David William Lazar is an outspoken friend of Israel and an Assyrian activist. He can go to Israel but he is not so sure when it is safe for him to go back to Iraq, where he was born. – We try to learn from the Jewish experience of centuries of being in the diaspora.
For the last 34-35 years, mr Lazar has been living in the US, where he successfully completed his studies and has accomplished a Bachelor of Industrial Engineering and a Master in Business Administration.Today he works as a financial advisor.
Mr Lazar also has a solid experience of political activism. Already in college he started the Assyrian Student Society in a local university. Later he was involved in the Assyrian American National Federation, the Assyrian American National Alliance and in the Assyrian Democratic Movement based in Iraq.
For the last five years he has been the chairman of the American Mesopotamian Organization, which is a grassroots political action committee. The organization says it is affirming the right of the Assyrian nation to a secure, sustainable homeland, and is advocating for security, freedom, justice, and opportunity – in all their forms – for Assyrian communities. It is involved in meeting with members of the congress and posting petitions.
It has also taken a position against American involvement in the conflict in Syria.
– Not because we like the dictator Bashar Al Assad, mr Lazar quickly adds, but rather because we are afraid of what’s going to replace him.
They also try to form an alliance with the Greeks and Armenians, the ethnic groups that suffered the most during the Ottoman genocide against the Christians in the early 20th century. Even Jews were victims of the genocide carried out by the Ottomans and the Kurds, mr Lazar explains. A monument over the victims in Turkey he visited had inscriptions in Armenian, Assyrian, Greek and Hebrew.This genocide is called Seyfo, which means sword. Unlike the Holocaust there were no concentration camps, mr Lazar says, at least he does not know of any. People were actually killed instantly on the spot, the women and the children were taken, he goes on explaining. His wife’s father was the only survivor of six brothers. Between 3 – 3,5 million Christians were murdered. Assyrians lost 75% of their population and all their lands in the genocide.
Armenians today have Armenia and Greeks have Greece but the Assyrians have no national homeland anymore, mr Lazar points out. Britain promised them independence since the Assyrians fought with the British forces to free the Middle East from the Ottoman rule. However Britain failed to fulfill the promise. Most Assyrians ended up being citizens of Iraq where the massacres of Christians continued by the Arab extremists.
Many people in Europe and the Western world refer to you only as ”the Christians” why is that?
-This is mainly because we confuse everyone.The ethnicity is Assyrian because it is in the historical homeland of Assyria. We are mostly referred to by the Turks and Kurds as Christians or Christians of Iraq. Part of our homeland is also in southeast Turkey and in Iran and the north east of Syria, now claimed by the Kurds as their Kurdistan. I think we are referred to as Christians of Iraq as we use so many names, Syriac, Chaldean, Aramean, Assyrian, but if we look at the geography it is all historical Assyria.That is why my organization considers Assyrians the proper name of the people.
How is the situation today for the Assyrians in Syria?
– It is bad you know. The majority of the Assyrians don’t want the Syrian regime to change, not because they are supporters of the dictator but because they are afraid of what’s going to replace the regime.
He refers to the Islamist rebells.
– The barbaric act these people are committing and the intolerance towards each other, let alone different ethnicities and religions, I don’t think this mentality even existed in the 6th or the 7th century. It’s a barbaric, unbelievable brutality.
There are some Assyrians that also want the regime to change.
– I have to be very proud to say, though I disagree with their policy, that they have not taken up arms, mr Lazar says and refers to the Assyrian Democratic Organization.
The Assyrians have no autonomy today which the Kurds have in Iraq and are trying to establish in northern Syria. Mr Lazar explains that all the Assyrian political parties have come together and submitted a request through the councils of Ministers in Iraq for the creation of new province, an area of 1600 square miles in that area of Iraq where the Assyrians are in majority. He says it is going to be a long process and that he is not very optimistic about that it will happen.He thinks it would be better to internationally approach the issue.
Although being sceptical, that it will be practical at this time for the Assyrians to have a state of their own, he is stressing that he does not say it should’t happen. He however thinks it could be more practical to coexist in a pluralistic open democratic state with Kurds and Arabs in Iraq. A common market for the Middle East which includes the Jewish state is something that also could be done, in the long-term, mr Lazar adds.
So what is the Assyrian people’s relationship to Israel?
– We have both camps. We have supporters of Israel and we have the supporters of the Palestinians, depending on what school of thoughts they come from. I see a lot of support of Israel openly among a lot of Assyrian Americans. My organization and I personally believe in the right of the Jews and Israelis to have a country of their own and we only think that Israel and the Palestinians can solve their issue with a secure state of Israel in mind.
To be honest as Assyrians we also see that we have the right to go back to our homeland. The Jews did that after so many years of persecution. I support defining Israel as the homeland for the Jews and every Jew should have the right to go there.
Mr Lazar lives in Los Angeles, a city with a big Jewish community, so he constantly meet Jewish friends. He used to have Israeli neighbours and there is a close relationship between Jewish and Assyrian families. They meet each other several times a week.The Jewish community where he lives is very supportive of the Assyrian cause he says.
Mr Lazar explains that the Jews have been able to survive as a people in so many different countries and has brought with them home to their new state all that knowledge and developed a prosperous and advanced state from it in an area that is mostly desert, which is fantastic.
He says that the Assyrians learn from that and try to imitate.
– We learn from the Jewish experience of centuries of being in the diaspora.
He says he wants to visit Israel but first he also wants to visit his homeland in Iraq. It could though be a bit tricky since he was blacklisted by the Saddam regime for his political stand. Even if Saddam is gone now he is not sure if the situation is safe enough for him in Iraq.
Today it is yom ha’atzmaut here in Israel. While the Jews are living in their own independent state and celebrating their freedom, the Assyrians have yet to wait for their day to come. In the meantime Israel continues to be a hope of democracy and self determination for the persecuted Christian peoples of the Middle East.