Z E N D A  M A G A Z I N E
[renamed Zinda Magazine in 1999]

Tamuz 21, 6746                   Volume III                       Issue 22            July 21, 1997

       A Weekly Online Publication of the ZENDA Assyrian Newsagency

                   T H I S     W E E K     I N     Z E N D A

The Lighthouse.............    "Just Call Me Benny!"
Surfs Up...................    "Happy Birthday Mtakasta!"
Calendar of Events......... An Assyrain Artist's Classical Guitar Recital
Assyrian Surfing Posts.....    ACNC 97 Report
Literatus..................    A War Song
Bravo......................    Georgian Relief Fund
Bshena.....................    VLSI, Compass, England, & Russia
Salute.....................    Rachelle, Rita and Albert


This week's ZENDA is about the Assyrians of Georgia.  No, not the Georgia of CNN, Atlanta, and the Braves baseball team.  This is the Georgia of the civil wars and ethnic conflicts, of severe energy shortages, a crippled economy, organized crime, and a quarter of a million displaced people.  This is the Georgia of Eduard Shevardnadze, Tbilisi (Tiflis), and the magnificent medieval churches.  This is also where over ten thousand Assyrians live under the most lamentable conditions:  every other week an Assyrian child or elderly dies of malnutrition or cold.

The Republic of Georgia, independent since 1991, borders the Black Sea and is situated between Turkey and Russia.  Heavy air and soil pollution, inadequacy of potable water, poor transportation and communication networks are the facts of life for Assyrians and non-Assyrians alike. According to the government statistics in 1996, in a country of 5.3 million of whom 20% or more are unemployed, 75% of people consider themselves Christian and 11% Moslem.  This war-torn nation is incapable of rejuvenating its economy unless it continues to receive foreign aid and humanitarian support.  To maintain peace and order Georgian soldiers, Russian peacekeepers, UN observers, the Vatican Mission, and ironically the organized crime bosses (former heads of KGB) operate through every corner of this mostly mountainous country.  These of course are the Caucasus where the Assyrian missionaries of a thousand years ago built the cobble-stone churches and today's separatists of Abkhazia and Ossetia battle the government forces in pursuit of political freedom.

In the Assyrian-Georgian communities many faiths and religious traditions are preserved, but there is only one Assyrian that brings spiritual guidance and preaches the message of hope and love.  Father Benny Yadgar, a priest of the Assyrian-Chaldean Catholic Church, is known to the 10,000 Assyrians of Georgia as simply "qasha's Atouraye" (Minister of the Assyrians).  Last week while President Scheverdnadze was conducting a public-relations campaign in France and meeting with Bill Clinton, ZENDA met with Father Benny Yadgar in California.  In his interview Father Benny showed us the pictures of "his people" in "Gorjistan" as he calls his new home in the Caucasus.  He then related to us the many stories of dedicated Assyrian community leaders, teachers, artists, and activists. He also told us about the dire conditions under which the lives of many are lost daily.  This week we invite you to read some of the stories of these hundred-year-old Assyrian communities in Georgia.  Despite of their daily struggle with starvation and indignity in the face of deteriorating economic conditions Assyrians of Georgia remain the most notable example of the "Assyrian will" to survive.  We dedicate this week's issue to the Assyrian heroes and heroines of the Republic of Georgia, for their unabated loyalty to Assyrian Church, Cause, and Culture.


                THE   L   I   G   H   T   H   O   U   S   E

                           "JUST CALL ME BENNY!"

My grandmother often spoke of a place where "happy faces greet you everywhere" and snowy hilltops surround the gray and brown village homes that snuggle one another as intimately as the music of a melancholic Azeri flute-player.  She called this place Gorjistan.  This was the place to which she and thousands of other Assyrians from Iran and Turkey escaped the horrors of Turkish and Kurdish insurgencies of 1915. Everything is different in what is now called the Republic of Georgia. The nights are endless and the funeral processions occur too many times and too soon. In Georgia there are no soldiers shooting tear gas at an organized rally, no young men firing slingshots or army tanks demolishing centuries-old monasteries.    Similarly there are no men at work, no factories producing goods, and no money to guarantee a secured future. Water and electricity are scarce and are cut off for days, even weeks. People suffer from depression and various diseases.  Georgians feel that they are unfairly deprived of a good life, while Assyrian-Georgians are dying a slow death. The images of grief and mourning have replaced the laughter of villagers and daily search for basic needs of survival heighten the agony of defeat.  At least until our eyes meet the smile of a malnourished Assyrian girl or our fingers touch the hands of a sick grandmother as she peacefully whispers in her deathbed a war song her husband of sixty-years sang at every Assyrian social function.  Despite of their daunting anguish Assyrian-Georgians remain hopeful and optimistic. This is the story of their hunger for recognition and struggle for survival.


The Assyrian inhabitants of the Caucasus live in the Republics of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia.  At the turn of the century thousands of Assyrians emigrated from Turkey and Iran and a large constituency arrived in the Caucasus during the Great Exodus of 1915-18.   Most families settled in Georgia and Armenia whose populations are predominantly Christian.

In 1985, there were 60,000 Assyrians living in Georgia.  After emigrating to Russia and other republics, today there remain only 10,000.  500 families live in the capital city of Tbilisi or Tiflis, majority of whom are Jelwaye and Urmezhnaye Assyrians (see attached map).   The Assyrian village of Kenda is located thirty five kilometers northeast of Tbilisi where 400 families live.  According to Father Benny Yadgar, whom I interviewed last week, in this village even the non-Assyrian residents speak Assyrian.  The village of Gardabani, forty five kilometers southeast of Tbilisi, accounts for 180 Assyrian families of whom 80 families trace their roots to Butan in Turkey and the remaining 100 to Urmie in Iran.  There are 80 Assyrian families in Kutaisi, northwest of Tbilisi, mostly Tkhumnaye; and 80 other Tkhumnaye families in Batumi near the Black Sea, bordering Turkey.

The Mission of the Assyrian Chaldean Catholic Church began in May 1995. Monsignor Jean-Paul Gobel, Vatican's Ambassador and Administrator to the Republics of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, enjoys learning about Assyrian history and culture.  He had often generously offered his services to the Assyrian communities in Georgia.  In 1995 a letter from the Assyrian community leaders, written in Assyrian, was brought to Monsignor Gobel, requesting support from other Assyrian communities outside of Georgia.  Monsignor Gobel delivered the letter to Vatican on one of his trips to Rome and diligently sought an Assyrian translator. At this time Father Benny Yadgar, an Assyrian-Chaldean Catholic priest, was completing his Ph.D. studies in Theology when this letter and the urgency of its content were brought to his attention.  At once Father Benny agreed to accompany Monsignor Gobel to Tbilisi and stayed with the family of Geno Ivanov,  an Assyrian from Gerdabani.  After only three days of witnessing the horrific condition of Assyrians in  Gerdabani and other villages in Georgia he agreed to remain in Georgia and follow in the footsteps of the Assyrian missionaries of a millennium ago.

Father Benny speaks and writes fluently in Assyrian, Italian, French, Farsi, Turkish, Russian, and Azerbaijani Turkish.  The main language spoken in Georgia is Russian.  When asked about his means of transportation he replied: "I drive a Volga (a Russian-made sedan) donated by a German charity organization; I drive it for three days and then spend the next 4 days repairing it."  He lives with an Assyrian family in Tbilisi. The subject of Father Benny's Doctoral Thesis is the Rogation of Ninevites (Ba'oota 'd Ninwaye).

In the beginning no more than 20 to 30 families attended his services. Today, on average, 350 worshippers receive his sermon each week. However, much of Father Benny's work involves feeding the hungry and providing basic healthcare.  Much of the money obtained from humanitarian organizations is spent on healing the sick.  "People have no money to purchase even aspirin; epidemics are widespread because any kind of contagious disease quickly advances from one person to another," says Father Benny.  "After each service I hand out food and medicine to my parishioners.  I pay for their surgeries or urgent medical needs. Sometimes we take our heaters with us to the hospital where there is no adequate heating."  Father Benny continues, "there is this woman who had her gangrened legs amputated at home, without any anesthetics.  I was holding a flashlight  for the doctor as he was dismembering her in the dark without the amenities of an operation room."

In Gerdabani Assyrian children can be seen walking barefoot in the snow. Afflicted with one or more types of pulmonary diseases, X-ray examinations of their chest indicate the presence of small black spots in their lungs.  Father Benny while looking directly into the screen of my laptop notes, "they need a warm place to live and they need vitamins.  I am conducting too many funeral services for these Assyrian children these days."  Older Assyrians die in their cold beds and those that survive the cold do not dare to leave their bedstead.  Many elders do not have proper clothes to protect them from cold and snow and cannot attend the Sunday service.  Father Benny with a misleading smile says, "inside the church building is often so cold that I can hardly move my numbed fingers to place the Eucharist in their mouths."

A few Assyrian men who served in the USSR Armed Forces during WWII are now retired generals and considered as their nations' War Heroes.  They too move around in ragged clothes and empty stomachs.  A few, with pride and love for their country, still display their shining medals hanging from their torn uniforms.  Every day they walk to the "soup kitchens" in Tbilisi and join the ever-growing line of Assyrian professors, physicians, and teachers to receive their day's meal.   An Assyrian mother and her daughter's bodies were recently found in their ice-cold bedroom, covered with rats devouring every piece of their flesh.  The mother was once an accomplished musician and a professor of music in Georgia's Conservatory of Music.

In 1996, Twenty Four Thousand Dollars (US $24,000) were donated by the Assyrians in the United States to the Georgian Relief Fund established by Father Benny.  To survive last year's long winter he purchased sugar, oil, pasta, rice, flour, potato in large quantities and distributed them among over 400 Assyrian families.  He documents every transaction and demands to receive the signature of all recipients upon the delivery of their food and medicine. He was able to save many lives and now he has returned to America to request further financial support.  According to Father Benny, with only Fifty Dollars ($50) a month a child can be fed, clothed, treated for infectious diseases, and supplied with school material to study under his direction.

"Georgian schools are open but parents do not send their children to those filthy classrooms, and foul and grubby hallways of our devastated school buildings," says Father Benny.  "Georgia isn't paying their teachers enough money, so they do not go to work.  Parents do not send their children to school.  Please tell your ZENDA readers that we are losing an entire generation of Assyrians in Georgia.  There is no way they can compete with others when conditions improve in Georgia."  Father Benny teaches five classes:  a daily Assyrian language class for children, a two-hour choir practice for children (hymns and prayers), a daily Assyrian language class for the adolescents,  a language class for adults, and another for another group of smaller children.  He plans to teach academic subjects, Italian, and computer classes when he can afford to payroll Assyrian school educators.  His two pupils, Lena and Eena, volunteer their time to teach the language classes and accompany him on his travels to other Assyrian villages.

All Father Benny's classes in Tbilisi are taught in a house donated by Youra Davidov, vice-president of the Assyrian International Congress of Georgia.  In the village of Kenda, a Georgian school principal permits Father Benny,  Lena and Eana to use his school in teaching the language and religious classes.  The older children can now fluently read the Bible in Assyrian.  There are nearly 40 children taking these classes in Kenda.   In essence, Father Benny has also become an important factor in raising the conscience of the Assyrians in Georgia.  On better days, they travel to other villages to meet other Assyrians and celebrate traditional Assyrian festivities.  Father Benny is also an active member of the Assyrian International Congress of Georgia and chairs its Education Committee.  In fact every Assyrian in Georgia is a member of this Congress.  Mr. Yodip Ivanov, president of the Congress, and Father Benny travel together and help in the distribution of food and medicine. AICG recently became a member of the Assyrian Universal Alliance and is actively working on establishing closer relation with other Assyrian Federations and organizations around the world.  At the upcoming Assyrian National Convention in Detroit, Father Benny will bring the case of the Assyrians in Georgia to the attention of the Assyrian civic leaders in the U.S. and ask for further financial assistance.  He hopes that the leadership of the Assyrian American National Federation will consider a trip to Georgia and meet with the Assyrian leaders in Tbilisi. In 1996 the Assyrian American National Federation donated Ten Thousand Dollars towards Father Benny's efforts in Georgia.  Dr. Sargon Dadesho of the Bet-Nahrain Inc has already visited the people of Georgia and has continuously referred to the plight of the Assyrian Georgians in his articles in  Bet Nahrain Magazine and his talk-shows on the Bet-Nahrain TV program.  Father Benny has also met with the Assyrian Congresswoman, Anna Eshoo, through the efforts of the Assyrian American Association of San Jose.  After making a personal donation, Congresswoman Eshoo advised Father Benny to contact certain humanitarian organizations in the United States and use her name as reference.

When asked if the Assyrians of Georgia ever critical of the fact that only a Catholic priest conducts the religious services of his people with allegiance to other Assyrian-Christian denominations, Father Benny quickly replies:  "In Gorjistan I'm not a Catholic priest; I am an Assyrian clergy serving all my people.  When I arrive in Gardabani on Sunday mornings I love to hear the children shouting 'mhokha qosha, mhokha qosha (ring the bells, ring the bells).  They are my family and I am their brother."  In fact Father Benny allows no one to call him Father, Reverend, or teacher.  His remark is typically,  "just call me Benny.!"

"Benny, how can the Assyrians in Europe and the Americas help the Assyrians in Georgia?,"  was a much anticipated question I asked this man of God dressed up not in his priestly attire, rather jeans and sandals. After offering me tea and his mother's Assyrian pastries he replied  "In Georgia I am happy but not comfortable.  Life is really hard.  I get sick a lot, but I continue to work.  They depend on me.  But I'm just one person.  I wish other Assyrians would consider travelling to Georgia and spend some time in Tbilisi with me.  It could be as little as two-weeks or a month.  Assyrians in Georgia would love to see other Assyrians from America and Europe.  It would give them so much strength to know that others care.  I want to find generous donors in every Assyrian community; people who would sponsor a child's monthly expenses. We also need Assyrian physicians and nurses to come and inspect our supplies and conduct a thorough assessment of our medical and nutritional needs.  We can't afford to pay non-Assyrians to do this for us.  A short visit by our Assyrian doctors can save us thousand of dollars.  We need Assyrian clergies to help in the conduct of the weekly services, and individuals to teach our classes.  Let me say it this way:  We need everybody, doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, everybody.  There is plenty of work for anyone with a big heart. "

As we reached the end of the interview, Father Benny tapped my shoulder and smilingly said  "you guys are doing a great job on the Internet.  I am going to request that the Vatican Embassy provide me with an email account so that I too will receive ZENDA and share its information with the people in Georgia, assuming there is electricity of course.  Before I forget, please mention in your article that I like to thank every Assyrian who already has or will donate money and time towards improving the current conditions in Georgia.  We hope that our situation will improve in the next few years.  Georgia is beginning to receive greater recognition in the world community.  Until then we need the support of those who can afford to help.  I hope that everyone can and will."

For the Thirty-Thirty-Years-Old Father Benny Yadgar his short visit to California also means regular meals, immaculate clothes, and the presence of a watchful mother who guards him from too many visitations from friends and relatives.  In Georgia with a salary of $100 per month, he is helping his loyal followers to lay down the foundations of a new Assyrian society, caught between the legacy of the post-Stalinist communism and the challenges of transitioning to a free-market economy.  There can be no doubt that his pioneering work in Georgia has been the most effective means of exposing the plight of these invisible Assyrians.  Powerful factors of survival are evident in every aspect of their dignified lives, reminding us of other Assyrians before them who likewise struggled with the overwhelming sense of loss and despair.  "Benny, I think we should stop now.  I have drafted an six-page, single-space article and I'm sure you have more to say.  But our electronic magazine is space-limited." Father Benny, without any delay moved his chair away from the dining table where I was interviewing him, "you're right!  I probably said enough.  Do you think that your electronic letter  will encourage some readers to donate?"  "I'm sure it will force them to think," I replied. He struggled with my vague response and then continued "remember that all of this (pointing to my computer screen) started with just a single letter they sent with Monsignor Gobel."  Humbled by his response I turned off my laptop, finished my lukewarm tea and quietly thanked him: "God bless you Benny."

Wilfred Alkhas

                      S   U   R   F   S     U   P   !

"Thank you for the last issue of Zenda commemorating the 40th anniversary
of the Assyrian Democratic Organization (Mtakasta). It's been a long time
since I've read such an intelligent analysis of our organizations and our
political situation."

Raman Michael


"Warn greetings from Cordoba (with its phoenician-arabic name too). I hope you've received my first "MALAKHA". Congratulations (BASEEMA) for the excellent last newsletters; blessings for the Iraq's National Feast. We
pray for peace at BETH NAHRAIN and elswhere. Write soon! Especial greetings
for Dorina and for you with faithful appreciation on behalf of me, my family
MALEK etc. and oriental friends here. SHAKRATA RABA."

Prof. José Luis Ludueña Rufino

[Dorina (Golpashin) is the Executive Secretary of the Assyrian American Association of San Jose.  ZENDA welcomes our new readers in Argentina, Great Britain, and Russia.]


"Greetings from Sydney, Australia.  Thank you very much for sending me
ZENDA every week without fail.  Please let me know if there is a
subscription fee.

Happy birthday Mtakasta. Congratulations and thank you for the Special
issue of ZENDA to commemorate Mtakasta's 40th anniversay."

Philimon Darmo
Sydney, Australia

[ZENDA is distributed every week, free of charge, to over 600 readers in 23 countries.]


"First of all, on behalf of the Assyrians of Russia, Armenia, Georgia and
other C.I.S. countries I am sending you brotherly greetings. Needless to say that even being in a small number we are trying to preserve our indentity.
The construction of the first Assyrian church is being completed in
September.  An independent TV-CNY, where I am working as producer, has completed the documentary dedicated to the Assyrians of Russia. This film contains rear newsreels of dramatic events in Turkey (1914-1918) which pushed our people for mass migration. Right now our company is filming the monumental documentary portraying the whole history of Assyrian people from the ancient times. It will contain materials from Iraq and Jordan, British Museum and Louvre, Berlin museum of the East and Hermitage. Both films are going to be broadcasted on Russian National TV Network. If anybody has an interest in getting it on VHS you can request it by that adress."

Daniel Welsh-Unanov

"At the conclusion of my comments about ADO in Zenda last week, I suggested
that further information about the organization could be obtained by
writing to Mr. Abgar in Skokie.    The correct name and address for those
who wish to obtain further information is:   Mr. Ninos Gaboro, P.O. Box
598144, Chicago, IL 60659.  I apologize for to Mr. Abgar for the error and for any inconvenience it may have caused."

Francis Sarguis
Santa Barbara, California

       C   A   L   E   N   D  A   R     OF     E   V   E   N   T   S
July 25    Mini Recital Series
           featuring Johnny Khangaldi on Classical Guitar
        Under the direction of Nabu Issabey
        BETA, 20000 Almaden Road
        San Jose, California
        7:30 pm

Aug 26-Sep 2    Assyrian American National Convention
        Hyatt Regency Dearborn
        Fairlane Town Center
        Detroit, Michigan
        All Single,double,triple,quad rooms: $95 per day
        Reservations: (313) 982-6880
        Reservations must be made by August 7

Through    In the Presence of the Gods: Art from Ancient Sumer
Mar 8,1998    The Smart Museum of Art
        5550 South Greenwood Avenue
        Free Admission

      A  S  S  Y  R  I A  N     S  U  R  F  I  N  G     P  O  S  T  S

Report of the Assyrian Community Networking Conference 1997


                 L    I    T    E    R    A    T    U    S

                          ASSYRIAN WAR SONG

    (By Shamasha Ephraim of Serai D'Mamidai, Van, 1915)

    Brothers, up; arouse ye; shake off sloth and slumber!
              Take each man his rifle for the battle with the Turk.
    Now the day is dawning when we face our foemen.
              Forth we go to battle in thy name, O Mar Shimun.

    Rouse ye chiefs and princes, Maliks God-appointed;
        Forward goes our army through the land we owned of yore.
    Hear the rifle rattle echo from our mountains.
        Forth we go to battle in thy name, O Mar Shimun.
    Up, I say, ye captains; up, I say, ye Maliks!
        Kings we had in olden time right mighty men of war.
    Take we gun and powder; days of stress are on us.
        Forth we go to battle in thy name, O Mar Shimun.

    Lady of the Holy House, Surma stands amongst us;
        Giver of high counsel to her brothers from a child.
    "Now the very babe must bear the bow and arrows."
        Forth we go to battle in thy name, O Mar Shimun.

    Young men of the Nation, Clans renowned in story,
        Stand by one another now in brotherhood and zeal.
    Shall beloved Kochanes be a prey to foemen?
        Forth we go to battle in thy name, O Mar Shimun.

    Young men of the Nation, bide a band of brothers,
        Tiari fast by Jilu and Tkhoma fast by Baz.
    Listen to the roll of battle drums ye warriors.
        Forth we go to battle in thy name, O Mar Shimun.

    David is our leader, valiant in the combat;
        He shall be our captain and set us in array!
    He shall go before like sun and moon to guide us.
        Forth we go to battle in thy name, O Mar Shimun.

    Forth we go to battle, raging o'er the mountains;
        Hearts all yearning forward to Mosul's fertile plains.
    Nineveh's fair city summons back her children.
        Forth we go to battle in thy name, O Mar Shimun.

    On the Tigris' banks lies Nineveh the holy;
        Her old walls shall be to us a diadem and crown.
    There alone, Assyrians, can our race be stablished.
        Forth we go to battle in thy name, O Mar Shimun.

    Hark, our Nation calls--our great Assyrian Mother;
        Hark, young men, she calls you--calls each one of you by name.
    Blest that youth for ever who will hear her calling.
        Forth we go to battle in thy name, O Mar Shimun.

<<Our Smallest Ally, Rev. W. A. Wigram, D. D.>>

                       B     R    A     V     O

                           GEORGIAN RELIEF FUND

During his recent travels in California, Father Benny Yadqar, an Assyrian-Chaldean Catholic priest, has successfully collected over 25,000.00 dollars in support of the Assyrians in Georgia.  During his future trips, and through the efforts of ZENDA readers he hopes to collect enough monthly pledges to support 150 Assyrian children and 80 senior citizens that remain in very critical condition.  The following is a list of all collections to date:

San Jose, California
        Week of July 14        $  6000.00
        Week of July 21        $  3200.00
            Monthly pledges    $   360.00
Turlock, California                $  4040.00
San Diego, California            $11,000.00

ZENDA has made a monthly pledge of $50.00 to support an Assyrian child in Georgia.  We urge our readers to help likewise help their needy families. Any contributions are appreciated.  Included with this issue our readers will find a map of Georgia ascribed with the names of Assyrian villages and a Pledge Form which can be filled and sent to the following address:

Assyrian-Georgian Relief Fund
P.O. Box 24828
San Jose, California 95154

ZENDA will continue to report on the success of this fundraising effort.

          W   E   L   C   O   M   E     T O     Z   E   N   D   A
Zenda welcomes our new on-line subscribers from:


    Cal State Stanislaus
    Great Britain
                     S    A     L     U     T     E
Zenda wishes to thank the following individual(s) for contributing material and introducing ZENDA to our new readers:

            Rita Pirayou        San Jose, California
            Rachelle Badal    San Jose, California
            Albert Gabrial    Turlock, California
Our Upcoming Issues:
    July 28:    King Hammurabi of Babylon
    Aug 4:        Special Issue:  Assyrian Martyrs Days

ZENDA is a weekly online newsletter distributed on Mondays. Views expressed
in ZENDA do not necessarily represent those of the ZENDA editors,or any of
our associated staff. This publication reserves the right, at its sole
discretion, not to publish comments or articles previously printed in or
submitted to other journals.  ZENDA also reserves the right to publish and
republish your submission in any form or medium.  Distribution of material
featured in ZENDA is not restricted, but permission from ZENDA is required.
This service is meant for the exchange of information, analyses and news.
To subscribe, send e-mail to: zenda@ix.netcom.com with the message body
"subscribe ZENDA Firstname Lastname". To unsubscribe, send e-mail to the
above address, with the message body "unsubscribe ZENDA".