Fri, Oct 12, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Armenian Iraqis mourn Blackwater shooting deaths


Mournful members of Iraq's Armenian Christian population bowed their heads and recited the Lord's Prayer over an altar of burning incense at a funeral here on Wednesday for two Armenian women killed by private security contractors, the second such fatal shooting in less than a month.

Relatives also called for justice on Wednesday, though security contractors are immune from prosecution under Iraqi law.

For the family of at least one of the women killed, a taxi driver who was shot in the head as her car was struck with bullets while approaching a security convoy on Tuesday, the grief extended well beyond the borders of Iraq.

The woman, Marany Awanees, was the youngest of nine siblings in the Mamook family, including three brothers who are part of the Armenian diaspora in Europe and the US. One brother is a computer programmer living in Glendale, California, near Los Angeles.

The Mamook family, like so many other Armenian families, now straddles the boundaries between the West and the family's Middle Eastern roots.

"She was a lovely sister, my younger sister, a lovely, lovely sister," another brother, Paul Mamook, an electrical engineer in Belfast, Northern Ireland, said in a telephone interview.

Relatives in Iraq described Awanees as a quiet and pious woman with few friends or interests other than her church and close ties to her siblings. She had taken to working as a taxi driver for fellow Armenians two years ago, after her husband died, to support two of her daughters, who are in college. The third is in high school.

Paul Mamook said he called his sister after a Sept. 16 shooting by guards with Blackwater USA that killed as many as 17 people who were stuck in traffic near Nisour Square in Baghdad. The shooting struck fear in him, he said, because Awanees was a taxi driver.

"I phoned her, and I said, `Whenever you drive, watch and check, and be very careful,'" he said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "But I never expected it to happen to her."

In Baghdad, another brother, Albert Mamook, said the guards should be tried for murder.

"The killers must be punished," he said.

The shooting, he said, was unprovoked: "We have no enemies. We just work, and we want our rights. We have a right to justice."

Awanees' white Oldsmobile was riddled by automatic gunfire in the Karada neighborhood of Baghdad on Tuesday afternoon. Her front-seat passenger, Jeniva Jalal, 30, was also killed; a woman and a boy in the back seat survived, witnesses and local police officials said.

The guards involved in the shooting on Tuesday were working for Unity Resources Group, an Australian-run security company registered in Singapore and with headquarters in Dubai.

The people they were assigned to protect worked under contract for the US Agency for International Development.

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