SOUTH KURDISTAN (IRAQ) : 2013 Human Rights Report on Assyrians in Iraq

(AINA) 16.9.2013 –  The Assyria Council of Europe and the Assyria Foundation have released their year 2013 Human Rights Report on Assyrians in Iraq. The executive summary of the report is shown below.

Executive Summary

The Assyrians are an ethno-linguistic minority in the Middle East. Most Assyrians are Christians, and they accepted Christianity as their religion in the first century AD. Throughout the ages the Assyrian people have been constantly oppressed, murdered and discriminated. In 1980 they were 8% to 10% of the Iraqi population. Now they are 2% of the total population. In the early nineteenth century, thousands of Assyrians were killed under Kurdish warlords. During the Iraqi-Kurdish rebellion war between 1961 and 1970, many Assyrians left their lands and their homes in the north and fled to the southern cities. During the Iraq-Iran war between 1980 and 1988 , as many as 60,000 Assyrians were killed — 6,000 of them from the Assyrian town of Bakhdida (Qaraqosh). During this period many Assyrians fled the country. Since the regime change in 2003, there has been a constant outflow of Assyrians leaving the country because of unprecedented sectarian violence and discrimination. The lack of state protection and application of the law causes sectarian violence and discrimination because perpetrators are not punished for what they do.

Political rights

Although Iraq has operated as a “democracy” since 2005, the Assyrians are not fully represented in this freedom. Each ethnic and religious group within Iraq is supported by other related groups who are abroad, except for the Assyrians. On the other hand, if the Assyrians want to stay strong by banding together and start their own council or political party, they are threathened and stopped. The Assyrians are not allowed to speak out critically in public, in demonstrations and throughout the media. Many Assyrians want their own area where they can protect their people but this request was not taken seriously and many of those who publicly speak out on this topic, are in fear for their own lives.

Work and education

The Assyrians are discriminated in the field of work in the Iraqi Kurdistan region. They get less prestigious jobs assigned in comparison with the Kurds and are often placed in positions which they are not trained for. Assyrian children in schools feel discriminiated because that is how others behave towards them. For young people, the future does not look good because they have no guarantees in the area of work. Christian Assyrians currently work jobs as sales people in liquor shops or beauticans in beauty salons and are therefore targets for Muslim extremists. Muslims don’t apply for such jobs because of religious restrictions. Many Assyrian shops were burned in 2011. Assyrians are also not allowed in professions such as the following: policemen, soldiers, officers, journalists for major newspapers and TV stations, judges and senior positions within educational institutions.

Assyrian heritage not recognized

Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, Iraq underwent Arabization. People were taught that the entire civilization of Mesopotamia is Arabic. In the KRG-area history repeats itself, and the local Assyrian history is seen as Kurdish history. City names are changed to Kurdish names. Assyrian heritage is ruined and Assyrian history is not recognised in school books, museums and during memorial days.

Lack of safety

Assyrians severely lack safety. They say that their people are not be protected and that the application of the law is missing. Therefore extremist groups continue to kidnapp, kill and send threatening letters to local Assyrians. This is why many Assyrians flee abroad or to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, and often flee from there to the west or neighboring countries. Due to the expansion of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is the chance of an all-out civil war in the future. Thus the view on the future of Assyrians in this area is pessimistic. History proves that this group of people will pay a disproportionate price.

Land deprived and not respected

Land that is owned by Assyrians is taken from them or is not respected. In the time of Saddam Hussein, many churches, properties, buildings and settlements were destroyed in the areas where the Assyrians already lived for centuries. Today there are mosques placed in Assyrian villages so that Muslims establish themselves there and land is requisitioned for the government’s large-scale projects.

Forced into prostitution

A number of Assyrian girls are forced by Kurdish criminal organizations to work in prostitution. If they refuse, they are threatened with death. Many of them are vulnerable refugees from the south with little family in the north. The organizations have ties with political leaders. Therefore it is easy to quickly provide these girls with passports, and to send them to EU countries to work there.

Region for Assyrians

Because of the above reasons, the Assyrians want their own area where they can protect their people. Centuries of persecution, discrimination and lack of recognition have given them reason to ask for their own administrative area. This request was presented as early as 1934 to the League of Nations. The request was also raised after the fall of Saddam Hussein. No one, however, has taken the claims of the Assyrians seriously.

Assyrian refugees from Syria

Iraq houses Assyrian refugees from Syria who fled to Ira. Many of their ancestors fled to Syria around 1933 because of massacres in Iraq. There are now about 300 Assyrians from Syria in Iraq. They receive help at the border.