Misinformation From a Finnish Immigration Official

Assyrian International News Agency
Guest Editorial
Misinformation From a Finnish Immigration Official
Dr. Eden Naby
Posted 01-28-2005, 13:01:32

(AINA) — A member of the Finnish Directorate of Immigration, Antero
Leitzinger published an article called Kurds and the Kurdistans, which
appeared on 1/23/05 at GlobalPolitician.com. The article appeared so
outrageous to a Kurdish supporter that this person called it to the
attention of Dr. Eden Naby, Academic Advisor to the Assyrian Academic
Society. The article below is Dr. Naby’s editorial for AINA
critiquing the misinformation that the author has knowingly or
unwittingly passed into the public domain about Assyrians (ed.).

I am truly appalled at the shallowness of the analysis, lack of
comparative data, and simple (mischievous?) twisting of facts in the
article on Kurds and the Kurdistans, which appeared on 1/23/05 by
Antero Leitzinger at GlobalPolitician.com. In the age of the Internet,
thankfully, one cannot get away with such low quality work. Facts are
easy to check, and propaganda cannot so easily pass for expert

Not only does this author persist on weighing “oranges” against
“apples” and coming up with useless analogies (Scandinavians, divided
into several countries, cannot be equated with Kurds, nor can Turks be
equated with the distant Uighurs of Central Asia, whatever the
language affinities may be), but he treats lightly areas of cultural
history that are very complex

But this is not his most egregious mistake. No, in his references to
Assyrians your editors should not have let pass the absolute
historical and linguistic misinformation being passed along by Kurdish
extremists to unsuspecting western sources: Can Global Politician
maintain its integrity if it presents such appallingly unbalanced

Assyrians have never been “Kurds.” Nor are Jews who lived in northern
Iraq “Kurds.” From reliable Israeli accounts, there are no more than
100 Jews left in all of Iraq, and most of those are in Baghdad and
Basra. The Jewish religious and cultural facilities in places like
Mosul and especially the large village of Alqosh on the Nineveh Plain
have been looked after by the local ChaldoAssyrians once the Jews
finally got permission to flee to Israel after 1949. Assyrians and
Jews in Iraq, because they shared religious status as dhimmis – barely
tolerated non-Muslims – and a common Aramaic speaking heritage,
maintained a close relationship. One of the earliest books published
about Jews in Iraq is by an Assyrian (Ghanima, 1927).

Whatever the new strategic relationship between Iraq’s Kurds and the
Israelis and Americans may be, let us not gloss over the fact that
most Jews living in northern Iraq are today in Israel or somewhere out
of Iraq. Just because they spoke Kurdish does not mean that they were
Kurds. Many minorities speak multiple languages of necessity, even as
a mother language, of necessity. Look at the Uzbek elites or the
Kazakhs who still are more comfortable in Russian than in their own
written languages. Imagine the situation in northern Iraq where Jews
and Assyrians spoke modern forms of Aramaic but of necessity also
communicated in Kurdish, Arabic and in some cases Turkish and
Persian. That is the state of minorities. It is an injustice to parlay
multilingualism into Kurdish ethnicity and deny the existence of
special ethnic minorities who already suffer enough physically and

In terms of religion therefore, Kurds do not include many religions.
Absolutely not. They are Muslims of several stripes. Assyrians are
Christians separated into several denominations. The language of
Assyrian church liturgy is Syriac, and sometimes the modern Aramaic
vernacular. If in some churches the knowledge of Aramaic has decreased
due to its suppression in schools, and Arabic, Turkish and even
Kurdish are adopted to carry on the Christian tradition, this does not
make these people Kurds. Aramaic is the oldest continuously written
and spoken language of the Middle East and second only to Chinese in
the entire world. It is on the verge of joining the dead languages of
the world like Latin precisely because of the kinds of persecution
that Christians in parts of the Muslim world have experienced.

In Iraq, northwest Iran and in eastern Turkey, the biggest direct
physical pressure on the Assyrians came from the Kurds, historically
and today. Antero Leitzinger should have reflected a bit more, and
read a great deal more about the First World War in the Middle East
before repeating Kurdish propaganda about who persecuted whom. Written
records alone, of Kurdish attacks on Assyrian villages, go back to the
mid-19th century. They culminated in World War I when Kurds
persistently attacked Urmiyah at a time when the Iranian government
was too weak (caught up in the Constitutional Revolution) to resist
either the Tsarist or Ottoman armies. Kurds took advantage of this
weakness to kill off Assyrians and Armenians in persistent pulses
sweeping down from the Zagros foothills onto the plains of Urmiyah. In
1914, just as the Ottomans joined the Central Powers, their Kurdish
allies launched an attack on Margawar and Targawar, killing all who
could not flee east to relative shelter. In 1915 when the Committee
of Union and Progress (CUP) launched its jihad in earnest against the
Armenians, Assyrians and Pontic Greeks, driving who they could not
kill into the Syrian desert, due to the Kurdish Hamidiya paramilitary
units, very few, less than 50,000 Assyrians managed to reach Urmiyah
since the mountain passes were held by Kurds who had taken over
Margawar and Targawar already. The events of WWI culminated in the
assassination of the Kurdish Shakkak tribe’s honored dinner guest, the
Assyrian Patriarch, titled Mar Shim’un at that time, in 1918; about
130 of Mar Shim’un’s bodyguards were also murdered. Some allege the
after dinner assassination took place because the Kurdish chieftain
Isma’el Agha (Simku) coveted this Assyrian leader’s ring. (Anzali,

Kurds have also coveted Assyrian and Armenian women, and being in a
more religiously powerful position as Muslims, they have taken these
women and girls as household servants or second wives with little that
their Christian neighbors could do to prevent it, although trying to
get the women back periodically occurred and as late as the 1960s got
whole Christian villages destroyed (August Thiery, 2003). The
offspring of such forced unions may be partly Assyrian, but ethnically
and culturally they grew up Kurds. And Muslims. Forget racial purity
in that part of the Middle East: what matters for identity is
language, religion and heritage.

Due to the polygamous marriages so popular among peasant and
non-peasant Kurds, the rate of population increase among Kurds is one
of the highest in the world although population figures are
notoriously unreliable and we only have the sample Soviet censuses to
provide some evidence. One recent New Yorker article (October 2004)
noted that among the Kurds moving into Kirkuk was a man with two wives
and 21 children! He was interviewed at random. The upshot of all this
is that the villages in Iran identified as Assyrian in 1927 were
reduced drastically in number by the time of the official Iranian
census published in the early 1950s (Razmara). And take a guess as to
who had replaced the Assyrian Christians in and around Urmiyah? Mainly
Kurds, not Azaris. Maybe Antero Leitzinger should have read a little
more about why the Mahabad Republic was located where it was in WWII,
instead of simply wondering why it was not in “Kordestan.”

The same displacement process occurred in southeast Turkey, in
northeast Syria and now with help from misinformation like that
provided in Global Politician, on the Nineveh Plains in northern
Iraq. These replacements are genuine Kurds, not of the variety your
author is presenting as “Christian Kurds” and “Jewish Kurds.”

These ethnic and religious matters in the Middle East are not
simple. To try to deal with them from a biased perspective, or to
create untenable analogies, only leads to disastrously tragic policy
decisions. Global political astuteness requires far greater diligence
and care.

Ethnic cleansing is no joking matter. Careless words can wipe out the
Assyrians, one of the oldest surviving communities in the world. The
culture of the Assyrians of the Middle East is precious in all the
senses of that word: it is old, rich, increasingly fragile, and has
made many contributions to world culture from medicine (Le Coz, 2004)
to agriculture (Abdalla 1980s, 1990s articles) and all the fields of
human knowledge between them. To relegate the Assyrians to a branch of
Kurds, who, for whatever reason, have a low prestige culture and
little written history, is a cultural crime. At the least your author
and you [globalpolitician.com] need to make a retraction.

Dr. Eden Naby is a cultural historian on the modern Middle East with a
concentration on the area from Iraq to Central Asia. She has published
extensively on Assyrians, as well as the Afghans, Turkmens, Uighurs
and Kurds. Dr. Nab y’s book Afghanistan: Mullah, Marx And Mujahid
(Westview Press, rpt. 2002), co-authored with the Prof. Ralph
H. Magnus, is a seminal source on modern Afghanistan and particularly
useful for its analysis of that country’s ethnic and religious
minorities. Her most recent writing about Assyrians is From Lingua
Franca to Endangered Language: The Legal Aspects of the Preservation
of Aramaic in Iraq, a paper in On The Margins Of Nations: Endangered
Languages And Language Rights (Joan A. Argenter and R. McKenna Brown,
ed., 2004).

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