Autonomy: The Only Hope for Assyrians to Have Peace in Iraq

Sargon E. Sapper
Glenview, Illinois
United States of America

It is said that no man plans to fail, he simply fails to plan. In fact, without a working plan and specific goals to achieve a project cannot prosper.

In a peaceful and carefully planned manner, during the year 1971, Chaldeans, Syriacs, and Assyrians united to argue a case for an Assyrian autonomy in Iraq. Our goal was to provide to our people, helplessly scattered throughout Iraq, a territory to call their own; to establish a foundation upon which ours and future generations would have the power to govern and protect ourselves. We believed then, as I do now, that autonomy was and is the only everlasting answer to the Assyrian question in Iraq. Our concern was that without protection from the inhumane and unjust treatment we were consistently subjected to, Assyrians and Christians would be driven out of Iraq for good. Circumstances surrounding our people have not improved, making this belief as true now as it was 35 years ago.

I believe, now more than ever, that the time has come for Assyrians to be given back our rights, as well as our historic homeland. It is the only chance we have to finally return to living in peace and improving our economic conditions. Assyrians deserve the same national rights as other ethnic minorities in Iraq. With the cooperation of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi Central Government, our people can once again have the ability to govern ourselves in the historic homeland of our forefathers. And like our forefathers, we will call this proud land “Assyria,” taking back what has been rightfully ours since the beginning of time.

The center of the Assyrian autonomy should be in the very heartland of the region of Nineveh, encompassing what is commonly known as The Assyrian Triangle, or Mini-Assyrian; a portion of which lies in the Nineveh province, controlled by the Central Government, and the other in Dahok, connected to the KRG. By reestablishing this land as one administrative unit, and returning it to its indigenous ethnic citizens, Chaldeans, Syriacs, and Assyrians, we can make certain that future generations lead lives predominated by equality, security, and prosperity. Critics of our cause will undoubtedly point out that Assyrians no longer comprise the majority within this sacred region. True, but how could we? For decades our people have suffered massacres and looting, been subjected to oppression and intimidation, and basically forced out of the region. And although we can never forget the atrocities perpetrated upon us, we can forgive. For the time has come to step out of the shadows, return to our home, and rebuild our land and lives.

Let me remind you all that some thirty years ago autonomy was granted for the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Was the central government that existed at that time weak? Perhaps, but it was the Kurds taking destiny into their own hands that really made the difference. The Kurdish people were strong, their leadership was passionate, they believed their struggle was honorable, and they endured blood shed and sacrifice for the cause. Thus, it was their resolve that forced a weak Iraqi government to accept the reality, acknowledge their rights, and grant their autonomy. Today the political landscape has changed, and while Assyrians can learn from the plight of the Kurds, we need not create bloodshed to achieve our goal. Instead of war we can choose diplomacy, a mutual cooperation between Assyrian people and our government, a belief in a democratic system, justice and respect for human life.

The recent declaration by the Kurdistan Regional Government to establish constitutional autonomy to the Assyrian people in the Nineveh plains is, most certainly, one opportunity which can and must not be missed for the mere possibility that this time it may be true. It is a firm and legal plan toward establishing national rights in our historic homeland. Thus, the time has come for us to lead our people back to the peaceful environment, equality we all so richly deserve, and have struggled to achieve for far too long.

Today there has been a visible improvement in both the attitudes and actions of the Kurdistan Regional Government toward Assyrians in the region. Ideologies of hate and confrontation are steadily being replaced with tolerance and cooperation. The Kurdistan Regional Government seems more intent than ever on obtaining stability, security, and prosperity throughout the region and has undertaken several initiatives in this regard. While Assyrian Christians have long been a prime target for escalating violence of extremists initially in central and southern Iraq and now in the northern city of Mosul intended to drive them away from their homelands, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) now welcomes Christians fleeing religious persecution. And now, the KRG is pursuing an open policy toward ethnic minorities designed to share administrative responsibilities and establish autonomy. It seems as though the KRG has learned, from mistakes committed by other regimes, it is unwise to neglect the national rights of ethnic minorities in Iraq.

Hopefully, the declaration to establish constitutional autonomy for our nation will be followed by the required legislative law necessary to ascertain the exact boundary of the territory covered by the autonomy as well as the appointed date for its application. Indeed, in a recent news conference following a joint meeting of the KRG and KNA, Mr. Barzani and Mr. Mufti declared that the national rights of all ethnic minorities in the Kurdistan region are lawful, and that they were close to finding the right form for establishing autonomy for our people too. Although we should be tremendously grateful for opportunity to enjoy autonomy in the Nineveh plains, we should also stress the importance of sharing the responsibility of determining how the autonomy is recognized. Clearly, this challenge will take every bit of our collective effort to overcome. But, as I see it, there exists the rare chance to change the course of history for future generations of our people in Iraq, and to demonstrate to the world what it means to persevere.

The time has come, my friends, for us to dedicate ourselves to the unity of our nation. Unanimity of voice is our only hope of effectively condemning the politics of divisiveness and confrontation. So, I would like to propose following suggestions to be carried forth:

1. Let us call upon the organizers of conferences recently convened in the Kurdistan region and abroad to join in a united national conference to be held in 2009. We are certain such a conference would serve as the largest gathering of our people and any conclusions which may be drawn from this conference would clearly reflect the opinions of the majority, as well as help form the basis upon which the autonomy should be created.
2. In the time leading up to the united national conference we should agree that any and all attacks and counter-attacks between Assyrian sectors, individuals, and organizations exchanged in the media cease and desist.
3. Propose a working plan to the UNC to include the following headings:
• The Name of Our Nation: Keep in mind that we are one people, one nation, and should therefore be known by one name. Recognizing our nation, the way we currently do, ChaldeanSyriacAssyrian, is more indicative of divisiveness than unity, and unity is our most powerful weapon.
• The Autonomy: Constitutionally declared right for the indigenous Assyrian nation, predominated by equality, security, and prosperity.
• The Autonomous Territory: A unique area, part Nineveh province, part Dohuk, well defined by its geographical occurrences in the north, the Iraq-Turkey border, the east flanked by the great Zab river, and west by the Tigris river.
• The Name of the Autonomous Territory: To be known as Assyria.
• Restoring Solidarity Between Our Communities Abroad and Those in the Region
• Election of a United National Assembly: To be of the highest authority in our land.
• Election of a United College Leadership: Ambitious and honest leadership to restore national unity, establish national rights, and lead our charge.
• Election of Two Follow Up Committees: One for Iraq, and one for abroad, to pursue the implementation of conference resolutions under the command of the United College Leadership.
• Call to Action: To call upon the Iraqi Central Government and the KRG for the prompt and swift establishment of a constitutional autonomy for our nation.

Thank you for your time and attention. God bless you, and God bless our united people!