Assyrians: the brave and honorable guardians of civility in the Middle East
JUNE 9, 2015
By Lt. Col. Sargis Sangari US Army (ret.) CEO of The NEAR EAST CENTER FOR STRATEGIC ENGAGEMENT
Currently some 660,000 Middle Eastern Assyrians are refugees or in displaced person status in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Lebanon. Many of these refugees reside in camps and other temporary settlements that are under constant threat of attack by the ISIS forces that drove them from their homes. A small but extremely determined and highly effective Assyrian army defends these camps and also the villages in the Nineveh plain that have not been overrun by ISIS.
To date the Assyrian military forces in the Syria/Iraq zone of conflict have not received any direct support or funding from regional powers and Western nations in their fight against ISIS.
Regional powers and Western nations have, however, funded various Sunni factions and forces battling ISIS in the Nineveh Plains area. What’s more, funding as well as direct military aid and training has also been provided to the Iraqi central government, which is backed by Iran. Other aid recipients are the KRG, which is intent on “administering” the Assyrian heartland of Nineveh Plains after ISIS is driven from the region, and anti-Syrian forces that are tied to various bad actors such Al-Qaeda.
In modern times the Assyrian people have promoted peace and tolerance in the region. To that end they have guarded the tomb of a Hebrew prophet Nahum, which is located in their homeland. It was Nahum who prophesized the fall of Nineveh in the mid-seventh century BC, several decades before the city actually fell in 612 BC.
The difficult job of defending the Assyrian people would be made easier if the overstretched Assyrian forces, outnumbered by ISIS and lacking in all the materials needed for the fight, could leave Nahum’s tomb unguarded. Assyrian fighting men and women charged with protecting the ancient resting place of a long-dead Hebrew prophet–one who was, in his time, a dedicated foe of the Assyrian Empire–could certainly find plenty of employment battling the forces seeking their annihilation. But that is not the Assyrian way. The Assyrians feel that it is their duty as a civilized people to resist the forces of barbarism in the region, and the fulfillment of that duty includes protecting the region’s culture heritage.
Sadly, a number of Israeli companies have contracted with the KRG leadership to help the Kurds develop the Nineveh Plains and its resources once ISIS has been eradicated.
This relationship was so entwined that in June 2014 Iraqi business news reported: “In a speech to a Tel Aviv think-tank…Netanyahu called for the establishment of an independent Kurdistan as part of a broader alliance with moderate forces across the region, and went on to call the Kurds “a nation of fighters who have proved political commitment and are worthy of independence.” “According to the report from The Guardian, Israel has maintained discreet military, intelligence and business ties with the Sunni Kurds seeing them as a buffer against shared Arab adversaries.”
Thus, and rather ironically, Assyrian troops are protecting the tomb of a Hebrew prophet even as that prophet’s descendants are helping the Kurds who are Muslim Sunnis to gain control over the Assyrian homeland.
Since Netanyahu’s speech last June Kurds have joined ISIS to fight Kurds in Khobani, 100 plus members of the Kurdish Religious Department have left to join ISIS, and the Kurdish Regional Government abandoned the Mosul battlefields it needed to hold in support of future business agreements with Israeli oil in the middle of the night in August 2014, one month after the Israeli’s PM speech in support of their independence.
Yet the Israeli businessmen still fly into Erbil airport on a daily bases and have even been photographed with blue prints under their arms in the open as they are escorted to their meetings with KRG leaders who were recently educated on how not to administer a region by the State Department during their visit to Washington D.C.
This being true the Assyrians are still protecting the tomb of a Jewish prophet since last year when the Kurds cut and ran from the battlefield. The Assyrians do so even through they may never get the support they need from Nahum’s descendants in their historical homeland. In effect, the Assyrians are performing a good deed that will do them no good on this earth.
But then, we should not be surprised by this outcome. The Middle East is a place where few good deeds go unpunished especially when the worship of the almighty dollar stands between understanding who is an enduring partner in the region and who is a partner who still considers you one of the people of the book as they do the Christians they are not supporting or annihilating in the region.
The name Nahum means ”consolation” or “consoler”. And this is fitting name for the man who was chosen to comfort the oppressed people of southern kingdom of Judah. I wonder what he would think now if he knew that his grave is about to be destroyed by ISIS as it is protected by the descendents of the Ancient Assyrians who destroyed the northern kingdom of Israeli while the Israeli businessmen are flying into KRG on a daily basis striking deals with the Sunni Kurds who abandoned his grave site in the middle of the night last August a month after the Israeli PM praised them as allies in the region.
US Army Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) Sargis Sangari is Founder of The United Assyrian Appeal and CEO of The Near East Center for Strategic Engagement LLC and had six years of continuous combat deployment in the Mid East. While in theatre he conducted 144 combat patrols, 22 Special Forces missions and survived 7 IED attacks. Born in Iran within an ethnic Assyrian family, Sangari has a deep skill set in Middle East languages and cultures and understands the plight of Assyrian and other Mid-Eastern Christians. He now uses his 20 year military experience to advise Assyrian Christians in their struggle against ISIS and in the region.