Friday, July 13, 2007

Window on Eurasia: ‘Our Smallest Ally’ Stages Protest in Moscow Against Iraq War

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 13 – The Assyrians, a group British officer W.A. Sigram framously celebrated in 1920 as the West’s “smallest ally” in World War I, staged a demonstration in front of the Iraqi embassy in Moscow yesterday to protest the mistreatment of Assyrians and other Christians in Iraq.
Approximately 40 of the 10,000 Assyrians living in Moscow carried placards denouncing what they called the ongoing genocide of Christians in Iraq and celebrating what several signs called the “strategic” alliance between the Christians of Iraq and Russia (http://
In an appeal handed out to journalists and presented to Iraqi officials, the Assyrians of Moscow called for Baghdad to recognize the Assyrians as a native nationality of Iraq, to allow them to form autonomous regions, to protect Assyrian and other Christian churches from attack, and to help Assyrian refugees return.
The demonstration so far has attracted little attention -- Google News does not yet have a story posted about it – and most people, even the bestl-educated, are more likely to associate “Assyrians” with a powerful kingdom in antiquity than with an ethnic community still very much alive today.
. But the Assyrians, who are sometimes called Chaldeans or Syriacs, are one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. They number an estimated 1.6 million, of whom about half lived in Iraq before the current war began, with the remainder living in relatively small communities in many countries around the world.
One of the most active of these diaspora groups is in the Russian Federation where they not only have associations in many large cities but their own radio station, scholars, and literary magazines and where they have typically enjoyed the backing of the Kremlin, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Armenians.
Consequently, it is not surprising that they should have staged this small protest to add their voice to that of other Assyrian and Christian rights activists around the world concerning what has been happening to their co-ethnics and co-religionists since the beginning of the fighting there.
Since 2004, more than 33 Assyrian churches in Iraq have been bombed, and over the last six weeks, radical Islamist elements attacked priests as well as ordinary Assyrians, killing some and taking others hostage. As a result of the violence, more than half a million Assyrians have fled to Syria and Jordan where they now live as refugees.
All these actions, the leaders of the Assyrian community in Moscow told, were not simply a spillover of the violence affecting virtually all of Iraq but a carefully targeted campaign to make it impossible for the Assyrians to hold a referendum on the status of the Nineveh valley.
One reason to hope that the Assyrians will attract more attention in the future is that during the slow news days of the summer, journalists often pay more attention to smaller communities than they might do at any other time.
A prime example, which also appeared on the site this week, was an interview with the leader of the now only 2,000-strong Karaim community of Crimea who described the current travails of the only community living in Europe in the last century whom the Israelis consider to be Jewish but whom the Nazis did not target for extermination (

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