The largest international Assyrian organization has convened its convention in Australia. The result of Assyrian Universal Alliance’s (AUA) 26th World Congress is a declaration which, in part, calls on Iraq to create an Assyrian autonomous region, demands land return from the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq and calls on Turkey to recognize the WWI genocide against Greeks, Assyrians, and Armenians.
Interestingly, the declaration calls for official recognition of Assyrians as Iraq’s indigenous peoples. The declaration, nonetheless, doesn’t claim the same in Turkey, Syria, and Iran, where modern Assyrians have previously claimed indigenous connection. It seems that AUA wishes to concentrate its efforts on a particular goal – mainly an autonomous region in northern Iraq. But given their small numbers (estimated at under a million), Assyrian’s righteous claim has little translation in Iraq’s realpolitik. Some even argue that Assyrian demands for autonomy in Iraq are a dangerous play in a region where Kurds and Sunni Arabs contest for power and control.
I don’t see a clear-cut solution for the Assyrian problem in Iraq, but I think a complementary relationship with both Kurds and Sunni Arabs is in the best interest of the Assyrians at this time.
Background on Assyrians: Known by different names, the indigenous peoples of Mesopotamia are often called Assyrians, Syriacs, Arameans, Chaldeans, Nestorians, Syrianis, Jacobites, and Phoenicians. Not all of the above choose to be called Assyrian, the general name often given to all these groups, and a more inclusive term, Chaldeans-Assyrians-Syriacs, has been emerging. The most active groups, nonetheless, consider the entire nation – Assyrians.
A small, stateless indigenous peoples spread between Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran, Assyrians are a little known nation with a recent history of persecution and even genocide. The likely descendants of the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians, modern Assyrians are an ancient Christian people who have survived for centuries. Surrounded by not just states but also by other stateless groups such as the Kurds, the history and problems of Assyrians are little known, discussed, or talked about.
According to various estimates, there are roughly four million Assyrians around the world. Less than two million live in their ancestral lands of what is now northern Iraq. As a result of the two Gulf wars, the number might have actually dwindled to less than a million there. In Syria, there are an estimated of 800,000 Assyrians, 74,000 in Iran, and less than 25,000 in Turkey. The largest diasporas are in the US, Armenia, Brazil, Lebanon, Russia, Sweden, and Australia.
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