By Ashourina Slewo
The past year has proven to be quite the year for the Chaldean community as it grappled with many highs and lows. From the rounding up of hundreds Iraqi nationals across Metro Detroit to the liberation of Nineveh. In an effort to provide the latest news possible, the Chaldean News has covered an array of events and issues affecting the community. Below are just a few of the most impactful events and stories that the Chaldean News has covered. Here are the 2017 highlights.
Fighting to stay
Shaking the Chaldean community to its core was the sudden round up of hundreds of Iraqi nationals throughout Southeast Michigan. Lead by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Chaldeans were sought out at their homes, in restaurants, and even churches. The detainees were then dispersed between facilities in Michigan and Ohio, with the majority of detainees being placed in Northeast Ohio Correctional Facility in Youngstown, Ohio.
In response to the raids, community leaders – including the Chaldean Community Foundation (CCF) and CODE Legal Aid – came together with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to bring a class action lawsuit to Judge Mark Goldsmith. While CODE Legal Aid served as co-counsel to the ACLU, they along with the foundation mobilized their efforts in order to ensure that each detainee was able to get an attorney.
Nearly seven months later, a handful of detainees have been released, but many continue to be detained. Most recently CODE Legal Aid and the ACLU have gone before Judge Goldsmith to ask for the release of the detainees, providing the alternative that they be released under supervision. Additionally, the CCF submitted an amicus brief through the Honigman Law Firm containing more than 100 letters from families of the detainees.
Behind the Mosque
Controversy surrounding plans to erect a mosque in Sterling Heights had sparked following heavy opposition from Chaldean-Americans. A large portion of residents of Sterling Heights being new Americans who faced persecution for being Christian. Many believed that this was where the majority of the opposition was coming from.
Others attributed the opposition to the lack of leadership within the Chaldean community. “The Chaldean church’s silence on the matter speaks volumes,” said Nasser Beydoun, chairman of the Arab American Civil Liberties League. “If the Chaldean community wanted to build a church for their community in a Muslim area, as an Arab/American community leader, I would be the first to support it. If you fan the fire of hate, it will consume you.”
Throughout the ordeal, the question remained, could Chaldeans and Muslims co-exist peacefully in the United States? According to Sterling Heights business owner and community activist Amira Bajoka, the answer is ‘yes’.
“Some of my closest friends in Iraq are Muslim,” said Bajoka. “In the 70s and 80s before we opened many of our own restaurants and stores, we shopped at their businesses in Dearborn. Yes, we can co-exist, but there are some deep wounds and some fears that exist because of the ongoing persecution.”
The liberation of Nineveh on January 26 was perhaps one of the most bittersweet stories covered by the Chaldean News this year. Following the liberation of Nineveh, Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako and Bishop Basilo Yaldo visited the town to truly understand the situation.
While the town was left in a state of disarray, the families that joined Patriarch Sako and Bishop Yaldo were overjoyed to be stepping back into their lifelong homes. Lead by Sufian Jarbo the Sacred Heart Chaldean Church was also reopened that day.
While there was much to be celebrated, the uncertainty of what the future would hold for Nineveh bore heavily on everyone. With homes torn apart and neglected, there was not much to welcome a return.
There is still much work to be done before everyone can return to the Nineveh Plains. “Liberation is not just about placing a flag and a cross over the church,” said Jarbo. “The church is open, but empty, the gravesites are still closed with the dogs digging up the bones of the deceased and eating them.”
Chaldean Cultural Center
After working to make the Chaldean Cultural Center (CCC) a reality for nearly a decade, the CCC finally opened its doors in January of this year. A gift to the Chaldean Community, the Cultural Center showcases a variety of pieces that were carefully curated.
People in and out of the Chaldean community worked to bring the CCC to fruition. Included in the CCC are five galleries, the Ancient Gallery, Faith and Church Gallery, the Village Gallery, the Journey to America Gallery, and the Today Gallery. Each of the five galleries had its own curator to help design it.
“My favorite part is the Journey to America Gallery,” said Executive Director Mary Romaya. “I love seeing all these immigration documents and thinking about the lives of the individuals they represent. Think of all of the emotions that these initial immigrants would have had…”
The Cultural Center is located inside the Shenandoah Country Club of West Bloomfield where it serves as a testament to the Chaldeans of the past, present and future.
Following several opioid overdoses throughout the community, the Chaldean News sought to understand why this issue was continuing to plague our community and what could be done to help. In a community as tight knit as the Chaldean community, the initial reaction when met with something as taboo as drugs, is to hide the problem.
Concealing these issues, however, only allows for the problem to regress and leads to the worst-case scenario. Following the death of his nephew Brandon Kallabat, 26, George Abro addressed this issue in a letter to the community.
“Due to fear of shame or embarrassment from our community, most parents maintain their silence,” said Abro. “The only real shame and embarrassment there should be is by not speaking out and helping others to understand that this is real. This is an epidemic. We need to speak out and help others recognize the patterns and signs of addiction.”
The community is armed with the resources needed to recognize and tackle these issues. With organizations like Peter’s Angels, community members can both learn to recognize signs of abuse and take action when there is substance abuse.