One Woman. One Testimony. One Voice.

One hundred fifty souls perished that black day. One hundred fifty souls that were accounted for. One hundred fifty souls that were loved by fathers and mothers. By sons and daughters. By sisters and brothers. By wives and lovers. One hundred fifty souls, each one of them with individual names, who were expected at dinner tables that evening. That night and every night, one hundred fifty chairs would remain unoccupied, each leaving an empty space in the hearts of a nation on the brink of total extinction. One hundred fifty candles flickered in the distance when angels swept the earth for their souls.

-excerpt from The Crimson Field by Rosie Malek-Yonan-

Assyrian women…Mothers, wives, sisters…They are beautiful beyond comparison, wise beyond limits, strong beyond comprehension and loving beyond understanding. They possess these amazing qualities that make them the foundation of our nation. Throughout the centuries Assyrian women have suffered through wars and genocides, famines and tragedies to support their men and care for their children. They may seem vulnerable and helpless at times, but when all is said and done, they are the foundation that keep the Assyrian nation alive.

One of these amazing women is Rosie Malek-Yonan, the author of The Crimson Field, an actress, a pianist, a figure-skater, a director, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. She is a beautiful woman with a great smile, petite physique, strong willed with a great heart.

I had the honor of being present at the Congressional Hearing on Friday, June 30 2006 in Washington D.C., a day I will never forget, when an Assyrian woman changed the destiny of her people, bringing them hope for the future and becoming their voice of truth. How different this experience was from everything that I have ever witnessed! In a world of politics, there is no room for passion and emotions, no room for love and compassion. Everything is calculated and planned. Our people, Assyrian people, are dying every day. Our children are murdered, mutilated, beheaded and tortured. Our mothers and sisters are raped and sold as prostitutes. We cry, we sigh, we feel sorry, but life goes on and we go back to bickering about name, churches and…nothing changes, everything stays the same. Our people are still dying, our children are murdered and mutilated, our mothers and sisters are raped and sold as prostitutes.

When I was getting ready to go to the hearing, I was not prepared for what I was about to witness. I was not prepared for Rosie’s courage, determination and passion. And I was definitely not prepared to see a Congresswoman, Ms. Betty McCollum, cry while she was talking to Rosie after the hearing.

Prior to Rosie’s speech, we listened to the testimony given by Ms. Nina Shea, Vic e Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. While describing the situation in Iraq, she referred to us as “indigenous ancient Iraqi Christians.” I kept waiting for the name “Assyrian” to be mentioned, but alas, the speech was over and we remained as “the Christians of Iraq” in the eyes of the members of Congress and the public, as we are usually portrayed in the media. “We are ASSYRIANS! We were Assyrians before we became Christians!” I thought to myself. Still, I hoped that Rosie’s speech would clarify matters.

In response to a question from Mr. Christopher H. Smith, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations, Rosie noted: “We have a name. We are Assyrians. We need to be called by our name, not just a generic Christian. We have a name, and we want to be recognized as such.”

This experience almost seemed surreal and now, 24 hours later, I still have to pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming. I was so glad that I was taking pictures during Rosie’s speech, in order to hide my teary eyes from the public. It took every bit of effort to hold back my emotions. I was watching the members of the Congress put their pens aside, listening attentively to what Rosie had to say. I was watching people in the audience, journalists, representatives of different organizations turn their heads in Rosie’s direction trying to grasp every word she said.

What she said was just simple truth. Yes, she was passionate and emotional, something you hardly see in the halls of Congress. But this is exactly what Assyrians in Iraq need. Those who died, those who are dying as I am typing these words and those who will die in the hands of Islamists and Kurds. Rosie voiced our pain, our suffering, and our truth, through stories of Assyrian children killed in Iraq, statistics of Assyrians fleeing our homeland, Iraq, and through an excerpt from her book. Simple yet powerful words. Chairman Smith acknowledged Rosie’s statement as containing “well-documented facts” and referred to it as a “powerful testimony.”

June 30, 2006, was one of the happiest days of my life. I left room 2172 at the Raybury Building where the Congressional Hearing was held with my head held high and full of hope for my people. One woman has accomplished more with a single testimony in the US Congress than all our political and religious leaders have in the last four decades combined.

Rosie, thank you for telling the world that I am more than just a “Christian in Iraq.” For telling the world that I am an Assyrian and that my people in my homeland continue to suffer under the oppression of the Islamic forces.

~ by Nina Georgizova, Zinda Magazine, Washington DC