Last month I was tasked with organising the photo gallery on www.ademandforaction.com It was not a complicated project. In theory, it should have taken a day to complete, two at the very most. But in reality it took over a week. I lost all track of time looking at all the photos of all those who had become refugees over the course of 11 months. What a funny thing time is. Empirical, always measured the same. There are always 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year. Yet for some it is fleeting while for others it stands still.
It was only days before we were due to mark the 1 year anniversary of ISIS invading Mosul and I found myself thinking that at the same time last year, the Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs and Yazidis of the Nineveh Province had no idea what was coming. Caught up in the mundane tasks of everyday life, they had no hint that, for them, life as they knew it was about to change forever.
It was overwhelming looking at all those photos. So many heartbreaking images and faces. The truth is I had forgotten about the faces. It dawned on me that when I think about the victims in Iraq and Syria, they are faceless groups of people huddled together in some temporary shelter. Their eyes, their gaze, their broken expressions, which now stared back at me in these pictures, I had filed away somewhere in the back of my mind. Like the image of the 2 toddlers sleeping on the concrete path outside St Joseph’s Church that would make any mother’s heart bleed. Or the photo of the women, arms outstretched, desperate for the aid that was being delivered to them.
They are all hard to look at but what made time stand still for me was revisiting the first photo I ever saw after the invasion. It must have been taken shortly after they had arrived at St Joseph’s in Ankawa. Pew after pew of my people, each with a different stage of grief etched into their face. Each time I look at that picture, I see someone else’s pain – pain that is now over a year old. Like the man in the third pew, covering his eyes as he cries. Or the mother in the first pew, fighting her own exhaustion as her child sleeps on her shoulder. Two elderly ladies sit behind her, lost in thoughts of disbelief. As I looked on I noticed, for the first time, the lady to the right of my screen. Most of her face is out of picture frame and what’s left is covered by her hand but you can tell she is devastated. And as I write this, I notice, again for the first time, a lady behind the second column also on the right hand side of my screen. She is wearing a reddish pink singlet. Her face is blurred yet her distress is clear to see.
Alot has happened in a year. Nineveh Province has been emptied of all its Christians. Over 3000 Yazidi girls have been sold on the slave market. The people of Khabour in Syria have lost their homes and some even their families. Over 240 Assyrians/Syriacs are still being held hostage with no word of their whereabouts or condition. Our future generations will never see ancient city of Nimrud or visit the palaces of our ancestors. Those are destroyed and forever gone, leaving behind a trail of heartache and, for some of us, regret at never having visited when we had the chance.
Regret. Such a powerful word because, in part, it’s admitting to yourself that you should have done things differently. I don’t ever want to look into my child’s eyes one day and regret not having done something to help our people. It’s one of the reasons I joined A Demand For Action. An organisation which I initially thought was just a socially savvy group of passionate Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs has proved to be much more than that. I’ve watched them contribute to resolution language being passed in EU parliament and in Washington D.C. I’ve seen them organise protests world-wide to bring awareness to our plight. I’ve read their quotes time and again across all media platforms. And at this very moment, I am so proud to say that they are supporting the building of an orphanage in Syria for the most innocent victims of war.
At the end of the day, what’s happening on the other side of the world should make us realise that it really doesn’t matter what we call ourselves – Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, … we are all the same. We are all human beings who hurt at the thought of what is happening, not just to our people but to all the people there. Every victim, irrespective of ethnicity or religion, has a mother who grieves for them or a partner who longs for them or a child who wants to be tucked in by them one last time.
Those of us in the diaspora are so lucky to be physically far removed from what is happening in the Middle East right now but it just means that our responsibility to do something is greater than ever before. If you can join an organisation, any organisation you believe can and is making a difference, then do it. If you can donate money to their cause, do it. But do something! Anything! Lobbying. Protesting. Volunteering. Fund-raising. Tweeting. We all need to be doing our bit. No effort is too small. Otherwise, before we know it, one year will become two and then five and ten and one day we will, regretfully, be telling our children how, once upon a time, our people lived in the land of our ancestors and when they were kicked out of their homes, we did nothing because we were too busy going about our day to day business whilst those in Iraq and Syria were left frozen in time.
What a funny thing time is. For some it seems to last forever while for others it is running out.
A Demand For Action Representative