Assyrian Culture in the Middle East and in Diaspora

Assyrian Culture in the Middle East and in Diaspora


>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington DC.>>Ladies and gentlemen,
how I’d like to thank you for attending this event. We have two special
guests here with us today. They truly don’t need an
introduction but I will do my best to make a quick introduction. With us is Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, Congresswoman Anna
Eshoo from California. She has been a true
advocate of the Assyrians. Anytime our community
has needed something, anytime there’s been a help, she’s always been the first
door we’ve knocked on. She has worked tirelessly for
our community and we can’t begin to thank her enough for
everything that she’s done. I’d like to invite Mr. Carlo
Gunja [assumed spelling] here for a second with me please. Congresswoman Eshoo, if
you would mind stepping up here with us for one second. We’d like to present you with a
plaque to show our appreciation for all of the wonderful work
that you’ve done to our community. Mr. Carlo Gunja [assumed
spelling], Congresswoman Eshoo.>>Rep. Anna Eshoo: Oh,
isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that beautiful? Do you want to say something?>>Mr. Carlo Gunja: No. [ Applause ]>>Rep. Anna Eshoo: Thank you. Isn’t that beautiful? I’m going to put this here so you
can get a close-up shot of it. [ Foreign language ] I never thought that I would
be at the Library of Congress and speaking Assyrian, so
this is really wonderful. Good afternoon everyone. It’s always a special privilege
to walk across the street from the House of Representatives
and the capital of the United States to the Library of Congress. And every time I do, I
marvel at the thinking of our framers and Thomas Jefferson. Imagine that he said, the Congress of the United States
should have its own library. And today, this is
the largest repository of knowledge in the entire world. And I think it’s really fitting
for this meeting to be taking place at the Library of Congress because
Assyrians have not only a culture and a heritage that is rich,
but it dates back to the origins of civilization and what they
as a people brought forward. So we are the descendants of
that heritage and that history. I want to thank Dr. Mary Jane
Deeb who’s the Chief of African and Middle Eastern, the division,
here at the Library of Congress. I don’t see her but I want to
acknowledge her role in this, and of course, for this
meeting to be open to the public and Assyrian legacy from
ancient civilization to modern cultural revival. It’s extra special, it’s not
only special for me to be here with you today but it’s extra
special that my colleague and brother friend Congressman
Frank Wolf is here with us today. He has been a giant in the
Congress for human rights. He has been a force to reckon with
regardless of the administration, regardless of the politics
of anything. He has a voice that is, that really, when he speaks his magnificent
voice echoes around the world, and oppressed people
know the name Frank Wolf. So Frank, thank you. I miss you in the Congress
but I know that your magnificent
work continues. Let me just say a few words about
the work that Congressman Wolf and I did together
relative to our people. Back in 2008, we came together
and decided that there needed to be a vehicle recognized
in the House. And so we created a caucus that’s
called the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus. And we had at least
two goals in mind. First of all, we knew that members
of Congress needed to be educated. They knew very little or nothing,
and this is not fault or blame, they just didn’t know,
they didn’t understand. Some were even surprised, hold
on to your seats, or your hats, that there were Christians
in the Middle East. Imagine that. And one of my favorite
responses was, where do you think Jesus was
born, Trenton New Jersey? So that was one of our
goals, but also to deepen and broaden their appreciation
of the ancient cultures in the Middle East and why they
deserve our support in the Congress and the nexus between the values
of America that would drive us to do that, that would
drive us to do that. Clearly, there’s a
nexus between them. Now, we only had a few members to
begin with but we kept working. I think two of the most
important accomplishments, and I want to acknowledge again,
Congressman Wolf’s just fearlessness and insistence that we would secure
$10 million in 2010 to fund programs that would protect Iraq’s
religious minorities, and secondly, we passed legislation. And it really was at his
insistence to create a special envoy for religious minorities
in the Middle East. I remember Frank saying
to me, “Anna, if there is not a point
person that is a high level, then we’re just going to drift
from one person to another within the State Department.” How right he was about that. So I think that we’ve
come a long way. The caucus is grown now to
over fifty active members and we’ve advanced, I think, very
recently an historic achievement. On March 14th of this year,
the United States House of Representatives
voted 393 to zero. So it was unanimous. Every member that was on the floor
to vote voted for the resolution that Congressman Jeff Fortenberry
and myself were the sponsors of. He is now, he has taken Frank’s
place as the Co-Chair of the caucus. Now, why is this historic? This is only the second time in
the history of the United States of America that as a genocide is
taking place, that we would place that definition on
what is occurring. The other was Rwanda. And it defines the persecution of
Christians, obviously Assyrians because we are Christian, Chaldeans,
Syriacs, Yazidis and other ethnic and religious minorities
in Iraq and Syria. Three days later, imagine
this Frank, the State Department I think took a
historic step as well by asserting that the persecution
of Christians, Yazidis and by Isis is in fact a genocide. In a powerful, and I think
really poignant speech, the Secretary of State
stated “the fact that dioecious [assumed
spelling] kills Christians because they are Christians,
Yazidis because they are as Yazidis, Shia because they are Shia. In its entire worldview, it’s
based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to
its perverse ideology. There is no question in my
mind that if dioecius succeeded in establishing its
so-called caliphate, it would seek to destroy
what remains of ethnic and the religious mosaic which
once thrived in the region.” And as I said, it’s only the
second time in the history of the United States of America
that such a designation has been, the designation has been placed. But we still have an
enormous amount of work to do. Today, June 10th marks the second
anniversary of the invasion of Mosul, when half a million
people fled for their lives. Some didn’t make it, and we
know what happened to them. Overnight, we saw the
systematic extermination of the world’s oldest
Christian communities by Isis, and of course, they haven’t stopped. They continue to ravage Iraq and Syria’s religious
and ethnic minorities. Men and boys are being killed, women and girls are being
abducted, sold, raped. So a genocide designation by the United States is an important
step, but it’s only one step. I work daily with my colleagues
both in the caucus and from across the House of Representatives. This is a nonpartisan issue. This is not Republican, Democrat. We never treated it that way. It should not be treated that
way because we need to attract as much support as we can. We’re working on a daily basis to
continue to secure humanitarian aid. We work to bring about security
and an expedited pathway to refugee status for the besieged
ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria who are
just suffering so immensely that there are not adjectives I
think that fit the word suffering. We also continue to
assist USAID partners in reaching the displaced
populations, and Assyrians are so much a part of that, that reside
outside of the refugee camps. And we know very especially
that, that is, that that describes the Assyrians
and a majority obviously of those that are afraid to be in
the camps mixed with others because of a long and
troubled history. We’re also working very hard
to see that as the areas that are liberated, that the
Kurdish regional government and the Iraqi government not
only honor the return for those that were forced to flee, but
also to have a safe haven, also to have a safe
haven because, well, for all of the reasons
that you already know. In so many ways, I’m
preaching to the choir here because you are the scholars and the knowledge-base
of all of these issues. So I want to thank you for
inviting me to be here today. I’m very proud that our history
is being placed front and center at an institution that is
the greatest repository of information in the world. This is the appropriate
place for not only my people, but for those that have come to
learn about our culture to be. And I want to thank
you for the recognition from the Assyrian Alliance, the Assyrian Universal
Alliance, America. And I also want to end on this
note of once again paying tribute to my magnificent colleague, a man
of such great integrity, of faith, of a voice that has such clarity, and it comes from such
a deep place in him. When members of Congress leave
the Congress, most are interested in going off and making a lot
of money because when you’re in public service you don’t go
into public service for money. That’s not what it’s about. But he has a continuum of his work
of what he did in the Congress and what he is doing now. So Frank, bless you, bless you. I know God has blessed you
with your magnificent family and sixteen grandchildren
that he was talking about. So with that, I’m going to, I wish
I could stay longer but it’s Friday, I have to get out to Dulles. The lines are excruciatingly long. It’s not a good day to travel but I
need to get back to my constituents in California and I don’t
want to miss the flight. So, thank you, God bless all of you
and thank you to the organizations and everyone that’s here today,
including the Library of Congress. Thank you. Thank you. [ Applause ] [ Applause ]>>Congresswoman Anna
Eshoo, ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to take this opportunity
now to introduce Congressman Wolf. Congressman Wolf, throughout his
career in Congress was an advocate of human rights, and that did not
stop once he retired from Congress. In fact Congressman Wolf went
to Iraq, if I’m not mistaken, after he had retired from Congress to go see firsthand what was
happening to the Assyrian community. So I’d like to again ask Mr. Carlo
Gunja to join me on the stage, and I would like to ask
Congressman Wolf on the stage. We have a appreciation plaque for
you as well for all the service that you’ve done, not just for our
community but for all communities that are facing persecution. Thank you again, Congressman. [ Applause ]>>Frank Wolf: Thank you very much, they want us to get
together, there you go. Great. Well, thank you very much. And it was good to see Anna. You know, I don’t see
her as much as I used to, and she’s one of my favorite people so it was a treasure just
to be here to see her. I think Anna said a lot of
things that I was going to say. So I’m going to try to take
it from really what Anna said to some ideas and some thoughts. I want to begin my saying, you know,
the Bible says much about this, and Jesus says much about this. In Ecclesiastes 4, it said “again I
looked and I saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun. I saw the tears of the oppressed
and they have no comfort. The power was on the
side of the oppressors.” And Jesus in Luke 4 talks
about the oppressed. The situations out in the region, Paul would have a very difficult
time traveling to Damascus to Straight Street, now the only
Street mentioned in the Bible. And in Iraq we all know, and many
of you know as much as anything, so I’m not going to get into detail. I remember my first trip to Iraq. We were in Nasiriyah
when the war broke out, and the administration
wouldn’t let me go. We kind of came in from Kuwait,
and we were in this little town. I showed my ID to the soldier and
I said I’m a member of Congress and he said, oh, come on in,
do you know where we are? I said it’s Nasiriyah on my map. He said, no, this is Ur. And he took me took
me to a ziggurat, many of you may have been there,
and I climbed the ziggurat, 2200 BC. And there’s a history. Abraham, Ezekiel’s buried
there, Daniel’s buried there. When we were there last
year we were in Alqush, up almost in the front
lines where the Isis is. And we’re in this little
village again, and they kept saying they want to
went to see the tomb, the tomb. And I said, sure, and they took me to Nahum’s tomb, Nahum’s
buried there. I touched Nahum’s tomb. The history in this region, in
your region is unbelievable. It’s one that should wake up the
church in the West, and I think one of the important things
we need to do is wake up the church in the West. I’m going to skip a lot
of what I was going to say but just tell you one story. When we were there we
were in a little village and they took us in
to see a refugee. It was old school, and it was a man
who had been a construction worker. You could feel his hands,
they were very, very rough. He had two children. And he told us a story. He said when Isis came in he lived
a few miles outside of Mosul. Isil came in and took
over his village. He had a wife four
kids at that time. One daughter has since
left to go to Turkey and is his son now
living in San Diego. He said his wife had
cancer, breast cancer. A lot of cancer runs in my family. So he said a few days after Isis
took over, he and his wife went to the hospital for his
wife to get treated. He said the Isis said they would not
give her treatment unless you were to convert, unless she
were to renounce her faith, unless she were to deny Jesus. He said, they refused, his
wife refused and he refused. They went back to the little village
and she died several weeks later. I could not help thinking of that
story, because last November I was in Israel and we went
up to Capernaum. And in Capernaum we went into
this little church which is above the house, Peter’s
house, and we went to the site where Peter walked on the water, were sites where Peter
gave the Beatitudes. And I kind of thought, here’s
Peter, who ate with Jesus, who saw Jesus do miracles, who
saw Jesus walk on the water, and Peter denied Jesus three times. An Iraqi-Assyrian Christian
construction worker who never saw Jesus and his
wife refused to deny Christ. And so the thought that
these people are there and we in the West are forgetting
about them. And so there are some things
that I think that you could do and I’m going to kind of move,
move to really because I don’t want to leave you on a down note
except to tell you though just so I can electrify and
alert you on something. The Bill that Anna was so gracious
to mention was special envoy which she played a major part in to
set up a special envoy to advocate for the persecuted church in Iraq, but also in Syria,
in the Middle East. Knox Stan said the
following the other day. He was in Rome but says a US
governmental official visiting Rome on Monday said that as a result
of the Islamic terrorist groups such as Isis, the door for
Christians in Iraq is closing and the window of time to prevent
their eradication is narrowing. And Knox said, I feel
a sense of urgency. These Christians are leaving. There were one and a half
million Christians in Iraq when the war began, and I
think if I don’t get it. There were one and a
half million Christians in Iraq before the war began. Now when we were there, we
were told it’s roughly 250,000. Bishop Welder [assumed
spelling] said that roughly seventeen Christian
families leave every day. And the thought that we
would have the Middle East, the cradle of Christendom, many of
your relatives and relatives of far, far distance in the past, people
who speak Aramaic, the same language as Jesus, the thought that they
would be eradicated and removed from that region is painful. So what can be done? What should be done? And these are again, my
own personal opinions. So again, I think it’s
great that we pass this, Anna said to call it genocide. My thing is, next step is what. We were able to convince
that the language, if you look at the CJS bill that
Congressman Culberson has language in order to prosecute Isis people, they’re going to look
anyone who’s joined Isis to begin the prosecution. So we’re having a group at the Justice Department
to deal with that issue. Secondly, I urge you to
urge members of Congress to go to the region and visit. When I was in Congress we
would go out, we would see, we would live in the camps,
we would be with the people. You can’t know about Iraq unless
you see it and feel it and touch it and taste it, and not just
get in there at 10 o’clock in the morning and
leave before dark. But spend the night,
listen to the people. So I urge you to urge
members of Congress to go. Secondly, I urge you always
keep this as a bipartisan issue. But I urge you to join the Coptic
Christians who I was with yesterday and the other groups to
meet with Secretary Clinton, the Democratic nominee and Donald
Trump, the Republican nominee and do it before the election. Do it even before Labor Day if
you can, to sit in and ask them to make this, to make this
a priority, to speak on it. The presidency and people running for the presidency have great
credibility and when they speak, they have a round microphone. You should ask Donald Trump
and Secretary Clinton to speak out on this issue, but they should
be, you should meet with them. Thirdly, I urge and ask
both political parties. I’m trying to get it done in my
party, but both political parties, to carry language on this
issue in their platforms so that the American people and
other members of Congress can see that this is such an
important issue. Next, get new members
in January and February, new members of Congress
to become advocates. Before I got elected to Congress
I didn’t know anything about this. I took a trip to Romania
during the dark days of the Ceausescu administration
and literally became electrified by seeing the persecution. Try to adopt some new
members of Congress to come and join and come along. And lastly, you need
to wake up the church. The Pope has spoken
out on this issue. Cardinal Dolan has
spoken out on this issue. Cardinal Whorl has
spoken out on this issue. Russell Moore has spoken
out on this issue. But few other members have, and
here we have an issue that impacts on the faith community and
go back to look at words in the Old Testament and the
New Testament, look at passages in Proverbs, look at the very
fact, this ought to be an issue that the church cares deeply about. And so the silence of the
church, if you may remember, Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out
against anti-Nazi activity. We should electrify
and wake up the church. Now in fairness to the
church in the West, it may be because they do not
know completely what is going on. But I urge you to wake
up the church, and if we do these things I
think we can, I believe honestly, we can turn this issue around. But time is short. And for the political process,
the way to get the attention of people running for office is
talk to them before the election and then after the election. So talk to your members, meet
with Trump, meet with Clinton, get it in the platform, get new
members of Congress to comment and lastly, wake up the church. And lastly, pray that God will
move this nation to deal with this. I do not want to see on our
watch, particularly those of us who are blessed to still be here in
five years from now, where we see, that we will see literally
the end of Christianity in the cradle of Christendom. Again, thank you very
much for the opportunity. [ Applause ]>>Thank you for joining us
for our last panel for the day. Assyrian Culture in the
Middle East and Diaspora. Our first speaker Fadi
Davood, is a research analyst, NATO Association of Canada. He is a historian of
the modern Middle East with special focus on
minority populations. He has taught in a
number of universities in Canada and the United Kingdom. His PhD is from the School of
Oriental and African Studies, University of London, was on
refugees, warriors and minorities in Iraq, the case of the
Assyrians 1920 to 1933. He is the, he is co-editor of a forthcoming edited edition
entitled State and Society in Iraq, Citizenship under Occupation,
Dictatorship and Democratization. So, Mr Fadi Davood.>>Fadi Davood: Thank you. One second. Here we go. Good afternoon everyone, and thank
you for an invitation, Dr. Naby and everyone for organizing. This is actually a paper that
I’m beginning to think about now on nationalism, nationalisms I
should say, not only nationalism in the Middle East, and about the
various nationalist ideologies that emerged in the period
of the late Ottoman empire into the formations
of the modern state. So I am in essence contextualizing
the Assyrians, their nationalists, the Kurdish nationalists and other
nationalists sort of policies into the larger context
of political movements that emerged in the period. And I’m essentially
arguing that nationalisms in the Middle East were contrary
to what literature says to us, were not movements
for secularization, rather they were always rooted in ethno-religious nationalist
ideologies and they were combating. The only reason that they
emerged were urban nationals and urban elites were
combating religious politicians and religious clergy for dominance
in the region or dominance of the political sphere
in the region. In ant case, and without
going too much, I will say that the Syrian
nationalism emerged in the same time and under similar circumstances
as Arab, Kurdish, Turkish nationalism amongst many in the late Ottoman period following
the Ottoman Tanzimat reforms. Educated urban elites were the ones
originally responsible for thinking about areas of ethnic and linguistic
nationalism, and the same group of people were also responsible for
other political and social movements that accompanied the rise of nationalistic thought
in the Middle East. Originally founded in greater Syria,
ideas of nationalism were theorized by intellectuals in
Damascus and Beirut. Both Muslim and Christian
intellectuals hoped that for example pan- Arab
nationalism would unite members of the community against
the central Ottoman state and created a united
opposition to policies that they feared would infringe
upon their place in urban life. Emerging Arab nationals for example,
were not united in the root cause and adopting the adopting the
idea for example in Beirut, Christian urban notables
feared the pan- Islamist policies of
the Ottoman state. Muslim-educated intellectuals
in Beirut were concerned about the censorship policies
of SP constitutionalism promoted by the Ottoman sultan at the time.. Meanwhile urban notables in Damascus
feared for the increasing influence of European interests and as a
form of controlling the populace. The political conditions that
influence and gave way to the rise of Arab nationals and
were also present in areas of the Ottoman Empire were large
Assyrian populations lived. Urban Assyrians and in particular
those living in greater Syria, Torabdeen, and Otomin
in Iran were influenced by the political movements
emerging in the region where early Assyrian nationalists
saw the marginalization of the community both in the
political and social spheres of the Ottoman Empire as a reason
to protect an identity that they saw as an integral to their
language, religion and unique cultural identity
in the larger Ottoman milieu. As a result, members of the
Assyrian community began to think of as a collective on how they
could preserve their identity within the shifting
unsettled, political conditions in the hinterland of the empire. They published books,
magazines, newspapers and articles that discussed the history, identity and most importantly the
national ethnic origin of the Assyrian people. For example in 1879,
Assyrians of Diyarbakir in what is now southern Turkey
established the ancient city Oyo brotherhood as well as establishing
grammar schools, literary societies and other organizations that helped
to promote and educate Assyrians and their shared identity,
history and nationalist vision. Now from this context, I argue
that three sort of groups of people emerged fighting for
leadership in the case of Iraq. Just these early nationalist
people like Naum Faiq and Freydun Atturaya were those
individuals that actually started to theorize and for the most part
they were urban intellectuals who actually had no
background in tribal politics that actually plagued
Assyrians of the time. Now in 1915, the sort of
the period between the rise of this nationalist
ideology and the genocide that befell the Syrian population
which I don’t really have much time to get into at the moment, but
I talked about it elsewhere, minority Christian populations
were targeted Armenians, Assyrians, Pontiac Greeks by Kurdish
regulars and Ottomans alike where it is hypothesized
that about 50 percent of the population was massacred
which resulted in mass displacement of the population where
they were actually brought to what is called the Buqaba
refugee camp which I actually talk about again in the
forthcoming collection. So I encourage everyone
to buy a copy, where these people were brought
and I argue that this piece that they created in the refugee
camp gave rise to three types of leaders urban intellectuals,
military generals and military warriors and the
third group are religious figures. And so this is a picture
of the refugee camp for those that haven’t seen it. So speaking of the case in
Iraq so fast forward a bit. After the genocide, they were
brought to the Baquba refugee camp and here we have a new sort of call
for the rise of Syrian nationalism. So the death of Barsha Mudi
[phonetic spelling] in 1920 who was the figurehead of the
church of the East and settlement of this community in Baquba
brought various tribal groups into one space. The refugee camp provided a way
for political ideas to be exchanged between members of the
community without the obstacles of geographic separation. As a result, new ideas promoted by various political figures allowed
members of the refugee population to become engaged in debates that
continue to occupy the community and particularly the urban
elites or the urban intellectuals of those communities
for the remainder of the British mandates in Iraq. Just a side note, the British
mandates in Iraq was the period of colonial occupation that began
in 1920, turned into a mandate under the auspices of the League
of Nations in 1922, ending in 1932. As a result of these
new ideas promoted by the various political figures
allowed members of the population to engage in debates about
nationalism, identity and politics. After the death of Mar Shimun,
Sumo Mar Shimun who is the sister of the performing Mar
Shimun and the aunt of the new Mar Shimun was
10 years old or 11 years old when he became religious leader
became politically responsible or she thought that she had
become politically-responsible for the leadership of
the Syrian community. She took it upon herself to promote
the interests of the population to the British colonial
government in Iraq with the aid of Anglican missionaries while
individuals like Agha Petros who I have picture of I think, Sama
Shimun and this is Agha Petros. Agha Petros, Yusif Malik and others
were some of the political figures who challenged the political
role of the Mar Shimun family and the religious leadership
at the time. The Assyrians were not politically
unified so we have to say that when we talk about nationalism,
we’re not talking a unified group of people that understood
what this nationalism meant. Nationalism meant different things
for different individuals depending on where they had emerged. The Assyrians were not
politically unified during the years of the British mandate,
some prominent figures within the community, most
prominently Yusif Malik called for the settlement of the
Assyrians outside of the borders of the Iraqi state,
but Malik also argued that if the British were not
going to fulfill their promise to the community by establishing
independent nation state for the population, he called for
the settlement of the community in Iraq, and for the
recognition of the political and religious leadership as part of the political fabric
of the Iraqi state. In essence, Malik argued that Assyrian religious
officeholders must be recognized as part of the organic Law scheme
of 1925 in Iraq and he called for the appointment of
nonreligious hearings to the national government
in Baghdad. Malik believed that this
would encourage members of the refugee population to
become more supportive to the ideas of settling in Iraq, and felt that
these representatives would be able to protect the community from
this hostile or what he saw as the hostile Arab
officials in Baghdad. Malik was the only member
of the Assyrian community to voice his support for
inclusion of the refugees in the administrative
structures of the state. As an Iraqi-born civil servant,
he had worked with the British and Iraqi governments for the vast
majority of the British mandate, and he argued that the inclusion
of members of the community in administrative structures of state would compel the Iraqi
government to accept the population within the political and social
apparatuses of the state. Interestingly, he was born in Iraq,
fluent in both Arabic and English. Malik was uniquely
positioned to speak on behalf of the Assyrian community. He emerged as part of this urban
leadership that I discussed earlier who had traditionally would have
had no participation or no role in the internal politics
of the community. Prior to the settlement of the
refugees in Iraq, religious and tribal leaders were the only
officeholders of political authority in the HI Kari Mountains, and
Malik represented a new type of urban educated nontribal elite. He became part of the powerful
network of urban Assyrians in Iraq, Syria, the United States and
elsewhere in the Diaspora and worked to demonstrate that the
community was not only able to manage its affairs without the
help or the need of involvement of tribal leaders, but saw
tribal authority as outdated, unable to manage the problems that
had faced the population in Iraq which created a camp of these
individuals separate from the rest of the leadership in the community. Now at the same time, you
know, perhaps one of one of the biggest sort of achievements
that we see in this period happen within this urban elite community
is not only the publication of books and the probably promotion of
these ideas, but I think this sort of the efforts that they made in
order to bring together a hodgepodge of individuals from various
churches, and they actually spoke about this national identity
under the auspices of the church. Now they actually believed that
the churches would be able to unite under the authority of one
patriarch at some point in time. So to them, they saw these
this nationalist movement as a unification under an
Assyrian religious identity and not necessarily a secular one that literature would
have us to believe. Military leaders also
played an important role in shaping the leadership
struggles in the period of the British mandate in Iraq. Individuals like Alik Butros
[phonetic spelling] who claimed that he had spent and I find
this an important anecdote, he spent 38,000 rupees. Iraq had used rupees as its currency
as it was managed under the office of India, India office at the time. 38,000 rupees during
the 1921 on behalf of the Syrian refugees in Iraq. Butros claimed that he was acting
in an official capacity, again, all these people claim that they
were acting in an official capacity as Democratic representatives
of the Assyrian people. On behalf of the Assyrian refugee
population in Iraq, Butros claimed that he was acting in an official an
elected democrat’s capacity in order to save the population from
the persistent threats posed by the Arab population in
Baquba, and that the British and Iraqi governments had given
him the authority to act on behalf of the refugees during
the few first months of the British occupation in Iraq. Butros’s campaign in this
area continued until 1923 to 1924 period while actually, he
died just about around that time but the organization that he had
built continued to act as sort of as a group of these
military leaders when he began a long correspondence
with Winston Churchill for example and other British officials
in London. The letters he sent sought the
help of British individuals for the reimbursement of costs
he had personally incurred in Iraq and France. Though the British refused to
comply with these sort of challenges or this money, the
return of the money, Butros and his allies used these
claims and the correspondence with British government
to demonstrate to the refugee population that he
was not only leader responsible for his pursuing their interests in
Iraq, they actually tried to show that the money he had
spent personally, you know, and according to supporters
was intended to help the refugee
population reoccupy villages that they had lost few
number of years earlier in the HI Kari Mountains
during the genocide. Agha Butros continues to occupy a
very special place amongst the what I call the pantheon of
Assyrian military leaders during and after the first world war
and thus in the collective memory of the Syrian community both
in Iraq and in the diaspora in North America and Europe. For example, a famous
Assyrian singer and musician recorded an entire
album dedicated to the memory and heroic acts of Butros. The album recalls a time
of political opportunity for the Assyrian people
when Butros tried to bring the population together
under one political banner, but inflated egos and squabbling
within the community led to the destruction Butros’
dream of salvaging what remained of the Assyrian community
after the First World War. In the same album which is
entitled “Lion Hunter” you know, in sort of reference to the ancient
historical past that we heard about this morning, the singer links
the memory of Butros to the heroic, ancient Assyrian kings and leaders. The songs on the album highlight
what are believed to be actions of a hero who led the Assyrians
through the First World War and beyond which actually
cement this whole idea of the military leader within
the Assyrian community. Now the third individuals
or the third group of people are the religious
establishment and the religious establishment
led by Sidma Mar Shimun, the aunt of Mar Shimun who I think
is a very fascinating individual as a female of the time was
working with British missionaries and other individuals to
demonstrate that the Assyrians were in fact not only the reliant on her
sort of family and on her religious, sort of followers but rather
they actually had always “traditionally” lived
under these hospices. And so in the Baquba refugee camp, she managed to assemble an area
called the Aristocratic area within the refugee camp
which I discussed elsewhere that she actually managed to bring
the bishops and tribal leaders under a tribal authority or tribal
committee to manage the affairs of the community inside
this refugee camp, which actually made it much
more difficult for individuals like Agha Butros, unlike
those who I discussed military and nonmilitary leads to
actually conduct her role in managing the population. The role played by Sedma and Agha
Butros during the mandates put the leaders of the community
and the community as a whole into two political camps. Some believe that the refugee
population would be best served if the religious establishment and in particular the Mar Shimun
family was politically marginalized. As part of a new excuse me military
leadership, they were motivated by what they saw as the necessity
for new political structure headed by military or nonmilitary elites
lobbying the British for a new state that would governed by these elites
in a democratically-elected fashion. And the claims for leadership
within the group were well-received by some community members between
1922 and 1929 as Assyrians began to develop plans to rescue
the committee or the community from the threats posed by the
Iraqi and British governments. Now I conclude that all these
debates were debates within the sort of the educated elites and
military elites of the community. The larger population
which was living as a refugee population
really did not care about the pro-nationalist
sort of squabblings. What they were really caring about
is where they would be settled, how they would live and
essentially, you know, you live beyond subsistence living,
regain some of their, you know, livelihoods which was
mainly based in farming and agriculture prior
to the First World War. Now I think that as a result of
all these nationalist movements and this is what I’m theorizing, we have strong military
leaders emerging to take role as the supreme leader, as
the Savior of the nation and the Assyrians were no different
from Arabs, Turks and others. And yet at the same time
the populace became sort of absorbed these ideas through
propaganda beating the case of Arab nationalism in Iraq or Syria
or Turkish nationalism in Turkey. In the case of the
Assyrians, it was different. It was the Semile massacre that
cemented this nationalist idea. The Semille massacre
is a massacre in 1933 that actually brought the Assyrians
under attack from the Iraqi Army. The newly-independent Iraqi
army and some Kurdish irregulars that massacred much of the
population in the Semille region in Iraq and I think that
moment really cemented for these nationalist
sort of debates into populist ideas and
into the mainstream. Identities were really
affected by what had emerged as nationalist ideas and
so I hope in the future to continue to debate this. As I said, this is a very
early version of the paper. So I would love to hear some
comments from everyone, thank you. [ Applause ]>>Thank you Dr. Davood. Our next presenter is Alda Benjamin,
she completed her PhD at University of Maryland in 2015 on Assyrians in
Modern Iraq using archival sources in Baghdad, Mosul, Elbee and Ahouck
in languages raging…ranging from Arabic, classical Syriac and
contemporary Assyrian Aramaic. She’s currently working on
cultural heritage preservation at the University Of
Pennsylvania Museum and the Smithsonian Institute. Her most recent trip to
Iraq was in May 2016. [ Applause ]>>Alda Benjamin: Thank
you all for being here. I want to especially thank Mary
Jane Deeb and Dr. Eden Naby for putting this wonderful
conference together and for the organizations
that funded it and for the Library of
Congress, of course. My presentation will take
you to the next 50 years after what Fadi just talked about
so you have the basis covered of the first World War One period
and the first few decades within it. So between negotiation
and resistance, Baghdadi and Assyrian intellectuals
in the 1970s and in the 1980s and they focused particularly
on urban intellectuals mainly in Baghdad under the Ba’ath rule. So you have to put that in context
that negotiations happening is at a time when the state is really
gaining in strength and influence so it has to be relatively
sort of to that period. And let me just say a
thing about the picture, I was just there a few weeks ago. This is the Rabban Hormizd
Monastery dating back in the seventh century in Alqush. It’s one of the last
villages standing right now and in the plain region
and still has 1600 families so it was really nice to be
there to do some research. So today I’ll analyze the ways in which Assyrian intellectuals
negotiated for political rights, some are governments
going in strength and influence in the early 1970s. This discussion is part
of my monograph project “Negotiating the place of
Assyrians in modern Iraq” which examines the relationship
between a stronger Iraqi state under the Ba’athist regime
beginning in 1968 and the Assyrians. I studied the role of the
Assyrians in the Iraq’s leftist and oppositional movements in the
second half of the 20th century and argue, and I’m giving you the
basic arguments of my research because I think it will help you
contextualize what I’m talking about because I’m really
just talking about one side of this multifaceted
sort of negotiations and affairs that are going on. So now I argue that within
newly-politicized urban spaces, minorities such as the Assyrians
were attracted to intellectual and political movements that allowed
them to emerge from the peripheries and advanced issues
that were beneficial to their community while
engaging with other Iraqis of their social economic
background and relying on transnational community
networks influential during the Cold War period. So from the 1960s to the 1980s and I
stopped during the intifada campaign at the intifada campaign. So in the 1960s you have a lot of
sort of leftist communist activity that the Assyrians are involved in, you have the Kurdish
uprising that’s starting off, and the Assyrians have a role
in that as tribal leaders, as members of organizations,
as villages who are joining against the centralized
government in general. And then you have in the 70s,
you have urban intellectuals, you have cultural rights
that I’ll talk about, and then you have the
re-establishment of the Assyrian nationalist movement
which I’m not sure Fadi agrees with me or not, but I call it the
re-establishment because I think after the Semille period,
it really, it halts. I mean, it’s not what it used to
be from the World War I period. And then again, the Iraqi opposition which they become a part
of, on a political level. So as a result, Ba’athist policies
towards the Assyrians reflected the regime’s approaches to internal and
external pressures exerted on it, and at times necessitated
the state’s attempt to attract Assyrian political
and religious leaders with favorable policies
such as cultural rights. So this is the region
where the Assyrians lived, basically northern Iraq, the
modern countries that we have, northern Iraq and surrounding
the Ottomia Iran region, you have southeast Turkey and then
you have the northwestern Syria as well. And there actually is
intellectual discussion. There really is a transnational
movement of music and of newspapers that are going back-and-forth. The communities, I
mean, you have borders but the communities are still
engaged in various regards. The churches that they belong to
and the sources I just list them to show you this is actually a
challenge on working on Assyrians and minorities in the Middle East because we don’t really
have a central place where sources are collected,
and maybe this is something that we can talk about as panelists
at the end of the discussion, Iraqi National archives
that I was at. Okay. And just a few words, Tomar
Tomas is a leader from Alqush. He was very active in the 1960s. This is a statue that
is erected for him. In 2007 in his village
in Alqush that I was able to take Margaret George, another
active militant women who joined from the Badua region with her
father and a few male figures from her village of Du’re
during the Iraqi opposition, the Kurdish opposition in the 60s. And Ba’athist archives,
you know, State’s archives that we have clearly
talking about how to Ba’athify [assumed
spelling] society, and the other hand
we have state sources on the Assyrian nationalist movement
from the 1980s, so they’re talking about how they’re getting together. This is document that
they have retrieved from the Assyrian movement
that, a pamphlet that was given up to villagers in the north that
the government is talking about and Modenarthiraya [assumed
spelling] is a magazine that I’ll be discussing. So during the 1970s, Assyrian
intellectuals promoted their culture and negotiated for political
rights with the government, often framing their concerns using
accepted Ba’athist narratives. Negotiation was a process
in which Assyrians try to understand themselves
as a community and reach internal consensus both within the ecclesiastical
communities and between tribal, religious and secular leaders. The community also negotiated
by trying to position itself within Iraqi society in relation
to both the state and opposition and also transnationally
with the Assyrian diaspora and human rights organization. Eric Davis argues about savvy,
non-elite or subaltern groups like the Assyrians
began to subscribe to historical narratives
propagated by the state to avoid provoking state authorities
by expressing unauthorized ones. But memories propagated by the
state were also challenged. The Assyrians among other Iraqi
communities used counter-memory in their textual or oral productions to challenge the state’s
interpretation of the past. Assyrians like other Iraqi
intellectuals are often successful in subverting the state’s narratives
by incorporating multiple layers of meaning into their texts to challenge a particular
position propagated by the state. I highlight the Assyrian
intellectual production by analyzing press
and popular culture to understand how Assyrian
intellectuals negotiated their interest and related to a state
growing in strength and influence, relying on influential publications
such as Modenarthiraya that you see on a cover of one of its magazines. Modenarthiraya was published by the Assyrian cultural
club from 1972 to 1985. And it’s an excellent case study, because it was published
once every three months. It really had high
quality of articles in it. It was published mainly
in Arabic and Aramaic, and you had intellectuals from
various churches, Chaldean Church of the East mainly contributing
to it, and not only from Baghdad. I mean, you had contributors
from Baghdad, from Kirkuk, from Basra, from other provinces. You had people writing to the
editors from Lebanon, from Chicago, various, I mean, various places. There was 2000 copies published
every three months, and the number, the quality, the quantity depended on the financial situation
of the club. And of course, the
government restricted them from raising how much it cost to
publish the cost of the magazine. So they were dealing
with certain cases where they could not publish more. But 2000 copies was a
significant number, and in 1984, when the magazine is really just
a shadow of its former self, the editor tells us that we
send 500 copies to the US or to North America
rather and we don’t charge. I mean, they are just sent
sort of as a gift to them. So I’ll be focusing on this
magazine and the narratives of integration used in
this particular magazine. In 1972, the promulgation of law 251
by the government extended cultural and linguistic rights to the
Assyrians which officially referred, they were referred
to by the government as the Syriac-speaking citizens. The preface to the law asserted,
I can talk about this song later. So basically, just one quick moment. So I talked about how
there’s negotiation. When impressed, they’re more
careful in what they word and what terminology they used. But here’s an example in the same
club, the Assyrian cultural club where the magazine is published, where this is the first record
we have of the Assyrian’s talking about the Simele massacre which
Fadi just talked about in 1933 of the community inside the country. And this is a song. Basically, a young high school
graduate who becomes very famous after the song, sings it in Aramaic. So what you say, what you sing about
is different from what you write about in popular culture and. Okay. So let’s go back to law 251. I’m not going to read it, but what’s
important here is the terminology. So the government gives them
these rights, culture rights to the Syriac-speaking citizens, and just notice the
terminology that they use. So, we’re national minorities,
the lost state [foreign language]. So they refer to them
as [foreign language]. By the end of the 70s
this changes, right. They become [foreign language],
a denomination, you know. So the terminology
is really important and it’s interesting how
the Ba’ath regime frames that we’re giving you these rights
because you’re sort of part of the, it’s part of the democratic process and you are a national
minority deserving to be able to practice your cultural rights. So the Law permitted the teaching
Syriac language in primary and secondary schools where
Assyrians were in majority. And also at the University
of Baghdad’s College of Art and Literature and Literature. A special television and
radio programme in Syriac was to be broadcast in
Baghdad, Kirkuk and Nineveh. So these were large
concentrations of Assyrians. Well, Assyrians writers and
academics were to be supported in various ways and represented
in Iraqi Cultural Association. Finally, the establishment of Civil
Society Organizations in the pursuit of social, cultural, artistic and linguistic objectives
was now explicitly permitted. So they’re able to form organizations
and publish more freely. A lot of these were actually
did not materialize so, yes, you do have organizations
forms and publishing. The schools, they did not really
extend the teaching of Syriac to schools so this is just
sort of symbolically passed but they were not allowed to do. So they do have radio
programs in Bagdad and Kirkuk. And so certain things
were passed on, others were just basically
cast aside. Following the passage of Law 251,
Assyrians were cautiously optimistic about the cultural rights
granted by the government. In the first half of the 1970s
they negotiated for rights within about the system,
constructing a historical narrative that integrated themselves
into the social fabric of Iraqi society since
Abbasid times. Assyrian Communists used more
modernist theoretical conceptions, drawing on socialism and Marxism
to argue for Assyrians’ right within the current system. A function of the temporary
alignment between the Baath and the Iraqi Communist
Party, the ICP at the time. During this period, Assyrian
intellectuals celebrated these policies but probed the system by pushing its boundaries
while maintaining their support for Baathism, at times
superficially. And integrating Baathist
principles to justify cultural and political rights
for their community. The regime for its part
temporarily engaged in reconciliatory practices
pursuing policies that drew the community
closer to it while and worked on implementing laws that
projected favorably in the West, and meanwhile penetrative
Assyrians’ institutions. So again this is in the urban
centers, in the non-urban centers, in the Northern provinces especially
you do have an opposition. So this is why it’s
important for the Baath regime to actually negotiate
and give cultural rights. It makes it look good
internally and also externally. Some scholars argue
that the Baathification of society did not begin until
the Iraq Iran war in 1980. My research supports this
position, but points to a change of State policy towards
the Assyrians and perhaps all Iraqis living in the Northern provinces following
the Algiers agreement of 1975 and particularly 1978 in
Baghdad and other urban centers. The Algiers agreement mended the
relations between Iraq and Iran, temporarily ending Iranian
support for the Iraqi opposition of which Assyrians
were active within. So once the opposition became
less significant you see a shift in Baathist policies so the cultural
rights become less important and the negotiation sort of changes. There is a change of tone that
you see as I said in these cities, urban centers in 1978 but in the
rural center really you see it much earlier right after the Algiers
agreement is passed in ’75. So this presentation therefore
complicates the traditional scholarly view of the Baath regime which often presents Iraqi
society sort of under the Baath as being closed and authoritarian
with a system with limited space for interaction between
State and society. And it shows the Baath regime
basically played politics at the beginning, at
least in the early 70s. Narratism integration. So the Iraqi government
supplemented legislative policies with financial assistance to
Assyrian Cultural Organization. Mordina [assumed spelling] Suraya
[assumed spelling] became the beneficiary of a large
donation from the Ministry of Information [foreign language]
and the Union of Iraqi Scholars. Government agencies also
engaged the community by facilitating international
academic conferences that featured classical
Syriac intellectuals and invited Western
scholars to participate. In February 1973, a festival was
organized to honor Saint Ephrem, a fourth century hymnographer and
theologian of the School of Nisibis. And Hunayn Ibn Ishaq which we talked
about from the, he died in 873, 877. He was a physician, translator
and active within the house of wisdom during that
Abbasid period. The man was described by the
magazine as prominent intellectuals in the field of translation,
composition, and service to humanity
somewhere downplaying Ephrem Syrus as the saint of the Church. And this was helped by the
Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Inquiry
under the supervision and organization of
[foreign language]. Shamshun Kassum [assumed
spelling] author of the article characterizes
this conference as an embodiment of the culture rights
granted to the Community by the Revolutionary Counsel. The Revolutionary Counsel had
dedicated over 10,000 dinars which roughly I think at that time in the 70s a dinar was
equivalent to US3.00 or so. To cover the expenses
of the festival which was a significant
first step in demonstrating to the community the practical
outcome of its policies. Shamshun Kassum [assumed spelling]
briefly describes the significance of these two historical figures and
paving the way for the emergence and advancement of an
intellectual reconnaissance. This reconnaissance had
contributed to the animation of Islamic civilization which
in turn had influenced world civilization according to him. Here Shamshun Kassum
[assumed spelling] departed from this general historical
background of Saint Ephrem and Hunayn Ibn Ishaq contextualizing
these historical figures in contemporary affairs. So he states the emergence
of the Arab state and despite of its influence in Central
Asia following the fall of the Persian Empire
was an important factor in granting the Church
of the East safety, peace and security
during that period. In the area of the rightly
guided caliphs the Church of the East gained recognition. So that its Christian citizens
[foreign language] followers could enjoy their full national rights
[foreign language] I mean he’s talking about the medieval period and he’s using this
kind of terminology. Within the auspices of the State or
Dawla and its official protection. Shamshun Kassum [assumed spelling]
used modern political terminology that defines the relations between
State and society, citizenship and national rights to construct a
narrative of inclusion and plurality between the Assyrian community
and the ruling authority from medieval to modern times. He indirectly equated the
current Baathist administration to the rightly guided Caliphs
of the Golden Age of Islam. During this time, the Baath
regime was a self-propagating, a historical memory
that fused Mesopotamians and with Iraq’s Abbasid
is on the heritage, and at the same time demonstrating
support for Pan-Arabism. Shamshun Kassum [assumed
spelling] [inaudible] the Assyrians within an historical narrative
that catered to have nationalism with an emphasis on
the Abbasid past. Within this discourse Kassum
highlighted the intellectual contributions of Assyrians to Islam
and humanity framing the Assyrians of integral native component of
the country deserving a full rights and citizens, full
national rights as citizens. The Abbasid discourse was addressed
in succeeding issues as well where Assyrians appropriated
Baathist language celebrating the Abbasid period of the
Golden Age of Islam. For instance, the Assyrians in the Abbasid times [inaudible]
highlighted the collaboration between the Assyrians and the incoming Arab armies during
the Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia. Again, he constructs
this sort of narrative where the Assyrians escaped the
cultures of the Byzantine forces and although they were
welcomed into Persia and allowed to join the Church or
function in the Church. Their situation does not improve until the Arab conquest
two centuries later. And then he addressed the
Abbasid Caliphates again and how it included the Assyrians
as members of the community, court physicians, translators
and so on. Again, illustrating efforts
of the Assyrian intellectuals to highlight the history of their
community during the Abbasid period for the purpose of
integrating their narrative within the officially
recognized narrative. The international conference
focusing on Saint Ephrem and Hunayn Ibn Ishaw
deployed accepted narratives and exemplified what was
permissible according to Law 251. The amount of money spent on the
conference was significant even by today’s standards
and reflected the scale of cultural projects the
government was engaged in. This investment was potentially
beneficial to the state in two ways. First, the conference attracted
important Western scholars with whom interviews the [inaudible] and Mordina [assumed spelling]
Suraya [assumed spelling]. This is important because
the Kurdish opposition which included Assyrians was
actively seeking international support in its campaign
against the Iraqi state. The pressing of Western scholars and publicity could assist the
newly founded Baathist State and portraying itself in a
positive light especially given the conferences emphasis on
Christian minorities. Second, the government was
actively seeking the support and indeed pursuing the co-optation
of the Assyrian community. This conference sought to
demonstrate to the community that the regime was
willing to implement Law 251 and promote the Syriac
language and culture. Come on [inaudible] next. Okay so I will finish here. So this is something that
is happening in Baghdad, I mean there are other examples of
Kirkuk where they have a conference where they are celebrating
the Revolution of, the anniversary of the Revolution. Whereas the Revolution
of the Baathist regime, of course the Baathist Revolution. Whereas if you look at the contents of the program I mean
they have [inaudible], they have single singing group
[foreign language] awaking or use which is a national song
from the 1920s, right? They have performers who are out
playing the song, and you have a lot of other speakers who sort of
if you know their background and you’ve read their
writing from previous periods from previous years, you know, that there are really just paying
lip service to the Baathist regime. So it’s really interesting
how intellectuals sort of know what the parameters
are but they still try to shift and negotiate and use terminology
that’s accepted and use language which is frames this loss. So it’s a way of allowing
themselves to insert themselves in this narrative, to push the
boundaries while still sort of maintaining the
boundaries and not being, you know, seriously effective. And we know that by the end
of the 70s a lot of the shifts and changes Mordina [assumed
spelling] Suraya [assumed spelling], the way the magazine cover
which incorporated Assyrian art for example, from ancient to modern
periods changes and it becomes, you now, you see pictures
of Saddam Hussein, you see pictures of the war efforts. And this tone of negotiation
and resistance that you found in the early 70s sort of
disappears in the late 70s and especially in the 80s. In the Assyrians sections you
read columns sometimes and you say to yourself, well,
there must be a lot of multiple layers of meaning here. There’s a lot of symbolism here but
that engagement of intellectuals that you found in the 70s you
do not find again in the 1980s. Thank you so much. [ Applause ]>>Thank you Doctor Benjamen. Our next speaker, Eden Naby,
is a cultural historian of the Middle East and
Central Asia who has moved from studying Middle East religious
and ethnic minorities to focusing on the modern Assyrians,
particularly, on issues of cultural
preservation among the many articles on Assyrians are the key
introduction to Assyrians in the former Soviet Union. The use of the pre-World War
I Assyrian periodical press to analyze Assyrian cultural
progress 1977 and 2006, and her work at the foundation
for endangered languages and the encyclopedia Iranica. Her books include Afghanistan,
Molar Marks and Mujahids [phonetic] and the forthcoming
Assyrians of the Middle East. [ Applause ]>>Eden Naby: Thank you, and
thank you all for coming. I know this is the last
presentations so try to stay awake. The preservation of Aramaic through
music and word needs a little bit of introduction with
regard to the background of the cultural development of the
Assyrians in the modern period. So up to the 1850s the life of the
Assyrian community was largely built around their church communities,
their villages, and the main mode of sustenance, economic
sustenance for the agriculture, and in some areas this was
sustenance, bare sustenance. And so there was an interest
in going abroad for work because there were certain kinds
of employment that were close to Assyrians as they
were to the Jews. So the Assyrians began their first
cross-border migrations toward Russia, the tsarist Russia and
there was a lot of, there were a lot of people who went there for
seasonal work as did Armenians. Other Assyrians, particularly, among
the Chaldean community were involved in the age-old millennia old
as we say pattern of trade across various borders, it’s
usually not long distance trade but short distance trade. And this continued to be the way that the pre-modern
Assyrians led their lives, their economic lives
and their social lives. However, as many of you know,
the presence of American and British missionaries
that we’ve referred to and American missionaries in particular made a profound
difference in the question of language preservation and the
commitment of the vernacular dialect to the written word
and the printed word. With the coming of the American
missionaries in Northwest Iran in particular, we have
the beginning of schools that are secular schools
conducted in the language that is spoken by the Assyrians. Some of this activity
activity was also undertaken by French missionaries both
in Northern Iraq, in Mosul and in those areas as
well as in the Ormy area of Northwest Iran especially
Thalamus [assumed spelling]. However, despite all the strength of
the, represented by this resurgence of support from abroad and to
some extent the remunerations that were sent from those who went
to work first in Russia and then in the United States in particular. Despite all of this, the entire
Assyrian progress in culture and education was totally
destroyed by the genocide of the First World War to be
followed by the smaller incident but significant politically hard
just as much of Simele in 1933. With genocide displacement
and immigration, two thirds of the population of the
Assyrians was lost, to conversion, murder, starvation and flight. Most were forbidden to
return to their homeland, this is especially true in Iran because in Iran the Assyrians had
a strong claim to the Ormy area. And our two speakers referred
in part some of the reasons why but they were prevented
from returning to Iran in some cases I know you have
experienced a family having to change their names from
Assyrian to Armenian in order to be able to return to Iran. In diaspora then which now
means includes over half of the world Assyrian
population especially with the most recent
devastation in Mesopotamia. Economically, the Assyrian community
we can say is thriving now, there are many professionals, there
are many people who are carving out lives that are
economically stable, but culturally the
community is starving. As one of the leading proponents of cultural advancement has said
recently that our community, the Assyrians, because of
their constant refugee status from the 1920s where they
emerge, they educate, they establish themselves and
then in the 40s comes another, another surge of immigrants and
refugees and so on in the 1960s in particular in the 80s. So there is this constant feeding
of the community and distraction of the community in
order, from economic, for economic advancement away
from cultural facilities. So the economic strength now
is fairly well developed, not as much as some
of their neighbours and certainly there are no
resources, state resources to support this as
in the case of many of the other minorities
in the Middle East. But culturally the Assyrian
community in diaspora and the biggest communities I think
currently are probably Australia and North America as
well as northern Europe, Sweden and the Scandinavians
countries Finland are fairly strong now. Because there is a
considerable amount of social and cultural support there from
the state, in the US there isn’t. So there is a cultural weakness,
language loss, loss of creativity in arts and literature in
particular, lack of familiarity with their own modern history due
to Middle Eastern school education. So some of them were educated in
Aramaic, in Iran, in Iraq, in Syria and then these schools were closed. In Iran there are not closed but they are extremely
restricted since the 1980s. So there is also the
outsider distortion of history of the Assyrians, there is a far
greater focus on church divisions in the Assyrian community, various patriarchates then there
are the factors that unite Assyrians which is their language and
their historical narrative. The rise of nationalism as Alda
has said or was it you Fadi? Nationalisms in the Middle East and
the post-World War II period meant that there is non-recognition of the
Assyrian ethnicity and I think Alda and Fadi have both spoken to
this very well, only recognition of the church institutions. Now, I say except Iran I don’t mean
that Iran is exceptionally good in this regard, but there is
some difference between how Iran and the rest of the Middle
East regard the Assyrians in terms of ethnicity. The churches are not active in promoting the living
language but mainly Syriac. Syriac is an Aramaic language and
sometimes it wasn’t very clear in this conference, it is an
Aramaic language developed in Ohai [assumed spelling] but
it is now a liturgical language, it’s not a spoken language. It is the language of the chants
and all of the Assyrian Churches. Imagine a whole Czechoslovanak
continue to be taught in this Slovak language areas
rather than the living language. So the living language in fact
is suffering at the expense of the teaching of
Syriac in the Churches. The Baathist regime in Syria also
forced closed Assyrians schools which had been doing relatively
well in places like Qamishli. Iraq had functioning schools
and [inaudible] playing and mainly supported by the
diaspora using the books of Kurish Fanyaaman [assumed
spelling] who is a relative of one of our panelists, yes,
and reprinted from Iran. The Syrian Orthodox Church actively
discouraged the literary production of [foreign language] because,
which is the Western language that is used in the community. The spoken and written
language today are largely based on the works of Iranian Assyrians. Now, I don’t say that only because
I come from the Ormy region, I say it because the
education of Assyrians in Iran and their vernacular language was
far stronger and less restricted in the last fifty years than
anywhere else in the Middle East. So there is a great reliance on
the works of Assyrians from Iran for the poetry that exists today,
for the plays and for the histories, the anthologies and so forth. Even though Ormy was
not the first place where the language must vernacular
was committed to writing, it was in fact in Alqosh
[assumed spelling] about which my colleagues
have spoken. Schools, however, In Iran
have had a rocky history. The Friday language schools,
Friday being the Muslim holiday with when we studied primary
level vernacular in Church schools and also in secular schools such
as in Hamagan [assumed spelling] in the 1930s and Abadan [assumed
spelling] in the 1950s and 60s in Olmin [assumed spelling]
and most importantly in Tehran. And I think we have
several people in this room who are actually graduates from the
very important school in Tehran. In the 1960s, the work of
the [foreign language] Tehran which is the youth
organization of Assyrians of Tehran became extremely
significant in the promotion of literature and history and
poetry as well as performing arts. Catholic schools have continued
to teach languages in some areas that I have spoken about but the
Protestant schools which had been so strong in the late 19th and
pre-Diaspora period have collapsed because in 1961 the Protestant
Churches simply pulled out of that sort of thing. From words to music means
that the tension of Assyrians, the ability to support a wide range
of culture was extremely limited. So for a long period of time, the
people who retained the language, the poetry, the music
were popular singers. And here I’m calling them
weddings singers just because it’s a popular term that is
used in Greek and Jewish culture, but in fact these are people who
would perform at entertainments, they would New Year’s
celebrations and so forth. And they would sing songs that
related to patriotism rather than simply I love you, you are
my love, and so forth and so on. There was that too but interspersed
in all of these was a great deal of patriotic poetry
and patriotic music. Some of it written by the
performance themselves. This particular gentleman born in Baghdad 1949 [inaudible]
is probably the best known and the best loved of the persons
in this category of Assyrian singers who are still revered I would say because of the role they had
played in retaining patriotism. Art songs, compositions from the
19th century are mainly lost, mainly due to the Diaspora
and the fact that preservation methods were
simply not there as we have them in the post-World War I period. Some of the early 78 RPMs recorded
are often from the Diaspora dealing with themes of nationalism
in some instances in some [inaudible] history and
some instances playing love songs but all in the Aramaic language. Poetry, theater and the performing
arts preservation have been difficult as I have been saying
but we do have some anthologies of poetry from the late 19th
and 20th century, not much. But these have been preserved in a
book by Samath [assumed spelling] to which the fundamental book on
Assyrian literature and poetry, the book by Rudolph Matsu 1975 I
think is based in large respect. Before World War I the Assyrians
in Iran had four periodicals, the earliest being in 1849 which is
the earliest periodical published anywhere in Iran. And in Ottoman Turkey there were two
and Fadi referred to one of them, I think, Georgia there was
one because of this migration from Ormy especially to
Russia, Tsarist Russia. And then that’s about
it before World War I. After World War I in the Middle
East in Diaspora there were many, many Assyrian publications
in the United States – short-lived not institutionally
supported. And I was hoping and I know that
the Library of Congress has a lot of these periodicals, but they are
very precious and so they’re not in that room for display but
really they are wonderful and a wonderful collection
exists here. There are also church
publications, so these tend to be in the native language
but in Diaspora they have to adopt other languages as well. So they are often bilingual
sometimes trilingual because of the immigration
especially with Arabic, and in the Middle East itself
too they are tending to be more and more trilingual and bilingual,
in part because there are fewer and fewer people who’d
actually can write in these languages in
the Aramaic language. And also because of the fact
that their readership requires it and there is State censorship
that requires national languages. Now, the rights of the theatrical and performing arts is an
interesting one and I have written at least one article that
specifically about that in Iran. But we have the rise of theater
performance in Tehran, in Baghdad and in Qamishli, Qamishli all
of you know is in Eastern Syria. In the United States because of
the large Diaspora following the genocide we have performances
of plays by non-professionals, non-professional communities,
social groups and so on. Especially along the East Coast
we have some wonderful wonderful pictures from that period
where they performed things like Arshin Mamalan
[assumed spelling] which is an Azarish Turkish
play that is very popular made into film four times
at least in Chicago and in the Central
Valley in the 1950s. In the USSR, the former Soviet
Union there was considerable state sponsorship of Assyrian
cultural activity. This is because the language of
the Assyrians was recognized as one of the nationality
languages of the Soviet Union. It came with that territoriality,
but where there were large clusters as in Armenia and in Georgia
they had schools of their own which was sponsored by the state. With the end of the Soviet Union
that kind of sponsorship has ended and the community in Russia and
in the Trans Caucasus is active but not as active as before. So in our time now, in the last
twenty years Europe and Australia and the United States have
become refugee locations but state sponsorship
of Assyrian activity, cultural activity is
very very limited. So the community has to depend
on itself, on its own resources in order to raise the funds
to be able to perform, to create any kind of
cultural performance. The content of the plays as I said from Arshin Mamalan [assumed
spelling] is an example. We also have examples of
adaptations of Russian material and we have originals skits, plays
based on Assyrian historical events. A lot of this is not fully
documented, but there’s a good deal of material on it that
we have published in some of the Assyrian organization
magazines such as the Assyrian Star
and these are available. Choral and solo singing
of art songs, especially in Tehran,
became very popular. The inspiration from music, my
eyes over there, the inspiration for music is incorporation of Assyrian traditional
melodies to Western instruments. So the three leading figures for
this kind of activity are all from Iran and as you
will see from this chart, two thirds have emigrated
and died in, in the West. So what is happening then is that we
know for example that Assyrian music in the ancient period had certain
instruments that are depicted or known, and there are
some discussions of it but there’s also some music from the
Ancient period that is performed. So what happens is when we have
Assyrian affairs then we have say a harp substituting for what
would have been an Ancient Assyrian instrument. My emphasis for a bit of
this talk is going to be on the Mesopotamian night
event which has been taken which is celebrating its
10th anniversary this year out of San Jose. Mesopotamian night is an
organization that tries to have through sheer voluntary
activity, Assyrian events that include both popular
and new music. Mesopotamian night draws
on the works of people that I’ve named here,
composers and poets and they also commissioned
new music and new poetry. I guess we’re not going to
have a sample of the music but this is one example of the
event that took place in San Jose and it’s now taking place this event
annual event is also in Chicago and in Los Angeles,
hopefully, also in Phoenix if you guys work pretty hard. Then this is how some
of the work is done, it’s fairly professional expansion
and then there is the updating of popular songs through orchestral
accompaniment and sometimes dance. Sometimes this is a real flop
but sometimes it works very well. But the future direction,
my particular interest over the next few years is in
the Assyrian Arts Institute. A new organization which
is very, very different from the older organizations
because it is committed to being an institutionalized
endowed structure, endowed is the key word. And the commitment is to promoting
language, promoting awareness of Assyrian arts and
promoting performance. Other promising directions, there
is a new poetry organization between Cambridge University
and the Journal of Assyrian academic
studies, a collaboration that is being engineered
and fostered by a one of our current young
poets [inaudible]. And there are new attempts
to institute schools in Australia and the United States. But with every generation
of refugees and the debate over whether Assyrians
should actually remain in the Middle East or not. We have the resources,
the financial resources of the Assyrian community being
drawn away from might have been gone into cultural things into
dealing with refugees, and that is the sad
part of our history. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Thank you Doctor Naby. We have a few minutes for
questions and answers. Two people in this room here.>>Thank you, Doctor Davood. From the beginning of today we
heard from the history of the dawn of civilization till today and it
seems to me that recently we have, the world has become
very messy, violent. Whereas before every 200 years or
so there was genocide or something, now, we have every five, ten years. Has anybody done any study as
far as what the future holds as this trend is going
to continue or why is it?>>Fadi Davood: I don’t think anyone
has done any studies on the future and what it holds but
maybe my co-panelist.>>Eden Naby: I don’t
understand the question.>>Fadi Davood: I mean, he’s asking
if there are any studies done on the future of the
Syrian Community.>>Eden Naby: Well studies
can’t be done on the future but speculation can be made and
there is a great deal of dissent in the community about just what
should be done with the community. Because the future of the community
in the Middle East is in peril and there are many important
voices in the Diaspora community who are saying let’s not
put those $2 million a year into supporting those communities. Let us use that money to support
communities and bring them out here, out to where they can
actually live in some security. So that is the discussion
but I don’t know that you’d call that a study.>>Alda Benjamen: Can I also add? You know, there is different
voices, you have what people in the Diaspora want, what people
in Iraq or the homeland want, and sometimes they are not aligned. Through my travels I
think a lot of them want to remain in Iraq if they can. So they do hold on like I
said you know in Alqosh. When we went up to [foreign
language] Monastery, from the Mountain it was evening. You could see ISIS, I mean; they told me you see those
red lights over there? And I said what are you doing? How do you sleep at night? But they love their village, they
love their town, they are proud of their history and they
want to remain so I mean. So there’s different aspect of, you
know, there’s so many narratives that are going on but there’s
some studies done on language for example the Aramaic
language and the fear is that within two generations or so
it ceases to exist in the Diaspora. So you know if you have a family that speaks Aramaic their
children might speak it, their grandchildren might
speak but then after that. So you have studies like that on
certain aspects of the culture and there’s a lot of fear, you
know, if you did lose the people in the Dias, in the homeland and the
language in the roots that they had, the connections they had to the land and the language then
what happens to us? And it goes back to what Doctor
Eben Naby saying, you know, do we start focusing more
on the community here? Because every wave of refugees,
basically, joins the efforts, and the finances of the
community to helping refugees and you’ve been dealing with
that often so you can’t focus on building schools and on
contributing to arts and so on and so forth so it’s a dilemma.>>Wonderful lectures,
thank you very much, very touched by all three of them. Professor Davood, I
have a question for you. At the time and when you were
talking about the religious factor, the third factor and the
nationalism that was happening. Was there a distinction at
that point during the Kaldani and Chaldeans or the
Assyrians had it happen? Was there, was it a
later phenomenon? I’m just curious when you said about bringing together everyone
Christian, Aramaic speaking. Was it the entire Aramaic
Christian speaking part of Iraq or was it just the Assyrians?>>Fadi Davood: Thanks. Well, interestingly Boustros when
his letters in this correspondence which I write about says I will
represent all the population, the Chaldean Assyrians in sort of brackets while [inaudible]
Shamuun [assumed spelling] is also interested in her community
of the Nestorians. Now, it’s a complicated issue
because those who for example of the Muslim did not
identify with this community, they identify as Arab but part
of the Syriac Orthodox tradition or Syriac Catholic tradition
or Chaldean tradition. Those who seem serious
co-Orthodox members who were living in [inaudible] identified strongly with this Assyrian
nationalist phenomenon. And actually were producing
a lot of the narrative that was actually bringing
this to the forefront of the intellectual debate. Now, are there divisions? Absolutely. And even the ideas of these
communities and who they belong to, etcetera exists but it did not
really become as entrenched I think as it did after the Simele massacre
when most of the Urbanites said hold on a second, we have nothing to do with these people living
in the villages. We have nothing to do with these
troublemakers because they wanted to survive essentially; they wanted
to politically survive in a state that was becoming increasingly
more hegemonic. And so that’s why it’s sort of you
see its periods of division and sort of these things change with
violence, with acts the of genocide, with the acts of massacres
and you have one that States have embraces them,
everybody is embracing each other. I find it really interesting
and then in the Diaspora these are
actually a lot less pronounced to a certain year because there
are no pressures like them.>>Alda Benjamen: Can I also add? I mean, in my case, I see
changes already, right? So I mean I think in your period
and Fadi I do have a document from I think 1919 from [inaudible] where the patriarch is
writing to the British.>>Fadi Davood: Yeah.>>Alda Benjamen: And he’s saying
I represent the Ancient Assyrian Community and he’s from
the Syriac Orthodox Church. Fadi Davood: But don’t forget
the person that actually goes to represent the Syrians at the peace talks is the
Syriac Orthodox bishop who becomes a patriarch. And suddenly when he becomes
a patriarch with the influence of the Syrian and the Iraqi
States he becomes an Arab so you see that [inaudible]. And actually if you look and
read the book, I think the book in Arabic is called the [foreign
language], the scattered pearl.>>Eben Naby: It has
an English translation.>>Fadi Davood: Does it
have an English translation?>>Eben Naby: Yes.>>Fadi Davood: So
it has an English… You see, you know, he’s an
Assyrian nationalist in that book and suddenly that shifts
and changes. So I think really the hegemony of the Iraqi state plays
a big role on this.>>Alda Benjamen: So from my period, post [inaudible] I see there’s
integration, for my period, there’s a lot of involvement in leftist politics,
there’s organization. The community is not urbanized until
the 1950s or so that’s when you if you look at census records. And so they’re urbanizing,
they’re living together, they’re politicizing together,
they’re inter-marrying. There you have the dialect that is
sort of like fusing together more so and these distinctions
are not important. You know, I mean Toma Thomas
I showed him his picture. He’s from Alqosh, he’s a Chaldean but if you read his memoirs he calls
his town in the Assyrian Ancient, Assyrian town and he does
identifies as an Assyrian. You know, it’s not
it’s in his memoirs and then Mordina Suraya [assumed
spelling] there was a lot of writers, important writers who
were from Alqosh who were Chaldean. So the religious identities
in the second half of the 20th century is not as
important but then after the Civil, after 2003 I think you have a lot
of sectarianism in the country and it affects the
community as well.>>Eben Naby: Well, let me just
add a very short note to that that the root of all of this
identity with Church as opposed to an ethnic group goes back to the Millett System
of the Ottoman Empire. If the Ottoman Empire
only recognized a group as a Church community rather than as an ethnic group then it was
very difficult for that ethnic group to emerge as a viable
institutional force in any level. And that Ottoman legacy continues
throughout the Middle East, it affected Iran less,
less but somewhat. But it is true in Turkey today,
it’s true in all of the Middle East and this recognition of the
community through its Church, through its confession is what is
crippling the Nationalist Movement in the Assyrians.>>Thank you. Thank all of you for your
presentations, it was great and to the folks from AUA
for having put together. This really is a triumph
for our people and we’re really proud
of all of you. I have a question for Doctor Naby,
particularly, about, you know, you brought up [inaudible] which
was a really beautiful thing that our community did.>>Eben Naby: But brought up
what, I didn’t understand you. [Inaudible] Assyrian? What?>>You brought up [inaudible].>>Eben Naby: Oh, yes yes.>>There are a lot of sort
of institutional resources when it comes to the arts, you know, watched the National Opera just
closed, the Ring Cycle, for example. And, you know, this is a largely
taxpayer-funded endeavour. Has the Assyrian community or can the Assyrian community use
these national endowments through, you know, organizations
like the Kennedy Center, like the Washington National
Opera to, you know, put on, to sort of bring our
Opera, our literature, our poetry to that national stage? Because it seems like the
Trans, it wouldn’t work, on that sort of large-scale and
there was a precedent for it in terms of, you know, the WNL, for
example, bringing sort of smaller, you know, operettas
to this audience. And I’m just curious, that’s
something that has been pursued or could potentially be pursued.>>Eben Naby: I think part of the
problem in our approach to culture where we’ve had even minimal
funds to do it, is that we feel that we must and can only
work within our own community. I think this is the legacy of
the past in the Middle East where we’ve been so confined that
we haven’t been allowed to enter into another, into
a national culture. But, yes, in the United States it is
possible, yes, and I have high hopes for the Assyrian Arts Institute
which I think is not only going to be quite well-funded but it also
is as part of its vision to enter into collaboration with other
parts of state’s institution, State’s Organizations
and festivals and as well as on the national level, yes. But so far we haven’t
received any funds let’s say from the National endowment for
the arts or humanities in such. Yes but only on a minor scale.>>So I have two questions for you. There’s somewhat interrelated. One I want to thank all three of
you for the wonderful presentations. One of the things that we’ve
noticed in the Syrian community and the Diaspora is a rise of
nationalism amongst the youth. But at that same time
we’ve also noticed a loss of the actual Aramaic language. What do you think contributes
to that? And what are the steps at
helping grow the nationalism while at the same time encouraging the
preservation of the language?>>Eben Naby: Well, since preservation was my theme
let me address that very briefly and then see if my colleagues
have anything to say about it. I think if we look at other
Diaspora communities let’s say Ormy which is very close to us for
our community even in the future of the Persian community. What’s happening? Did you cut me off? Yeah. That if we look at the
other immigrant communities that are our neighbors from the
Middle East, and suffer from some of the same psychological problems
that we have, not reaching out. That we will see that language plays
a very important role in identity, but language is not
the only criteria. It’s narrative, I mean
how many people in the let’s say even the most
recent Persian community speak Persian well enough so that they
can read the Chach Nama very few. But that doesn’t mean they are
excluded by the other Iranians or shouldn’t mean from being
part of that community. One of the problems in the Assyrian
community with the waves and waves of immigrants and the
differences in dialects is that we have said whoever isn’t
speaking my dialect isn’t a Syrian. Alright, it’s a very foolish
way of looking at nationalism. And I would say that if we are going
to exclude as they have in the past in the 1960s all the children of the
old immigrants were virtually driven out of every Assyrian organization. Because there was a new
surge of Assyrians coming from the Middle East who spoke
the language, didn’t speak English but they spoke the language
and that’s what happened. So we are throwing out people for no reason even
though they are Assyrian. And this is what is happening
to our community, it’s a problem in the Armenian community too. That is language the only basis
for understanding who you are? I maintain it’s not. So even though we should make
efforts to keep the language, it’s not the only criteria.>>I have a, I will direct my
question to Doctor Eden but before that I just want to say something. When I entered this building and
made my way through all of those, the hallways here I was
mesmerized and fascinated by all of the mosaic art on the ceiling
and the paintings on the wall. My thoughts went back all
the way to the ancient time and I almost imagine myself walking in Osher [assumed spelling]
[inaudible] Library, the library of our ancestors. So I can only imagine it was as
magnificent as this building is. My question to you is you mentioned
something about the establishment of the Assyrian schools in Tehran
and Thalamus [assumed spelling]. Do those schools still exist there?>>Eben Naby: In Thalamus it
was before World War I so, no. Thalamus was devastated by Kurdish
and Turkish fighters completely. I mean there’s hardly any
people left any Assyrians left in the Thalamus [assumed
spelling] area. The Tehran school functions
but it was extremely limited through the constitutional
changes that occurred with the establishment
of the Islamic Republic. So yes, yes it exists, but it limps. Sorry.>>Okay. At this point I would
like to ask all the panelists to come forward because we’re
going to take a picture together. Thank you all for coming. This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at loc.gov

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