It is no secret that certain interests in the Middle East are using the fight against ISIS as a cover to pursue their political agenda. The most famous example is Kurdish parties engaged in etnic cleansing of the Assyrians, undermining their national rights, while boasting that they protect the Assyrians against ISIS. Assyrian church leaders recently signed a joint letter in support of the Kurdish president Masoud Barzani, where the combat against ISIS is put as a reason to the choice of the bishops.
Sunday, August 16, 2015 Masoud Barzani, urged the Kurdish parliament in northern Iraq to extend his presidency. The day after, three Assyrian bishops in northern Iraq wrote a joint letter to the Kurdish politicians, where they express their support for Masoud Barzani in this matter. Because the current constitution does not regulate the President's mandate in detail, the issue has created great debate among Kurds within Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Many are tired of Barzani's corrupt and autocratic party KDP, which dominates both the economic and political system in the KRG. It is said that the KDP is the world's richest political party. Thus, both Kurds and other residents who do not benefit from the Barzani-rule wishe to see a change.
Ethnic minorities are also trying to get their rights in the new draft constitution that is being processed, but the Kurdish members of the constitutional committee are delaying the issue. This got the Assyrian member Mona Yaqo recently to boycott the committee’s further sessions. She protests against the Kurdish representative’s arrogance and their refusal to include the rights of ethnic minorities and their real names in the new constitution. For exemple the Assyrians are called "The Christians of Kurdistan". Mona Yaqo is an expert on constitution and appointed by the Assyrian members of the KRG parliament as their representative. Even Yazidi and Turkomen members of the Committee supports her boycott.
As for the Assyrian church leaders, they act the same way their predecessors have done for centuries. My new book The heirs of Patriarch Shaker has this slavery mentality as a supreme theme. The book lines up examples of how our church leaders have surrendered to the power and thereby damaged the ethnic Assyrian identity. The three bishops who have now signed the joint letter in support of Masoud Barzani, represent three Assyrian churches in northern Iraq; Mosul, Kerkuk and Arbil. They are Boutros Mushe (Syrian Catholic Church), Matte Bashar Warda (Chaldean Church) and Dawoud Matte Sharaf (Syrian Orthodox Church). They make themselves willingly to spokesmen for "the Christians in Kurdistan" and argue that Barzani and his peshmerga are the only ones who are safeguarding the Christians against the Islamic State, ISIS, according to an article by the Kurdish media company Rudaw, entitled Kurdistan Christians Call For Extending Masoud Barzani's presidency, quoting the Arabic original of the letter:
“We, as Christians, believe in the supremacy of the law and serve the community and the country. Through past experiences, it has become clear for us that President Barzani is a leading factor behind the Kurdistan region's peace and stability. Therefore, we as the representatives of Kurdistan’s Christians, including all elements, express our support for extending the Barzani presidency term. Because, at this time, the Kurdistan region is going through a stage of hardship and is in a fight against ISIS. In this observation, again we see the decisive role of Barzani in leading the Peshmerga against ISIS. With Barzani remaining in power, he will restore our lands and rights from ISIS," read the statement. The statement also called for Christians and other religious minorities to be included in the constitutional drafting committee. The Kurdistan Parliament is currently reviewing a draft of a regional constitution that will be put to referendum after it is ratified, "writes Rudaw which is a media empire with close relationship to Barzani.
The claim that peshmerga would have protected the Assyrians in the Nineveh Plains or the Yazidis of Mount Sinjar, however, is far from the truth. In fact peshmerga got orders to retreat in the middle of the night and left the residents of these areas completely defenseless when ISIS attacked the area in early August 2014. In the case of Yazidis peshmerga also gathered the villager’s light weapons and gave them empty promises of new and more modern weapons. But that same night, August 3rd, ISIS attacked the Yazidi communities and the disaster was a fact.
Ethnic cleansing via IS
Analysts suspect that Barzani agreed to ISIS’ attacks both on Mosul, the Nineveh Plains and Sinjar. Around 200 000 Assyrians left the Nineveh Plains head over heels and fled to the nearby Kurdish-controlled towns Nohadra (Duhok) and Arbil. Since then, several emigrated to various Western countries because they no longer see any future in their own homeland Assyria. Barzani is thus accused to have facilitated ISIS to ethnic cleansing of both the Nineveh Plains and Sinjar, which geographically belong to the province of Ninewa, but which the Kurds claim belongs to them.
Recently, both President Masoud Barzani and his nephew, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said that they are going to cut Sinjar from Ninewa province and make it part of the KRG. They would of course do the same with the Nineveh Plains if they get their way. Recently one of their Assyrian puppets, Fahmi Mansur, chairman of the so-called People's Council, namely Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Popular Council, came to Sweden to seek support for "an autonomous province of the Chaldean, Syriac and Assyrian groups in Iraq”, according to the Swedish newspaper Jönköpings-Posten. The newspaper quoted both Mansur and the Social Democrat MP Thomas Strand who wants to push the issue into the Swedish Parliament. Since substance is more important than the messenger, we as Assyrians must appreciate Swedish politicians' involvement. But we should not forget that if Barzani will decide, the Nineveh Plains will be a province incorporated into the KRG. And then there is a great danger the rights of Assyrians and other ethnic minorities will be undermined.
The status of the Nineveh Plains
The status of the Nineveh Plains is not settled yet. In January 2014 the former Baghdad government, led by Nouri al-Maliki, decided to make the Nineveh Plains to an own province. But the decision has never been put into practice, since a new government took power, after al-Maliki was forced to retire. Voices are now raised again requesting that Iraq's minorities to obtain an internationally protected region, because the Iraqi government is not able to protect its nationals or its territory. The latest debater who has suggested this is Dr. Mordechai Kedar in an article in israelnationalnews.com entitled How to Ensure the Future of Iraq's Minority Groups. He proposes to form a political entity, or an area in northern Iraq, perhaps under the name of Mesopotamia, where all minorities can move. This area must be protected by an international force, Kedar adds.
The Barzani administration has, especially after the fall of Saddam, successfully intrigued among Assyrian organizations and churches to tie them to himself. The so-called People's Council is a Barzani-friendly organization, created with his efforts as a counterweight to more independent Assyrian political organizations. In the case of Assyrian churches, Barzani is even more successful, not least through the total support of Chaldean Patriarch Luis Sako. Patriarch Sako, who has moved his residence from Baghdad to Arbil, makes no secret of his anti-Assyrian position, pitching Barzani's propaganda regarding the Assyrian people’s name and its future geographical affiliation.
solicity of power
The Assyrian church leaders who recently wrote a joint letter in support of Barzani, know vey well that their letter will not have any decisive effect on local Kurdish politicians. But the bishops are following an old tradition to ingratiate themselves with the powerful Barzani and to ensure his support of their own parish. They forget, however, that thereby damaging their people's national and ethnic rights when benevolently accept being called "the Christians in Kurdistan". The next step is that they will be called "Kurdish Christians", but these bishops and their superiors does not seem to care about the consequences as long as they can take advantage by their own person or their congregation from the "benevolence" of the government. So this is a well-known pattern that we have lived with for a long time. In my new book about the clergy's actions, I have, for example, written the following about similar letter that was written by Assyrian church leader during early 1930s, when Iraq was a new, independent state. Here is an excerpt:
Patriarch Barsom probably have not felt any greater sympathy with the victims of the Simele massacre, because they belonged to the Nestorian Church. Another document indicates even more clearly how he acted towards Iraq's ruler. On September 14, 1933, six days after his old friend King Faisal had died and just one month after the Simele massacre, the patriarch sent a letter to the monk Yeshu Samuel at St. Mark’s Monastery in Jerusalem, where he requires two entire pages in the magazine Ḥekhemtho be devoted to the late King Faisals life, ending with the biography of the king. The patriarchal secretary Iskender, who writes in Arabic, further commands editor Yeshu to publish the telegram "His Holiness [the Patriarch] sent to King Ghazi in which he regrets the grief after the passing away of his father” Faisal. Furthermore, Iskender says on behalf of the patriarch Barsom, the biography of Faisal must contain a statement that the king was merciful and a great friend of the Christians.
What an irony that King Faisal would have been a friend of the Christians, as he had recently ordered a mass murder of about 3,000 defenseless women, children and old people in Simele and surrounding villages. They were all Christian Assyrians.
Church leader's telegram to King Faisal
Other documents from British and American archives from the time shortly after the Simele massacre, show that Assyrian church leaders in Iraq sent a telegram to King Faisal to thank him for the peace of the country had been restored.
The British document was written by the British Consul R. G. Monypenny to the British representative at the Vatican George Ogilvie-Forbes. He reports on the situation in Mosul after the Simele massacre and adds:
“I am further informed that the Chaldean Patriarch Emanuel and the Jacobite Bishop Mar Athanaseus [Tuma Qasir] have signed a telegram addressed to His Majesty King Feisal thanking His Majesty and the army, and stating that the country is now quite peaceful. I gather they were afraid to refuse to sign the telegram, which was drafted for them by the Iraqi authorities”.
The US ambassador in Iraq, Paul Knabenshue, sent several telegrams to Washington on September 1933 about the Simele massacre, in which he describes how the Arabs had celebrated the "victory over the Assyrians" through parades in the streets of Baghdad. He also mentions a third priest who had sent a congratulatory telegram to King Faisal. The priest was Audisho from Alqushand claimed to be the spokesman for the Chaldean monasteries. All three telegrams were identical. Ambassador Knabenshue writes that the Pope's nuncio was horrified by the massacre of Assyrians in Simele and wanted to send a telegram to the Vatican but was prevented by the Iraqi postal officials in Baghdad. "But the message had reached any way," Knabenshue writes in his report to Washington, according to Sargon Donabed’s PhD in 2010.
That these church leaders were afraid after the barbaric mass murder in Simele, was no exaggeration of the British consul. It could also affect their congregations. But we should not forget that these two, i.e Chaldeans and Syrian Orthodox, belonged to rival sister churches. This means that the Chaldean Patriarch may well have been pleased that the "rebel" Nestorian Assyrians were expelled and their women and children murdered. The same applies to the Syrian Orthodox Bishop of Mosul Tuma Qassir, which likely had been instructed by the Patriarch Afrem Barsom to show loyalty to the Iraqi regime.
Now, almost a century later, history is repeating itself. Our religious leaders act the same way and with the same mentality. Their personal gain and self-interest of their parish have higher priority than the supreme national interest. And they can continue so, because we lack a control system to hold them accountable.
You can read here how the issue of reelecting Barzani was postponed due to the boycott of KDP MPs to the session of KRG parliament.