OUR BOLDEST MOVE YET
Being the oldest Christian institution of its kind may give the Church of the East faithfuls a notion of strength and constancy, but does it guarantee them the survival of their beloved church well into the 21st century or even the next few decades? Christian churches in the West go through the same life and death cycle as businesses do - no matter how old or how large. The Church of the East, headquartered and administered outside of Bet-Nahrain, is certainly of no exception. They expand in size, take in millions of dollars and then as the customer-demand for "better service" changes, they become the dwarf stars that once shone brightly in the murky skies of human history. Eventually, they either collapse or are acquired (or shall we say merge with) the larger fish in the pond. The largest of these and now curiously interested in the future of the little guppies in the Middle East, is the Roman Catholic Church.
A corporation without a vision has no hope of surviving the cyclical nature of life in Europe, Australia, or America. Churches are no different. These non-for-profit organizations must also tailor to the needs of their faithfuls as do IBM, Coca Cola, and Toyota watch every aspiration, anxiety, and satisfaction of their customers via the shape of their marketing departments' demand curves. Our Eastern churches in the West are subject to the same rules of engagement.
Whether the pursuit of Vatican for "better Christological understanding" with the Syriac churches has a religious, political, or economic basis is not within the scope of this week's bold and courageous investigative report. But it is imperative to recognize that in the near future the Church of the East may find herself unavoidably moving towards an extraordinary re-unification of two Assyrian Churches, namely the Assyrian Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church. This move will bring the "Nestorians" closer to their historical adversaries - now cordial admirers - in the little Roman city called the Vatican.
This week Zinda Mgazine brings you the first of a three-part report on the current conditions of one of the greatest Christian Churches. Today the term Church of the East is often used to denote the branch of the East Syriac churches that follow the Gregorian Calendar. The "Ancient" Church of the East followers still use the Julian Calendar. The other East Syriac Church is the Chaldean Catholic Church that follows the Calendar of the Roman Catholic Church - also Gregorian. Until five hundred years ago all three Churches were part of the same Eastern Syriac Church or Syriac Orient as Vatican calls it. This was the Church of the East as the early Fathers of the Assyrian Christianity knew it.
Zinda Magazine expects a lively debate among the parishioners and Assyrian activists during and after the publication of this investigative report. This is our objective journalism at its best.
What is needed now is a new sense of "Assyrian citizenship"- that we should continuously hold our religious , political, and civic leaders accountable for their actions in spite of any hardship. No one and no action must be overlooked - be it that of the patriarchs of our churches or the leaders of our often-ineffective political groups.
The Assyrian Churches have survived the most unimaginable calamities ever experienced by any persecuted religious institution. We believe that with the help of the Assyrian people's vigorous and direct efforts in the next few years, we can guarantee the survival of Eastern Christianity and our unique Christian faith in the Middle East and abroad. Our daring attempt to uncover the truth this week and in the next two issues is a good starting point.
CHURCH OF THE EAST
My objective in writing this article is to document certain historical information about an Assyrian quarter in the capital city of Baghdad during the 20th century. This quarter was known as the Gailani Camp. We will review the religious, educational, commercial, cultural, social, and general conditions of the residents as they existed in the early fifties.
To those who experienced it, life in the Gailani Camp has some pleasant and some bitter memories. As we understand from a recent visitor, the present number of Assyrian families living in the camp is less than ten. The time will soon arrive when there will be no Assyrians left there. Since we are all temporary residents of this life, future generations of interested Assyrians will have this information to learn how their ancestors lived in the 20th century in that temporary home.
In 1920, the British forces decided to close down the Baquba camp near Baghdad where thousands of Assyrian refugees from Hakkiari (2) and Urmia (3) had found temporary refuge under their protection. They had lived in Baquba for about two years after they were forcibly expelled from their ancestral homeland in Turkey and Iran. During their two years there, tens of thousands died from disease and malnutrition suffered during their agonizing flight. When the hope of returning Assyrians to their original lands were dashed, the British forces closed down the camp.
At that time, the majority of Assyrian tribes from the Hakkiari Mountains were scattered in different villages in northern Iraq. A large number of able men from these tribes were drafted into the British-organized local army known as the Iraqi Levies (4).
Other Assyrians settled in different cities of Iraq such as Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul, Basrah, and Khanakin. The majority of Assyrians from Urmia were better educated and many had a good knowledge of the English language, which facilitated their employment with the British armed forces, the Oil Company and other commercial enterprises. A large number of Assyrian families, especially those from Urmia immigrated to the United States where they had relatives who facilitated their trip.
2. Gailani Camp
In those days Gailani camp was situated in the eastern section of the capital. Today, the city has expanded so much that Gailani may be considered one of the central neighborhoods. On the east it was bordered by the railroad tracks serving the Baghdad/Kirkuk line and on the west by Sheikh Umar Street, and a brick wall enclosing the Muslim cemetery known as Khazali which ran along the north side. Madfae Park, the site of a large elevated water storage tank, ran along the south side. A rich Arab family known as the Chorbachi owned the land housing this camp. Property was leased to the residents so they could build their homes. The name Gailani comes from the name of Sheikh Gailani mosque, a short distance north of the camp.
The first residents of this camp were Assyrian and Armenian refugees
from the Baquba camp. It should be noted that not all Assyrians from
Baquba settled in this camp. There were other small quarters where Assyrians
initially settled: Minas camp, where the majority of people from the
Gangachin village settled; Khatun camp; Hanaidi, the British military
base; Jilu camp, on the west side of the river Tigris which divides
the capital into two sections (Karkh the western half and Rasafa the
eastern half). The majority of the people in the Jilu camp worked for
the Iraqi railroad system. The Bishop of Jilu, Mar Sargis resided in
this camp. There were other families who settled in different neighborhoods
of the city.
The Church of Mart Mariam and Mar Kardagh was the first and oldest church in the camp. It was built of mud bricks in the twenties by Kasha Iskhaq Odishoo of Anhar, Urmia. Kasha Iskhaq was a graduate of the Russian Orthodox Missionary school in Urmia known as Mesia. He was an educated man and a great preacher. He was a poor priest but with a big heart willing to help his fellow Assyrians. His church services followed the doctrine of the Church of the East. However, the Metropolitan of the Church of the East did not recognize him. This was due to Kasha Iskhaq's claim that he was ordained a bishop in Jerusalem by the Jacobite church. The Church of the East does not allow married priests to be elevated to the rank of bishop.
An incident reminds me of Kasha Iskhaq's dedication and love for his people. Once a young Assyrian girl eloped with a young Arab. Her family was devastated. They claimed that she was tricked into this marriage. The family appealed to Kasha Iskhaq for help. He went straight to the Russian Embassy and in his fluent Russian convinced the ambassador that the girl was abducted and that he should help rescue her. Through the pressure of the Russian ambassador, the girl was returned to her family. Later, the entire family immigrated to the United States.
The Russian Orthodox Church was also built of mud bricks in the twenties. Its priest was Kasha Mooshie who later was ordained a bishop and renamed Mar Youkhanan. However, to Assyrians he was better known as Mamo (uncle). There were a few Russian families who lived outside the camp that attended his church. In the 1950's, the bishop immigrated to the United States to be close to his son in his final days.
The Church of the East, a small mud brick building, was also built in the twenties. Its priest was Kasha Polous Kelaita. In the late forties, a number of faithful collected money and built a new church and had Kasha Goriel Sulaiman installed as the priest. The new church was also called Mar Kardagh. For a while both churches operated. In due course, the old church was torn down, since all mud brick buildings were being demolished and replaced with new construction.
Former residents of the Gailani camp often repeat a funny story concerning Kasha Polous. One time His Grace Mar Yosip (5) was visiting the camp and he was having breakfast at the home of his host. Kasha Polous was also present. Unexpectedly, someone came in and announced that a young girl had died and they needed Kasha Polous to perform the burial services. Kasha Polous left and in less than an hour he was back at the house where the Metropolitan was staying. Mar Yosip asked Kasha Polous why he had returned so quickly, to which Kasha responded, Kassi, meete metina go idi. (My lord, those who are dead are dead in my hand).
The Presbyterian Church was better known by the name of its pastor, Kasha Khando Yonan of Tkhooma. The church was located outside the camp just on the other side of the Madfae Park. Kasha Khando had his church, school, and residence built on one parcel of land, and all in yellow baked bricks.
With the help of American missionaries, this church was originally established in 1922 as the Assyrian Evangelical Church outside the camp. Its original pastor was Kasha Pera Mirza (7) who also established an Assyrian national school that was affiliated with his church. Rabi Khando Younan was the principal of the school. In 1928 Kasha Pera left Baghdad for the United States to become the pastor of the Assyrian church in Gary, Indiana. Prior to his departure he ordained Rabi Khando Younan to take over the responsibility of both the church and the school. Kasha Khando was an educated pastor and well respected by the community in general.
The Chaldean Catholic Church was built by the Chaldean Church in the 1940's. There were about five Chaldean families in the camp but enough Assyrian Catholics that needed the church. They also had a primary school built right next to the church. Both buildings were of baked bricks. The first priest was Kasha Sahda of Thkooma.
The Baptist Church was the smallest of the churches and it had but a few members. It was commonly known among Assyrians as the Brothers Church. The minister was Brother Havel who later immigrated to the United States.
The Takaddum Primary School was the oldest, and it was commonly known as the Kasha Khando School. Kasha Pera Mirza originally established it with the financial assistance of the American missionaries. For a number of years it had nine classes, six primary grades and three intermediate classes. The curriculum included Assyrian language, bible studies, arithmetic, algebra, bookkeeping, English, science, Arabic and Persian languages. In 1935, the missionaries terminated their financial support and the school was left under the care of the church. In 1937 the school was changed to a primary school only, adhering to the programs used in the government public schools. Since it was a private school, it was able to continue teaching the Assyrian language and Bible studies. Everyone remembers Rabi Nanajan who used to teach both the Assyrian language and Bible studies. Kasha Khando passed away on October 10, 1950. Thereafter, the church elders leaned on Rabi Koorish Shlemon (8) to take over the administration of both the church and the school. He managed them both successfully until 1972 when he and his family immigrated to the United States. In 1973, the Iraqi government took over all private schools and thereafter did not allow the teaching of the Assyrian language.
The majority of students were from the camp. However, there were others students who lived in other parts of the city, especially the children of his congregation.
Catholic Nuns Primary School was associated with the Chaldean church and was run by nuns. The principal of the school was Ma Soeor Clara. The majority of the students were Assyrians from the camp. The school did accept non-Catholic students and a number of the teachers were Assyrian. Also in this school, the Assyrian language was part of the curriculum.
The Church School consisted of a single class, located in the church of Mart Maryam and Mar Kardagh. The class was conducted by the monk Theodorus, son of Kasha Iskhaq, better known as Teede. Theodorous had no formal education but had acquired a good knowledge of the Assyrian language from his father. Basically, he taught reading and writing of the Assyrian language to small children.
After graduation from the primary schools, the students attended either the American Presbyterian School better known by its dean's name, Dr. Calvin K Staudt, (9) or the American Catholic high school known as Baghdad College (10). There was also an American high school for girls near the camp but few Assyrian girls attended it. Other students attended night classes at Mashraq High School or Mahad El Elmi High School.
In those days, Assyrian students did not attend government schools. However, after the 1958 revolution that toppled the monarchy, the number of students increased dramatically in the government schools especially at the universities. Today, we see hundreds of Assyrian graduates in medicine, engineering, teaching, and other disciplines.
5. Health Care.
In Gailani camp there were no doctors or pharmacies. However, Baghdad had a large number of qualified medical doctors, dentists, hospitals, and pharmacies. Among these were three Assyrian doctors, Dr. Baba Parhad and his two sons, Dr. Malcom and Dr. Luther. In the camp there were two Assyrians who practiced dentistry. These two individuals had no formal education in dentistry; they were dental mechanics. Their practice was restricted to extractions, taking casts for false teeth, and fillings. One of these gentlemen was called Andrious, a very mild mannered individual who had a very kind hand and specialized in extractions only. The other was Babajan. In the late forties, Youel Babasi had his dental office just outside the camp.
There were other people who provided medical care. These people had no medical education and their practice was based on experience and home remedies. There was a well-known Armenian by the name of Kahraman who was an excellent bonesetter. Broken arms, hands, legs, were easily and successfully set by him. In the latter years, there was an Assyrian who did the same but did not match Kahraman's reputation. Then there was Khaltoo Manni who prepared a dark colored cream that did wonders for acne and other facial infections. She would not divulge her secret formula to anyone. Sabeke, a gentle old lady, also treated infected tonsils, boils, and other skin maladies with a variety of medicines prepared from herbs and other natural ingredients.
In the camp there were two bazaars. On the West Side of the camp and near the Sheikh Umar Street there was a market that opened daily until about noontime. This was basically a fruit and vegetable market with three or four shops that sold fresh meat and occasionally fresh fish. A few traders sold other food-related items necessary for the daily preparation of meals. In the summer time, a couple of the shops would remain open until late in the evening and these sold only melons. The majority of the traders were Arabs. However, in the latter years a few Assyrians opened stands to sell different items. I well remember David who was known by his nickname, Hawandoo, who would sell Kurdish cheese, which he brought from the northern areas of Iraq. Other Assyrian traders were Eshoo, Chalabi, Timothy, etc.
In the center of the camp, there was a street that had a number of shops that opened daily and sold a variety of household needs such as rice, sugar, tea, coffee, kerosene, cigarettes, cooking oil, etc. An Armenian named Aiwaz who did not speak Assyrian owned the larger corner store. His next door neighbor, Tatos the barber, spoke very good Assyrian with typical Armenian gender confusion. Assyrian merchants were Youkhanan Malham, Shmoel and his wife Bismat, Eramya and his son Eshaya, Narman the Taylor, and Ando the bicycle repairman. I remember that Eramya had a temper and would quickly blow up if the customer asked him any questions. Once my friend Youshia and I were at his store buying eggs. My friend remarked that the eggs were rather small. Eramya responded angrily, "tell your mother to lay you some bigger ones".
In addition to these there was an Armenian shoemaker and another who had a small auto repair shop. Polous Pera, father of the well-known Assyrian dressmaker, Rabi Panna, had a bakery in the camp. We also had a number of Jewish merchants who would come weekly to the camp loaded with bundles of fabric, going from home to home and announcing the variety of their fabrics. These Jews were originally from Urmia and spoke very good Assyrian. Occasionally, their questions would draw uncontrollable laughter from the Assyrian ladies. There was Ahrun who after lengthy haggling would ask the interested Assyrian lady buyer, "Khatee, kma yarde partinakh" (Sister, how many yards should I tear you?).
In the Sheikh Umar Street there were a number of Assyrian shop owners. Pera Sayad who did general repair of appliances, Shmoel of Ada had a welding shop, Shmoel Warda was an auto mechanic, Shimum Tiaraya who was married to a Russian woman had a blacksmith shop.
There were a number of businesses in the city outside the camp that were owned by Assyrians who lived in the camp and other quarters. Baba Daniel and his brother Yacoub owned a very modern watch shop, Matti Ganja owned a watch shop, Nikola Yonan and his brother Aghajan also had watch shops. There were two Assyrian photographers, Nikola and Peter (Petro) Youkhanan. Sargis Romanos owned a very modern liquor and dry goods store that catered to high society and to foreigners. Babajan Neesan had a kouba shop; the Srapion family owned a delicatessen near the Roxy cinema; Rabi Yacoub (11) and his sons, Emmanuel and William owned the world famous Bata shoes stores. Awrahim owned a pharmacy; Ivan Rustam owned a bakery, Yonathan Malik a fabric shop, Alexander Sarkis imported paints. Lira Eshoo and his cousin Soopar manufactured cigirates. Boudagh Marogil a taylor shop. Odisho Kasha Sahda manufactured soap. Richard Kelaita imported pharmaceutical drugs. There were also a number of Assyrian and Armenian women who were good dressmakers.
There were no banks in the camp but we had one Assyrian by the name of Badal Sodachi who dabbled in lending money. The nickname Sodachi was derived from the fact that he owned a soft drink bottling facility outside the camp. He certainly would have been a match for the best loan sharks in the United States. He would loan money at 10% interest per month, and deduct the first month of interest in advance when delivering the money to the borrower.
There was one Assyrian in the camp that considered himself a full-service entity. Mirza Chalabi was ready to fill many needs and he stated his capabilities in a hand painted sign on the wall of his house. In Arabic language, and in large letters, the sign read, "Tailor and Cook and Carpenter and Painter".
7. Social Activities.
In Gailani camp there was no social or athletic club to provide the necessary programs or activities. The Armenians had a club house called Karataran. The reason why Assyrians did not have a club is not due to lack of interest or capability of the community. It was due to the fact that the government would not grant a permit to Assyrians to have such an establishment. The trio (12) who produced the play formally applied for such a permit and used a number of well-placed government officials to facilitate the process, but the Ministry of the Interior finally denied it. After the fall of the monarchy, the government allowed Assyrains in Baghdad the right to have such facilities.
Occasionally, Moukhtar Daryawoosh Alexander would sponsor a dance party at the Urfali nightclub near the camp. Music and drinks were offered at these events. They were usually well attended. Assyrians love to drink, dance, socialize, and have a great time. These events offered them the opportunity to indulge in all of these.
Tickets were sold in advance for these events. Mr. Alexander provided the band and the bar and security at the door. Some profit was realized from these events, which deservedly went into Mr. Alexander's pocket. The trio who produced the play also sponsored a couple such events at Jawahiri Night Club.
In general people were happy with their social life. There were weddings some of which lasted three days. Unannounced and unscheduled family visits were always a source of fun and relaxation. Unexpected visitors from out of town were also common. People did not stay in hotels; they stayed with relatives and friends.
One person was always invited to most of the formal or family parties. That was Oshana Youel, the great Assyrian singer. Assyrians have had many good singers but few have come close to the level that Oshana occupied for many years in the heart of Assyrians. His voice and melodies are captivating. Oshana is now in Canada and the last time I heard him sing was in at the Habbaniya Reunion Party in Sydney, Australia.
There were many groups of young men and older men that associated with each other. The young mostly went to the cinema together or to a restaurant on the famous Abu Nawas Street facing the Tigris River where the famous Baghdad masgouf was prepared and sold. A few of these young men ventured discretely into other social activities. There was one group of older men who regularly gathered each evening drinking and having fun at one of the local bars. They were referred to as the Hizib El Botul, The Bottle Party.
During summer, it was very common in the evening for boys and girls to be walking up and down by the King Ghazi Park. While the people did not have the conveniences of today, they were happy and relaxed.
8. Cultural Activities.
In those days not only in Gailani Camp but also in the entire country, there were no magazines or newspapers in the Assyrian language. In Baghdad, Rabi Youkhanan Daniel of Baz had imported Assyrian printing letters from Mar Narsai press in India. He wrote and published instruction books used in Assyrian primary schools especially in Kasha Khando's school.
There were three Assyrian writers in the camp, Rovil Mokhatas (13), Mishael Lazar Essa (14), and Benyamin Gundilove (15). Until 1950 there were a couple of books published except for those of Rabi Youkhanan Daniel. Mr. Mokhatas published one book, Learned Akhikar, in 1948 that was printed in India. Mr. Essa had written many novels but none were published until 1950 when I published his first novel, and Mr. Gundilove who had authored a number of books but none had been published.
In the 1940's, three or four plays were produced in the camp for the enjoyment of Assyrians in Baghdad. The writers, directors, and majority of players were from the camp. This writer participated in two plays.
The Catholic Church produced one play for the purpose of raising funds. Rabi Youel Sargis (16), an educated man who was fluent in French, English, Arabic, Assyrian and Turkish, translated a historical play from the French. This play was also presented at Habbaniya in 1944.
The trio presented another play written by Mishael Lazar Essa. The play was very successful and it was also presented in the city of Kirkuk for the benefit of the Assyrian school. The unique distinction of this play was that it was presented at the King Faisal Hall, the Iraqi National Hall. Many of the elders in the camp opposed the three young men for taking such a bold step. Their rationale was that the government would not approve the presentation, but if it should approve it but turn into a flop, it would result in embarrassment to the community. To their surprise, the government approved the presentation, the hall was packed and the play was well received by all, including as well a good review in an Arabic newspaper.
Rabi Pana Polous Pera sponsored another play, which was directed by William Peera. The play was presented at the Roxy Cinema. A funny thing about this production occurred at the opening of the first scene, when Yosip Essa one of the actors carrying a sword appeared on the stage. Someone in the audience made a remark about Mr. Essa, and he jumped from the stage rushing toward the person who made the remark. There was a lot of confusion and commotion and it took almost an hour before everyone settled down and the play continued.
9. Civil Administration.
Communities such as Gailani camp had no local government as the central government provided all the police and other services. However, it was common practice that each community would have an elder appointed as the Moukhtar (17). This was not an elected office nor did the moukhtar receive any pay from the government. The primary duty of the moukhtar was to act as a witness to provide personal identification of individuals in his community when such a person had to appear in various government offices. Usually, the person who asked the moukhtar to accompany him to a government office would pay him a nominal fee for his services.
In the early years, the Assyrian moukhtar in the camp was Awraham of Spourghan, a respected man and one who was supportive of his people. After him came Rabi Polous, and later on Daryawoush Alexander. The Armenian moukhtar in the camp was Ibrahim.
10. Special Features
Two families in the camp deserve special mention. There was an Arab family that kept water buffaloes to supply milk to the residents of the camp. Daily, Naeema would go from house to house selling her fresh milk. She and her children spoke perfect Assyrian. Her son Jasim could not be distinguished from other Assyrian kids in the neighborhood. Whenever, her children got sick, Naeema would bring them to the church of Kasha Iskhaq and would pray for St. Mary to cure them.
The second family was that of an Assyrian lady who had married a Turk from Urmia. During the exodus of 1918, Saif-Allah (Assyrians pronounced it Saypulla) left his country and followed his wife to Baghdad. He basically fulfilled Christ's words; a man shall leave his parent and follow his wife. He used to have a bakery where lavash bread was made. His wife still retained her Christian religion and all of her children were baptized. They all spoke Assyrian in addition to the Turkish language of their father.
1. Information for this article has been gathered from
different sources: a. Personal knowledge as a resident of the camp for
ten years (1942-1952), b. Conversations and interviews with a number
of former residents of the camp, c. Articles in Assyrian magazines about
Assyrian personalities and events in Baghdad.
ASSYRIANS NOT REPRESENTED IN MEETING WITH CHENEY
(ZNDA: Washington D.C.) Assyrian political activists were utterly dismayed at the U.S State Department's decision in excluding the Assyrian political parties from participating at Saturday's meeting held in Washington where the Iraqi opposition group met with Vice President Cheney.
Representatives of six Iraqi opposition groups met conferred via video
link with Mr. Cheney regarding plans to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam
Hussein. They were joined by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and
met for 30 minutes in downtown Washington for the videoconference with
Cheney, who was vacationing at his home in Wyoming.
Iraqi opposition leaders attending the meeting included: Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement, Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi National Accord, Abdelaziz al Hakim of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Hoshyar Zebari of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress and Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
According to reliable sources to Zinda Magazine the State Department will include the Assyrians in the next round of talks. No specific dates were given as of press time. Mr. Yonadam Kanna, Secretary General of the Assyrian Democratic Movement is currently visiting the Assyrian-European communities. Mr. John Nimrod, Secretary General of the Assyrian Universal Alliance, has been in constant contact with the State Department demanding an explanation for the exclusion of Assyrians from last weekend's talks. The major Assyrian political parties are expected to hold preparatory meetings at the upcoming Assyrian National Convention in Detroit.
SUMERIAN STATUE FOUND IN IRAQ
The Biblical birthplace of Abraham, Ur today contains the remains of a mass of temples, including the ziggurat built during Ur-Namu's reign, palaces and royal tombs.
Ur-Nammu was the promulgator of the oldest code of law yet known, pre-dating biblical law by about five centuries. It describes the king as divinely appointed and establishing justice throughout the land.
Bzeikh is one of 25 archeological sites in Iraq where excavation and restoration works are under way, he said.
There are currently over 10,000 archeological sites in Iraq, most of which have yet to be uncovered. Before the UN embargo in force since August 1990 for invading Kuwait, Iraq hosted numerous foreign archaeological trips each year.
HANDS WEEPS OIL DURING SERVICE IN CANADA
(ZNDA: Toronto) Last week, 1500 parishioners at Jesus the King Melkite
Syriac Catholic church in nearby Thornhill, a suburban Syriac Catholic
church in Canada, believe they witnessed a sign from God - the oil that
weeps from the hands of Mirna Akhras Nazzour, 38, from Damascus, Syria.
As she neared the end of her story, Nazzour appeared to fall sick and witnesses said her hands started oozing an oily substance.
Many rushed the altar to be blessed and had to be held back by priests and parishioners acting as makeshift bodyguards.
Rev. Yousif Mansoor Abba, pastor of the Syriac Catholic church, said: "It is a sign for us to start believing in Jesus Christ. It is a time for us to renew our faith in humanity."
Many at the church said they believed the weeping hands were a divine message and that Nazzour, a mother of two, has healing powers.
Parishioners poured outside after the mass to be blessed. Elderly women, men and children broke down and wept as the woman made the sign of the crucifix on their foreheads.
Salah Kaspo, of Houston, Tex., said he flew to Canada to be with his nephew and witness the occurrence.
"It gives you goosebumps," said Kaspo. "People don't believe in many things after 9/11. But this gives us faith."
Nazzour says she first suffered a stigmata in 1982 and then again in 1984, 1987, 1990 and 2001, years in which the Greek and Catholic Easters coincide.
KINGDOM WOMEN TO WORSHIP SUMERIAN GODDESS OF BEER
(ZNDA: London) British beer lovers have enlisted the support of a Sumerian
goddess in their efforts to shake off the masculine image of their favourite
drink. Fed up with the drink's beer bellied image, the Campaign for
Real Ale (Camra) said on Tuesday it had adopted the goddess Ninkasi
- said to have created a recipe for beer 4,000 years ago - as patron
in a bid to attract more women to the pumps.
Ninkasi was worshipped by ancient Mesopotamians in around 3500 BC, and is thought to be one of the early brewers of beer. She was worshipped by both men and women at a time when ale was made and served exclusively by women.
Camra decided to adopt the cult after its research revealed that less than a quarter of British women had tried real cask ale in a pub, Benner said.
Almost a fifth of women polled by Camra said they thought it was an old-fashioned drink, while a third believed it was "unfeminine".
"Brewers need to present beer in a more original and modern way if they are going to build a following with women," Benner said in a statement. "It needs to be a little less Inspector Morse."
To tempt female taste buds, the society is launching a range of 10 "female friendly" ales at its Great British Beer Festival in London this week.
While none is brewed to the recipe used by Ninkasi, Benner said the 10 beers on offer demonstrated the wide variety available.
He added that women would also not be expected to drink the beer in the same way as ancient Sumerian women - from bulky clay jugs through lengthy drinking straws.
The annual Great British Beer Festival is on at London's Olympia this week. Some 45,000 beer lovers are expected to attend.
(ZNDA: New Britain) Luba Godja, a resident of New Britain, died Saturday. She was 66.
A native of Iran, she had lived in New Britain for most of her life. She was a member of the South Congregational-First Baptist Church and the Assyrian National Association Club and had worked at Fafnir Bearing Co. for many years.
She is survived by a brother, Homer Godje of California; a sister and brother-in-law, Lideh and Joseph Yousefzadeh of New Britain; three nieces; five nephews; and several great-nieces and great- nephews.
A funeral service will be Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the New Britain Memorial/Sagarino Funeral Home, 444 Farmington Ave., New Britain, followed by a Mass at 10 a.m. at the South Congregational-First Baptist Church. Burial will be in Fairview Cemetery. Mourners are invited to a luncheon and fellowship meeting after the funeral service.
Donations may be made to the South Congregational-First Baptist Church, 90 Main St., New Britain, or to the American Cancer Society, 538 Preston Ave., Meriden, CT 06050.
ISSUE OF HUGOYE: JOURNAL OF SYRIAC STUDIES
One conference report is given on the Syriac papers presented at the
last meeting of the North American Patristics Society by Kristian Heal,
followed by conference announcements.
FR. BETH YADEGAR TO DISCUSS HIS MISSION IN GEORGIA
The Assyrian Chaldean Catholic Mission in Georgia presented by Fr. Benyamin Beth Yadegar of Mar Addai and Mar Mari Assyrian Chaldean Catholic Church
Sunday, 18 August 2002
-Learn about our brothers and sisters living in the Republic of Georgia
For more information, call Denis Gewargis at 408-489-0970 or Yolanda Bebla at 408-269-1242
Chaldean Catholic Mission in Georgia
HONOR ASSYRIAN STUDENTS AT THE NISIBIN AWARDS
The Assyrian American Association of San Jose invites you to attend the Nisibin Awards Ceremony to be held on 29 September at the Starlite Banquet Hall (Hallway of the Church of the East) in San Jose, California (680 Minnesota Avenue). The event will begin at 6:30 PM and is open to public.
For more information please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
A GREAT MESSAGE FROM A GREAT ASSYRIAN MAN
Farid Nuz'ha was born in December 10, 1895 in Hama in Syria, of a noble family from Harboot (Turkey who had migrated to Syria in 1760. He has been surnamed as Nuz'ha after his grand mother. In summer of year 1911, while just a teenager of 17 year he migrated to Argentina and lived in Buenos Aires until he passed away in 1971 (date is unconfirmed). As soon as he arrived in Buenos Aires, he became active in the Syriac community. This eventually led to the establishment of the nationalist, literary, cultural and social association of the Assyrian Afremian Club (Centro Afremico Asirio) in August 1934. In the same year, the club published the first issue of magazine Al Jamia'ah Al Syryaniya (Asociacion Asiria or The Syriac League), a monthly first appearing in Arabic, but later added the Syriac and Spanish languages. Nuz'ha was its Editor of this publication. According to the Club's archives, its objectives were to foster and promote a positive approach on nationalism, to organize cultural and educational seminars, to assist in the revival of Syriac sciences and literatures, and to generally expand knowledge the noble Syriac language. We have no clear and specific chronicle of the magazine, but we believe that it continued publishing until Nuz'ha passed away. The magazine and its editor passed through many difficult periods and crisis. These of course affected Nuz'ha in his personal life, but they were also significant in a broader sense.
In early time of his nationalistic activities, he started attacking denominationalism and disclosing the corruption of the high range of clergies and their overlooking of the national, social and cultural activities. Without leniency, he openly declared war through his magazine's pages against the high clergies and he severely clashed with H.H. Mar Ephrem I Barsoum (1877-1957) the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church(*). He described him in his paper as "The false Sheppard" or "The despotic pontiff who trifle with the nation's dignity and fortune" or " conductor of plots" and so on. Consequently, this led to the excommunication of Farid Nuz'ha by the Patriarch. This action strongly affected him and as a result he started reacting intensively and furiously against the Patriarch and clergies without accepting any compromises offered by his friends and relatives, such as presenting an apology to the Patriarch, that could solve the disputes between both of them and lifting the excommunication, which was considered to Nuz'ha as a honor medal. The rupture of relations and disputes continued until the Patriarch passed away in 1957 and was replaced by H.H. Mar Yacoub III (1912-1980). Undocumented information tells us that the new Patriarch lifted excommunication on Nuz'ha and as a result, his relation with the church and clergies became more stable and quiet, which was clearly reflected on the pages of his magazine, which lately became solely a social and literature publication with much less enthusiasm on nationalistic issues.
Nuz'ha was a real brave and great Assyrian man and at the same time a victim of denominationalism and negligence, he is an ideal example of nationalist's dilemma of past and present situation of the Assyrian society. Denominationally, the man was a follower of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Nationalistically, he was a stubborn militant and a faithful Assyrian to his nation. His dilemma was that neither his denomination accepted him nor the nationalist recognized him. Regrettably to say that most Assyrians, including those who are involved in nationalist issues, in particular among Nestorians and Chaldeans denominations, heard about his name or his nationalist ideas and activities. Although he was contemporaneous with Na'aom Fayiq and David Perley and in good contact and friendship with them, they were all from the same denomination, but these two nationalists, their names and activities, were well known by the Nestorians and Cheldeans Assyrians than Nuz'ha. The reasons could be that Nuz'ha was living and activating in a nearly isolated and exclusive Syriac Orthodox community in Argentina and publishing his magazine and nationalist articles in Arabic, which was an unspeakable language for the most American Assyrians. However, we should consider his sever criticisms to the church & clergies and the excommunication imposed upon him by the Patriarch also as another reason for neglecting him and avoiding his name or nationalistic inheritance.
Comparatively, Nuz'ha was better known among Middle Eastern Assyrians. His magazine was widely circulated among Syriac communities in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. Through a separated study, (See my book: Na'aom Fayiq, the Master of the unification Thought, Sargon publishing house, Sweden, 2000) I reached to conclusion that Nuzha's nationalist ideas were the basic ideology for establishing the Assyrian Democratic Organization (Mtakasta) in summer 1957. Two Malfanos; Hana Abidlaki, the founder of the Syriac school in Qamishli, and Shukri Charmokli the teacher of Syriac language in the same school, they were the representatives of the Syriac League magazine in Syria and circulators of Nuz'ha's nationalist ideas among young generation, can be considered real fathers of Mtakasta. On the same scale, with regard to the Assyrian Democratic Movement (Zowaa), Nuz'ha is the pioneer of the contemporary Assyrian nationalism. They considered him as the most courageous nationalist journalist, and there are many article and researches written on him during the 150 anniversary celebrations of the Assyrian journalism and published in Zowaa's publications.
Farid Nuz'ha was an extensive nationalistic writer and a distinguished Assyrian journalist. Although he used a formulated name for his nation such as (The Syriac nation of Assyrian, Aramean and Chaldean), was commonly using Syriac or Syrian (Al Syryan). He was so board-minded to include all historic names of his nation without distinguishes, but for some nationalist and political reasons he frequently used Sryiac or Syrian (Al Syryan) to refer to and include all other names, at the same time, he was so aware and historically and linguistically erudite to trace that name to Assyrian. In 1998 when I published my book, (Political Phobia in Assyrian Society) I referred to the phenomenon of inferiority complex of some Assyrians, disgraceful submission to the despotic ruler and their phobia of Assyrian name. I thought I was the first one who is referring to this phenomenon. But eventually it seems I was wrong after reading many issues of the Syriac League magazine and found out that more than six decades ago Nuz'ha dealt with this problem in one of his most interesting article published in issue no. 2, year 5,of February 1939, P 10. This article was written as a reply message to letter sent to him by a well-known writer in Mosul, north of Iraq and a follower of the Syriac Orthodox Church, in which he "politely" opposed Nuzha nationalistic idea on Assyrians. The following is a quote from the original Arabic copy of the article:
This was written more than six decades ago and it seems as if it was written today tackling the same problems, which are facing Assyrians, such as Arabization, submission to the dictatorial regimes and phobia of declaring the real nationalist belonging. Moreover, I can assure that Nuz'ha was a futuristic and periscopic viewer of the nation's crisis, particularly when he affirmed that at a time future generations would designate a commemorative day for those Assyrians who sacrificed their live in Semil in 1933. In such a case, would I be wrong if I were to say, that the Assyrian Martyr Day of August 7 was initiated by Farid Nuz'ah? Probably not, because David Perely, was an "ideological" friend of Nuz'ha and a founder of Assyrian American National Federation (AANF) and this organization played an essential role in preparing and establishing the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA) and it was, and still it is, the largest affiliated organization of AUA who officially declared August 7 as an Assyrian Martyr Day. Unfortunately, due to unavailability of documents and untraceable history I cannot confirm that.
Oh my God Did I not say earlier that Farid Nuz'ha is a great Assyrian man and deserve the greatest respect by bending our heads when his name is mentioned, or by studying his career, editing & investigating his nationalist inheritance, reprinting and translating his honorable magazine to be available for those who are in need for nationalistic lessons so that they can understand the past and present crisis of our nation.
The nation who does not respect or commemorate its great men does not deserve life.
GENOCIDE IN MESOPOTAMIA
On 2 August Ms. Suzy Davis, Deputy Secretary General of the Assyrian Universal Alliance offered the moving presentation stated below in its entirety. Her presentation was made at the New South Wales Local Government Association where earlier in July the Assyrian Genocide was officially recognized by the government officials. Local Government Association represents the municipalities across NSW and it is the first level of governmental authority in Australia.
After Ms Suzy Davis' well-researched presentation the Mayor of North Sydney put a motion forward to the effect that the NSW Local Government Association submit a proposal to the Australian Local Government Association to recognize the Assyrian genocide across Australia. Furthermore, the President of the Executive of the Council suggested that the Local Government Association to write to the Premier of the State of NSW and the Prime Minister of Australia to urge them to recognize the Assyrian Genocide.
Bravo to the Ms. Suzy Davis, Major of Fairfield, Councillor Anwar Khosaba; Mr Hermiz Shahen of the Assyrian Universal Alliance, Mr. David M. David, Mr. Shmouel Shalalo, Mr. Racho Donef and finally the Assyrian community in Sydney that has achieved so much in so little time.
* * * * *
When history speaks about a massacre or a genocidal crime against a nation, it speaks about one specific tragic event causing the death of thousands or hundreds of thousands of their people. When the subject is the Assyrians, history speaks about hundreds of such massacres and genocides throughout the last 2500 years.
Since the collapse of the Assyrian Empire in 612 BC, colonisation of their lands by various powers has been a common occurrence, with each wave of such colonisation causing more land losses, more human losses and more tragedies for the Assyrians.
However, it was the dominance of the Ottomans Empire from the Fifteenth Century to the first part of the twentieth century, which completely reshaped the destiny of the Assyrian people. Those few millions who had withstood the melting process of the millennia, and had remained homogeneous in their ancestral homeland, became the victims of one of the worst Assyrian genocides in the early part of the 20th century.
In 1842 Assyrians living in the mountains of Hakkari faced a massive attack, which resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Christian Assyrians.
1895-1896, witnessed the Assyrian massacres in Diyarbakir, Hasankeyef, Sivas and other parts of Anatolia, by Sultan Abdul Hamid II. These attacks caused the death of over 55,000 Assyrians and the forced Ottomanisation of a further 100,000 Assyrians - the inhabitants of 245 villages. A further 100,000 Assyrian women and children were forced into Turkish harems. The Turkish troops looted the remains of the Assyrian settlements. Assyrians were raped, tortured and murdered.
Although, as noted, in the nineteenth century several massacres against Assyrians took place none matched the brutality of the genocide of 1915. In 1911, the Young Turk "Committee for Unity and Progress" declared its goal to "Turkify" all Ottoman subjects. This implementation of the Pan-Turkic program and ideology can be described as the "Dark Period" of ethnic and religious "cleansing" of the Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. According to admissions by the Ottoman Home Office Minister, the Young Turks' Committee and the Ottoman leaders, Enver, Talat and Jamal Pashas, the pretext of war was to be used to justify the Turkish drive towards ethnic cleansing, without fear of international condemnation and political reprisals. Consequently, the systematic extermination of the Assyrian people, which continues to this day, has caused the population in that region, previously numbering millions, to diminish to a mere few thousand. These few Assyrians today fight to remain free in their traditional homeland.
Persecution of the Assyrians on the Ottoman territory began as early as August 1914, reaching its first high point between January and April 1915. According to the German academic, Dr Gabriele Yonan it was several months before the start of the actual deportations from the Armenian provinces where Assyrian also resided. The Assyrian genocide was therefore the first genocide of the 20th century.
Prior to WWI Assyrians lived as one nation numbering millions and inhabiting about 750 villages across the Taurus mountains, Tur Abdin, Hakkari, Botan and Tigris areas. Assyrians also lived in the larger towns of Urhai, Diyarbakir, Mardin, Mosul Baghdad, Aleppo and Damascus.
When Turkey entered the war in November 1914, the Assyrians were filled with hope. Those that lived in Turkish Mesopotamia and Persia thought that liberation was imminent. It was a time of promises for an independent statehood in the sacred soil of their ancestors. To that end, Assyrians subjected to hundreds of years of continuous persecution and massacres, sided with the allies for protection, first with the Russians from May 1915 to October 1917, then with the British forces following the Bolshevik Revolution. Instead of liberation they were subjected to the genocide of their people, and the loss of more than two-thirds of their then estimated 1.5 million population.
Documents, historical materials and diaries of eye witness accounts convey of the bludgeoning of little children with stones, dismembered bodies of women and girls who refused to be raped, the beheading of men, those who refused to convert to Islam and the burning and skinning alive of priests, nuns and deacons.
In September 1914, the Baku newspaper reported the fiery destruction of some 30 Assyrian villages and the death of over 200 Assyrians who were burned alive.
In Tur-Abdin 12,000 Ottoman soldiers, looted the village of Aynvardo and killed all its inhabitants. The attack resulted in a struggle lasting 2 months and 6 days as the Assyrians fought back in defence.
Reports about the attack on Midyat tell of blood pouring down from the roof gutters of every house.
In Seyrd Assyrians were rounded up like cattle and made to march
for days in the harsh climate. Women, children and the elderly,
were subjected to beatings, rapes and constant abuse. Those that
became too weak to walk were killed.
Eyewitnesses from the villages of the Tkhuma region tell of the
brutal killings of Assyrians by the Turkish swords and the finding
of killed loved ones along the way as they attempted to escape the
swords and daggers.
Diyarbakir reports tell of piercing of priests' noses with rings used to be dragged chains in streets, the slashing of pregnant women wombs, the throwing of babies against walls and of women committing suicide so as to avoid brutal rapes by the soldiers. Properties and lands were confiscated and even graves were upturned.
Eye witness accounts about the Assyrian genocide are voluminous but restriction of time permits me to only provide selected examples to demonstrate the terrific and horrific ways by which the Ottoman soldiers attacked, killed and destroyed Assyrians. No mercy was spared on women children or the elderly. Killings of the clergy and community leaders were carried out publicly to instill fear and weakness into the Assyrian community before their slaughter, their forced conversion or their forced deportation from their ancestral homelands.
By October 1914, the daily number of refugees to Urmia and regions of Iran had begun. Ironically there was a very strong Turkish force presence in Urmia. Assyrians relying on the presence of the Russian troops in the same region took the unavoidable risk, only to soon learn of the sudden withdrawal of the Russian troops. Pleadings by, and on behalf of, Assyrians to the Russians for help went unanswered.
The result was the continued demolition of Assyrian settlements and further reports of murder of men women and children. Several hundred thousand Assyrian women and children took the desperate journey on the snowy mountains, which lasted a month. Countless numbers failed to get through.
Those Assyrians who were still alive began a long journey from Urmia to Russia. It is reported that 40,000 Assyrians were riddled with famine and disease and the constant sight of dead and dying refugees along the way.
The start of the Russian revolution in 1917 lead to the disintegration and the withdrawal of the Russian army and the Turkish preparation for the taking of Azarbaijan. More Turks went to Urmia to exterminate more Christians, among them Assyrians. Assyrians had to leave again and this time to Hamadan. Along the way attacks and death continued. That journey records 50,000 people dead.
Despite the loss of more than two thirds of their population between 1914 and 1918 this dark event in Assyrian history has been inadequately termed as the "genocide of the Armenians." This is partly because the historical writings and the strands of journalistic and academic evidence about the Assyrian genocide have been ignored.
One of the most important documents is the work of the British Secretary for Foreign Affairs, James Bryce, who in his book The Treatment of the Armenians and the Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire (London 1916) includes 21 documents substantiating the crimes committed against the Assyrians as well as eye witness accounts of the genocide in Turkey and Persia during WW1. This was despite the fact that Bryce's assistant Arnold Toynbee, who compiled the documents, failed to include more than 100 pages of detailed reports on the Assyrians as well as documents presented to the Paris Peace Conference (1920).
A very significant number of documents exist in the German material archives relating to the Assyrian genocide which have hitherto remained unpublished even though Johannes Lepsius (the German theologian, missionary and founder of the German Mission to the Orient) had at his disposal all these documents, could have he chose to ignore Assyrians, making his focal point the Armenians, when he produced two publications containing material about the political links between Imperial Germany and the extermination policy of the Young Turks. Despite his neglect of a proper consideration of the Assyrian massacres Lepsius' reporting and documentation are adequate enough to support that Assyrians among Armenians suffered the same fate.
Further evidence of the Assyrian genocide is found in the writings including letters reports and dairy entries of the American Committee of Armenian and Syrian Relief (ACASR), a committee created in the wake of the news from the American missionaries who worked among the Assyrians in Northwest Persia.
Although Fridjof Nansen, High Commissioner for Refugees for the League of Nations, failed to mention the Assyrian tragedy in his well known book (A People Deceived - a Study Trip through Georgia and Armenia), his successor, John H Simpson in his extensive report on refugees (The Refugee Problem: A Report of a Survey, London 1939) devoted chapter IV of his report to the Assyrian refugees.
There are other documents and articles published during and following the First World War. Then there are the writings of the Archbishop of Canterbury whose mission it was to instill a sense of political responsibility in the consciousness of the English public regarding the Assyrian tragedy. Similarly Lord Curzon presented the Assyrian question to the British Parliament and to the Press, in a serious effort to ensure that Assyrian representatives would be admitted to the Paris Peace Conference.
There are also a number of books published by Assyrian writers in English and French which contain personal reports by eye witnesses (see inter alia J. Naayem, Paris 1920; Y.H. Shabaz, Philadelphia 1918; P. Shimmon, London 1916; Surma d' Bet Mar Shimun, London 1920; A. Yohannan, London 1916).
It is also important to mention the writings by the German Lutheran mission from Hermannsburg, as well as other small German aid societies, which had contact with the Assyrians between the turn of the century and First World War. These hitherto missing document have now been discovered in the archives of the Hermannsburg mission.
An Assyrian war diary discovered in Tehran in 1964 contains very detailed reports on the regional events in the Hakkari Highlands and the border of Turkey and Persia. Some parts of this diary have been used as a source for the book by Rudolf Macuch (History of Late and Modern Syriac Literature- Berlin, 1976). However, despite its title, its significance lies more on the subject of the Assyrian suffering during the First World War in the specific regions.
In the national archives of the United Kingdom, France and the U.S.A., there is a plethora of documents related to the genocide against Assyrians. The Diplomatic French archives alone include 45 volumes on the Assyro-Chaldean question from 1915 to 1940.
In addition to the above mentioned sources there are countless documentary material in the state archives of the former Soviet Union which until recently had remained inaccessible.
While such indisputable evidence does exist, academics and historians have only in the last two decades or so, undertaken research to write about the Assyrian genocide, and until the seminal book by Dr Gabriele Yonan, entitled "The Forgotten Holocaust", no systematic research was carried out. Assyrians being subjected to more massacres and genocides in the aftermath of WWI, and being stateless (unlike the Armenians and the Greeks), have not been able to conduct such extensive research themselves nor to lobby effectively for the acknowledgment and recognition of their genocide.
In the aftermath of the war, the Treaty of Sevres, signed by the allies in August 1920 and which granted some protection to the Assyrians was never ratified. Subsequently, the Treaty of Lausanne signed in July 1923, gave recognition to the nascent Turkish Republic, provided for some protection of minority rights but with no specific reference to the Assyrians.
By now the Mountains of Hakkari and all other towns and villages , the Assyrians had lived in for thousands of years were denuded of all Assyrian remnants. Left with no other alternative, Assyrians followed the British troops to Mesopotamia, only to realise by December 1925, that the League of Nations allocated the Province of Mosul to the new Iraqi Kingdom of Iraq. The British mandate was lifted in October 1932 and Iraq became independent.
With no effective guarantees for the protection of their rights, extermination followed. 7 August 1933 was the beginning of a systematic effort of the Iraqi authorities aiming to destroy this nation, be it by massacre, by forceful displacement from their ancient and only remaining homeland, by political assassinations, by genocide of the Assyrian identity, and its cultural and linguistic heritage. After all, Assyrians are the erectors of that great civilisation, and the most legitimate claimants for autonomy and land.
Allow me to read one account which described the Simile massacre in the book titled "The Assyrian Tragedy":
" The inoffensive population was indiscriminately massacred, with rifle revolver and machine gunfire. In one room alone eighty one men were barbarously massacred priests were tortured and their bodies mutilated. Those who showed their Iraqi Nationality papers were the first to be shot. Girls were raped and women made to march naked before the Arab army commander. Holy Books were used as fuel for burning girls. Children were run over by military cars. Pregnant women were bayoneted. Children were flung to the air and pierced on the points of bayonets. Those that survived in other villages were now exposed to constant raids Forced conversion of men and women was the next process. Refusal was met with death. Sixty five out of ninety five Assyrian villages and settlements were either sacked, destroyed or burnt to the ground."
The Simile massacre was the price paid for the neglect of the Assyrian question following the genocide of the Assyrians during WWI. The present persecution and forced displacement of Assyrians by the Iraqi regime is the result of the continuing apathy of the international community towards the Assyrian question and the neglect of the genocide of Assyrians. So is the fact that whereas the Assyrian population in Turkey previously numbering millions has now diminished to a mere few thousand. So is the fact that Assyrians in the last few decades have increasingly sought refuge to the west and who today live predominantly in the Diaspora.
The international decree should not be to eliminate Assyrians from history. They should not be considered as a people who disappeared off the face of the earth at the time of the collapse of their empire. They are the original people of Mesopotamia and the legitimate remnants of the first recognised and documented civilisation that was responsible for the development of almost every initial component of the modern civilisation. Assyrians were also among the first people to adopt Christianity, to build the early churches and to go onto missions to Asia.
As a consequence of actions taken by powerful oppressors such as the Ottoman Turks and the Iraqi regimes, with their intention of race purification, Assyrians today have been forced to live as stateless people in the Diaspora. Assyrians hope that countries such as Turkey harbouring such a past will be compelled to evaluate their past with objectivity and humanitarianism so that future evils may be forestalled. The continuation of Turkey's denial demonstrated by the construction of the mausoleum in Ankara in honour of the principal architect of the genocide Talat Pasha, however, requires Assyrians to appeal to the world to treat this as an international question. It is the moral responsibility of the international community to recognise this historical injustice.
On 17 April 1997 the Parliament of NSW passed an historic motion
condemning the Armenian genocide, which commenced in 1915. To acknowledge
such an evil act was a sacred decision, not only in commemorating
the lives of the Armenians who perished in that same genocide but
also to increase human awareness of the lasting effects that such
tragedies cause upon the lives of the generations that follow.
RABBIE ISSA GOES TO WASHINGTON
During the Smithsonian Folklife Festival for 2002 called "The Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust," Assyrian culture received unprecedented attention (click here). The two week event is estimated to have drawn 1.3 million people to the Mall in Washington, DC.
Conceived by the Silk Road Project initiated by Yo Yo Ma, the focus of this event opened the door for the participation of Assyrians, thanks to the inclusion of an Assyrian in the initial planning of the project in the summer of 1999, and the appreciation of Assyrian contributions on the Silk Road by Drs. Richard Kurin and Richard Kennedy of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and Professor Theodore Levin of the Silk Road Project and Dartmouth College.
From 26 June to 7 July 2002, many who flocked to observe and participate in the re imagining of the Silk Road had the unusual opportunity to catch site of a dignified man sitting at a table writing in the Assyrian language he first learned at his home in Urmia. Behind him, on reed walls created by Rajeev Sethi Scenographers for the atmosphere of the Paper Garden in the Silk Road, hung a dozen or so of the examples of his calligraphy. This man was Rabi Issa Benyamin.
This was the first time I met Rabi Issa. I had invited him to consider participating in the Festival through his daughter Ramica on the advice of Tony Khoshaba, of Illinois. When he consented to be present for the two weeks, I warned Ramika that Washington would be hot and muggy, that he would have to deal with members of the public asking many questions and that it would be tiring. The Benyamin family rallied and made plans for Ramica (Mrs. Benny Taimoorazi) to accompany her father during the first week and her brother Ramsin, the second week. And so it happened.
But none of us had expected the interest that the calligraphy,
the poster, and the books and catalogue would generate. Sitting
under a tent that held displays of Chinese, Uighur and Ottoman
calligraphy and accomplished calligraphers, Rabi Issa "did
the Assyrians proud." He patiently answered questions, discussed
his art, and from the first day, began to write names in Assyrian
for men and women, boys and girls, sweethearts with names together
on the same page, American names, African names, Chinese names
and Indian names. He wrote over 2000 names. His admirers stood
in line their eyes glued to the carefully moving hand as he created
the letters for a hundred or so Megans , Sarahs and Davids, in
addition to some far more exotic names. Each person would print
his or her name on a piece of paper with pencils that Rabi Issa
kept sharpened with his pen knife. Children just learning to write
would labor over their
His daughter and son helped with the explanations, as did a sympathetic
Armenian relative from the Washington area, Dr. Thomasian. Mme.
Clara, his wife kept Rabi Issa supplied with water, and the occasional
chicken kabob from the Chinese vendors on the Silk Road. In temperatures
that approached 107 degrees Fahrenheit, Rabi Issa continued to
write. In between he greeted and talked to the several dozen Assyrians
who appeared at his table, attracted by the unusual presence of
Assyrian culture. Some came after having attended the second Assyrian
cultural component of the Folklife Festival, a group of eleven
people from Qamishly, Syria who sang in both the eastern and western
dialect of our vernacular language, always beginning with the
classical Syriac, The Lord's Prayer. The Smithsonian generously
underwrote the costs of the travel and lodging of this entire
group, while the sponsor for the calligraphy came from
If breaking out of our cultural ghetto to let the larger world
appreciate our culture is to be accomplished, then we need a champion
like a 76 year old man of dignity, culture and talent to
[For a complete coverage of this event please refer to the upcoming issue of the Assyrian Star magazine. The example of Rabbie Benyamin's work portrayed here is courtesy of CalligRam. To view more of Rabbie Benyamin's work visit: http://www.calligram.com/Gallery/gallery.html ]
"You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world." Packed with only these words and a solid faith in God almighty, we began our pilgrimage to Toronto. Our aim was to participate in the World Youth Day activities representing Assyrians not only from the tri-city area of Toronto, Hamilton, and London but of Canada as a whole, no matter what the religious affiliation. We were on our way to join members from 150 other nations ranging from Australia to Zimbabwe on this historic day.
Friday was a very humid and sunny day at Exhibition Place area situated near downtown Toronto. Along the way, lost in a sea of of pilgrims, we caught glimpses of the vast magnitude of participants in the area. The scene unfolding before us was mesmerizing. We heard chants by various groups, saw streetcars over-filled with jubilant youth, noted numerous flags flown out of cars and held aloft on the hot afternoon breeze by other groups walking along the streets of downtown Toronto. This was definitely a site to remember.
After spending some time on the Exhibition Place grounds, we raced alongside hordes of vehicles across the city so that we might take our place on University Avenue in the heart of downtown Toronto. This is where we would attend the "Way of the Cross" ceremony. The "Way of the Cross" is a reinactment of the stages that Jesus Christ went through on his way to Calvary where He would be crucified and die on the cross. There are 14 stations at which Christians move from station to station praying and reading a particular passage from the scriptures at each of the stations. The World Youth Day Way of the Cross event would be taking place Friday night at 7:30 pm on July 26th 2002.
An Ancient Christian Tradition
From the beginning of Christianity, Christians have gone to Jerusalem to follow the footsteps of Jesus and pray at the sites of his suffering, following the example of his mother Mary, who is believed to have regularly visited these sites. In the 15th century, the Franciscans, the custodians of these sites, introduced reproductions of the events of Christ's Passion to Europe. Christians who could not go to Jerusalem began making a Way of the Cross in spirit. By the end of the 16th century, the Way of the Cross was established in 14 stations. It remains a popular devotion. (www.wyd2002.org)
We finally arrived in downtown Toronto. We parked and proceeded to walk towards University Avenue amongst thousands of youth and clergy. Our goal was to meet with two other Assyrian youth from Toronto, but our challenge was to get to their location in front of the American Embassy. There were so many people that we literally had to step over, duck under and push our way through the anticipating crowds. There was a very positive energy in the air that seemed to touch everyone in attendence. Our friends had forgotten to mention that there were TV cameras shooting this amazing event, which just added to the fervor of the masses. As we turned the corner, we witnessed the unbelievably immense crowd that had gathered there hours ahead of time! Flags from every nation fought for a chance to be caught on film. We began working our way through the dense crowd without losing any hope that we would find our Assyrian brothers further down the street.
Finally, there it was, one mighty Assyrian flag flown in the midst of about 25 Polish flags of various sizes! That site alone carried away our fatigue in a rush of adrenaline that would carry us for the duration of the ceremony. The reason for so many Polish flags was due to the fact that the Pope's country of birth was Poland. Thrilled at the site, we rushed to them where we happily met with the two Assyrian youth. We learned that earlier they had met and taken pictures with a small group of Assyrian Chaldeans from Sweden.
Unfortunately, due to the vast number of flags, ours was not being shown fully on the television monitors. So in desperation, I hopped onto the shoulders of two of the Assyrians present, while the third handed me the flag. Now the flag was flying high and being proudly waved by four dedicated Assyrian youth eager to bring awareness to the Assyrian name. Later on we learned that our efforts were not made in vain as the mighty Assyrian flag was witnessed by many people on National Canadian Television!
The WYD Cross
The WYD Cross, which has traveled through Canada in preparation for WYD, will be the focus of the Way of the Cross. During the opening prayer, four young people will light torches from the eternal flame in the Peace Park at Nathan Philips Square. During his 1984 visit, Pope John Paul II lit this flame with an ember from the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima. A group of 150 young people representing the countries of the WYD pilgrims will accompany the Way of the Cross. Actors will follow the Cross from stage to stage. (www.wyd2002.org)
We were positioned at the second station of the cross. The presentation began at the first station with the Archbishop of Toronto saying the opening prayer. The choir commenced their singing and proceeded to travel down University Avenue eventually passing through all 14 stations. Due to the enormous number of people and our lack of mobility, we were only able to follow the drama group as they acted out the scenarios on large screens. However, because it rained periodically the audio systems failed a number of times. Nevertheless, the spirit of the crowd was strong and followed along regardless of the technical difficulties. Some even turned on their radios to hear the presentation. An interesting feature at this year's WYD was the availability of numerous translations of the celebration on local radio stations. The pilgrims could hear the ceremony in their native language. This was important because for many, English was not their primary language. Just in our immediate vicinity, in an area approximately 15 feet wide, there were pilgrims of Polish, Russian, Spanish, Mexican, and Lebanese ethnicity. At the conclusion of the Second Station, a prayer based on the drama was said, along with the expected Our Father and Hail Mary prayers. Then the rains began to pour.
The text that accompanied the event was written by Pope John Paul II for the Way of the Cross at the Coliseum in Rome on Good Friday 2000. In it were psalms, hymns, and prayers in the following languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Latin. Unfortunately, we were without a text and were unable to participate in the singing and prayers. However, a pilgrim from Spain noticed our disadvantage and offered to share her book with us. After speaking with her, we learned that there were 80 pilgrims from her church alone and about 7000 others who had come solely from Spain. Moments later the rain began to pour over us. A pilgrim from Montreal Canada witnessed that we were getting quite wet due to the heavy downfall and came and opened her umbrella over a few of us to shield us from the water. The warm Christian hospitality shared was an unbelievable experience in itself. We were not strangers, but friends in Christ.
Unluckily for us, the Pope was not present for the celebrations. However, as we were viewing the celebrations on the large screens, the footage momentarily shifted to Strawberry Island where the Pope was resting for the following night's vigil, and we caught a glimpse of him watching the event on the television. The crowd went wild and everyone began to cheer and clap.
The "Way of the Cross" was interesting to watch because it was presented with a modern theme. It was meant to relate to the youth present. Dressed in black contemporary clothing, the 50 young volunteers acting in the drama were representing modern humanity's encounter with Christ.
The final two stations were quite lengthy and the prolonged standing for several hours began to take a toll on our bodies. However, we remained vigilant and continued to watch the presentation. The funeral procession laid the actor portraying Jesus to rest in the tomb. Prayers were said again by the Archbishop of Toronto to close the event. These were followed by some encouraging words to the youth to not be afraid of their religion and to keep strong the faith in God as they run into obstacles down the road while continuing the journeys throughout their lives.
When the festivities ended we walked back holding our flag up high once again hoping to attract any other Assyrian groups from around the world that might be in attendance. Although we were extremely fortunate to meet the Swedish group of Chaldean Assyrians, we had anticipated seeing many more Assyrians from around the globe. However, on the way back a considerable number of groups were fascinated by the beauty of our flag. Many individuals stopped us to inquire about it. Interestingly, two separate groups from Mexico and Spain even stopped to interview us on video. Because they were captivated by our flag and impressed by the short introduction of our culture that we were able to communicate to them, they were moved to capture the moment on video.
What summed up the evening beautifully and made it particularly poignant were the words imprinted on one young pilgrim's t-shirt:
"Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words."
After attending this glorious event, one could not help but feel that they were indeed, in the words of the apostle Matthew, the salt of the earth, and the light of the world.
"The 14 Stations" are the following:
1. Jesus is condemned to death
For a Photo Album of this celebration please visit these sites:
Zindamagazine would like to thank:
Dr. George Kiraz
Dr. Gabriele Yonan
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