By Jayson Casper writer and researcher with Arab West Report based in Cairo
Ashur Sargon Eskrya, president of the Assyrian Aid Society–Iraq (AASI), passed away today from COVID-19 complications.
A champion of the Assyrian Christian minority, he was also a central figure in US efforts to shelter refugees from ISIS and later rebuild the Nineveh Plains.
AASI was honored for its work with a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2016.
“Ashur has played a prominent role in being a voice for our people in international forums, speaking on behalf of us all especially on the subject of indigenous rights,” stated the official account of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM), of which Eskrya was a senior member.
“He will always be remembered for his leadership.”
Fellow ADM member Jessi Arabou called him one of the Assyrian nation’s “biggest assets.”
Born in 1974, Eskrya was a civil engineer and graduate of Baghdad University. He became a member in AASI in 2003, and assumed the presidency in 2010. Founded in 1991 to respond to the humanitarian crisis following the first Gulf War, the nonprofit is funded through branches of the Assyrian diaspora in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Sweden.
“Ashur did much to make [AAS] what it is today. His energy and passion fueled and propelled the work on a daily basis,” stated the Assyrian Aid Society of America.
“[His] tireless efforts in bringing international attention to the plight and struggle of Assyrians is commendable and will be remembered and honored for generations to come.”
Under Eskrya’s leadership, AASI administered projects for refugee relief, reconstruction, irrigation, and medical clinics. Over 2,600 students in 27 schools were provided with K-12 education, including in the Assyrian language.
It also provided specialized care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eskrya was a member of the ancient Assyrian Church of the East. Born in Ainone, Iraq, one mile from the Turkish border, he fought for the rights of the original Christian inhabitants of Mesopotamia. He recognized their historical sufferings under Arabs, Turks, and Kurds, and lamented the divisions within Iraq’s Christian denominations.
Eskrya’s family home was in Mosul until its sale in 2011. He lived in Dohuk near the AASI headquarters in Iraqi Kurdistan, where many Christians fled during the advance of ISIS.
Pastor Ashty Bahro, vice president of Dohuk’s evangelical alliance and president of the Zalal Life Christian Foundation, counted Eskrya as a close friend.
“News of his death was tragic for me and for all the people here,” he told CT, “because Ashur was known in the region and he used to provide a helping hand to many, including the displaced and refugees.
“He will always be remembered by us.”
Many other Protestants expressed their grief at his passing.
“Ashur was one of those real-life heroes who spent a lifetime defending his faith, his people, and his country in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable,” Robert Nicholson, president of the Philos Project, told CT.
“In war after war, tragedy after tragedy, Ashur was there on the ground, often under fire, helping those in need, both Assyrians and non-Assyrians alike.
“Strong, selfless, and wise, Ashur was truly one of a kind.”
Chris Seiple, senior advisor for the Center for Faith Opportunities and Initiatives at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), agreed.
“I cannot imagine the Assyrian nation, the Iraqi people, and the body of Christ without him,” he stated. “A man of peace who loved all of his neighbors, he was my friend, and always will be.”
“Ashur was the guiding light for one of USAID’s most important Iraqi partners [AAS],” Ambassador Mark Green, former administrator of USAID and now president, director, and CEO of The Wilson Center, told CT. “He devoted himself to the recovery of his people and his land from the unspeakable horrors of genocide, and it is a great sadness that he did not live to see his good work completed.”
“He was a tireless advocate for Christians and religious minorities in Iraq,” stated Knox Thames, the US State Department’s former special advisor for religious minorities. “I often sought his insights about conditions on the ground.”
And Wissam al-Saliby, advocacy director for the World Evangelical Alliance, recalled encounters with Eskrya at the United Nations in Geneva.
“He was steadfast in his advocacy for the rights of Assyrians,” he stated. “I pray for more leaders like him.”
Alaha Manikhleh. May God rest his soul.