The views expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SyriacPress.
By Dr. Aziz Emmanuel Al-Zebari Academic
It seems most likely that some of the heads of our religious and political institutions, NGOs and intellectuals have not yet realized our true size, who we are, how dispersed we are. They seem to overlook the fact that we are a people that has lost its identity, history, culture and dignity as human beings, and even our presence in a homeland where we are the indigenous people! Therefore, they send distress calls and invitations for meetings to find a way out during hard times, like the call of Patriarch Louis Sako: “Will the Iraqi Christians hasten to meet to discuss their situation?”
Indeed, Patriarch Sako did well by launching such an invitation, and this article is not intended to hold him alone responsible for what happened and is happening to us. We, individuals, intellectuals, groups, religious and political institutions are all involved. We all share the responsibility proportionately according to the position of each one of us.
But the question is why now in particular? Did His Beatitude wonder why we got there? Why didn’t he move a finger in the past when we were in a better situation?
How can we do something when we are so dispersed and scattered about and when the only thing we are good at is to meet to disagree. What divides us is much stronger than the drive to meet and see a way out. Rather, we have managed, in the strongest terms, to make an incredible achievement by transferring our differences amongst our people in the Diaspora at a time when the latter could have been of great help and support for us in our plight through exerting pressure on their governments and parliaments! We thank God that our differences in the exile are in countries where law and order prevail, otherwise the swords of our people there would have toppled down one another’s heads about. So, look where we have got?
We have been raised, ladies and gentlemen, for hundreds of years to be like deer and rabbits; good at no other thing than run away; and like sheep that are fattened to be offered as sacrifices during many massacres throughout the years: the Massacre of Sayfo (1915), Simele (1933), Soriya (1969), the mass exodus of our people during the events of northern Iraq in the 1960s, the Anfal [spoils of war] (1988) during which more than 400 villages were deserted, the ISIS Genocide of our people (2014) and the last, but not the least, the recent Turkish bombing of more than 27 Christian villages in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, as if Christianity is a religion of death, not life. This is reminiscent of the offerings that were made to gods in the Maya and Aztec civilization in South America. We are slaughtered, insulted. Our human dignity is violated, a dignity that we derive from God, and therefore, it deserves to be defended, just as the beasts and fouls of earth do, but alas; for the traditional teaching of the church in our homeland throughout the ages, unlike other Christian lands, has not called upon us to preserve and defend our dignity as human beings and so we have no choice but to flee or stand in queues of death towards our torturers, the way huge numbers of Christians did during the Forty-year Persecution of Christians by Shapur II (from 339-to 379) A.D.
As Christians, we are defeated in our soul and ethos, and therefore, the most cowardly and the weakest of God’s creation do not fear us. They readily snipe us like birds and fouls because they are sure that there can be no resistance. Therefore, our women and adult girls became targets for sex assault (the Sayfo Massacres are a case in point), our money a ready support for those who grab it, and our homes a comfortable haven for those who wish to seize them. When we complain our politicians are too weak to offer any help while the only answer we get from our church leaders is: ‘Pray to Mary and persevere with gracious perseverance’!? Some may see this as an invitation to bear arms, but the time of arms, my sisters and brothers, is over. It is replaced by a time for integration, unity and a common political struggle to demand our national rights.
And here we are, crying when it is useless to cry: a reality of our own creation when, in the recent history, we divided against ourselves as church and people; a schism that was the main reason behind the loss of the autonomous region project demanded by the Sennacherib of the 20th century General Agha Petrus (Petros Eliya of Baz 1880-1932) following WW1 when weaponry was still a major tool in the struggle for the attainment of rights, a tool that we failed to use properly, contrary to what our fellow Christians of Eastern Europe, and the Armenians did in their struggle against the tyranny of the Ottoman Empire who now enjoy independent and sovereign states while we are still lagging behind in reaching a consensus on a unified political demand for a decent life in our villages, towns, cities, lands and our regions in a federal, democratic and pluralistic Iraq in accordance with the provisions of the Iraqi constitution in effect and the constitution of the Kurdistan Region (KR).
There are today, at the level of ecclesiastical institutions, divisions that have been going on for centuries in parallel lines that never meet gnawing at the body and soul of our church and people and causing thereby more and more divisions so much so that it is indeed hard to find believers from one Christian denomination who may contend themselves with participating in the mystery of the Eucharist in a church other than their own denomination as such an act would amount to the highest degree of infidelity; divisions that still bury and resurrect Jesus Christ time and time again while our people do not raise a finger. Rather, they go as far as to take pride in what their sects call for feigning ignorance of the ridicule we receive from those around us.
Then there is this strange number of political parties of our people operating in federal Iraq and in KR with almost the same number of NGOs of a people whose number may not exceed 400 thousand?! There are still more to come, brothers and sisters! Good is coming, God willing! Why not when we are a fecund nation for producing parties?! There is daily good news of the birth of a new political party because the number of parties we have is not enough in bearing the burden of this great nation! It must be recalled, however, that the faith of some of those political parties and their struggle for the cause of our people during their relatively short history can never be questioned compared to what others have done.
The influential political powers that do not want us good have succeeded in achieving their goals of dispersing us. Here we are, emptied of all the true meaning of what it means to be a people on earth; for despite religion, language, history, customs and a common destiny that unite us and qualify us to be a people in every sense of the word, today we find on the ground several independent nationalities within the one nationality!
Why not?! If our nation was fecund for giving birth to numerous political parties, then why not for nationalities?! What calls for pride in this nation is that it has managed so far to give birth to three nationalities in record time! What a fecundity, my sisters and brothers! Yes, here is our nation pregnant with a twin or twins, who knows what is in the wombs …? This is good coming from the Lord of the universe, a good that comforts the hearts of those who planned to bring us to our present situation. Is this not unique among the nations of the earth?! Give me an example of a nation that gave birth to so many nationalities! Shouldn’t the nations of the world bow in awe and respect before a nation like ours with such traits?! Isn’t a people of this kind worthy of survival? Yes, it does indeed!
This tragic situation has left a political vacuum that the ecclesiastical institutions of all shapes and colors had to fill the way they have been doing for long years abolishing thereby any role taken by intellectuals and political leaders in our community to the satisfaction of Arab and Kurdish politicians alike who found in this church intervention their desired goal and the best way to marginalize the Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian politicians and distract them from taking any step that would bring them together and unite them. If the ecclesiastical institutions have ever accomplished anything, especially in times of crises that beset us from time to time, then this has not gone beyond the level of humanitarian aid and spiritual support, which was only good enough to just sustain our people and help them cross this season of massacres to upcoming ones that may put an end to us. Some of the humanitarian aid, but not all, were not without corruption and acts of prejudice towards the members of our people.
On the other hand, didn’t the church leaders collectively and categorically reject the a demand for a Safe Zone in the meeting held at the Monastery of Mar Gorgiz in Mosul in September 2005 at a time when the demand for a safe haven for the Kurdish people was the building block of the existence of the Kurdistan Region today?! Wasn’t this a short-sighted and imprudent attitude? Besides, and despite their apparent support, they also rejected the draft autonomy project of Sarkis Aghajan? Wasn’t this a betrayal and grand treason after all the unrivaled support he made to those of them who requested it, lest they should extend their hand to others. History and the current reality teach us that there is no good in a nation led by religious institutions.
Today, there are calls, cries and appeals for help hither and thither to find a way out of our dilemma. Among such calls is that of Patriarch Louis Sako: “Will Iraqi Christians hasten to meet to discuss their situation?” It is indeed a cry of pain but too late, and as the Arab saying goes “al saifa dhayyatil labana’ (Nothing is worse than missing an opportunity’. The opportunity was lost when the appointed representatives of our people, with the blessing of our religious leaders, signed the Constitution of Iraq and the KR shortly after the London conference of the Iraqi opposition in 2002, despite the fact the two constitutions violate our national, religious and cultural rights. Rather, they threaten our very existence on our ancestral land.
Our plight, ladies and gentlemen, is too great to be solved by just such a late and ambiguous call in an occupied state that does not have sovereignty and where citizenship is not protected. It is an invitation that contradicts previous positions; for instead of being preoccupied with calling for the settlement of differences between corrupt politicians rather than supporting and blessing the efforts of intellectuals and politicians of our own people to find a way out, and instead of calling for religious dialogue – a dialogue between lambs and wolves to which no one listens and that resembles playing the flute to an ox – it would have been, more appropriate, wouldn’t it, for Fr. Louis Sako when he was a priest during the time of the late Patriarch Emmanuel Dalli – to bless the autonomy project proposed by Sarkis Aghajan that would have been a basis upon which to build our future, as the Kurds did in Federal Iraq and KR.
Wasn’t Fr. Louis Sako at the forefront of those who described this project as a “ghetto” for Christians that terrorists would have targeted the way they did in 2014 even though it wasn’t an autonomous region? Others, meanwhile, dubbed the project as a Kurdish project … etc? As if the ones on the table, if any, were not Kurdish, Arab, Sunni or Shiite projects?! Wasn’t that project better than the nada we have got? Did the opponents of the autonomy project come up with anything better or else the only place they find fit for our people is to work in the kitchen of others?
Then didn’t the Chaldean Church, headed by Patriarch Sako along with a few political parties boycott the Brussels Conference in June 2017?! The conference was a complementary project to that of Aghjan’s at an international level. It was attended by two other Patriarchs, eight 8 political parties, civil society organizations, notables, intellectuals, and personalities of our people and other backgrounds.
The objective was similar to that of the Partriach’s: ‘to discuss the situation of Christians in Iraq’. Rather, it was a practical and pragmatic way of securing a future for Christians in Iraq within the framework of the Iraqi constitution and the constitution of KR and with the participation of the Iraqi government, the European Union, the European Commission, and the American Congress?! Who among these opponents was able to come up with something better or even similar, or even think about such a mature and practical national project at an international level? Were they probably implementing the all-or-nothing way of thinking of Don Quixote?! A simple analysis of our situation would make anyone convinced that only nothing part of this way of thinking has been achieved?
So, what is new in the Partriarch’s call? Why do we have to start from scratch? If we have lost all these opportunities at a time when we were in a relatively better position then what on earth can be achieved by the call of the Patriarch? What is new this time and why do we have to start from scratch?
Would it not have been better for him to announce his blessing and approval of the outcome of the Brussels Conference as a basis for our unity and national cause? When shall we reconsider a little and draw lessons from our past and present that we can never prevail unless we unite our ranks as church and people, tidy up our house, send out our unified voice to the world around us through a political project like the one presented in the Brussels Conference that guarantees us a decent life on our ancestral land the way all the oppressed peoples did all over the world?
There is still an opportunity, ladies and gentlemen, to support and reinforce the ongoing Brussels Conference with its outcomes and use it to strengthen our situation both at home and abroad with the support, backing and blessing of all. Are we going to invest on this opportunity? If the Patriarch’s cry was out of pain and an alarm bell, then is there any one to respond and come to our aid? If there were any, then who is it and where? What we all know for sure is that we have not heard any voice in support of our cause at home since the last regime change except for media statements made by influential political parties to beautify their images with the international community, the US, Europe to have their continuous support.
Enough is enough, ladies and gentlemen! Let us all wake up and learn the simplest saying in life (unity is strength) that all the peoples of the earth have learned and followed to attain their rights. Yes, let us pray to Mary weeping the way we have been doing in our Eastern Church ritual for hundreds of years raising our human suffering and mix it with the sufferings of Christ on the Cross and chanting in ecclesiastical modes of sorrow, sadness, hope and joy for Patriarch Sako to come and silence them probably for ever! Is not this a painful blow to our heritage, culture, way of praying, and expression of our faith the way African Christians express by dancing in their churches? Yes, let us also be Chaldeans, Syriacs, Assyrians, Monarchists, Arameans and any of the names that our nation has given birth to throughout the ages. Let us also be Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants. Let us have this huge number of parties; for all this is but like a garden full of roses and flowers that please the heart and soul. It is a power, richness and a great and creative force that can achieve what we cannot do individually. Let us show the world around us our one face so that we grow big in each other’s eyes and in the eyes of the world around us instead of being belittled by those around.
Finally, I wish good luck to those who have called for this meeting and the ones who have responded to it; for who knows? Perhaps we have a magic stick this time? What good news! Otherwise, wait me to carry to you the good news of the birth of yet another deformed newborn our nation will deliver to be afflicted by the way it has been afflicted by its other deformed brothers!