Al-Masdar has recently spoken to Mr Steven Oshana of the A Demand for Action (ADFA) organization. ADFA states on its website that "A Demand For Action is a global initiative which seeks protection for Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs and other ethnoreligious minorities in the Middle East. We came together in June 2014 from a dozen countries to pool our energy and resources into a unified international effort."
Al-Masdar's Paul Antonopoulos spoke with Mr Oshana.
PA: Could you introduce yourself and what you do?
SO: I'm the executive director of ADFA, I work as a lobbyist in Washington DC and advocate on behalf of Assyrians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. I do a lot of legislative work pertaining to security, appropriations and immigration.
PA: Why is it important that the Assyrian people need support in Iraq and Syria?
SO: There's a genocide against our people which has really been ongoing since 2005. Our people in Iraq need basic support such as humanitarian assistance, but also longer term support for their own local security forces and a long term political solution that involves some level of self administration. After the Iraqi army and Peshmerga abandoned the Nineveh Plains we lobbied to secure an amendment in the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) to authorize local security forces in the Nineveh Plains, which was a first in US policy. The reality is the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac people have been shown time and time again that the larger administrations in Iraq and Erbil will fail them and there is a real sense that there needs to be some direct support to our own local organizations and security forces.
PA: Has your lobbying at Washington D.C. shown any results for the Assyrians in Iraq or Syria?
SO: In some ways more than others. We've secured several important measures and are working on the implementation process. Getting aid directly to our own organisations such as the Syriac Patriarchate, Assyrian Aid Society, Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organisation and others is a tip priority. Syriac forces in Hassake have received some military assistance as part of a broader coalition fighting Deash (ISIS). Security in Iraq has been a challenge, but having an amended NDAA has brought our forces there into the conversation about security and we expect to see them integrated into the security structure there. We've also seen the administration open new processing centers for refugees in areas where our people are and where the traditional processing system failed Christians. The new center in Erbil is going to be operational in January and the one in Beirut in February based on my meeting with the White House last week
PA: Once these refugees arrive in Erbil or Beirut what is the hope? To bring them all the United States or elsewhere, or to house them temporarily till its safe enough to go back home?
SO: All of the above. There is no immigration solution to this crisis as the numbers displaced is so high. We need to deal with all facets of the crisis, which is why we have a 3 point policy that deals with the short term, mid term, and long term needs of the victims. Ultimately we work towards a political solution that involves a safe haven and local security forces who can regain the trust of the people who have been abandoned. But that doesn't make the immediate needs for humanitarian assistance and immigration any less important, and we prioritize protection of human life above all else. Period.
PA: To come back to the United States, we often see in the American media that the Assyrian people are merely passed off as Iraqi Christians undermining your 5000 year old identity, history and culture. Why do you think that is?
SO: Its almost always when the media is procured by a non-Assyrian entity. ADFA almost always has ensured the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac name is used. As an Assyrian nationalist myself, I damn sure will never give an interview where my Nation is not represented accurately.
PA: You're pushing for a Bill to pass, can you tell us about that?
SO: We work on a number of legislative items, but the one in particular you're likely referring to is Senate resolution 340, which would call the persecution of Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria a Genocide, thus bolster the possibility for more robust international response. This actually ties into the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac name being used vs. Christian alone. The original version of the resolution was one we were not a part of crafting (H.Con.Res 75) and only referred to all of us as Christians.
That's the language from the version introduced last week with our language included. If we are not constantly advocating both in halls of power and in media we will find ourselves in a position where we are either being misrepresented or not fully represented. As I tell my clients, if you are not defining yourself you allow others to define you.
PA: Do you coordinate your efforts with other Assyrian diaspora community organizations like in Sweden or Australia?
SO: Of course, A Demand for Action is headquartered in Sweden and has operations in 19 countries including a very active team in Australia. We are the largest of the organizations in our community with nearly 22,000 followers and thousands of members and volunteers. Our membership consists of people from all denominations, churches, political parties, and local organizations, so we have an incredibly diverse base. Many of our members and supporters are also board members of the various local and humanitarian organizations in the West and the Middle East. We're very blessed to have the support we do. Our model is nothing that has been done in the community in the past, and it's been working for us.
PA: Do you have any final comments?
SO: My final comment would be that the only way for our community to be effective in securing the support that our people so desperately need is to be a part of the process. One of the things that's made ADFA successful is that we are non-partisan and non-denominational, so we largely side step the traditional divisions which crippled past political efforts by being inclusive and not trying to force an identity or political ideology on anyone. We also empower our youth and women in our community, who have in the past been marginalized due to normative behaviors and mindsets of the Middle East.
PA: Thank you for speaking with us.
You can follow Mr Oshana on Twitter: @politicoshana
You can also support ADFA by visiting their website: http://www.ademandforaction.com/