Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Sunday, April 21

Gapers Block

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There is no single word in Assyrian for "tears." There is only a phrase: "dima d'aina." It literally translates to "blood of the eyes."

I wanted to cry when I saw my father and mother cast their first votes for the government of Iraq. But I also thought of the thousands of American soldiers who have been killed or irrevocably maimed fighting an illegal war in a nation that posed no real threat, a war designed to make the rich richer. While I choked back tears, that blood of the eyes, I thought of the blood of our young men and women, and felt more torn than I have in a long time.

I cast a vote in the Iraqi elections. It was the wish of my family, of my people in Iraq, that I cast that vote because I had the opportunity, and to flunk it would have been to betray them. The Assyrian ex-pat community had received word from Iraq that they were hoping for a high turnout in the Iraqi OCV. I cast a vote for them -- not to support an illegal, immoral war. Not to support a demonic administration predicated on theft and hatred and fear. Not as an indication of any sort of belief that the elections were truly fair, free, or wholly democratic.

Still, arguments about allegiance to one nation or other I feel are unwarranted. Many people have dual citizenship and freely cast votes in different elections. If voting is the duty of every citizen, why shouldn't I have voted? Not to mention that the Assyrian community is still tied deeply, perhaps as irreversibly, to our countrymen resisting the oppression and violence that has tried for centuries to destroy them.

I cast a vote in the Iraqi elections because it was made clear to me that it was a duty to my heritage, my culture, my people who have suffered as long as any other. As I dipped my finger in purple ink, I thought of millions of Assyrians performing the same act with closed eyes, bleeding from the eyes. It was my duty, and I will quarter no argument that it was wrong.

But that is not to say I had no reservations. Being a member of a diaspora fills your life with ambiguities. You live in perpetual gray, allegiances torn, roots asunder, constantly seeking to belong and yet forever bound to that duty to your community and its tragic history. I will say it was an easy decision, ultimately, to vote. The Assyrian me was champing at the bit. The American me was resisting the notion of participating in what seemed to be a legitimization of a terribly managed, inhumane policy of an administration I loathed. Does the fact that ultimately I chose to vote mean I am more Assyrian than American? Does it mean my allegiance will always be to my people first?

That is to say: If I voted, could I ever really be an American? Or would it condemn me forever to hyphen-ness, that purgatory realm of the American hierarchy?

So, there was the rub. It was a question of blood -- that purple ink that still stains my finger, was I forever staining myself with the blood of my fellow citizens dying in an immoral war? And if I didn't vote, would I be staining myself with the unheeded blood of generations of Assyrian freedom fighters resisting tyranny?

Easy answers indicate questions not worth asking. There is no easy answer.

My father and mother fled oppression and could have gone anywhere. But they chose America. It accepted them, allowed them to bear and raise children. It afforded them opportunity. I love this country passionately, as only a once-neglected child can love his newly adoptive parents.

As young men and women die a world away to afford my people this opportunity, no matter what the outcome, I cannot but feel that I have by voting become complicit in their blood. The purple ink is mostly gone now, crusting around my fingernail, but I will always see that stain. I think of the families that have lost loved ones in this war and tears -- that blood of the eyes -- begin to well. My family, me people, have a chance -- a chance -- to breathe free due to that sacrifice. So wasn't my vote cast in support of their sacrifice? Wouldn't it have been a terrible sin of omission to turn my nose up at their sacrifice, to claim moral high ground?

It was made more surreal by the presence of an MSNBC camera crew, who followed us through the voting process, and then broadcast live from my parents' house to provide running commentary on election day. My father and I repeatedly answered questions about the importance of the day. As the day wore on, however, I felt increasingly angry. As I watch the tape, I notice a severe look on my face. We tried to make clear that this election was important to ex-pats as a show of support to our soldiers and to our people in Iraq. I did not want my family to be paraded out as cheerleaders for George W. Bush and his wicked minions.

As I drove home after the interviews, I did feel tears -- that blood of the eyes -- begin to form. Ink would forever stain me as less American than American, yet always less Assyrian than Assyrian.

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About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon covers and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at .

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