In a wide ranging interview at his modest home in the Ankawa neighborhood of Irbil in northern Iraq, the reclusive Minister of Finance of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Sargis Agajan was all but reclusive.
Over lunch and for most of the afternoon he told his side of the story.
“First, I have only one goal. That is to help my people. I am not very well and healthy – I am just getting over a long illness.
At the same time, I am doing all I can as long as God gives me the strength and opportunity to do something for the Assyrian Christians.”
Often criticized for being a “stooge” of the Kurdish Government, Agajan reflects a simplicity and humility extremely rare in the Assyrian Christian community.
“My main concern is to help our people return to their villages” he says.
Beginning with the Assyrian Holocaust in 1915/1916 when nearly two thirds of the Assyrian Christians were massacred to most recently in the Anfal Campaign of Saddam Hussein in which nearly all of the Assyrian village were complete destroyed it has been a nonstop nightmare for the first nation to accept Christianity – the Assyrians.
“What I am trying to do is very simple” he continues.
First, I am doing all I can in my position with the Government to locate all of our villages, rebuild them including homes, electricity, schools and whatever is needed for the people to return.
Second, we need to have jobs for them so when they come back to their villages – some for the first time in decades they can live with their families and prosper.
Third, I have worked very hard to get into the new Kurdistan Regional Government Constitution Autonomy for the Assyrian Region so our people can not only have a house, a job but the freedom to carry on our own lives with our language, traditions an faith.”
As part of his responsibility as Finance Minister Agajan has arranged for nearly 120 historically Assyrian Christian villages previously destroyed to be rebuilt.
Churches to be rebuilt and schools for the Assyrian Language are among his many projects.
Staying in one of the “Sargis Villages” one is struck by the reality. A village of nearly 400 people with 125 neatly lined two bedroom homes – basic but nice.
A school, bakery, two small shops surrounded by fields complete the village.
“I was born and raised in this village” says the Mayor Isaac. “Saddam completely destroyed this village. The only thing left was the remains of our school” he says as he gestures to the bombed out hulk of his former school.
“Thanks to Sargis we were able to rebuild our village as we remember it and the families have come back. Our crops are being planted again, the children are going to school and we finally have hope.”
Agajan continues, “While I am an Assyrian and am very concerned for my people, I also have to be fair so along with doing the best I can to restore our people to their former areas, I also an doing the same with all other groups of people that are under my charge.”
In response to the many rumors rife in the Middle East and in particular among the Assyrian Christian Community worldwide that he has secret sponsors behind him and other intrigue, Agajan is very clear.
“There is no secret group behind me. I am simply doing the best I can with my position as Finance Minister to do all I can for my own people and all the people of Kurdistan so we can all move forward after the nightmare of Saddam Hussein.”
Most interesting, though in talking with Agajan is his intense Christian faith.
Tracing his current situation to a personal experience with God in which he felt and experienced the presence of God calling him to a life of service he is adamant that he is only a very flawed and plain vessel.
Often breaking into the conversation to pray, he says “I am nobody special. Look at me! I am not good looking, I am not well – I am nobody. For whatever reason God has given me this opportunity to do something for my people who have suffered so much.
I have no idea how long my health will hold out nor how long I will have my position – it could all end tomorrow. That is why I work so hard always wondering if this might be my last day.”
As Iraq increasingly turns Islamic the future of the Assyrian Christians, the legendary people of Nineveh, of the Biblical Jonah and the Whale and the only people still speaking Aramaic, the language of Jesus is bleak.
Agajan, walks a fine line between doing all he can for the Assyrian Christians without angering both the Iraqi and Kurdish Governments.
Becoming animated, he pores over a series of maps of Assyrian Villages and points out the estimated area of an Assyrian Autonomous Area which is the dream of all Assyrian Christians worldwide.
“If all goes well this area will be the Assyrian Area” he says. “The Assyrians who are the original people of Iraq will be able to preserve our language, customs, religion, way of life and not only restore what we once were but grow by encouraging many Assyrians who are refugees now and those living overseas to come home.”
Is he just naÃ¯ve? Is he a “stooge”? Is he a front for other shadowy figures?
It is the Middle East and truth is a very rare commodity.
At least on thing can be said, he is a committed believer who appears to have a very strong faith and sees all he does and the small window to do something for his people as a mission from God.
Will he succeed?
The lives of thousands hang in the balance and Agajan shows the weight of the reasonability in his tired face.
Ken Joseph Jr.