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Iraqi Assyrians cling to roots even far from home

Wednesday, December 26, 2007
By The Associated Press - Julianna Barbassa

assyrians cling to root

From left, Isaac Samow poses for a portrait with his daughter Hala and wife Ziada at home in Modesto on Friday.

Successive waves of Assyrians have landed here in California's Central Valley, beginning with those who fled a massacre by Turks near the end of World War I. MODESTO - Isaac Samow's ancestors have occupied Mesopotamia for millennia, surviving innumerable conquests and massacres.

The headstones in the cemetery of his hometown near Mosul, Iraq, document centuries of his family's history there, and the ancient ruins that dot the arid plain near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers tell of his people's role in building humanity's first cities.

Yet another war is now threatening the survival of Assyrian culture and language - a derivation of the tongue spoken by Jesus - in its native land.

Among the first converts to Christianity, thousands of Assyrians have fled since the U.S. invasion. Samow's relatives are scattered through Canada, Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, Greece, Holland, England, Sweden and Germany.

Others are refugees in Syria, Jordan, and inside Iraq, not knowing whether they can return to cities and towns carved into Sunni or Shiite enclaves. In such a climate, minorities like Assyrians Christians face an uncertain future.

"My children speak my language, but what about my grandchildren?" Samow said from his home in Modesto. "If there are no Assyrians left in Mesopotamia, how will our culture live?"

Successive waves of Assyrians have landed here in California's Central Valley, beginning with those who fled a massacre by Turks near the end of World War I.

They were joined by families who escaped Iran when an Islamic revolution overthrew the monarchy in 1979, then by new arrivals escaping the first Gulf War, when Samow came here with his family. A similar Assyrian community also thrives in Chicago.

But with their numbers now dangerously low in the region where Iran, Iraq and Turkey meet, Assyrians here fear the current wave of migration could mark their end. Community leaders in the United States are working to support Assyrians back home.

The Assyrian American Civic Club of Turlock is housed in a fortress-like hall decorated with winged bulls that have human heads - a traditional Assyrian protective figure known as a lamassus. An old map on the wall shows population centers that no longer exist.

"Once, most villages in that area were Assyrian," said the club's president, Fred Betmaleck, who is Iranian-Assyrian. "Now there are very few left."

The club works to keep Assyrian culture alive by hosting a radio station that plays Assyrian music and carries community news, and holds festivals, such as the Assyrian New Year's celebration known as Kha-b-Nissan, in the spring.

Members also raised money through dances and raffles to help Assyrians who remain in Iraq.

"We try to help them stay there as much as possible, because when you leave, you never go back," said Betmaleck. "We encourage them not to come, but when there's persecution, what can you do?"

For Isaac Samow, staying was just too risky an option.

He and his wife took their seven children - the youngest a 1-year-old that Samow strapped to his back - on a dangerous hike across the rugged snow-covered mountains between Iraq and Turkey.

He spent all the money he'd saved from his job as a construction contractor to smuggle his family to the dirt-floor tents of a Turkish refugee camp, then to Istambul. They spent a year and a half in Greece before, with Red Cross help, they applied for asylum and were accepted into the United States in December 1992.

Now, 15 years and another Iraq invasion later, the family is safe, but they worry about family members back home, and about the survival of their culture.

"We feel this could be the end of a people who have survived since Babylonian times," said Zack Samow, 34, Isaac's oldest son. "This could be the wave that pushes Assyrians out of their homeland for good."

Relatives and friends in Iraq have found menacing notes on their doors and heard of churches being bombed. The priest in Samow's hometown of Telkaif disconnected his phone to stop the barrage of threats, the family said.

As cities and towns are reshaped at gunpoint into homogenized Sunni, Shia or Kurdish territory, groups without their own militias or political power are left vulnerable to attacks, said Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom and a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Assyrian Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities have been particularly hard-hit by the sectarian violence, she said. Among those leaving are Jews; Sabean-Mandeans, who follow John the Baptist; Yazidis, ethnic Kurds whose religion precedes Christianity and Islam; Baha'i and Iraqi Turkmen, Shea said.

They might dress differently from their Muslim neighbors, speak other languages and pursue businesses that make them stand out - selling liquor, for example. In addition to a construction business, Samow also ran three eating and drinking establishments in Iraq.

Besides their religion, the fact that many speak English and work as translators means they're also often seen as siding with the United States, said Bill Frelick, refugee policy director for Human Rights Watch.

"They're not just being hunted down because of their religious identity," Frelick said. "Many of them are regarded as being pro-Western."

Their absence could allow the region to become less tolerant as it loses the diversity that has characterized it for centuries. And that could have long-term geopolitical consequences, Shea said.

"It's a profound loss," Shea said. "These populations have lived together for a long time, but if this continues, it will not be a plural society any more. It'll be devoid of non-Muslims."









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Kanoon II - January

Iraqi Assyrians cling to roots even far from home Jan. 4, 2008

Kannoon I = December

Iraqi Army delivers Christmas Season Tidings to Assyrian Students Dec. 17, 07

international Genocide Scholars Association Officially recognizes Assyrian, Greek Genocide Dec. 15, 07

Armenia should be the first country to recognise the Assyrian Genocide! Dec. 14, 07

Arrested in Kirkuk a gang specialised in kidnapping Christian doctors Dec. 14, 07

Charities hope to help Iraqi Christians Dec. 14, 07

Assyrian Professor Dies From Stab Wound Dec. 13, 07

Iraqi Christian woman and brother found dead in city with rise in religious vigilante killings Dec. 11, 07

Iraqi Assyrians: Barometer of Pluralism Dec. 11, 07

Assyrians in Syria Ask for Historical and Political Recognition
Dec. 10, 07

Baghdad Christians Celebrate Sunday Mass Dec. 10, 07

Vigilantes kill 40 women in Iraq's south Dec. 8, 07

Assyrians: From Bedr Khan to Saddam Hussein Dec. 8, 07

Sabri Attman's lecture tour in US Dec. 8, 07

My Email to Scott Pelley of "60 Minutes" Regarding his Dec. 2, 2007 Report on Christians in Iraq Dec. 7, 07

Christians leaving Basra despite decades of co-existence
Dec. 7, 07

Prize Pianist: Van Cliburn winner was short on confidence but long on talent Dec. 7, 07

Middle East the cradle of Christianity Dec. 6, 07

For Iraqi refugees in Lebanon either prison or repatriation
Dec. 5, 07

(CBS) 60 Minute's Report : Vicar: Dire Times For Iraq's Christians
Dec. 3, 07

Teesheen II = November

Dire Times For Iraq's Christians Nov.30, 07

US Warns Oil Firms Against Signing Kurdish Contacts Nov.29, 07

Assyrian Priest Kidnapped in South-eastern Turkey Released
Nov.29, 07

Religion does not seem to be the cause of Syriac Orthodox priest’s abduction Nov.29, 07

Christian Priest Kidnapped In S.East Turkey Nov.29, 07

Kidnappers Demand 300,000 Euros for Assyrian Priest Nov.27, 07

Future of Iraq's looted past looking brighter Nov.27, 07

Assyrian Priest kidnapped in south-eastern Turkey Nov.27, 07

Present-day Turkey doesn’t leave chance for Armenian Genocide recognition Nov.27, 07

Despite being left at the mercy of terrorists, Christians continue to hope, says bishop of Mosul Nov.27, 07

Iraqi Oil Minister 'Can Cancel Contracts Signed With Kurds'
Nov.27, 07

Sargis Aghajan Misrepresents Facts, Kanna Says Nov.26, 07

"Syriac Federation Germany (HSA)" Press Release Nov.26, 07

Chaplains Struggle to Protect Monastery in Iraq Nov.26, 07

National Museum of Iraq to reopen Nov.25, 07

St. John’s Church Reopens in Baghdad Nov.24, 07

Assyrian, native of Iraq works for the Congressman Radanovich
Nov.24, 07

The fears and hopes of Iraqi Christians Nov.23, 07

Ashur T.V. program nov. 23, 07 Nov.23, 07

Forthcoming visit of Bishop Audo to England Nov.22, 07

Zowaa's Response to Mullah Bukhtyar Nov.20, 07

Family of forgers fool art world with beautifully crafted fakes
Nov.20, 07

Keeping Christianity Alive in Iraq Nov.20, 07

Al-Qaida-linked Group Behind Attacks in North Iraq Nov.20, 07

General Says North Iraq Most Violent Region Nov.19, 07

Turkish Hackers Targeting Assyrian Websites Nov.19, 07

Invaders and Allies Ignore Iraq's Humanitarian Crisis Nov.18, 07

Kurdish Ministry of Finance Prejudicially Targeting ChaldoAssyrians Nov.18, 07

Dutch Parliament Debates Aid Package for Assyrians in Iraq
Nov.17, 07

Mosul - Another “Paradise Lost”? Nov.16, 07

Baghdad’s “successes” vs Mosul’s “hell” Nov.15, 07




America Welcomes Sabri Atman Nov.12, 07

Faith faces extinction in Iraq: only about 5,000 Mandaeans remain there. Nov.11, 07

Assyrian Church Wins Two-year Court Battle Nov.11, 07

Assyrian Lobbyist Appointed In Brussels Nov.11, 07

Seminar by Sabri Atman in Los Angeles Nov.9, 07

Iraq's Christian villages offer homes and safe haven Nov.9, 07

Dutch Parliament Hearing on Assyrians of Iraq Nov.9, 07

Christians seek new life in Europe Nov.8, 07

Car Bomb explosion in the Assyrian town of Telesqof Nov.8, 07

Close to 2500 Assyrian university students fear studying in Mosul
Nov.8, 07

Yonadam Kanna will visit Europe later this month Nov.8, 07

Assyrian Democratic Organization's Letter to the Pope
Nov. 7, 07

Christians would be main victims of attack by Turkey in northern Iraq Nov. 6, 07

Iraqis recount tales of horror INSPIRATION Nov. 6, 07

Assyrian, Armenian Genocide Monument Erected in Wales
Nov. 5, 07

Rosie Malek Younan Gust Staring on Life Nov. 4, 07

Mandeans face extinction in Iraq Nov. 4, 07

Kayseri constructs world’s largest cuneiform monument
Nov. 3, 07

Kurdish Official Denies Assyrian, Turkomen Land Claims
Nov. 3, 07

Threat of war looms over Assyrian village Nov. 3, 07

IRAQ's Power stations close due to lack of oil Nov. 3, 07

Iraqi Christians Stranded in Jordan Nov. 2, 07

Iraq's Christians Face Extinction, Advocacy Group Says
Nov. 1, 07

Genocide researcher calls on Turks to push their government to Recognize genocide Nov. 1, 07

Tishreen I = October

Iraq’s vulnerable Christian minority gets promise of support
Oct. 31, 07

Over 200 British MPs recognize Armenian Genocide Oct. 30, 07

Assyrian poet Sargon Boulus dies at age 63 Oct. 30, 07

Two British Armenian Political Action Groups Acknowledge the Assyrian Genocide Oct. 22, 07

Rosie Malek-Yonan’s latest role in New Line Cinema’s Renditionn Oct. 22, 07

Iraqis who fled homes in fear face new terror as Turkey targets PKK rebels Oct. 21, 07

Iraqi Christians Spurned by U.N. Oct. 21, 07

The UN and the Assyrians of Iraq Oct. 19, 07

Air America Radio Program about the Christian Assyrians of Iraq
Oct. 19, 07

Bishop decries government's indifference to the Abduction of the Priests Oct. 18, 07

Assyria or Kurdistan? Oct. 18, 07

Patriarch Emmanuel Delly ordained as cardinal by the Pope Oct. 17, 07

The Assyrian and Armenian Genocides of 1915 Oct. 17, 07

Islam's Peace Offensive Oct. 16, 07

Heroes behind an epic Oct. 16, 07

Oct. 16, 07

Margareta Viklund replies to Nemrod Baitos accusations
Oct. 15, 07

Imperiled Christian family abandons its cherished homeland Oct. 14, 07

Pope urges Iraqi priests' release Oct. 14, 07

Two Assyrian Priests abducted in Mosul Oct. 13, 07

Muslim scholars in call for peace with Christians Oct. 11, 07

Iraq's Ex-oil Chief Accuses Kurds of Suspect Contract
Oct. 11, 07

Palestinians Crucify the Holy Land Oct. 11, 07

Assyrians killed in Mosul and Baghdad Oct. 10, 07

About the two women killed in Baghdad Oct. 10, 07

Archbishop tells of 'harrowing’ suffering of Iraqi refugees
Oct. 9, 07

Devastating Last Thoughts on Iraq Oct. 7, 07

Music pearls of Beth - Nahrin Oct. 4, 07

In Basra, vigilantes wage deadly campaign against women
Oct. 4, 07

George Malki excels, in soccer and in school. Oct. 3, 07

Who Committed the Yezidi Massacre in North Iraq? Oct. 3, 07

Bishops fear for future of Iraqi Christians Oct. 3, 07

Arabs quitting Iraq's Kirkuk Oct. 3, 07

The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh
Oct. 2, 07



August - September 07

June - July 07

May - April 07

February - March 07

December 06 - January 07

October, November 06

August, September 06

June, July 06
March April May 06
February 06
December05 Januray 06