By Stefan J. Bos Chief International Correspondent, BosNewsLife
BAGHDAD, IRAQ (BosNewsLife) -- Secret documents show Saddam Hussein's regime and local Kurdish leaders were involved in the "ethnic cleansing", "gassing" and "Islamization" of Assyrian Christians in Northern Iraq, with international religious aid organizations refusing to intervene, an Assyrian official claimed Wednesday, August 4.
Rev. Ken Joseph Jr., a leader of the Assyrian Christian community, said he had obtained evidence confirming a "decades-long pattern" of persecution by the previous Iraqi ruler, who is now awaiting trial in an Iraqi prison for alleged atrocities.
"Page after page tells the shocking story of Assyrian Christians uprooted from their villages by force - villages they have lived in for centuries and ordered immediately to leave by Moslems in conjunction with the forces of Saddam Hussein and the Kurdistan Regional Government," Joseph Jr. said.
"Entitled "The Settlements And Villages Of The Christian Assyrians In The Region Of Kurdistan Iraq", an apparently official 104-page report, "is a shocking view of a previously mostly unknown campaign of terror against a tiny minority in Iraq," he added.
He claimed at least 290 villages were destroyed during the "terror campaign" adding that "entry after entry reads "demography forcibly changed", "destroyed", "disappeared", "gas holocaust" and "intifada".
"What is in many ways even more shocking, though is what forms the subtitle of the report the role of International Aid Organizations, in many cases religious ones, in the effort," Joseph Jr. said.
The official noted that "the gassing of the Kurds" extended to a much greater population of Assyrian Christians as well, although this has been previously completely hidden." He stressed that "not only the Assyrians but also populations of Jews disappeared according to the secret document."
Human rights watchers say the policy first occurred on a massive scale in the second half of the 1970s as the Iraqi government sought to alter the demographic make-up of northern Iraq to reduce the political power and presence of ethnic minorities and consolidate control over this oil-rich region.
As an example Joseph Jr. said that "Mar Gewargis Church 1300 years old" was "destroyed (in) 1978" according to the documents which he pointed out "is another entry telling the story of the attempt to destroy all vestiges of the Christians and Jews of an area that has been theirs for centuries."
"The Document with "Confidential For Internal Use Only" and subtitled "The Contribution Of The International Non-Governmental Organizations To The Islamization of Assyrian Villages" goes into great detail on the destruction of the indigenous people of the region," he said.
There were no immediate reactions from the Iraqi interim government or international aid organizations to the reported revelations, which came a day after Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed concern about the situation in Northern Iraq.
HRW warned Tuesday, August 3, that "the authorities' failure to resolve property disputes"and "rising tensions" between people returning to their lands "could soon explode into open violence."
Its 78-page report, "Claims in Conflict: Reversing Ethnic Cleansing in Northern Iraq" documents the increasing frustration of thousands of Assyrians as well as displaced Kurds, and Turkomans "who are living in desperate conditions as they await a resolution of their property claims." HRW said the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority "failed to act even as the situation grew more volatile."
Joseph Jr. suggested however that the international community will face an uphill battle as church leaders have told him villages have been destroyed while churches, seminaries and homes were reduced to rubble.
"They forcibly came into our villages and ordered our people out under penalty of death. Each time we were replaced in our own villages by Moslems who had come from other parts of the country," he quoted Assyrian Activist Amir Oraha as saying.
"It is careful and organized plan to get all Christians out of Northern Iraq, particularly in an area where we have the historical right to be there` said the activist who was jailed under the regime of Saddam Hussein for his activities.
Oraha said 10,000 families wanted to return to their villages from Baghdad, Mosul and overseas, but that a lack of resources makes that difficult. A recent report by European Union Parliament Member Albert Jan Maat has reportedly warned that "International Aid is mainly distributed through regional and therefore Moslem leaders and seldom or never reaches the Assyrians".
"We do not understand why the United States budgeted 180 million dollars for Kurds to move to our villages and nothing budged for us to move back to the villages that we were forcibly taken out of by Saddam Hussein and his men." Oraha reportedly said. "We are waiting for help so the Assyrian Christians can finally return home".
It comes amid concern about the number of fleeing Christians, which is expected to increase, following bomb attacks against churches last Sunday, in which up to 15 people died.
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