The US and UN must establish a safe haven for Assyrians in Iraq

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A week ago, the Islamic State (IS) released a video of their members beheading some 50 young men in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, and assassinating hundreds of others in cities in Syria and Iraq. These are the most brutal images that a person can witness. IS does not ask about religion when they attack, they slaughter Muslims too. But if you happen to be a non-Muslim, the chance of your survival under their rule diminishes greatly. IS have tagged the homes of Christians with the letter 'N' for Nazarene, the Quran's term for Christian, as a public warning to the Christian communities. Two weeks ago, they gave three choices to the Christians of Mosul:

Pay a heavy tax, flee the city, or be killed.

For a decade I have followed the continuous atrocities committed against Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs and other minorities in countries like Iraq and Syria. To observers of the region, mass murders have become tragically predictable. In hundreds of articles and reports I have asked Western world leaders to open their eyes. Now the knife has hit the bone and we are witnessing a genocide.

I have tried to influence the political wrangling which has been taking place since the IS invasion of Mosul. The UN has made a statement, albeit a very confusing one. And France wants to help, but is abetting IS instead. To help interpret the language behind the diplomatic parlor game represented in the above two so-called "important steps," I called several colleagues who are preeminent scholars in their respective fields. I also wanted to learn how it could be done better.

"When states fail to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, the international community has a responsibility to intervene," said Mr Alen Mirza, an international human rights attorney and Assyrian Universal Alliance of America's Global Policy Director.

"We've seen this principle of international law upheld on several occasions," Mr Alen Mirza continued, "including in 2011 when the Libyan regime systematically attacked civilians and in 2012 when terrorist groups sought to take control of northern Mali. Yet, despite the Security Council's recent statements calling the persecution of minorities in Mosul a "crime against humanity," the international community continues to stand idly by."

The Iraqi government lacks the will and the power to fight IS and to reclaim Mosul. Assyrians and other minorities have fled to the Nineveh Plains, just 20 kilometers outside of the city. At any given moment, the IS may invade the region and commit massacres and atrocities. The Kurdish army is currently helping the Assyrians, but for how long? The Assyrians need a permanent solution and they need it urgently. So what does it take to establish a safe haven?

The UN has, in this confusing statement, condemned the crimes of IS against Christians:The secretary general reiterates that any systematic attack on the civilian population, or segments of the civilian population, because of their ethnic background, religious beliefs or faith may constitute a crime against humanity, for which those responsible must be held accountable. All armed groups, including IS and associated formations, must abide by international humanitarian law and protect civilians living in areas they control.

Do they really expect the IS, the perpetrators of crimes against humanity, to protect their victims? I had to ask some friends several times if it's my English or if the UN actually wrote this nonsense. So, Mr General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, here is a question:

"When will you sit at the table with IS to negotiate for human rights and the protection of Assyrians and other minorities? My fellow Assyrians and I will definitely not miss that meeting."

When I spoke to yet another friend about my criticism of the UN, he told me to calm down. He explained the process: the Secretary General must first condemn events as constituting crimes against humanity, then there can be a vote on Article 70, which must be introduced by someone in the Security Council.

So there needs to be someone to introduce Article 70 immediately, France maybe?

The basis for establishing an internationally administered safe haven in Iraq would likely require a resolution from the UN Security Council authorizing an intervention.

The Security Council consists of 15 member states - 10 rotating and 5 permanent. The five permanent members, Russia, China, France, the US and UK, can veto any substantive resolution. Thus, a resolution for a safe haven in Iraq would require the affirmative vote of nine members, including all five permanent members.

My message to these five countries is: "Your vote is needed right away."

France has announced its intention to grant asylum to the Christians forced out of Mosul. Thank you, France, for hearing our cry for help. Thank you for recognizing the immediate and disastrous situation facing Christian Assyrians in Iraq, and for offering to act. Hundreds of thousands are grateful for this announcement of possible asylum.

But as much as we would love to see all the Christians of the Middle East find a safe haven in, say, Marseille, we know that it is not a tenable solution. The Assyrians need a permanent safe haven in the Middle East itself: the birthplace of Christianity and where our legacy of seven thousand years as Assyrians rests, the land of our faith and our forefathers. This is where the Assyrians belong.

Not only do Assyrian Christians lay claim to some of the oldest literary, architectural, and geographical artefacts of Christianity, they also speak the language of Jesus. All of this history - along with the lives of thousands of families - is on the verge of destruction. Christianity is facing extinction in the places where it first emerged.

The Assyrians want to live in harmony and understanding with other faiths and ethnicities of all kinds, as they always have. They just want a small area where they will be protected and not ruled by those who will force them to give up their faith or ethnicity or risk death.

France must invoke its legacy of excellent diplomacy and renowned sense of respect and understanding of human rights as well as the human condition. We, Assyrians in the whole world, urge France to back the establishing of a safe haven. We need France to invoke a common legacy of humanity and end the Christians' constant running from extremism and persecution and make. In short: to invoke Article 70.

During the 1915 Ottoman genocide against non-Muslims, Americans were at the forefront helping Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians in need. Coverage of the tragedy in the media and concern for its victims was widespread. Unfortunately, the Americans of today appear to be far less interested in helping the vulnerable cultures of the world. This duty does not just fall on the President. Why do American Christians not hear the cries of their brothers and sisters in Christ?

What would Jesus say about your silence?

All the major Assyrian-American organizations came together in Washington D.C last week to raise their voices and demand action, but they cannot do it alone. Americans of all backgrounds: if you are God-fearing and freedom-loving, please support Christians of Iraq and Syria!

City after city in Iraq and Syria -- two countries in which the United States has been actively engaged -- have been emptied of their indigenous people. President Obama, will you support a Safe Haven for Assyrians and other minorities? Will you invoke Article 70? Or will you remain silent about the systematic ethno-religious cleansing that goes on right in front of your eyes?

Mr President, please honor your Nobel Peace Prize! Please listen to the Syriac-Orthodox Patriarch and American citizen his Holiness Mor Ignatius Aphrem II! Together with all Assyrian/Syriac/Chaldean Patriarchs, he is demanding action from you and the United Nations. So my final question to you, Mr. President, is: Do you want to be another American President that history will judge harshly?

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By Nuri Kino /AINA