On March 8, three members of an Assyrian Christian family -- Dr. Hisham Maskoni, his wife, Dr. Shadha Malik Dano, and her elderly mother -- were stabbed to death in their home in Baghdad. The two doctors, who had left Iraq, the country of their birth, in 2003, returned five years ago to work at St. Raphael Hospital in the capital.
The victims, who lived in a neighborhood controlled by a Shiite militia, had been tortured, according to Ashur Sargon Eskrya, president of the Assyrian Aid Society-Iraq, in an interview with Gatestone.
Eskrya also said that the motive behind the killings -- as in the case of an innocent Christian killed in Baghdad in February -- had not been established, and that so far, no suspects have been arrested. "These murders," he added, "are giving us yet another signal that there is no place for Assyrian Christians in Iraq."
An indigenous people of the Middle East, Assyrians have been targeted and murdered over the centuries for their religion and ethnicity. Yet they were once the rulers of the ancient Assyrian Empire. The traditional Assyrian homeland contains parts of Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq.
The Assyrian legacy to civilization is significant. Ancient Assyrians were pioneers in science, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, literature, art and technology. They were also exceptional builders, as shown by archaeological sites, including those at Ashur, Nimrud and Nineveh in Iraq. With the rise of Islam and the Arabian conquests of the 7th century, however, Assyrians and other eastern Christian peoples fell to a subordinate status -- "dhimmitude" -- which forced them to pay a tax, the jizya, in exchange for "protection." Since then, they have been persecuted repeatedly. According to the Assyrian International News Agency, every fifty years, an Assyrian massacre took place, but the 1914-1923 Christian genocide in Ottoman Turkey dwarfed previous massacres and resulted in the systematic extermination of around 750,000 Assyrians – nearly three-quarters of their prewar population.
After the end of World War I and with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Assyrians were excluded from the new forging of nation-states in the region. In spite of their having been severely persecuted and displaced by Muslims, Assyrians were not granted independence or autonomy in their ancient lands. Instead, they were left to the "tender mercies" of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and the Kurds.
Devoid of a government or security force, Assyrians in Turkey, Iran and Syria have been largely erased from their indigenous homeland. In Iraq's Nineveh Plain, however, Assyrians still form the majority and wish to establish a sustainable and democratic form of self-governance. Assyrians currently have a security force in the region: The Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU).
Pictured: Soldiers of the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU), an Assyrian security force, in a training exercise. (Image source: NPU)
In an interview with Gatestone, Athra Kado, the head of the Assyrian Democratic Movement in the town of Alqosh in Iraq and Director of the NPU media center, said:
"Our nation has suffered for centuries. The latest genocide by ISIS, as well as recent murders, such as those in Baghdad, are deeply affecting our people physically and psychologically. The only way for us to have a bright future is to establish a local administration in the Nineveh Plain lands, which will be a safe haven for all persecuted communities, including Yazidis.
"The new administration that needs to be established in the Nineveh plain should be protected internationally. This would also include forming a no-fly zone, and having the province monitored by international powers for a temporary period until we strengthen our military force and reconstruct our areas. In order to make this a reality, our Nineveh Plain Protection Units should be supported in both military and logistical terms."
Eskrya concurred, recounting for Gatestone:
"Throughout the bloody history of the region -- including the 1914-1923 Christian genocide, the 1933 massacre in Simele, the 1963 Iraqi-Kurdish War, the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein and the 2014 ISIS genocide -- Assyrians have lost their trust in governments that rule them, and they have even lost their trust in their own neighbors who engaged in kidnapping or even killing Assyrian Christians and raping women.
"Even today, Assyrian Christians still face genocide and discrimination in Iraq and the Middle East in general. During the ISIS invasion of the Nineveh plain, for example, terrorists grabbed our lands and destroyed our churches and historical sites. The result of all this persecution has been forced demographic change against Assyrian Christians.
"But through a local administration in Nineveh, economic and infrastructural developments can take place. The region is suffering from inadequate resources, so the new province should get a higher budget from the central government in Baghdad and should possess the right to self-rule."
Juliana Taimoorazy, founding president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council and a senior fellow at the Philos Project, has been advocating serious security measures, economic development and the rebuilding of homes for Assyrians. In an interview with Gatestone, she said:
"We fear crimes such as the murder of the Assyrian family in Baghdad will chip away at the hope that has returned to the hearts and minds of those who have decided to return to their towns in the Nineveh plain. However, our resolve is steadfast, and we will not be shaken. I liken our Assyrian nation to a tree that is standing tall amidst terrible winds. Although our branches may break, our roots will always remain solid in the earth of Nineveh."
Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist born and raised in Turkey. She is presently based in Washington D.C.