Assyrian Oppression

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SpeakersArena The Hon Franca


The Hon. FRANCA ARENA [10.20]: In August I received a deputation of esteemed members of the Assyrian communities of Sydney and Northern Iraq. Among them were His Grace, the Bishop Mar Meelis Zaia, Fairfield Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Churst of the East; Mr Frederick Aurana; Mr Georgis Yao Beyto, Secretary of the Assyrian Democratic Movement in Iraq; and Dr David Malko of the central committee of the movement. Before I speak about their visit, I would like to give honourable members some information about the Assyrian people.

There are more than three million Assyrians in the world today, with over 1.5 million of them living in Iraq, and the others in different countries, especially the Middle East, the United States, Canada and Australia. Religious and racial oppression of Assyrians in their homeland has continued in modern times. The Ottoman Empire declared Islamic holy war against them during the first world war, and more than 250,000 Assyrians perished in the ensuing massacres and the forced mass exodus. The Iraqi Government did the same in August 1993, when Assyrian blood was shed in the massacre of Semail, which was the first crime of state-sponsored genocide committed in modern Iraqi history. National oppression and crimes against Assyrians escalated in Iraq after the Al-Baath dictatorship came to power in 1968. Despite their loyal and patriotic standing in Iraq, the Assyrian people were stripped of the few human and legal rights they had, and were denied all expressions of their existence. They were made strangers in their homeland as the Government moved to uproot them and destroy their heritage.

This form of ethnic cleansing was practised against Assyrians along both national and religious lines. The regime's attempts at destroying Assyrian national existence in Iraq were systematic and relentless. Since 1968 the Iraqi regime has engaged in a campaign to rewrite the history of Assyrians, destroy their culture, and erase their national traits and identity. All manner of brutality, torture, assassination, incarceration, exile, threats and deception have been used by the regime to further this policy of forcing the Assyrian people to either disavow their identity or abandon their homeland.

The following are but a few factual illustrations of this policy: Assyrians have been compelled to declare their nationality as Arabs in all official documents, especially in the census of 1977 and 1987; the Government limited national identification in both censuses to Arabs and Kurds, thereby disenfranchising all other nationalities, such as Assyrians and Turkomans; prominent Assyrian leaders were poisoned or assassinated; Assyrian political activity was strictly forbidden; Assyrians known to practise the most basic rights of freedom of speech and association were persecuted and tortured; Assyrian villages were destroyed, and their inhabitants were banished to cities and concentration camps without any compensation for their lands and homes; during the infamous 1988 Al-Anfal campaign, hundreds of Assyrian families were displaced and scores arrested and sent to unknown destinations, never to be heard of; Assyrians were denied Iraqi citizenship and declared foreigners, which disenfranchised them in their ancestral homeland; Assyrians were also denied representation in the legislative and executive councils; all Assyrian cultural centres and activities were closed, as were schools that taught the Assyrian language, culture, heritage and history; teaching and publishing in the Assyrian language is now strictly forbidden in Iraq; and Assyrians who declared their national identity were barred from universities, colleges and other institutions of higher education.

The Assyrian community here and in Iraq is asking for our assistance. They need supplies, medicines, and humanitarian assistance for their people, especially for their children in the northern part of Iraq above the 36th parallel, which is under the protection of the United Nations, where many churches and villages have been destroyed, and the whole economic system has collapsed. As Australians
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we cannot remain silent or indifferent to the sufferings of these people. I have written to our Minister for Foreign Affairs and contacted Care Australia and the Australian International Development Assistance Bureau to ensure that a humanitarian and generous response is given to these people who have suffered
through centuries and continue to suffer under Saddam Hussein's regime. I ask all honourable members to take up the cause of the Assyrian people.

Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at 10.25 p.m.