A Santa Clarita man is leading a lobbying effort to raise the profile of the American Mesopotamian Organization and obtain the attention of national legislators.
David William Lazar, 54, of Santa Clarita, is the chairman for the American Mesopotamian Organization, which is currently working with the Iraqi Christian Relief Council.
One of their goals, Lazar said, is to have the Kurdish Regional Government, or KRG, recognize their role in the genocide against Assyrians, which draws its name from an ethnic region in Iraq.
Their efforts are in regard to a longstanding ethnic dispute over Iraqi lands that goes back hundreds of years, but more recently genocides during World War I.
“The Assyrians stood by the Western allies in World War I,” Lazar said. “The world recognizes the Armenian genocide, and to a lesser extent, the Greek genocide – but no one talks about ours.”
The Assyrian people’s role in the war is chronicled in a William Ainger Wigram book called “Our Smallest Ally,” Lazar said. The book talks about the runup and roles of the Assyrians, chronicled from the perspective of a British missionary to the region.
The Assyrians were targeted and killed by the Kurds, who allied themselves with the Turkish Ottoman Empire during World War I, Lazar said. They would like acknowledgement of that, as well as the fact that the Assyrians were also targeted during race-based attacks under Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Lazar was born in Baghdad and raised there, in Lebanon and Kuwait.
In 1979, Lazar came to study in the United States around the time Saddam Hussein came to power. Lazar said he’s been a resident for 15 years.
Lazar obtained an industrial engineering degree from California State University Northridge, and later his MBA.
“Our organization was established to help Assyrians and become a grassroots community to organize Assyrian communities in the United States to influence U.S. policy, and we do lobby,” Lazar said.
There are two separate incidents of genocide that have not been recognized by the KRG, which has steadily been gaining global acceptance and power for lands that have historically belonged to Assyrians, Lazar said.
The genocide of the Assyrians and Armenians during World War I was recognized by the International Association of Genocide Scholars.
The second genocide occurred during the reign of Hussein under the orders of Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as “Chemical Ali,” Lazar said.
While the Kurds were targeted, and 150,000 were killed, many of those victims were also Assyrians, Lazar said. And many of the Kurds who were killed were living on land they had taken from the Kurds, he added.
“The KRG has been very active in the last year or so, mainly in the U.S., to have these Western governments recognize Hussein’s military campaign in the 1980s,” Lazar said.
“We’re telling the KRG government you could have stepped in the right direction and you could have also included Assyrians in your campaign,” Lazar said.
At stake is more than just land, it’s also resources that are being directed to the region, Lazar said, such as $20 million in international aid that would go to the Assyrian people.
Only a fraction of the money made it to the Assyrian people of the region due to government corruption, he said.
“And we’re blaming them for (that corruption) and we’re calling them hypocrites because, first of all, they were oppressed by Saddam and they were attacked, and so were we,” Lazar said.
“But before you want the world to recognize a genocide, they should recognized their role during World War I, when they were allies for the (Ottoman Empire), and ask for compensation for us, as well.”
A representative from the office of the embassy of the Republic of Iraq could not be reached for comment Friday.