Posted by PETER JESSERER SMITH
WASHINGTON — The genocide carried out by the Islamic State group (ISIS) has sought to wipe out the Christian peoples of Syria and Iraq from their ancient homelands, but also to destroy the historical identity of the survivors.
Hundreds of ancient Christian monasteries, churches and cemeteries have been leveled and countless manuscripts burned and lost to future generations. Even as it loses its grip on territory with battlefield loses, ISIS has committed military-grade munitions and bulldozers to destroy ancient Assyrian sites such as Nineveh or demolish the famous ruins of Palmyra, once the center of an Aramaean empire that challenged Rome.
But while the miracle of 3-D printing gives hope that even these artifacts, such as Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph or Nineveh’s famous lamassu (huge granite winged bulls), may be restored from the shards and pulverized dust of their originals, the Bible’s most ancient living witnesses — the Aramaic and Assyrian peoples — are completely irreplaceable, and their survival is a matter of grave urgency.
“We are a people on the brink of extinction,” Juliana Taimoorazy, a Chaldean Catholic and ethnic Assyrian, told the Register.
Taimoorazy, the executive director and founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, said Assyrians in Syria and Iraq are caught on the one hand between ethnic and religious cleansing in their ancestral lands by Islamic militants, and assimilation into the West on the other hand, if they are extracted from their homelands and not given the tools they need to sustain their language, culture and identity.
“We gave a lot to Christianity as Eastern Christians, and we gave a lot to humanity as the Assyrian people: Our history is 6,700 years old, and we established the first library in the world, among other contributions,” she said. After the Assyrians received the Gospel from St. Thomas the Apostle, they spread it as far as India and China.
The sustained presence of these Assyrian and Aramaean Christians, both Aramaic-speaking peoples with ancient histories, in their ancestral lands of Syria and Iraq is also essential for the identity of the entire Catholic Church.
“We need them for our roots,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York told the Register in an interview after returning from a visit to the Church in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, where more than 100,000 Christians expelled from the Nineveh Plain by ISIS have taken refuge. He explained that it was imperative for the Church in America and the West to be invested in their survival, by having their parishes pray for them daily and stepping up advocacy and material support. If the Church fails to take care of them, he warned, “they will despair and leave.”
“These are our roots, and we see them displaced, see them threatened and see them wondering about their very survival,” he said, adding that the Christians are heavily dependent on support from Catholic agencies like Catholic Relief Services, Aid to the Church in Need and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
Creating a Safe Haven
Taimoorazy said the Assyrians need “a serious presence” in their ancestral homeland of the Nineveh Plain of Iraq in order to survive as a nation with their language and culture.
“All these Christians, these Assyrians, say: ‘We will go back to our homes if we’re protected by international forces and if we’re protected by our own people,’” she said.
Building a safe and secure home for Iraq’s Christians is, at last, starting to make its first real steps toward a concrete reality. Rob Nicholson, executive director of the Philos Project, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting positive Christian involvement in the Middle East, said he is working on completing a “white paper” by the end of May that will finally provide a blueprint for State Department officials and Capitol Hill lawmakers, explaining step-by-step how to turn this safe haven into a concrete reality.
“We need to make the idea credible and tangible in those circles that matter,” he said.
The idea is that a minority province situated in the Nineveh Plain for all the “Suryaya” — a name that encompasses ethnic Assyrian and Aramean Christian peoples — can be put into action swiftly after ISIS falls.
For the safe haven to be a reality, Nicholson pointed out that it requires a diaspora community to make a conscious effort to pass on its language, traditions, culture and memory to the next generations.
“There has to be a vision of returning,” he said. In this regard, the Jews have provided useful lessons for how a diaspora community can be uprooted from its homeland for nearly 2,000 years and eventually return. He noted that Jews, every Passover, say “next year in Jerusalem,” and this helps keep their identity alive.
“We need to have a ‘next year in Nineveh’ for the Assyrian people,” he said.
Click here to read the rest of the article Mideast Christians Extinction