U.S.CIRF-- Recommendations for the Protection of the Indigenous Aramean Christians of Iraq

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
Meeting on Iraq’s vulnerable religious minorities
Statement by the Syriac Universal Alliance
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
Washington D.C., USA

Recommendations for the Protection of the Indigenous Aramean Christians of Iraq

Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

The Syriac Universal Alliance (hereafter: SUA) expresses its deep appreciation to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (hereafter: USCIRF) for convening this urgent meeting to address the grave situation of Iraq’s vulnerable ethno-religious minorities.

The SUA is also grateful for the invitation to contribute to this pertinent roundtable discussion and is already looking forward to potential follow-up activities and dialogues.

Dear Chairperson, my name is Julianne Barsoum, and I am joined by Jeffrey Ephraim and Denise Elnajjar. We are the SUA’s Human Rights and UN NGO Delegates to the United Nations (hereafter: UN) Headquarters in New York City.

Since 1999, the SUA is the only Aramaic-speaking NGO with a consultative status at the UN. Based in Sweden, the SUA serves, defends and promotes the worldwide interests of the Aramean people, who include the Chaldean, Syriac (Orthodox and Catholic) and Nestorian (sometimes known as ‘Assyrian’) Christians of Iraq.1

Intimidation, death threats, rape, mass killings, kidnappings and forced conversions to Islam are all part of the horrific story that explains why the Aramean Christians urgently need protection. A few days ago, a couple was gunned down in their Baghdad home in what is the latest incident in a string of ethno-religious-rooted attacks against Aramean Christians in Iraq.

In order to put an immediate end to the ongoing assaults against the Aramean Christians, the SUA is closely cooperating with national governments, the United Nations, the European Union and the Council of Europe. We have just released a 29-page report on Iraq, entitled “Recommendations for the Protection of the Indigenous Aramean Christians of Iraq.”

The report contains ten (10) critical questions and a number of recommendations addressed to the Iraqi Government and the International Community. Our proposals are split into Short, Medium and Long term solutions. We are delighted to share our report with you. Please allow me to sum it up very briefly before we can continue discussing policy options and exchanging thoughts and ideas.

Brief Summary of the Report
Our report leaves from the irrefutable premise that the Arameans and their Aramaic language have formed an integral part of Iraq for 3,000 years and that its local Aramaic Christianity has a history of 2,000 years.

However, the Aramean Christians are at the verge of extinction today. Once numbering between 800,000 to 1.4 million in 2003, they now number approximately 400,000 to 600,000. Thus, the SUA argues for the protection and continuation of the Aramean people and cultural heritage within Iraq’s mosaic of ethnicities, religions and languages.

Clearly, the systemic chaos which is rampant in parts of Iraq has added fuel to the fire across the country. The lack of real government has also lead to a direct lack of leadership and strength of direction for society. Yet, the peaceful and nonviolent Aramean Christians have been disproportionately affected by the violence. They yearn for security, peace, real safety and a future in the land of their ancestors. But it cannot be stressed enough that they truly are in great danger today and need international support as a matter of urgent priority.

After the report discusses four (4) of the most critical issues facing the Aramean Christians – i.e. the urgent need of Peacekeepers, Arameans who stay in their homeland while others flee and seek (temporary) asylum, the refugee crisis and the issue of an autonomous area – and ten (10) critical and unanswered questions are noted, the SUA offers several recommendations to the Iraqi Government and the International Community. These include, for example:

1. Short Term Solutions
1.1 The provision of real security and peace:
- immediately act to prevent the tide of emigration from Iraq growing any larger by
taking necessary security and safety measures in Aramean Christian populated areas.
- immediately aid the refugees outside of Iraq.
- implement a policy of true representation of Iraqi Christians in the police force that can police their own local communities under the auspices of the Iraqi Police Force
- resolve the fact that certain police forces have been infiltrated by corrupt individuals
or militia groups. As illustrated by the recent Baghdad Church massacre, the police
are also quite unprofessional and may not be trusted in certain circumstances.
1.2 Reinforce that Aramean Christians Stay in Iraq, their indigenous homeland:
Arameans who remain in Iraq must be protected by all means, while others who flee the country must be given a status as temporary asylum seekers, so that they can return safely when the political and social culture has realigned to a more positive state

2. Medium Term Solutions
2.1 Conduct thorough and full investigations into all Aramean killings, discrimination, forced conversions, abuse, land expropriations and other human rights abuses in Iraq:
Form an Independent Commission (lead by prominent Christian leaders).
2.2 United Nations and EU Peacekeeping forces:
Either create a new Peacekeeping force to be deployed into Christian areas or the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq must extend and expand its mission beyond 1 July 2011.

3. Long Term Solutions
3.1 The Refugee Question:
- As part of Iraq’s refugee crisis, numerous Arameans have been displaced both within and outside Iraq. The number of internally displaced persons is growing and many of these families complain about a lack of help and therefore require urgent assistance.
- There must be the right of return for all Aramean Christians to their original indigenous lands which have been expropriated from them or left under pressure after the first Gulf War in 1990-1991.
3.2 Autonomy:
About the issue of autonomy, Article 125 of Iraq’s Constitution is unclear in its scope or application. Presently, in the very fragile situation, the SUA is somewhat sceptical of autonomy, but suggests that the situation be monitored and reviewed on an annual basis after a process of collaboration, consultation and democratic discourse taking place with all relevant parties involved. Currently, we consider a united Iraq with a Federal system of government as the best possible solution for Iraqi society at large.

The recent spate of attacks leave no doubt that the time to act is now. If we act too late, the situation of the Aramean Christians of Southeast Turkey may serve as a vivid example of how an indigenous people and civilization in less than a few decades of time can effectively be eradicated in their ancient soil and silently replaced by historically foreign entities.

Thank you for your attention.

Syriac Universal Alliance




1. See, for example, Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch in his The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch At A Glance (1983), p. 12: “The Syriac language is the Aramaic language itself, and the Arameans are the Syrians themselves. He who has made a distinction between them has erred.”
Patriarch Emmanuel Delly III of the Chaldean Church of Babylon (Interview to Ankawa in October, 2008): “I would like to state that we, the Chaldeans, Assyrians and Syriacs are one people that is known as the Aramean people.”



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