The recent Conference of Religions and Sects in Sulaymaniyah, organized under the supervision of Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, was an important milestone: The first such conference to take place in Iraq that seriously covered the defense of religions and sects after the collapse of the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein.
Present at the conference were Christians, Muslims (both Sunni and Shi'a) and other, smaller, minority groups. What was surprising was that there was not a single representative of Iraqi Jews to relate their glorious history, so full of great accomplishments for the glory of Iraq and its constitution. In their absence, they could not tell of the calamity that befell them when their citizenship was withdrawn, their money and property confiscated, their rights denied, and when they were subjected to being imprisoned or murdered while ethnic cleansing was committed by forcing the best of my Iraqi Jewish friends to emigrate.
At the conference, it was apparent that no one was available to represent them or mention this sensitive subject. Therefore, to balance the debate, I decided that this was going to be my discussion subject, as my solemn duty to repay some of our debt to them.
The Presidential Council, the ruling party, and Iranian agents in Sulaymaniyah all warned me not to raise such a subject and speak about it, and tried to forbid it. They claimed that it is too sensitive and dangerous, and that due to the current public mood, it should not to be spoken about in public.
On both the first day and the final day of the conference, I spoke before the conference organizers, ministers and various international media outlets, about the massive contribution made by Jews to Iraq's history over more than 2500 years, beginning with their exile in Babylon from 597 B.C., and referred to three famous Iraqi books:
- Jewish Prominent Characters In Current Iraq, by Meir Basr
- Kurdistan Jews, by Omar Kader
- Lovers stroll in Iraqi Jewish History, by Youssef Ganiamah
I spoke about the great history of Iraqi Jews in building modern Iraq, its economy and way of life, and mentioned several examples in social, intellectual and political areas. Sir Sassoon Eskell, for example, was the greatest Iraqi Minister of Finance of the twentieth century, responsible for incredible achievements at the Iraqi central bank.
Iraqi Jews had been genuine citizens for thousands of years -- even before Muslims and Christians. Jews made up a huge part of Baghdad's population - by the 1920's they were 40% of the city's people.
I also noted that the Iraqi constitution does not mention anything about Iraqi Jews, so that it has become necessary to draft an amendment to Article II of the constitution, granting official recognition to the Jewish faith, adding it to the other recognized national religions.
I then spoke about the crimes of stripping the Iraqi Jews of their citizenship, their their expulsion from the country, and the dreadful looting of their properties.
I urged President Jalal Talabani -- a well-known humanitarian -- and Masood Barazani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, to legislate a law of citizenship in Iraq that would enable Jews of Iraqi descent to regain Iraqi citizenship; award them parliamentary seats proportional to their actual population size, as is done the other minority religious groups such as the Christians and Muslims; and to compensate them for their usurped rights, in the same way other Iraqi countrymen who had suffered were compensated for their ordeals.
Despite the uncivilized methods used in attempting to suppress my presentation, the audience responded with full support and a standing ovation The address apparently caused considerable embarrassment to the conference's organizing committee, which then was forced to take the topic seriously.
Results were achieved when three paragraphs were adopted in the text of the final communique: The seventh paragraph states the importance of correcting the constitution to add Judaism as an official religion alongside Islam, Christianity and others, and restoring the Jews' citizenship. The ninth paragraph consists of ten points, of which article nine recognizes the rights of Jews in nationality and national belonging. Article five recognizes the crime of expulsion and its effects, and article five calls for Jewish heritage sites to be cared for, without tampering.
These declarations now need to put into action and implemented at all levels. Anyone who would like to energize this topic publicly to ensure its implementation is welcome to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org -- not only will injustices be reversed, but the good name of Iraq will be restored.
Nabil al-Haidari is an Iraqi writer, researcher and lecturer based in London.