|Poor Janey-I could have told you all this and spared you!|
- Wednesday, September 13 2006, 0:14:24 (CEST)|
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Last Sunday's Unfair and Unjust Election Process
Up until Sunday September 3rd, I was a presidential candidate to the Assyrian American National Federation, Inc. On the day of elections, I withdrew my nomination. The following are the reasons for my decision.
Permit me to return to earlier times to provide important details to my story. I have been attending the Federation meetings and conventions since 1973 when I was 13 years old. I attended first with my parents and then with my husband, Atour. During that period, I was unable to attend only one convention because on August 25, 1986 I was giving birth to my first born son, Ninous. My four children have known from the time they could speak that Labor Day weekend is the convention weekend. Now as young adults and teens, they look forward to meeting their friends that they have been estranged from for a year’s time.
My husband, Atour, served a two term Presidency for the Federation from 2000 to 2004. I was the person who worked closest with him during that time and knew what others did not. Without hesitation, I can honestly say that it’s a lonely place at the top, and he often felt that from those around him. For the first two years of his presidency, he was cleaning the fiscal and structural mess left by previous administrations. During his terms, he vowed to elevate the Assyrian Star to a worthy magazine returning it to the east coast with Andrew Bet Shlimon as Editor-in-Chief. He reduced the Federation budget by 40% to increase cash flow into the accounts. He vowed to begin the registration process at the annual conventions so that there would be no more cash flow in hands but more accountability with registered guests. Every year this was improved until we have in place today a system that is basically foolproof. He established a merchant’s account where the monies go directly into the bank account of the Federation. The youth initiative program under the leadership of Zeena Tawfik and the senior citizen movement under the leadership of Sarah Benjamin were initiated just to name a few. The monies sent to our people back home were project based programs such as the generators for the Nahla Region and the school transportation buses for the north of Iraq.
Being right next to him, I saw first hand the work involved. Mr. Aladin Khamis, the current president of the Federation, served as Vice President for the four years and in the second term, ran against Atour and lost. When a Vice President challenges the President of the same organization, it immediately sends a negative message to the members. In this case, severing their relationship. It was evident who the driving political party at that election was. The campaign was hard and heavy by that group, and I must say that in both elections Atour never approached one individual to ask for a vote. He had no need as he had proved his worthiness by concentrating on Federation business only. At that election, even though Mr. Khamis lost, Atour asked Youel Isho to withdraw his nomination for Vice President so that Aladin would remain seated. But the next two years proved harsh as the support system from Mr. Khamis as VP to the president broke down.
In the San Jose/Santa Clara Convention elections of the Federation two years ago when Mark Thomas ran against Aladin Khamis, Mark wanted to view the membership list of the affiliates. He challenged the members of certain organizations from Chicago that were seated since they had never been in any meetings of the Federation except to vote on that given day. The credential chairman was Youel Isho who never swayed from the constitutional rulings of the Federation. He was straight and narrow. Mr. Isho provided Mr. Khamis and Mr. Thomas a full set of the credentials so that as candidates they could view the voters who would participate in the elections. The question of the affiliate registration within their state of origin was not even a question at that time. As a matter of fact had it been brought up, most of the Chicago affiliates including Aladin Khamis’ Assyrian National Foundation would have been unseated because his affiliate was dissolved in 1996. Most of those organizations were only reinstated this year on August 23, 2006 after the deadline wherein both dues and credentials had to have been submitted. On the day that he won, I personally sat with him and told him that he could be a good President, depending on the people that he surrounds himself with. There are many qualified individuals who work in the Federation with no personal agendas, and he needed to identify them and use them, but he did not. He won the election, and he kicked every qualified person to the curb. My Detroit organization, which is one of the most honest, productive and hard working affiliates within the Federation, became a thorn in his side as he put it. He replaced Youel Isho with William Youmaran as credential chairman. When asked why by Youel Isho, he stated “I replaced you for a vote”.
Now, let it be known that in 2005, Mr. Youmaran, who never did anything for the Midwest affiliates, was appointed by Mr. Khamis as the Midwest Regional Director. He never attended the NEC meetings nor did he ever submit a report. The other chairmen that he appointed were in fact persons who had no direct affiliation with the Federation. Usually, the chairman and positions that are appointed by the president are based on individual qualifications and continuous membership in good standing of the affiliates. This angered many of the affiliates and caused tension within the Federation.
I never had a thought about running for presidency of the Federation because after spending four years standing alongside my husband it was time to take a step back. Then one weekend spent in Chicago visiting relatives, we happened to be listening to a radio broadcast that was spewing out venom, hatred and destruction to church leaders of our Assyrian community. These two individuals, both representing the AANF and slandering the oldest church in the Assyrian nation, were none other than William Youmaran and Adad Ashurseen. I thought that they were quite dramatic as they spoke in dialogue as if it were all ad libbed.
I had heard several rumors about what was happening in the churches, but I only thought it sad and prayed for them everyday. Shortly afterward, in a Detroit NEC meeting in which I could not attend, there was a motion passed to make a donation to two individuals of $25,000 for a satellite program. These were the same individuals, William Youmaran and Adad Ashurseen, that I had heard weeks before. How did we end up involved in the churches? When did we start taking sides with priests and bishops? That is the weekend I fully committed myself to run in this campaign and make a change in our Federation. I felt that it was time for a new direction for the Federation. Time to steer clear of religion and issues that were non-added value to the cause of the Federation goals.
Thus, I began my campaign. I spoke with and met with several individuals in the community. I wanted to run as a slate with others who were qualified to do the job and who had the same vision as myself. This would be the first time ever a slate would be created to run together in the Federation elections. After conversing with and watching them in action, my slate was ready--Firas Jatou as Vice President; Sheren Jasim as Executive Secretary; Youel Isho as Assistant to the President; and Nancy Osipo-Peera as Treasurer. I chose them based on their education, accomplishments on behalf of our people, and qualifications to do the job.
They all agreed to run this campaign with me. In Chicago at the NEC meeting on July 29, 2006, I asked the AANF president if I could have a copy of the credentials. Mr. Khamis jumped out of his chair and informed me that “I would never see the credentials!” I advised him that as a candidate in the elections, I should be able to view them and have a copied set of the originals, but he said no. Now, since the AANF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, all the books are open to any member in good standing within the Federation. But now we were becoming selective because it is an election year. I let it go at that time. The credentials had to be postmarked to William Youmaran by midnight on the 15th of August so we still had some time. The membership list and dues were all to be submitted by the 31st of July to the treasurer. Which brings me to the dues?
While we were in the NEC meeting in Chicago that day, many of the affiliates that have not been around for 2 years were suddenly brought in and their dues paid for them. Now how can Mr. Youmaran say to two young ladies of such an organization that “they don’t need to worry, we will take care of your dues and register your affiliate.” Also when the Las Vegas affiliate did not send enough money for their dues, William Youmaran paid the difference out of his pocket and handed the envelope to the treasurer. And what about the money orders for the affiliates dues that were all in consecutive numerical order from the same place? Was the $25,000 donation suddenly seeping its way back into the Federation to pay for member dues to swing the election?
The dues for the Assyrian Business Association (ABA) of Chicago were paid for by an individual of that organization, but the check bounced, so they were not to be seated at the convention. William Youmaran is also listed on the membership list of ABA, but when I asked him in Chicago, he stated that he is now a member of the Assyrian National Foundation. His name was on the membership list of the Assyrian Business Association of Chicago.
When I went into the registration room to register as a delegate to the Federation at the Chicago convention, the credential listing was not prepared. The names were entered into the computer manually as they were given to Mr. Youmaran on site. As credential chairman, he should have done his job well in advance by entering all the names that were submitted by the 15th of August from each organization. This is so that when any officer, delegate or director received their badge upon arrival to the convention it would state what their position was as listed on the credential form. But because changes were made on site in the credential room and the original certificates were disregarded, the legal election process was tampered with.
This brings me to the commencement of the Federation meetings. Upon commencement of the meetings, the President stated that these meetings and this convention would be governed by the constitution and by laws of the AANF, and we would only follow the rules. Rules were blatantly ignored and motions that were made and seconded were ignored because it did not benefit them.
On Friday, when William Youmaran was giving his report, he stated that certain organizations would not be seated because they were not registered within their state. Since when has this happened? The AAA ladies have been members of the Federation since 1935. Were they going to kick this reputable organization out of the Federation because they were supporting the opponent? Absolutely. And that is what they did. The organizations that supported Mr. Khamis were updated and given directives on what to do regarding registration. But those organizations that were not in support of him were never told of the new credential procedures of having to personally see Mr. Youmaran who would conveniently disappear from the registration room upon their arrival. As a matter of fact they were ignored by the credential chairman throughout the registration process. I clearly stood up and spoke on behalf of the oldest ladies organization in the Federation and how hard they worked. I questioned the integrity of all of our members and the process by which they operated and made decisions. (I left the room that day followed by many of the organizations that had been unseated and insulted by the administration. I could not help but remember long ago, in a Connecticut convention Presidential Banquet when my father Aprim Rayis, who was then AUA Secretary General, came to the podium to speak, the entire organization of the Assyrian National Foundation including the current President Mr. Khamis arose from their seats and marched out of the banquet hall.)
The next morning I informed the President of the AANF that I needed to view the credentials, and he said that I would be able to see them by the end of that day. The meeting had basically ended that day so I made a point of order stating that I would be leaving the hotel that night to visit my brother and needed to have them before I left. He told me in front of William Youmaran and the entire delegation that I would have them by 9:00 PM.
At 9:00 PM I took Mr. Pierre Toulakhany downstairs with me since he was the parliamentarian, and we waited for almost 20 minutes until someone did get a hold of William Youmaran. When William finally showed up, he was empty handed. I asked him for the credentials. He informed me that “They are not ready”. I told him that I only needed 15 minutes of his time to view the original certificates and make a copy of those originals. He kept saying they were not ready, and he did not have time for this. Now, why weren’t the credentials ready and what did he need to do to them to make them ready? They were original credentials sent to him from each affiliate. No need to do anything but show them to me. I told him that the President told him that he was to give them to me at 9:00 PM. He then stated “he does not have to listen to the President”. Mr. Youmaran walked away totally disregarding the rulings. I then turned to Mr. Toulakhany and advised him that this is grounds for legal action and his President and all those with him will be held accountable. As I was going up the escalator, I saw Mr. Toulakhany conversing with William Youmaran. Suddenly William Youmaran came running to me and said to meet him here in one hour, and he will have them ready.
At 10:15 PM I along with Firas Jatou, Sheren Jasim, James Rayis and others were waiting downstairs for Mr. Youmaran. There were several other bystanders as well who witnessed what would happen next. Mr. Youamaran arrived at 10:42 with a manila folder and said to me “This is what the President told me to give you. Hurry up and look because I have work to do”. Now as I glanced at the folder that he was still holding, there were black and white copies of the credentials all written in the same handwriting. I told him this is not what I was to view, that I was to view originals and make copies of such. He insisted that the President told him to give these copies to me. I asked to see the President, and he said that the president left the building for the night. Then I heard a comment from someone who was not participating in the meetings but was observing the events say “this is bull****”. Just then William Youmaran grabbed the folder out of my hands and screamed “you will never see these documents”. Firas Jatou confronted him and stated ‘William we are not kids, let us see the originals”. William Youmaran stood up to him and shouted “Make me. Come on make me show them to you.” as if he wanted to fight. This is what happened on Saturday evening September 2nd, 2006.
Sunday morning was the day of the elections, and I was still not able to view the membership lists or vote. That morning when Mr. Youmaran gave his credential report, his numbers had changed by 11 votes from the previous day after registration was closed. When he was challenged, his answer was that everyone makes mistakes; we are only human! He then went on to state that certain people had not registered with him; therefore, they were not qualified to vote. Many questions were asked and we attempted to challenge this, but we were ignored over and over. It took a young 30-years-old man by the name of Michael Younan from the Academic Society to stand up and state that his badge did say delegate, but he was never told to see William personally. Since his badge already stated that he was a delegate, wouldn’t that mean he was already registered? This is a young man who served for 6 years in the United States Air Force and in the future will run for a political office in the state of Illinois. What a shame that we actually kicked him out of our meetings.
Mr. Jatou then asked to see the credentials since they were not given to us before then. Mr. Khamis stated that we would be able to see them during the lunch recess. So when lunch recess came, we searched for Mr. Youmaran, but he was nowhere to be found. Finally, 10 minutes prior to the meeting reconvening, he showed up with the credentials in a folder. He said they were all originals. So I obtained a copy of the member list from the Treasurer Ms. Sana Isho and as soon as he saw the affiliate membership list, he pulled his credentials away one last time. I then stated to the board of advisors present Mr. Wilson Baba and Mr. Adad Ashurseen, and the parliamentarian Mr. Pierre Toulakhany that I needed the member list to make sure that every person listed on the credentials was also listed on the member list with the corresponding affiliate in accordance with the constitution and by laws. Mr. Toulakhany acted confused and did not know the procedure of how that worked. Mr. Youmaran once again refrained from allowing us to view the proper documents of registered voters and walked away from us.
I have to add here that throughout this entire time both Firas and I were told lies after lies about each other so that each would turn on the other, but we did not. After the election, I was told that because of Firas I would not have won, and Firas was told that because of me he would not have won. Fabricated stories and lies were spread about the two of us.
I withdrew my name, not because my affiliate or others were not allowed to vote, but because my slate and I could not and would not partake in an election process that was unjust, unfair and illegal. Voters were brought in that have never been part of the Federation to suddenly become affiliate members for the day of voting. The credentials were fraudulently created because this administration was afraid they were going to lose, so they had to cheat in order to win. It was the only way they could. My slate and I ran our campaign based on professionalism, respect and graciousness to all our members and opponents, but the obstacles and insults that we were faced with proved that our people are not ready for change or progress in the Federation and it's members and I am sorry for all those who do.
It is sad and my heart aches. Not because of the election outcome but because we have thrown aside everything that our fathers, grandfathers and martyrs have worked so hard for. We have created personal agendas that supersede all nationalism.
But I promise that our commitment not to waiver from guidelines that govern our organizations and our nationalism will never falter. We will stand firm for who we are and what we believe in. We are not quitters; we are fighters. We are Assyrian soldiers who fight at the front of the lines for what we believe in so that our children and our children's children will have a place in this world not only as an American but also as an ASSYRIAN.
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