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Stop ISIL’s Cultural Genocide of the Assyrian People

Stop ISIL’s Cultural Genocide of the Assyrian People

As the mass genocide of Christians in Iraq at the hands of ISIL has waged on, I have seen several disturbing images of the Assyrian people, the ethnic group to which I belong, being murdered in their own homeland. However, this video is one of the most upsetting things I have witnessed – it shows ISIL destroying thousands of priceless, ancient Assyrian artifacts at the Nineveh Museum in Mosul, Iraq.

As an Assyrian, being in the presence of these ancient artifacts is powerful; they remind us of the strength and creativity that our civilization stands for and of our powerful ancestors that continue to inspire us. These relics are one of the few ways in which we Assyrians today can connect with our national culture outside of our language and our stories. We cannot just hop on a plane and go to our country to connect with our roots as we have no homeland to call Assyria. Instead, our people are facing both human and cultural genocide at the hands of ISIL on the Plains of Nineveh in Northern Iraq, the same place where our civilization once thrived.

It may seem strange to care so much about the destruction of statues when violence towards the Assyrians and other Iraqi Christians at the hands of ISIL is rapidly increasing, including but not limited to the recent taking of 150 Assyrians hostage in late February. However, archeologists around the world are referring to this atrocity as a “cultural genocide,” and with good reason. Although there is no reliable estimate as to how many Assyrians remain in the world, most estimates are less than 800,000, and these people are spread out from the violent Plains of Nineveh in Iraq to Washington Square. Because Assyrians are a small, stateless ethnic group that is spread around the world, what binds us is not land, but rather our language, fine art, and ancient traditions. The Assyrians have no recognized state and therefore have limited if any standing in the international community, so what we rely on to give us a voice is in fact our cultural identity. If this identity is destroyed, as ISIL is seeking to accomplish, one swing of a hammer at a time, the Assyrian people will have no glue to hold them together. Our chance of having a true voice in the Middle East and in the international community shrinks with each blow to the marble.

Yes, statehood would be the ideal way for the Assyrian people to achieve a voice in the international community and to impact global politics. However, with the situation in the Plains of Nineveh becoming increasingly volatile, the Assyrian community in the diaspora has more realistic expectations. By protecting our cultural identity, we, the Assyrian people, hope that we will be able to garner enough international support to protect us from physical and cultural genocide. We may not have established political leaders, an army, or even a country, but we do have our culture; and the Assyrian people have hope that our cultural identity might be just strong enough to save us.

- Nika Arzoumanian

Photo: ArtNet News

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