Monday, February 14, 2005


Dorian Gray, according to Oscar Wilde's famous novel, never grew old. He remained beautiful and indulged in all sort of vice, this being represented in a secret portrait that aged instead of him and became more and more hideous as the incredible Dorian became lapsed further into evil. Dorian's viewing of the portrait caused his demise, as he was not able to come terms with the hideousness of the evil he had become. One could have been forgiven for sharing the enthusiasm that accompanied President George W. Bush's portrayal of the world as her saw it, in his recent State of the Union speech. Amidst jubilation, he announced that as he took up his democratically elected position, he did so sharing the privilege with the leaders of Afghanistan and soon, Iraq. He also cautioned Syria and Iran for adopting a course of action against American interests, in the case of Syria, harbouring terrorism and in the case of Iran, of developing a nuclear weapons program, a privilege which presumably is only to be enjoyed by the 'civilised,' western world. The president's message was clear and unequivocal. Those who disagree with the premise that western democracy is not a beautiful thing, do so at their own peril.
It is a most interesting characteristic of democracy that since its inception by the Athenians, its proponents have tried to impose this 'egalitarian' system, predicated upon freedom of choice, upon others by force. The Athenians for example constructed a whole empire of client city-states after the Persian Wars by removing the age-old oligarchic system and imposing a democracy (subservient always to Athens) in its place. Athenian democracy voted for the extermination of the entire population of Lesbos for its disobedience, while a flotilla of the Athenian navy attacked and occupied Samos after it decided to abandon the democratic system, in favour of oligarchy. So much for freedom of choice and winning the hearts and minds of the demos.
In parallel paradox, the democratic elections imposed upon Iraq by a military invasion are touted by the Australian and U.S media as a success. The turn out was respectable if one takes account of the insurgents threatening people with reprisals if they should vote and in one case, celebrated by the media as an example of democracy permeating the echelons of Iraq's social fabric, Iraqi villages actually killed the insurgents who tried to punish them for voting. How happy we then are that we have taught our converts to kill in order to defend the system of values we have taught them.
Yet the elections in Iraq are not a success, nor do they represent a triumph of democracy. Unfortunately, either the West lacks the depth or willfully chooses to ignore the complex religious and ethnic mix that completely alters the way any political system can be implemented in Iraq. Almost immediately, 'democratic' Iraq has been fractured along racial or religious lies, with each group vying to dominate the other.
This can be evidenced more so than anywhere in the plight of the Assyrian population of Iraq, a plight that Western journalists have deliberately chosen not to focus on and which belies the official rhetoric that the elections were a success. In a brazen move, the Kurdistan Democratic Party headed by warlord Masoud Barzani, which practically controls the whole of the north of Iraq in autonomy from the Baghdad government, has prevented voting by the Assyrian Christians of the Nineveh Plain. According to a series of reports from inside Iraq, the KDP effectively blocked the delivery of ballot boxes to six major Assyrian towns and villages in the Plains around Mosul including Baghdeda, Bartilla, Karemlesh, Shekhan, Ain Sifne and Bahzan.
Thousands of would be voters were left stranded outside polling places awaiting an opportunity to cast their ballots. Inquiries to voting authorities brought frequent promises that the ballot boxes were en route only to result in a series of disappointments throughout the day. Infuriated Assyrians filled the streets of Baghdeda, the largest Assyrian town in the Nineveh Plain and demonstrated against the KDP's overt disenfranchisement of Assyrians.According to Iraqi sources, the ballot boxes had been stored in Arbil, the stronghold of the KDP. The resulting unavailability of ballot boxes denied the vote to 150,000 Assyrians and 250,000 Yezidi, Shabak, and Turkoman voters. This was the culmination of a long and organized period of intimidation, beatings, beheadings, burnings, and mutilations of Assyrian Christians in the Nineveh Plain. Just two weeks before the elections, Archbishop Basil George Casmusa of the Syriac Catholic church was kidnapped and Assyrian homes were occupied by Kurds in an attempt to drive out Assyrians from their homes and to intimidate potential remaining voters into staying home on election day. The KDP's specific targeting of the Nineveh Plain is no mere coincidence. The Nineveh Plain contains the last remaining stronghold of predominantly Assyrian towns and villages in the immediate environs of the ruins of Nineveh, the ancient Assyrian capital. Significantly, the Nineveh Plain has been touted by a wide spectrum of Assyrian political leaders, including foremost among them those of the Assyrian Democratic Movement as the centre of the Assyrian self-administered area provided for in Article 53(d) of the Transitional Administrative Law.
By their latest political maneuver, the KDP has effectively eliminated any possible Assyrian representation from the Nineveh Plain in the upcoming Iraqi National Assembly. Whereas the KDP had earlier paid lip service to representing the rights of all minorities in northern Iraq, it appears that this party, referred to as a terrorist party in the eighties by the U.S, when Saddam Hussein was the West's friend and Iran was the enemy and which has received millions in American aid as a 'reward' for is anti-Hussein stance, is determined, exactly as it did under the Ottoman Empire, to purge the area under its control of its ancient Christian and Muslim minorities, in favour of an ethnically homogenous Kurdistan.
The Kurdish scheme is an attack on the integrity of Iraq as a whole and belies the assertion that the recent elections will succeed in creating an integrated Iraq where all creeds and minorities will be respected. It cannot be seriously conceived that Barzani, who has enjoyed free reign over northern Iraq for the past twenty years, or his peshmerga army, will permit political expression or even effectively protect the rights of persons not enmeshed in the intricate nets of Kurdish tribal alliances. In effect, if under Saddam Hussein, Assyrian, Yezidi and Turkomans were denied the means of national self-expression and were pressured to call themselves Arabs, in today's northern Iraq, a Kurdification of these minorities is taking place along similar lines.
Predictably enough, the West is unwilling to truly police free and fair elections. The mere rumour that 350,000 or so members of minority groups, relevant for their symbolic import as examples of a free and tolerant Iraq should have rung alarm bells. Yet the West is beholden to the violent Barzani to ensure Kurdish lip service to the democratic process, as long as that means that his own hold on power in his self-appointed fiefdom is not disturbed.
Consequently, the West does not really care about democracy in Iraq. Had it truly had a vision for the country, it would have encouraged its people to decide on what type of country they would like, by holding a referendum on a Constitution that would provide such a framework and then electing a government to uphold it. By doing the opposite and doing nothing to ensure free access to the ballot box by large swathes of the population, or to intervene in order to prevent the West has ensured Iraq's further fragmentation and the total failure of the democratic process in that country. Barzani's conduct, in occupying the territory appointed by the Transitional Administrative Law earmarked for Assyrian self-administration proves that no Constitution will hinder those who bear arms to achieve their aims. Significantly, there has been absolutely no discussion as to the demilitarization of the KDP, a condition precedent for true peace and stability in an integrated Iraq.
Today in Iraq, a regime that supposedly invaded the country in order to free it, is presiding over the ethnic cleansing, subjugating and violent mistreatment of its minorities. Assyrians are already speaking of a second genocide. It says much for the concept of people power that though 80% of expatriate Iraqis in the US are actually Assyrian, that the US, blinded by its own messianic vision, does nothing to protect this and other minorities.
In his State of the Union speech, George W. Bush appealed to the Iranian people to "stand for liberty." However, concepts of "liberty" and "democracy" as these have been misapplied and mismanaged in Iraq provide a negative precedent to those who would "stick their necks out" and espouse Western political systems. In the case of Plato, frustration with the perverted Athenian democracy that would condemn the brilliant and saintly Socrates to death caused him to write the Republic, the earliest manual for fascism and repressive government ever to be written. Macchiavelli, railing at the abuses of the powerful in the Florentine Republic also produced similar reactionary material, in the form of The Prince. Let us therefore beware lest the mask should fall, lest we are compelled to view our own portrait of Dorian Gray, and see how ugly we have become.

First published in NKEE on 14 February 2005