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26 September, 2014


Nina standing in front of Parliament House
Nina standing in front of Parliament House
At 4 40 pm on Saturday 6 September 2014 I stood in front of Parliament House and I spoke about Christina Khader EBADA. 

That morning I had only slept for four and a half hours. I had worked an 11 pm – 7 am shift the night before intercepting hoons (young, anti-social people who like to race cars) from the industrial sites of Thomastown. It never seems to amaze me how some young men and sometimes women are happy to put their lives and the lives of others in danger for a few seconds of peer admiration.

At midday my alarm went off and I woke up to the tune of ‘Eyes like Sky ‘ by Frank Ocean. I reached down and picked up my speech for rally. I read over it, corrected a few spelling mistakes and got ready for the day. My Demand for Action t-shirt was hanging in my external wardrobe. As I walked out of my room I slung it over my long sleeve thermo.

The first story I was always going to talk about at the rally was that of Christina. Christina was a three year-old Assyrian girl living in Qarakosh, Iraq. Her family was one of a handful of Assyrian families that could not leave in early August when the Islamic State captured the town. Two weeks later Christina and her family attempted to leave the town and were stopped by the IS militants.  Christina’s mother retells the story, 'I was carrying my child in my arms, I sat in the bus and he came and took her from me, snatched her from me, and left the bus.'

As I read out Christina’s story the crowd stood silent. It was only 30 minutes ago that the protesters were marching down Spring St chanting, 'United Nations what’s your plan. A safe haven we DEMAND.' Now not a sound was made.

Christina’s photo was held high for all to see, her smiling face for all to remember. 

I was told later that the story of Christina had brought tears to the eyes of one of the priests who was standing in the front row. I remember thinking to myself the story of Christina is one of many. I felt a sense of guilt because I couldn’t share every story.

*     *     *     *     *     *

My identity has always been important to me.

'What is Assyrian?'

It is my culture, it is my heritage and it is who I am!
It has contributed much to modern civilisation, so why is it being attacked?

Nina in Caux
Nina in Caux
In June 2011 I was accepted for an internship with Initiatives of Change in Caux Switzerland. Besides getting in trouble by the train conductor for getting the wrong ticket to Montreux, it was the most enlightening experience of my life.

My connection to Initiatives of Change started earlier on. In 2009 I was completing a Masters in Criminology at the University of Melbourne. I grew up listening to my grandfather tell horrific stories of torture and mass murders perpetrated on the Assyrian community of Turkey. More than 750,000 people were exterminated in the first genocide of the 20th century for just being religiously and ethnically different. I wanted to understand the mentality of these perpetrators so I decided to study criminology.

During the last year of my degree one of the professors connected me to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) internship. I applied in early 2009 and underwent a phone interview with the Counter Terrorism expert at UNODC. The interview started at 1:00 am that morning and went for 40 minutes; by the end of it he was congratulating me and asking me whether I could be there in two weeks time.

In late August I was in the Big Apple looking lost and feeling anxious. Soon enough I felt like a local, greeting the homeless men every morning who would gather on the corner of 127th St and Malcolm X Blvd. I managed to even pick up my Melbournian walking pace to keep up with the local New Yorkers.

Nina at the UN
Nina at the UN
I was based on 1st Avenue at the United Nations Headquarters working for one of the toughest managers I had ever come across. She was the Chief of UNODC and wasted no time telling me ‘I'll be calling you intern until you prove yourself to me, so don’t get offended.’ So I worked. I attend committee meetings and took minutes, I made prominent visitors feel comfortable by getting them their morning brew, I rushed over documents to the UN Security Council and I collected funds from a fundraising event that looked at supporting ex child solders.

One afternoon the Chief called me into her office and asked me to do her a favour. Nicholas Cage was in New York and we were working on a dinner gala that would make him a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for UNODC. She told me that it was Nicholas Cage son’s birthday and she needed help in wrapping up the gift and writing the birthday card. As I was writing the card I asked what the boy's name was. The Chief replied, ‘Kahlil.’ I was thinking out loud and said, ‘Oh like superman’s real name.’ You should of seen the look on her face, she was so surprised that I knew that, that she started to call me by my first name and got me a special pass to meet and take a photo with Nicholas Cage.

I spent six months in New York City, on my last day at UNODC the Chief told me to consider doing a Masters in Law and coming back to UNODC for a job. I flew back home a week later.

It was a culture shock being back in Melbourne. I kept on thinking about poverty and suffering in the world whilst the people around me were thinking about the next pair of g-star jeans they should buy. A good friend of mine came to my rescue and connected me with Initiatives of Change so that I could continue learning, volunteering and reflecting.

As I arrived at Caux in 2011 I was astounded at the beauty of my surroundings. The old hotel above Lake Geneva was magical and the work being done within its walls encouraging. I spent four weeks in Caux with a diverse group of people that came from all four corners of the world wanting to be the ‘change in their world.’ During the last day of my experience in Caux I spoke about my identity and how I feel connected to my ancestral land even though I have never been there. A connection I could not fully understand but it made me grieve and soon enough I was boiling my eyes out.

I tried to explain it to my new friends that I couldn’t just go to Iraq like they could go back to their homeland. For me to be able to do that would mean risking my own life to step in the same soil that my forefathers stepped in. This was sad not only to me but also to all those sitting in that room.

I learnt many lessons at Caux that month and until today I continue to find my solace and reflect on life. In June this year I was in New Zealand with my other half. As I sat on a stool in the little Good Shepherd church overlooking Lake Tepako I came to a realisation or maybe it was a calling.

When I arrived back to Melbourne I told my boss I wanted to resign because I was in the wrong profession. My boss replied with, 'God talks to us in different ways. You need to follow your passion.'

Today I represent a Demand for Action, which is doing some inspiring work worldwide raising awareness of the plight of Assyrians in Iraq and Syria and the need for a safe haven so that their culture and way of life can be protected.

Today I have applied for a JD Masters in Law, which will commence next year.

Today I am reconnecting with Initiatives of Change, which does wonders for the mind, heart and soul.

Life is no surprise. There are no coincidences. All you have to do is stop, reflect and connect the turning points in your life.

Ninawa Younan lives in Australia. She is of an Assyrian (Indigenous to Iraq) background. She has a Masters in Criminology and will be completing a JD in Human Rights Law next year. Next year she will be studying international human rights.

She is also a representative of Demand for Action which is a global initiative founded by Nuri Kino (award winning journalist from Sweden) that's fighting for the protection of Assyrian Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq through lobbying, awareness and media. They have representives in over 15 countries including on the ground in Iraq that often share with them the horrific violations of human rights.

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.


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