Jenny Snell of Chicago holds a sign at the rally Friday afternoon at Daley Plaza where Assyrian Christians are protesting their treatment in Iraq and Syria. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times
Chicago area Assyrians protest bloodshed in Iraq and Syria
Elizabeth Lazar, an Assyrian Christian, came to Daley Plaza Friday afternoon to give the persecuted people of Iraq and Syria a voice.
She stopped to talk to strangers and carried a sign that read “Stop the ethnic cleansing. Assyrians need a safe haven.”
Lazar joined hundreds of other Assyrians, many carrying crosses, on the same day Christians in Mosul, Iraq were ordered to leave the city by members of the Islamic State group.
Friday also marked the first airstrikes from the U.S. in northern Iraq against militants who had taken captive hundreds of women from a religious minority.
The extremists have abducted, killed and expelled minorities in their campaign, including Iraq’s Christian and Yazidi communities, according to Human Rights Watch.
“These people in Iraq, they are threatened, they can’t talk. And here I am with luckily the freedom that this country provides, and I just thought, ‘How dare I not speak?’” Lazar, 29, said at Daley Plaza.
“I’m here to say that these people are the indigenous people of Iraq. They’ve been there for almost 7,000 years and they are being wiped out. I think someone needs to speak for them so that they can find a home within their homeland, somewhere where they can be safe and not persecuted for being either a minority or for their religious affiliation.”
Baghdad native Peter Isaakian, 36, wants more than just airstrikes. He wants the U.S. to get “boots on the ground” to help the minorities in Iraq. Last month, the Islamic State group told Christians in Iraq they must either convert, pay a hefty tax or die.
“He [President Obama] made it clear that he’s not putting troops down in Iraq. The whole purpose of this is a lot of Assyrian Christians, the community is being destroyed and fleeing the country that we once owned. It was ours,” Isaakian said.
“They’re not letting people pay the tax. They’re just slaughtering. They’re cutting off heads and burying people alive.”
Stefanie Nano and Mary Nano said they worry that the bloodshed and exile in Iraq and Syria are being ignored because of other international crises. Both women, of Albany Park, wore shirts with the symbol ‘N’ in Arabic. It’s a derogatory way to describe Christians and it’s what’s being used to label Christians in Iraq and Syria, much like how Jewish businesses were labeled in Nazi Germany.
“We’re wearing the symbol as a sign of solidarity for the people being taken out of their businesses and homes and being executed for their religious beliefs,” Stefanie Nano, 26, said.
“They give you three options, but there really are no options. Either you go or you die and a lot of them, they don’t even give you the option,” Mary Nano, 21, said.
The sisters say they want Chicagoans, and other Americans to know what’s going on in their native country.
“The whole purpose is to get American people to understand that it’s a more complex issue than you’ll ever scratch the surface on,” Mary Nano said.
Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement on Thursday with calls to stop the militant group.
“ISIL’s (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) campaign of terror against the innocent, including Yazidi and Christian minorities, and its grotesque and targeted acts of violence bear all the warning signs and hallmarks of genocide. For anyone who needed a wake-up call, this is it. ISIL is not fighting on behalf of Sunnis. ISIL is not fighting for a stronger Iraq. ISIL is fighting to divide and destroy Iraq - and ISIL is offering nothing to anyone except chaos, nihilism, and ruthless thuggery.”