Thursday, 03 October 2013

Presentation at ARAM conference

Written by  Layla AlRoomi
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Abstract

The Mandaeans have lived in southern Iraq and Iran for thousands of years, yet their

history, culture, and religion have not been well documented.

What we know from the work of academics (Buckley, J. 2005) is that the written

religious texts go back at least to the second century AD.

Being a small religious minority among a mainly Moslem community has led the

Mandaean community in the past to take an insular and secretive attitude in order to

protect themselves. Although the Sabean (Mandaeans) are mentioned in the Qur'an,

their treatment at the hands of their neighbours has been varied. This has ranged from

acceptance to indifference, to intolerance, to persecution, and at times, to massacres.

The Mandaeans have documented many such massacres in the past.

Major changes have happened in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Among Iraqis

sectarian identity replaced the national identity and, as a result, religious sectarian

violence and killings have dominated Iraqi society. Targeted violence against religious

minorities became a common practice. Mandaeans were particularly targeted because

they were unprotected.

The violence that was unleashed on the Mandaeans fits the criteria of genocide under

the Geneva Human Rights Convention. To date, 181 men, especially young men, have

been killed since 2003. Considering their small number, this represents ten times more

per head compared to the rest of the Iraqi population as a whole.

The Mandaeans were forced out of their homes and country and had to flee their

country. More than 85% of the Mandaean community were displaced outside Iraq. Most

became refugees in the neighbouring countries such as Syria and Jordan.

There are only about 8,000-10,000 Mandaeans still living inside Iraq today - the majority

in Baghdad. Some are still internally displaced.

It is estimated that there are about 5,000-10,000 Mandaean living in Iran. The

Mandaean religion has not been legally recognised under article 13 of the Iranian

constitution and, as a result, the community is not protected as a religious minority with

rights and freedom to practice their religion. They are discriminated against in all policy

decisions.

There are currently about 8,000 Mandaeans settled in Sweden. Another 7000 in

Australia, and about 6,000 in rest of Europe and the UK. There are about 5,000 in North

America. The Mandaeans would have preferred to be settled together in one country

but this was not a priority for the international community during the settlement process.

The Mandaean communities in the Diaspora are thriving; building places of worship

and recreation centers, and looking into the revival of their culture and language. They

are building networks among the Mandaeans which have been pivotal in keeping the

community's main interests and religious affairs alive among members. One such

organisation is the Mandaean union. Their web site is www.mandaeanunion.org that

feature many educational and cultural aspects of Mandaean's life in diaspora. There

is, however, a real danger that as the community is scattered in various parts of the

world, and is small in numbers, that the future for its continued existence is under threat.

The Mandaean Human Rights Group (MHRG) is a self organized group dedicated to

helping and protecting fellow Mandaeans in Iraq and Iran given the dangers that still

exist in these two countries. The Mandaean Human Rights Group watches, investigates

and exposes human rights violations against Mandaeans. Since 2006 it has produced

annual reports in English of high quality. These have been used by other organisations,

both governments and non-governmental organisations, as a source of information

regarding the persecution that the Mandaeans have suffered. The MHRG has worked

hard to collect information, names and incidents annually. These reports are published

on the Mandaean union website - www.mandaeanunion.org

The Mandaean community is extremely concerned for the safety of the remaining

Mandaean families inside Syria. Given the grave current situation, these refugees

have nowhere to turn. They need urgent transfer to third countries. The international

community should fulfil their obligation to protect them.

The first Mandaean Human Rights Conference, held in April 2012 in London,

highlighted that to prevent the Mandaean minority from becoming extinct, many

concerns are still to be resolved. Among the most urgent situations to be rectified are:

1. For the Government of Iraq to guarantee the religious minorities to practice their

faith in peace and security and to hold those who preach hatred accountable

2. The Iranian government should recognize and respect the religious rights of the

Mandaeans and grant them equal opportunity in employment, education and

citizenship

3. The Mandaean refugees in Syria need urgent processing to expedite their

resettlement.

4. For the international community to recognize the needs of the Mandaean

community to maintain a religious and cultural identity and to give serious

consideration to their resettlement as a group and not as individuals.

5. And finally, for the international community to take active measures to help

Mandaeans to re-establish their shattered community

 

Topics covered in this presentation are:

• Persecution of the Mandaeans throughout their 2000 years of existence

• Exodus of the Mandaeans of Iran after the Islamic revolution

• The exodus of the Mandaeans of Iraq after the war in Iraq 2003

• The Mandaean refugees' crises of 2006-2013

• Situation of the Mandaeans inside Iraq today

• Situation of the Mandaeans inside Iran today

• Mandaeans in the diaspora

• Mandaean refugees who are currently still waiting in Syria

• What are the priorities for the Mandaean of today?

• The creation of the Mandaean Human Rights Group and their first conference in

London 2012

• FILM

• Conclusions

 

Introduction

 

Mandaean history is still shrouded with unknowns and mysteries. As a Mandaean

community we have limited knowledge and understanding of our own religion and

history. This can be due to many reasons, among them lack of religious instruction and

knowledge of the Aramaic language and texts.

Being a small religious minority among a Muslim majority which has a somewhat varied

view about it did not help either. In fact, for the Mandaeans to protect their religion and

community they have had to develop an insular and isolated attitude.

Among our own religious texts we have an incomplete history in Haran Guitha which

gives some records but leaves many questions unanswered.

On the other hand we also have the writings of many scholars and academics who

maintain an interest in and research into many aspects of Mandaean history, religion

and language to whom were are indebted.

We know from the works of Prof. J. Buckley and others that the written religious texts go

at least as far back as the second century AD.

What we are also certain about is the fact that Sabeans were mentioned in the Qur'an

from the 7th century .There are also the many writings in the Arabic language of

the Abbasid period in the 7th and 8th century that leave unclear connection and/or

distinction between Sabeans of Haran and subsequent Mandaeans in southern Iran

and Iraq. On the other hand, some western travellers and missionaries mentioned

Mandaeans as they came across them in southern Mesopotamia in the 16th century

and called them, by mistake, the Christians of John the Baptist; a confusion that carries

on till today.

We have also the writings of Mandaean priests and copiers of the Aramaic manuscripts

who kept the tradition of recording dates and some information at the end of the texts.

However there are not many detailed anthropological studies of the Mandaean religion,

culture, way of life, or demographic distribution before Lady E. S. Drower's early

twentieth century book (The Mandaean of Iran and Iraq 1937). Since then, her studies

and recordings have not been repeated by other studies. Even the statistics that have

been used today are only estimates drawn from Iraqi government's records from

censuses in the mid and late twentieth century.

In this talk I will concentrate on the plight of the Mandaean community in modern times,

but first, let me say something about:

How were the Mandaean people treated and regarded by their neighbours?

The treatment of the Mandaean people by their neighbours seems to vary from

acceptance to indifference to intolerance, to persecution and, at times, massacres. This

all seemed to depend on who the local ruler was at the time, as well as on the religious

leaders and how they viewed the Mandaeans or Sabeans religiously. Since the seventh

century these parts of the world have been part of Islamic empires, and the treatment of

the Mandaeans depended on whether they were considered as Themi or people of the

book or not. Accordingly, many interpretations of Qur'an Suras were passed by religious

Islamic leaders against and for such treatment. As a result, some ill and bad treatment

have befallen the Mandaeans at the instigation of overzealous clerics, or as a result of

fatwas by religious leaders. Such extremes have resulted at times in horrible massacres

- to list only a few

• The 14th century in Umara, Iraq by the hands of The Sultan Muhsin Ben Mahdi

and his son Fiadh, the ruler of Shushter. Thousands of Mandaeans were killed.

• The massacre of 1782 in South Iran and east Iraq –many religious men were

killed

• The Massacre of 1870 in Shushter at the hands of Nassir Al-Deen Shah, the

ruler of Iran.

The Mandaean community can list many others

After the First World War and with the rise of nationalism, a new phase of persecution

appeared where the ethnic identity of minorities in the Arabic Islamic world had to

be absorbed into the Arabic Islamic culture. Following urbanisation into big cities the

Mandaeans were forced to join armed forces and lost their use of Aramaic and were

deprived of any form of learning in their own religion.

During the Saddam era the Mandaeans took their share of misery and pain in

the suffering that followed. Hundreds of their young men and women were killed,

condemned to horrible tortures, or simply vanished. Hundreds more were killed during

the Iraq-Iran war under the forced drafting rules.

 

Situation for Mandaeans after 2003

Major changes have happened in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Sectarian

identity replaced the national identity among Iraqis. As a result religious sectarian

violence and killing dominated Iraqi society. Targeted violence against the religious

minorities became a common practice. Mandaeans were particularly targeted as they

lacked protection.

The violence that was unleashed on the Mandaeans can easily fit the description of

genocide under the Geneva Human Rights Convention. To date, 181 men especially

young men have been killed since 2003. Considering their small numbers, this

represent ten times per head compared to the rest of the Iraqi population as a whole.

Forced conversion to Islam by threats and intimidation specially to young girls to marry

them off to Muslim men as well as boys who were forcefully circumcised and converted.

A number of women were raped. Large numbers – over 280 were kidnapped including

45 women and children, some from the same family. Written threats were sent to

families including death threats calling them infidel or "nejis"; telling them to leave their

homes and businesses or be killed.

Mandaeans were forced out of their homes and country and had to flee. More than 85%

of the Mandaean community were displaced outside Iraq. Most became refugees in the

neighbouring countries of Syria and Jordan. Eventually the majority was accepted in

third countries of asylum either through the UNHCR or through smugglers who robbed

them of their live savings. The Mandaean community in Iraq has dwindled from more

than 60,000 in the early 1990's to less than 10,000 today. Eighty five percent are now

outside Iraq forming a large Mandaean diaspora. There are still Mandaean refugees

who are trapped as refugees inside Syria today.

 

Situation of the Mandaeans inside Iraq today

There are only about 8,000-10,000 Mandaean living inside Iraq today. The majority is in

Baghdad, but some are also in Nassireia and Amarrah, and fewer in Basra. Some are

still internally displaced. They are scattered in different parts of these cities and towns,

as there are no specific areas of residence within Iraq. There is some improvement in

the security situation in general, and the Mandaean community has one representative

in the Iraqi Parliament. However, the hate campaign has not abated as has been shown

by the recent religiously motivated hate crime against two families in two separate

incidents in Naseria resulting in the death of an innocent man and three women being

seriously injured.

Unemployment is high, especially among the young people as government jobs are

allocated through favours and along sectarian lines. Mandaean women are obliged to

wear the hijab and their children are not allowed to learn their own religion at school.

On a positive note the Mandi (the religious place of worship) in Baghdad is going to be

extended to include a cultural centre.

 

Situation of the Manedaeans inside Iran

It is estimated that there are about 5,000-10,000 Mandaean people inside Iran. The

Mandaean religion has not been legally recognised under article 13 of the Iranian

constitution and, as a result, the community is not protected as a religious minority with

rights and the freedom to practice their religion. They are discriminated against in all

policy decisions.

Throughout their history, and specially more recently as well as since the Islamic

revolution in Iran, the Mandaean have suffered persecution and harassment as a result

of religious discrimination. They are treated as second-class citizens. They have been

exposed to continuous pressure to convert to Islam.

These are few of the difficulties the Mandaeans are facing inside Iran today. They are

often denied access to higher education. They are not permitted to handle or serve food

to others. They do not have civil rights in the country courts as Iranian citizens. They

are not allowed to study in the universities unless they write MUSLIM on the application

form. They are not employed in any government offices. At schools, children are forced

to learn Islamic theology and the Qur'an. They are not allowed to study common law

and to become lawyers but they are obliged to serve in the army. They are not allowed

to form any association or a civil society. They can vote but cannot have a candidate for

local or general representation. They are not allowed to build mandi

Mandaean in the Diaspora

There are now about 8,000 Mandaean in Sweden, another 7000 in Australia, and

about 6,000 in rest of Europe and the UK. There are about 5,000 in North America. The

Mandaeans would have preferred to be settled together in one country but this was not

the priority for the international community during the settlement process.

Situation for Mandaean refugees still in Syria

The so called Arab spring has turned into winter for the religious minorities in Syria.

The Mandaean community is extremely concerned for the safety of the remaining

Mandaean families in Syria. Given the grave current situation inside Syria now these

refugees have nowhere to turn; some have been there for 5 years or more. The majority

of them have been accepted by the UNHCR as refugees awaiting resettlement, and as

such, they should be granted protection under international law, but the situation on the

ground gives no such guarantee.

There are about 700 Mandaean families still trapped, mainly in Damascus today and

among them there are children, elderly, widows, and the sick. They have nowhere else

to go to. They tell us they are equally scared to go back to Iraq. They cannot cross

border to Jordan or Lebanon as they are not treated as Syrians. The UNHCR offices are

running only a skeleton service for Iraqi refugees. They are running short of money and

food and medicine. Recently missiles have hit two houses where Mandaean families

were staying in two separate incidents in Damascus, and as a result, a young man was

killed and three others were seriously injured including two women. These refugees

need urgent transfer to third countries. The international community should fulfil their

obligation to protect them.

 

What are the positive developments?

The Mandaean communities in the Diaspora are thriving, building places of worship and

recreation centres, and looking into the revival of their culture and language.

At a level of civil society, the Mandaean communities have been very active in building

many non-government organisations in many parts of the world. There are now

Mandaean associations, societies, and organisations in many countries and cities. In

places such as Stockholm and Sydney there are more than one association. Getting

people to meet together and to help new members to adapt to the new society as well

as keeping the community together. The Mandaean Union links and organises these

associations and has a website and an email group with over 3000 members. These

networks within Mandaean society have been pivotal in keeping the community's main

interests and religious affairs alive among members. The website is

www.mandaeanunion.org and features many educational and cultural aspects of the

Mandaean community. There are a total of 34 priests including two Resh Uma, nine

Ginzebri and the rest are Termidhi. Many among them are new. Unfortunately there are

no women priests among them as yet.

Many religious festivals are celebrated with many Mandaean participating in Baptisms

despite the practical physical difficulties encountered. Additionally, some weddings are

performed occasionally according to Mandaean traditions.

 

And what are the dangers facing the Mandaean in the future?

There is a danger that as the community is scattered in various parts of the world, and

is small in numbers, that the future for its continued existence is under threat. There are

only handful of Mandaeans in some countries such as France, Spain, Finland and Italy.

Even in places like Canada, the UK, and the USA they seem to be spread thin among

different cities. This makes performing religious rituals very difficult especially where

there are no priests.

Secondly, the young generation of Mandaeans are brought up in a different culture

which makes their acceptance of their parents' religion and tradition difficult. In addition,

some are finding the limited choice for marrying within the faith inconvenient. As

the Mandaean community currently considers only those born from two Mandaean

parents to be accepted, there is a danger in the future of loosing members who marry

outside the religion. There is currently neither right answer, nor an easy solution in the

immediate future.

Thirdly, as there is no religious instruction for the young generation, this will add to the

problem of lack of interest in religious matters and in the community in the future.

 

Mandaean Human Rights Group

The Mandaean Human Rights Group (MHRG) is a self organized group dedicated to

the help and protection of fellow Mandaeans in Iraq and Iran, given the situation in

those two countries in recent years. The Human Rights Group watches, investigates

and exposes human rights violations against Mandaeans. We have volunteers in

the United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Europe, and Iraq. The model

for our work is the United Nation's Human Rights Declaration of 1948. The MHRG

is a non-profit organization registered at Companies House, UK 6271157. It is a

member of the Mandaean Associations Union, and has produced annual reports in

English of high quality since 2006 which have been used by other organisations, both

governmental and nongovernmental organisations as a source of information regarding

the Mandaean.

The MHRG has worked hard to collect information and names and incidents annually.

These reports are published on the Mandaean Union's website. We work and take

advice from a wide range of organisations, both Mandaeans and international NGOs.

Of these we name but a few, especially Minority Rights International and the Jubilee

Campaign.

The first international Mandaean Human Rights Group conference was held in April

2012 in London - in the Houses of Parliament, as some of you will remember. At that

conference, it was highlighted that to prevent the Mandaean minority from becoming

extinct, there are many concerns still to be resolved. Among the most urgent situations

to be rectified are:

1. For the Government of Iraq to guarantee the religious minorities the right to

practice their faith in peace and security, and to hold those who preach hatred

accountable.

2. The Iranian government should recognise and respect the religious rights of the

Mandaeans and grant them equal opportunity in employment, education and

citizenship.

3. The Mandaean refugees in Syria need urgent processing to expedite their

resettlement.

4. For the international community to recognise the needs of the Mandaean

community to maintain a religious and cultural identity and to give serious

consideration for resettlement as a group and not on individuals.

5. And finally, for the international community to take active measures to help the

Mandaean to re-establish their shattered community.

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