Beginnings and Official Establishment
The Assyrian Christians of Iraq had lacked effective, officially recognised charitable and humanitarian organisations. This was primarily due to the policies of oppression and persecution against Assyrian Christians by all the regimes that have governed Iraq. In the aftermath of the Gulf War of 1991, thousands of families left their homes, towns and villages and fled to the borders of Turkey and Iran, searching for refuge from the terrors of Saddam Hussein's regime. In these areas the displaced refugees remained in the open, under trees in the ravines and the mountains, exposed to the harsh weather conditions and without adequate shelter, food and water. This resulted in many deaths, particularly amongst the very young and elderly.
The Assyrian Christians were in dire need of urgent help and the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM or “Zowaa”) responded to this humanitarian disaster in many ways, including the creation of the Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq (AAS-I). The primary objective was to seek aid from the Assyrians in Diaspora for distribution to our desperate people indiscriminately. With the imposition of the no-fly zone, conditions in northern Iraq began to stabilise and refugees were keen to return to their homes. However, by this time many of their towns and villages were looted, ruined and in desperate need of reconstruction. Unfortunately the most basic essentials were missing because of the policies of Saddam Hussein's regime on one hand, and the effects of the international sanctions on the other. This presented AAS-I with a greater challenge to provide housing and other necessary humanitarian aid for the Assyrian Christians.
The Assyrian Aid Society - Iraq (AAS-I) was formally and officially established in the spring of 1991. AAS-I was one of the very first humanitarian organisations in the region able to help co-ordinate the efforts of the United Nations agencies who were just beginning their own humanitarian work in Iraq. AAS-I also cooperated with other international and local organisations. The humanitarian program of AAS-I quickly expanded to include the distribution of food and medicine, plus sending mobile clinics to the most remote villages in northern Iraq.
Aside from short-term emergency aid, AAS-I wanted to provide Assyrians with appropriate living, educational and economic conditions, sustainable for the long term. Hence, the AAS-I developed and implemented various strategies to meet these requirements. Village rehabilitation programs included providing agricultural tools and utilities that would generate income and independence, thus helping to maintain an Assyrian population in the homeland. To accomplish one of its principal goals the AAS-I dedicated itself to teaching children the Assyrian language (Syriac or neo-Aramaic). This plan required action at every level of the teaching process; specifically, the printing and provision of academic books in the Assyrian language, providing transportation for students, funding the salaries of the lecturers and teachers, raising money for the building and maintenance of schools and dormitories, and much, much more.
The establishment of social organisations such as students' unions, youth groups, women's unions, cultural centres, social centres and sport facilities depended in large upon the funding of the Assyrian Aid Society-Iraq. This was accomplished through the efforts and financial support of Assyrians abroad and from other humanitarian and charitable organisations.
The official establishment of the Assyrian Aid Society of America (AAS-A) was crucial. AAS-A insured the activities of the branch in Iraq – especially the ongoing project of teaching all subjects in the Assyrian language. Other Assyrian communities around the world have also organised fundraisers and events to support AAS-I.
Although the need for the work of the AAS-I was at its peak, and the living and economical conditions were at their lowest ebb during the years of the international sanctions against Iraq, the needs of the Assyrian Christians remained hugely unfulfilled. In spite of all the difficulties, the AAS-I has implemented the following projects.
• Village reconstruction
• Infrastructure rehabilitation
• Irrigation system construction
• Drinking water systems construction
• Housing and shelter for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
• School development and maintenance community pharmacy projects
• Delivery of agricultural supplies (60 villages)
• Agriculture development (transplanting 120,000 apple and peach saplings)
• Provision of emergency relief to IDPs
• IDP resettlement
• Welfare and assistance to victimized families
The administrative officers of Assyrian Aid Society-Iraq are all volunteers, except for the engineering and technical groups that receive salaries for their work. Another one of the ongoing priorities of the organisation has been to engage our people in voluntary efforts, to involve the villagers who ultimately benefit from the projects and the charitable activities. The efforts to develop and expand AAS-I activities in all the fields continue and have evolved into the following specialised departments.
The Construction Department
After the uprising of 1991 and the withdrawal of the Baghdad regime from the secured no-fly region in northern Iraq, the AAS-I and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had a direct and effective role in the reconstruction of the villages ruined and destroyed in the 1970s and 1980s during Saddam Hussein's notorious Al-Anfal campaign, in which over 200 Assyrian towns and villages, including ancient monasteries and churches were totally destroyed. Our organisation had a pivotal role in the reconstruction of the villages by implementing civil building projects in different parts of the region. The AAS undertook the following construction projects:
• Schools and Churches:
• Building a school in Sarsink District with the support of AAS of America.
• Building schools in Talkhash, Kani kolan and Badol villages, with the support of the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).
• Building schools in Azakh and Harmash villages with the support of AAS America.
• Building a Church in Baz village with the support of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany.
• Irrigation Channels and Clean Drinking Water:
• Irrigation channels for the villages of Dehe, Dure, Azakh, Seje, Kindakosa, Armash, Enishke and Bagerat.
• Clean drinking water projects in the villages of Meroki, Belmand and Jamritke with the support of Unicef.
• Drainage project in Alqosh village with the support of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany.
• Humanitarian works:
• House Roofing project in the villages of Hizarjot, Tillan, Bishmiyaye, Dure, Blejani and Derishke with the support of AAS of America (AAS-A).
• Plastering 32 homes in Livo village with the support of the Assyrian American National Federation (AANF).
• Electricity and Generators:
• Supplying the villages of Joli, Kashkawa, Dawodiya, Hezani, Belmand, Meroki and Rabatki with generators with the support of AANF
• Lightening project in Alqosh village with the support of (AAS-A).
The Construction Department consists of engineers specialised in building and construction works. They perform periodic visits to the villages to prepare estimates for building projects needed for implementation. The estimates are submitted to friendly and supporting institutions and organisations where financial support is secured. Once the project has been funded, the Construction Department immediately begins implementation of the project, with regular update reports on the progress of the work. After the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003 the duties of the Construction Department extended to include the regions of the Nineveh plain, where the main concentration of the Assyrians live.
This area had received absolutely no support or care from the toppled regime. The work started immediately upon entering the area, and consisted of distributing urgent support and aid including food and medicine. The need for several vital service projects was identified and accomplished.
The Education Department
At the very beginning of the formation of the northern regional government in 1991, the government was lacking in the appropriate material and technical skills necessary to manage all the official public services in the region. This was nowhere more obvious than in the entire educational process, in all its stages. In 1992 when the regional parliaments approved the educational rights of the Assyrian people using their mother language, the duty of supporting this strategic project became the most important priority for the Assyrian Aid Society.
Even before the official approval, AAS-I was providing most of the requirements for these public schools. Our organisation participated in this massive education project by bearing the heavy costs of translating and printing textbooks in Assyrian ( Syriac or neo-Aramaic). In 1996, UNESCO liaised with the Ministry of Education to assume a larger role in this process.
At the beginning of the project of teaching all subjects in the Assyrian language, we lacked a complete teaching staff. We funded the complete costs of transportation for the primary and secondary Assyrian students in the Duhok and Erbil governorates, in addition to providing the furniture for the schools of the two governorates.
A special committee was established for the teaching of the Assyrian language; it is still in operation and receives ongoing funding from our organisation, which helps it carry out its duties in a number of different schools and regions. The most important of these activities are preparing programs for training academic staff in accordance with the available resources. Our Society also annually honours, a number of outstanding students. When the process of teaching the Assyrian language reached secondary level, there was no other solution but to gather all of the students in one central secondary school, the Assyrian Nissibin School in Duhok.
As a result, we needed to prepare accommodation for students from other villages and cities that were far from the town centre of Duhok. As a starting point, we rented a number of homes and furnished them for the purpose of providing free accommodation for the students, as well as providing three free meals daily during the school year. The administration of this process required assigning supervisors for the departments, and assigning cooks and workers to provide the necessary amenities and services, so that the students would be able to concentrate solely on their education. The Gulf War, international sanctions, the uprising in north, and the neglect by the Saddam Hussein regime severely affected the region's economy.
The hardest hit were the poor families. It was very difficult for secondary graduates to continue their university studies, especially for those students who lived far from universities. Beginning in 1991, the AAS-I worked to address these problems by opening dormitories in Duhok and Erbil for students far from these two cities, providing free accommodation, food, and education. In addition to these continuing services, needy students were further supported in coordination with the ChaldoAssyrian Youth Union. As for the cities and villages reasonably near Duhok, the solution was to provide free transportation for the students to travel to and from the schools.
This process lasted for two years until we received a special grant from the Assyrian Aid Society of America to implement a project of building special dormitories. This big project was implemented in the year of 2001.Thus the payment of the rent in more than one area stopped and the heavy financial burden was eased from the shoulders of the organisation. AAS-I continued to pay the costs of food and transportation and the salaries of the workers in the dormitory buildings. Recently, the Duhok municipality began to share in bearing some of these costs.
The headquarters of the Assyrian Aid Society was built in the same compound allocated for the dormitory buildings. This simplified the process of administrating the student accommodation as well as saving rental costs for separate offices.
Ramail Nursery is one of the main activities of the Assyrian Women Union (AWU) Duhok Branch, which offers its services to women in employment. The Nursery cares for the children all day during the time in which their mothers are at work.
During the first term of 2006, our efforts were geared towards the following fields:
- Supplying the Nursery with Cooling and Heating equipment, and other necessary furniture.
- Supplying the Nursery with means of fun activities and children's games.
- Paying for the transportation fees.
- Supplying the Nursery with food and milk for the children twice a day.
- Paying salaries to the workers.
- Supplying the Nursery with electricity and heating fuel.
- Other daily requirements as they crop up.
AAS-I is now supporting a similar nursery in Erbil and providing them with similar amenities.
Humanitarian & Health Department
This department was established to provide food and medicine and other vital aid to the Assyrian Christians who were living in areas that were not under the control of Saddam's regime. A clinic centre (including an integral pharmacy) was opened by this department in central Duhok, providing free treatment for everyone because there was a chronic shortage of medicine available in the main hospitals. A further 4 more centres were opened by the AAS-I in the following areas that were in desperate need of healthcare:
- Zakho District
With the exception of Sarsink, all the clinics have since been closed because of regional improvement in healthcare.
Mobile medical tours were organised sporadically to provide medical services to people in remote areas and in particular to the students of the schools & residents of the dormitories.
The clinic centre of AAS-I in Duhok City acquired quite a reputation throughout all of Iraq because of the medicines it stocked that were unavailable in the main hospitals. Those hospitals began to send their patients to Dohuk, which was a strong reason to open other new clinic centres.
Once the situation improved (as a result of the UN Oil for Food & Medicine program in 1997), many of these centres were no longer needed and were closed. Sarsink Clinic still remained open because there is still no regional government clinic in this village and it still prescribes medicine to the locals.
The humanitarian and health department continues to arrange medical tours to villages in the Nineveh plains, helping people who are immobile, especially those with chronic diseases and others who are in urgent need of medical attention.
These humanitarian services would not have been available had it not been for the support of AAS-A and other organisations such as the Evangelical Churches of Germany. The AAS-I is highly appreciative of all this support and efforts to help the Assyrian Christians.
After the collapse of the old regime in 2003, the AAS-I focused on towns and villages in the Nineveh Plains and the following clinics (including integral pharmacies) were opened in:
In the wake of the increasing number of displaced families that have fled from major cities in Iraq, the burden on these clinics has increased. Since our resources are very limited, and to sustain the continuity of work in these clinics, we appeal to all those who can provide help and assistance to support us financially or with supplies to be able to provide medical and therapeutic services for those in most need without prejudice. The AAS-I has and will continue to provide humanitarian aid and support to those that seek the help of AAS-I, without discrimination of gender, religion or ethnicity.
Supporting Public Organisations
In addition to the direct humanitarian aid, AAS-I has a major role in supporting other public and social organisations in the region, believing that the role of these organisations is crucial in building a modern civil society. We were and still remain the main supporting source for the Assyrian Women's Union, the Student's Union and the ChaldoAssyrian Union, and the supporters of other sporting, cultural, and social centres.
The Supporting Sources
The most important aspect of our organisation is the existence of similar groups around the world upon which we depend to finance our humanitarian and charitable projects. From the very beginning, there has been the Assyrian Aid Society of America (AAS-A) that was established at the same time as the formation of our Society in Homeland. One of its single most remarkable contributions was its work with the US State Department and USAID to rebuild the destroyed villages. In addition, AAS-A has provided the full cost of constructing the dormitories for Nissibin secondary school, as well as so many other projects. We depend mainly on the monthly support of AAS-A in covering the teaching costs from 1992 and through to this very day.
Next to be established, the Assyrian Aid Society of Canada (which originally was a branch of AAS-A), followed by the establishment of AAS-Australia - New Zealand, and the establishment of Assyrian Aid Society in the UK as well as in other European countries.
In this context we particularly mention the important role and support provided by the Assyrian National Council of Illinois, the Assyrian American National Federation, the Chaldean Federation of America and the Assyrian School friends in Denmark. We are particularly grateful to Father Horst Obercampf from Stuttgart, Germany in supporting many projects, as well as supporting the Women's Union and the ChaldoAssyrian Student and Youth Union, through the help of the Lutheran Church and the Society of Tur Abdin which he presides over, and the Diakonia organisation which had a huge role in supporting our growth program in the plain of Nineveh in the summer of 2003 after the political change in Iraq.
Their Society has implemented many projects since its establishment in 1991 in cooperation with working organisations in the area, including Save the Children, and other charitable organisations in European countries in coordination with our sister societies in those countries, like the MIVA Charity Society in Austria. In 2005 we received a special fund from Embassy of France in Baghdad for our relief programs.
In conclusion, by implementing the programs described above, the AAS-I set out to provide our people with decent living standards, education, healthcare, and an economic environment that can be sustained in the long term. However, further funding is required to maintain these programs and to continue their growth. Without support and help, the programs will collapse and undoubtedly result in a catastrophe of unmeasured proportions for both the Assyrians living in Iraq and in Diaspora.
Therefore, this is an appeal to every Christian irrespective of their social, political or church affiliation and beliefs, to do their part and contribute towards this cause. It's our moral duty to support the Assyrian Christians in Iraq. As a result of the violence and persecution committed against the Christians in Baghdad, Mosul, Basra, Kirkuk and other areas, thousands of families have become displaced in the towns and villages of the Nineveh Plain. The AAS-I has with the little resources available, been able to provide these families with temporary accommodation, food, medicine and other essential items. The Assyrian Aid Society-Iraq, in partnership with the International Medical Corps, distributed essential aid to more than 500 displaced families in Alqush and Telkif in May 2007.