Assyrian Christians Protest Iraq Election Law

Hundreds of American Assyrians demonstrated Sunday against a new law passed by the Iraqi Parliament that removed a clause reserving seats on Provincial Councils for Christians and other minorities.

Protesters, who gathered at the Federal Building in Los Angeles, demanded the Iraqi Parliament to reinstate Article 50, which was dropped from the provincial election law on Sept. 24.

"The Assyrian nation is making an appeal not just to the Iraqi government, the United States and the United Nations, but to the citizens of the world to stand with us to reclaim our rights and the right to representation," said Rosie Malek-Yonan, an Assyrian actor, director and author of The Crimson Field at the rally.

Malek-Yonan emphasized that Assyrians are the indigenous people of Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq. She also noted that the group, which was one of the first nations to accept Christianity in the first century A.D., still speaks the language of Christ – Aramaic.

Now, after living in the region for some 6,000 years, minority Assyrian Christians in Iraq are denied their "most basic human rights," said Malek-Yonan.

"Our churches have been targeted and destroyed because they represent Christianity," Malek-Yonan lamented. "Our clergy have been brutally dismembered and murdered. Our children have been victims of hate crimes. Our women have been kidnapped and raped. Our men have been kidnapped and killed. Our businesses and homes have been destroyed."

Islamic extremists have forced Assyrians to leave Iraq in droves through systematic attacks, relentless abductions, death threats, and destruction of Christian-owned properties.

The new election law will further silence the already extremely oppressed Assyrian population in Iraq, protesters argue.

Opponents of the new law pointed out that there is a fixed quota of 25 percent for women, but no other Iraqi minorities.

"We are calling on Iraq's Presidency Council and members of the Iraqi Parliament and lawmakers to immediately reinstate Article 50," Malek-Yonan said.

U.N. special representative Staffan de Mistura criticized members of Iraq's parliament last week for dropping Article 50, and has called on lawmakers to reinstate it by Oct. 15.

"With the removal of Article 50, so-called 'democratic' Iraq will shift back to being a conservative Islamic State that will no longer recognize the rights of its minorities, particularly the Christians," Malek-Yonan warned.

"The reconstruction of Iraq cannot succeed when the rights of the country's minorities are stripped from them."

Before the 2003 U.S.-led Iraq war, there was an estimated 1.4 million Assyrian Christians. Now the number has plummeted to less than half a million. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Christians make up nearly half of those fleeing Iraq even though they make up only about three percent of the country's population.

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