|Purple Badge of Shame|
- Wednesday, January 17 2007, 9:23:52 (CET)|
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Purple Badge of Shame
One year ago, on December 15, 2005, I traveled to a polling station in Virginia set up for the Iraqi Parliamentary elections. After receiving my ballot, I punched “740” for Zowaa (ADM) and dipped my finger in the purple ink. The December 17, 2005 issue of Zinda Magazine displayed a picture of me, smiling wide and full of hope. Today, I look back at that picture and at that day and feel only disgust. Disgust at both myself for lack of judgment and at Zowaa for the injustice it has used my vote to achieve. I have never felt more betrayed by any act of trust as by that one vote.
What led me to originally vote for Zowaa was a desire to believe that this organization, which had been established more than 25 years previously, which seemed to have many supporters in Iraq and in the U.S., could actually do well by our people. And this emotion is exactly what I see drawing a significant amount of youth to the organization: it is an established and equipped machine. Who wouldn’t want to believe in something like this? However, as I have come to see, since the liberation of Iraq, that machine’s actions (and inactions) have caused our people more damage than benefit. I would not like to see the demise of Zowaa; to the contrary, salvaging the party and setting it on the right path would be the best solution. But at this moment, the ADM is a liability to the Assyrian cause, not an asset. If Zowaa would ever like my support or vote again, the following are the actions it must take. (Note: I speak for myself only, and if the party does not want my support, then that is its decision. Others may forgive for less, while still others will never be able to forgive Zowaa for what it has done).
1. Remove your leadership: Even some Zowaa supporters will recognize that the leadership of Yonadam Kanna, Ninos Petyoo, and other central members has been a disaster for the party. They have put the consolidation of Zowaa’s power above the interests of the Assyrian nation. Time and time again, they have chosen to attack and undermine other Assyrian parties, the Assyrian Church of the East, and even some of its own members that have dared to open their mouths. Notice the cold reception in the U.S. given to Pascale Warda, the only Zowaa member to truly make a concerted effort towards publicizing the Nineveh Plains issue. Look where Zowaa was three years ago versus where it is today: in shambles in Iraq and facing a highly-hostile majority of Assyrians in the U.S. I ask all Zowaa members who have national interests at heart to re-assess what has been done to your organization and take back power before it is too late. Such change is what many had hoped would occur in the last party congress, held in July 2006. ADM members from all over the world traveled to Baghdad in order to set the direction of the party, as all could see the organization failing and its support base crumbling. And what happened? Not one person even dared to run against Yonadam Kanna for Secretary General. Those who even opened their mouth about the failings of the party (such as Pascale Warda) have since been sidelined. It is this failure, more than any other, which causes me to doubt the organization as a whole. At the critical time when change was clearly needed, and when the opportunity was there for the taking, nothing was done. The leadership is clearly not the only broken element; the disease runs deeper.
2. Cease undermining other Assyrian political parties and leaders in Iraq: Zowaa’s policy has been to undercut all other Assyrian parties operating in Iraq and to label those in the KRG cabinet as Kurdish puppets. I do not know what else to call this but hypocrisy. Zowaa operated in the Kurdistani cabinet for 12 years, maintains two parliament members in the Kurdistani assembly, and to this day makes back-room pleas to be re-instated in the cabinet. Seizing on the Diaspora’s lack of information, Zowaa has painted Assyrians who work under the KRG framework and the Kurds in general as less-than-human. On issues of Assyrians living in the North, the actions of KRG authorities, and steps taken by Sargis Aghajan, it has out-right lied to us on numerous occasions, in order to incite hatred. For saying such things, I will likely be branded a traitor, or a Kurdish supporter (as has already happened). This same witch-hunt has been visited upon all other Assyrian groups in Iraq. I say only that I choose to be pro-Assyrian rather than anti-Kurdish. Unfortunately, due to the lies and propaganda emanating from the ADM, some Assyrians seem to believe that the two are equivalent. Zowaa’s methods are not helpful to the national cause; to the contrary, they serve only the narrow interest of Zowaa leadership.
Examples of ADM’s unwillingness to work with other Assyrian parties (and to attack them instead) are plentiful. Prior to the first Iraqi elections, late December 2004, the ADM political bureau in Baghdad released a communiqué to offices outside Iraq giving instructions on how to campaign for the elections. At one point, the document encourages its members to “accuse the head of the [Assyrian National Assembly] slate Mr. Audisho Malko with nomadic tribal behavior and refrain from supporting his cultural literate productions,” and to “focus the attack on Eshaya Esho.” In the same letter, it states, “that it is very important not to mention our alliance with the Kurdistani Slate in Erbil, we ask that you play ignorance of this and deny it if need be. We also ask you to benefit from the fact the Diaspora is not participating in the Kurdistani National Parliament.” (Note: ADM disputes the authenticity of this document. However, they have failed to provide evidence as such, while others have reported receiving the instructions when first published and stand by its validity. The letter touches on many subjects, many of which are commonplace.) Prior to the second Iraqi elections in December 2005, Romeo Hakkari of BNDP in Iraq entered into talks with ADM with the goal of forming a combined slate. As was reported on the Ankawa news site, talks were held for over one week. While Hakkari was led to believe an agreement would result, ADM refused to commit. On the final day available to enter the elections, ADM claimed that a “bad phone connection” prevented the party from delivering a position, thus preventing Hakkari from participating in the national elections, with or without ADM. Even Bashir Saadi of the Assyrian Democratic Organization (ADO) in Syria commented recently that the relationship with ADM was in “a state of inertia and apathy.” And today, as five Assyrian parties meet on a regular basis to formulate demands and discuss the future of Assyrians in Iraq, Zowaa spurns every invitation and refuses to participate. When asked recently why ADM refuses to work or even maintain a relationship with these groups, Mr. Ninos Petyoo remarked “We already know their positions.” Thus, the decision of the ADM Baghdad congress in July to “launch dialogue” with other Assyrian parties was mere words and never intended for implementation. Apparently the party’s operating definition of “unity” is ADM and nothing else. If ADM cannot dominate the dialogue, it chooses to destroy.
3. Cease your support for Mar Bawai and division within the Assyrian Church of the East, apologize for your transgressions, and condemn all party members/supporters who continue the assault: Many Zowaa advocates would now like us to believe that the ADM never supported any schism within the Assyrian Church of the East. Some argue that the ADM supporters who also campaign for Mar Bawai do not speak for the party, or more recently, that ADM leadership in the U.S. is acting as a “rogue” element, while party leadership in Baghdad is not encouraging these actions. Unfortunately, this is mere wishful thinking, and the evidence points quite clearly to the contrary. In the same 2004 letter referenced above and a full year before the Synod meeting, ADM Baghdad gives instructions to “spread financial and immoral scandals about the Church [of the East]” and its Bishops, but to “exclude the Patriarch, while implying his responsibility due to his weakness.” Later, it states, “to “spread that the Rafidain Slate [ADM] includes a candidate endorsed by Patriarch Delly. In case the [Chaldean] Church or leaders deny this then we can say that the denial is for diplomatic reason since the Church does not like to officially get involved in the elections.” At the same time, in Zinda Magazine on November 30, 2004, the late Ivan Kakovitch warned us all,
“In the last fourteen months, there has been a movement to demean the functions and the title of the non-secular hierarchy of Assyria, and to place the national leadership into the hands of a political party that has entrenched itself in the annals of the Kurdish Parliament in northern Iraq. This movement, and its sycophants, including at least one high-ranking Church of Assyria Archbishop, namely, Mar Bawai Suro, with a few adherents among the lesser Church of Assyria laity in the ranks of Priests, are hard at work enunciating to portray the Church of Assyria, and its titular head, Mar Dinkha, as lackadaisical and obtrusive on the path of the political arena of Assyria…This misappropriation by one of the political parties of Assyria and its followers seems to have become more aggressive in its format, and in its plebeian pantheon of absolute authority…To surrender the future of a nation into the hands of one party is synonymous with desecrating the walls of democracy in favor of autocracy and eventual dictatorship.”
And when asked privately, shortly after the Mar Bawai’s split from the ACOE, about possible ADM involvement, Yonadam Kanna reportedly began with the now-tired line, “We do not get involved in Church matters” but then contradicted himself, adding “…but when they get involved in our affairs, we have to get involved in theirs.”
And all have seen the despicable tactics in the United States. Shortly before the Synod of the Assyrian Church of the East, where Mar Bawai split from the Church, ADM took it upon itself to organize a protest against the ACOE in Chicago; this was cancelled at the last minute by Mar Bawai. Immediately after the Synod, Mar Bawai returned to California and attended a rally, accompanied by senior ADM members/supporters from Chicago: Agnes Mirza (member and senior official), Eprim Rashoo (member), William Youmara (supporter), Ashur Adadseen (supporter), and Dr. Edward Odisho (supporter). Just this past August 2006 in Chicago, for our national Martyr’s day, many Assyrians gathered to mourn the losses of all Assyrian martyrs. ADM leadership turned the moment into an ADM rally, placing their flags and banners around the cemetery. Sheba Mando, head of the Mootwa in Chicago (and who attended ADM’s congress in Baghdad), and Aladin Khamis of the Federation arranged for Mar Bawai to be conferenced in to the event by telephone to deliver a speech. Many Assyrians walked out in disgust. And when I asked Mr. Ninos Petyoo recently, very simply, “Do you condemn the statements by your supporters and members who support the attack and division of the Assyrian Church of the East,” he refused, claiming he has no responsibility over these people. If Zowaa is unable to control the actions of its members, or even issue a statement denouncing such actions, then the party is even more ineffective than I thought previously. The truth, however, is that the attacks were always, and continue to be, sanctioned by central ADM leadership.
Zowaa has proven it has no love for the ACOE and that it would prefer to remove any institution that it perceives to be standing in its way. I have run out of patience for diplomatic language that dances around the issue, calling Zowaa’s stance “unnecessary” or “foolish”, or that leaders “did little to diffuse the situation”. A spade should be called a spade, a crime should be called a crime, and a betrayal should be called a betrayal. The ADM has quite clearly placed a higher priority on causing a schism within the Church than on bringing tangible fruits to the table of Assyrians in Iraq. This is a crime of the highest magnitude and only a full admission and signal of atonement will suffice.
Yet even from a dispassionate power-perspective, does the policy make any sense? No reasonable person can argue that the support for Mar Bawai has done Zowaa any good; in fact, it has brought more harm upon it than anything the ACOE currently faces. What has Zowaa achieved but division, resentment, and a vastly reduced base of support? Only a year and a half ago, the vast majority of Assyrians in the Diaspora supported Zowaa. Today, primarily because of the attack on the Church, support for the ADM has dwindled to a handful, forcing its remaining base to rely on underhanded, corrupt, and shameful practices. The AANF’s discreet transfer of $25,000 to William Youmara and Ashur Adadseen is but one example, while the election theft of the Federation is another. I ask again, what benefits have been achieved vis-à-vis the costs? Is it out of a sense of loyalty to a bishop who was a key backer of the party? Mar Bawai was a staunch supporter of the “ChaldoAssyrian” terminology in Iraq but even more so in his churches in the U.S., going so far as suspending a member who spoke against it. He forged a key alliance with Chaldean Bishop Sarhad Jammo, the architect of the mythical and separatist “Chaldean renaissance” and arguably the most destructive individual for Assyrian nationalism since Saddam Hussein. See last issue’s photo opportunity of the two bishops’ meeting on December 7 under the guise of “unity.” As Zahrira has now proudly (and belatedly) proclaimed, Mr. Ninos Petyoo met with Sarhad Jammo and Mar Bawai the very next day. See also Isaac Isaac’s (ADM central committee member) recent high profile meeting and dinner with Bishop Jammo, also announced on Zahrira. Mar Bawai, while still with the Church, was asked to contribute to a fund the Church had established for Assyrians in Iraq; Mar Bawai contributed only $1,000, admitting he had already given $50,000 of Church funds to Assyrian Aid Society (AAS was established by ADM and the president of AAS of Iraq , Rommel Moushi, is a member of ADM). Assyrians later watched on television as Zowaa members in northern Iraq were distributing food and supplies, saying, “This is from Mar Bawai” (not the Church of the East). And although a reasonable person could deduce who received the hundreds of thousands of dollars mortgaged from the now-contested ACOE Church properties in California, I will wait for the legal proceedings to produce the truth. The question remains, even after all these items are considered, why will Zowaa not cut its losses?
4. Advance a transparent, positive agenda: Sitting here in the Diaspora, I can point to only two policies I know with certainty that Zowaa has advanced in the recent past: i) support for Mar Bawai and division of the Assyrian Church of the East; and ii) the attack of other Assyrian political parties and figures in Iraq. Explanations that the ADM has “bad public relations” or likes to work from “behind the scenes” are completely unacceptable and again a sign of wishful thinking. How can I support a political party when I do not know the agenda – especially when I have lost all trust in those people advancing that agenda? On issues of critical importance, such as the Nineveh Plains, I see only occasional lip service (and even this has been used as a tool for division and attack). When asked on December 28, 2006 by Ankawa.com for his “stance on autonomy,” Yonadam Kanna mentions article 125 of the constitution and then launches into the legalities of the constitution, which requires administration to be “in accordance with the constitutional articles without destroying the societal unity in that area to be based on geography, culture, and history and not on ethnic and religious basis.” He does not outline ADM’s demands nor does he explain what his organization is doing to achieve autonomy. He does not even use the words “Nineveh Plains.” Mr. Petyoo recently provided a slightly different stance: that a referendum should be held by the people living in the territory. Let us assume for a moment that this is an actual position (it is not; it is merely a repetition of the requirements of the law under the Constitution, which all groups recognize). Splendid. Now what has the party done to achieve this? Again, the ADM holds two parliament seats in the KRG and one in the Iraqi National Assembly. How have these been used to advance the cause and bring about a referendum? The typical answer at this point in the debate is that Zowaa must act from behind the scenes and cannot be open about its actions. If others are willing to accept this argument, my condolences, but I will not.
Returning to the actual policy position, the above may deliver a bit of a shock to many Zowaa supporters. Many are convinced that Zowaa’s actual position on the Nineveh Plains is that if such a unit were to be formed, it should only be under Baghdad control, and not Arbil’s. Those who believe this are not at fault; every communication (however few) from members and supporters has given this impression. Before analyzing the merits of the case, let us see why Zowaa may be advocating such a policy. The ADM has manifestly and undeniably lost all clout and credibility in the North. Regardless of what may be in the national interest, Zowaa now realizes that its last remaining zone of influence as an organization is in the Green Zone. Hence, it viciously attacks anyone working with the KRG.
Now, let us look at the merits of the case itself. In a unified and stable Iraq (which is highly hypothetical), a Nineveh Plains governorate tied to Baghdad may have advantages (and disadvantages) versus one tied to Arbil. However, this is all academic at this point. First of all, Arab leaders have not even recognized a proposal for such a move. Has one senior Arab even allowed the words “Nineveh Plains” to leave his lips? No, they are too busy slaughtering each other and innocent Assyrians in Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul, who are fleeing en masse out of the country and to the North. Furthermore, and as mentioned above, Zowaa has done absolutely nothing to make this an issue in the Baghdad parliament. On the other hand, along with several Assyrian parties, the KRG Minister of Finance Sargis Aghajan has openly called for the Nineveh Plains as an autonomous unit, demanded changes to the constitution drafted by his own party, and funded the construction of housing complexes in the region. On December 6, 2006, Prime Minister of the KRG Nechirvan Barzani publicly declared his support for the “right to autonomy in the Nineveh Plains.” Where are Zowaa’s demands? If the ADM is unwilling, for whatever reason, to demand the rights for an Assyrian autonomous region, then it has a duty to step aside and allow leaders who are willing to step forward. How many more hundreds of thousands of Assyrians must leave Iraq before the time of evasive measures and obscure rhetoric is over?
Moreover, the future of Iraq as a state is highly dubious at this point; why place all our eggs in the Baghdad basket? I am not saying Assyrians should only work towards a unit tied to Arbil; I am only arguing that it is unwise and disingenuous to sabotage progress made at the KRG level, as Zowaa has done. Assyrians should be playing both sides of the coin, keeping the bidding up for resources and autonomy. But labeling the Baghdad position as a stance of “principle” while that of Arbil as “traitorous” is laughable. Let no Assyrian forget that Iraq was invented out of thin air (and a pen) by the British and a group of Arabs. Now Kurdistan has been invented by the United States and a group of Kurds. How is a choice for Moqtada Al-Sadr and the Shia Arabs of Baghdad more righteous than one for Barzani and the Kurds of Arbil? Why is one more legitimate than the other? Assyrians need to start looking out for their own national interests, and choose the path where those interests are best served. Assyrians should not sacrifice the national cause on the altar of Zowaa’s well being.
The common theme among all these problems and all these attacks is ADM’s absolute unwillingness to tolerate the voice of any other Assyrian, whether that of an individual, political party, organization, or church. Again, I call on all Zowaa supporters and members with the national cause still at heart (which I truly believe to be many) to take back control of the party that served us so well in the past. The Assyrian Democratic Movement has been hijacked by a group of self-seeking individuals, and at this point in time is doing the Assyrian cause more harm than good. Reform yourself, and I will support you once again. Until and unless these points are adequately addressed, do not count on another purple-stained finger from my hand.
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