Skip to comments.Protester Discovered Truth in Iraq: I Was Wrong About War
Posted on 04/04/2003 1:18:15 PM PST by Remedy
I was wrong. I had opposed the war on Iraq in my radio program, on television and in my regular columnsand I participated in demonstrations against it in Japan. But a visit to relatives in Baghdad radically changed my mind.
I am an Assyrian Christian, born and raised in Japan, where my father had moved after World War II to help rebuild the country. He was a Protestant minister, and so am I.
As an Assyrian I was told the story of our people from a young agehow my grandparents had escaped the great Assyrian Holocaust in 1917, settling finally in Chicago. There are some 6 million Assyrians now, about 2.5 million in Iraq and the rest scattered across the world. Without a country and rights even in our native land, it has been the prayer of generations that the Assyrian Nation will one day be restored.
A few weeks ago, I traveled to Iraq with supplies for our church and family. This was my first visit ever to the land of my forefathers. The first order of business was to attend church. During a simple meal for peace activists after the service, an older man sounded me out carefully.
Finally he felt free to talk: "There is something you should knowwe didnt want to be here tonight. When the priest asked us to gather for a Peace Service, we said we didnt want to come because we dont want peace. We want the war to come." "What in the world are you talking about?" I blurted.
Thus began a strange odyssey that shattered my convictions. At the same time, it gave me hope for my people and, in fact, hope for the world.
Because of my invitation as a "religious person" and family connections, I was spared the government snoops who ordinarily tail foreigners 24 hours a day.
This allowed me to see and hear amazing things as I stayed in the homes of several relatives. The head of our tribe urged me not to remain with my people during its time of trial but instead go out and tell the world about the nightmare ordinary Iraqis are going through.
I was to tell the world about the terror on the faces of my family when a stranger knocked at the door. "Look at our lives!" they said. We live like animalsno food, no car, no telephone, no joband, most of all, no hope."
Thats why they wanted this war.
"You can not imagine what it is to live like this for 20, 30 years. We have to keep up our routine lest we would lose our minds."
But I realized in every household that someone had already lost his or her mind; in other societies such a person would be in a mental hospital. I also realized that there wasnt a household that did not mourn at least one family member who had become a victim of this police state.
I wept with relatives whose son just screamed all day long. I cried with a relative who had lost his wife. Yet another left home every day for a "job" where he had nothing to do. Still another had lost a son to war and a husband to alcoholism.
As I observed the slow death of a people without hope, Saddam Hussein seemed omnipresent. There were his statues; posters showed him with his hand outstretched or firing his rifle, or wearing an Arab headdress. These images seemed to be on every wall, in the middle of the road, in homes.
"Everything will be all right when the war is over," people told me. "No matter how bad it is, we will not all die. Twelve years ago, it went almost all the way but failed. We cannot wait anymore. We want the war, and we want it now."
When I told members of my family that some sort of compromise with Iraq was being worked out at the United Nations, they reacted not with joy but anger: "Only war will get out of our present condition."
This reminded me of the stories I heard from older Japanese who had welcomed the sight of American B-29 bombers in the skies over their country as a sign that the war was coming to an end. True, these planes brought destructionbut also hope.
I felt terrible about having demonstrated against the war without bothering to ask what the Iraqis wanted. Tears streamed down my face as I lay in my bed in a tiny Baghdad house crowded in with 10 other people of my own flesh and blood, all exhausted, all without hope. I thought, "How dare I claim to speak for people I had not even asked what they wanted?"
Then I began a strange journey to let the world know of the true situation in Iraq, just as my tribe had begged me to. With great risk to myself and those who had told their stories and allowed my camera into their homes, I videotaped their plight.
But would I get that tape out of the country?
To make sure I was not simply getting the feelings of the oppressed Assyrian minority, I spoke to dozens of other people, all terrified. Over and over, they told me: "We would be killed for speaking like this."
Yet they did speak, though only in private homes or when other Iraqis had assured them that no government minder was watching over me.
I spoke with a former army member, with someone working for the police, with taxi drivers, store owners, mothers and government officials. All had the same message: "Please bring on the war. We may lose our lives, but for our childrens sake, please, please end our misery."
On my last day in Baghdad, I saw soldiers putting up sandbags. By their body language, these men made it clear that they dared not speak but hated their work; they were unmistakably on the side of the common people.
I wondered how my relatives felt about the United States and Britain. Their feelings were mixed. They have no love for the alliesbut they trust them.
"We are not afraid of the American bombing. They will bomb carefully and not purposely target the people," I was told. "What we are afraid of is Saddam and the Baath Party will do when the war begins."
The final call for help came at the most unexpected placethe border, where crying members of my family sent me off.
The taxi fares from Baghdad to Amman had risen within one day from $100 to $300, to $500 and then to $1,000 by nightfall.
My driver looked on anxiously as a border guard patted me down. He found my videotapes, and I thought: Its all over!
For once I experienced what my relatives were going through 365 days a yearsheer terror. Quietly, the officer laid the tapes on a desk, one by one. Then he looked at mewas it with sadness or with anger? Who knows?
He clinically shook his head and without a word handed all the tapes back to me. He didnt have to say anything. He spoke the only language left to these imprisoned Iraqisthe silent language of human kindness.
"Please take these tapes and show them to the world," was his silent message. "Please help us...and hurry!"
The Rev. Ken Joseph Jr. directs Assyrian Christians and is currently completing the book, I Was Wrong, and speaking about his experience in Iraq.
The Forgotten Christians
By Ken Joseph, Jr.
With signs of war with Iraq increasing every day lost amidst the fog of war are a small, once proud and once very influential people.
For some reason almost completely ignored in the current discussions are 2.5 million Assyrian Christians. Scattered throughout Iraq, but primarily near the city of Nineveh currently known as Mosul these remnants of the great Assyrian Empire are frozen in time.
It is their history that is little known. It was to them that Jonah came to bring the message of repentance and they repented. It was to them that the Apostle Thomas came and their King Addai repented for his people and Assyria in the first century became the first Christian Nation.
The Assyrian Empire ended in 612BC and the Assyrian Monarchy was abolished in 300 AD.
It is them that according to Kenneth Scott Lautorette became `The largest Missionary Force in History` carrying the gospel as far as China and Japan with recent discoveries confirming a presence as early as 86AD in China.
It is the Assyrians that still speak Aramaic the language that Jesus spoke.
But the Assyrians because of their Christian Faith have suffered greatly in an area that is almost completely Muslim. Opressed by the Persians, Mongols, Turks, Arabs in World War II nearly 2/3 of the Assyrian population died.
Currently the majority of the Assyrian Christians are in Iraq with approximately 100,000 in the Norther No Fly Zone, approximately 1 million in central Iraq and another 100,000 scattered in the south along with a population of approximately 4 million Kurds and 800,000 Turkomans - all Muslim.
Another approximately 1.8 million Assyrians are outside of Iraq primarly in Iran, Syria and in the US, Australia and Europe.
According to Wilfred Alkhas who edits a Magazine for the Assyrian Diaspora `One of the little known facts concerning the Middle East is the role of the Christians. Previous to the rise of Khomeni in Iran Islam was generally a tolerant religion. Large groups of Christians, Jews, Zorasterians and others lived peacefully in majority Muslim populations for generations.
Following the radicalization of Islam, though nearly 90% of the Christians in the Middle East have left finding it impossible to live under the opression of radicalized Islamic states.
The reality of the current situation in the Middle East is in many ways more economic than political as the economic system has basically colapsed giving rise to young men with no hope for a job and a future willing to give their lives for radical ideas that in normal economic times would be unheard of.
The reason being that it was the Christians that ran most of the small businesses in the Middle East which kept the local economies growing. Their departure was in many ways what triggered the present economic collapse.
Running small grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants the Christians exerted leadership in an area that with its prohibition of even the charging of interest has not been able to be taken over by the Muslim majority.
Currently the Assyrian Christians are in a extremely precarious situation. Sandwiched between the Kurds who are Muslims and supported throug the United Nations weapons for peace program, the Turkomans, also Muslims supported by Turkey they are a minority of Christians in a region with the exception of Israel exclusively Muslim.
Grudingly allowed to participate in in the local Kurdish Parliement the Assyrian Christians have five seats out of 105 they are extremely fearful of any post-Sadaam government.
Currently the State Department is attempting to0 put together a coalition of Iraqi Nationalist Groups to decide on a future Government but the Assyrian Christians as the only non-Islamic group in the mix are at a decided advantage.
Iraq for all its fault is a secular nation governed by a secular Baathist Party. The Vice President, Mr. Tarig Aziz is a Christian and the Church is allowed the most freedom of any country in the Middle East with the exception of Egypt.
The Assyrian Archibishop for Iraq, Mar. Gewargis pleads for help for his people and Church `We understand the concern and support of the Christians in the West for Israel but find it hard to understand why the Church does not have the same concern and support. For all its faults the Iraqi government has built Churches for the Christians`.
In response to the current situation The Keikyo Institute an organization assisting Assyrians particularly in Asia is asking Christians throughout the world to first pray for the Christians in Iraq, then to contact their legislators to request that the Christians be represented in the post-Sadaam Iraqi government.
According to Wilfred Alkhas who represents the younger generation of the Assyrian Disaspora `It has been our prayer for generations that we will be able to regain our country - Assyria which was promised to the Assyrian people under the treaty of Lasuanne in 1923 and at the very least to have an autonomous zone in the area previously promised to the Assyrians.`
At the very least the Assyrian Church is calling to the Church at large to support their status in the land that is historically theirs as the first Christian nation in the world.
The next few months are extremely critical as the plans for a post-Sadaam Iraq are put together and the government and divisions of authority are being decided. Anything other than at the very least autonomy for the Assyrian Christians in their traditional homeland in Northern Iraq, centered around the city of Nineveh, present day Mosul could very well result in another bloodbath that could see the last of the only major Christian presence in the Middle East gone forever.
About Ken Joseph Jr.
Iraqis call for post-war self-rule The leader of a new group of Iraqi opposition figures in exile has rejected plans for a US military administration in post-war Iraq, and called for a UN-backed transitional authority to be set up.
The gathering of the Independent Iraqis for Democracy (IID) opened this morning. It was attended by participants from around the world, many from the United States, including Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims and Kurds.
The IID consists mainly of liberal, independent figures. Participants at the meeting also included two important religious Shi'ite figures, Mohamed Bahr al Ulum, and Hussein al Sadr.
It is keen to distinguish itself from the mainstream US-backed opposition, which consists of six groups including the Iraqi National Congress (INC) of Ahmed Chalabi and the two main Kurdish parties.
New Petition: Transform Iraq into beacon Albert Yelda, an Assyrian Christian with influence over more than 1.5 million Iraqi Christians, including Assyrians and Chaldeans. Yelda, cofounder of the Iraqi National Congress, split off from the Moslem-dominated group in 1999 to form the Iraqi National Coalition. He has been part of the Iraqi opposition since 1973, while living in Iraq.
The Bush administration must understand the need for a government not controlled by any one religion, like elsewhere in the Middle East. To promote and groom only Shi'ite groups, such as the "supreme council of Islamic revolution in Iraq," Iraqi communists and "ex" Baath party members to key positions in the post-Saddam government is a mistake. Members of such groups are today in Washington D.C. Pro-democracy figures of the Iraqi opposition must not be ignored.
USATODAY.com - Ex-Iraq officers discuss ousting Saddam Albert Yelda, co-founder of the Iraqi National Coalition, said the meeting would be the largest gathering ever of exiled Iraqi officers. He said they hope to unify those in exile and still inside Iraq in "establishing a democratic regime where the Iraqis, Assyrians, Christians, Muslims, Arabs, Kurds and Turkomans can live peacefully and equally."
Professorial Pundits Place Iraq Bets No one reasonably expects professors of Middle Eastern studies to predict military outcomes. But political outcomes, especially in the long term, are supposed to be their forte. And so here, for the record, are the predictions of four chaired professors of Middle Eastern studies, at leading American universities. At the end of the day, events will prove two of them right, and two of them wrong
Rage, Hubris, and Regime Change Creating a civil society and democratic government will take a miracle.
May not be an "I'm Sorry", but I think the guy genuinely feels like a jackass for assuming what others wanted...