Community Columns

Preventing another Assyrian genocide: Acting locally, thinking globally

When it comes to local action, we sometimes think that it is limited to local politics – land-use planning, zoning, city finances, government services, etc. However, local action can include awareness and movement on national and international issues. Furthermore, as retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Sargis Sangari, founder of the Near East Center for Strategic Engagement, recently wrote, local terrorism is a global problem and must be identified and fought at the local political level to have global impact.

For example, anytime an important national topic comes up for debate before Congress, people on a local level rally to influence their congressional representatives to vote one way or another. We’ve seen this happen across a wide range of issues, including immigration and abortion, all of which affect people’s lives locally. We can’t pretend to isolate ourselves from events just because they don’t physically take place in our towns.

The genocide against the Assyrian people in their ancestral homeland is a case in point, and I propose that this nation’s leaders act to ensure self-governance for the Assyrians if we are going to defeat terrorism.

In the past year, Americans and the world have witnessed an Islamic terrorist network take over large portions of Iraq and Syria. Islamic State forces have cleansed most of the Assyrians from their ancestral homeland in northern Iraq as well as Syria. They have killed and taken captive many of them, often using the females as sex slaves. Sex trafficking usually sparks outrage among Americans. Will America rise to condemn it in this instance?

Among those affected by these events are some of our own Modesto and Turlock residents, whose family and relatives still dwell in their homeland. The Assyrian community here is devastated knowing that some of their family members are held captive following the Islamic State’s recent attack on the Khabur region in Syria. And here is the first instance where we see the importance of this matter locally. If any of these people are fortunate enough to escape and come to America as refugees, it is inevitable that some of them will come here. The community will have to be prepared to help these traumatized people and their families.

Furthermore, the history and culture being destroyed is that of the world. In that land is where modern civilization developed, along with math, science, engineering, medicine and a plethora of other fields. Many of the inventions that we rely on were developed there. The Islamic State has burned the Assyrians’ historic and religious manuscripts from the Christian era and destroyed their artifacts and statues from the ancient era, prompting even the pope to state that military action would be justified. Several historical cities such as Hatra, Nimrud, and Dur-Sharrukin have been razed, drawing condemnation from the United Nations, UNESCO and the Oriental Institute of Chicago. Several world religions have their roots in that land. It is a shame for this rich cultural heritage to be lost.

Finally, there is the issue of whether America will need to put boots on the ground. The top-down approach that was used in Iraq didn’t work very well, as the U.S. was largely trying to change people who had been operating in a certain way for several generations. However, it was effective in its bottom-up approach with the Kurds, for example.

The U.S. and several other countries now provide the Kurds and so-called moderate rebels with weapons, funding and training. Meanwhile, the Assyrians, the indigenous people of that land, do not receive such training. It would be wiser to leverage the Assyrians as an ally and provide them with the same tools for building security in that land. That includes the establishment of self-governance for the Assyrians, under which they will gain the ability to not only field a police force but also an army.

That would require less U.S. intervention and a small amount of dollars, and achieve the goal of an enduring peace in the region. This is better for the U.S. in that it costs less for taxpayers than the possible alternative of troops reentering the conflict zone en masse. It also means few to no U.S. casualties. Finally, it would provide the U.S. with a major ally in the Middle East – one that would share the same cultural traits and aspirations as we do in the U.S.

I referred above to Sangari’s article, which stated, “The environmental factors have evolved over the last few years to such an extent that ideologies and radicalization processes that lead to terrorism hold few political or geographical borders. It is therefore imperative that the global awareness of terrorism and radical movements are understood, and the context to which they might impact the local area due to transient, permanent immigrant, ethnic, religious, political, or other ideological affiliation in the local community.” Assyrian people living here understand this firsthand and know the best way to effect it in support of our unified efforts to engage terrorists across the world landscape.

It is important to understand that the Assyrian genocide and subsequent need for self-governance are not irrelevant to us on a local level. First, there are citizens of the Stanislaus County area that have family in the region of conflict. Our county would also likely take in some of the refugees produced by the crisis. Second, the world’s heritage is being destroyed. Finally, there is the risk of more U.S. troops having to return to fight an enemy that is entrenched and emboldened by success.

It is absolutely imperative that U.S. citizens request that their representatives push for Assyrian self-governance and begin arming the Assyrian forces that are currently fighting the Islamic State.

Donald Babadalir is a former candidate for Turlock City Council, activist and author of a resolution before the Modesto City Council condemning Assyrian genocide.