Make Never again mean Never again
On the 29 June I was invited to the European Parliament to speak at a very important event about how to stop the ongoing genocide in Iraq and Syria. ADF International launched Never Again — Legal Responses to a Broken Promise in the Middle East, written by the organisation’s legal adviser, Ewelina Ochab, and published by Kairos Publications.
Honorable members of Parliament, dear colleagues and fellow activists.
On Monday I was in Düsseldorf in Germany, where I met with Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac asylum seekers from Iraq and Syria. Though they have found safety, they are still psychologically held hostage to the fear and trauma they have experienced.
A young girl and her brother told me their parents were driving them crazy. The mother has had many family members kidnapped and killed in Mosul and continues to live in fear that something similar could happen to her children, this time in Germany. Her name is Meryem, and she cannot escape the horror, which leads her to call her children the minute they are out of her sight to assure herself that they are safe.
The nightmare of what has happened to Christians, Yazidis and Mandeans in Iraq is haunting her wherever she goes. She told me about her relative being beheaded in front of a camera, her bishop being found in a black bag in five pieces, her church being bombed during mass … some variation of the same stories I have heard for 12 years. They repeat themselves, one story after another, like a book which seems to have no final chapter in sight. It is our hope that the title of the book we are here for today, NEVER AGAIN, proves prophetic
The fact that Meryem fled from a refugee camp in Jordan when Islamic fundamentalists threatened her family because of their faith does little to ease her pain and fear. And now in Germany, in accommodation for asylum seekers, she again was told to cover her hair or suffer the consequences. She was threatened for the same reasons and by the same type of people — only this time in what was supposed to be the safety of Europe.
Because of the continued persecution of vulnerable minorities in asylum shelters in Sweden, the Swedish government made the drastic but necessary decision to open special shelters for the victims targeted in the these accommodations. They are in effect forced to apply for asylum from their asylum.
They feel that they are being driven from one country to next, one massacre to the next, one Genocide to the next, even in the west, a safe haven refugees.
Nina, another woman I met in Germany has been running away from Islamic extremism for eleven years. She fled from Baghdad to Jeramana in Syria, and when the war in Syria started she fled to the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq, when Isis invaded the village she stayed in she finally decided to give up and leave behind the part of the world that she and her family have been part of for thousands of years. She could not bare the thought of carrying her children on her back and fleeing once more.
Last year marked the centennial of the genocide against Christians in the Ottoman Empire. We are the descendants of those victims, the few that survived, mourning their loss, our loss 100 years later. Many of those who fled Turkey made it to Iraq, and in 1933, not even twenty years after the genocide began, they were slaughtered yet again in Simeli, a city in eastern Iraq. The survivors of that massacre then fled to northeastern Syria and built villages along the Khabour river. In February 2015 ISIS invaded Khabour, where hundreds were kidnapped, many were killed, and all the inhabitants were forced to flee — Again. Their houses were occupied, their churches destroyed
– and now that Khabour is liberated nobody has dared to move back, instead they are scattered all over the world.
When our parents fled from the predominantly Muslim countries of Asia and the Middle East they did so to get their children to safety and give them, myself included, a safe, stable, and peaceful future. Not in their wildest dreams, or in the darkest depth of their collective memory did they believe that their children and grandchildren would witness yet another genocide against their nation.
They believed in a more civilized world, one more developed, and one where world leaders would not allow this type of extensive destruction of human life to take place. Our lives were not supposed to be occupied with giving a voice to the voiceless victims of genocide; we were supposed to have normal lives like any other European, American, Australian or Russian youth. But …
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, we, the Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs, Armenians, other Christians, Yazidis, Mandeans and other indigenous people of Iraq and Syria, have begged the world to bear witness to their plight, our plight.
We understood, even back then, that our plight was to become the plight of the world. Destroying Iraq and now an attempt to destroy Syria would create a chaotic, untenable situation. Sectarianism was rampant and turned former neighbors into blood enemies. We saw it growing day by day. Shias against Sunnis, Iran against Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Hizbullah in Lebanon allied with Bashar Assad in Syria …and so on… In all this bloodshed there are the non-Muslims — with few allies and even fewer places to seek help. We were yet again abandoned and left to be slaughtered. Our churches and temples destroyed, our religious leaders kidnapped and literally cut into pieces, and our hearts cut into pieces with them.
And we are fleeing all together. 80 percent of Christians in Iraq have fled the country, and we don’t even know the full extent of the exodus in Syria, but there is no doubt that the Christians of Syria are among the largest category of refugees. We saw it growing day by day, piece by piece, from persecution to ethnoreligious cleansing, to full scale Genocide in the fall of 2014.
In the summer 2014 we begged the world leaders to hear us, we also reached out to all media, but no one was interested in our cry, the war in Gaza and Ukraine captured everyone’s attention. But it was not that alone, it was the fear of being labeled Islamophobic that caused the world leaders and media to turn their back on us.
We were forced to create a revolution on social media, we demanded action, yet all were silent, meanwhile we continued to receive photos, videos, and other messages with the most horrifying atrocities humanity has witnessed in modern times. We were back in the stone ages; 100 years after the genocide against our grandparents we were seeing the same spirit of destruction, the same attempt to put an end to our existence in this world and every evidence of it. Trying to wipe out our history, culture, religion and language.
My grandmother Meyyo was found in a well, she was put there with her family members, all assumed dead. She survived, was kidnapped, and raised as a Muslim until the day she was able to run away. Nearly one hundred years later, in 2013, I was informed about another well, this time in Sadad in Syria, where a Syriac Orthodox family was found; only this time there were no survivors.
Most of us in ADFA (A Demand For Action) have similar trauma in our families from Seyfo, the genocide against Christians in 1915. That Genocide was forgotten for nearly a century, we promised to not to let this ongoing Genocide be forgotten for another century.
Social media, our educations and professions, our contacts and fighting spirit helped us come together in 19 countries, collect evidence and send 15 000 emails on the 2 of July 2014 — telling the world that a genocide was on its verge, warning them about what was about to happen in The Nineveh Plain and in the Sinjar mountain — but the world leaders did not listen. Since then we have on daily bases kept reminding the world of the Genocide.
We are not here to lay blame; we just offer a gentle reminder of the facts. The United Nations has a mission, and that is to protect a nation that cannot be protected by it’s own government. Our people were abandoned, left to be slaughtered. The world leaders knew it was coming, they knew it could be happen, but did nothing to stop it.
We are asking you today, are you going to stop it now? Are you going to give Meryem and her children in Germany enough comfort and stability to live normal lives?
We want our own protected areas in Iraq, we want to feel that we can have some semblance of self governance and self protection. We want a political solution for Syria where our people can feel that they don’t have to abandon our nation and our faith, as was such in Iraq. Will you help us? Or will you let our suffering continue?
The price of your fear is high, not only for my people, but for your own as well, for the very idea of a free society, an idea that is profoundly challenged with each passing day in which you turn a blind eye to our suffering. A suffering that is extending to the people of cities like Istanbul and Brussels.
On Sunday June 19, 2016 many people were gathered inside the auditorium of St. Gabriel School in Qamishly in northeastern Syria to celebrate the 101st annual Seyfo commemoration when a suicide bomber blew himself up a short distance from thecelebrations. The terrorists aim was our religious leaders, the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem Karim II and many of our bishops from our other denominations were among the people in the auditorium. Two members of one our Security forces, MFS, fell martyrs and several were injured.
Yesterday at four in the morning, four suicide bombers attacked al-Qaa in Lebanon, a Roman-Catholic (Melkites) village, a few kilometers from the border with Syria.
Six of the al-Qaa Melkite’s were martyred and fifteen wounded.
The worse came at 10pm when another two terrorists attacked the Roman Catholic Church in the village during mass for the martyrs by explosives and suicidal jackets, leaving another eight injured. This is one of the largest attacks — six suicidals in one day.
A Demand For Action spoke to a woman who is from al-Qaa: ”We will not allow Lebanon to become a new Iraq. We will not flee, we have weapons and are ready to protect ourselves.”
Habib Afram, one of the strongest Christian voices of the Middle East and the president of the Syriac League in Beirut who fights for the rights of Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac and all Christians told us: “The world needs to see the truth of the growing Islamic anger against Christians. This is not the first time and not the last time. For how long is the west going to ignore the fact of the ongoing genocide in Syria and Iraq that terrorists now also try to extend to Lebanon?”
Afram also believes it’s about time that the Muslim leaders speak out and take action to protect the Christians of the Middle East:
“And where is the Arab and Muslim reaction to terrorism? It is not enough to say this is not Islam they have to be involved in fighting terrorism.”
We are begging you to stop the atrocities, the violence, the ethnoreligious cleansing — THE GENOCIDE OF OUR PEOPLE.
MAKE NEVER AGAIN MEAN NEVER AGAIN — ENOUGH. IT’S REALLY ENOUGH
Thank you. Tawdi. Basima.