Canada has the tools at its disposal to affect positive change and turn the tide of history for the long-persecuted Assyrians.
The western coalition has spent a considerable amount of resources in the support of Kurdish forces in Iraq. Canada in particular has spent at least half a billion dollars in 2015 and is planning to spend around C$1.6 billion over the next three years to train, support, and equip the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG.) army, also known as Peshmerga. The western support along with the ferocious fighting ability of the Kurds has not only stemmed but turned the tide of the war against ISIS, which has lost 30% of its territory since 2015.
The western coalition has provided immense support with is the understanding that the Kurds are an ally closely aligned with Western values. The Kurdish forces have followed a pragmatic approach; they have showcased themselves as a capable ground force, with secular leanings that distinguish them from the sectarian forces in the region. The Peshmerga have female soldiers among their ranks and have also cooperated with, and trained a wide variety of minority forces from the Yazidi to the Assyrian militia.
Canada should not, however, repeat the mistakes of the recent past but (rather) ensure its efforts bring a long term positive impact on the region. Harjit Sajjan, the Canadian Defense Minister, recently mentioned that Canada should keep in mind the “ripple effect” of its actions. A closer look at the West’s new ally reveals troubling signs. The Kurdish forces have been accused of attacking the Assyrian minority which is already under threat of extermination. The Kurds have taken part in a large number of ethnic cleansing campaigns against Assyrians and played a major role during the Assyrian Genocide when hundreds of thousands of Assyrians and Armenians were killed. More recently the Assyrian Militia was attacked by Kurdish forces . Furthermore there have been accusations that the KRG has been pressuring the Assyrians to ask the KRG to be annex their lands into the Kurdish controlled region.
The Kurdish and Iraqi governments nominally support the creation of an autonomous Assyrian province in the Nineveh Plains. This region when self-administered would serve as a homeland for the hundreds of thousands of Assyrians withering away in refugee camps across the region. The Canadian government could potentially place some of its 680 advisors to train and unify the existing Assyrian Militia. The protection of local communities and the creation of security and stability within them is the focus of the Canadian mission in Iraq. The protection of Assyrians perfectly aligns with this focus. The Kurds are fond of reminding Canada that they should be able to vote to secede from Iraq just like Quebecers were allowed to vote on the fate of their nation. Canada should pressure the Kurds to deliver on their promises. An Assyrian homeland administered and defended by Assyrians with the help and know-how of the west is the only way to ensure the survival of the Assyrian nation.
There are millions of Assyrians dispersed around the world; a stable, secure and thriving Assyrian homeland would be reason enough for many to leave refugee camps and return to their homes. Furthermore, security at home will discourage Assyrians in nearby regions to settle there instead of taking the perilous journey to Europe. Canada has the tools at its disposal to affect positive change and turn the tide of history for this long persecuted minority.