Over 100 people gathered in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral on Spadina Crescent Nov. 13 to march through downtown Saskatoon in protest against ethnic cleansing of Christians in Iraq.
Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac and Aramean Christians — who unite under the term Assyrian — have been a target for terrorist groups linked to al Qaeda since the beginning of the war in Iraq. On Oct. 31, 58 churchgoers were massacred at Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad.
“It’s genocide, essentially. The Christian people, since the war began, have had no protection and have been targeted by terrorist groups wanting them out of the country,” said protest organizer Peter Kiryakos.
“Assyrians were the indigenous people of Iraq; they were there before it was Iraq. All they want is peace,” he added.
The protest coordinated with other protests held throughout the world a few days earlier. The goal of these was to pressure Iraqi security and the U.S. to protect Iraq’s Christian populations.
“The point of this is just telling the world that Christians and priests in Iraq have been killed in the middle of praying,” said protestor Aamer Toma. “We ask everybody to help as much as they can, in any way they can.”
As the Saskatoon protestors stopped in front of City Hall, the political nature of the protest became apparent — protesters in Canada are seeking help from the Canadian government.
“We hope not only to promote awareness of what’s going on but for the Canadian government to partake and use their influence to get the United States and Iraqi officials to have specific protection for the Christians in Iraq,” said Kiryakos.
Of course, mourning the losses and bringing together the Saskatoon Assyrian community was also central to the protest — group prayers were held twice during the march.
Younia Gorges brought her granddaughter Atourina to the protest in order to promote her involvement in the Assyrian community.
“I’ve been here for 30 years and it’s very important to save the Christians in Iraq,” to educate our kids on the issue and to keep the Assyrian community close, said Gorges.
Atourina was born in Canada but has an aunt and uncles in Iraq. One of her uncles, an Assyrian, was killed in Iraq by terrorists in a separate incident. Although she might not comprehend the significance of the protest right now, it’s important that she stays connected to the global Assyrian community.
“I’m really happy to see that we have Canadians here protesting with us and it means the world to us to know that we have the support of our neighbours and our friends,” he said. “My dad was one of the first Assyrians to come to Saskatoon and it’s been our home ever since. I’m really proud to be from here and I am glad to see that [the Saskatoon community and police] are helping us out by letting us do this.”