AN UNTIMELY CALL FOR CHALDEAN RENNESSAINCE
Last Thursday, at a meeting in Detroit, Michigan, attended by 300 Assyrians (including several non-Chaldeans), Bishop Sarhad Jammo of the St. Peter Diocese in San Diego- California in a divisive speech demanded the creation of a unique Chaldean political, cultural, and religious identity – detached from that of “Assyrian”. Fortunately, Mar Sarhad Jammo’s message has not been well received among the Chaldean groups. Yet, the question remains: “Why is the Chaldean Bishop from California so vehemently opposed to an “Assyrian” political identity?”
Last Thursday’s poorly orchestrated oratory did not divide the world opinion. Assyrians remain Assyrians and the Chaldean Catholic Church continues to be the most prominent Assyrian church. Some Chaldean extremists rejoiced, while non-Chaldean Assyrian fanatics accused the Bishop as the “modern-day Simko”.
The notion of “Chaldean ethnicity” as separate from the Assyrian nationality is intimately linked to the notion of Babylonian ethnicity and religion being separate from the Assyrian nationalism and religion. Mar Sarhad Jammo is well versed in the history of ancient Mesopotamia and has used this duality of our Mesopotamian characteristic to argue his idea of a new Chaldean/Babylonian identity that may one day transform his Church into a new nationality.
The fact however remains that there can be no pluralistic Assyrian identity without the Chaldean church and no Chaldean identity without the Assyrian sense of nationalism. This inescapable reality troubled the two dozen or so Chaldean leaders in Detroit last Friday when a closed-door meeting was called by Bishop Jammo. He left the gathering without any conclusive support for his call to unity behind a new Chaldean political identity.
The Bishop has incessantly failed in his attempts to divide the Assyrian-Chaldean opinion, because he undermines the most elementary variable in his expression of the new identity: a new political identity is founded by politicians, not religious figures. Although the creation of a new political organization, namely the Chaldean National Congress, was recently announced by Sarhad Jammo’s friend, Mr. Joseph Kassab, the said entity has yet to receive any formidable support from the members of the Chaldean church.
Can or should there ever be a separate “Chaldean” political and/or ethnic identity? Yes, it can, but it certainly should not. A separate Chaldean identity will polarize our nation into two Syriac-speaking Christian communities in Iraq. If the “Arabization” and “Kurdofication” policies of the Moslem groups do not erode our unique and historic identity, the emmigration of the Christians – as a result – will surely complete the disappearance of every individual with true ties to that counrty’s Mesopotamian origins.
Bishop Jammo’s speech was given in a time when the current Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Mar Raphael Bidawid, has fallen ill in a hospital in Lebanon. Sources to Zinda Magazine indicate that he is no longer able to perform his patriarchal duties and his condition is deteriorating daily. Mar Bidawid’s position on the issue was clearly stated in an Assyrian Star magazine article and a recent interview with the Lebanese Broadcasting Company: “Before I became a priest I was an Assyrian… I am an Assyrian, today, tomorrow, forever, and I am proud of it.”
Mar Jammo’s appeal last Thursday was hesitated further when on Monday, Pope John Paul II’s ordained Mar Andraos Abouna of the Patriarchal Eparchy of Baghdad, Iraq, as the new bishop of the Chaldeans and appointed him the auxiliary of the Patriarchate. Mar Jammo’s speech was delivered three days later.
Many questions remain: Is the issue of a separate Chaldean identity being confiscated to the advantage of a dictatorial and egoistic Chaldean bishop as a career move? Or is the Bishop from San Diego genuinely concerned for the political wellbeing of the followers of his church, believing that the “Assyrian” groups do not properly represent the interest of the Chaldean Catholics? If so, then what percentage of the Chaldean Catholic Church is truly supportive of this claim and his separatist movement?
With the new developments in Iraq on everyone’s mind,
the creation of a new Chaldean identity will not improve the
lot of the Syriac-speaking people in that country. It will
discredit one hundred years of Assyrian political struggle
in Bet-Nahrain and provoke internal disputes and greater suffering.
Assyrians of any religious affiliation must come together
and demand a singular representation in the post-Saddam government.
Any discussions of a separate “Chaldean”, “Syriac”,
“Nestorian”, “Aramean” identity must
be neutralized at once. A single Assyrian political identity
that can best represent the different
On the other hand, if it is the will of the majority of the Chaldean Catholics to proclaim themselves as a people with a new identity, their aspiration must be demonstrated through political means. It would be foolish to think that an Assyrian political representative may one day meet face to face with a bishop or a priest to discuss the political future of our nation.
At the present stage of our political development in Iraq, a call for separate identity is a victory for the Kurdish and Arab factions. With tribal consciousness and religious susceptibility we may never attain a national awareness and political maturity. All passionate speeches must be ignored at this time, and if needed, every avenue of dialogue among the concerned groups must be explored through the assistance of our political parties.
Mar Sarhad Jammo’s speech: pnm://realaudio2.mindspring.com/webhost/www82779/cv2.rm]
ASSYRIANS, CHALDEANS &
SURYANIS: WE ALL HAVE TO
LOOTERS ATTACK SYRIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH IN TURKEY
Courtesy of SOLNews (21 January); article by Gabriel Rabo
(ZNDA: Diyarbakir) Reports from Zinda Magazine’s desk in Europe indicate that on the evening of 6 January a group of Muslims broke into the Syriac Orthodox Church of the Mother of God in Diyarbakir, Turkey and vandalized the building. Several valuable liturgical items were also stolen including an 18th-century hand-written Bible, three 17th century silver crosses, an ancient Mother of God icon which stood over the tomb of a famous 12th century Syriac theologian Dionysios Bar Salibi, two rare silk and golden liturgical vela (cloths) covering the Chalice and Patena.
Courtesy of Christianity Today (21 January); article by Thomas C. Oden
Our Turkish-speaking drivers were taking us through the Fertile Crescent, that crossroads of great civilizations, but it did not appear very fertile. On this visit to eastern Turkey, religious freedom advocate Paul Marshall and I saw little cultivated land and a striking level of depopulation. We met the only two monks remaining in the monastery of the village of Sare (or Sarikoy). They were resigned, calm, and ready for the apocalypse.
Syriac-speaking Christians in this area have persisted through more than a dozen centuries of Muslim, Ottoman, and now Turkish rule. They languish between the secularizing government of the Republic of Turkey and an Islamic culture that views them as heathen outsiders. The government has long given them minimal "freedom of worship" while decisively restricting property rights for local congregations. Nor do authorities allow them any avenues of new growth—communication, speech, normal press freedom, or economic development.
Syriac-Aramaic comes as close as any living language to what Jesus spoke. It is the liturgical and poetic language of these Christians. Yet authorities forbid Christians on Turkey's southeastern border with Syria, Iraq, and Iran to teach that language—nor can their schoolchildren learn any subject in it. Christians in Syria, by contrast, legally teach and worship in that language.
Besides the secular and Islamic opposition, modern forces also threaten. Dams for electric power and irrigation are filling up the great valley of the Tigris, threatening to submerge lands—including churches and monasteries—on which Christian families have lived for more than a millennium. In any case, as in the rest of Turkey, Christians cannot buy property.
In short, the government would be pleased to see the Christian communities quietly disappear altogether. Christians have been caught in the middle of a war between the government and the Kurds. Now it matters little to the government that the Hezbollah as well as the Kurds are harassing them.
Christians abroad, meanwhile, know little of their life-and-death struggle.
First Christian Generations
Heirs of the ancient Chaldeans and Assyrians, today these Christians affiliate mainly with the Syrian Orthodox Church, with separate church patriarchates in Damascus: one Jacobite, the other Antiochene. The Christian population has dwindled to nearly nothing in villages that have called Christ Lord for well over 15 centuries.
No one doubts that there are viable arguments for continuity between these ethnic Syriac-speaking Christians and the earliest Christian beginnings. Before Christ, there were Jewish communities in this area in which the first generations of Christians eventually grew.
One of the major Christian centers of learning, hymnody, and monasticism during the fourth and fifth centuries a.d. flourished at Urfa, previously called Edessa (the ancient Haran). The fathers of the Edessa churches, along with their scholars, hymn-writers and poets, were lauded and quoted throughout the Christian world. By the seventh century, dozens of monasteries—some of them with up to 700 monks—covered the nearby hills. Few Christian families remain there.
In Nisibis (now Nusaybin), an ancient city in the upper Euphrates valley (on the river Djada), the Christian community dates back to the second century. A fourth-century church there was locked up and abandoned shortly after World War I, when the community fled south into Syria. For 60 years there had been no Christians in this church. Now the Syriac diocese has sent a Christian family from one of the surrounding villages into Nisibis. They live in a little apartment in the church and keep it from falling apart.
In the church crypt lies the tomb of Jacob of Nisibis, from whom comes the term Jacobite. Representing Syriac Christianity, he attended the Council of Nicaea in a.d. 325. Jacob was the teacher of the great poet, Ephrem the Syrian, whom John Wesley called "that man of the broken heart."
This ancient church, once so important in Christian history, now sits alone in an entirely Muslim culture. I turned my gaze from the sarcophagus in the crypt to the richly decorated arches, then to the geometric design on the lectern. Marshall, a Senior Fellow at Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom, stood with me by the silent crypt of this deserted church dating back to a.d. 359.
Suddenly, our driver broke into song, an ancient hymn of the church. His voice was strong and sure, filling the empty stones with a flood of music, without being prompted.
We asked him what the words meant. He said the lyrics came from the great Ephrem:
Listen, my chicks have flown,
The Nisibis church and others in the area deserve to be introduced to the rest of the world. Yet they remain virtually inaccessible. Christians especially should have the opportunity to understand the area's history, poetry, liturgy, and the early growth of monasticism here.
An armed group, the Hezbollah, still operates in the area. This is not exactly the same Hezbollah that operates in the Middle East but is related to them. It has frequently attacked Christian villages in these areas and sought to drive them out. There may be only a few thousand Christians left in southeastern Turkey.
Caught in a Vise
If Christians abroad began to take an active interest in them, either through business enterprise or by visiting, empathizing, and getting to know them personally, the balance could shift. The displaced Christians of Upper Mesopotamia who are now in Europe might begin to come back. That could encourage economic development.
The aggressive campaigns of the ministry of tourism notwithstanding, the Turkish government has grossly neglected these ancient Christian sites. The tourist literature nowhere mentions them. Instead, the government has supervised the demise of numerous Christian villages or passively watched them deteriorate.
Yet encouraging the government to develop area tourism would likely be more persuasive than moral arguments for freedom of religion. Some churches here have remained in use largely without interruption since the fourth century. As Freedom House's Marshall remarked, this whole area is a museum—an ancient Christian museum.
The possibility of a new wave of tourism appears very remote without encouragement from Western political, academic, and church interests. Through a kind of passive-aggressive neglect, the government denies access to all except those with insider connections. If I were a Muslim, I would be encouraged to go on Hajj to Mecca. But if Christians want to go to Nisibis, someone with a badge is standing in the path, saying, "Show me your invitation."
Eastern monasticism, music, liturgy and theology thrived here and spread to much of the remaining Christian world. These sites contain a precious heritage that belongs not just to the Turkish government. It belongs to Christians everywhere.
[ Z-info: Thomas C. Oden is a CT executive editor. For more information on the area and on relief efforts, contact the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of the Western United States, 417 E. Fairmount Rd., Burbank, CA 91501.]
TURKEY INVESTIGATING CAPUCHIN FOR BAPTIZING A MUSLIM
Courtesy of Zenit News Agency (14 January)
(ZNDA: Ankara) Turkish authorities are investigating a Capuchin friar for baptizing a 26-year-old Muslim who asked for the sacrament but later turned on the priest.
Italian Father Roberto Ferrari, 70, whose passport has been seized, has been a missionary in Turkey for the past 45 years. The Capuchins have several houses and missions in the country.
Another Capuchin, Father Mario Cappucci, who is familiar with Turkey, said that "Father Roberto baptized a 26-year-old youth in the mission of Iskenderun, on the border with Syria, who had asked insistently that the sacrament be administered to him, after appropriate preparation."
"However, the youth then denounced the missionary to the Turkish authorities, who removed his passport and put him under investigation," said Father Cappucci, 67.
Father Cappucci is the chaplain at Santa Maria Nuova hospital in Reggio, Italy, and a native of Quara, a town of the region, where Father Ferrari was born.
Father Cappucci was surprised at the news. "I have been in that country some 30 to 40 times, both to lead pilgrimages as well as to visit our houses," he said. "I have good relations with the guides and with different authorities. I never expected an incident like this."
"The situation in Turkey is certainly complex," he added. "However, this serious event is worrying."
In fact, although the constitutional law guarantees religious freedom, there are strong social pressures against conversion from Islam -- the main religion in Turkey -- to Christianity. In some regions, local authorities back the persecution of Christian communities, especially the Chaldeans.
"Why does Turkey call itself a secular state and put a friar under investigation who baptized a converted Muslim?" Father Cappucci asked. "Why can't religious wear their habit?"
"A lay state is not concerned with these matters," he added. "And this is happening in countries that would like to form part of Europe, where human rights are the foundation of the secular state."
He further stressed: "Father Roberto did not baptized an unconscious
child, but an adult who consented to it."
CHALDEAN BISHOP QUESTIONS BUSH'S CHRISTIAN
"The Pope speaks, he speaks out a great deal, but no one listens
to him, especially not in countries that call themselves Christian."
This disconsolate and pained remark was made by a man of the [Roman
Catholic] church. Monsignor Slamon Warduni is the auxiliary bishop
of the Chaldean [Christian] Church in Baghdad. In practice, he is
Patriarch Bidawid's right-hand man. He is a man accustomed to living
on the border, accustomed to treading the narrow path down which allegiance
to the gospel needs to move if it is to coexist with a despotic regime.
Warduni was clear in outlining the argument for peace: "It is
inconceivable that civilized men should be talking of war in the third
millennium," he said.
[Ippolito] A feature of the current US administration is its strong religious imprint, with President Bush himself heading the list. He claims to be a devout Christian. What would you as a bishop and a shepherd of souls have to say to George W. Bush the faithful Christian?
[Warduni] I would say that what he preaches does not lie within the rationale of the faith. Let us read the letter to John: God is love, he does not want to harm children, women, or the sick, who will be the holocaust victims of this war. If this war is taking place over weapons, then we can ask the question: What country in the world does not possess weapons? Does the United States not have any? Does Italy not have weapons? And Israel, does it not have weapons, including nuclear weapons? We are in favour of the destruction of all weapons, but throughout the world. What could Iraq do against the massive armaments that exist in the world today?
[Ippolito] Quite apart from all the statements being made by the politicians, the military machine appears at this juncture to be moving ahead, in keeping with a dynamic of its own that inexorably leads to war. Can no one do anything to prevent it? Is there nothing that can stop it?
[Warduni] The only one who can do anything is God, because human affairs appear in a negative light. The United Nations could do something, because if Bush refuses to accept even the United Nations then there is no difference between him and the dictators. Thus Europe is going to have to speak out: I am thinking of Germany which has come out firmly against the war. Finally, Christians must raise their voice in the world to say "no" to war and "yes" to peace, to justice and to dialogue.
[Ippolito] Ever since the days of the Gulf War back in 1991, Saddam Husayn has been seeking to promote an image of himself as the champion of the Arab and Muslim world against the aggression being perpetrated by the Christian West. Are you Iraqi Christians not in danger of being crushed by this cultural and religious "showdown" rationale?
[Warduni] I do not want to discuss political issues because there are topics that it is not prudent to address. But right now that danger does indeed exist. Bush was wrong to use the word "crusade" immediately after 11 September, because there are Muslims also in the West just as there are Christians in the Middle East. And those Christians are in great danger on account of the identification of Christianity with the West. That is another reason why our leaders are sometimes tempted to equate us with the Westerners. For our part, we have always been loyal to the government and to our country: Our troops have fought at the front alongside their Muslim brothers. There is harmony between the Christians and the Muslims. We are not like other countries where the two communities are at war.
[Ippolito] How do you experience your role as a Christian bishop in a country governed by a dictatorial regime and, what is more, with an overwhelming Muslim majority: Does that not put you in an awkward situation?
[Warduni] I do not want to discuss political issues, but what I will say is that we seek to assist the weak, including our Muslim brothers, because there is so much poverty on account of the embargo that is strangling us. We have to share our country's good and its ills.
[Ippolito] Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, one of the Iraqi regime's leading lights, is a member of your church. What kind of contact do you have with him?
[Warduni] Yes, Tariq Aziz is a Chaldean Catholic, but he is pursuing a political path; he does not address religious issues. That said, we have met on a number of occasions in order to resolve certain practical matters.
[Ippolito] Do you feel able to state that the Catholic Church enjoys full freedom of worship and of expression in Iraq?
[Warduni] In all conscience I can say that we have freedom of worship,
of teaching and of religious practice in our churches, but there is
no religious freedom as such: There is none anywhere in Islam, either
in our country or anywhere else. What there is, however, is fanaticism
that is increasing on account of the identification of Christianity
with the West.
SYRIAN ORTHODOX VICAR LEAVES BAHRAIN
Courtesy of Gulf Weekly (6 January)
(ZNDA: Bahrain) St. Peter's Syrian Orthodox Church vicar Father Samson Kuriakose left Bahrain on 6 January after three years.
He has been replaced by Father Shyjan Kuriakose.
Father Samson will take up the post of Cochin Diocese vicar in Kerala.
While in Bahrain, he founded the social service league and church Vanitha Samajam (Ladies' Wing). He also restructured the church choir.
"I am glad that I was able to spend time in this great country," said Father Samson.
Christian Charitable and Social Association (CCSA) and Kerala Christian Ecumenical Council (KCEC) gave Father Samson a farewell reception.
Father Shyjan Kuriakose is from Waynad, Kerala and holds a Bachelor's degree in Economics and Theology.
He was previously Waynad Diocese vicar.
BEHIND US IRAQ POLICY: ANALYSIS & COMMENTARY
It appears that Saudi Arabia can no longer be trusted as an Ally of the US. Wahabizm, the bedrock of Islamic fundamentalism, has not only flourished in that country but has been supported, financed and exported through out the Moslem world. This was the fuel that ignited terrorism in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime and its surrogate, Usama Bin Ladin’s Al Qaida terrorist organization. Consequently, Saudi Arabia is no longer a safe haven for US military presence and our dependence on its oil supply is in jeopardy partially due to the perception that US’s Middle Eastern policy in that region is skewed towards the State of Israel.
In view of the above and for reasons discussed below, the US administration is contemplating a decisive military action against the government of Iraq. Toppling Saddam and the establishment of a democratic pro American regime will secure the vast oil resources of Iraq, thus, US will no longer be dependent on Saudi Arabia’s oil.
Iraq’s strategic location, particularly as it relates to its neighbor, Iran, is of utmost importance to US national security interests. A democratic Iraq under US protection would be a model for the rest of the Islamic/Arab Middle Eastern countries. It is not surprising that Iraq’s neighbors including many Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Iran and Egypt abhor the idea of regime change and conversion from dictatorship to a democratic state lest it might be contagious. The domino effect of democratizing other nations in this area of perpetual turmoil drives the US administration’s policy of the region. Saddam was thought to be a buffer zone between the Islamic revolution of Iran and the rest of the Moslem/Arabic world, therefore, allowing him to survive the onslaught of the Gulf war, crush his opposition and maintain a government structure, which does not threaten his neighbors. This was the pre Gulf War policy of containment, which lingered until September 11, 2001. Apparently, the tragic events of September 11, 2001 changed the mentality of US foreign policy strategists. The US could no longer rely on Saddam to provide a reliable buffer against the rapidly expanding ideology of Islamic fundamentalism, a breeding ground for terrorism. Consequently a direct intervention to bring about a regime change in Iraq is deemed to be in the best interest of the United States of America.
US administration’s primary justification for waging a war against Iraq, thus far, is Saddam’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and the potential for developing nuclear capabilities. While, this is of concern, it is not the main and only reason to waging war against Iraq. Despite its limited success, to plant the seed of fear in the mind of US citizens, it has failed to convince the rest of the world. The US administration must inform the public of the strategic reasons behind its policy in Iraq. The American people and the Free World would understand, accept and support the administration in its policy to remove Saddam Hussein oppressive regime.
Another valid justification for the removal of Sadam Hussein is his oppression of the Iraqi people. Ousting Saddam will bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people especially those who suffered the most, the Kurds, Assyrian Christians, Turkmans and Shia Moslems. There are those who speculate that a democratic form of government in Iraq would not succeed. They explain that unlike Japan and Germany after WWII, Iraq is not amenable for conversion to a democratic state. According to a Wall Street Journal article by Hugh Pope (November 12, 2002) which was published in a previous issue of Zinda Magazine “Iraqi society is actually a complex patchwork of ethnic and tribal rivalries that Mr. Hussein both inflames and restrains to preserve his regime’s domination”. The author further notes that, “Each group has its own grudges, feuds and vulnerabilities likely to bubble to the surface if the domineering hand of Mr. Hussein is suddenly lifted”. While the ethnic divisions must be addressed by Iraq's post Saddam democratic government, it does not justify maintaining the status quo in Iraq.
The fallacy that Iraq is incapable of embracing democracy as witnessed in Japan and Germany following World War II belittles the Iraqi people including the Assyrians. We shouldn’t lose sight that Mesopotamia was the cradle of civilization. And that it was in the forefront of introducing urban centers with their rich, complex and varied life. Political loyalty was no longer to the tribe or clan, but to the community as a whole; where lofty temple-towers rose skyward, filling the citizen’s heart with awe, wonder and pride; where art and technological ingenuity, industrial specialization and commercial enterprise found room to grow and expand.
Iraq, as presently constituted, is undeniably an underdeveloped country and has to struggle to catch up with the industrialized world, but given the opportunity and protection of the only super power, it will flourish sooner than many would expect. One should never underestimate the hidden power of the oppressed people and their yearning for freedom and democracy. Iraq’s democratization does not need to follow in the footsteps of Japan, Germany nor the USA. Every country, nation, society could develop its form of democracy applicable to its socio-political makeup. The British and American policies in the Middle East during the later part of Twentieth Century were aimed at blocking the Soviet Union and communism. Their support to the Islamic movement, which contributed to the rise of autocratic regimes, was a direct result of the cold war and fear of communism. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the demise of Communism, democracy in the Middle East is in the best interest of US and Britain.
In conclusion, the Iraqi people including the Assyrians are suffering tremendously under Saddam’s brutal dictatorship, therefore, US administration’s policy of removing his oppressive regime, thus facilitating the institution of a democratic government, is in the best interest of the Iraqi people, humanity and US national interests. One can only hope that it is accomplished with minimum destruction and loss of life.
Sargon R. Michael
GREEN EYES OF KRASNODAR
It’s 10:55 p.m. San Francisco time. A cluster of dark thunderclouds hover over the old Bank of America Building in downtown San Jose, the westernmost edge of man’s endless devotion to material reward. Another day in the capital of Silicon Valley has ended – new ideas, new products, new aspirations, and new dreams were born at 8 a.m. and quickly disappeared two minutes after the closing of the stock market.
Eleven time zones to the east of this mindless rat race is where my miserable heart aches to be tonight. Somewhere between the Black Sea and Lenin’s Tomb, between the silence of glasnost and the roaring echoes of optimism one hears in the crowded Internet Cafes of St. Petersburg. For my naïve Assyrian-American wits, it’s a bizarre place tucked away in the forgotten pages of a shadowy history. I see such twisted visions of fathers separated from their families and carried away to labor camps in the Siberian forests; of the boys in Red Army uniforms serenading victory songs, and the few Urmian patriots living for a glimpse of hope amid total despair.
Tonight I thirst for something different. I want to hear the murmurs of tender love and lay my head deep within my lover’s breast. Her soft voice will take me away from the mundane stories of the political conferences, treacherous bishops, and impending wars. With her gentle touch I wish to be carried onto a small boat, dangling atop the blue-green waters of Volga, as green as the color of her sultry eyes.
Dressed in a pair of black jeans and an old cashmere sweater, I lean forward to get a closer view of the pedestrians madly pacing before the newly-erected parking garage on the 4th Street. On the corner, across from the unfinished public library building, stands a young man in depleted blue pants and a long black coat. Twice he’s looked at his watch within the last few seconds. I bring my glass of wine closer to my lips, intensely observing his clumsy moves.
It’s an unusually warm night for this time of the year, and even more unusually hushed. I swear I can hear the young man humming a Bee Gee’s song. So asinine! Separatists call for a new identity, extremists yearn disunity, hundreds of thousands are soon to be killed in the Cradle of Civilization and I sit on the patio of my apartment wondering if it’s the sound of “Night Fever” or “Jive Talking” creeping from the depth of my mind’s nocturnal solitude.
Ten minutes have passed and he has not moved an inch. How long is he going to stand there?
I return from the kitchen with the second glass in one hand, and a box of cigarettes in the other. I should be editing sixty more pages of letters, articles, and personal attacks for this week’s issue. Instead I begin meditating on the sweet visions of the last two weeks and of the green eyes of Krasnodar.
Was it only a dream that idly catapulted through my mind like a transient thought? If so, then why do I feel her presence around me, in my car, behind the breakfast counter, and in the walking closet? I must be going mad, for I swear I can still smell her perfume. It intoxicates and then slays my logic even more as the sun goes down each day.
By now it is obvious that he’s waiting for a girl. He’s been standing there for over an hour, incessantly checking his watch. Why else would a ‘man’ lose his sense of reason and direction and be willing to look otherwise confused in public? Do her eyes cast the same deadly spell upon him that has numbed my senses for so long? I too have become a victim of love’s unforgiving enchantment, unable to move in any direction or to stand in one place.
My mobile phone rings from across the living room. I jump up in hope of hearing her voice: “Hello…Priviet!”. It’s the author of next week’s Lighthouse article, making sure that I have edited the correct version of his essay. A few minutes later I return to my wine glass and light up a cigarette so I can feel my breathe within my chest. I take a sip of my wine.
Suddenly I am standing by the sandy beaches of Sochi. Her beautiful, slim body is absorbing the last few rays of the October sun inches away from my arm. An odd feeling of completeness overwhelms my senses. “I want to explain something to you before we go back home,” she says in her adorable accent. Her nose turns upward and I see those blue-green eyes equally filled with love and fear, and relentlessly concealing the origins of her noble heritage. I know what she’s about to ask, so I hesitate to amend her focus: “Let’s talk about it later. Trust me, it will be over soon.” Her voice falls to a whisper: “I know you will make it work. I just know you will.”
The sound of a large truck disrupts my dream of a love founded on an illusion. At once aware of myself, I quickly look down to see the young man. He was gone. Did she ever show up or was he aimlessly forced to leave that spot for the next unforgiven lover in the night. Suddenly, I feet abandoned.
It’s 12 noon Moscow time. The sky is clear, my glass empty, and I – alone. After I hot-synch my Palm Pilot, download latest news from CNN, fax a revised article to Sweden, and update my Market spreadsheets, I give up my nightly mêlée with myself and restively drag my body to the bed. Once again I end up in bed sleeping alone, comforting myself with the thought that someone across the Caucasian plains loves me tonight. All because of a glorious fairy tale that begun last year when a pair of green eyes got caught between London and the last blue moon in March.
DADESHO EXPECTS TO BE BACK IN IRAQ
Dadesho's trip will be politically fraught, as the Modesto resident joins other international Assyrian figures in a bid to topple a regime and unite a scattered population.
"As far as the Assyrians were concerned, we were united for the first time," Dadesho said. "Everyone has the same agenda."
President of the Modesto-based Assyrian National Congress, Dadesho is among the most politically active Assyrians in the San Joaquin Valley.
Some estimates put the number of Assyrians living in the San Joaquin Valley at upward of 15,000. It's a population that's attracting attention of U.S. policy-makers and war planners, as the Bush administration mobilizes against Iraq.
The Pentagon, for instance, is offering $5,000 a month and special training for natives of Iraq willing to sign up as translators and guides. Dadesho said, "We have submitted a list of names" of potential recruits from the San Joaquin Valley.
The State Department, for its part, has recently designated the separate Assyrian Democratic Movement as one of the organizations eligible for federal money under a law designed to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The designation marks the first time an Assyrian group has become eligible since Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998.
The Iraq Liberation Act has had rough spots, particularly as some officials have questioned the merits of funding fractured Iraqi opposition groups. Assyrian leaders, though, say the assistance is needed and overdue.
"We were ignored, really," said Modesto resident and Assyrian Democratic Movement member Batta Younan. "We were ignored all our lives."
Assyrians are Christians whose original civilization spanned the countries now known as Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. They are a distinct minority in Iraq, accounting for less than 5 percent of the nation's population, according to the CIA World Factbook.
A former social studies teacher who has lived in the San Joaquin Valley since 1990, Younan said the Assyrian Democratic Movement funding will target efforts in northern Iraq. How much the organization will receive has not been determined.
A total of $97 million is available for military, humanitarian and broadcasting purposes under the Iraq Liberation Act, passed by Congress after Iraq stopped cooperating with U.N. arms inspectors.
"The people over there are so much in need," Younan said.
Dadesho, too, sees potential in the pot of money.
The State Department rejected an earlier request that would have helped support Dadesho's Assyrian television broadcasts reach Iraq. He has resubmitted the funding request, noting that broadcasts are bouncing from the Assyrian Cultural Center of Bet-Nahrain in Ceres to the other side of the world.
"It's amazing how many people are watching," Dadesho said.
He presumes that Saddam sympathizers are taping the broadcasts and taking them apart. He knows, after all, about Iraqi government methods.
He's waiting to collect some $2.4 million in frozen Iraqi assets, stemming from his lawsuit against the Iraqi government over a 1990 plot to murder him.
The United States controls some $1 billion in frozen Iraqi assets. Like the Clinton administration, the Bush administration had opposed using the money to pay civil lawsuit judgments; nonetheless, President Bush last year signed a law that permits victims of "state-sponsored terrorism" to tap the frozen Iraqi funds.
Dadesho, who won a judgment of $1.5 million and has since seen it grow through interest, said he hopes the money can be freed.
He also expects to reach northern Iraq in two or three weeks. He said he'll be traveling as one of eight leaders -- one of only two from the United States -- of the Assyrian Consultative Committee, a new umbrella group meant to coordinate efforts of various Assyrian organizations.
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