The Memory Echo
The Memory Echo is a true story of the culture and life of a Christian family in the Islamic country of Iraq during the rise of the Ba’th party and of Saddam Hussein. It focuses on my life of (Romeo N. Eshalom), the eldest son of eleven children who at the age of eight witnessed the break-in of my house by a mob who beat my father and dragged him out of the house to be dragged behind a pickup truck until he was dead. I watched my mother follow behind pleading with the mob not to kill the father of her children. They pushed her and me aside intent on the murder. At the last minute, someone with strong family ties and power rescued my father.
It was not the first time Romeo had seen his father beaten, but this was the time Romeo vowed vengeance and was determined to obtain the power and influence that could accomplish it. Through Romeo’s growing years he joined the Ba’th party and formed alliances with Muslims who rescued him on several occasions from beatings, rape, and death. Romeo honed his skills in knowing when to challenge, when to be quiet, and when to use the power of others for his benefit.
Romeo’s first chance for revenge came while attending the Military school of Electronics. Fellow students jumped him while he slept and beat him with hard wooden sticks. Romeo told his grandfather with whom he was very close of his plans for revenge. His grandfather reminded Romeo that he was Christian and that Christians did not murder or take revenge. He was told that revenge was the pathway to unhappiness.
Romeo struggled with the Christian concepts. The decision not to murder was difficult for him. He could not reconcile his feelings to do nothing, but he respected his grandfather greatly. He reasoned that if he only beat his fellow students who beat him without killing them, it would not be revenge, but teaching them a lesson.
Romeo followed this course of action for several years until he found one man truly worthy of death. His name was Bendar and he was a man of power who thwarted all of Romeo’s efforts to attend the University of Basra. Romeo eventually found a way around Bendar and graduated from the University, but he vowed vengeance upon him. The time for vengeance came one midnight hour on a deserted back road in Southern Iraq.
Again, Romeo struggled with his desire to murder Bendar and the wishes of his grandfather. Because of his love and respect for his grandfather, Romeo released Bendar after harassing and tormenting him all night.
All military men graduating from the University of Basra received commissions in the Iraqi Army. That was everyone except Romeo. Again, it was because he was a Christian. By that time Saddam Hussein had become Vice President of Iraq and daily announcements were seen on the television inviting anyone with a problem to call him. This was a risky thing to do because half of those who called Saddam Hussein ended up dead.
Romeo decided to call him. His reasoning was that he would rather be dead than remain as an underling in the military. As a result, Romeo was commissioned an officer by Saddam Hussein.
Romeo made contacts and alliances with powerful men close to Saddam. His ultimate success came as an adult when he obtained the rank of colonel in the Iraqi army and was assigned as a strategist to the inner circle of Saddam Hussein’s government.
For ten years, his position brought fear to those who knew him for he had the power of life or death, but with great power came great temptation. Romeo could have others take revenge on his behalf. His hands would be clean from the actual acts, but again his grandfather’s pleadings prevented him from following through with such thoughts. It was a good thing because Romeo fell from power.
With Iraq’s defeat in Desert Storm, Romeo found himself fighting for his life during a three month walk from Kuwait through Shiite territory to Baghdad. Sick, starved and at death’s door, Romeo arrives in Baghdad only to learn that his name was placed on the execution list by Saddam Hussein.
Romeo fled to Jordan. His ultimate survival requires the efforts and intercession from such men as Pope John Paul and Jacques Chirac before he finally reaches safety. This is an epic story of struggle, courage, faith and the ultimate victory of good or evil.
There are still secrets about Iraq not known by the world. Some of these secrets will be revealed in the Romeo’s book.
One of my fondest memories as a child was sitting at my grandfather’s feet with my cousins as he told us Assyrian stories handed down through the generations of our family. They were wonderful stories, but my grandfather, I’m sad to say was the last master story teller in my family and many of the old stories are now forgotten.
I was born and raised in Iraq of humble beginnings. I graduated from the University of Basra and rose in the ranks of Saddam’s army to the position of Lieutenant Colonel. After the first American/Iraqi war, I was forced to flee Iraq with my family for their safety. Since coming to America, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Devry in Chicago and a Master’s Degree in Engineering from Arizona State University in Phoenix. My children are now married, living free and safe in America. Each day I breathe the air, drink the water and eat the food from the ground of America. It gives life to me and my children and my heart fills with gratefulness to this country that is now my country. I do not forget the heritage that is mine from the land of my nativity, but how do I repay the gift of continued life from America?
In my heart, a feeling grew; tell them of the old stories handed down through the generations of time. They are full of the best qualities of our cultures and of humanity. But I am Assyrian, how do I tell America the old stories in a way that they will understand? I found an American writer and collaborated with him to write screenplays of the old stories interjecting some of the American culture. Later we wrote the first book of one of the old Assyrian stories. It is called “Merzapamed Prince of Dore” and was published in June of 2010. It is my grateful gift to America and one of my fondest memories from one of Assyrian people. I tell you of this for your consideration in hopes that you can help me share it with the people of America as my contribution from a fellow Assyrian.