ANKAWA / NINEVEH PLAINS, Iraq — After the mid-August launch of its national initiative to come to a National Action Pact for the Chaldean–Syriac–Assyrian people in Iraq, the Beth Nahrain Democratic Party (BNDP) issued a statement of thanks to the leadership of the Bethnahrain Patriotic Union (HBA) and Abnaa Nahrain, as they were the only two parties that accepted the invitation. According to the BNDP statement, the HBA was the only party to have also responded to the initiative with suggestions in an effort to contribute to the success of the national initiative.
“The rest of our people’s parties have not shown interest in the initiative proposed by the Beth Nahrain Democratic Party,” read the statement. “The initiative aimed to increase national unity and organize internal matters of our Chaldean–Syriac–Assyrian people and thus activating joint national work among all parties.”
The BNDP pledged to continue pursuing inter-party dialogue with the aim of establishing a strong and honest unified representation for the Chaldean–Syriac–Assyrian people. The party promised to continue its communication and understanding with all parties to discuss the terms of the initiative and develop it further. The BNDP also explicitly voiced its readiness to respect any national initiative presented by any other national party on the condition that the initiative’s provisions be implemented practically and away from any narrow personal or party interests.
The BNDP and HBA (Surayt/Sureth for Huyodo Bethnahrin Athroyo) are long-time initiators of national unity in Iraq. On 28–30 June 2017 the conference “A Future for Christians in Iraq” was organized in the European Parliament by the Bethnahrain Patriotic Union, the ChristianDemocrat European People’s Party, the European Syriac Union, and others with the aim to come to a joint vision for the Chaldean–Syriac–Assyrian people in Iraq, especially with regards to the Nineveh Plains. The result of the conference was a position paper, A Proposal from Chaldean–Syriac–Assyrian Political Parties.
The position paper was signed by the Bethnahrain Patriotic Union, Beth Nahrain Democratic Party, Chaldean Democracy Forum, Chaldean National Congress, Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Popular Council, Chaldo Ashor, and Syriac Assembly Movement. The conference and position paper were endorsed by two Syriac Patriarchs, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Aphrem II and Syriac Catholic Patriarch Joseph III Younan.
Invited but declined or canceled last-minute were the Syriac Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako, the Assyrian Democratic Movement, and Abnaa Nahrain. By not being present, they unfortunately also waived the possibility to influence the final text of the position paper. They could have attended and refused to sign the position paper if they really disagreed with its final text and goals.
The non-attenders and criticizers of the conference were clear in their denunciation of the alleged underlying goals of the conference — the same criticism is also expressed about the current BNDP national initiative. In 2017, the HBA and the BNDP were accused of being proxies of the Kurdish Barzani family-dominated Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The KDP unfoundedly attempted to bring the Nineveh Plains under the official governance of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq (KRI). The same accusations against BNDP and HBA were made against Syriac Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako.
The Kurdish leadership of the landlocked and oil-dependent KRI, run by the Turkey-backed Barzani family and Iran-backed Talabani family, used the chaos and implosion of the Iraqi state after the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein and his Baath regime to dispute areas in northern Iraq and bring them under direct or indirect control through their regional military called Peshmerga. It disputed the central government at its weakest over Kirkuk, the Nineveh Plain and Mosul and moved in the Peshmerga and set up strategic military checkpoint in those areas.
This was however somewhat of an “imperial overstretch”. Post-ISIS and after the Kurdish independence referendum of September 2017, the central government and Popular Mobilization Units took back control over most of those areas. The foothold of the Peshmerga in the Nineveh Plain has since been greatly reduced although checkpoints and roadblocks remain. The KDP continues to regard the Nineveh Plain a disputed area between the KRI and the central government and tries to assert its influence politically over it.
The two co-initiators of the 2017 Brussels conference deny being KDP proxies and say that in the multi-ethnic Kurdistan Region in Iraq it is important to maintain all necessary diplomatic relations with different political parties and organizations in the KRI and with Iraqi national political parties. Moreover, BNDP-leader Romeo Hakkari holds a seat in the KRI-parliament quota. The National Union Coalition of which the BNDP is part holds 3 out of 5 Christian-quota seats. The Assyrian Democratic Movement (Rafidain Party) holds 1 and the Assyrian Syriac Chaldean Popular Council also 1.
The HBA says its relations with the KDP have gone through ups and downs and that it too has to balance its political agenda in the interest of the Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian people between the KDP-controlled KRI and the Shia-dominated central government in Baghdad.
The Assyrian Democratic Movement, which also holds 1 out of 5 quota seats in the central parliament in Baghdad, has a long relationship with the KDP. The current ADM leadership in the 1990s served as minister in consecutive KRG-cabinets. Only recently was the ADM granted by the KDP leadership, i.e. Barzani, to fill in the deputy role of head of the Dohuk Governate Council.
The ADM too has to balance its somewhat long-time but complicated relationship between the Barzani’s KDP and the interests of its Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian people. In 1992 one of the former ADM leaders and then governor of Erbil Francis Shabo was killed after he demanded land taken from Chaldeans-Syriacs-Assyrians in the KRI to be given back to its rightful owners.
Chaldean–Syriac–Assyrian political arena in Iraq remains fragmented
Where past criticism focused on the Kurds of the KRI, Iran-backed Shia PMUs have increased their influence at the cost of the Kurds and taken over control of the Nineveh Plain. The Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian Nineveh Protection Unit’s size and lack of international support does, unfortunately, not yet allow it to control and protect the whole Nineveh Plain.
Post-ISIS demographic change in the Nineveh Plain is ongoing. The longer this situation goes on and the longer it will take for Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian IDPs to safely return to their homes in the Nineveh Plain, the less likely it is they will ever return at all. The longer this situation endures the more the Chaldean–Syriac–Assyrian and Christian character of the Nineveh Plain comes under threat.
Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian political parties in Iraq remain in their own room and seem to refuse to come to the central sitting room for dialogue, negotiations and joint initiatives. This failure to come to inter-party dialogue and real constructive and joint initiatives, or National Action Pact as the BNDP initiative calls it, seriously threatens the future of the Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian people in the Nineveh Plain and in Iraq.
For such a National Action Pact the 1997 position paper can serve as a blueprint and basis for unified goals. The BNDP initiative is not an attempt to unify parties but set directions for the Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian nation. The position paper is not exclusive but can only be amended, added or rewriting via constructive Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian inter-party dialogue. The Nineveh Protection Units can possibly serve as the position papers “one single self-defense force for Nineveh Plain consisting of the peoples of Nineveh Plain in cooperation with the international coalition that is already present in Iraq.”
Chaldean Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, who heads the biggest Syriac church in Iraq, whimsically favoring a universal church and denouncing “a feeling of belonging to a specific nation that has its own land, language, history and heritage” and “having a political, social and economic agenda that serves its interests” does not help the Chaldean–Syriac–Assyrian people and inter-party dialogue.