OBITUARY: Dr. Wilson Bet-Mansour, Leader of Assyrian Christian Community

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Dr. Wilson Younatan Bet-Mansour, 91, an Assyrian-Iranian physician and politician who championed the cause of the Assyrian Christian community in the Middle East, passed away peacefully at his New York home on May 24.

Dr. Bet-Mansour was a staunch Assyrian nationalist who worked to unite Assyrians living in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey and around the world, with the ultimate objective of creating an Assyrian homeland in present-day northern Iraq — where the Kingdom of Assyria prevailed from the second millennium B.C. to the sixth century B.C.

Dr. Bet-Mansour was a founder of the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA), created in Pau, France in 1968. After the establishment of its constitution in 1970 in Cologne, Germany, he was elected as its first Secretary General.  He served on its advisory board until very recently.

Under his leadership, the AUA campaigned worldwide for the Assyrian cause, focusing on the one-Assyrian-nation objective, and the need for a homeland to avoid atrocities such as the 1914-1918 genocide by the Ottomans, the 1933 massacre at Simele (present-day Iraq), and the ethnic cleansing carried out recently by the Islamic State group.

Between 1968 and 1976, Dr. Bet-Mansour was an elected member of parliament in Iran. He was the founder and publisher of the Ashur newspaper, a trilingual monthly  — appearing in Assyrian (Aramaic), Persian and English — dedicated to news of the Assyrian community worldwide.

Dr. Bet-Mansour was part of the first wave of Iranian-educated doctors who trained in the United States in the 1950’s, and he was one of the pioneers of the modern medical system in Iran. He was a founding partner of the Jam Hospital in Tehran, one of the largest medical facilities in the Middle East. He was a prominent obstetrician and gynaecologist, and in the 1990’s, he introduced the latest reconstructive surgery procedures to Iran.

Dr. Bet-Mansour was born on September 18, 1927 in Urumia, northwestern Iran.  His father died when he was three years old. He and his four brothers and two sisters were raised by their mother.

After graduating from the prestigious Alborz boys’ school in Tehran, he attended the Tehran University School of Medicine, and subsequently completed his internship and residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York. While a medical resident in the United States, he married Dr. Rebecca Bet-Alkhas, a fellow Assyrian-Iranian physician who was doing her residency in paediatrics in New York.  They returned to Iran in 1960 afterwards and had two children, Eunice and Raman.

Dr. Bet-Mansour took up the cause of the Assyrian community upon his return to Iran. He helped organize the community by reviving the previously dormant Assyrian Association of Iran. He was elected as their representative to the Parliament in 1968, and served in that capacity until 1976.  In addition to founding the Ashur newspaper, he set up  the Soussan school in Tehran to provide Assyrian schoolchildren with a trilingual (Assyrian/Aramaic-English-Persian) education. He also established the Assyrian Youth Center. Both institutions continue to operate in Iran.

Dr. Bet-Mansour also translated several Assyrian (Aramaic) and English-language historical and literary books into Persian, and received the Assurbanipal Award for Literature as the Assyrian Writer of the Year in 1981.

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The importance of an Assyrian homeland has become ever more urgent after the fall of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the subsequent persecution of the Assyrian Christian community. Genocidal acts committed by ISIS have led the Christian community to flee Iraq and Syria.

Dr. Bet-Mansour continued to champion the Assyrian cause until late in life. As chairman of AUA’s Committee on International Relations, he used his personal rapport with governments around the world to secure the Assyrian community’s recognition by the United Nations, and the AUA’s admission as the community’s representative to the UNPO – the United Nations Congress of Unrepresented People.

In addition to Eunice and Raman, his daughter and son, Dr. Bet-Mansour is survived by Rebecca (Nora), his wife of 60 years, his daughter-in-law Laurence, and his grandchildren Sabrina and Ayrton Sargon.