Sonia Nettnin: Chaldo-Assyrian Community of Iraq
Chaldo-Assyrian Community of Iraq
By Sonia Nettnin
The U.S. media does not report about the Chaldo-Assyrians of Iraq. They live in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, and numerous towns north and east of Mosul -- around the ancient ruins of Nineveh.
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, what is the future of this Christian society? Recent bombings and attacks on Christian churches and institutions in Iraq raise questions about the security of these people in their homeland.
Robert DeKelaita with friend and children on top of an old house in Alqush, In October of 2003.
On Wednesday, human rights attorney, Robert DeKelaita, Esq. spoke about the Chaldo-Assyrians of Iraq at North Park University in Chicago. DeKelaita, who is a prominent activist also, discussed his visit to Iraq in October 2003. He is a member of the Assyrian Academic Society and The Hamurabi Law Society.
He told a tragic account of an Assyrian girl, 16 years-old, kidnapped for ransom. The men raped her. Dekelaita recounted a phone call from the girl to her family.
“They have all taken me,” she said. “I feel death.”
She felt she dishonored her father and her brother. She explained that if she did get out, she would kill herself.
Her family listened to her heartbreaking words…the girl was never heard from again.
Even today, kidnapping-for-ransom is still prevalent. President of the Interim Government of Iraq, Ghazi Al-Yawar explained that kidnappers are selling people to third or fourth gangs (Interview on Meet the Press, aired December 5, 2004).
What is happening to Iraq’s women? How can they conduct daily activities? If Iraq’s women are not safe, then how can they participate in January’s elections?
tivites?al, daily acitivties? ly acitivties? civil war based on ethnicity.ird or fourth gangs (Interview on Meet the Press, aiAl-Yawar stated that Iraq will never ever have civil war based on ethnicity.
“My recent visit…allows me to tell the story of our people and the agony they are experiencing.” DeKelaita said. Iraq is in a fragile state and the diversity within Iraqi society is at a fork in the road also.
DeKelaita explained churches hold landmark status, but there is no testament to this vanished people. Now, some of the churches are museums. “Indeed, their heritage is an integral part of Iraq,” he added.
While in Iraq, DeKelaita visited towns such as: Alqush; Batnaya; Tell Skope; Tell Kepe; Sharafiyan; Baqufa; Qaraqosh (or Qar-Qudsh); Karimlsih (ancient Kar Mulisi); Bartillah; and Ba’shiqa. Together, their population is at least 70,000 people. The towns lacked proper, public sewerage. In Qaraqosh, sewer water flooded the town’s main road.
“These sites beg for reconstruction,” he explained. “The water treatment system is outdated.”
For almost thirteen years, Iraqis suffered under U.N. and U.S. sanctions. Their experiences crossed ethnic and religious lines.
According to Medact’s report, “Enduring Effects of War: Health in Iraq 2004,” summarized on the Voices in the Wilderness web site (vitw.org), Medact details Iraq’s health-sustaining infrastructure. Vitw summarized from the report:
“The Iraqi infrastructure has been severely and repeatedly damaged by over 20 years of war, neglect and mismanagement, economic collapse and sanctions. This has a direct and indirect impact on health as water and sanitation, power supply, food security, housing, transport and many other factors are important health determinants.”
After the U.S.-invasion in March 2003, 90,000 Chaldo-Assyrians fled from the chaos and escaped across Iraq’s borders. As a result, Chaldo-Assyrians abandoned their villages and they risk the loss of heritage.
At present, no governing body or organization conducted an official census of this community. DeKelaita stated there are 28 million people in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of Chaldo-Assyrians live in Baghdad, Basra and Mosul. Around 600,000 Chaldo-Assyrians live in Baghdad. Some estimates for the total Chaldo-Assyrian population in Iraq are as high as 2.5 million. Here are some approximations:
If there are a minimum of one million Chaldo-Assyrians in Iraq, they make up 3.6 per cent of Iraq’s total population. If the maximum number of Chaldo-Assyrians in Iraq is 2.5 million, then they total 8.9 per cent of the population.
Within this range, the median population total is 1.75 million or 6.3 per cent of Iraq’s total population.
Since reconstruction began, sufficient funding is missing for this community. Several non-governmental organizations began initiatives, but their rebuilding is in isolated projects. These indigenous people feel strongly about their coexistence within the community of Iraq.
“It is possible for people to live with each other,” DeKelaita said.
Thus far, the Assyrian community in the U.S. organized a conference in Washington D.C. Their message to Congress is the U.S. Government must provide a safe haven for this community. “Hope is slipping,” DeKelaita added. “We need to find a way to protect our people.”
One bright spot for these people is their education. The ten towns DeKelaita mentioned have Aramaic-speaking schools. However, their communities need funding so the people can improve their socio-economic conditions.
Together, Arabs and Assyrians are Iraqis who can coexist in peace. Decisions made from fear do not create long-term solutions – the strength in resilience is unity.
If the Iraqi people receive the financial means for reconstruction, then they can rebuild their country. Increased trade and business will create a vibrant economy for Iraq because Iraqis have the collective mind and heart to make decisions about their future.
Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.
Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.
She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.