WikiTribune:WikiProject Oslo Freedom Forum/Transcripts/Juliana Taimoorazy

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Fiona Apps: Okay. Okay. Thank you very much for agreeing to talk to me.

Juliana Taimoor: Thank you.

Fiona Apps: Could you just give a brief introduction on [inaudible 00:00:09]?

Juliana Taimoor: Sure. I'm an Assyrian Christian and I was born and raised in Iran and I was smuggled out of Iran in 1989 twice really. Once into Switzerland and then I stayed in hiding in a monastery in Switzerland and once about six or seven days later I was smuggled into Germany by car and that's where we sought religious asylum and the reason for that was because of the religious harassment I felt.

Juliana Taimoor: My neighbors would spit on the floor, on the ground when we would walk by, my Jewish friend and I, or in the mornings sometimes the students or the teachers would say... They would try to force me to, Islam, they would try to force me to say the Jahada which I wouldn't or a few times my teacher threw me out of the classroom because she would force me or I would felt forced to defend the Trinity. She would debate me on Trinity and I was 13 years old.

Juliana Taimoor: So we left and as refugees we came to the states in 1990, got my Master's Degree in 2000 in Structural Design and I started the Iraqi Christian Relief Council in 2007 to help elevate the knowledge of the West about the persecution of Christians in Iraq and then I joined the Philos Project in 2014.

Fiona Apps: And you were talking yesterday, a sort of very informative talk. One of the things you brought up that I wasn't aware... You said, "One out of nine Christians are persecuted worldwide."? Could you just speak to that a little more?

Juliana Taimoor: That is a study that came from Open Doors USA and I can send you that link. It's a very comprehensive program. It has the top countries on their watch list of what's happening, what is a persecution looking like there, so that data came from them.

Fiona Apps: Okay. You also said in your talk, the word persecution is currently used as a fad?

Juliana Taimoor: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Fiona Apps: I was just wondering if you would agree to go into that more as well and in what context and sort of because you're international and what sort of countries are using it and how that impact your work?

Juliana Taimoor: Sure. The term persecution or the term genocide really in its essence talks about the destruction of human beings lives and everything that they know in their culture. But, a lot of times... I live in the US so on many occasions even in passing as a joke they say, "I'm trying to park my car here close to the door." And I feel persecuted because this other person came and took that spot or that's very on a anecdotal, on a joking level, but on other levels it is used not correctly.

Juliana Taimoor: Really, we have to understand the essence what genocide means and what persecution means before we start using it as a every day term. It has become a every day term or individuals for example, if you noticed I said I was harassed in Iran, I didn't say I was persecuted in Iran.

Juliana Taimoor: Maybe to me, I don't know, because my family was persecuted, my ancestors were killed and [inaudible 00:03:24]. I don't take that term lightly. I wasn't killed. My family was not beheaded, but I was harassed. There's a difference between harassment and persecution, so we have to be careful how we use that term.

Fiona Apps: One of the things I was wondering, because you do a lot of your work in the US and there's been a lot of division over refugees and allowing people to enter the country and it's very polarized political sphere. As a Christian how do you find interacting with mainstream political parties in the US and is there anybody who's [inaudible 00:04:03] you specifically or that sort of thing? How do yo work within the two-party system in the US while it's so polarized?

Juliana Taimoor: Great question. I had the freedom to choose my parents I shouldn't say because I was 16 when I left Iran. My parents had the freedom to choose to leave although it was difficult for them to get me out of the country because I was forbidden to leave the country, but they had a choice to make.

Juliana Taimoor: A lot of refugees whether Christian or Muslim or [inaudible 00:04:34] for example, a lot of them don't want to leave their respective homelands, but they're forced into exile. So having said that, I lived a comfortable... I dedicated my life to this cause, but I live a good life. I'm in the United States of America, so I don't have any right to say, "You have to stay behind", or "You have to be sent back". I don't have that title. However, I know I've seen the suffering of the refugees in Jordan. I know my team has gone to Turkey. I'm very much in touch with the Turkey refugees as well because we aid them.

Juliana Taimoor: And the suffering goes from eating out of the garbage cans all the way to not being able to provide for themselves simple yet critical medication like, high blood pressure or diabetic medication and they die of this. So they have to be given the opportunity to either go back, right, which they are given, but many are refusing because of lack of security in Iraq or lack of economic development and education or they have to be able to be taken out of the refugee situations because they were targeted specifically for their faith.

Juliana Taimoor: A lot of refugees that are right now in refugee camps, they were caught in between the Civil War for example. They weren't necessarily targeted, some of these refugees that are now in camps, but the community that I work for, I've dedicated my life to they were targeted because they were Christian, they were because of [inaudible 00:06:00].

Juliana Taimoor: I believe, and that I affirm too, preferential treatment, but I want them to have equal treatment because right now they are being neglected. The US is not allowing anyone to come in. Canada is just starting to open the doors again a little bit since 2016, same with Australia.

Juliana Taimoor: Now question. How do I feel about the system in the US? I believe the US needs to because... Let me put this non diplomatically. Christians of Iraq, their lives, the Assyrians, the Chaldeans and Syriacs, their lives were not exactly easy, but they weren't like this in 2003. With the presence of the US, although it may have had good intentions, it has turned out to be a disaster for them. So I believe because it was perpetrated by the US, it's time for the US to really start taking a look at their... not necessarily at their fellow Christian because we don't want to be like that in the US, but at these people that their lives were devastated according to the policies that the US has implemented or continue to implement.

Juliana Taimoor: How do I work in that climate? So when we started really being active in this I started in 2007, but there have been people before me since 2004 and 3 and 5 working on this. We presented this cause as a Christian cause when it's more than that. The Assyrian community has its own culture, its own language and when I say Assyrian, I also mean the Chaldean and Syriac. Please make sure that's included in there because otherwise the Chaldean... Some Chaldean activists are against that and I don't want to upset anyone.

Juliana Taimoor: So the Assyrian culture, including the Chaldeans and Syriacs, they have this... They're one community first of all, very important to say and we have our own language, we have our own tradition, our own culture and it's not a Christian issue only, because we presented it as a Christian issue we lost the [inaudible 00:07:59], but it's also an ethnic issue.

Juliana Taimoor: So if I were to do it over again I would say this is an Assyrian Christian cause and I said this yesterday, it's bipartisan issue. It should be all hands on deck because it's destruction of humanity. When ISIS comes they don't ask them for example, are you Catholic, are you Orthodox, or are you an Angelical. They cut because we were people of the cross, but in addition to that you saw in 2015 February what they did with the destruction of the Assyrian Monument, the winged bull and the museum, they're trying to erase our history and that's back breaking Fiona, that's back breaking because it's one thing as a Christian, but it's another when they're trying to erase our history.

Fiona Apps: Which actually leads quite nicely into my next set of questions which were when you were talking about your work in Iraq and what I didn't quite understand from the talk yesterday, are the Assyrians protected as an indigenous people or is that something you're still working on?

Juliana Taimoor: As a government, through government?

Fiona Apps: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Juliana Taimoor: Yes. The answer is not necessarily protected. I don't think the term protected should be used here. Are they recognized as indigenous people, yes. Is our language recognized, yes in the constitution. In 2014, the council of ministers said that, and I can send you the actual documentation for your reference that the Nineveh plane should belong to the indigenous Assyrians and the Chaldean, Syriacs of the region, of the country as a self-autonomous region, not independent, but as in Federate to Iraq.

Juliana Taimoor: So yes, the answer is yes we are, but as far as protection, no. When ISIS attacked or when other terrorists have attacked we have been really left alone by the Iraqi military as well as the Pershmerga so that's why we are advocating. There are many advocates that advocate for the [Creation 00:10:05] we already have actually. Nineveh Plain Protection Unit which is a force that fought alongside of the Iraqi Special Forces and aided in liberation of some parts of the Nineveh Plain.

Fiona Apps: I was actually going to ask about that... because you said there were about 3000 plus men ready to take up protection of the region. How did that come about?

Juliana Taimoor: Because we're tired. We're tired of... and I say we, I mean all of us Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs across the world, we're tired of seeing our brethren in our homeland being pushed around and persecuted and killed. They took up arms, they formed it in 2014 because Pershmerga betrayed us, Iraqi military betrayed us and they now are an officially recognized military unit through Baghdad and we received very little late, but I'm telling you it's ludacris, but it's something at least that it comes and we're officially recognized which is a big deal.

Juliana Taimoor: But A, it needs to come a lot more, but they are only 500 men. There are 3000 that are waiting to go and start protecting because we believe, not we, the leadership in Iraqi believes that in order for Nineveh Plain to be protected in a comprehensive way, they need 5000 people. We have 300 people right now and the others want to enlist, but... And even out of this 500 there are a few dozen that are not getting paid by the government and they're volunteers. One last thing diaspora, there are two men so far that have joined the 500, but there are many, many more that if the conditions are correct they will start asking for people to enlist and get paid and get trained to defend a lot of [00:11:57] want to return and be there.

Fiona Apps: I was actually going to ask about that because you said the diaspora can be quite radical?

Juliana Taimoor: Yeah.

Fiona Apps: Could you tell me what sort of shape that comes in and how that appears to people who are actually living in Iraq at the moment?

Juliana Taimoor: Sure. Sure. The diaspora, because we're comfortable we tend to forget the situation on the ground and we get consumed with our own world, especially with social media. People hide behind the computer, behind fake accounts and they try to... Whether willingly or unwillingly they add fuel to the fire without really considering what is happening to those people who are actually suffering on the ground.

Juliana Taimoor: One aspect of this radicalism is look, Fiona, if you read history the Assyrian people in Northern Iraq, Southern Turkey, North Western Iran, they all were ready to fight for the crown in England. They were recruited by England and they became brave fighters, they fought, they were betrayed. They were left alone by the Russians, Russians never came to their aid, they came, pulled back, went back and all these things too much for this article. But, the Brits betrayed us during World War 1, also did the Russians and the French. The Russians did it because of the Bolshevik Revolution of '17, they completely pulled back.

Juliana Taimoor: In 1933, because of our allegiance to the West, we look at England in 2004, 2003 because we were Christian. Also, back then because we fought for the crown and because we were Christian, when Iraq was newly formed in 1923, 22 into 1930's, the Muslims in Iraq, that now they are government after the Ottoman Empire, they unleashed against the Christian Assyrian in the Northern part of Iraq. They started massacring them, okay.

Juliana Taimoor: We have been betrayed and Britain had given us a promise for our allegiance they would give the Northern part of Iraq to us, the Nineveh area to us as a homeland. So because we have been betrayed and because of the US policies that have failed Christians starting 2003, there are a lot of [inaudible 00:14:18] people, not a lot, but there are loud mouths that promote radicalism and pure nationalism that is not tolerant of the other.

Juliana Taimoor: I am all about... I don't even like the term tolerant, you can say that. I want to say acceptance or something else. I don't know, I haven't come up with that term yet, but tolerating is like, okay, okay I tolerate you. I don't like that term, it has to be something better than that. I talk about reconciliation with the neighbor, with the [inaudible 00:14:52] that have massacred us or reconciliation with the big powers.

Juliana Taimoor: We have to learn, if I need the US, if I need England to help me secure this province and help me be funded for my military, I need to respect the government and I need to not rise against it. A lot, these 3, 4, 5 bad apples if you will are stealing hate speeches towards big England and France and are brain washing the young people against the government.

Juliana Taimoor: I don't do that. I'm all about building relationships. I'm a bridge builder by just nature. That's one aspect, but the bigger aspect even than that is the infighting that has started in my community, the division with dis-denominations. Chaldeans, the Assyrians, the Syriacs, the Church of the East, we're all at each others' throat in the West while there are people who are dying and their fending for themselves in the East. This is what I'm talking about. [crosstalk 00:15:57] Basic thing-

Fiona Apps: I just-

Juliana Taimoor: I'm sorry.

Fiona Apps: Yeah.

Juliana Taimoor: Basic thing, we have forgotten how to be human. Please quote me. We really have forgotten how to love one another and not really talking religiously, right. We've forgotten how to honor each others differences. We have forgotten how to be simply human beings in my community and there are a lot that are at each others throat. There are many. So we do have to wrap this up [inaudible 00:16:23]-

Fiona Apps: No, no, no. Unfortunately, I could do this for quite a while. We are a very community-driven project. There's two things that people really want to learn from people at the Oslo Freedom Forum. The first is what human rights abuses are being... I think we know what the answer to this is going to be, but what human rights abuses do you think the general public should read up on more?

Juliana Taimoor: I think and this is not just for Christians, it goes for the Jews and it goes for the Muslims. The Vice for example, the Vice and anti-Semitism is chilling for me because of what happened just seven years ago. Because my community is going through it right now. What happened growing up for example, what's happening in China against Muslims. Those are some... the abuses that you talk about or we talk about here at the Forum again, it goes back to we need to relearn how to be human before we pass policies honestly that's what I believe in.

Juliana Taimoor: And that cuts across the board, that goes with sexual slavery, that goes with Islamic Muslim persecution of Christians and the right weavers of the Jews and Hindus against Muslims for example. We need to be educated because knowledge brings power and with that then we're entitled, not entitled, we are entrusted to do something about this.

Juliana Taimoor: If I'm sitting in my room oblivious to what's happening outside, I'm never going to step in. I will never feel your pain to go forward and do something about that and we need more advocates and activists to step in, become educated and really try to assist.

Fiona Apps: And then the last one is our community likes to do a lot of fact checking. They like to be able to dig into things. Obviously they're slightly restrained by the fact that a lot of people are doing this from behind their desk at home, but if people were looking to explore statistics and fake news and everything for that, coming from that region, what organizations would you recommend that they...

Juliana Taimoor: It's very difficult to answer you unfortunately. Well, I mean that... --**off the record**-- Assyrian Policy Institute is one that is very good. That's on the record.

Fiona Apps: Yeah.

Juliana Taimoor: Assyrian Policy Institute is one that puts out really good documents. Alhurra News Agency-

Fiona Apps: How do you spell that?

Juliana Taimoor: "A-L-H-U-R-R-A" is a really good one. Al-Monitor is a really good one. Open Doors USA provides really comprehensive reporting, International Christian Concern is another one that you can look for it too when it comes to the abuses of Christians throughout the world, not just in the Middle East. Those are some things.

Juliana Taimoor: There's another one that is specific to the Assyrians. --**off the record**-- it's called Assyrian International News Agency, it's AINA that from a cultural standpoint you get exposed to a lot of cultural things that we do and some news, but yes, that's a good one. On the ground in Iraq I would say... What is that called? Ankawa, "A-N-K-A-W-A". Let me check on that and I'll get back to you. I mean, it's [inaudible 00:20:18] towards the [inaudible 00:20:18], but it's a report. Let me get back to you on the last one.

Fiona Apps: Yep. We're going to have to wrap this up.

Juliana Taimoor: Okay.

Fiona Apps: But, then hopefully I can take a picture.

Juliana Taimoor: Oh my goodness. Thank you very much.

Fiona Apps: Thank you.