Date: November 19, 2015
By Michael Ireland, Senior Reporter, ASSIST News Service, www.assistnews.net
PARIS, FRANCE (ANS -- November 19, 2015) -- The shocking terrorist strikes in Paris on the evening of November 13 have caught the attention of the world.
“While political leaders send expressions of condolence and support to President Hollande and his nation, individuals with friends and family in Paris have been clamouring to seek assurances of their safety,” writes Peter Ahern in an article for the Assyrian International News Agency (www.aina.org).
In an analysis for the news agency, Ahern writes: “I am a frequent visitor to Paris where I spent time as a student. Some of my student friends were Assyrians who lived in the neighbourhood of Sarcelles, where two thirds of France's 16,000 Assyrians are resident.”
In his article, Ahern says the Assyrian community in France represents the result of two major waves of immigration. (The Assyrians are a Christian people who follow various Eastern Churches that use East Syrian and West Syrian liturgical rites. They are descended from one of the oldest civilizations in the world, dating at 2500 BC, in ancient Mesopotamia, making them one of the oldest and longest surviving ethnic and cultural groups in Asia. Today, the indigenous Assyrian homeland areas are part of today's northern Iraq, southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran and northeastern Syria).
“The first influx followed the genocide of Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks by the Ottomans during the First World War. This second major wave of arrivals is far more recent, with many fleeing Iraq and Syria over the last decade because of rising persecution by Islamic radical groups. For decades France has been a place of refuge for Assyrians seeking relief from oppression,” he says.
Ahern states: “Assyrians in Sarcelles have a flourishing community organization, the Union des Assyro Chaldeens de France (UACF).”
Established in January 1996, the UACF had various locations until a new center was opened in May 2012, Ahern said.
“The UACF Center maintains a well-stocked library, provides classes in modern Assyrian (neo-Aramaic), offers tutorial support to the community's schoolchildren, assists newly-arriving members of the community who are struggling with French to complete needed forms, and runs its own football (soccer) club.”
Ahern explained the UACF seeks to maintain the unique identity of the local Assyrian population, to provide support in a wide range of ways, and to facilitate warm relations with the French majority community. “It has been a happy relationship, with none of the kinds of uncomfortable interactions that has marked the relationship between the native French community and the Muslim minority,” he said.
Ahern says that it is by a strange irony that the Assyrian community in Sarcelles finds itself living in proximity to significant Muslim populations in neighboring towns, reflecting the reality of their original homes in the Middle East.
The Coordinator of the UACF Center, Mr. Max Yabas, said in interview that generally the relationship between local Assyrians and Muslims has been cordial. “We have friends and neighbors with all other communities, including Jews and Muslims”, he said. “There has never been a problem between the Assyrian community in France and any other community.”
However, says Ahern, overall the Assyrians of Paris have felt an erosion of their sense of safety and security in recent years. Mr. Yabas explained: “We certainly do not feel as safe today in France as we did in the 1990s. There are now many jihadists in France. We have the impression of being invaded by people who are extremists who at any moment can do something stupid.”
Ahern states that Assyrians are reminded on a daily basis of such feelings of insecurity by the increasingly visible presence of the military in the streets. “We have a very large Assyrian church here that meets for worship three times per day,” explained Mr. Yabas. “There are soldiers placed in front of it for protection, as also occurs with the synagogues. For several years now we have not felt secure, because of the rising power of extremists here in France.”
The tragic events of this last weekend have triggered strong feelings among local Assyrians, Ahern says. “The entire Assyrian community is hugely disappointed and angry with the French Government,” declared Mr. Yabas. “Government inaction has resulted in the problems in Syria and Iraq coming to France. The French authorities have been entirely reactive, not proactive. They have not anticipated, but waited until the problems were on their doorstep.”
The Assyrians of Paris have themselves been proactive in trying to raise awareness among the French authorities, according to Mr. Yabas. “We made public protests last year. We have issued press statements warning of the dangers. But the Government has been inactive.”
Ahern explained the Assyrians of Sarcelles live only a 20-minute train ride away from the 10th and 11th districts of Paris, where some of the attacks occurred.
Mr. Yabas said with relief: “I am involved in the group coordinating the community response to the attacks. Fortunately, no Assyrians seem to have been among the victims.”
Ahern concludes: “This is very good news for the Assyrian community. But much more needs to be done for the community to regain the confidence and security that it felt in decades past.”
Image: 1) St. Thomas The Apostle Assyrian church in Sarcelles, France. (Photo via AINA). 2) An Assyrian family in France. 3) Michael Ireland.
About the writer: Michael Ireland is a Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as a volunteer Internet Journalist and Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and ASSIST News Service since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Click http://paper.li/Michael_