International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Today we remember the Holocaust, a stain on humanity that stole the lives of an estimated 11 to 17 million souls, with International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day to force the world to reflect on genocide — past and present — all in the hope to stop those in the future.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day was born on January 27 — the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. On this annual day of remembrance, the UN urges the world to honor the victims of the Nazi era and work towards preventing future genocides.
Iraqi Christian Relief Council proudly honors all the victims of the Holocaust today. Assyrians (also known as Chaldean and Syriac) have known genocide. As AINA penned in its article, Genocides Against the Assyrian Nation, “No other people have given so many martyrs in the defense of their national and ethnic rights.” Though Assyrians designate August 7 as Memorial Day for Assyrian Martyrs, today we support International Holocaust Remembrance Day as a fellow nation victim to genocide.
Iraqi Christian Relief Council founder and president and Philos Project senior fellow Juliana Taimoorazy sees the growth of Israel as a model for Assyrian Christians after genocide.
“Our plight is identical to the Jewish and Israeli plight. I believe we need a Zionism of our own to acquire a homeland,” she says.
Remembering Jewish and Assyrian genocides
Iraqi Christian Relief Council sat down with board member David Fischler, who was was born of Jewish parents and became a Christian in college after reading the Bible for the first time. He was educated at Rutgers University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Pennsylvania. We asked David to discuss the connection between the Assyrian and Jewish peoples, their histories of genocide, and their futures in the Middle East.
ICRC: What connection does Holocaust have with the current genocide of Assyrian Christians in the Middle East?
David Fischler: Both are founded in the dehumanization of “the other,” the person who is different, whether religiously, culturally, physically, etc. Jews were referred to by the Nazis as untermenschen, sub-humans, and ISIS refers to all non-fundamentalist Sunni Muslims as kafir, infidels worthy of little more than enslavement or death. Though some of the targets or methods may be different, the mindset is the same, and the result is the same as well–slavery, sexual barbarity, mass murder.
ICRC: The UN Resolution 60/7 established January 27 in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, as well as to “reassert our commitment to human rights” worldwide. In your opinion, how can the human rights of Assyrians as well as other religious minorities under threat by ISIS be protected?
David Fischler: I think two things need to happen. First ISIS needs to be destroyed as a military force. Terrorism is terrible, but the kind of massive violations of human rights we’ve seen from ISIS are only possible using military means that allow for the conquest of territory, and thus the inhabitants of that territory. Second, I think that a self-governing region, most likely in the Nineveh Plain, needs to be established in northern Iraq that will allow Assyrians and other minorities to form their own police and national guard-type forces that would enable them to protect themselves. Ideally, that would be the job of the Iraqi government, but it has been unable to do the job. Historically, the minorities of the region have had to rely on the goodwill of their rulers–whether Persians, Arabs, or Ottoman Turks–for their well-being. That only works as long as the ruling authority is willing to behave. It is time to recognize that people who have been historically persecuted need the means to protect themselves.
ICRC: What is the historic and religious connection between Assyrian Christians and the Jewish people?
David Fischler: Amazingly enough, considering the Old Testament history of conflict between Assyria and Israel, Assyrians were the first people group to see large-scale conversions to Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. The conversion of the Assyrians is related to the story of the correspondence between Jesus and King Abgar of Edessa in northern Iraq, in which Abgar expresses faith in Jesus, and the Messiah in response heals him of disease. Even if this story is legendary, it points to the fact that there were definitely Jewish converts to the Messianic faith in the first century, and the Assyrians as a whole became Christian no later than the early third century. Even today, the Assyrian Church of the East would say that theologically and liturgically it is closer to the Jewish roots of Christianity than any other Christian church.
Historically, both peoples have been persecuted for centuries. Jews left their homeland 1900 years ago, and were kicked from pillar to post. They’ve been expelled from numerous countries, segregated into ghettos, prevented from practicing many professions, and denied self-determination. It wasn’t until the establishment of Israel that Jews finally had a refuge that would enable them to take their future into their own hands, and today Jews all over the world know that if bigoted opposition or persecution comes to them again (as is happening today in Western Europe, for instance), they have a place they can go where they will be safe and free. Assyrians have long sympathized with the conditions with which Jews struggle, because their own experience has so many similarities, and as Jews become more and more aware of the persecution that Assyrians have suffered, I see that sympathy being returned.
ICRC: How can Israel promote the wellbeing of Assyrian Christians throughout the Middle East?
David Fischler: Israel has provided a haven for those Assyrians who have been unable to stay in their ancestral homeland. On a recent trip to Israel, I met an Assyrian family that has a business there, and they could not say enough about their appreciation for the home they have in the land of the Messiah. I hope Israel continues to provide a safe place for Assyrians in the future.
At the same time, most Assyrians, unsurprisingly, would prefer to stay in their own homeland. The one thing Israel could do to help, I think, would be to use what influence it has with Arab neighbors such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia to nudge them into helping Iraq do the right thing and establish an autonomous region for Assyrians and other religious minorities. The Iraqi government has already voted to do this, and needs to be held accountable for follow-through. I don’t know that there is anything Israel can do directly in that regard, but I do know that Jerusalem is at peace with Jordan, and has seen relations with Riyadh warm in the face of their mutual threat from Iran, and so it may be that some intercession on behalf of the Assyrians might be possible that way.
More information on International Holocaust Remembrance Day can be found here.