European Parliament Conference Addresses Plight of Assyrian Women

Tisdag 4 oktober 2016

On 29 September 2016, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) in collaboration with the Assyrian Women’s Federation of Sweden, held a conference entitled ‘Vulnerability and Empowerment of Women and Children in Armed Conflict‘ at the European Parliament in Brussels. The event was hosted by Kati Piri MEP (S&D, Netherlands) and also attended by Bodil Valero MEP (Greens, Sweden). The conference, which brought together representatives of Assyrian women from Sweden, Belgium, Turkey, the Netherlands, Syria, Iraq and Germany, discussed the multiple challenge faced by Assyrian women and children in conflict zones and highlighted the urgent need for international action to end their suffering.

Not only challenged by being women in a conflict zone, but also by belonging to a minority, Assyrian women should be empowered to have an impact on future developments in their homeland, stressed  Kati Piri MEP (S&D) who opened the International Assyrian Women’s Conference, which, as explained by Nursel Awrohum, Head of the Assyrians Women’s Federation of Sweden, had been postponed for several years due to the difficult conditions Assyrian women face in their home countries. Johanna Green, UNPO Programme Manager, underlined the importance of the conference in offering Assyrian women a platform to voice their concerns and formulate strategies for rebuilding their society.

 

Among the four guest speakers invited to share their stories, Santa Essa, on behalf of Bahija Dawod Nisho, Secretary of the Assyrian Women’s Union in Iraq, was the first to take the floor. “For decades, Assyrian women have been repressed and subject to severe discrimination policies”, said Ms Essa, and emphasised the urgent need for practical, concrete and binding recommendations by the international community to address their precarious situation. Norma Zeito Saadi, Director of the Assyrian Womens Committee in Syria, described how her organisation is working to activate the youth in conflict zones and trying to build bridges towards the Arabs and Kurds, which is key for a peaceful future. Sabah Elia, member of the women’s section of the Assyrian community in Södertälje in Sweden, then shared a heart-breaking account of her relatives who had endured several months in ISIS captivity in Syria. Last to take the floor was Februniye Akyol Akaz, Member of the Union of Democratic Local Government in the Mardin province in Turkey. She highlighted the difficulties and fear that mar the everyday life of Assyrians  Turkey, pointing out that the community has decreased from 1 million to just 5.000 today.

The conference was closed by Attiya Gamri, President of the PvdA Women’s Movement in the Netherlands, who took the opportunity to once more call for international solidarity, at a time when the Assyrian nation in the Middle East has all but vanished. Ms Gamri concluded by presenting a conference declaration demanding an end to the ongoing violence, discrimination and torture against the Assyrians and appealing to the European Union and United Nations to finally act in this regard.

While some positive steps have been taken by the European Parliament in the past few months, including the adoption of a resolution in February 2016 characterising ISIS’ deadly campaign against religious minorities as genocide, an important stone remains unturned – namely the role of women and children in this conflict. The 29 September conference therefore presented a much needed step to raise awareness of the plight of Assyrian women and children at the European level.

 

Below is the full conference declaration adopted by the participants: