The Assyrian Journal | March 2018 | Photos contributed | By Joe Snell
Chicago, IL – Juliana Taimoorazy is not bashful when it comes to helping Christians in the Middle East. As the founder and president of Iraqi Christian Relief Council (ICRC), her aggressiveness is part of what makes her such a successful leader.
Today, her non-profit emergency humanitarian relief organization has raised millions of dollars for persecuted Christians in Iraq and neighboring countries. She has appeared on national media outlets including Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and BBC, and has garnered the attention of many Western aid organizations that had previously shut their doors to Assyrian assistance.
“I started ICRC to work with Americans and non-Assyrians because we need friends outside of our own four walls,” Taimoorazy said.
EARLY INTEREST IN HELPING ASSYRIANS
Juliana grew up in Iran. She was smuggled into Switzerland in 1989, where she spent seven days in a monastery in Zurich before being sent into Germany, seeking asylum in the U.S. embassy. In 1990, she immigrated to the U.S. with refugee status and earned her Masters degree from Northeastern Illinois University.
While running a medical spa in Chicago, she came across a story about women in Afghanistan that were lighting themselves on fire to escape forced marriages. Instead of dying from the burns, however, a number of these women were left with severe scarring.
Juliana noticed that one of the devices at her spa had the ability to heal these burn victims. She contacted the company that manufactured the device and requested they donate products, offering to go to Kabul and train nurses and doctors to use them. Through this experience, Juliana learned that she wanted to help more with the Assyrian cause, particularly in the homeland.
ENTERING THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE
Taimoorazy’s rise to the international stage began in a small coffee shop near downtown Chicago, where she sat down to write a letter to God. Taimoorazy remembers the date, July 25, 2007.
That morning, she had met with church leaders from Holy Name Cathedral on Wabash Street. As a member of the large Catholic congregation, she approached a Cardinal after mass and asked blunty, “What is the Catholic church doing to help the Assyrians in Iraq?”
The next day, she received an email asking her to come to the Archdiocese. It was there that she presented a four-point plan for what the Catholic church could do to help Assyrians in Iraq.
“They laughed and let me down easy,” Taimoorazy said. “They said my plan was great but it’s not going to leave these four walls, so why don’t you start a ministry that teaches Americans about who you are and what your needs are.”
Disappointed, she left the meeting and walked into a coffee shop, where she wrote a letter to God and asked for direction.
“I said, ‘Lord, I don’t know what you’re asking me to do, this is so scary,” Taimoorazy said. “I’ve never done this before, but if you’re asking me to do this it means it is for your greater glory. Bring me the right people and I will do this.”
Taimoorazy still has a copy of that letter, and refers to it whenever she needs a reminder of the great people God has brought into her life.
“Whoever I meet is an answer to that one prayer,” Taimoorazy said. She published the letter last year for ICRC’s ten-year anniversary.
STARTING THE IRAQI CHRISTIAN RELIEF COUNCIL
ICRC started in 2007, shortly after Taimoorazy wrote her letter to God. She called her close friend, Romel Benjamin, and the two put a small team together to begin providing aid solely in Iraq.
Initially, it was tough for her team to receive support from American organizations.
“The Evangelicals would say, ‘Are you really Christian? Were you baptized as children and have you accepted Jesus with your heart?'” Taimoorazy said. “The Catholics would say, ‘Aren’t you used to this persecution? Why don’t you figure it out, why don’t you just pick up and leave?’ A lot of people were not interested. But in 2014, with the savagery that ISIS put on display, America and the West woke up.”
ICRC has six board members and three advisors from Chicago, Virginia, and Rome. Although the organization began working exclusively in Iraq, now they help Assyrians across the world including in Jordan, the United States, Australia, and France. A majority of the aid goes through the Assyrian Aid society and Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena in Northern Iraq.
Today, Juliana is a UN Delegate to Geneva, an advisor on the advisory council for the Simon Wiesethal in the Midwest, and a senior fellow at The Philos Project, a leadership community that promotes Christian engagement in the Middle East.
Last October, she already received the title of ‘Dame Commander’ with the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem (SMOTJ), an international organization incorporated in the United States that promotes Christianity through charity and civic actions.
Juliana believes that Assyrians need a consistent presence in political epicenters like D.C. and also need to start thinking more long term.
“The old way doesn’t work anymore,” she said. “Enough of thinking Assyria was great 5,000 years ago. Yes it was great. But what am I doing to make it great again?”
Juliana is a speaker at the Assyrian National Policy Conference in D.C. in May.
To learn more about the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, visit iraqichristianrelief.org