Monday 15 October 2007

More tragedy for Armenians

While Turkey and the US Congress were arguing last week over whether it was OK to describe the murder of one and a half million Armenians as 'genocide', Armenians themselves were mourning the killing of two of their number by private security guards in Baghdad.

The fact that the two women shot dead in their car by agents of Unity Resources Group, an Australian-run security contractor, were members of Iraq's minority Armenian Christian community, received little publicity at the time. According to the New York Times, there was shock and anger among Armenians around the world:

For the family of at least one of the women killed, a taxi driver who was shot in the head as her car was struck with bullets while approaching a security convoy on Tuesday, the grief extended well beyond the borders of Iraq.

The woman, Marany Awanees, was the youngest of nine children in the Mamook family, including three brothers who are part of the Armenian diaspora in Europe and the United States.

The Mamook family, like so many other Armenian families, now straddles the boundaries between the West and the family’s Middle Eastern roots.

“She was a lovely sister, my younger sister, a lovely, lovely sister,” a brother, Paul Mamook, an electrical engineer in Belfast, Northern Ireland, said in a telephone interview.

Relatives in Iraq described her as a quiet woman with few friends or interests other than her church and her siblings. She started working as a taxi driver for Armenians two years ago, after her husband died, to support two of her daughters, who are in college. A third is in high school.

Security contractors are immune from prosecution under Iraqi law.

Iraq's Minister for Human Rights, Wijdan Salim, has called for an end to the immunity from prosecution of security firms operating in Iraq. Mrs. Salim was elected to the national assembly as part of Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National List. As a secular, female politician in a patriarchal and increasingly theocratic political culture, as a member of a minority (she's an Assyrian) in a country where ethnic and religious pluralism are under threat, and as an advocate for women's rights, she deserves the support of all those who want to see Iraq develop as a liberal, pluralist democracy. Whatever our attitude to the war, if we believe that human rights are indivisible, then we should endorse her campaign to bring private security guards within the ambit of the rule of law.

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