Assyrian Statehood Would Help Kurdish-American Relations
JNS.org – President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban against citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries has been met with a growing backlash in the Middle East. To take one example, the Iraqi parliament voted to implement reciprocal restrictions, barring Americans from entering Iraq unless Washington reverses its decision. This leaves Iraqi Kurds in a very precarious position.
According to retired Lt. Col. Sargis Sangari, an expert on Assyrian Christians and the CEO of the Near East Center for Strategic Engagement, any refusal by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to implement such a ban would put the Kurds at odds with the federal government in Baghdad. It would also prove damaging to Kurdish aspirations for independence. Thus, the KRG might be forced to take a position that puts it at odds with the US.
One solution to resolving the tension between the Kurds and the US would be to create an autonomous Syrian state. By supporting Assyrian statehood, the KRG would send a clear message that it stands firmly with US and Western values.
Assyrians are indigenous to Mesopotamia, and their history spans more than 6,700 years. When the Assyrian Empire came to an end in 612 BCE, the Assyrians became one of the first peoples to convert to Christianity. The Assyrian language, a dialect of Aramaic, is likely what Jesus would have spoken during his lifetime.
Prior to the Islamic conquest of the Middle East, the Assyrian Church had an estimated 80 million adherents. Today, the Assyrian population throughout the world has been reduced to a little more than 4 million. Continuous murder, rape and forcible conversions to Islam have resulted in as much as 95 percent of this ancient community being forced to live outside their native region.
Until 2003, the Assyrian-Christian population in Iraq was 1.5 million. By the end of 2015, that number had been reduced to an estimated 150,000. Today, Assyrians are persecuted by ISIS, which commits mass murder, forced conversions, rape and the destruction of Christian holy sites under its dominion.
“If a new Assyrian state becomes a reality, Assyrians from all over the world would go back,” said Sangari. “The majority of talented, Western-educated Assyrians would probably go back as well.”
American Assyrians who return to their homeland would represent a link to the US, which the KRG could cultivate by supporting the foundation of this new Assyrian state. President Trump recently stated that persecuted Christians in the Middle East would be given priority as refugees. If the KRG were to aid in the rebuilding of the Assyrian national homeland, this would represent a goodwill gesture to the US that would reverberate to Washington and send a powerful message that the murder of Christians in the region will not be tolerated.
Kurdish statehood is also contingent on the rebirth of an Assyrian state. Although KRG President Massud Barzani recently stated that a declaration of Kurdish independence was imminent, the KRG remains deeply divided. This division, compounded with potential conflicts with Iran and Iraq, does not bode well for the continued survival of a Kurdish state.
If the KRG supported the rebirth of an Assyrian state, it would have a reliable and powerful ally in the region. These two states, working together, could create an oasis of peace and prosperity in an area of the world that desperately needs it.
Bradley Martin is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center news and public policy group and deputy editor for the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.