Reply To Sankho

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Posted by panchmaster from ( on Monday, November 18, 2002 at 9:25AM :

+++Nothing would please me more than to be proven wrong where I hold views such as these. It gives me no joy to believe these things about anyone, even a priest. I'm just not going supply my need for faith and hope with popcorn. I don't mean to be argumentative...I'm as busy as the next person.

Your Huxley-esque view of ‘religion as morphine for the masses’ is one possible explanation for the switch. What’s intriguing about the Assyrians though is how religious they were way BEFORE Christianity.

+++I'm afraid that sort of begs the question...if you are "very religious", does it matter not which religion you practise, or how sincere your devotion is or can one religion be substituted for another? If I tell my wife I love her dearly, that I am filled with a loving and devoted person...does it stand to reason then that I can see myself, and demand others accept me, as just as loving and devoted, to the next woman I meet? And maybe the next...or to her sister and then cousin. Would I really be what you would call a deeply loving person...or fickle and a bit of an opportunist? In fact, haven't I just proven that I am NOT very loving?

Their entire lives were dominated by appeasing the gods – much more so than after Christianity.

+++Our god demanded we fight for him...elevate him by maintaining ourselves. Yahweh and his offspring demand we die for them...honor them most through humiliating ourselves. Our heroes, as Christians, are those infamous martyrs...and what good did they do anybody? Allow your children to be killed in front of your eyes rather than "reject Jesus"? How about your rejection of your CHILDREN?

This was even when they were at the height of 'Culture'. You could say the ancient Assyrians were obsessed with their gods. And they carried that across to their new religion.

+++Maybe it's just me, but in that neat segue you made..."carried that across to their NEW religion"...lies the whole problem for me. Just how and why do you carry anything over to a "new" religion? Can I carry my love of my dear wife over to a new wife? I can of course, but it's a new wife, not the same dear one of the other day...does that not say something about my understanding of what love is in the first place?

It wasn't the poorest areas that accpeted it... the Kingdom of Urhai was very rich.

+++That was before Islam. I believe that in time many more people converted to Islam because it suited our temperment better. Just as in the modern era the cities were filled with those determined to get ahead...where real schools existed. In the provinces and in the villages remained the bedrock Christians...if you wanted to get anywhere in Iraq it was best to leave your Christianity a little have something else motivating you than a desire to get to heaven in the worst way.

Assyrians accepting Jesus’ teachings doesn’t seem so odd to me. At the time of Christ, there wasn’t this division of religions into the three great beliefs of today’s Middle East: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. It was Judaism and a whole lot of pagan beliefs.

+++If the Assyrians were as obsessed with their gods as you claim, and as I believe, it again begs the question, "then why the switch"? If there wasn't that much difference, then why make any change? All "pagan" means is non-Jewish/derivative religion. It is no slur against People...quite the contrary actually.

Assyrian religious belief was not a single, coherent religion.

++++Is Christianity, with its numerous franchises and branch offices?

It took on many different forms. Then comes Jesus. He couldn’t have looked THAT foreign to the Assyrians of the day. He spoke the same language and was a close neighbour, from the same part of the world. Lots of Assyrians converted to Judaism even before Jesus..... the queen of Arbela (Erbil), Queen Helena, for example, even before Abgar in 36AD.

+++Something not consistant here. For the Assyrians to make such a dethrone one set of gods after so long an association, to install another set...needs some sort of an explanation. If you keep maintaining that it was no big deal...I have to keep asking, "then why did they bother"?

Jesus’ message must have appealed to the Assyrians. Then they see this ‘half-god half-man’ who reminds them of the story of Gilgamesh nailed to the symbol of their god Tammuz (the cross) who then like Tammuz comes back to life again.

+++The cross was the gibbet of the Romans. They nailed whole populations to it. Just exactly what was the message of Jesus that it would appeal to the Assyrians? The same message appealed to the Romans? Kindness and charity and honesty were values that existed in the world before Jesus came along. Just what was his promise? The way I read it was a promise to deliver miserable people out of their bondage, but not here on earth and not now...rather at some later date and not on the earth as it stood then and only after a lifetime spent in abject poverty and misery...I just don't see the Assyrians "easily" taking to such a philosophy...and I see a world of difference between this and a belief in Ashur. Of course people were to be humble in the presence of their god...of course they were to bow their stubborn knees and lift their hands in a God NOT to an enemy about to slit your child's throat "for Jesus". We've carried this thing so far we're now helping slit our own throats, and cheering about it. It's taken us a while but we seem determined to get our people crucified.

Assyrian religious ideology at the time was not organized. So one group of Assyrians embraces ‘Christianity’. Gradually the idea gains ground.

+++It may not have been organized...but it was deep and sincere, as you addmitted. How could that be true and they still switch to another...even if it was "close" to their STILL asks the question, "then why bother switching"?

And here we are today. I don’t believe the Assyrian zeal for Christianity had as much to do with wanting to escape the ‘embarrassment’ of being Assyrian than with their inherent religiosity and passion for the story of Jesus.

++++Again you mention their zeal and passion...for one god, then calmly transition them to another god, THEN say he wasn't that different of a god. Sankho, baby, take some friendly advice....should the day come when you break up with the Nineveh or Doumarina of your heart, DO NOT tell her that as far as you're concerned it's no big deal that you found a new woman to love, then help wash this bitter pill down by saying, "but sweetheart, she is SO much like what's the difference"?

Look at Tatian, who unashamedly called himself an Assyrian (and thought the East was better than the West in everything) and was a fanatical Christian – an ascetic.

+++Tatian wins no points from me by being "unashamedly" Assyrian. Would that he had been a fanatical Assyrian and "unashamedly" called himself a Christian instead.

Besides, Jesus’ teaching was officially accepted by one of the Assyrian ‘kings’ (Abgar…And yes, I believe that story).

+++Get that bridge fast before it sells to someone else. Now what fascinates me with that story is that Jesus was a Jew during his lifetime...transformed by Paul later in a gentile. So Abgar called upon a Jew god to help him where his own god had been ineffective. I can't see that story as anything other than an attempt to explain why Assyrians switched religions. And the odd thing is we are exhorted to be faithful to Jesus...yet praised for having abandoned our own Gods. And all because Abgar received some benefit some tangible goody. had Jesus not been able to cure him, would he have found reason to believe? What shall we do when the next god offers us a bigger prize? Behind every scientific mind there is a desire to believe in tooth fairies it seems.


Father Akbulut must be one of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I stayed at his church, the Mart Maryam Church in Amid [Diyarbakir] in Turkey’s southeast, for 4 days in September. He is very oomtanayah. In a place where the word ‘Assyrian’ disgusts many priests, he calls himself one. [I met with another priest in Elazig in southeast Turkey – before he let me into the church he asked whether I am Assyrian or Oromoyo. Now, believing myself to be just as Aramaic as Assyrian I said sure I’m Aramaya [too]. He smiled and said Oh you can come in. He lifted his finger to his neck and making a slicing action against his throat said that all Assyrians are dead.

+++Like I said, priests are a very unsavory lot. I like Father Benny very much and I'm sure Akbulut is a good man. Far be it from me to hold a man's religion against him.

Contrast that with a person like Akbulut who has four very old stone columns at the altar of his church. They are ‘pagan’ Assyrian columns he told me. One had a very worn Assyrian star engraved on its surface. He is proud of them.]

+++That's wonderful.

It’s odd that he’s meant to have said those things about the genocide to reporters ‘in private’. When the papers asked to interview him, he was told VERY SPECIFICALLY that everything he says will be published in the paper. Private? Hardly. When the journalists left, they said to him ‘you realize that a lot of good can’t come out of this interview’ or ‘that this interview will be bad for you?’ or something like that. He told them he can’t help the truth.

+++As he must have told you this himself, it must be true...almost. However, it contradicts reports at the time. I have the disadvantage over you of only having heard this second and third hand...but then this was the news we all had to go by at the time.

+++He was let off specifically the court said because his conversation had been a private one, and he'd been assured it would never see the light of day. The Turks needed to get out of a tight spot, perhaps, and used this technicality. had that not been the case, why would it have come up at all. Did the Turks back down because they were in the spotlight? Why? I mean if they are the big bad Turks? When has the United States backed down in the face of so much criticism of its death penalty use among other things? The country that was glad to capture and kill Kurds left and right got squeamish over a priest? Was it a cynnical ploy to impress the Europeans into letting them into their club? If so then why haven't the people there taken advantage of the situation...pushed for whatever it is we demand of the Turks...that we don't seem to demand of the United States? Is what has been occuring in Iraq NOT a genocide? Where are we NOW...not 70 and 500 years ago but RIGHT NOW!!! Is it any easier to remind Turkey of what happened 70 years ago, or tell the United States NOW to back off? Are there no secret police monitoring any of us now?

Believe me, saying what he said, in Turkey, CANNOT be ‘private’. It just doesn’t add up. In these countries run by the secret police, things said even among family in utter privacy can lead you into DEEP shit.

+++Sankho, you have a touching reliance on the goodness of the Western nations you live in. In America you are free to speak as long as you are ineffective. There are plenty of instances of people being jailed and killed for daring to speak out. In Turkey there may be many more injustices to speak out against, and a far more paranoid power structure...but America will get down on you just as fast if you hit a nerve. Besides...why do we compare ourselves with the worst?

Imagine a priest talking to two journalists about a topic that is very, very taboo in Turkey. No, whichever way you look at it, it’s pretty brave.

+++If it was very brave, then what happened?

It's easy for us in the West to say big deal, but even apparently small things like what Akbulut said and did is a BIG deal there.

+++There is fear in America right now among us darkies. The government announced yesterday that it will begin monitoring Iraqi Americans. The freedoms you extoll in America can vanish in a heartbeat...they have slowly begun to. We had concentration camps and we now hold people in military prisons indefinitely without due process...something never before done in America...maybe in Turkey but not here. The Weimar Republic was a model of democracy and tolerance too before Hitler was elected.

+++Of course it takes courage to stand up...but if Akbulut intended to be defiant, then why was he silent at his trial...why did he maintain he'd just repeated what he'd heard? Mind you this is what I recall hearing at the time. It was the perfect time to defy the government, mildly by simply reasserting the truth...why not seize the moment...with the whole world watching?

The secret police run the joint in southeast Turkey, like the Baathey's secret police run things in Syria and Iraq and the Persian secret police in Iran.

+++And do you really think there is no secret police in America? you think America's secret police isn't active in those countries? Or are some police better than others? Are we going again to brag because we're better than the Turks, or the Mongolians?

Other areas of Turkey are more liberal but THAT part is diseased with intense government paranoia. Also, he denies having gotten off on a technicality. It was more the Turkish government wanting to show the West it is more liberal these days.

+++I'll tell you what...had he maintained his beliefs intact and voiced them that last day...his ass would have been in jail now. They were able to appear more liberal because Akbulut cooperated with them...allowed them to duck the issue he'd raised and failed to follow through on. I don't fault the man...Ashur knows he was the one facing jail time. But something doesn't make sense here...if you're going to make a statement you know is provocative in a country such as Turkey, in a region you say is extremely hostile to such sentiments...why would you make it all only to in essence take it back...for he must have satisfied the court of SOMETHING or else why would they flaunt their own laws in front of the whole world? Their law specifically called what he did a crime. Without his help and cooperation they could not have saved face at all...just caved in.

And after that case things definitely ARE much better. He and others can speak relatively more freely and while he will be made to feel very uncomfortable and ‘an enemy of the state’ (as Assyrians, Armenians, Georgians, Kurds etc were made to feel), he certainly will not be subjected to what he was 2 years ago.

+++See, that statement is hard to understand. Things got better...for what and how? Have the laws been repealed or are they just not enforced? If Turkey is the Turkey of our comes it that they muzzle themselves? If it is because of intense scrutiny then why don't people there take advantage of it? After all...father Akbulut won them some measure of freedom...but what good is it? If this 'worked"...why not do it some more...or else what was all the bother for?

+++From the Turks piont of view Christians should definitely be suspected. The Armenians terrorized the Turkish state years ago as the West circled the Sultan's lands. See how suspect all Muslims and Arabs are now in the West. Imagine that instead of fifteen Saudi whackos, repudiated by their own government...the entire country was hell bent on attacking America...hell Saddam hasn't done a damn thing to America and look at what the Iraqi people have been subjected it any wonder Christians are not trusted in the Mideast? They are suspect for good reason.

Akbulut stated the facts. Facts you can’t escape when you travel that part of the world. And his fellow priests did NOT support him. They in fact derided him. THEY are the ones who in real privacy believe the genocide happened but officially deny it. They admit to being too scared to officially recognize the genocide. Akbulut faced 3 years imprisonment. Many Assyrians in the area didn’t support him either – too scared of the implications for themselves. We take freedom of speech in the west for granted. I never knew what freedom is until I went to the ME.

+++I strongly disagree with you there...we value freedom of speech very much here...that's why people are so pissed off at the turn towards Turkish policies this government is taking. Do you count as a freedom the freedom of the United States to undermine society destabilize governments, to create and support a Taliban, as the Israelis created a it really freedom we're talking about when it's paid for by the blood of innocent people? Did the West not need despots and thugs to rule the countries whose resources they wish to steal, and whose populations must be rendered impotent and kept you think the land that gave us the Cradle of Civilization would NOT know how to govern itself?

The secret police there, unlike the CIA or ASIO or other western secret intelligence forces, WANT you to feel their presence: they WANT you to know they’re there. Life can be pretty uncomfortable when one of your relatives might be a member and keep the secret police informed of your thoughts and activities. It's hell.

+++My dear friend...may you forever live secure in these ideas. There is no more militaristic government in the world today than the United States...that has more citizens in uniform and licensed to kill...that has more of its people armed and killing each other than any other...a country that wants very much to go down the path other totalitarian regimes went down, but "Constitutionally"...what with Homeland Security and neighbors recruited to spy on you think it would be long before angry in-laws turned each other in?

Things are a lot better for Assyrians in Turkey now. Some Suryoye are going back to their villages with the government’s blessing (whatever the underlying motive may be, it’s still a good thing). They are even telling the world things like ‘the Assyrian pople’s history goes back at least 4 thousand years in Turkey.’ [that’s from a tourist brochure].

+++That is certainly wonderful.

I just hope that the new government sustains these positive changes.

+++You better also hope that a new government comes to the United States...and stops the changes taking place over here. The potential for harm is far greater from an America than from a Turkey.

-- panchmaster
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