Assyrians from Stanislaus County are helping organize a rally Saturday to protest the purge of Assyrian Christians from their Iraqi homeland by Islamic extremists.
“Mosul has been emptied of our people,” Modesto’s Suzan Younan said about Iraq’s second-largest city. “Before ISIS came in last month, there were 20,000 Assyrians living there.”
The terrorist group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria reportedly went door to door in Mosul, marking homes where Christians lived. They painted the Arabic letter for “N” – short for Nazarene – on those houses.
Younan said Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac residents, who have been practicing Christianity there for about 1,900 years, were given an ultimatum: By noon July 19, they had to pay a prohibitively high tax, convert to Islam, leave or die by the sword.
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So thousands of Assyrians and other Christians fled their homes, walking with what they could carry to neighboring villages miles away.
“This is a modern-day holocaust,” Younan said. “It cannot be ignored.”
Younan said many of the estimated 18,000 Assyrians living in Modesto, Ceres and Turlock have been following the Iraqi events via satellite feeds from international news sources. She is disappointed the purge of Christians there has gotten so little media attention in the United States.
“Gaza, Gaza, Gaza is being covered, but there’s been no light shed on how Assyrians are being persecuted and killed in Iraq,” said Tina Toma of Ceres. “It’s an ethnic cleansing that’s going on.”
Toma, who was born in the United States, said Assyrians have been targeted for generations because of their Christian beliefs.
“My parents fled Iraq after 26 members of their family were buried alive during Saddam Hussein’s reign,” Toma said. “It’s genocide, and it’s been going on for years.”
To drum up support for protecting their people, Assyrians from Northern California are being encouraged to attend a San Francisco protest rally, starting at 10 a.m. Saturday in Justin Herman Plaza.
Similar protests are planned in other American cities, and in England, Canada, Germany and elsewhere around the world.
Organizers want the United States and the United Nations to provide a secure region in Iraq for the persecuted Christians who live there.
“Assyrians are the indigenous people of Iraq, and we need a safe haven,” Toma explained.
The Nineveh plains near Mosul, where Assyrians have resided for more than 4,000 years, is where Younan wants that safe haven.
“We deserve an autonomous region,” Younan said, “but we would need the United Nations to protect us.”
Because the Nineveh plains have rich oil reserves, the land is coveted by numerous Iraqi factions, including ISIS extremists, the ethnic Kurds who also inhabit the region and Iraq’s elected government.
To promote their cause, Assyrians from Stanislaus are organizing carpools and possibly bus transportation to Saturday’s rally. They also have been crafting protest signs and building coffins and Christian crosses to carry during the event.
T-shirts sporting the Arabic “N” symbol are being made in Modesto, as a sign of unity with the Christians who were forced out of their homes. Those shirts will be sold for $10 at Saturday’s rally and from 3 to 9 p.m. Thursday at 1620 N. Carpenter Road, Suite D-46, in Modesto. To pre-order shirts, contact Toma at (209) 968-0525.
Details about Saturday’s rally are posted on the Facebook page “Worldwide Protest – Northern California,” and on Twitter at #WeAreN and at #DemandForAction.
For more information, call Shaun Toma at (209) 247-2572.