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Iraq Assyrian Wedding Tragedy: Groom Says Fireworks Not Cause of Fire
By Julian Bechocha
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Rivan, the groom of the Assyrian wedding fire.
The groom whose wedding celebration catastrophically ended in over a hundred deaths told Rudaw English on Sunday that fireworks were not the cause of the fire that burned down the hall, contradicting investigation findings of the Iraqi interior ministry. He blamed the hall's owner for the blaze.

Rivan, 27, feels he has "nothing to talk about" after a deadly blaze during his wedding party in the Christian town of Hamdaniya in Iraq's northern Nineveh province. He said that fireworks were not the reason for the tragedy and called for an international investigation to determine the reason.

"It is not true. We demand for an international committee to investigate this, for international organizations to help us," Rivan told Rudaw English in Hamdaniya, contradicting a Sunday conclusion by the Iraqi interior ministry that malfunctioning fireworks resulted in the inferno.

Rivan's father, Esho, said he lost at least 20 members of his family in the fire and that the bride Haneen's family has lost at least 35 people.

Tragedy struck the Assyrian Christian town of Hamdaniya in Nineveh province, also known as Qaraqosh or Bakhdida, on Tuesday night during a joyous wedding when scenes of celebration and laughter soon derailed into a hellish nightmare when the banquet hall caught on fire. At least a hundred died and over 150 were also injured.

"There is nothing left. We are seeing greater and greater sufferings every day, more and more victims," Rivan said. He also stated that the tragedy has made it impossible for the newly-weds and their families to remain in Hamdaniya. "How can we stay after what we saw?" he said.

"My wife is shocked. Nine people from her house passed away. She cannot talk. She can barely get up and walk and needs to be supported by one or two people to walk. How can she handle this? She is just an 18-year-old girl," he said, visibly distraught and powerless.

Asked about how they are being treated, Rivan said that "thankfully the people are all by our side" but that "it is the people's right" to treat them poorly because "their hearts are broken."

"We demand the rights of those whose blood was spilt. Why did their blood have to be spilled? We demand their rights and we demand the perpetrator of this action, him and all who are behind him. We demand an international investigation, not a local or federal investigation," he said.

In war-scarred Iraq, safety standards are often ignored as sub-standard buildings, such as Hamdaniya's Haytham Hall, lack adequate fire extinguishers and emergency facilities such as evacuation doors.

Authorities are also often criticized for failing to conduct impartial investigations and hold the perpetrators of crimes accountable.

Rivan's father Esho said that he can no longer face his community anymore and is too grief-struck to "go out in the streets and see that one lost his brother, one his wife, and one his daughter."

"Everywhere you go there are victims. So how will we face them? We have to stay at home, but staying at home is not a solution. Our life has become very difficult," Esho said.

Devastated, Rivan said that he and Haneen would have never considering leaving Hamdaniya if the tragedy had not struck.

Hamdaniya is one of Iraq's only Christian-majority districts, located in the Nineveh Plains near Mosul, a historic Assyrian region. Like many Christian towns in the Nineveh Plains, it was taken over by Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists during their brazen sweep of northern Iraq, where they declared a so-called "caliphate" and inflicted grave atrocities on minority groups, including Christians.

"Life here for us is no longer suitable for living," he said.

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