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Mahathir’s reforms could put Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the spot

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Newly elected Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammed Mahathir is adopting policies that could reshape the Southeast nation’s relations with powerful Gulf states.

A series of anti-corruption measures as well as statements by Mr. Mahathir and his defense minister, Mohamad (Mat) Sabu, since this month’s upset in elections that ousted Prime Minister Najib Razak from office, are sparking concern in both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. Mahathir, who has cautioned in recent years against widespread anti-Shiite sectarianism in Malaysia, has questioned together with Mr. Sabu Malaysia’s counterterrorism cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Mahathir has also reinvigorated anti-corruption investigations of Mr. Razak,  whom Qatari media have described as “Saudi-backed.”

Mr. Razak is suspected of having syphoned off billions of dollars from state-owned strategic development fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). The fund as well as Saudi and UAE entities allegedly connected to the affair are under investigation in at least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore.

Apparently anticipating a possible change in relations, political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, whose views are often seen as reflecting UAE government thinking, disparaged Mr. Mahathir and the Malaysian vote days after the results were announced.

Mr. Abdullah focused on Mr. Mahathir’s age. At 92, Mr. Mahathir is the world’s oldest elected leader.

Mr Abdulla also harped on the fact that Mr. Mahathir had been Mr. Razak’s mentor before defecting to the opposition and forging an alliance with Anwar Ibrahim, Mr. Mahathir’s former deputy prime minister and an Islamist believed to be close to the Muslim Brotherhood, whom he helped put behind bars.

UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed is known for his intense opposition to political Islam, including the Brotherhood.

“Malaysia seems to lack wise men, leaders, statesmen and youth to elect a 92-year-old who suddenly turned against his own party and his own allies and made a suspicious deal with his own political opponent whom he previously imprisoned after fabricating the most heinous of charges against him. This is politics as a curse and democracy as wrath,” Mr. Abdulla said on Twitter, two days after the election.

Similarly, Malaysian officials have signalled changing attitudes towards the Gulf. Seri Mohd Shukri Abdull, Mr. Mahathir’s newly appointed anti-corruption czar, who resigned from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in 2016 as a result of pressure to drop plans to indict Mr. Razak, noted that “we have had difficulties dealing with Arab countries (such as) Qatar, Saudi Arabia, (and the) UAE.”

Those difficulties are likely to recur.

Mr. Sabu, the new defense minister, noted in a commentary late last year that Saudi (and UAE) wrath was directed “oddly, (at) Turkey, Qatar, and Iran…three countries that have undertaken some modicum of political and economic reforms. Instead of encouraging all sides to work together, Saudi Arabia has gone on an offensive in Yemen, too. Therein the danger posed to Malaysia: if Malaysia is too close to Saudi Arabia, Putrajaya would be asked to choose a side.”

Putrajaya, a city south of Kuala Lumpur, is home to the prime minister’s residence and a bridge with four minaret-type piers that is inspired by Iranian architecture.

Mr. Sabu went on to say that “Malaysia should not be too close to a country whose internal politics are getting toxic… For the lack of a better word, Saudi Arabia is a cesspool of constant rivalry among the princes. By this token, it is also a vortex that could suck any country into its black hole if one is not careful. Indeed, Saudi Arabia is governed by hyper-orthodox Salafi or Wahhabi ideology, where Islam is taken in a literal form. Yet true Islam requires understanding Islam, not merely in its Quranic form, but Quranic spirit.”

Since coming to office, Mr. Sabu has said that he was reviewing plans for a Saudi-funded anti-terrorism centre, the King Salman Centre for International Peace (KSCIP), which was allocated 16 hectares of land in Putrajaya by the Razak government. Mr. Sabu was echoing statements by Mr. Mahathir before the election.

The opening of the centre was twice postponed because Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman cancelled his planned attendance. Malaysian officials said the kingdom had yet to contribute promised funds for the centre.

Shahriman Lockman, an analyst with the Kuala Lumpur-based Institute of Strategic and International Studies cautioned that Malaysia would have manoeuvre carefully.

“Whether we like it or not, whatever we think of them, Saudi Arabia is a major player in the Muslim world and in the Middle East. Their administration of the haj makes it crucial for Muslim-majority countries to get along with them,” Mr. Lockman said.

The fact that Mr. Mahathir’s election has sparked hopes that he will move Malaysia away from Mr. Razak’s embrace of Saudi-inspired ultra-conservative Islam as a political tool, despite the prime minister’s history of prejudice towards Jews and past anti-Shiite record, is likely to reinforce Saudi and UAE concern that his moves could favour Iran.

Mr. Mahathir has vacillated in his statements between banning Shiism to avert sectarianism and calling on Sunni Muslims in Malaysia to accept the country’s miniscule Shiite minority as a way of avoiding domestic strife.

What is likely to concern the Saudis most is the fact that Mr. Mahathir has said that  accepting Shiites as fellow Muslims was necessary because of the growth of the Iranian expatriate community in Malaysia. Analysts say the presence has sparked a greater awareness of Shiism and Sunni animosity because of Mr. Razak’s divisive policies.

Saudi and UAE worries about the reinvigorated anti-corruption investigation are rooted in the potential implication in the scandal of a Saudi commercial company, members of the Saudi ruling family, and UAE state-owned entities and officials.

The investigation is likely to revisit 1MDB relationship’s with Saudi energy company PetroSaudi International Ltd, owned by Saudi businessman Tarek Essam Ahmad Obaid as well as prominent members of the kingdom’s ruling family who allegedly funded Mr. Razak.

It will not have been lost on Saudi Arabia and the UAE that Mr. Mahathir met with former PetroSaudi executive and whistle blower Xavier Andre Justo less than two weeks after his election victory.

A three-part BBC documentary, The House of Saud: A Family at War, suggested that Mr. Razak had worked with Prince Turki bin Abdullah, the son of former Saudi King Abdullah, to syphon off funds from 1MDB.

UAE-owned, Swiss-based Falcon Bank has also been linked to the scandal while leaked emails documented a close relationship between Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE’s high-profile ambassador to the United States and confidante of Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, and controversial Malaysian financier Jho Low, a 27-year-old Wharton graduate who helped Mr. Razak run 1MDB.

The Wall Street Journal, citing not only emails, but also US court and investigative documents, reported last year that companies connected to Mr. Otaiba had received $66 million from entities investigators say acted as conduits for money allegedly stolen from 1MDB.

The UAE embassy in Washington declined to comment at the time but admitted that Mr. Oteiba had private business interests unrelated to his diplomatic role. The embassy charged that the leaked emails were part of an effort to tarnish his reputation.

Bank statements and financial documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal suggest that Khadem al Qubaisi, a director of an Abu Dhabi-owned investment company, who has also been implicated in the scandal, facilitated the purchase by UAE deputy prime minister Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s brother of a $500 million yacht with 1MDB funds.Khadem al Qubaisi

“The impact of this election will reverberate far beyond Malaysia’s borders,” said Asia director of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue Michael Vatikiotis.

Mr. Vatikiotis was looking primarily at the fallout of Mr. Mahathir’s victory in Southeast Asia and China. His analysis is however equally valid for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where it could also prove to be embarrassing.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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The Intensifying War in Yemen: World’s worst Humanitarian crisis

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Devastation caused by protracted conflict in Yemen. Photo: UNDP Yemen

Since the beginning of this year, the violence in Yemen’s civil conflict has increased. From being the centre of the ancient Arab world, the nation became one of the poorest. Millions of people have been drawn into conflict as a result of the seven-year conflict. Civilians have been killed in record number and people are hungry more than ever. Yemen has been torn apart by war for several years, and its citizens are battling mightily to live. According to the UN Development Programme, more than 370,000  people have perished since the war began in 2015, with 60% of those deaths coming from indirect factors including a shortage of food, water, and medical care. United Nations calls it as the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet. With 21.1 million people, 80 percent of the population requires humanitarian aid of some kind. 11 million children need humanitarian assistance for survival.

What is the conflict about?

The conflict in Yemen is over who will rule the nation. Although the conflict has been ongoing for years, it has recently become more violent. As the wave of anti-government protests that swept the Middle East area expanded to Yemen, the war in Yemen was set off in the wake of the Arab uprisings of 2011.The war in Yemen has numerous participants. The main participant in the conflict is the Houthis, a minority Shia sect from Northern Yemen. They claimed that they had been oppressed and were taking part in a rebellion against the government. The group participated in an uprising against Yemen’s former president Ali Abdul Saleh during the Arab Spring.  Houthis now control areas of Yemen where most people live including the capital Sana’a. Saudi Arab is another prominent player of the war who is also the most influential member of the Gulf cooperation council. The GCC have installed new government in Yemen by removing Ali Abdul Saleh and putting Abd-Rabbu Mansoor Hadi in charge. The Houthis and Saleh who were both sidelined by GCC allied with each other. Houthis along with Saleh’s allies in the army took control of Sana’a.. However, Saleh broke with Houthis and called up his followers to take up  arms against them. Saleh was killed by Houthis in December 2017, and his forces got defeated within two days. Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia along with the other coalition joins hands to return Hadi to power. For the last 7 years, the main fighting is between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition. The coalition has the backing of western countries including the US and the UK and is supplied with arms from states like France, Canada, and Germany. The Saudi-led intervention includes relentless air attacks on Yemen. SLC said that they have been attacking the enemy fraction but the right group has accused the coalition of bombing hospitals and schools, killing thousands of Yemeni civilians.

The Saudi-led coalition carried out more than 150 airstrikes on civilian targets in Yemen, according to Yemen data project  According to the United Nations, hundreds of thousands of people have perished as a result of combat or its indirect effects, such . According to conservative estimates by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), which monitors war zones around the world, the devastating air campaign  alone  conducted by a Saudi-led coalition has killed close to 24,000 people, including combatants and close to 9,000 civilians.

The escalation of War:

 In 2017, another group emerged as a big player in the war, the Southern Translational council (STC) . It was a separatist group who wants independence for southern Yemen. They got support from UAE and controls parts of South, including port of Aden.  The Houthis have been attempting to take control of Marib, the largest oil and fuel producing region, but their efforts are being hampered by this portion backed by the UAE. Houthis are being driven away from Marib by the SLC. Houthis retaliated in response to SLC’s aggressive attacks. They directly assault the UAE, attacking an Abu Dhabi gasoline storage complex on January 17,2022. The Houthis tactics used in the fighting became more sophisticated with time. The Saudi Arabia accused Iran of allegedly providing financial aid along with weapons. However, Iran completely denied the allegation. In March 2022, According to Saudi state-run media, Yemen’s Houthi rebels have launched a flurry of drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, hitting a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant, water desalination plant, oil facility, and power station. In retaliation, the coalition led by Saudi Arabia attacked Yemen once more. The fighting then intensified as a result.

Civilian casualties:

Children and civilians have been killed as a result of airstrikes in Yemen that target detention facilities. The United Nations  reports that January 2022 has been Yemen’s bloodiest month for civilians. In the seven years of the conflict, it was likely the worst month. Attacks on civilian targets have become routine, causing damage to the infrastructure, homes, hospitals, farms, weddings, funerals, and schools According to Mwatana for Human rights and human rights watchthe Saudi and UAE-led coalition launched three attacks in Yemen in late January 2022 that appeared to violate the laws of war and resulted in at least 80 apparent civilian deaths, including three children, and 156 injuries, including two children. More terrible are war’s broader effects. More Yemenis die from hunger, poverty, and diseases than from actual fighting.

The World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis:

According to the deputy humanitarian chief of the UN, Yemen’s economy is crumbling, its humanitarian crisis is getting worse, and the conflict in the poorest country in the Arab world is becoming more brutal. Despite an ongoing air campaign and ground battles, the conflict has essentially come to a standstill and given rise to the worst humanitarian crisis in history. Since then, the US has stopped taking a direct part in the fighting.

Early in 2020, the Houthis started an offensive in the largely under government control Marib region that claimed thousands of young lives and forced thousands of residents to flee their homes and live in constant fear of violence and being forced to move again. The country is essentially unrecognizably different now as a result of six horrible years of airstrikes, mortars, shooting, dread, and devastation.

The once-favorite vacation spot, the coastal city of Aden, is engulfed in debris and destruction. Farmland that has been fruitful and green for many generations is now left bare. Healthcare facilities have been destroyed or run out of supplies, and electricity networks are down.

Over 20 million Yemenis are now in need as an estimated four million have abandoned their homes out of terror. No aspect of life has remained unchanged, whether it be the schools that kids used to attend or the highways that communities used to rely on for food supplies.

It is difficult for humanitarian organisations to prevent starvation in these circumstances.

The number of cholera cases has been rising, and doctors are struggling with a serious medication shortage. When Covid-19 first arrived in Yemen, families had to put all of their efforts into acquiring food, so concern about the virus had to take a backseat. In the ongoing crisis, aid is being used as a weapon in addition to the increased violence that has been the main cause of all the misery. In order to prevent supplies from entering or leaving Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition erected land, sea, and air barriers around the country in 2015. The SLC has been accused of obstructing, obliterating, or stealing aid that the Yemenis sorely needed.

There were hopes that the Yemeni conflict would de-escalate when US President Joe Biden took office last year because of anticipated improvements in US foreign policy.

But this year, conflict has only gotten worse. Internally, regionally, and internationally, the violence that Yemen is currently experiencing has increased. According to international relief organisations, Yemen’s severe humanitarian situation, which is exacerbated by widespread starvation, disease, and displacement, is predicted to get worse over the next few months. More than half of the population of the country, or at least 17.4 million people, are in need of food aid because they are caught between a lengthy war and an economic downturn.

Despite the UN ranking Yemen as the greatest humanitarian calamity in the world, a recent pledge conference fell short of raising enough money to avert more devastation. To solve Yemen’s food insecurity, only $1.3 billion of a $4.3 billion donation goal was raised.

Due to their own financial constraints, the World Food Programme was compelled to lower food supplies for eight million people earlier this year. By June, 161,000  people are predicted to be affected by the projected five-fold increase in hunger.

A Glimmer of Hope?!

Yemen’s two-month cease-fire which came into effect on April, gave people some reason to believe in a better future and an opportunity to rebuild. A deal mediated by the UN between the Houthi rebels, who are allied with Iran, and the Yemeni government on one side and the Saudi-led coalition on the other is an important step toward resolving a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and caused millions to go hungry. The six-year battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has since evolved into a proxy war has now reached its first nationwide ceasefire.

Additionally, according to the UN, the warring parties in Yemen have agreed to extend the current cease-fire for another two months. Despite charges of truce violations from both sides, the ceasefire was initially in effect on April 2 and was renewed on June 2.

Commercial flights have resumed from the rebel-held capital Sanaa to Jordan and Egypt under the truce, and oil tankers are also permitted to dock at the crucial port of Hodeida. A two-month extension is expected to allow for the reopening of roads connecting cities and regions, the safe repatriation of more displaced persons, and the delivery of humanitarian aid to those who have been cut off from it for too long due to hostilities in Yemen.

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Israelis and Palestinians agree on one thing: Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity

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Much of Gaza City has been damaged as a result of Israeli air strikes. (file photo) © UNRWA/Mohamed Hinnawi

If there is one thing that Israelis and Palestinians agree on and religiously adhere to, it’s Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Israelis have long believed that overwhelming force, collective punishment, denial of rights, rejection of identity, humiliation, and a devastating Egyptian-supported 15-year-long blockade of the Gaza Strip would persuade Palestinians to surrender their national aspirations, accept a rewriting of history, and settle for Israeli control in exchange for economic opportunity.

Israeli officials hailed the decision by Hamas, the Islamists who control Gaza, not to become militarily involved in this month’s fight with Islamic Jihad, a militant Palestinian organization based in the strip, as evidence that the government’s strategy was working.

However, there is little reason to assume that Hamas has suddenly changed its leopard spots and surrendered the principle of armed struggle. On the contrary, it is more likely that Hamas wants to decide on the timing rather than let Islamic Jihad or Israel drag it into a conflict at a moment that suits their agendas.

The Israeli military said this week that it had sealed an attack tunnel Hamas dug from northern Gaza into Israel. It noted that an underground defensive barrier Israel completed in December had blocked the tunnel.

Even so, Israeli officials believe that Hamas’ refusal to join the fray constitutes proof that Israel’s strategy is working.

“What is happening now between Israel and Hamas is a de facto (ceasefire). It is a system of big sticks and sweet carrots. Hamas is receiving what it never got from Israel before and delivering the goods to residents. They understand the price they are paying, but realize the alternative is worse,” a senior Israeli military source told Al-Monitor.

With the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimating youth unemployment at 75 per cent, Israel is expected to incentivize Hamas by allowing thousands of Gazan workers return to work in Israel.

Israel is also considering increasing the number of Gazan work permits from 14,000 to 20,000. Furthermore, Israel may allow Gaza residents vetted by security to travel abroad on flights from an airport in southern Israel.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz argued in recent days that “for the past year, Israel has had a clear policy. On the one hand, a heavy hand against all violations of sovereignty and offensive and defensive efforts to prevent (attacks) on all fronts. On the other hand, a responsible civil and humanitarian policy strengthening moderate forces over terrorist organizations.”

It’s a strategy built on Israeli scholar Micah Goodmen’s notion of “shrinking the conflict.”

Mr. Goodman argued in a 2019 New York Times oped that this “wouldn’t solve or end the conflict… It would contain it, it would lessen it. It would broaden the Palestinians’ freedom of movement, their freedom to develop and their freedom to prosper — all without an Israeli military withdrawal, and therefore no security dangers for Israeli civilians.”

Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Goodman suggested that shrinking the conflict “would mitigate the risk of a deterioration into a one-state reality” in which Israeli Jews would likely no longer be a majority.

Mr. Goodman’s notion constitutes an acknowledgement that Israeli policy has not worked, even if Hamas appears to have become more selective in picking its fights.

The experience of the Palestinian Authority that has been rendered powerless because of Israel’s refusal to push for a definitive resolution of the conflict and the Authority’s mismanagement, corruption, and rivalry with Hamas, is likely to serve as a red line for the Islamists. They will want to ensure political, not just economic benefits.

Moreover, more than seven decades since the establishment of the State of Israel, Palestinians continue to cling to their national identity and aspirations. Yet, many implicitly acknowledge that ordinary Palestinians pay the price for violence that is not getting them closer to a solution.

“At the end of the day, the ones who lose are the people. Rockets fired into Israel don’t change anything. All they do is ensure that more civilians and children are killed. We have rights, but we have to find another way of securing them” said a West Bank resident.

Israel’s dilemma is that its future as a Jewish state and democracy may today be as threatened as it was in the early years when Arab armies were determined to wipe it off the map.

Today’s decreasing options for a solution to the century-old conflict constitute the most serious existential threat facing Israel rather than Palestinian violence, despite the wounding earlier this week of eight people when a Palestinian gunman attacked a bus in East Jerusalem.

To be sure, Israeli officials have linked the Gaza operation to stepped-up Israeli countering of Iran, widely viewed as the greatest threat to the existence of a Jewish state.

Israel’s increased focus on Iran comes at a time when the revival of the 2015 international agreement that curbed the Islamic republic’s nuclear program hangs in the balance.

Islamic Jihad maintains close ties to the Islamic republic. Ziad al-Nakhalah, the group’s top leader, was in Tehran meeting Iranian officials when Israel began its three-day operation against Gaza on August 5.

“Islamic Jihad has an open tab in Iran… Islamic Jihad in Gaza is a violent Iranian proxy,” Mr. Gantz said. He asserted that the group received tens of millions of dollars a year from Iran.

Journalist Ben Caspit noted that the assault on Islamic Jihad “was Israel’s first military operation against Gaza terrorist groups since 2009 from which it emerged with a sense of strategic victory” by “keeping Hamas out of the fighting, cutting Islamic Jihad down to size to contain its threat, and restoring its deterrence. On the other hand, metaphorically, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) as the neighborhood bully took on the weakest kid on the bloc.”

With or without Iranian support, Palestinians have fared no better than Israelis by adhering to Mr. Einstein’s definition of insanity.

Palestinian violence in the 1970s and 1980s served its purpose by putting the Palestinian issue on the world’s agenda. However, it has since contributed to taking it off the agenda of some Arab states like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain that in recent years established diplomatic relations with Israel and downgraded the issue’s importance to others like Saudi Arabia.

Add to that, a United States that has all but given up on pursuing peace between Palestinians and Israelis with no one willing to seriously replace America as a mediator, albeit a flawed one.

Palestinian Islamists continue to cling to the principle of armed resistance that primarily targets civilians in the illusion that violence will again succeed or in the hope that violence will keep Palestinians in the international public eye.

Meanwhile, despite making concessions such as recognizing Israel’s existence and abandoning the notion of armed struggle, moderates have failed to halt Israeli settlements and achieve a modicum of independence.

Moderation also has not prevented the hardening of Israeli public opinion and marginalization of the country’s dovish left.

Israel’s attack on Gaza in a bid to deal a fatal blow to Islamic Jihad, a group that rejects a negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a coalition of armed groups on the West Bank, serves as the latest affirmation of Mr. Einstein’s definition.

The attack and the Palestinian response have done little more than widen the gap between Israelis and Palestinians, entrenching self-serving positions at a time of Israeli election maneuvering and mounting Palestinian frustration and lack of confidence in leadership.

The international community, as does the Palestinian Authority that administers parts of the West Bank, cling to the notion of a Palestinian state alongside Israel in areas conquered by the Israelis during the 1967 Middle East war even if the presence of 670,000 Israeli settlers in 152 settlements in the territory as well as East Jerusalem makes partition extremely difficult, if not impossible.

In the final analysis, the de facto removal of the two-state option as a viable solution, turns solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by opting for one state for both Palestinians and Jews into an existential threat to Israeli democracy if both groups do not enjoy equal rights or to the Jewish nature of the state if they do.

In theory, the only other option would be a three-way solution involving some sort of federation, including Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians. But that may not go down well with Jordanians and could potentially aggravate the demographic threat to Israel.

In sum, failure to implement a two-state solution when possible may have made a solution to the conflict more intractable and perpetuated cycles of violence that undermine Israel’s social fabric and democracy.

“If there is one thing completely missing from the public agenda in Israel, it is the long-term view. Israel does not look ahead, not even by half a generation… There is not a single Israeli, not one, who knows where his country is headed,” noted controversial Israeli columnist Gideon Levi.

Mr. Levy could have said the same about Palestinians who know what they want, have no idea how to get there, and, true to Mr. Einstein, stick to strategies that, at best, are unproductive and, at worst, counterproductive.

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Assyrians are Not Refugees Who Settled in Iraq

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In recent years, some Kurdish and Arab politicians and wanna-be historians have been making statements that the Assyrians of Iraq were refugees from Hakkari, Turkey and that the British brought them to Iraq. This absurd and misleading statement spread as Assyrians were trying to find their place in the new Iraq post 2003 US invasion.

On October 3, 1932 Iraq became the 57th member of the League of Nations (replaced by the United Nations on October 24, 1945 post World War II). On December 15, 1932, an article titled “Iraq and the Assyrians” was published in the periodical The Near East and India. The article addressed the settlement of the Assyrians in Iraq. The Assyrian leaders have been pleading to solve the settlement issue before ending the British mandate over Iraq and before admitting Iraq into the League of Nations as a sovereign and independent state (planned for 1932). The Assyrian leaders warned the West that Iraqi leaders could not be trusted and that Assyrians are not safe under the rule of Arabs and Kurds.

Before going further into the article aforementioned there is an important point that the readers must understand. The Assyrians did not fall from Mars onto northern Iraq. The Assyrians have been living in Northern Mesopotamia from time immemorial and their dynasties established one of the greatest civilization and empire in the Near East. The fall of the last Assyrian dynasty, i.e., the Neo-Assyrian Empire, in 612 BC and the last capital in Harran in 609 BC did not mean the disappearance of the people. This is similar to the fall of the Roman, Greek, Persian and many other empires. The people of those empires survived. The Assyrians continued to live in and around the historic Assyrian capitals of Ashur (Qal’at Sharqat), Kalhu (Nimrud), Dur Sharukin (Khursabad), Nineveh (Nebi Yunis) and Harran in upper Mesopotamia or lived in new settlements near by those capitals, such as Mosul, Arbil, Kirkuk, Urfa (Urhai or Edessa), Nisibin, etc. that were centers of the Assyrians’ Christianity.

Assyria was occupied by several nations including the Medes, Greeks, Parthians, Romans, Sassanids, Arabs, Mongolians, Ottoman Turks and others in between. The Assyrians adopted Christianity during the time of the Apostles and remained Christians ever since. The Christological controversies that followed the Council of Ephesus (431) and the Council of Chalcedon (451) isolated these Assyrian denominational communities from each others. As the Church established further structure and hierarchy, the Churches of the Assyrians kept the various Assyrian communities together, each under its leader, the patriarchs. The Assyrian denominational terms Nestorian and Jacobite were born. Later, in 1681 in Diyar Bekir (Turkey) and in 1830 in northern Iraq (Alqosh) the conversion of Assyrians to Catholicism isolated more Assyrians as the term Chaldean was given to these converts.

With the clear establishment of these denominations, a clear distribution of the Assyrian population was shaped. The Nestorian Assyrians lived as a concentrated region of the Hakkari Mountains (Van Province) and Urmia region in Persia, Jacobite Assyrians in the Tur Abdin/Diyar Bekir region (Sandschak Zor and Diyar Bekir Provinces) and Chaldean Assyrians in Nineveh region/Arbil/Kirkuk (Mosul Province); however, these various denominational groups were intermixed in some locations. Despite this denominational separation, they all continued to refer to themselves as Suraye, which is Asuraye or Assuraye, meaning Assyrians.

The genocide of World War I (1914-1918) committed against the Assyrians by Turks and Kurds in Hakkari and Tur ‘Abdin (today both in modern Turkey) forced the Assyrians out. One escape route ended the Assyrians first in the camp of Baquba (1918 near Baghdad) and then in the camp of Mindan (1920 near Mosul) via Urmia, Persia.

Map of the Ottoman Empire divided by provinces Before its Fall in 1922

The other route ended up in Qamishli and Aleppo as genocide continued even after the Ottoman Empire had collapsed and the Turkish State was created in 1922. Therefore, the Assyrians were basically displaced because of genocide from one province to another within the same Ottoman Empire, i.e., from Hakkari to Mosul and from Diyar Bekir/Tur Abdin to Qamishli/Aleppo. Those displaced refugees from Hakkari and Urmia joined their Catholic brethren, the Chaldean Assyrians, in Mosul Province. Therefore, the Assyrians did not migrate from some foreign planet to Mosul Province considering also that there were Assyrians in Mosul region since the fall of the Assyrian Empire and these Assyrians after converting to Catholicism became known as Chaldeans.

Another important issue is the similarity in the geographical terrain. One of the principle Assyrian regions was the highlands that starts from Mosul (today in Iraq) and extends all the way to southern Lake Van (today in Turkey). The Assyrian people lived throughout these highlands. This continuation of topography was not divided politically until the official fall of the Ottoman Empire in November 1, 1922. After many disagreements, protests and negotiations, the British and the Turks finally signed the Treaty of Ankara on June 5, 1926 by which both states recognized the Brussels line (with some minor modifications) as the frontier between the two new created states of Iraq and Turkey. Even if we consider this new frontier, we need to understand that the large Assyrian region of Lower Barwar was always part of the Ottoman’s Mosul Province (Iraq) – the Assyrians of Lower Barwar did not migrate from Turkey to Iraq per se, unlike those of Upper Barwar.

During World War I, British and French representatives, Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges Picot, authored a secret agreement (concluded on May 19, 1916 ) regarding the future spoils of the Ottoman Empire that was expected to lose the war. After few modifications and incidents, the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq was created from the three Ottoman provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra and immediately placed it under the British mandate. Modern Turkey, Iraq, Syria and other states in the region did not exist before 1921/22. Therefore, we cannot say that in 1918 people moved from Turkey to Iraq because Turkey and Iraq did not exist at the time.

Now back to the December 5, 1932 The Near East and India article, which stated that the Council of the League of Nations considered the question of the settlement of the 40,000 [Nestorian] Assyrians in Iraq. At the council meeting, Nuri al-Said, the prime minister of Iraq stated: “The government of Iraq is determined to assure the prosperity, the happiness and the tranquility of all inhabitants of Iraq. It is following the best and most practical path to this end, allowing itself to be guided by the most human principles, by considerations of the general interest and by respect for existing laws.”

It took only few months later from the promise of the Iraqi prime minister that 3,000 Assyrians were massacred in the state-sponsored Simele Genocide in August 1933. The Assyrians continue to be persecuted and oppressed in Iraq by the Arab and the Kurdish authorities as the leaders and historians of Arabs and Kurds continue to claim that the Assyrians were refugees from Turkey and Persia (later Iran) and needed to be relocated or settled outside Iraq, if they had any conditions or hard to meet conditions, regardless how reasonable.

One important note, Kurdish nationalists and writers claim that the Allies post WWI divided Kurdistan into north, south, east and west Kurdistans. Such wild claims must never be allowed to spread. Unlike the well established and historic Assyrian Empire, there never existed an official state or country on the world map under the name of Kurdistan. After European travelers and missionaries visited the Middle East region, they encountered the nomad Kurds and soon a border-less and unofficial region under such name began to be inserted on certain Middle East maps to reflect the presence of these stateless people. In 1946, a Kurdish state under the name of Mahabad Republic was established in west Iran, but it was crushed by the Iranian army after 11 months. The Kurdish nationalists have promoted an aggressive Kurdification campaign to erase the Assyrian history from northern Iraq and replace it with Kurdish history.

Education empowers people – it enables them to understand. When they understand, they discuss issues affecting them with confidence, logically and accurately. Assyrians and other undermined people around the world must participate in this great battle of survival armed with education, because they must not let the murderers or oppressors write the history. The Assyrians are the indigenous people of Iraq – history and archeology proves that. Throughout history, many Assyrians were forced to flee their homes and lands of northern Iraq (occupied Assyria) because of massacres and persecution.

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