Stelios Kritikakos – Stelios Kritikakos photo Documentary shorts, photo exhibit will document horrific plight of Assyrian Christian minority
Several years ago, over two cups of black coffee, someone who would become a close personal friend, and an undying source of inspiration, shared his story with me. It started in 1991, when he barely survived a Scud missile strike and risked everything, even his life, to flee his home country of Iraq. His journey took him through the rugged Turkish terrain and then, aboard a dangerously unsafe vessel, on to the Greek island of Lesbos. After spending three years in Greece, he finally made it to Canada, his adopted homeland. From Baghdad, all the way to Bay Street, Joseph Orahim now works for Fasken’s IT department. It’s a story in which sacrifice, struggle, and success all live under one roof. This proud refugee-turned-Canadian is quick to skim through the pages of his history, recalling, always with affection and admiration, the kindness and generosity with which he was met when he arrived to Toronto in winter of 1994. “I’m deeply grateful,” he says, “to ordinary Torontonians for embracing me, holding me, and giving me back my dignity.” But today, Joseph, who lives in the downtown area, can’t help but think about the tens of thousands Assyrian Christians forced to flee Iraq and Syria in recent years. “From 2014 to 2018,” he tells me, “the Assyrian Christian minority, which has a long and unforgiving history of persecution, was once again put to the sword, this time, by ISIS. “Abducted, enslaved, tortured, murdered. Tens of thousands forced to flee. The fate of this minority, today, hangs in the balance.” Joseph doesn’t let indifference settle over him. He can’t afford to. From the margins, the Assyrian Christians, pushed to the edge of extinction in their native Iraq, are fighting for their identity, for their lives. “Now it’s time to give back and pay forward,” Joseph says. He’s partnered with the Refugee and Newcomer Program at Rosedale United Church and the Assyrian Aid Society of America to raise awareness about the plight of his people, about forced migration, and about resettlement supports in place here in Toronto – supports that helped him and his immediate family learn a new language, and adapt to a new way of life when they resettled here. Joseph is proud to be chairing Rebuilding From Ruin – an awareness and fundraising event to be held on Friday, Sept. 13, at the Isabel Bader Theatre. Sargon Saadi, a Syrian-born filmmaker, will be screening his documentary shorts: The Last Plight and Silence After the Storm. The screenings will be preceded by the photo exhibit Khabour in a Thousand Words – documenting the Islamic State’s attacks on Christian Assyrian villages along the banks of the Khabour River in Syria on February 23, 2015. Nancy Athanassopoulos-Mylonas, an Egyptian-born, Greek-Canadian artistic director, who has worked extensively with the Greek and Armenian communities in Toronto, will be staging a theatrical tribute covering the Assyrian genocide.