Historic national conference aims to unify Chaldeans from around the world

By Natasha Dado
WEST BLOOMFIELD — The first ever General Chaldean National Conference hosted its opening session on Wednesday at the Shenandoah Country Club, attracting nearly 450 participants.

The 5-day Conference, which is hosted by the United Chaldean Democratic Forum, hopes to bring Chaldeans together from various political and national groups to discuss the plight of the members of their community in Iraq and around the world.

Chaldeans from across the U.S. and from various countries are expected to travel to Metro Detroit to attend the event, which will end on Sunday, May 19. Metro Detroit was chosen as the ideal location for the conference, as it is home to the largest concentration of Chaldeans outside of the Middle East. An estimated 120,000 reside in the region.

“Through this Conference we hope to gain our national and patriotic rights in our mother country of Iraq. With the unity and diversity of opinions, we advance our request to preserve our culture, traditions and heritage for generations to come,” said Rev. Ibrahim Ibrahim, Bishop of St. Thomas Apostle Chaldean Catholic Diocese-USA.
The Conference will also address the religious and ethnic intimidation that Chaldeans and other Iraqi Christians have faced, following the 2003 U.S. led invasion of Iraq.
Youth centered in the middle are dressed in traditional Chaldean attire at the conference, which was attended by Chaldeans from different states and countries including Iraq. PHOTOS/TAAN Natasha Dado

To date, an estimated 400,000 Christians remain in Iraq, compared to the more than one million that lived in the country prior to the invasion. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians faced exile from their homeland and persecution after the war.  A moment of silence was given to all the martyrs who have passed on. One sign displayed at the event read, “No Ethnic or National Rights in the Absence of Democracy.”

Chaldean American Yousif Gabrail of Sterling Heights, who has lived in the United States for 19 years, says that he hopes the conference sends a strong message, to both the United States and Iraqi governments, that Christians deserve the same human rights as all people who live in Iraq. Since the invasion, leaders in the Chaldean community have called on the United States government to help put an end to the mass persecution of Christians in Iraq.
“We want to be treated like everybody else, and we need adequate representation in Iraq’s government,” Gabrail said.  Most Chaldeans trace their roots to the Iraqi Christian village of Telkaif. Today the village is home to very few of them.
“I feel so horrible, knowing my people have left our village because of discrimination,” United Chaldean Democratic Forum member Najib Jalou said.
The conference is also an effort to get Chaldeans, both nationally and internationally, to put their differences aside and unite as one. While divisions between Chaldeans in different parts of the world don’t seem apparent, they actually do exist.  This is due, in part, to the fact that large communities in different areas have not worked closely enough together to address issues that affect the community.
“We need to really focus on putting any divisions behind us, and bring the Chaldean community and the Chaldean nation together to really protect where we all came from: Mesopotamia,” Auday Arabo, AFPD President and CEO said.
San Diego is home to the second largest concentration of Chaldeans, with an estimated 36,000 residing in the region. Chaldean media, religious leaders and members of the community from San Diego were also in attendance at the conference. The interaction may have marked the first time that Chaldeans from both communities have come together in such a way.
Arabo grew up in San Diego, and was born in Baghdad, Iraq.  He noted that it remains unfortunate that Chaldeans don’t have representation in Iraq’s government, although they reportedly comprise 85 percent of the country’s Christian population.
Assyrian Bishop Mar Bawi Soro, who is also from San Diego, said that in the next 20 years, the number of Chaldeans living in the United States is expected to double.
Artwork, including cultural paintings and sculptures from the Chaldean American Association of Fine Arts, was on display at the conference, along with literature.
The American, Iraqi and Chaldean national anthems were all sung, and some guests wore traditional Chaldean attire from Iraq.   “Our unity will ensure the gain of our national and patriotic rights,” Arabo said. Members of the local Muslim American community, including religious leaders, also attended the conference.
The conference will continue on Friday, May 17, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Mother of God Chaldean Catholic Church in Southfield, and in the evening at 7 p.m., at St. Joseph Hall; On Saturday, May 18, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., members will convene at the Quality Inn in Southfield, and in the evening, at 8 p.m., at the Farmington Hills Manor.  The last day, Sunday May 19, will take place at Camp Chaldean in Brighton.
Earlier this week, Chaldean Day was held in Lansing, and members of the community had the opportunity to meet with lawmakers in the State’s capitol to discuss important issues that affect them.
“A vast population of Chaldeans proudly call Michigan home, and we are grateful for their services and contributions to our State’s cultural and economic vitality,” Governor Rick Snyder said in a statement.