My name is Sasson Azoory and I left Baghdad, Iraq in 1959 to study in the United Kingdom. When I left, Iraqi General Abd al-Karim Qasim was in the midst of his three-year rein. During this small window of time Iraqi Jews were granted freedom of movement and I am one of the few Jews who was able to leave the country using my Iraqi passport.
A couple of years after my departure, General Qasim was assassinated, ushering in a very dark period for the remaining Jews of Iraq. By the mid 1960s there were less than 6,000 Jews left in Iraq and they began leaving illegally at a considerable risk to their lives. In 1966, in the middle of my studies in the UK, the Iraqi Government revoked my passport and I became a stateless refugee. They did this simply because I’m Jewish. I immigrated to Canada in 1968 and received my Canadian citizenship five years later, in 1973.
Since the 1950s, a succession of Iraqi governments have revoked the citizenship of Iraqi Jews, confiscated our communal and private property, and made our lives generally intolerable. The Iraqi Jewish archive now being held in Washington DC, that the current Iraq government now wants back, is simply stolen property. In my opinion, any guarantee by the current Iraqi Government that they will protect the Jewish archive is a cynical way to deceive the US government. I find it laughable that these artifacts, including some holy Jewish scrolls in Hebrew, will be exhibited and appreciated by the Iraqi public who vehemently hate the Jewish people and who were instrumental in destroying synagogues and desecrating Jewish cemeteries.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Iraqi government tried to sell these artifacts to Iraqi Jews at a later date when the dust settles. In 1982, the Iraqi Jewish Association of Toronto paid a bribe of $10,000 to smuggle a Torah scroll to Toronto via London. The temptation to monetize these treasures, which are of no use to the Iraqi people, is very compelling. If the Iraqi Government, after kicking the Jews out of Iraq and confiscating their properties really want these artifacts as part of Iraqi history and heritage, they can show good faith by starting to repair and restore the many Jewish buildings and monuments throughout Iraq for their public to enjoy and appreciate.
As an Iraqi Jew, I believe the artifacts should be returned to an Iraqi Jewish community. More specifically to the Babylonian Heritage Museum in Israel, where 2/3 of the Iraqi Jews and their descendents now reside. You can learn more by visiting, www.iraqijewisharchives.org