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Australian Prayers for Assyrian Suffering

Australia/Islam ( , About 500 people brought banners, crosses and songs to Parliament House yesterday (8/8) to mark the plight of Assyrian Christians in Iraq .

More than 500,000 of the minority ethnic group have taken refuge in neighbouring countries since the Iraq war begin in 2003, because radical groups coerced them to convert to Islam.

It is claimed 287 Assyrians have been killed in the past 12 years, many in execution-style.

Yesterday’s peaceful demonstration and prayer vigil, which drew Assyrians from communities in Sydney and Melbourne, aimed to draw the Federal Government’s attention to the crisis.

The president of the Assyrian Levies Association, Gabriel Kiwarkis, said history was “repeating itself”, referring to the suffering of Assyrian Christian refugees during World WarI.

“We’re here today to encourage our Government to better safeguard our Assyrian nation,” he said.

“We hear all about suicide bombers, but we don’t hear about the Christian Assyrians who have not harmed one person in this entire conflict.”

The Australian Assyrian Christian Association’s Magdoline Shalalo, who gave the opening address, spoke of the “families and relatives that face daily pain because of their Christian faith”.

Her message was reinforced by the banners carried by the crowd, which read, “we are born free” and “human rights for all”.

One demonstrator, Thomas Lazar, whose father works at the Assyrian Church of the East in Sydney , said he still had family in Iraq .

He said, “the suffering and violence has to stop”.

“We can’t even contact our family because the phones are down, so we just sit and worry,” he said.

“It would be a different story if it were Australians in our shoes.”

Human rights activist Michael Darby, who campaigned for the independence of East Timor over a 25-year period, said Assyrians had similar grounds for freedom.

“Imagine another country invading us and saying either convert to our religion, flee to New Zealand or die,” he said.

The Australian Assyrian Christian Association hope to create a self-administered Assyrian regional government within Iraq .

The association also wants Western nations to allow a special intake of the ethnic group’s Iraqi refugees.

Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells told the rally she remained “committed to supporting” the association.

The group plans to meet her again.

There are about 1.6 million Assyrians worldwide, about half of whom live in Iraq .

By Joel Christie