Aprim Shapera’s New Book

A Case Study on Iraqi Mentality of Minorities


Aprim Shapera
Aprim Shapera visiting the ancient capital city of Nimrud

Northern Bet Nahrain (April, 1978)


Aprim Shapera has recently reached an agreement with SAQI Books (London & Beirut), authorizing the latter to publish his latest work, “Assyrians in Iraqi Thought – A Case Study on Iraqi Mentality of Minorities”. The book expected to be in market by Fall 2001.

SAQI Books is the pre-eminent publisher of Arabic literature and Middle East publications. Its decision to publish Shapera’s work marks an important first for Assyrians. Assyrians will finally become the subject of attention in a mainstream publication respected equally in the Middle East and in the West.

In his study, Shapera considers the converging variables, which in Iraq have produced a unique point of view. In evaluating the Assyrian minority – at present as well as in history – the Iraqi elite has consistently revealed not only skepticism, but pathological antagonism.  After examining a long list of Iraqi writers – historians as well as political figures – the author observes a consistent attitude towards the Assyrians from 1921 to the present. Interestingly, this attitude seems to transcend any political regime in power, and it prevails among all the non-Assyrian elements of the Iraqi commonweal. In short, whether it is the Arabs, the Kurds, or the Turkomans, and whether it is Shias or Sunnis – all have a common vision of the Assyrians. Understandably, this synthesized vision of the Assyrian has also played inconsiderable role in the attitude of some current Iraqi opposition political parties and organizations. Shapera seeks to better understand the etiology of this persistent Assyrian image among Iraqis of all political stripes. He focuses his analysis of these sources on four particular aspects, namely, Religious/Psychological, Historical/Ottoman, Economic/Political and Internal/Assyrian.

In a separate Chapter, Shapera examines political parties as purveyors of Iraqi thought. He demonstrates that these parties generally ignore all the minorities (not only the Assyrians), because these are viewed as marginal in importance. Official party publications provide no guidance or consideration regarding minority groups, nor for the problems which may be unique to them. But unlike the other parties, the Ba’ath party has adopted a unique approach. Learning from its early mistakes of 1963, and benefiting from its longevity, this party has actually developed a policy towards minorities. The ideology underlying this policy is considered both in its early phase (through the writings of its godfather, Michael Aflaq) and in the ensuing phase when it gained power in 1968, as reflected in Ba’ath conferences Resolutions and in government pronouncements. In pursuit of this policy of accommodation, the government issued a number of edicts and resolutions relative to “Assyrian rights”.

This approach proved successful in the early 1970s with Mar Shimon’s visit to Iraq, followed by the recruitment of hundreds of Assyrians as new members and supporters of the Ba'ath party which culminated in 1973 with Malik Yako Ismail’s visit to Iraq and on that account few Assyrians Ba’ath members raised request to establish an Assyrian Ba’aht party. It was widely believed by Assyrians in that period that they would be allowed to create their own Army to secure rights to be given to them by the Ba'ath. Needless to say, this illusory attitude was deliberately encouraged as a means of, first, pitting Assyrians against Kurds and, second, of seducing them in order to absorb the Assyrians into the Arab nation, consistent with the so called “ Re –writing History” theory of the Ba’ath which holds that minorities, including the Assyrians, are simply a part of the Arab nation. The sole distinction, which is recognized is the religious one. Thus, Assyrians are merely “Arab Christian”!!, comparable, based on Iraqi thought prospective towards Assyrians, is the same as the Kurdish allegation that the Assyrians are merely “Kurds Christians”!!

Recognizing that there are exceptions to every rule, and seeking to go beyond generalizations, Shapera examines some exceptional Iraqi perceptions, which to him appear more objective and progressive in viewing the rights of Assyrians and other minorities. He notes, however, that these represent no more that a very slight undercurrent, and they have proven politically ineffective in the face of prevalent Iraqi thought.

In his conclusion, Shapera sees the misunderstanding of Assyrian Case in Iraq as a fundamental factor for Iraqi animus towards Assyrians. The author calls Iraqi for better understanding of the Assyrian ancient and contemporary history and encourages them to clarify objectively the facts and circumstances, regional and international that engulfed the Assyrian people during and after World War I. He maintains that explaining the “Legitimated Difference” is another way of reminding the Iraqi people that they consist of rich but varied constellation of groups. Such an understanding is seen as a prerequisite to the elimination of the “Barefaced Antagonism” which prevails today towards minorities and Assyrians in particular.

Shapera’s latest work amounts essentially to a critique of Iraqi political thought rooted in tradition. His thesis is thought-provoking and likely to engender sharp reaction from some quarters of the Arab media.

About the Book in Arabic Arabic

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