In 2003, during the run up to the Iraq invasion I was a minority of one on the discussion groups for the indigenous people’s of Iraq: the Syriac Christians. Nestorian Assyrians, Chaldean Catholics, Syrian Orthodox Jacobites. A couple million people pining for their own nation in the North of Iraq called Bet Nahrain “the House of the Two Rivers” located in the Nineveh Plain; North of Mosul to the Turkish border.
The 20th Century was not kind to them. During World War I, 2/3 were wiped out in successive massacres by Ottoman Turks, Kurds, Persians and Iraqi Arabs. My grandmother lost her entire family in forced marches into the desert. She had to drink her own urine to survive.
Long story short, the Diaspora community was enthusiastic cheerleaders of the invasion. I was horrified by the naivete’. I remember my Uncle scoffing at the national aspirations of the exiles arguing over tea and lula kabobs at the Assyrian Hall in Turlock, California. “We don’t have an army, militia or jet fighters to gain autonomy much less independence”.
I tried to make similar arguments 15 years later. These Internet Freedom Fighters were sure that their Crusader Hero, George W. bush, would reward his fellow Christians with Bet Nahrain. Forget about a united, pluralistic Iraq, we were gonna jump the queue past the Kurds and get our nation of Bet Nahrain.
I remember the stories of my cousins who fled Iran after the Shah got the boot. How the basiji would whip girls who didn’t cover themselves. They would jump out of jeeps and approach these girls with razor blades in their handkerchiefs ‘wiping’ the lipstick from their mouths.
I was no fan of Saddam but I knew his secular dictatorship was much preferred to the chaos of a sectarian Iraq. I was written off as a half-breed nakhmata (jackass) who couldn’t possibly know that this was the golden moment.
Of course, they cooperated with the invaders. And boy did they reap the whirlwind: massive ethnic cleansing in the middle class neighborhoods of Baghdad, church bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, attacks on women. The whole bag of horrors.
Long story short, massive emigration out of the country. As many as a third of the refugees living in refugee camps in Jordan and Syria come from the Chaldo-Assyrian community. And in this terrible recession, emigration opportunities to Diaspora counties like Australia, Sweden, Canada and America is much diminished.
And now with Maliki maneuvering to make Iraq a Shia dominated country, I cringe at the prospect of more thuggery decimating those who chose to stay.
I warned them, online, that this would be the worst thing to happen to the Assyrians since World War I. In a pluralistic Iraq, there were opportunities for Chaldo-Assyrian participation at every level of secular Iraq under Saddam. Tariq Aziz, (born Mikhail Yohannon), the foreign minister, was a Chaldean. A decent middle class of small business and hotel owners. There were Assyrian generals, poets, writers, educators, etc. Now the rump community is almost too afraid to leave their homes.
On the night before the first bombs fell, amongst the online high fiving and expectant ecstasy, I pissed in their punchbowl with this warning: Will the last Assyrian left in Iraq please remember to turn out the lights.
Eidokhon Avee Brikha! Merry Christmas to all