dimanche 24 janvier 1999


I came from Irak. My origins are of a village in Northern Irak, Sanate, a Christian village in Bahdinan, very close to the Turkish border. I belong to a Christian family, that is member of a national and ethnical minority, the Assyrian-Chaldeans. This people live in Irak since the dawn of History. At the IIIrd century, some texts in Syriac attest their presence in this province.

I borned in Sanate in 1944, and I made my first studies there, like my father. When the border between Turkey and Irak was fixed in 1926, one year after that the vilayet of Mosul was attached to Irak, the village was in the Irakian side, but less far of seven kilometers from the border. But my family had small holdings in the Turkish side. Then, the first thing that had done the Iraqi governement was the creation of a primary school in 1926 in Sanate. Of course in that school teaching was made in Arabic, which few people spoke then. My mother tongue is the sureth[1] . Because of our environment we knew the Kurdish too and we spoke it fluently. At school, I learnt Arabic. The teachers were mostly Christian from Mosul, some Assyrian-Chaldeans who had been arabized. So I made all my primary studies in my village.

Sanate is a beautiful village that included 150 families at 1900 meters of altitude, situated at the equal distance of two monasteries, Mar Atqayn, where is Mar Yûsef Hazzâya's tomb, a great Syriac mystic of the VIIIth century, and an else monastery called Mar Sawr ’Ishô.

My father was mostly a caravaneer and, with fifteen other caravaneers, he imported from Zâkho, at nine hours of walks from Sanate, all that people need in the region. He furnished Christian villages as Muslim Kurdish villages, in the Iraqi side as the Turkish one. At this time the border was permeable and it was easy to pass it. My mother's village was in the Turkish side (a village called Harbol, of which Turks has turkized the name now). Then, by accident, because of the layout of the border, I had an Iraqi grand-father and a Turkish one. But I had had any problem for having the iraqi nationality.

Northern Iraq

The province of Mosul was formerly an ottoman province, it was easy for it to become Iraqi. We have to say that the Christian villagers were mostly relieved to be saved from Turkey. They were all haunted by the memories of massacres against Armenians and Assyrian-Chaldeans. For that reason, most of Christians chose Irak. The presence of Englishmen in Irak and their mandate reassured them, too. Much Assyrian-Chaldeans chose then to migrate more to the South for being in Iraq, as did the inhabitants of Bellôn who chose to come to Iraq : the current Chaldean patriarch, Bidawî, came from this village.

At this time, the troubles in Kurdistan did happen more to the South, in the region of Sulaymâniyye controlled by Shiekh Mahmûd, and we had a feeling of quite safety in Bahdinan. [2] The primary school of Sanate had given tens of civil servants, teachers and journalists to the Iraqi state. But in Harbol, my mother's village that remained in the Turkish state, there was no school before 1980. My mother was illiterate and didn't speak Arabic. In short, Sanate had its own school, its church and its gendarmerie.

In 1956, at the end of my primary studies in Sanate, my father sent me to Mosul in a Christian secondary school, managed by Dominicans. It was a French mission where courses were given in Arabic and French. From Sanate to Mosul, there were four days of walks. At twelve years old, I saw for the first time a great city, and that was a shock for me : the first cars and women with modern clothes, electricity and a comfort that astounded me. Whereas I thought that everybody spoke sureth, I was discovering a new world. But I had too an exalted relation with my native culture : next to Mosul stood the capitale of Ancient Assyria, Ninive, and the programs of Arabic and Ancient history confirmed me the continuity of this culture since the ancient times until now. I stayed in that school of Mosul until I was 23 years old.

My community, the Assyrian-Chaldeans' one, is shared between Nestorians or « Assyrians », and Catholics who call Chaldeans ».

At the Ottoman period, for Chaldeans, Assyrians were rustic but courageaous mountain dwellers. While we, Chaldeans, were Râya-s [3], they, Assyrians, with their ‘Ashîra –s and their Mellek-s [4] , had respected leaders. Moreover, the Chaldean millet only dated of the end of the empire ottoman. [5] the real re-attachement to Roma of the Chaldean church happened just in 1832. Marriages between Assyrians and Chaldeans could be difficult.

In 1962, war started again in Kurdistan, but this time our region was directly concerned. Bârzanî had taken the following of Sheikh Mahmûd as a Kurdish leader.

A part of Assyrian-Chaldeans supported Bârzanî and antother part the government. People in the villages were not much concerned by the policy and wished above all their own safety. Since and after Bârzanî's rebellion, Sanate became famous. From 1961 to 1975, peshmergas gathered there their prisonners. Our school was used as a center of detention. Iraqi soldiers and officers were grateful to the inhabitants of Sanate for the good treatment that was reserved to them. Wehave to remind that during the war between Bârzanî and the Iraqi government, Bârzanî actually protected the Assyrian-Chaldeans from Kurdish exactions. The Assyrian-Chaldeans did want nothing but peace. There was a region of small properties, we hadn't social problems as in South-Iraq. But there were regular migrations to the cities of Zâkho and Mosul that welcomed those which, because of their crowded number, couldn't live on their lands. But these departures from the villages were caused by necessity. No one leaved Sanate of its own free will nor happily. We remind that King Ghâzi, who had visited Sanate, had found that its site was exceptionnal. He would have wanted to buiId a palace for himself, a little before to be killed in an accident with his car in 1939.

In 1974, I had to come in France because of health. As I was studying in Nice, serious news reached me from my country. I received upsetting letters from my relatives : Iraqi government moved to the south villagers for making a safety line along the border with Turkey. Sanate was in the included area. My village was emptied in 1976. Its inhabitants went away without any great compensation to Zâkho, later to Bagdad. My family was in that case and settled in ‘Aqd al-Nasâra, the Christian quarter in the center of the capital. Then mu relatives make build a house in the suburbs of Dôra.

After 1976 and the setting of the safety line, the exodus of the inhabitants of Sanate increased. Much people went to Bagdad where, after having lived in their mountains, they etilated in the over-populated districts of the capital. Since 1980, they massively migrated to foreign countries as USA, Canada, Brazil, Australia. So more than one hundred families had left the town for reaching the Assyrian-Chaldean diaspora through all the world. The epic aspect of the recent history of my own village explains the success of my book on Sanate in 1993.

Since the First Gulf War, I never came back in Irak, for I shall never accept a policy which aims to the parcelling out of Irak. Let the Kurds have their autonomy, it is their own right. But according to myself, Irak have found, since the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and later the ‘Abbassids, its own territory and its history. The Irakian modern state is the heir of Ancient Mesopotamia. This variety of people had given to it its valueness. What is happened today is a disguised project to divide Irak and to put definitively what was been Mesopotamia to death. The Arabs and the Kurds are our friends, but they haven't the right to cross into two this historical country, that culture, history and geographia had united. This unity is drawn by its two rivers which, comen from the mountains, flow in the plain. Irakians are, from the north to the south, all united by its antique culture. As far as I am concerned, I hope that the Arabs, the Kurds and the others, could be deserved this inheritage and that they will be wised enough to preserve our Mesopotamian identity. Today, people use often the word Kurdistâni [6] I was not in Irak when this word has been created. But I wonder what does it mean. I have the feeling that some Kurds would like to make us some Christian Kurds, as such as some Arabs rather to consider us as Christian Arabs. In 1972, the Syriac had been recognized as a language, with the right to teach it and to organize some associations to defend it. But the failure of the experimentation of the Kurdish autonomy, with the war again, didn't allow that this recognition develop.

Today there are towns of 10 or 15 000 inhabitants that are entirely Assyrian-Chaldeans where Sureth is the current language : ‘Ankawa , Tell Kayf, Bartellî, Karaqôsh, Al-Qôsh. ’Ankawa is now situated in the area ruled by Bârzanî and its PDK, while the else towns, next to Mosul, are still in the Arabic area controlled by the Iraqi governement. But in the civil war between Kurds, and in the conflict that oppose Bârzanî to Tâlabâni since 1993, the Assyrian-Chaldeans are neutral and their milices, especially of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, had even helped to separate belligerents, as in Dehôk.

The Iraqi intellectuals have never been asked about embargo.

Embargo is a shame. It revolted me from the very start. Who had givent the right to Americans and their allies to starve a people and to destroy a state ? The maintenance of the embargo is now the greatest threatening for the Iraqi people. It generates misery, illiteracy and ignorance, for a country that had staked in its own history on knowledge and education and its aims to the regression of Irak. In my next book, L’Epopée du Tigre et de l’Euphrate, I attest that our country had been the cradle of writing, civilisations, and the most inventive country in History, but today it is a land that cow-boys try to destroy. The United-States are liable for the regression of Irak. For ignorance and illiteracy generates in their turn fanatism and extremism.

In our villages in mountain, we knew only the difference between sunnits and shiits. Because the Kurds were sunnit, we believed that all Muslims were sunnit. I have visited Sâmarrâ after 1980, and I was indeed captivated by the beauty of the mosque Al-Hâdî, that shelters al-Hâdî and Hasan ‘Askari's tombs. I was rarely been such astonished by a so perfect unity of architecture and temporal.


[1] An Eastern dialect of the Syriac, the sureth

[2] the epicentre of the Kurdish movement in Irak has moved from the South - in the region of Sulaymâniyye, where which Sheik Mahmûd Barzinjî led the revolts since the end of 1910s until 1930s -, to the North, that is a region ruled by the Bârzanîs ,and that includes Badinan and most of christians.

[3] Râya, the « subdued », those who pay taxes, or the non-muslims. In Kurdistan, the word is opposite to ‘ashîra, those who have the right to have weapons, the « free men » ; it was used for the peasantry out of tribes, that had to pay taxes to the state as to the local agha, who was often a Kurdish muslim.

[4] The Assyrians in mountains were, like their Kurdish neibourghs, socially organised as clans, or ‘ashîra-s, ruled by chiefs of war, or Mellek-s , similar to the Kurdish agha-s. Let's remind that the ottoman system recognized only cults (millet-s) but refused to recognize ethnies. ‘Ashîra-s' autonomy was an anawoved way, under cover of a tribal recognition, to admit an else identity, that was not only religious. Nestorians profited from this recognition since the very beginning of the Ottoman domination.

[5] Millet meaned at the Ottoman period the religious communities in empire to which was given a certain autonomy in administration and internal affairs. The Assyrians were the first to profit from their millet, and it had strenghened their image of free men for Chaldean râya-s. The Chaldean millet dated of the second half of the XIXth century.

[6] Kurdistânî : the Kurdish modern policy is liable to the neologism kurdistânî. This word refers to a territory, Kurdistan, included all its communities (Kurd, Arab, Turkmen, Syriac, Christian, Yezîdîs and else). Kurdî means Kurds as an ethny.