WASHINGTON – Assyrians were joined by faith-based leaders and religious freedom activists on Monday in a White House rally to call U.S. political leaders to "save" Iraq’s "most vulnerable population."
Christians for Assyrians of Iraq (CAI) organized a rally to raise awareness of the plight of Iraq’s Assyrian (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) Christian population which has been called a humanitarian crisis.
"This should be a priority because Assyrian Christians are the indigenous people of Iraq and many people don’t know that," explained Paul Isaac, one of the rally’s organizers. "Because of their small population, weak status, and lack of regional support they have no one to protect them from all the violence."
Isaac pointed to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) report statistic that although Assyrians comprise only five percent of Iraq’s population, they make up nearly 40 percent of the refugees fleeing Iraq. He said that although all the ethnic and religious groups are suffering in Iraq, "it is clear that the Assyrian Christians are suffering by far the most…and they really have no one to protect them…"
In addition to the troubling Assyrian refugee statistic, there has been a rise in reports of persecution of Assyrian Christians in Iraq. Recently, in October, a 14-year-old boy near Mosul died by a crucifixion-murder. In the same month, Father Paulis Iskander was beheaded in Mosul.
"Christians in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East are an inconvenient minority," said the Rev. Keith Roderick, Christian Solidarity International’s Washington representative. "Even though they are indigenous they are made to feel as they are interlopers."
Roderick added that 27 churches in Iraq have been attacked or bombed in the past two years and 13 Christian Assyrian women were kidnapped and murdered in August.
CAI’s solution is the formation of an autonomous zone in Iraq for Assyrians and other Christians. The zone, called the Nineveh Plains Administrative Unit, is likened to a state where Assyrians and Christians can practice their faith, speak and teach their language, and work without fear of persecution.