On 4 NOV 1995 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin was assassinated while attending a peace rally in Tel Aviv. His assassin was an Israeli citizen angered by Prime Minister Rabin’s signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, which had grown out of the prime minister’s successful efforts to negotiate a peace agreement with Yasser Arafat, the longtime chairman and leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).
Just three days before his death, Prime Minister Rabin explained to a top aide why dealing with chairman Arafat was both necessary and advantageous to Israel: the PLO chief and his organization, he said, represented the “last vestige of secular Palestinian nationalism.”
Twenty years since Prime Minister Rabin’s death it remains to be seen whether his efforts have truly advanced the cause of peace between Israel and its adversaries. Conflict between Israel and the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza continues to this very day. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Rabin is still praised for extending the hand of peace, both literally and figuratively, to one of Israel’s most determined and intractable enemies.
Chairman Yasser Arafat died on 11 NOV 2004–the last Friday of the month of Ramadan, a day known to Muslims as “Yom Al Quds.” Chairman Arafat had dedicated his life to fighting for Palestine and the Palestinians, often employing terrorist tactics; but even so at the end he too had extended the hand of peace to his traditional enemy.
Eleven years later it remains to be seen whether his efforts truly advanced the cause of peace between the Palestinian people and Israel. Judging by the recent news from Israel, where Palestinian activists have attacked Israeli civilians with knives, it would seem that peace remains a far distant goal. Nevertheless, Chairman Yasser Arafat is remembered for shaking the hand of the Israeli prime minister signaling (it was hoped) an end to the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel.
On 6 OCT 1981 Egyptian President Muhammad Anwar El Sadat was assassinated while reviewing a military parade in Cairo, gunned down by the representative of an Islamist group opposed to the peace treaty president Sadat concluded with Israel in 1979.
Thirty-four years since his death it remains to be seen whether his efforts truly advanced the cause of peace in the Middle East. Today war remains endemic to the region, with the violence growing worse seemingly every day. Even so, President Sadat is best remembered as the man who extended the hand of peace to Egypt’s traditional enemy, Israel, thus ending the long and destructive conflict between the two nations.
NEC-SE has profound admiration and respect for Prime Minister Rabin, Chairman Arafat, and President Sadat, who extended the hand of peace to their enemies for the sake of their nations and peoples. These men had all fought and killed their enemies on the field of battle, using tactics, which at times terrified and frustrated their adversaries.
We believe that their brave decisions and actions to reconcile with former and hated enemies did indeed advance the cause of Middle Eastern peace. Their efforts were not in vain, even though, in the case of Prime Minister Rabin and President Sadat, these efforts ultimately cost them their lives. They stand as exemplars for other likeminded men and women of good will who have dedicated their lives to bringing peace to the region, their nations, and their peoples.
Today countless men and women are working hard to achieve this goal throughout the Near East region. Many of them are Assyrians. Encouraged by their efforts and sense of commitment, the NEC-SC calls upon the Assyrian nation–including all groups, parties, and organizations as well as religious denominations–to put aside their difference and work together to bring peace to their historical homeland.
In doing so we urge Assyrians to reflect upon our magnificent cultural and historical legacy, giving thanks to our Creator for our singularly blessed Assyrian identity. God has been generous to Assyria in ways too numerous to count. As a result we are a most distinguished people and recognized as such on six continents, contributing greatly, and despite our relatively small numbers, to the betterment of the human condition for over 7,000 years.
That said we must recognize that now we must serve our nation rather than our personal pride. God is calling us to humility and charity as a means of securing our very survival. In the Middle East today our people are in danger of being exterminated by a merciless enemy. But the situation is made worse by our lack of unity in the words we speak and the actions we take. Discord between and among Assyrians arising out of political, religious, and denominational differences is undermining our ability to respond effectively to the grave perils facing us. We must remind ourselves that even as God loves all Assyrian people regardless of their status, denominations and social conditions, we must show the same love to each other if we are going to preach to the world that we are the exemplars of Christianity in the Middle East.
Further, Assyrians must recognize that we cannot show our enemies the pathway to peace if we cannot bring peace to our own home.
This is a goal we can and must achieve. We have been a peace-loving, and peaceful, people since the fall of Nineveh some 2,600 years ago. Assyrians living in other countries have always been loyal citizens of those nations even when Assyrian brothers had to fight on opposite battlefields while serving the cause of Islamic nations, which fought each other during the Iran, and Iraq war.
Our national character stems from our Christian faith. Assyrians were among the earliest converts to Christianity. It bears mentioning in this regard that the Hebrew-born Christ uttered his first words in the Assyrian language; that Christ sang, laughed, and preached in that language; and that his final words on the cross were spoken in Aramaic.
To this day, Christians worship Christ as the Son of God, and Muslims and Jews alike revere him as a great prophet. He is known for preaching in the Assyrian language to all mankind God’s message of love, hope, and peace.
Assyrians can and should do no less. God’s covenant with us, implied in Christ’s use of the Assyrian language, to preach the same message and to act to make that message a reality. We are called upon to live our lives in imitation of Christ, including speaking in his language.” If we cannot do this in our own home and among our own community, how can anyone entrust us with the mantel of leadership in a region where evil men are butchering Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others. Welcome to the challenges and the reality of moral leadership!
It further bears mentioning that Assyrians were blessed to have an intimate relationship with God even before we accepted Christ as a nation. Some 750 years before the birth of Christ, God instructed Jonah to journey to Assyria for the purpose of turning the Assyrians toward God. After initially refusing the mission–and being admonished by God for his resistance–Jonah went to Nineveh to deliver God’s message to the Assyrian king. Upon doing so, and very much to his surprise, the king stepped down from his high throne and accepted the message not as the ruler of a mighty empire, but in the manner of a common man. The king then called his people to prayer, fasting, unity, and humility for their sake and not his.
Today, the Assyrian nation is receiving the same call. Assyrians must be united and humble and extend their hands in peace to each other so they might themselves live in peace. The peace that only peacemakers can grant to a people is in their hands and is their burden alone to accomplish. We must recognize that this is our mission and our duty to each other and others. This is what he requires of us and what we are uniquely positioned for and prepared to achieve: to be the mediators and spokesmen for peace in the Middle East.
The death of Rabin, Arafat, and Sadat closed an old chapter in the book of the peoples they represented. Today we need to begin a new chapter for the Middle East. It is the Assyrian burden to bring peace to the region; it is our cross to bear. We cannot run away from our mission or shirk our responsibility in our homeland where our ancestors lived and died for peace.
Assyrians must recognize that now is the time to accept the gift of discernment in order to carry out brave and decisive action. It is the time for sacrifice of personal pride and group names at the altar of peace for the sake of the Assyrian Nation and the people of the Middle East. In doing so this generation of Assyrians can accomplish its mission and sow the seeds of peace so that their future generations can harvest its fruits within the Middle East.
If we stay mission-focused we will secure our presence and generational legacy in the Middle East even as we lay the foundation for an enduring peace for future members of the global community. If we cannot accomplish this simple task, then we do not deserve to receive the mantel of leadership from anyone to include God.