurds attempted to bring down a Christmas tree at an Arbil shopping mall, located in the Kurdish Region of Iraq. Also, there was a store selling shoes which contained large Crosses on the soles, operated by a Kurd business owner in a shopping mall in the KRI. The significance of the shoes with the Crosses on the bottom cannot be dismissed as a simple fashion faux pas. Woefully, this is how calamity unfolds, and starts with normalization of intolerance with comparable unpleasant acts of hatred. Such deplorable acts of dehumanization and depersonalization are steps that lead to the incitement of genocide. Besides, the list of examples of documented violations are innumerable, spanning decades. Similar inhumane practices continue without redress. Furthermore, areas throughout Europe where such practices are increasing are attributed to the high rates of migrants from those regions (e.g., Iraqi Kurdistan).
Regrettably, the emerging Kurdish groups in Syria (PYD/YPG; PKK-affiliates) use child soldiers, forced conscription, forced displacement, implementation of “distorted biblical education,” intimidation tactics, harassment, etc. Additionally, the YPG murdered an Assyrian leader (Mr. David Gindo) and simultaneously attempted to assassinate another Assyrian leader (Mr. Elias Naser), all under the pretense of a peace treaty.
The Kurds are not indigenous to the lands they currently occupy. The ambiguous origins of the Kurds are attributed to the nomadic tribes of Iran and further East. The harsh reality is that Kurds’ compliance and willingness to work with the West (and Russia) is out of pure necessity. Their very existence is highly contingent upon the U.S. and the West, as well as formation of various subversive alliances, with a recent office opening in Moscow, as the “Kremlin has yet to deny them a visa.”
Prior to the Kurds, there was a parallel epicenter of admiration focused upon Kosovo. Once known for its liberal values, it has turned into a fertile breeding ground for terror networks and Jihadist affiliates. Diverse groups of radicals are engaged in ISIL-caliber violence, bigotry, and outright savagery. For example, there are documented incidents where individuals are violently taking down crosses from churches and other callous acts of destruction, vitriol, and desecration.
In essence, the Kurds are another fleeting phenomenon. However, when an unaware individual hears the same fabrication many times in a row, it becomes entrenched as fact. It does not matter if the truth is reported, time and time again, as pictures of Kurdish female soldiers hugging puppies are more visually appealing to a Western audience than the ugly truth that is the Middle East chaos. With time, a particular fabrication becomes associated with more hyperbole, masquerading as truth amidst the general populace. And that is the very essence of the most effective propaganda.
Subsequently, it is cumbersome to understand the concept of Kurdish authorities engaging in diplomacy, as diverse Kurdish tribes and other clans (of Arabs, Turks, Persians) have been complicit in massacres and genocide. Moreover, “Ottoman soldiers and their Kurdish and Persian militia partners subjected hundreds of thousands of Assyrians to a deliberate and systematic campaign of massacre, torture, abduction, deportation, impoverishment, and cultural and ethnic destruction.” Yet again, during the Simele massacre of 1933; Kurdish, Arab, and Yezidi tribes were encouraged to loot Assyrian villages, while Yezidis and Kurds also raided various Assyrian villages. Apologies for genocidal campaigns can only go so far. The next steps paving the path forward in a positive direction towards reconciliation must focus upon reparations and further restitution.
The Kurdish question becomes more convoluted when one examines why the Kurds in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq were complicit and accepting of Islamic State radicals as their next door neighbors. There are eyewitness accounts of how Kurdish Peshmerga fled while ISIL advanced, and how seemingly ordinary people in the KRG turned on their neighbors and collaborated with ISIL. Such news may be shocking to many, but for those aware of the volatile history of the region, it is not unexpected. The founding leader of the terrorist organization “Ansar al-Islam” is a Kurdish Mullah, originating from North Iraq.
The Kurds have an extensive and prolonged “history of Machiavellian double-dealing.” It is noteworthy to mention that an official representative of the KRG directly suggested that “it is not in the Kurdish interest to defeat ISIL.” Moreover, the KRG has supplied various weaponry to ISIL. Hence, ISIL was utilized as political leverage to extract reprisals for longstanding grievances and gain further territory from the dilapidated authority of the central government in Baghdad. Furthermore, “the Finance and Economic Affairs Committee Deputy Ali Hama Salih has stated that 111,000 ghost Peshmergas existed in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurdish MP said around 69,000 registered in the KDP party and 41,000 in PUK party. The payment of tens of millions of dollars in salaries disbursed to nonexistent Kurdish troops in the region.”
The majority of Assyrians do not support Kurdish expansionist projects. The few token Assyrians presented to the media by Kurds are not a comprehensive representation of the vast majority of Assyrians. When one’s livelihood and safety is contingent upon loyalty to a particular Kurdish party, alliance, or group; then it is understandable that an individual will do and say whatever necessary to stay out of harm’s way. It is analogous to being held hostage. Assyrians are being held captive, with no definitive means or ways to defend themselves. And if someone held you captive, it is highly likely that you will do whatever it takes to survive those dire circumstances. This is especially true if your relatives have previously suffered through assassinations, illegal detentions, massacres, genocidal campaigns under this particular group’s wrath, within living memory of close loved ones and/or family members. Undoubtedly, the Kurds, as well as the Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs have all suffered great misfortunes beyond comprehension. Nonetheless, other groups are not on the path towards complete extinction. It is the Assyrian people who are on the brink of total annihilation; facing linguicide, and genocide.
When Western analysts find the next group to exalt, the approach must be carefully conducted through an abundance of caution. It is important to thoroughly look around the chosen group’s respective region to make sure this preferred group is not trampling on the rights of other minorities in the area. It is also significant to carefully consider the authenticity of a group as genuinely designated allies, particularly when such a group is intent on carving out territory and subsequently renaming areas; “Rojava” (meaning “West” in Kurdish), or “Afrin” (perhaps demonstrative of affinity towards a particular nasal decongestant spray), and “Kobane” (derived from a German railroad company). Rewriting and revising history is perilous as it intrinsically entails a form of cultural genocide.
It is irrevocably clear that Assyrians must control their own fate through self-determination. The fate of one group of people is not necessarily contingent upon the fate of another group. This is why it is a mistake to consider lumping the fate of the Assyrians with other minorities by coalescing them in the same provincial area. It would exponentially facilitate a terrorist attack by militant extremists. Violent attacks will be carried out with ease as the most vulnerable targets would be heavily concentrated in an easily determined perimeter. Without the appropriate equipment, training, defense capabilities, arms, security mechanisms, and additional means to protect themselves and ensure their collective safety, it will likely result in disaster.
History has repeatedly proven that the Iraqi Army, Kurdish Peshmerga, and other KRG forces are incapable of fully protecting themselves or territories within their grasp, let alone defending others. Ethnic and religious minorities juxtaposed in a province is another humanitarian catastrophe waiting to happen. Tragically, this may be attributed to the fact that Iraq’s authoritarian grip has mainly proven to be a safe haven for terrorism, time and time again. Sadly, as genocide survivors transcend beyond hostile environments, they are still not in the clear as danger follows them within refugee camps. At this precarious crossroads in history, it is reasonable to consider all the options along with all the respective ramifications. Is it time for fight or flight?