A ZINDA MAGAZINE INTERVIEW WITH YONADAM KANNA
He is charismatic, determined, and arrogant. In every Assyrian community he visits or the political rallies he attends, hundreds of fans and foes assemble to hear him describe the Movement which he has helped to become the most ambitious Assyrian political experiment since the disintegration of the original Assyrian Universal Alliance in the early 1980s.
Recently Zinda Magazine caught up with Mr. Yonadam Kanna (Yacoub Yosip), Secretary General of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (Zowaa Demoqrataya Atouraya) and invited him for a candid interview.
ZN: What are you doing in the United States when there
is soon to be a war in Bet-Nahrain?
ZN: Whom did you meet in your visits to the U.S.?
ZN: And in Arizona?
ZN: You seem to be very comfortable in front of the American
ZN: Why do you insist on the removal of Saddam Hussein?
ZN: If the U.S. and her fewer allies attack tomorrow,
do you think Saddam would succumb as quickly as he did in 1991?
ZN: Let’s jump into internal bickering and power
struggles among the Assyrian political parties. What do you think
is happening in the Coalition (Awyoota)?
ZN: Can one realistically expect that ADM would consider
itself equal to a less visible partner like Mr. Ishaya Esho’s
Assyrian National Organization (ANO)?
ZN: What about the group that assumes the ‘umbrella’
mentality, but acts as a political party within the Coalition?
ZN: AUA is a member of the Coalition and Mr. Sargon Dadesho’s
BNDP is not. One would assume that a member of the Coalition would
consult with the other representatives before engaging in a political
discussion with the chief adversary of the Coalition, namely Sargon
Dadesho. Did you know about Mr. John Nimrod’s meeting with
Mr. Dadesho in California?
ZN: And why did you not meet with Mr. Dadesho as Mr.
Nimrod had requested?
ZN: ADM seems to be the darling of the Assyrian politics
due to its special geopolitical position in the Middle East and
the international focus on Iraq. Is that enough reason for escalating
Zowaa’s position among all Assyrian political parties in
dealing with Iraq?
Zowaa is not just in North Iraq. It’s present in every corner of Iraq. Zowaa’s decisions are made only to benefit our nation, and therefore we cannot allow ourselves to succumb to the outside pressures from groups not directly associated with the situation on hand. After Saddam, the individuals representing the Assyrian voice must be able to speak Arabic, understand the internal conflicts of the region, and surely be able to live in Iraq – in particular during the transitional period.
ZN: What do you expect will happen immediately after
the removal of Saddam Hussein?
ZN: What will you do then?
ZN: One of the most vital accomplishments of the ADM
has been the establishment of Assyrian schools in the North. What
is being done to help continue this successful project?
ZN: Zowaa has made it very clear that it is not happy
with the Kurdish Constitution recently ratified. Can you explain
ZN: Any ideas on where the parliamentary elections will
go from here?
ZN: Where do you stand on the issue of the three-percent
Assyrian representation at these Opposition meetings?
ZN: You have often been unhappy about Zinda Magazine’s
reporting from North Iraq on issues dealing with Zowaa. Can you
comment on that?
ZN: Mr. Secretary General, thank you for your time.
SCRAMBLING FOR A COMMON PLATFORM
Late last week the Associated Press announced that Iraqi opposition groups have postponed the Brussels Conference scheduled for 22 November for two weeks, because most of the delegates have not yet received Belgian visas.
Then this week, the U.S. officials insisted that a conference must be held in Britain of Iraqi opposition leaders by December 10 - two days after the UN deadline for Baghdad to give a full declaration of its weapons of mass destruction.
The British Foreign Office was working on the details of this
meeting at press time, but organisers say they believe it will
take place in London on December 10-12. Don’t hold your
The Pentagon and the State Department expect every attendee to sign a document stating that a post-Saddam Iraq will be democratic, multi-ethnic, and at peace with the other states in the region. A steering committee is also to be elected as the “official voice of the Iraqi opposition.”
Ask Barzani, Talabani, Saddam, and the highest Shiite Imam and they will each proclaim their political status as democratic, multi-ethnic, and friendly to their neighbors. Been there, done that, Mr. Bush! Assyrians don’t play that game no more!
Assyrians must demand protection in case our non-Christian neighbors
begin to practice their unique form of democratic, multi-cultural
governance of the smaller and weaker populations. If such a protection
cannot be guaranteed now, another futile meeting in Europe will
be an endorsement of a future Iraq bereft of any guarantees for
the well-being of the 1.2 million Assyrians in Iraq. The attendance
of our Assyrian representatives in the past has been nothing short
of a public relations stunt.
‘THE WAY’ TO GO
Farsi-readers rejoice! At last a website from the Assyrians in
Iran. Orkha.com is mainly written in the Farsi (Persian) language
and remains under construction for the most part. The pages built,
however, contain many revealing bits of data on the events shaping
the Assyrian communities in Tehran and Urmia. The photos alone
are worth an extended visit to this site. Check it out at http://www.orkha.com.
AN OPEN LETTER TO JALAL TALABANI
Mr. Talabani, in September 1991, you were invited by the U.S. State Department to Washington, D.C. to commence a dialogue and establish a better understanding of the objectives of the Kurdish opposition to Sadam’s regime in Iraq. Your delegation included the following:
Mr. Jalal Talabani, Secretary General of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan
This writer was asked by Dr. Lincoln Malik, then the Zowaa representative in USA to go to Washington to assist and advise Mr. Yacoub Yousif who at that time had a very limited knowledge of English language. There were three other American Kurds who were assisting you and other delegates.
Your delegation held a number of meetings with different U.S. agencies, congressmen, and senators. The delegates met with:
Senator George Mitchell, Majority Leader
In addition to these meetings, you spoke at the following gatherings:
Washington Post Editorial Board
In all of these private meetings and public presentations, you repeatedly delivered the following message, which allegedly represented the policy, sentiment, and sincere beliefs of the Iraqi Kurdistan Front (IKF):
“The Kurds are not asking for an Independent Kurdistan as they
are against the fragmentation of Iraq. The IKF is seeking a democratic
and secular Iraq where the rights of all of its citizens are guaranteed.”
On two other occasions, you recognized Assyrians as a separate nationality entitled to the same rights and privileges as all other minorities in Iraq. You specifically recognized the Assyrian Democratic Movement (Zowaa) as the sole official representative party of the Assyrians in Iraq.
On one occasion, I asked you about your thoughts on the assassination of Mar Benyamin Shimun in 1918 by Simko, a Kurdish tribal leader. You stated very succinctly that all Kurds consider this assassination a despicable act and hope that Assyrians will forgive and forget it and continue to work with Kurds for a peaceful and brotherly coexistence in Iraq.
Personally, I found you to be an educated and fair-minded person and a remarkable politician. Your sense of justice and equality as expressed in many of your speeches were very impressive. Spending four full days with you and your other delegates was a great experience for me.
Unfortunately, now we hear that the Kurdish political parties represented by you and Mr. Barazani have forgotten all that was previously promised and publicly stated. By a single declaration you have wiped out the Assyrians and other minorities from your program. Now, according to the recent decision taken by the Kurdish parliament, Iraq will consist only of Arabs and Kurds.
Mr. Talabani, let me assure you that by a single declaration you will not wipe out Assyrians from Iraq. I am confident that you and all other educated Kurds are aware that we are the original inhabitants of Iraq. We are the heirs of a great civilization and have played a key role in the education and advancement of the Arab culture. Our contributions to the advancement of human civilization are universally recognized. We are still capable of playing a great role in the development of Iraq into a modern and democratic society. Excluding us will not advance your cause and that of other citizens of Iraq.
Yes, we are at present a small minority in our own country. We owe that to the merciless massacres and inhuman oppression of our people by the Kurds, Persian, Turks, and Iraqis. We have survived all that for almost 2,000 years and I assure you we will not disappear now in the 21st century. We are an active minority in Europe and the United States of America and are determined to bring to the attention of our governments any injustices towards Assyrians in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries.
For Kurds and Arabs to be treated with respect by the civilized world and to live in peace and prosperity, they must learn and recognize that only democracy will guarantee equal rights of all the citizens and earn them the respect and support of other democratic nations.
As you suggested, we Assyrians have forgiven you Kurds for all the despicable acts that you have done to us in the past. We have extended a hand of friendship and expressed a sincere desire to work with you and all other citizens of our country for a democratic Iraq. We hope and pray that wise Kurdish leaders like you and others will take a serious look at what you have decided and make the appropriate correction.
Youel A Baaba
[Z-Info: Mr. Baaba, Emeritus Chairman of the Assyrian
Aid Society of America, was the main speaker at last week’s
Narsai’s Taste of Mediterrenean.]
DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENT CRITICIZES KURDISH-APPROVED FEDERAL CONSTITUTION
Referring to the "federal constitution's" description of
other nationalities as "ethnic groups", it said this is regarded
as "disparagement of these nationalities (the Assyrians and Turkomen).
National rights are not measured by size." It added that the constitution
"deals with our people as two separate nationalities (Assyrians
and Chaldeans), thus ignoring our people's historic unity".
ASSEMBLY SETS UP ELECTIONS PREPARATORY COMMITTEE
Thirteen members were appointed to the Elections Preparatory Committee: 6 members from the Yellow List [Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP], 6 from the Green List [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK] and 1 from the Purple List [Assyrians]. They were unanimously approved.
The Assembly then began detail discussions on the UN Security Council
resolution on Iraq, Iraq's reaction to the resolution; and the Iraqi
We see that the Kurdish people, for the first time in their history, are exercising their right to elect and appoint their representatives from the executive and legislative authorities in the region. This experience is fit for Iraq as well, because it applied pluralism. Take, for example, our experience with the brother Turkmens and Assyrians, and especially the Assyrians who were elected to parliament. The influence of Assyrians is not based on their number but is based on their presence. Therefore, they have five out of 100 seats. The Turkmens did not run in the elections, and they should have been given a percentage as well. Thus, pluralism is fit for the future, pluralistic Iraq, which is concerned about local and central governments.
After some time, we will mark the 10th anniversary of the declaration of the Kurdistan parliament by unanimity of views on the principle of federation. What does this declaration mean? First, it means rejecting secessionism. Now, the liberated part of Kurdistan is practically separated from Iraq. The exercised freedom is not the freedom of autonomy but is the freedom of independence as a fait accompli. When the Kurdistan parliament decides to choose federation and adhere to Iraqi unity and remain a part of the Iraqi entity, this means that the Kurdish people have rejected the partition of Iraq and rejected secessionism and accepted the principle of federalism as part of the democratic Iraqi entity. In our view, this is also an important point, which was not noticed by many of the people, who believe that the Kurdistan experience was launched unilaterally, as if the decision is not in favour of Iraq. On the contrary, we think that the decision, first, is in favour of Iraqi unity and, second, in favour of the Kurdish people.
On Mosul Vilayat…
The resolution of the League of Nations issued in 1924-1925 on the issue of the province of Mosul. We accept that resolution. There was an explicit clause in that resolution, which says that the area called the province of Mosul had never been a part of Iraq. The resolution says that the northern borders of Iraq did not exceed the city of Tikrit and that the area called the province of Mosul is also not Turkish, since the central region of Kurdistan separates it from Turkey. This is the resolution of the League of Nations. According to that resolution, Iraqi Kurdistan was annexed to Iraq.
Second, we have a document that concerns the Arab nationalists. When they were refugees in Cairo, they presented a memorandum to the immortal leader, Jamal Abd-al-Nasir, in 1962, at his own request, on the Kurdish issue. The memorandum was signed by the late Fu'ad al-Rikabi, Fa'iq al-Samarra'i, Dr Jabir al-Umar, Adnan al-Rawi, the well-known poet Hilal Naji, and a large number of nationalists, including Ba'thists and other nationalists. In that memorandum they outlined the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan as extending from Mandali to the foot of the Hamrin Mountain until it converges with the Tigris. I adhered to this document in the 1963 negotiations with the Iraqi government. We have a speech by Iraqi President Saddam Husayn, which he delivered in 1989 in Arbil. In that speech, he included me in the amnesty for the first time. In the past, he used to say: Amnesty for all the Iraqis except the traitorous agent Jalal Talabani. In that speech, he said he had decided to pardon everybody, including Jalal Talabani. He wonders why he had decided this. He says that during the Ottoman era, the wali [governor] of Baghdad launched a campaign against their tribe and families and expelled them from their area to Kurdistan. He adds: We went to Kurdistan and lived two years in the plains and valleys of Kurdistan with the Kurdish people. We were well treated and well taken care of until the amnesty was issued with Kurdish mediation, so we returned. The people who helped us in that area of Kurdistan were the Talabanis. I return their favour by pardoning their son Jalal Talabani along with the others.
There are also Ottoman documents and there is something called the dictionary of proper names. This dictionary can be considered the encyclopedia of the Ottoman age. In the dictionary of proper names, and I can give you a copy of it in Turkish, the name of Karkuk is mentioned. It states that Karkuk is a city that is located in Shahrazun Kurdistan and has a Kurdish majority. Three quarters of its population are Kurds, while the fourth quarter is made up of Turks, Arabs and Christians. This document dates back before World War I - that is, in the Ottoman age.
You can go back to everything written by the travellers who passed
through the region. All of them say that Karkuk is a Kurdistan city
when they talk about it. For a long time the city was a centre of Shahrazun
Province, which belonged to the Ottoman State. In 1078, its name became
the province of Mosul and before that they used to call it the province
of Shahrazun. Despite all this, we do not say that Karkuk is a Kurdish
city. We say that Karkuk is located in Kurdistan, but it is Kurdish,
Arab, Islamic and Christian.
ASSYRIAN POLITICAL PARTIES DECLARATION AT THE LONDON CONFERENCE
D E C L A R A T I O N
The following declaration by Assyrians was adopted unanimously at a conference held on November 1, 2 & 3, 2002 in London, England. In attendance at the Conference were the Assyrian political parties, organizations, federations and observer activists.
The Assyrians of Iraq including Chaldean and Syriac are the indigenous people of Iraq and the remnants of the Assyrian Empire. They number over four (4) million scattered throughout the world with two (2) million still in the homeland of Iraq. They are the second largest minority after the Kurds and as Christians the second largest religion of Iraq.
The declaration adopted was as follows:
1. That we support the integrity of Iraq.
2. That we be assured that the Iraq Government will be democratic and secular.
3. That we be constitutionally recognized. (The present Iraq constitution recognizes Arabs and Kurds only. For Assyrians to be first class citizens they must me constitutionally recognized in any constitution which includes recognition of people).
4. That Assyrian must receive all ethnic and religious rights (The terms ethnic minorities or religious minorities must be interpreted to have the same meaning in all languages).
5. That Assyrians be recognized and acknowledged as the indigenous people of Iraq.
6. That a fair Assyrian population percentage representation be recognized (Population figures of Assyrians in Iraq must include all Assyrians by whatever name they are known, be it Chaldean, Syriac, etc. and include those that have been forced to flee the country these many years).
7. That Assyrians in any Iraq Government where autonomy is declared for any group or should a Federal Government be established in Iraq then the Assyrians must be provided autonomy or given a State accordingly (see map at http://www.zindamagazine.com/graphics/map.jpg).
8. That Assyrians under any new government must be able to retain their customs, traditions, language and religion.
9. That Assyrians must have a part in any coalition government that is established for Iraq.
10. That the homes and lands illegally taken be returned to all including those at home and abroad.
11. That any constitution for Iraq must include a bill of rights for all citizens.
Adopted unanimously this November 2, 2002 London, England.
For more information Contact Carlo Ganjeh email@example.com
or Fax 1-408-369-0186
COMMUNIQUÉ OF THE ASSYRIAN PARTIES AT THE LONDON CONFERENCE
Representatives of nine Assyrian political parties and organizations met in London, United Kingdom, for a three-day period on November 1-3, 2002. Presidents of the Assyrian American National Federation, the Association des Assyro-Chaldeen's de France, and the Assyrian Society of the United Kingdom all attended the meeting. The letters of Support from three Assyrian parties were acknowledged.
The participants studied and analyzed in depth the status of the Assyrian Cause and the vital duties, ways and means of its development to achieve our legitimate national rights and ambitions. The current situation surrounding the political future of Iraq was discussed and our strategy for taking part in the Iraqi Opposition was argued. The participants concurred that the expected regime change in Iraq presents us with an opportunity to attain our national goals. It was agreed that a democratic, multi party, constitutional alternative in Iraq that guarantees the welfare of all segments of the Iraqi Society and maintains Iraq's national unity and sovereignty would be in the best interest of the Assyrians.
The participants studied, revised and adopted the drafts that were prepared for the Iraqi Opposition Conference. The participants asserted the injustice that was expressed upon our people in regards the representation percentage in the upcoming Iraqi Opposition Conference.The representatives also agreed to formulate a unified Assyrian political agenda and to work toward bringing about a cooperative working mechanism that serves our common national objectives.
The meeting concluded with important deceleration on Assyrian national issues.
All sides agreed to continue the dialogue in the future to ensure a unified Assyrian effort for attaining a better future for our people.
November 03, 2002
Assyrian Universal Alliance
Bet-Nahrain Democratic Party
On Sunday the eleventh of November Bet-Nahrain Democratic Party celebrated its 26th Anniversary in a special banquet, held at the Assyrian American Association of Chicago, the guest of honors were Mr. Shimon Khamo the Secretary General of Bet-Nahrain Democratic Party and Mr. Nageb Al-Salhi the Secretary General of the Free Officers and Civilian Movement, both Mr. Khamo and Mr. Al-Salhi addresed a large number of invited guests, Mr. Khamo stressed that the political and civil rights of the Assyrians must be guaranteed in any future goverment in Iraq,Mr. Khamo renwed his call for one united Iraq where the rights of all the Iraqi People are protected. On the subject of the Assyrians groups participating in the up coming Iraqi Opposition Confrence which was schuled to be held on the 22nd. of this month, Mr. Khamo, made clear that BNDP will firmlly oppose any involvement from any entity in the process of selecting our representives, the Assyrians must select their Representaitive! s.
Mr. Al-Salhi stressed on National unity, Practice of a real and true Democracy for the the people of Iraq.
While in Chicago, Mr. Al-Salhi met with the representatives of the Assyrian Coalition and a number of Intellectuals and members of the Assyrian American League, Mr. Al-Salhi emphsized that the objective of all Iraqi Opposition groups must be the removal of Sadam's regime.
Finaly Mr. Khamo, extended his appreciation to Mr. Al-Salhi and to the guests
Bet-Nahrain Democratic Party,
ASSYRIANS -- NOT JUST PART OF ANCIENT WORLD
Courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle (18 Nov); article by Rob Morse
"I didn't think there were so many Assyrians in the world," said a non- Assyrian guest to Narsai David at the Ritz-Carlton on Friday night. David, the Berkeley food expert, had drawn 430 Assyrian Americans from all over the West to a banquet to raise money to build school buildings in their homeland in Northern Iraq.
"We don't get together often," said Dr. John Aivaz of Palos Verdes, president of the American Assyrian Chamber of Commerce.
It was an interesting time for an Assyrian get-together. Their brethren in Northern Iraq soon may be in the middle of an American invasion and, if all goes well, finally get a voice in Iraqi affairs. The Assyrian Americans at the Ritz-Carlton were still joyful that a month ago, for the first time, the president had recognized their role in a future Iraq.
"The oppression of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomans, Shi'a and Sunni must be lifted," said President Bush in a speech on Iraq.
Immediately afterward, I got a call from David. Despite his not being a big Bush fan, he was bubbling over, saying, "Did you hear the president mention us?"
I have to confess that before August, when I wrote a column about David's visit to Northern Iraq on behalf of the Assyrian Aid Society of America, I thought Assyrians were something from ancient history.
It turns out they're a part of whatever history is to come in the next year.
We mentally isolationist Americans somehow missed the fact that the 20th century -- the world's most criminal century -- has been tough on this great civilization that became the first Christian nation.
Assyrians were slaughtered by the Turks, a mass murder more forgotten than the Turkish genocide of the Assyrians' fellow Christians, the Armenians. Surviving Assyrians trekked to Baghdad, where they were massacred again and forced to Northern Iraq, along with Assyrians from Iran. There, along with the Sunni Muslim Kurds, they have suffered Saddam Hussein's depredations.
At Friday's dinner, Youel A. Baaba, a literary scholar and patriarch of the Assyrian Aid Society, spoke in the Assyrian language about how few people knew of the 200 Assyrian villages destroyed by Hussein and people forcibly relocated to undesirable places. "Sadly, not too many people are aware of the atrocities committed against Assyrians or their deplorable living conditions in Iraq," he said.
Baaba spoke of the need to support their countrymen in the homeland to secure their language and culture. Or else, he said, "We, like millions of other people before us, will melt away in this beautiful pot called the United States of America."
The handsome, well-dressed people in the audience applauded Baaba, most without having to look at the English translation. They hadn't entirely melted in this beautiful pot.
A children's dance troupe ended its spirited interpretations of Assyrian folk dances by appearing with American flags and singing "God Bless America." They were greeted with the applause of immigrants and children of immigrants for whom the flag means what it's supposed to mean.
This was one of the few large gatherings in the Bay Area where you could find mass support for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. These are people who know a thing or two about Hussein's branch of the axis of evil.
"Assyrians and other groups should have their right of survival, property and democracy," said Aivaz. "They are just surviving. In the 21st century, that is not acceptable. They are looking for the greatest democracy in the world to do something."
"Whatever happens, it will happen for the best," said Los Angeles developer Pierre Toulakany. "It couldn't be worse that what we've had, with chemical weapons used against our people."
This is America, though, and you could find healthy dissent. Dorothy Clark and Julia Roberts of Modesto, both Assyrian Americans, said they feared a Bush invasion of Iraq. "That man will do what he wants," said Roberts.
There are many things I fear, among them America's power to fire and forget, to use a missile metaphor. The world doesn't need more peoples used for our strategic purposes, then consigned to ancient history.
Rob Morse's column appears Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays
in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zinda Magazine urges a thank you note to Mr. Morse for his sound and
skilled coverage of the Assyrian opinion and the fundraiser event.]
SYRIAC-SPEAKING ISRAELI STATESMAN DIES AT 87
Courtesy of the Daily Telegraph (18 November)
(ZNDA: London) Abba Eban, Israeli statesman who made the special relationship with America the cornerstone of Israel's foreign policy, died this week at the age of 87.
A highly skilful diplomat, he was also a considerable scholar, an elegant and successful writer and one of the foremost orators of his day. Yet in a strange way Abba Eban's many gifts impeded his advancement, and though he attained high office, he never rose quite to the heights for which he felt destined.
He was born Abba Solomon at Cape Town, South Africa, on February 2 1915, the child of Lithuanian immigrants. He lost his father when he was still an infant, and his mother took him to live in England. She remarried, and Abba, known in England as Aubrey, was brought up in south London, where his step-father, Isaac Eban, was a doctor.
As Aubrey Eban, the boy attended St Olave's school, near Tower Bridge, and from there won a scholarship to the Queens' College, Cambridge. He graduated with a Triple First in Classics and Oriental Languages, having won prizes in Hebrew, Syriac and Arabic along the way. His immersion in Arabic, he later wrote, made it impossible for him "to adopt the routine Zionist stereotype that regarded the Arab nation with intellectual condescension". He was elected a Research Fellow in Persian Studies at Pembroke College, Cambridge.
He represented his country at the United Nations from 1948 to 1959, in Washington as Ambassador from 1950 to 1959, and served as Israel's Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1966 to 1974.
He is survived by his wife, and by their son and daughter.
Courtesy of the Los Angeles Daily News (17 November); article by Susan Abram
(ZNDA: Los Angeles) Within the peaceful walls of a Burbank church banquet hall, the soft murmurs of a language spoken by Jesus and his disciples can still be heard.
And in a church classroom in Tarzana, the scene is the same. Children
memorize prayers and train the muscles of their tongues to learn the
language spoken by their forefathers.
"My grandfather translated a lot of books into Aramaic," said 25- year- old Tracy Grair, who drives from Camarillo each Monday night to take classes at Burbank's St. Ephraim Syrian Orthodox Church. "Learning the language helps me to understand who he was. It's a part of who I am."
Once the lingua franca of the Middle East, Aramaic thrives now within church walls of villages of Northern Iraq, Eastern Turkey and Syria, and also in the United States, where Assyrians, Chaldeans and Aramaens still use the language as part of their liturgy.
But scholars believe its very existence hangs by a fragile thread.
"I wouldn't say Aramaic is a dead language now, but it is in a precarious situation," said Yona Sabar, professor of Hebrew and Aramaic languages at the University of California, Los Angeles. "I think the chances of its survival are doomed."
Sabar points to several factors, including centuries of persecution of Middle Eastern Christians, which has forced speakers of Aramaic to scatter across the world.
In the Mideast, Aramaic-speaking villagers who move to big cities in search of better opportunities must learn to speak Arabic in order to survive, Sabar said.
Under Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein's regime, Assyrians, who speak a modern version of Aramaic, have been assimilated. Many have been forced to take on Arab surnames and are referred to as Christian Arabs, which they are not, Sabar said.
At one time, Assyrian priests were killed if they were caught copying Bibles written in Aramaic, said the Rev. George Bet Rasho of St. Mary's Assyrian Church of the East in Tarzana. Priests and deacons memorized the words and passed them down orally.
"Our people have been struggling so much to preserve our language, which is a part of our culture," Bet Rasho said. "Because we have no land, no real country of our own, we are losing the language. We have mixed in the languages of the regions where we have lived."
And yet, like hope, Aramaic lives on in some corners of the United States.
"Living in the West has helped us a lot," said Bet Rasho, who teaches Aramaic to children, some of whom he hopes become deacons and priests. "In church, we use books that are pure Aramaic and that have never been translated. And the Internet is a safe place for us. That is where we unite. The opportunities for us there have been great."
Indeed, for many of the students who attend the Rev. Joseph Tarzi's weekly classes in Burbank, learning Aramaic is like reuniting with ancestors.
The irony here is that despite the fact that many hail from all over the Middle East, such as Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Syria, for example, they have found themselves in Burbank, all Christians united in learning Aramaic.
"I like the language," said Souzan Mirza of Van Nuys. "My parents could not teach it to me when I was young. Now I have the chance. I'm proud of myself."
Despite the difficulty of relearning an alphabet, reading right to left and pronouncing words that the students joke is hard on the throat, many said they have found wisdom and pieces of themselves within the ancient words.
"We have a lot of valuable books we want to read and be able to understand," said Daniel Sengul of La Crescenta, who is from Turkey.
"It was a challenge to learn," said Liliana Khoury of West Hills. "The men in my family were the ones who learned it, so I am the first woman to learn it. I started learning this when I was 30."
NARSAI’S TASTE OF THE MEDITERRANEAN’ INAUGURAL BENEFIT DELIGHTS FOOD LOVERS AND FUND RAISERS
For Immediate Release
Gala Event Raises $150,000 For Assyrians in Northern Iraq
SAN FRANCISCO, November 15, 2002 – The Bay Area’s Assyrian community joined local dignitaries and socialites last Friday evening at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in San Francisco for the first-annual “Narsai’s Taste of the Mediterranean” charity dinner. Hosted by Bay Area culinary expert and KCBS food and wine editor Narsai David, the event raised over $150,000 on behalf of the Assyrian Aid Society, which supports needy Assyrians in their ancestral homeland of Northern Iraq. Proceeds will be used to construct a dormitory and youth center for university students in the ancient city of Erbil. David, an Assyrian American himself, commented “We exceeded our fundraising goal by 50 percent and hope next year’s dinner will raise even more money and awareness of Assyrian communities worldwide.”
Celebrity chefs and winemakers of Mediterranean descent in the spotlight. The event featured a sumptuous five-course dinner inspired by the cuisine of the Mediterranean region and prepared by an all-star lineup of top chefs, each of Mediterranean descent. Guests were treated to such dishes as Babaghanooj and Cucumber and Yogurt soup, courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton’s own award-winning Chef Jean Pierre-Dubray. Aqua’s acclaimed Michael Mina created a special Wellington of King Salmon. Chef Israel Aharoni journeyed from Tel Aviv to participate, serving Squab with Hudson Valley Foie Gras, provided by Michael Ginor of Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Haig Krikorian of Lalime’s and Fonda Solana in Berkeley contributed Rack of Lamb Assyrian. The final course, provided by Armand Shavaladian of Valentino Restaurant in Los Angeles, was a tribute to an ancient Assyrian queen and entitled “Shamiram’s Delight,” which was a twist on rum baba with cardamom ice cream.
San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown gives accolades. Flanked by a group of City officials, Mayor Willie Brown attended the festivities and gave a welcome address that included a letter from Assyrian-American Congressional Representative Anna Eshoo (D – Atherton), who was unable to attend due to Congress being in session. She wrote in part, “Thank you (Narsai David) for your unswerving pride and years of service to our people. We are all very proud of you and tonight is another chapter in rallying us to come together for our people.”
Entertainment. Assyrian American Sherene Melania, who studied with the San Francisco Ballet, was the evening’s soloist, performing “The Assyrian Water Dance.” There was also a special performance by the Presidio Children’s Dance Theater, who will be traveling with Mayor Willie Brown to St. Petersburg, Russia next year on a cultural exchange mission.
Live Auction. With items ranging from a San Francisco Giants Luxury Box for twelve and a Lake Tahoe Getaway for eight, the live auction alone took in over $60,000. The most popular item had guests vying for a chance to enjoy dinner for ten at the home of Venus and Narsai David. While one dinner was originally up for auction, the unique opportunity created a flurry of excitement, with the top bidder pledging $5,000. Explains David “Two additional bidders offered to match the $5,000 price, so with the blessing of my wife, we will be happy to host three dinners!”
Event Recap. “Narsai’s Taste of the Mediterranean” was held on Friday, November 15th at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, the City’s only five-star and three-diamond hotel. The event was hosted by Narsai David and chaired by Mona Malik and Lisa Mirza Grotts. Major event sponsors included The Ritz-Carlton, KCBS, Hanna Winery, San Jose Magazine, Joseph Schmidt Confections, Taylor Family Foundation, Miner Family Vineyards and Delta Airlines (partial list).
About the Assyrian Aid Society. The Assyrian Aid Society of America (AAS-A)
is a 501 (c) (3) dedicated to helping Assyrians in need, preserving Assyrian
culture and heritage, building a structure capable of responding to unexpected
crises that require immediate mobilization and focusing American and international
attention on the needs and humanitarian concerns of the Assyrian people.
For further information about the AAS-A and volunteer opportunities, please
call 510.527.9997 or visit www.assyrianaid.org.
AACF RADIO INTERVIEW WITH OZER AYDAN
In our radio program of November 7, 2002, you can listen to our interview with Mr Ozer Aydan, Consul of the Turkish Republic in Paris. This interview was conducted on Wednesday , October 30, 2002 by Antoine Yalap. The reportage is in Turkish, but you will find in the broadcast comments in Soureth and in French.
We went on Wednesday, October, 30, to the General Consulate of Turkey, situated in 184 Boulevard Malesherbes in Paris, for an interview with Mr Ozer Aydan, General Consul of the Turkish Republic in Paris, who welcomed us very warmly. The meeting, which lasted 35 minutes, began at 14:00. Ozer Aydan thanked the Assyro-Chaldean Voice for giving him an occasion to address the Assyro-Chaldean community established in France and in the Paris region. He began the interview by assuring us that the Assyro-Chaldeans were the most precious citizens for the Turkish authorities.
After introducing himself and giving some information on his 25 years of career spent in the service of Turkey in France, in Belgium, in Algeria, in the Lebanon and Africa, Mr Ozer Aydan answered our questions about the last laws voted in favour of the minorities.
Our first question concerned the new laws concerning the rights of minorities. The Consul wanted, first of all, to approach the explanation of the term “minority” before answering the question. He went back in 1923, at the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne. In this time, he said, the term minority was used to indicate the various monastic communities. The three minorities which benefited from this status within the framework of this treaty were the Armenians, Greeks and Jews. This constitutes the article 45 of the Treaty of Lausanne. The Treaty foresaw particular arrangements for the protection of these minorities.
Ozer Aydan dealt with the status of minority in the Turkish constitution too. Articles 10 and 24 foresee the protection of the rights of the minorities. He says Turkey places no distinction between its citizens due to differences of religion, language or race. The Consul reminded us that the Assyro-Chaldeans were not quoted as minority in the Treaty of Lausanne, but as members of non-Muslim minorities, they could benefit from the same rights as three official minorities. Ozer Aydan arrives at the conclusion that the Turkish constitution and the Treaty of Lausanne assure the protection of the religious minorities.
After this reminder, he brought us to the 60’s and said that the Assyro-Chaldeans of southeast Turkey had begun to emigrate to larger Turkish cities, as Istanbul, for economic reasons. This exodus lasted, according to the Consul, until mid 1970s. Some of them, he said, left for Europe.
In the 80’s, the exodus became intensified because of the emergence of the PKK and the terror in this part of the Turkish territory. A big part of the Assyro-Chaldean population thus ran away abroad.
Given that the problem of terrorism does not exist any more, Turkey operated certain number of reforms allowing the return of the Assyro-Chaldeans to their native lands. It was for this that Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit published a communiqué allowing the return of the Assyro-Chaldean.
Therefore, the Assyro-Chaldeans, known under various words in Turkey, can freely return to their abandoned villages in the past, and Turkey takes care to facilitate them their return. The Turkish citizens of Assyro-Chaldean origin returning on the Turkish grounds will benefit from the protection of Turkey, he indicated. The storm stopped, the sun returned. But what are the guarantees granted by the Turkish government, we asked him. You do not need guarantees, he assured us. You are Turkish citizens, with the same title that all the rest have. Your guarantees are the laws. Return to your lands. They belong to you. Nobody has the right to take them from you under the pretext that you have abandoned them for 20 or 30 years. The one who calls you treacherous is himself treacherous, and you can and you should raise a complaint against him.
We drew the attention of Ozer Aydan to the relations between the Assyro-Chaldeans political parties of the North of Iraq and Turkey and inaquired about the situation in Iraq.
He did not know about relations between the Assyro-Chaldeans and Ankara. On the other hand, he gave us his point of view on the situation in Iraq. As every diplomat, he prefers the question to be settled without a blood bath nor use of weapons. a lot of diplomatic work is required, he said.
We returned to the subject of the Assyro-Chaldean community implanted in the Paris region and we asked the Consul if the young people born in Turkey and who grew here and did not make their national service could return without any problem in Turkey. The question seemed to satisfy Ozer Aydan: Yes, he said, because you are Turkish citizens, even if you acquired the French nationality. To be free from problems in Turkey, it is necessary that the young people take steps to push away the national service until 38 years. Then, they will be able to make one month of military service, which qualifies as “holidays”. Besides, it will be necessary to release a 30,000 FF sum. The young people having made 10 months in France are exempted from it. The entrance to Turkey will be more complex if the person was involved had activities considered illegal by the Turkish laws.
How can the Turkey and the Assyro-Chaldean get closer? The consul knows the community very well. The various French authorities he interrogated assured him that the community was very well organised, hard-working and united. He read numerous works on the Assyro-Chaldean history. He asks the Association of the Assyro-Chaldean of France to erase the prejudices as which Turkey is the enemy of the community from the spirit of the young generations. The link can de done by different manners: a common association, cultural evenings, to which he would be invited, religious ceremonies, etc. … The women should play an essential role in this link.
The interview ended by the greetings of Ozer Aydan to the community. His last message was: “We are part of the same land, no difference exists among us. Our doors are open to all our citizens, and more particularly to our Assyro-Chaldean citizens.”
The General Consul of the Turkish Republic offered us two books on the Turkish history. We thank him for his reception.
[Z-info: Click on the VAC pages and then on "Radio Emission du 07.11.2002".]
Most of the Chaldeans of Val-d'Oise come from a few dozen villages of Turkey, where the government often allowed the same identity to all the inhabitants of the same village (Yalap, Diril, Yabas, Doman, Yaramis). Several exoduses occurred, notably after the Armenian Massacre, the Second World war and in the 1980s. They mostly came to the West where they were recognized with a status of political refugees. "At first”, tells Namham Adloun, president of the AACF (association of Assyro-Chaldéens of France), “the Chaldeans settled down in Seine-Saint-Denis, Clichy-sous-Bois. But many people then came to Teals, where it was easier to find a flat and to go to work in Paris with a transport."
Today, the Chaldeans have been in Val-d'Oise for two generations and more may be preparing to arrive. Of the 15,000 Chaldeans who live in Paris and the surrounding areas, at least 6 000 live in Val-d'Oise (Teals, Garges, Villiers-le-Bel) and a great many have chosen to become French citizens, having abandoned any hope of returning to their native country. In Teals, 60 percent own their own homes.
The community is welded, notably around family values. "Now, the Chaldeans have become a part of Teals and its political life,” insists Father Sabri.
[Z-Info : Val-d’Oise is one of France’s 96 metropolitan departments located in north-center with a population of a little over 1.1 million inhabitants. It is named after the river Oise, a tributary of Seine.]
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