Assyrian Human Rights Report
fleeing their homes in Northern Iraq
The Assyrians are the indigenous people
of Mesopotamia and have a history spanning over 6700 years.
Today, the Assyrians are the descendants of the ancient Assyrian
empire and one of the earliest civilizations emerging in Mesopotamia.
Although the Assyrian empire ended in 612 B.C., history is
replete with recorded details of the continuous persistence
of the Assyrian people till the present time. Assyrian civilization
at one time incorporated the entire Near East most notably
the area of the Fertile Crescent.
The heartland of Assyria lies in present
day northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey,
and northwestern Iran. The remains of the ancient capital
of Assyria, Nineveh, lie next to Mosul in northern Iraq. Until
earlier this century prior to the Assyrian Holocaust of 1915,
the major Assyrian communities still inhabited the areas of
Tur Abdin and Hakkari in southeastern Turkey, Jazira in northeastern
Syria, Urmi in northwestern Iran, and Mosul in northern Iraq
as they had for thousands of years.
The world’s 4.5 million Assyrians
are currently dispersed with members of the Diaspora comprising
nearly one-third of the population. Most of the Assyrians
in the Diaspora live in North America, Europe and Australia
with nearly 350,000 residing in the United States of America.
The remaining Assyrians reside primarily in Iraq and Syria
and to a lesser extent in Iran, Lebanon, and Turkey.
The Assyrians are not to be confused
with Syrians even though some Syrian citizens are Assyrian.
Although the name of Syria is directly derived from Assyria
and Syria was an integral part of Assyrian civilization, most
of the people of Syria currently maintain a separate Arab
identity. Moreover, the Assyrians are not Arabs but rather
have maintained a continuous and separate ethnic identity,
language, culture, and religion that predates the Arabization
of the Near East. In addition, unlike the Arabs who did not
enter the region until the seventh century A.D., the Assyrians
are the indigenous people of Mesopotamia. Until today, the
Assyrians speak a distinct Assyrian language (called Syriac
or Aramaic by some scholars), the language spoken by Jesus
Christ. As a Semitic language, the Assyrian language is related
to Hebrew and Arabic but predates both. In addition, whereas
most Arabs are Muslim, Assyrians are essentially Christian.
The Assyrians were among the first
to accept Christianity in the first century A.D. through the
Apostle St. Thomas. Despite the subsequent Islamic conquest
of the region in the seventh century A.D., the Assyrian Church
of the East flourished and its adherents at one time numbered
in the tens of millions. Assyrian missionary zeal was unmatched
and led to the first Christian missions to China, Japan, and
the Philippines. The Church of the East stele in Ian, China
bears testament to a thriving Assyrian Christian Church as
early as in the seventh century A.D.
Early on, the Assyrian Church divided
into two ancient branches, the Syrian Orthodox Church and
the Church of the East. Over time, divisions within these
Assyrian Churches led to the establishment of the Chaldean
Church (Uniate Catholic), Syrian Catholic Church, and Maronite
Church. Persistent persecution under Islamic occupation led
to the migration of still greater numbers of Assyrian Christians
into the Christian autonomous areas of Mount Lebanon as well.
With the arrival of Western Protestant missionaries into Mesopotamia,
especially since the nineteenth century, several smaller congregations
of Assyrian Protestants arose as well.
A direct consequence of Assyrian adherence
to the Christian faith and their missionary enterprise has
been persecution, massacres, and ethnic cleansing by various
waves of non-Christian neighbors which ultimately led to a
decimation of the Assyrian Christian population. Most recently
and tragically, Great Britain invited the Assyrians as an
ally in World War One. The autonomous Assyrians were drawn
into the conflict following successive massacres against the
civilian population by forces of the Ottoman Empire consisting
of Turks and Kurds. Although many geopolitical and economic
factors were involved in provoking the attacks against the
Assyrian, a jihad or holy war was declared and served as the
rallying cry and vehicle for marauding Turks, Kurds, and Persians.
Although the Muslim holy war against the Armenians is perhaps
better known, over three-fourths, or 750,000 Assyrians Christians
were also killed between 1915-1918 during the Assyrian Holocaust.
The conflict and subsequent Assyrian
Holocaust led to the decimation and dispersal of the Assyrians.
Those Assyrians who survived the Holocaust were driven out
of their ancestral homeland in Turkish Mesopotamia primarily
toward the area of Mosul Vilayet in Iraq, Jazira in Syria,
and the Urmi plains of Iran where large Assyrian populations
already lived. The massacres of 1915 followed the Assyrians
to these areas as well, prompting an exodus of many more Assyrians
to other countries and continents.
The Assyrian Holocaust of 1915 is
the turning point in the modern history of the Assyrian Christians
precisely because it is the single event that led to the dispersal
of the surviving community into small, weak, and destitute
communities. Most Assyrians in the Diaspora today can trace
their emigration from the Middle East to the Assyrian Holocaust
of 1915. Many who fled from their original homes into other
Middle Eastern countries subsequently, just one generation
later, once more emigrated to the West. Thus, many Assyrian
families in the West today have experienced transfer to a
new country for three successive generations-beginning, for
instance, from Turkey to Iraq and then to the United States.
On account of the Assyrians siding
with the victorious Allies during World War One, Great Britain
had promised the Assyrians autonomy, independence, and a homeland.
The Assyrian question was addressed during postwar deliberations
at the League of Nations. However, with the termination of
the British Mandate in Iraq, the unresolved status of the
Assyrians was relinquished to the Iraqi government with certain
minority guarantees specifically concerning freedom of religious,
cultural, and linguistic expression.
Many of the Assyrians
surviving the Holocaust had been gathered in refugee camps
in Iraq pending final resettlement in an autonomous Assyrian
homeland. In 1933, however, the Iraqi government declared
an ultimatum giving the Assyrians one of two choices: either
to be resettled in small populations dispersed amongst larger
Muslim populations that had recently been violently antagonistic
or to leave Iraq entirely. Some Assyrians chose to leave to
neighboring Syria and so notified the Iraqi government of
their intention. In response, the Iraqi government dispatched
the Iraqi army to attack the Assyrians fleeing into Syria.
In their subsequent defeat, the retreating Iraqi army massacred
over 3000 Assyrian civilians in Simele and other surrounding
towns in August of 1933. Upon his return to Baghdad, the commanding
officer ordering the massacre was hailed as a conquering hero.
Thus, the first official military campaign of the Iraqi army
served as the newly independent government’s final solution
to the Assyrian question. The demoralized Assyrian refugee
population in Iraq was thereby resettled in dispersed villages
while the other surviving isolated communities languished
in the areas of Tur Abdin, Turkey; Jazira, Syria; and Urmi,
An Unrecognized Minority
In Iraq, Assyrians have not been recognized
as a distinct minority but rather as a religious minority.
Thus, in the north the various Kurdish groups refer to the
Assyrians as Kurdish Christians whereas elsewhere in the country
they are considered Arabs. In the official Iraqi Census of
1977 and 1987, Assyrians were not allowed to describe themselves
as Assyrian. Those Assyrians willing to participate in the
census were obliged to refer to themselves as either Arabs
At the same time some Assyrians are
not considered full citizens of the country. In 1992-93 all
Assyrian teachers and professors who had previous Ottoman
nationality were forced to retire. One family was deported
to Istanbul, Turkey. During the Iran-Iraq war, some Assyrians
whose families originated from Assyrian villages in Iran were
similarly discriminated against.
Religious Persecution and Regulation
The government of Iraq regulates religious
affairs through a separate Ministry of Religious Affairs.
All Churches are subject to decisions at this ministerial
level. No new Churches may be built or old Churches repaired
without direct approval of the Ministry. No printing of prayer
books is allowed without the permission of the Ministry. The
Ministry must be notified of any movements or transfers of
priests within or outside of the country. Any religious, social
or educational program needs to be reviewed and approved by
Although some clergy have steadfastly
refused, the government pays the salaries of some of the clergy.
Priests and deacons are still required to serve in the military
and cannot be excused as conscientious objectors. By having
such regulatory and oversight powers, the government exercises
considerable direct and indirect influence and interference
in the Church institutions.
In Iraq, the official state religion
is Islam. As is common in much of the region, apostasy laws
discriminate against Assyrians. A Christian Assyrian is allowed
to convert to Islam whereas a Muslim is not allowed to convert
to Christianity. Moreover, an Assyrian Christian who marries
a Muslim is obliged under law to convert to Islam. If he refuses
he may be imprisoned until such time that he agrees to convert.
All children from such marriages are necessarily raised Muslim.
Any Muslim considering conversion to Christianity must consider
the risk to his or her physical well-being or life. Any Muslim
killing an apostate is reassured that he will receive a lenient
sentence if any at all. With conversion to Islam, Assyrians
are thereafter considered Arabs and are no longer considered
Political Persecution and Executions
Numerous human rights organizations
including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as
well as the US State Department and the United Nations (UN)
have extensively documented human rights abuses against Assyrians
as well as other communities within Iraq. In Iraq, Assyrians
perceived as espousing Assyrian causes are treated harshly.
On March 2, 1985, Yousip Zaibari, Youbert Shlemon, and Youkhana
Jajjo, all members of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM)
were executed in Iraq for promoting Assyrian ideals. The executions
served notice to the Assyrian community at large regarding
the lack of tolerance towards a proactive Assyrian awareness.
In 1984, 20 Assyrians belonging to
the ADM were incarcerated in Iraq. Two years later 16 were
released. In 1995, another 4 were released. Another Assyrian
member of the ADM, Dinkha Gewargis, was arrested in Dohuk
in 1991 and has since Adisappeared. Inquiries regarding his
whereabouts and well-being have not been answered by the government.
The former prisoners have reported physical and psychological
Amnesty International in their 1997
Report on Iraq stated that APhysical and psychological torture
and ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners remained widespread
(in Iraq). Methods of torture reported included beatings,
electric shocks to the tongue and genitals, suspension from
a rotating fan, burning the skin using heated metal implements
or sulphuric acid, and rape. Some prisoners were said to have
ben flogged before their release.
Assassinations against Assyrian leaders
have been documented by international human rights and Assyrian
organizations in northern Iraq as well. One of the most notable
killings involved Francis Shabo, an Assyrian member of the
Parliament of North Iraq. Mr. Shabo was born in 1951 in Mangesh,
Dohuk, and was married with four children. Mr. Shabo was a
member of the Chaldean Catholic Church and an active member
of the ADM. He was elected to the Parliament in May, 1992
and served as a member of the National Assembly’s Economic
As far as the Assyrian community in
concerned, his most important role remained the adjudication
of expropriation of Assyrian lands at the hands of the Kurds
in northern Iraq. Many of the expropriated villages were in
the area of Bahdinan from which Assyrians had earlier been
evicted by government forces. Kurds subsequently resettled
the villages illegally and have not allowed Assyrians to resettle
their lands. Mr. Shabo was shot dead on his way home in Dohuk
on May 31,1993. The local Kurdish authorities did not apprehend
any suspects or commission an investigation.
Amnesty International inquired into
Mr. Shabo’s assassination. Amnesty International stated that
Athe organization had received the names of people said to
be linked to the KDP’s First Liq who were allegedly responsible
for the killings. However, none of the suspects were apprehended
or questioned by Mr. Mahsoud Barzani’s party.
Mr. Lazar Mikho Hanna also known as
Abu Nasir was an Assyrian Christian born in Mangesh in 1933.
He was a member of the Iraqi Communist Party’s Central Committee
for Northern Iraq. He was also a member of a committee responsible
for the Iraqi Kurdistan Front. According to Amnesty International
and Assyrian sources in northern Iraq, he was shot and killed
on June 14, 1993 near his home in the KDP stronghold of Dohuk.
No suspects were brought to justice and no investigation was
Amnesty International’s February,
1995 report on northern Iraq concluded that AThe security
apparatus of the KDP, Rekkhistine Taybeti, and that of the
PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan), Dezgay Zanyari, are said
to have units akin to assassination squads, whose members
receive orders from senior party officials. There is also
widespread conviction that such unlawful and deliberate killings
could not have been perpetrated without the knowledge, consent
or acquiescence of the leaders of these two parties, to whom
the security and intelligence apparatuses are ultimately responsible.
The names of individuals alleged to be members of assassination
squads within the KDP and PUK have been submitted to Amnesty
International, including by officials of both parties who
supplied information about the other’s security and intelligence
activities. Amnesty International also disclosed Adetails
of extensive surveillance operations of named individuals,
as well as references to killings and attempted killings by
the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMIK).
The assassination attempts have continued.
Most recently, Franso Harriri was the target of an assassination
attempt. In a press release, the KDP announced that at 8:10
a.m. on February 23, 1997, Mr. Franso Harriri survived an
assassination attempt. Mr. Franso Harriri is an Assyrian from
northern Iraq and is the governor of the province of Arbil.
The attack reportedly took place during Mr. Harriri’s trip
to the provincial headquarters in Arbil. Although Mr. Harriri
survived the attack, two of his bodyguards as well as five
civilian bystanders were reportedly wounded.
According to the KDP, their investigation
pointed to involvement by the PUK. Specifically, the KDP accused
Mr. Kosrat Rasool, allegedly a PUK political officer, of masterminding
the attack. The KDP further suggested that the motivation
behind Mr. Rasool’s assassination attempt may have been the
intentional disruption of the recent Ankara conference and
ongoing peace negotiations in northern Iraq between the two
warring Kurdish groups.
Attacks Against Assyrian Civilians
Recent attacks against Assyrian civilians
by Kurds in northern Iraq and by others elsewhere in the country
have recently increased. Almost without exception, Assyrians
have no recourse to seek justice within the country’s legal
institutions. The lack of a credible threat of reprimand or
just involvement by authority in northern Iraq and in the
government controlled portion of Iraq has fostered an environment
of enhanced violence against Assyrians.
According to the Assyrian International
News Agency (AINA), on May 23, 1997, Kamal Kiriakos Ablahad,
an Assyrian, was shot and killed in Baghdad, Iraq. Mr. Ablahad
was employed at the residence of Jamal Al-Tikriti, the son-in-law
of the Iraqi President. Following the shooting, Mr. Ablahad
was immediately rushed to the hospital where he was declared
dead. The medical examiner’s report declared the death a suicide.
Examination of the body revealed a single gunshot to the head
as the cause of death. However, Mr. Ablahad’s right index
and middle fingers were shot off as a consequence of the shooting.
Mr. Ablahad’s kidneys were immediately removed as donor organs
Since the gunshot involved Mr. Ablahad’s
right fingers and head, members of the Assyrian community
in Iraq have suggested that Mr. Ablahad was in fact killed
in execution fashion and that prior to being shot, he had
raised his right hand in an attempt to shield his head and
face from the gunshot. Since access to medical care has greatly
deteriorated following the UN embargo against Iraq, it has
been reported that the motivation for the killing was in fact
to obtain kidneys for organ transplantation possibly for someone
in the Al-Tikriti household.
The Arabic language newspaper Al-Hayat
reported on July 25,1997 that Uday, the son of Iraqi leader
Saddam Hussein, had shot and killed an Assyrian girl earlier
in June, 1997. The Assyrian girl, Asil Salman Mansour, was
last seen walking home within the predominantly Christian
Doura district of Baghdad. Witnesses reported that the girl
was stopped by a Apresidential vehicle and was forced into
the vehicle by Uday’s bodyguards. Ms. Mansour was taken to
the Presidential complex at al Jadiriya. According to the
news report, Uday attempted to rape the girl but failed. In
a subsequent fit of rage, he shot and killed the girl. Reportedly,
Uday has become embittered, depressed and even more easily
angered since the failed assassination attempt on his life
and his subsequent paralysis.
Following the girl’s murder, Uday
ordered the payment of seven hundred dollars, an Oldsmobile
automobile, and a fifty dollar monthly stipend to the family
as compensation for the loss of their daughter. The grief-stricken
Assyrian family has been ordered not to report the incident;
they have accepted the gesture out of fear of further reprisals
by the government.
Also according to AINA, on the morning
of July 27, 1997, three armed men entered the home of Polus
Younan, a 62 year old Assyrian member of the Chaldean Catholic
Church. Mr. Younan was originally born in Habbania but lived
in the N’eiya w’bayna’ section of Baghdad with his wife Medina
Shmoel and their 16 year old son Mattai. Ms. Medina Shmoel
survived the attack and reported her account to the police.
She witnessed the repeated stabbing of her husband in the
back with a large knife until the blade of the knife protruded
through Mr. Younan’s chest. Upon dying, Mr. Younan was rolled
into sheets by one assailant as the other two attackers turned
their attention to Ms. Shmoel. The attackers struck Ms. Shmoel
with the butt end of their rifles until most of her teeth
were broken. Throughout the attack, the assailants demanded
information regarding the family’s money and savings. The
attackers then slashed Ms. Shmoel’s son Mattai in order to
obtain more information. Since the boy is deaf and mute, he
was unable to answer the attacker’s questioning. When the
boy began to lose consciousness on account of his blood loss,
the attackers moved him to the bathroom and placed him in
a bathtub. No suspects have been questioned or apprehended
by the authorities.
In another instance reported by AINA,
another Assyrian 35 year old Yousif John Yacoub was brutally
stabbed to death on April 12,1997 while in his home in Baghdad,
Iraq. Three Arab men, employed as school guards in a nearby
school, were contracted by a cleaning woman at the same school
to attack and rob Mr. Yacoub. According to Mr. Yacoub’s neighbors
who witnessed the attack, Mr. Yacoub was stabbed in the back,
neck, and abdomen. The neighbors notified the police who arrived
prior to Mr. Yacoub’s death. Mr. Yacoub survived long enough
to identify his attackers and to give the name of a nearby
relative to be notified.
The police kept Mr. Yacoub in his
home for questioning while he was bleeding uncontrollably
until his death. They never sought to transport him to a hospital
in time to save his life. In addition, Mr. Yacoub’s relative
was never contacted. The relative heard about the incident
one day later, at which point Mr. Yacoub had already died.
Mr. Yacoub’s relative finally arrived at the home only to
find that the police had ransacked the place and removed any
valuables or evidence.
Two weeks later, Mr. Ameed Shurta,
a high ranking police officer and member of the ruling Ba’ath
party, along with his wife and children, occupied Mr. Yacoub’s
house. The police have refused to return any of Mr. Yacoub’s
possessions to the family. Mr. Yacoub’s sister, a Sumerian
and Akkadian scholar residing in London, England, has requested
that at the very least, the family’s photo albums which have
great sentimental value ought to be returned. The police have
Mr. Yacoub’s family has reported that
governmental and police personnel are accomplices in this
crime. The police have released the cleaning woman and have
claimed that one of the attackers has escaped. The other two
were reportedly held for questioning but no recent information
is available regarding their whereabouts. According to Mr.
Yacoub’s family, because of the attackers’ ties to government
accomplices, the attackers will probably not be punished.
In November, 1996 the Assyrian National
Congress (ANC) reported that six Assyrians working in the
Presidential Palace in Baghdad were arrested for allegedly
conspiring to Apoison Saddam Hussein. The arrests were confirmed
by relatives of the accused as well as the Iraqi Human Rights
Organization based in Syria. All of the arrested were reported
subsequently executed without any due process, trial or appeal.
The six executed Assyrians included
Mr. Gewargis Hormiz Oraha, a 45 year old married man and father
of four. Mr. Oraha was from the Assyrian village of Mal Urab,
Dohuk but had more recently resided in New Baghdad district
of Baghdad. Mr. Yousip Adam Khano was 26 years old, married
and had one child. He was also from Mal Urab. Amira Koro Odisho
was 35 years old and living in the Karadah district of Baghdad.
Mr. Shimon Khoshaba Al-Hozi was 38 years old and married with
seven children from the city of Zakho, Dohuk. Mr. Petros Elia
Toma was 36 years old, married with three children and was
from the Assyrian village of Mal Urab. He, too, had been recently
living in Baghdad. The last victim was Mr. William Matti Barkho.
According to AINA on April 27, 1997
an unarmed civilian from Shaqlawa, 58 year old Mr. Sabri Odo
Sowrish was assassinated while he worked in his store in Sedara,
Arbil. He was struck by three bullets execution style from
a silencer. His assailant has no been apprehended. On April
16, 1996 Mr. Adel Odisho Marcus, an Assyrian deacon from the
village of Sanat, was killed in Zakho. Mr. Marcus was a relatively
well known Assyrian land owner. He was allegedly murdered
by Adel Said Slavani, also known as Abu Lukman. Slavani is
a well know member of the KDP and enjoys the protection of
the KDP. Slavani continues to reside freely in his home district
as the acknowledged murderer of Mr. Marcus without fear of
governmental involvement. No investigation has been carried
Disenfranchisement of the Assyrians
On February 2 , 1991 the Iraqi withdrawal
from Kuwait ended the seven month occupation of Kuwait and
the ensuing Gulf War. Civil unrest subsequently erupted leading
to a grave humanitarian crisis which prompted the UN to pass
resolution 688 on April 5, 1991 calling on Iraq to end the
Arepression of the Iraq civilian population. A ASafe Haven
was established by the allies after a Memorandum of Understanding
was signed with the government of Iraq on April 18, 1997 and
Operation Provide and Comfort was begun. The Safe Heaven stretched
from Zakho, Duhok, and Amadiya the area was patrolled by Allied
military and Iraqi aircraft were forbidden from flying north
of the 36th parallel.
The establishment of the Safe Haven
created an autonomous area in Northern Iraq that was free
from direct Iraqi governmental control. Elections for a Parliament
in Northern Iraq were held on May 19th, 1992. The initial
plans for the assembly outline a hundred seat all-Kurdish
parliament. International pressure from Western countries
led to the addition of five temporary token seats for the
1.5- 2 million Assyrian Christians of Iraq. Despite early
hopes for an inclusive and progressive democracy with respect
for all of the communities of northern Iraq, the situation
rapidly deteriorated as competing Kurdish groups bitterly
battled each other.
The actual conduct of the elections
was filled with irregularities and inequities. The election
was conducted with a 7% threshold such that any group not
enjoying 7 % of the vote would have absolutely no representation.
Out of several parties only two, the KDP and the PUK met this
criterion. The official result gave the KDP 50.8% of the vote
and the PUK 49.2%. All votes from smaller parties not receiving
the minimum 7% threshold were reallocated to the two larger
parties. Smaller communities not aligned with the two larger
parties were discouraged. Assyrians, although reluctantly
guaranteed 5 seats on account of international pressure, were
nonetheless subjected to preconceived logistic difficulties
that made it difficult to appropriately reflect their demographic
In their February 1995 report, Amnesty
International stated that many of the smaller parties complained
that A the extent of multiple voting, as well as other irregularities,
cast doubts on the fairness of the elections. In their public
statements the PUK and the KDP stated that the elections were
on the whole free and fair, but privately some officials from
both parties complained of irregularities. The Parliament
was eventually disbanded after the security situation deteriorated
over the past few years. Control of the area fell into the
hands of two competing Kurdish armed factions. The ensuing
conflict left thousands dead and thousands more wounded. Those
people and communities not aligned with either of the two
Kurdish groups, namely the Assyrians, have lived in fear and
intimidation. The security of the Assyrians in the ASafe Haven
drastically deteriorated during this time. Specific attacks
against the Assyrian community in northern Iraq have included
assassinations, kidnapings, land expropriations, forced conversion
into Islam, and linguistic-cultural pressures.
Displacement and Land Expropriation
Attacks against ancient Assyrian ancestral
villages have been ongoing in Iraq. In 1976-77 over 200 Assyrian
villages in northern Iraq were razed by the Iraqi government.
All inhabitants were resettled in urban areas, primarily in
and around Baghdad in order to prevent the establishment of
a concentrated Assyrian presence anywhere in the country.
Most of the villages have been subsequently reclaimed by Kurds.
Following the establishment of the ASafe Haven further land
grabs by Kurds directly or indirectly supported by local Kurdish
authorities have led to the expropriation of lands from 52
additional villages in northern Iraq. It was precisely the
resolution of these types of complaints with which Minister
Francis Shabo was entrusted prior to his assassination.
In many instances, the confiscations
of Assyrian lands by Kurds in northern Iraq are organized
and carried out by the local ruling governmental bodies. In
other instances, the local government acquiesces without any
effort to seek out justice. Never has a Kurd been forced by
a local government in northern Iraq to return his illegally
expropriated land. Under the current system of justice, an
Assyrian has no legal recourse. An Assyrian who chooses to
fight for his rights will often have to face the occupying
Kurds and the local government supporting them. Moreover,
in such a situation an Assyrian could expect total retribution
possibly leading to death to himself and his family in return
for fighting for his rights.
The Assyrians remain terrorized. The
perpetual land grabs serve to rob the Assyrians of their livelihood
while simultaneously driving them out of their historic lands.
Threats, persecutions, and terror are the means employed by
governmental and rogue Kurdish elements. The following is
a short list of 52 Assyrian villages that have had their land
In the Simele district: in Deirboon,
the agricultural department of the Dohuk government expropriated
170 donums of land for Kurdish use for the past four years.
In Pakhlouja 1530 donums of agricultural land have been confiscated
by Kurds from Zakho for over four years. In Suriya, 530 donums
of agricultural land have been confiscated by the sons of
a Kurd known as Sheikh Karo for over four years. In Towsana,
735 donums of tillable land have been confiscated for over
four years. In Mshara, 250 donums of land have been confiscated
for over three years. In Bajidbraf, 190 donums of land were
seized and had houses and barns built upon them for over three
years. In Bravook, 125 donums of grazing pasture land have
been confiscated by local Kurds. In Mansouria, 560 donums
of land have been confiscated for over four years. In Fesh
Khabour, a vast area of houses and land (larger than any other
area of confiscation, but that cannot be quantified) has been
expropriated. In the Armenian village of Howrisk, 7000 donums
of land have been confiscated by the Al Hajan Kurdish tribe.
In the Zakho district: in Khalakh,
850 donums of land have been expropriated by the agricultural
department. In Mal Urab, 45 donums of land have been confiscated.
In Azakh, 12 donums of orchards and vineyards have been expropriated
for over four years. In Kourigavana, 115 donums of land have
been expropriated for over two years. In Bar Roushkisava,
35 donums of land have been expropriated for over three years.
In the village of Gindakosa, Assyrians
attempted to drill wells as part of a foreign aid and development
project sponsored by the American Organization of Foreign
Disaster Assistance (OFDA). In order to help deprive the Assyrians
of a livelihood the local Kurds vigorously opposed this project.
The neighboring Kurdish village of Ikmala opposed and threatened
the Assyrians. The local ruling Kurd of Ikmala extorted 20,000
dinars to ensure the go-ahead of the project. The money was
paid to Lieutenant Abdulla Spindari, but he continued to oppose
the project. In the end, the Governor of Dohuk, Abdel Aziz
Tiab approved the project, but Lieutenant Spindari blocked
its implementation. To make matters worse, 20 donums of land
were taken from the Assyrians and fruit trees were planted
on the expropriated land.
In the Barwaribala Zakho district:
in Kanibalaf, 35 donums of land have been expropriated for
over four years. In Mousakir, another water development project
was blocked by the Kurds. In Balouka, houses and land were
seized by the Kurds. In Gara, houses and land were seized
by the Kurds. In Malikhta, land was seized by the Kurds. Likewise,
in Chakalla Ulya, Chakalla Sulfa, Beit Tanouri, Tashish and
Chelki Nasara unknown amounts of land have been expropriated
from the Assyrians. In Jdeede, 47 houses were built on land
confiscated from the Assyrians by Kurds. In Hisa, 30 donums
of land were taken and developed into houses and orchards.
In Marga Jeea, vineyards and 25 donums of land were expropriated
by Ikmala Kurds. In Jameeke 8 donums of orchards were taken
and houses were built by the Bapire Kurds.
In the Sarsing Amadea district: in
Enishke, 65 donums of land, orchards and vineyards were expropriated.
In Bebad, land, orchards, and vineyards have been taken for
over three years. In Bei Natha, orchards and vineyards have
been expropriated for over three years. In Sarsing, orchards
and land have been taken. In Dehe, Aradin, Dohuke, and Kwane
orchards, lands and vineyards have been confiscated. In Chamrabatke,
land was taken and houses have been built on Assyrian land
for over four years. Although the government ordered the Kurds
to leave, the edict was never enforced.
In the Denarta Ackra district, houses
have been built by Kurds on Assyrian lands. Despite an order
by the government to vacate, the Kurds remain in their illegal
homes. In Cheshkawa, members of the Zabari clan who are the
inlaws of the Barzani clan, have likewise expropriated land
and illegally built houses. The are also ignoring governmental
orders to leave. The same accounts are prevalent about Chemesinni,
Siani, Issan, Argan and Safra Shartapa. In Chemchal, land
has been expropriated for over four years. In Hazarjadt, Jule,
and Builmet, land has been expropriated for over four years.
In Dowria, the whole village has been
overrun and occupied since 1961 by the Barzanis. The title
to the village lands remains till today in Assyrian hands,
but no action is taken to compensate or return the Assyrians
to their homes.
Linguistic pressure has also been
brought to bare against the Assyrian community. In the spring
of 1996, an attempt was made to Kurdify the educational curriculum
and final exams of the northern autonomous region. The official
educational language of the whole country until that time
was Arabic. Having had all of their curriculum and education
in Arabic til that point Assyrian students were concerned
that they would be placed at a distinct disadvantage vis a
vis their fellow Kurdish students. A group of Assyrian students
in Ankawa, Arbil resisted the change in the curriculum. A
larger group of rival Kurdish students affiliated with the
PUK repeatedly threatened and beat the Assyrian students.
The local authorities identified the Kurds as the clear aggressors
and issued symbolic restraining orders against them. However,
the attacks continued unabated.
One day after signing the restraining
order, on May 12, 1996, these same Kurds once again attacked
the Assyrians at the Assyrian Student Club in Ankawa. The
Assyrian Student Club serves as a gathering place for Assyrian
students in Ankawa as well as a dormitory. Two unarmed Assyrians
from the ADM arrived to mediate between the groups. The armed
Kurdish students opened fire killing Peris Merza and Samir
Moshi. Many others were injured. A few Kurdish suspects present
at the scene were later temporarily detained but the actual
killers were never apprehended despite eyewitness testimonies
According to Amnesty International’s
1997 report on Iraq, Ain July, Amnesty International raised
with the PUK the cases of two ADM members killed in >Ain
Kawa in May. The PUK told the organization that an investigation
into the killings was initiated but that the main perpetrators
had fled to government-controlled areas. A similar response
was received by Amnesty International regarding the assassination
of Mr. Francis Shabo by yet another Kurdish organization,
During 1995-97 Islamist elements in
the Khalidia area of Iraq targeted Assyrians. Three separate
attacks led to two deaths and one critical wounding. All of
the attacks were against owners or operators of clubs or restaurants
that also served alcoholic beverages. Ostensibly, the Islamic
fundamentalists have objected to the serving of alcoholic
beverages in these areas. Many in the Assyrian community believe
that the attacks are at least tacitly condoned if not encouraged
by the government since no attempt has been made to investigate
or stop the attacks. The surviving widow of one of the victims
has relayed the information but due to fear of reprisals against
relatives remaining in Iraq, she has refused to provide her
The role of the government in pressuring
Assyrian club owners was uncovered when the government recently
ordered the closing of all liquor stores, bars and restaurants
serving liquor. It is estimated by Assyrians in Iraq that
40,000 Assyrians have been made unemployed because of this
Abduction and Forced Conversion to
Young Assyrian girls are subject to
forced abduction. Often they are forced to marry their abductors
and to convert to Islam. The ruling authorities as a rule
never intervene on behalf of Assyrians.
On January 13, 1996 Wassan Michael,
a sixteen year old girl from Simele was kidnapped by armed
Kurds. She was threatened and forced to renounce her Christian
faith. She was then forced to marry one of the Kurdish kidnappers.
The names of the Kurds were delivered to the local authorities
but no suspects have been apprehended or questioned. The girl
has not been returned to her family.
On January 20, 1996 Janet Oshana,
a 13 year old girl from Mal-Urab near Zakho was kidnapped
by an armed man named Khorsheed Uthman Galesh. The kidnapper’s
name was provided to the local authorities but he was not
apprehended. The girl has not been returned to her family.
The families of such Assyrian girls
have no recourse since the Kurdish authorities will not support
an Assyrian in such matters. Some Kurdish apologists have
stated that Kurdish culture in some villages dictates that
a man is not fully a man unless he abducts his bride, and,
conversely, that a bride is not truly worth having unless
she has been abducted. However, such a heinous disregard for
the most basic of human rights is not a cultural attribute
shared by Assyrians. Moreover, an abducted Assyrian, unlike
an abducted Kurdish girl, is forced to abandon her Christian
faith, family, language, and heritage. Many other cases of
abduction are not reported bacause of fear and, in the conservative
culture of the Assyrians, because of shear shame. With no
reasonable chance of changing the outcome, some Assyrians
accept the disappearance of their girls rather than invite
further reprisals and violence.
In 1993, the 16 year old daughter
of 54 year old Mr. Lazar Matti was abducted by a Kurd named
Mohamed Babakir. The girl was forcibly assaulted and forced
to marry her abductor. She was also compelled to convert to
Islam. Out of fear and with no other recourse from the authorities,
Mr. Matti and his family had to come to terms with the abduction
as an accomplished fact in order to avoid the wholesale escalation
of communal tension and further violence.
On February 9,1997 Kurdish officials
investigating a recent spaight of firebombings of Assyrian
stores and businesses in the Shaqlawa area found Mohamed Babakir
mysteriously killed. Although various rival Kurdish groups
had been engaged in violent conflict, the authorities without
any evidence suspected that Mr. Matti and his 25 year old
son Havel Lazar were responsible for the Kurd’s murder. Although
it was widely agreed that no animosity remained between the
families, the two Assyrians were arrested in Shaqlawa pending
a formal investigation. Despite vigorously protesting their
incarceration, the Mr. Matti and Mr. Lazar acquiesced.
That night at evening prayers, the
local Kurdish mullah declared that only Mr. Matti could have
had the motive to kill Mr. Babakir on account of the earlier
kidnapping. The mullah incited the crowd of Kurdish Muslim
worshippers and declared that it is morally unacceptable that
a Christian Ainfidel kill a Muslim. The mullah demanded that
the Kurds avenge the death of Babakir.
On February 10, 1997 Mr. Matti and
his son were dragged out of their prison by a mob of roughly
100 armed Kurds and were murdered. Prior to their death, they
were taunted, tortured, and finally, butchered into pieces.
At the same time, 100 Kurds stormed the family home of Mr.
Matti and burned it to the ground. There was no attempt to
prevent the mob by the local police; there was no resistance
to the mob.
The dismembered remains of the father
and son were strewn across fields in Shaqlawa. The Kurdish
mob detonated grenades and shot randomly with automatic weapons
in order to further intimidate the remaining resident Assyrians.
The Assyrians were forbidden to hold a funeral for their dead.
Once the body parts were gathered, a funeral was held outside
Shaqlawa in Arbil.
Mr. Mahsoud Barzani, the president
of the KDP visited Shaqlawa following the murders. In a statement
released by the KDP, Barzani condemned the killings and acknowledged
recent acts of violence, burglaries, and arson by Kurds against
Assyrian homes and shops in the Shaqlawa area. He noted a
pattern of intimidation on the part of Kurds in the area.
However, neither he nor the local authorities apprehended
the responsible individuals for the murder or the incitement.
Nor were the police responsible for the safety of their prisoners
Lynchings of Assyrians
Most attacks against Assyrians go
unanswered by the authorities and Assyrians usually have no
recourse in the justice system. As an example, Mr. Edward
Khoshaba of Aqla was tending his sheep in 1995 when he came
across three Kurds who had killed and butchered some of his
livestock. When confronted, the surprised Kurds attempted
to kill Mr. Khoshaba. He was able kill two of his assailants
before the third fled to his home village. Reportedly, when
the surviving Kurd returned to his home village, a celebration
had ensued as the Kurdish villagers had assumed that the Kurdish
intruders had successfully killed Mr. Khoshaba in addition
to his livestock. When they learned that two of the Kurdish
intruders had been killed instead, the entire village mobilized
to exact revenge.
Mr. Khoshaba likewise fled to an area
controlled by his Assyrian compatriots. A standoff ensued
for some time until Mr. Khoshaba’s parents (fearing an escalation
in violence) convinced Mr. Khoshaba to turn himself in to
the authorities for an investigation and trial. Following
his surrender, the Kurdish authorities promptly released Mr.
Khoshaba to the relatives of the Kurdish intruders. Mr. Khoshaba
was taken to the Kurdish village where he was tied up and
tortured until he was near death. The final blows were granted
to the elder most woman of the village as a sign of honor.
She repeatedly hacked Mr. Khoshaba in the head with an axe
until he died. His body was then dismembered into pieces.
The leader of the Kurdish village
is Qaem Qam Farzanda Zbeer. No suspects have been apprehended
and none of the murderers have brought to justice. There has
been no investigation of the authorities who evaded their
responsibilities and turned Mr. Khoshaba over to the Kurdish
With the earlier mentioned destruction
of over 200 Assyrian villages in 1976-77, scores of Churches
were also destroyed. Nearly every village had a church and/or
monastery. Some of the ancient churches were as much as 1400
Recent attacks against Churches have
also increased. In mid-January, 1996, the holy room of Saint
Sbar Eshoo located in Mar Gewargis Church was burglarized.
No investigation was carried out and no suspects apprehended.
Later on June 29, 1996 when Turkish
troops invaded Iraq in military operations against the Kurdistan
Worker’s Party (PKK), another Mar Gewargis Church was bombed
in northern Iraq.
Restricted Humanitarian Aid to Assyrians
Following the Gulf War, the United
Nations imposed an economic embargo on Iraq. According to
the UN, all communities inside Iraq have been devestated by
the embargo with nearly 500,000 people dying as a direct result.
During that time, the limited humanitarian aid reaching Iraq
was monopolized by two warring Kurdish factions in the north
and by government agencies in the rest of the country. With
a worsening economic situation, almost no international humanitarian
assistance reached the less well connected Assyrian community.
In May of 1996, Iraq agreed to implement
UN Resolution 986, the oil-for-food resolution. Under the
resolution, Iraq is allowed to sell two billion dollars of
oil semi-annually and to use the revenues for the purchase
of humanitarian assistance eg. Food and medicine. The agreement
was implemented in December. Because the UN is directly involved
in distribution (rather than the warring parties), it is hoped
that the Assyrians will finally receive a proportionate share
of humanitarian assistance.
Plundering of Historic Artifacts/Erasing
Mesopotamia is perhaps the richest
area in the world in terms of ancient archeological sites
and artifacts. In northern Mesopotamia, the ancient sites
bear testament to the ancient continuing history and heritage
of the Assyrians over the past several millenia. Tragically,
numerous articles in the Western press as well as in the Middle
Eastern press, have described the development of syndicates
of plunderers and smugglers of Assyrian artifacts following
the Gulf War and the subsequent embargo. Museums have been
targeted as well a archeological sites.
Especially in the north where warring
Kurdish groups have led to an environment of near anarchy,
Assyrian artifacts have disappeared from museums and archeological
sites. Despite the formal ban on international trade in stolen
artifacts, vast quantities of Assyrian artifacts are surfacing
in Europe and North America. The international appetite for
ancient Mesopotamian treasures is reportedly assisted by London-based
archeologists who forge authenticity certificates in order
to facilitate the trade of illegal artifacts into the legal
and legitimate market.
The crude techniques used to secure
the artifacts from archeological sites causes the destruction
of priceless amounts of artifacts. The sites themselves are
also irreparably damaged from the point of view of future
scholarly and scientific exploration. Numerous large statues
and reliefs have been beheaded or broken into smaller, more
easily smuggled pieces.
For some Kurds who wish to erase the
Assyrian heritage of Mesopotamia, the illegal destruction
of ancient historic sites further diminishes the history and
legacy of Assyrians in their native land.
The Assyrians have continuously lived
in Turkey for thousands of years. Following the Assyrian Holocaust
of 1915-1918 most of the Assyrians of the Hakkari region were
killed while survivors fled to other areas of the Middle East.
Some Assyrian villages survived in the area of Tur Abdin and
Mardin. By the 1960's over 130,000 Assyrian Christians, primarily
Syrian Orthodox lived in Turkey especially in the Southeast.
Of these, only about 5,000 remain in Turkey today. Most of
these have resettled in larger cities such as Istanbul while
only about 2,000 Assyrians remain living in their ancestral
The situation for the Assyrians in
Turkey has become more precarious since the Kurdish Worker’s
Party (PKK) war for an independent Kurdistan in southern Turkey
has escalated. Assyrians often find themselves caught between
the ultimatum of armed Kurds on the one hand, and the reprisals
of the Turkish military and other Kurdish village guards on
the other. They are either asked to provide assistance to
the PKK which prompts the razing of their village by the Turkish
military; or, they are compelled to join the Turkish government’s
Kurdish village guards which provokes violent attacks by the
PKK. The Assyrians find themselves attacked from both sides
of warring Kurds, both the village guards and the PKK.
According to Amnesty International:
AVillagers are often reluctant to become village guards for
fear of reprisals by the PKK. However, participation in the
village guard corps is not voluntary. If they refuse to participate
the village may be visited by PKK guerillas seeking food and
shelter. It will also be raided by the security forces who
may carry out attacks against the families who refuse to participate.
ASecurity raids are generally conducted
by gendarmes (soldiers carrying out police duties), sometimes
accompanied by village guards. Villagers are usually assembled
and subjected to threats, insults, destruction of livestock,
and in many cases torture. Homes are searched while men, and
sometimes women and children, are made to stand or lie down
outside in subzero conditions in winter or, in summer, in
the full heat of the sun.
In February 1993 the State of Emergency
Coordination Council decided that outlying settlements which
might support the PKK should be evacuated, and in recent months
it appears to have been routine for all or most of the houses
in these villages to be burned. As a result of this policy,
thousands of indigent villagers have been forced to move to
Diyarbaker and other cities in the southeast. Assyrian Christian
villagers who were driven out in this way were forced to sign
statements saying that they had left because of PKK activity.
There have also been many reports of extrajudicial execution
and >disappearances’ in the course of such raids.
An Unrecognized Minority
Assyrians in Turkey have been treated
as second class citizens. They have not been recognized a
an ethnic minority but rather are called Turkish Christians
or Turco-semites. Unlike the Greeks and Armenians who have
ethnic minority recognition and subsequent rights, the Assyrian
Christians are regarded as a religious minority. Because they
are not an ethnic minority, they cannot establish their own
schools and therefore cannot properly transmit their language
and culture. Limited language courses in the Churches have
been insufficient and have been hampered by government efforts
to close them.
Restrictions on Teaching Language
Isa Karatas, a noted writer and representative
of the Orthodox Church in Turkey was quoted in the Turkish
Daily News (August 29, 1996) as saying AThe most blatant example
of the situation was experienced in Deyrulzafaran monastery
in Mardin. In 1979 the education of religion and language
was banned, and the reason given was that the Assyrian children
who were being educated there were joining terrorist organizations.
In official religion classes in government
schools, religions other than Islam such as Christianity are
only given three pages. Moreover, they are portrayed unfavorably.
According to Isa Karatas, While Assyrian parents introduce
their children to the Bible as the book that shows the way
to God and the priests as respected people explaining this
way, the ministry’s books introduce the Bible as something
that has been destroyed and changed and the priests as the
ones who changed it to their advantage.
The Assyrians are also misunderstood
and misrepresented in official publications. In one of the
books of the Education Ministry entitled Fast and Sacrifice
in Islam and Other Religions, the author Tahsir Feyizli writes
that The Assyrians have been so influenced by Christians that
they are like a sect in Christianity.
Destruction and Evacuation of Villages
According to the Assyrian Democratic
Organization (ADO), the main Assyrian organization in southeast
Turkey, physical attacks against Assyrians and their villages
have been increasing in recent years. The fighting between
the Turkish military and PKK Kurdish separatists has brought
greater reprisals against the Assyrians from both sides. For
example, Isa Karatas revealed in the Turkish Daily News that
in 1992 the graveyard of the village of MidyatBulbuk was bombed
under the pretext that it may have hidden a secret PKK arms
cache. When the Ogunduk village police station was attacked
by the PKK on July 21, 1992, the Turkish military burned the
entire surrounding village and fields. Sukru Yalin, a seventeen
year old Assyrian was wounded.
On June 18,1994 Hormuz Diril, an alderman
of an Assyrian village went to the Beytussebab Attorney General’s
Office to ask why the Assyro-Chaldean village that had been
evacuated was burned down by the military. He was subsequently
arrested and accused of allegedly aiding terrorists.
According to Amnesty International’s
Annual Country Report on Turkey, two cousins Ilyas Edy’s Diril
and Zeki Ercan Diril lived in Kovankaya, one of the last Assyrian
Chaldean Catholic villages in Hakkari province. The village
was burned down by security forces in 1990 for refusing to
participate in the village guard system. All of the villagers
fled to Istanbul; later some returned to rebuild their homes.
Ilyas and Zeki attempted to return
to Kovankaya on May 15, 1994 following a six month period
of employment in Istanbul. On their way they were detained
by village guards as they passed through the town of Uzungecit.
They were turned over to gendarmes from Uludere, a large nearby
town. Following an inquiry by Amnesty International, the Turkish
government stated that the two cousins were arrested for Asuspicious
behavior and that they were subsequently released 1-2 days
According to Amnesty International,
The Assyro-Chaldean Catholic community of Kovankaya, which
numbered more than 5,000 before the armed conflict began in
southeast Turkey in 1984, has dwindled to five families through
migration to Istanbul and Europe. On 4 June 1994 Kovankaya
was again burned down by security forces and its inhabitants
forcibly evicted. The villagers are now living in another
settlement in the area. Reportedly they had been seen by other
villagers during their detention at the Dargecit Gendarmerie
Battalion Headquarters. Several of the released villagers
later reported they had been tortured in detention.
The ADO reported that on June 25,
1996 the Turkish military arrested four Assyrian men in Midyat,
Tur Abdin. One of the four men, Yusuf Turker, was eventually
released. Three others, Gebro Tokgoz, Melek Akyol, and Adnan
Kesenci were all still incarcerated in Mardin until their
transfer to Diyarbakir for prosecution. Based on totally inadequate
evidence, the three Assyrians were charged with providing
food and shelter to the PKK under Article 169.
Regarding evidence against the accused,
the court stated there was a lack of evidence as far as Mr.
Kesenci and Tokgoz were concerned. The accusations were for
providing shelter for somebody who is said to be a PKK fighter.
The alleged PKK fighter was Mr. Hasan Bas. Mr. Bas forcibly
entered the home of Mr. Tokgoz and others and threatened them.
When he was rebuffed and the Assyrians refused to assist him,
he filed his complaints with the military authorities. The
Assyrians of Turkey stated that Mr. Bas was an informant and
Turkish military operative. The Assyrians were obviously tortured
during the first two weeks of their incarceration while in
Mardin. Mr. Tokgoz had two obviously broken teeth. Because
Mr. Tokgoz was the acting Mayor of Midyat, it was generally
believed that the arrests were aimed at further intimidating
the Assyrian community.
In early October 1996 Turkish forces
killed 28-30 unarmed refugees on the Iraqi border as they
attempted to cross into Turkey. They were most likely killed
on the Turkish side of the border. After the Turkish forces
killed these people, their bodies were turned over to the
Iranians who subsequently returned them to their Kurdish contacts
in Northern Iraq. Since there was a delay of several days,
one cannot with certainty affix a specific date to the killings.
The most plausible date remains October 2, 1996 according
to sources in the area.
All of the people were definitely
unarmed. They were being accompanied by a Kurdish smuggler
who assisted refugees attempting to flee northern Iraq to
Of the 30 people killed, 5 were Assyrians
. The names of the five Assyrians are as follows:
- Emad Gewargis Sliwa from Ankawa
- Deldar Yousif Yacoub from Ankawa
- Salar Marbana Ghareb from Ankawa
- Milas Isaac from Shaqlawa
- Farhad Beia Soreeshoo from Shaqlawa
The Turks claimed that the people
killed were mistaken by Turkish forces for PKK fighters during
a firefight between the Turks and PKK. In addition, they stated
that the accidental killings occurred at night while visibility
was reduced. In point of fact, the victims were unarmed no
one was returning fire from their side. Still more, eyewitness
reports have stated that the Turks actually captured the people
initially and only later massacred them while they were in
According to the ADO, all tolled 30
Assyrians from Turkey have been documented killed in Southeast
Turkey over the past ten years. The following is a list compiled
by the Central European Section of the ADO in Augsburg, Germany:
- Erdino Aho killed on 6/9/87 in
- Yarar Fehmi killed on 3/25/89 in
- Gorgen Yakub killed on 4/21/90
- Bulut Gevriye killed on 5/1/90
- Bulut Sami killed on 5/1/90 in
- Aykil Yusuf killed on 6/3/90 in
- Aykil Edibe killed on 6/3/90 in
- Davut Malke killed on 10/9/90 in
- Onal Semun killed on 11/14/90 in
- Akgul Bahe killed on 11/14/90 in
- Surer Yusuf killed on 11/14/90
- Buyukbas Celil killed on 11/14/90
- Tahan Ishak killed on 3/23/91 in
- Adil Ferit killed on 8/27/91 in
- Adil Ismuni killed on 8/27/91 in
- Bayru Mikayil killed on 12/3/92
- Yontan Yakub killed on 7/26/92
- Aksoy Fikrril killed in 8/92 in
- Yuksel Circis killed on 9/22/92
- Kalayci Aziz killed on 1/13/93
- Koc Isa killed on 1/13/93 in Midyat.
- Ozbakir Yusuf killed on 1/13/93
- Aydin Aydin killed on 1/13/93 in
- Durmaz Gevriye killed on 1/13/93
- Savel Gevriye killed on 2/6/93
- Matte Yacub killed on 2/16/94 in
- Tutus Sukru killed on 6/17/94 in
- Ciftci Aziz killed on 7/14/94 in
- Dr. Tanrivardi Edvar killed on
12/18/94 in Midyat.
Most recently in September, 1997 a
family of Assyrians was killed in Mzizah in Tur Abdin. The
two killed were parents of a Syrian Orthodox priest now residing
in Paderborn, Germany.
On August 2, 1992 according to the
Turkish Daily News, the Assyrian cemetary and Assyrian houses
were destroyed in the village of Catalcam in Dargecit. On
January 21,1993 the village of Izbirak located in Midyat was
attacked by Kurdish village guards. Four Assyrians including
Melke, Suleyman, Borsoma, and an unidentified woman were kidnapped.
The remaining villages were forced to become village guards
themselves. At least 20 Assyrian villages have been evacuated
in the last three years in southeast Turkey including Kosrall
(Silopi), Elbeyendi (Midyat), Bardakci (Midyat), Baglarbasi
(Midyat), Yamanlar (Midyat), Baristepe (Midyat), Murcemekli
(Midyat), Gungoren (Midyat), Dagici (Nusaybin), Ocyol (Nusaybin),
Guzelsu (Nusaybin), Dikek (Nusaybin), Taskoy (Nusaybin), Girmeli
(Nusaybin), Sare (Idil), Yarbasi (Idil), Izbirak Koyu (Daragecit),
Alayurt Koyu (Idil), Arica (Gercus), Yamanlar (Gercus) and
Revocation of Citizenship
The Turkish Ministry Commission numbered
95-6805 revoked the citizenship of 35 Assyrians. The following
list was reported in the Turkish Daily News:
Melke Davut (Midyat), Yakup Gonen
(Midyat-Gevriye), Bulut Samuel Bulut (Midyat-Yemisli), Yusuf
Aykil, Edibe Aykil (Midyat-Baglarbasi), Bahi Akul Semun Unal,
Yusuf Surer, Celil Buyukbas Mardin Bulbul, Fehmi Yarar (Midyat),
Aho Erdinc (Nusaybin-Taskoy), Ishal Tahan (Midyat), Afem Adil,
Ismuni Adil (Midyat-Yemisli), Mihayel Bayru, Idil Fikri Aksoy
(Midyat), Yakup Yontan (Kiziltepe), Circis Yuksel, Savur Dereici,
Aydin Aydin, Nusaybin Uckoy, Musa Demir, Yusuf Ozbakir, Isa
Koc (Midyat- Yemisli), Gevriye Durmaz, Midyat Dogancay, Gorgis
Savci, Dargecit Anitli, Fuat Bayindir, Idil Hanna (Aydin),
Dargecit Arutil, Yakip Mete (Midyat)., Sukru Tutus (Idil),
Aziz Ciftci (Mardin), Doctor Edvart Tanriverdi (Midyat).
Many of these names are also noted
to have been killed according to the ADO.
Twenty Assyrian girls have been kidnapped
since 1980. Some of the names reported in the Turkish Daily
News include: Hasine Selege , 14 years old taken in 1994 from
Midyat Mercimekli village, Turkan Gulec abducted in March,
1994 from Midyat Altinbas village. Marta Ilik abducted in
September, 1994 from Nusaybin Odabasi village, and Lahdo Barinc
abducted on February 22,1993 by people claiming they were
village guards. After eight months, she was released for DM
Those girls not released are forced
to convert to Islam and marry their abductors.
According to the Turkish Daily News,
the priest from the village Ogunduk, Melke Tok, was abducted
by people suspected of being Hizbullah supporters on January
9, 1994. The priest was reportedly buried alive and pressured
to convert to Islam. He reportedly escaped and subsequently
left the country.
On January 13, 1993 Hamdi Simsek and
his son Hikmet disappeared. According to Mr. Simsek’s wife
Heylon, the two men were arrested by soldiers. They gathered
us in the center of the village. They hung the cross that
signifies our religious beliefs on the neck of the imam of
the vilage, Ibrahim Akil, and said, "We will kill you all
because you are Christian." The ADO has also reported increasingly
violent attacks by predominantly Kurdish groups.
Finally, the United Nations Special
Rapporteur Report on Religious Intolerance, Mr. Abelfattah
Amor summarized the state of the Assyrians in Turkey:
In a communication dated 5 September
1994, the Special Rapporteur transmitted the following observations
to the government of Turkey:
According to information received,
the Assyro-Chaldean minority are suffering serious violations,
in particular in the area of religious tolerance. In religious
matters, their freedoms are being curtailed and Muslim religious
education is compulsory for this Christian minority. In the
monasteries, activities have been cut back and made subject
to prior supervision of the authorities. In practice, the
right to build new churches cannot be exercised. The Assyro-Chaldeans
have no schools, even at primary level, or social institutions;
they are forbidden to open their own establishments. They
are banned from public service.
They are also reported to be victims
of regular attacks by armed individuals and groups who not
only rob them of their property and abduct their daughters,
but also perpetrate murder, thereby creating an atmosphere
of fear, apparently with the aim of forcing them to leave
their villages. Thus, since 1975, more than 100,000 Assyro-Chaldeans
have left the country and only 10,000 remain.
In Syria, Assyrians are not treated
as equal citizens under the law. The official state religion
is Islam. Article 3 section 1 of the Constitution states that
The religion of the President of the Republic has to be Islam.
Section 2 of Article 3 states that Islamic jurisprudence is
a main source of legislation.
Regulation of Churches
Among the various branches of the
Syrian Secret Police (al-Mukhabarat), there is a section responsible
for Security of the Christian Denomination. This particular
section is also affiliated with a branch of Secret Police
for Political Security (Mukhabarat al-Seiasieh). The specific
function of this section is the regulation of and gathering
intelligence regarding Christian institutions, Churches, and
Each Christian religious organization
is assigned a member of the Secret Police. The agent’s responsibility
is to monitor events, programs and people within his assigned
Church and report specific information about the congregation.
Religious or educational programs are carefully monitored
by the State and require approval.
Some Assyrians from Syria who have
fled to the United States have asserted that in some cases
home Bible studies were prohibited because the government
feared subversive activity. All functions were required to
be held in the Church with a secret police official in attendance.
The Assyrian Evangelical Church in Syria was even more closely
monitored. The Evangelical Church was accused of illegally
acquiring funds from the West.
All private Christian schools were
confiscated by the government in 1967. Some schools were allowed
to reopen with the stipulation that the sub director or vice
principal be a government appointee. Only a small percentage
of schools were allowed that option. With the exception of
those Christian elementary schools founded earlier, establishing
new Assyrian Christian elementary schools is expressly forbidden.
While Muslim Syrians have many different means to propagate
Islamic teachings and programs such as through public and
private schools, Islamic institutions, mosques, and through
all forms of the media, Assyrian Christian religious freedom
is limited to the physical confines of the Church which is
closely monitored and regulated.
Although there is no universal compulsory
Islamic education of Christians, some cases of forced instruction
in Islam have been reported. In some schools Assyrians in
grades 1-6 are required to memorize verses from the Koran.
As in many other countries in the
Middle East Christians are allowed to convert to Islam but
the converse is strictly forbidden. An Assyrian man from an
Assyrian village in northeast Syria fell in love with and
married a Muslim woman. In order for the state to recognize
the marriage he was compelled to convert to Islam. When he
refused, he was attacked on several occasions and severely
beaten. Because he held fast to his faith his marriage was
never officially recognized. When he had children he was compelled
by law to register and to raise his children as Muslims. Because
he refused, his children were never allowed to register in
Muslim relatives of a Muslim apostate
are reassured that any attacks against the apostate including
in extreme cases murder will only receive lenient if any punishment
Assyrians espousing proactive Assyrian
sentiments are viewed with grave suspicion by the government.
These Assyrians are subject to surveillance, arbitrary arrest,
and torture depending on the seriousness of the perceived
threat to the government.
On the evening of June 24, 1997 ,
Mr. Bashir Saadi and Mr. Yonan Talya were arrested in Hassaka,
Syria. The following day, Mr. Aziz Ahi, a resident of Kamishli,
was also arrested. The three men are Assyrian Christians from
the Hassaka province in northeastern Syria. They belong to
Mtakasta, otherwise known as the Assyrian Democratic Organization
(ADO). Mr. Bashir Saadi is a representative of the large Assyrian
Christian community in northeastern Syria and is a former
member of the Syrian Parliament.
The ADO had sponsored a water development
project to aid in the transportation of potable water from
Hassaka to numerous Assyrian villages in the Khabur area following
the drastic reduction of water flow in the Khabur River. The
three Assyrians arrested were accused of complicity in raising
funds for the project from members of the Assyrian Diaspora
community in the U.S.A. and Australia and of subsequently
misappropriating those funds for their personal use. They
were also accused of abusing the name of the Syrian government.
The three were held without access
to a lawyer. They were refused family visits. No trial had
been set for over three months. Sources from the area have
been deeply concerned that the three men have been in danger
of being physically abused and tortured.
The Assyrian identity entails an inextricably
intertwined combination of language, culture, religion, ethnic
heritage and a sense of belonging to an ancestral home such
that to deny full expression of anyone element threatens Assyrian
identity and existence as a whole. In the past, especially
during this century, all of the elements of Assyrian identity
have been under attack and the scattered Assyrian communities
have correspondingly suffered. Historically, the Assyrians’
neighbors have repeatedly attempted to Arabize, Kurdify, Turkify,
or Persify the Assyrians. Scarcely has there ever been genuine
political recognition of the true distinct Assyrian identity.
Moreover, all of their neighbors have shared in the common
attempt to directly or indirectly Islamicize the Assyrian
Christians. This report highlighted some of the human rights
abuses suffered by the Assyrians in the Middle East.
The Assyrian communities this century
have continued to be driven out of their homelands leading
to further scattering and fragmentation. Emigration into the
Diaspora has left those remaining behind less numerous, strong,
energetic, and ultimately, more vulnerable. Continued movement
of Assyrians out of their historic ancient homes will only
serve to further scatter and disperse Assyrians. Assyrian
identity already hemorrhaging will be mortally wounded.
Rather than encourage the continued
exodus to the West, the root causes of Assyrian insecurity
and disaffection ought to be carefully studied. Rather than
draining the struggling communities of still more members,
positive proactive programs need to be established in the
various Middle East countries that enhance and promote human
rights for all minority groups.
In the short term, the most precarious
situation for the Assyrians remains Iraq. With a still deteriorating
situation in northern Iraq, future American and United Nations
action ought to secure the rights of all of the communities,
including the Assyrians. The authority to distribute humanitarian
aid ought not be left in the hands of those who have fostered
an environment of conflict, violence and anarchy. Proceeds
from UN Resolution 986 allowing Iraq to sell oil for food
that are earmarked for northern Iraq ought to be equitably
distributed to individual communities on a proportionate basis.
The food and medicine from these oil sales ought not be channeled
exclusively through the warring factions. With Assyrians comprising
15% of the population of North Iraq, 15% of the proceeds ought
to be directly allocated to the Assyrian community. Such funds
will allow Assyrian and other communities to rebuild their
destroyed villages, redevelop historically Assyrian lands,
and obtain desperately needed food and medicine.
In the final analysis, any solution
for Iraq in particular and the region as a whole needs to
address the rights of all of the communities with mutual dignity
and respect. In order to fully protect the Assyrian population
and identity, an internationally and regionally recognized
safe haven and autonomous area needs to be carefully delineated
within the areas of historically Assyrian villages just as
has been done for other communities. In Iraq, the 1957 census
lists all of the Assyrian villages prior to the accelerated
policy of urban resettlement. Such a haven would best ensure
the survival of the Assyrian identity vis a vis language,
religion, and culture preservation.
Since the integrity of Iraq and neighboring
countries is necessary for regional stability, this Assyrian
safe haven and minority guarantees necessarily ought to satisfy
the United Nation’s declared respect for the national sovereignty
and integrity of Iraq and neighboring countries. Regionally,
neighboring countries needs to be assuaged that such a development
would contribute to regional stability rather that detract
from it. Moreover, the security and national interest of all
the surrounding countries including Iraq would be furthered
with the development of a progressive respect for human and
civil rights of all minority communities.
Information take from:
Assyrian International News Agency