The Assyrian Christians find themselves trapped between Iraqi militant and political groups, who consider them America’s co-religionists and hence collaborators, and Kurdish nationalists who are increasingly intolerant of competing nationalisms or pluralism. Today, nearly a million Assyrians live in Iraq. Saddam Hussein made them exiles in their own land when he decreed that there were no Assyrians, just Christian Arabs. Thousands of years of history and culture of a people indigenous to the region were simply written off. This was only the most recent of erasures the Assyrians had to face. More may have been known and written about pogroms against the Kurdish and Armenian people, but the Assyrians have suffered massacres and dislocations alongside them.
The removal of Saddam Hussein bought hope to the Assyrian community but today they can only watch with dismay as an Islamic insurgency continues unabated, a sectarian political structure is formalised under the label of “democracy” and regional nationalisms harden ethnic divisions. In insurgent dominated cities like Mosul and Baghdad dozens have been killed, churches have been attacked and hundreds have been forced to flee. In the Kurdish autonomous region they face economic and social discrimination as university seats, government jobs, health services, and rural development budgets are withheld. Over 100,000 Assyrians have fled to Syria and Jordan and, despite the pleas of the Assyrian political and religious leadership, many others are preparing to follow. On January 30th 2005 Kurdish authorities prevented nearly 150,000 Assyrians from voting in the elections. Protests were held in a number of cities but the Iraqi administration dismissed their claims. An “election” that was supposed to reflect the will of the people was usurped to meet the needs of those in power. With few allies inside Iraq or in the international community to turn to, the Assyrians must now confront the possibility of yet another erasure.