Linda & Zinda: Assyrian Music Moves in a New Direction
Last week, this publication and the world's most popular Assyrian female singer - Ms. Linda George - entered a unique commercial agreement: the Linda George Enterprises and Zinda Magazine will be collaborating in the development and thereafter maintaining Ms. George's official website. Linda George fans can shortly after view their music idol's personal and tour information, sample her never-released music and videos, and stay in touch with their favorite Assyrian entertainer.
Since 2001 a wave of progressive Assyrian music has struck a new chord in the Middle Eastern markets. At the edge of this new exciting musical genre stand such notables from the United States as Linda George and Walter Aziz, and from Europe- Addo Rhawi, Farmo Markos. Even the Assyrian spiritual music has not escaped the modern beat: case in point – The Morning Star, a new CD from the Bet-Eil Ministry in San Jose , California .
The development of the modern Assyrian music parallels the evolution of the Middle Eastern music in general, since the Post-World War II reconstruction efforts in Iran , Iraq , Turkey , and Syria . The jazz influence in Evin Aghassi and George Chaharbakhshi's music overlapped with the Mediterranean melodies of Ashur Bet-Sargis and gave rise to the “Assyrian pop” sound of the mid to late 1970's. The fans of the more folkloric Assyrian music, in the mean time, rushed to the latest offers from Sargon Gabriel, Janan Sawa, and Juliana Jendo. By the end of the last century, most Assyrian artists felt the fraught need for a new Assyrian sound and genre to entertain the growing young listeners who were quickly adopting an interest for the Arabic, Persian, and Turkish music instead.
Walter Aziz' “Away” CD was a remarkable u-turn from his earlier work and offered the Assyrian listeners a glimpse of what was to come in the new decade. Linda George had already introduced a few hip-hop lyrics in her earlier songs. The result was phenomenal. Yet it was not until her latest release, “Silence of a Valley” that the percussions were allowed to embrace catchy phrases as “Oomtho hich lo maitho” or the ultra-danceable “Nahrain”. From Los Angeles to Wiesbaden , Assyrian dance parties are packed with the young as they dash forward from hundreds of miles to hear their re-incarnated Assyrian pop idols sing Walter's “Lorque” and Linda's “Seepar”.
Assyrian musicians and singers are constantly battling two fronts: the very limited Assyrian music market (insufficient number of music buyers) and the fast-growing crossover Turkish, Persian, and Arabic music. What has aggravated this situation are certain irresponsible Assyrian organizations and churches – in particular in California – who continue to hire non-Assyrian entertainers at their New Year Eve's parties and special events. These days nearly all Assyrian singers produce a new CD only to remain recognizable, rather than making a profit. A majority of the Assyrian entertainers have a second day-time jobs to support their families.
To stop further demise of the Assyrian singers the following simple steps can be followed by the Assyrian music lovers and organizations around the world:
There is also one more controversial issue that sooner or later will have to be tackled. To the dismay of many of puritanical Assyrian music lovers, Assyrian singers are slowly but surely crossing over to the other Middle Eastern markets. We can expect songs in English, Arabic, Persian, and Turkish from our Assyrian idols in the coming years. A few are planning to perform duets with other non-Assyrian entertainers in the hope of cracking the Arabic and Turkish markets. This is a controversial move indeed, but necessary - simply because we have failed to provide for our artists, painters, poets, athletes and now musicians.
With the introduction of Ms. Linda George's new website, Zinda Magazine is ushering into a new journalistic area: the Assyrian entertainment. In 2004, the Assyrian entertainment world will receive a very new face-lift and be catapulted into a new reality. We invite other Assyrian entertainers and readers to help us expand our efforts in brining greater recognition to our musicians and singers. Ms. George and other Assyrian entertainers can expect much more from the most recognized Assyrian name on the Internet and the media world. Zinda Magazine salutes the Assyrian entertainers and their perpetual devotion for bringing the wonderful Assyrian music to our homes and social gatherings. Such dedication must be rewarded with our commitment of support.
Ms. Linda George's official website will be debuted in November. Watch for our exclusive conversation with the Queen of Assyrian music in the near future.
Iraqi Assyrians: Barometer of Pluralism
In "Seventy Thousand Assyrians," a short story penned in 1934, Armenian-American writer William Saroyan's fictional character, Theodore Badal, painted a stark portrait of Assyrian identity:
We're washed up as a race, we're through, it's all over, why should I learn to read the language? We have no writers, we have no news—well, there is a little news: once in a while the English encourage the Arabs to massacre us, that is all. It's an old story, we know all about it.
Despite his paean to the Assyrian people, Saroyan's tone in the piece belied his skepticism that this ancient Christian people, who had just survived not only the Ottoman massacres but also a massive anti-Christian jihad in northern Iraq in 1933, would retain a strong national identity decades into the future.
Saroyan would thus perhaps be stunned to realize that the Assyrian people not only continue to eke out an existence in their traditional homeland of northern Iraq, but that they are thriving in diaspora centers, are politically organized, and are working for a pluralistic Iraq.
Much as in 1933 when the modern Iraqi state was created out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire , the Assyrians once again find themselves at the center of the storm. Those Assyrians living both in northern Iraq , as well as in the cities of Baghdad and Mosul , once again have an opportunity to reassert their rights within the framework of the new Iraqi polity. It thus behooves policymakers and activists interested in creating a more democratic, pluralistic, and religiously tolerant Iraq to take the plight of the Assyrian people seriously. Indeed, the status of the Assyrians in a post-Baathist Iraq will be an accurate barometer of the success of the United States and its allies in creating an Iraq freed from the shackles of its violent and troubled past.
The Assyrians are a non-Arab, Semitic, and Christian people whose ancestral homeland includes parts of Iran , Iraq , Syria , and Turkey . They constitute some 3 to 5 percent of the Iraqi population although some estimates range up to 10 percent. The most oft-cited statistic is that there are 1.5 million Assyrians in Iraq with population centers in Baghdad , Mosul , and villages in northwest Iraq .
Modern Assyrians trace their heritage to the ancient Assyrians, Mesopotamians, and Aramaeans who converted from Ashurism to Eastern Christianity in the three centuries after Christ. Iraqi Assyrians primarily belong to the Assyrian Church of the East (Nestorian) and to the Chaldean Church (Catholic), the latter the result of a 1551 church schism when a segment of the Nestorian Assyrians adopted Catholicism. Catholic Assyrians are thus sometimes referred to as Assyro-Chaldeans and as Chaldeans. The patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Mar Raphael, has stated, however, that "Assyrian" is an ethnic identity, with the implication that "Chaldean" is a religious rather than an ethnic identity.
Religious factionalism has been a hindrance to those Assyrians who advocate an Assyrian national identity that transcends these cleavages, particularly the differences between those who belong to the Assyrian Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church. Prior to the 1940s and 1950s, class divisions and tribal affiliations were quite strong among Assyrians and limited the ability of the community to unite in a more cohesive manner. Today, sectarian differences account for the fragmentation of the Assyrian community, a topic that is much discussed among Assyrian intellectuals and political activists.
The vernacular of Assyrians is neo-Aramaic, a language also referred to as neo-Syriac and Assyrian. It is a point of pride for Assyrians that they speak the language of Jesus. Following the Islamization of Iraq in the seventh century C.E., Assyrians continued to live as Christians in the mountainous region between what is today the Turkish Republic and Iraq . For much of their history after the advent of Islam, the Assyrians were referred to as either "Syrians" or as part of the Nestorian millet, or religious community, a category officially recognized by the sultan in 1845. Unlike some other ethno-religious groups, the Assyrians were able to maintain an identity separate from that of the Arab-Muslim majority and resisted assimilation into the broader Muslim society. Both their language and strong Christian identity fortified them in this regard. Indeed, Syriac Christianity has been a uniting force for Assyrians, particularly in the period before there was a collective Assyrian national consciousness.
Assyrians have long had to distinguish themselves as Assyrians rather than as "Arab Christians," the term of choice used by Arab nationalists who deny the existence of a distinct Assyrian identity. Indeed, there is not one member state of the Arab League that recognizes Assyrians as a distinct ethnic and cultural group. The Islamic Republic of Iran, incidentally, is the only Islamic country to recognize Assyrians officially and to allow for their participation as minorities in parliament.
Some Arab-American groups have imported this denial of Assyrian identity to the United States . In 2001, a coalition of Assyrian and Assyrian-Chaldean organizations, along with their Maronite counterparts, wrote to the Washington-based Arab-American Institute, to reprimand them for claiming that Assyrians were Arabs. In a terse letter signed by seven organizations and copied to the White House, they asked the Arab-American Institute "to cease and desist from portraying Assyrians and Maronites of past and present as Arabs, and from speaking on behalf of Assyrians and Maronites." In a press release of that same year, the Assyrian International News Agency wrote that the Arab-American Institute's "perpetuation of Arabist ideology represents an egregious, willful, and deliberate mischaracterization of Assyrian identity." They likewise pointed out that Arab nationalist groups have wrongly included Assyrian-Americans in their head count of Arab Americans, in order to bolster their political clout in Washington.
Turkism and Arabism
The advent of nationalism in the Middle East was unkind to the Assyrians. After 1909, the Young Turk regime in Istanbul promoted an aggressive Turkish nationalism, and with the entry of the Ottoman Empire into World War I, the Assyrians found themselves swept into a violent genocidal whirlwind. In 1915, up to two-thirds of the Assyrian community of southeastern Turkey and northern Iran was physically decimated in a matter of months. Survivors of the massacres sought refuge in the territories that now constitute Lebanon, particularly around Zahle, and in northern Iraq. Approximately 50,000 Assyrian refugees arrived in northern Iraq and were housed in British-run refugee camps. Similar upheavals in 1918 in Iran forced more Assyrian refugees into Mesopotamia, where already-established Assyrian communities had existed for centuries. This combined influx of Assyrian Christian refugees into heavily Kurdish and Turkmen-populated northern Iraq altered the fragile demographic balance of the region and laid the groundwork for decades of ethnic conflict and revolt.
Although Assyrians had lived as a distinct Christian community for centuries and were the indigenous people of Iraq , it was not until the twentieth century that Assyrian intellectuals formulated a modern Assyrian nationalism. This nationalism went to great lengths to distinguish Assyrian identity from Arab identity. Indeed, Assyrians, like other pre-Arab peoples in the Middle East such as the Berbers, Copts, Jews, and Maronites, drew upon their ancient past as a way of resurrecting their national identity in the present. But despite appeals by the Patriarch Mar Shimun, the victorious powers did not regard the Assyrians as worthy of an autonomous or independent state. Unlike the Jews, they had no great power patron or an equivalent of the Balfour Declaration. After the postwar settlement, Assyrians found themselves once again a small, vulnerable minority in the modern states of Iran , Iraq , Lebanon , Syria , and Turkey .
Following the mass displacement of Assyrians from Turkey and Iran and their resettlement in northern Iraq , the British authorities decided to employ Assyrian men as protectors of the crown's interests in Iraq . Under the British mandate for Iraq (1920-32), the Assyrians were organized into militia groups—the Assyrian Levies—modeled on the Indian army. They were used to put down revolts and support the British military presence in Iraq . This relationship between Assyrian refugees and the British colonial power would prove to be a disaster for the Assyrians who, just a few years earlier, had survived massacre and genocide. Once Iraq became an independent state and the Levies were no longer needed, the British abandoned their former partners to their fate.
During the mandate, some Assyrians had been resettled into villages in northern Iraq . Nevertheless, there remained many refugees and survivors, particularly of the Tiari and Tkhuma tribes from the Hakkari Mountains in Turkey , who had not yet found a place to call home. Various plans for the resettlement of Assyrians in France and South America came to naught. Neither did Atatürk's newly formed Turkish Republic want to take in Assyrians.
These circumstances led to the creation of an Assyrian political movement that sought international support for Assyrian political autonomy in northern Iraq . The leader of this movement, the aforementioned Mar Shimun, was by no means universally loved among Assyrians and had his detractors who hoped to stay on good terms with the Iraqi authorities. Nevertheless, he did his best to engage the League of Nations on behalf of the displaced Assyrians. He argued that the Assyrians should be granted millet status and that Assyrians from around the world should have the right to resettle in and around Amadiya, Dohuk, and Zakho.
This struggle between Assyrians and the newly independent Iraqi government came to a head in late summer of 1933 when an armed group of some 800 Assyrians crossed from Iraq into Syria in order to assert what they perceived as their legitimate national rights. The migration was a disaster. The French authorities in Syria forced the Assyrians back into Iraq where they were attacked by the Iraqi military. The Assyrian nationalist movement, small and never a threat to Iraqi independence, was finally crushed in August 1933 when the Iraqi army and Kurdish irregulars, with genuine popular support, committed a massacre at Simele. Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya wryly calls the massacre "the first genuine expression of national independence in a former Arab province of the Ottoman Empire ." Assyrian sources put the number of dead at 3,000.
No event has shaped Iraqi Assyrian collective identity more than the August 7, 1933 massacre of Assyrian civilians and mass destruction of Assyrian villages by the Iraqi army and Kurdish irregulars in and around Simele. Assyrians consider the anniversary of August 7 to be a national day of mourning.
Assyrians under Baathism
For the next several decades, Assyrians did their best to survive and maintain their heritage. Compared with the period from 1915 to 1933, the years of the Iraqi monarchy were good years indeed. The regime of Brigadier ‘Abd al-Karim Qasim (1958-63) also favored the Assyrians. But Baathist domination (1968-2003) was nothing short of a nightmare for those Assyrians who wanted to retain their distinct ethnic identity.
As Baathist power increased, Assyrian influence and rights within Iraq decreased. Fear and intimidation became the rule as the regime attempted to divide families and communities; religious schisms among the Assyrians were manipulated in order to weaken their power. For example, in 1970, the regime succeeded in luring back to Iraq the venerable Mar Shimun, once the Assyrian nationalist firebrand who had sought millet status for the Assyrians some thirty-seven years before. Back in Iraq , he gave fulsome praise to the "leadership of the revolution." Under the divide-and-rule policies of the Baath, some individual Assyrians enjoyed privileges. But Assyrian national and cultural life in Iraq virtually ended. Those Assyrians who held official positions under the Baath did so at the price of discarding their unique identity and native language. In short they had to cease being Assyrians.
By the time of the 1977 census, the regime referred to Assyrians as being either Arabs or Kurds. Assyrians were thus forced to deny their identity as Assyrians and became, in the parlance of the regime, "Arab Christians." Speaking Assyrian in public became a crime, and Assyrian nationalism was harshly punished. One extreme example of this "Arabization" program was Iraqi deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, an Assyrian-Chaldean Christian who changed his surname from Youkhana upon joining the Baath. Yet, despite Aziz's prominence in Iraqi politics and Saddam Hussein's use of Christian chefs to cook his meals, it was a shibboleth that Saddam was especially tolerant toward Christians. Although regime propaganda claimed that Iraqis enjoyed religious freedom, this applied only to ritual. The Baath prohibited all religious activities that linked Iraqi Christians to co-religionists abroad. For example, in 1978, the regime imprisoned more than 500 Assyrian members of the Bible Study Committee.
In the Iran-Iraq war, many Assyrians were drafted and sent to fight on the front lines. This resulted in a disproportionately high casualty rate. Soon thereafter, numerous Assyrians left for Kuwait , Lebanon , and other countries. Some families remained relatively secure for a while longer and hoped for the best. By 1990, however, Assyrian national identity in Iraq had all but been erased, to the point where foreign journalists unfamiliar with Iraqi history completely missed this hidden community and reported instead on the presence of Arab Christians (rather than Assyrians or Assyro-Chaldeans) in Baghdad . In the 1990s, the regime manipulated the United Nations Oil-for-Food program in order to further persecute the Assyrians, by stipulating that only "Arab Christians," and not Assyrians, could use ration cards.
Around this time and shortly after the 1991 Kuwait war, many Iraqi Assyrians left for Australia, Canada, and the United States. Indeed, since 1991, some 50 percent of Iraq 's Christians have left the country. Some 400,000 Assyrians are now living in North America , particularly Detroit , Phoenix , San Jose , Toronto , and Windsor . Community life in North America is vibrant. In addition to churches, Assyrian-Americans have a multitude of websites, chat rooms, and message boards that allow for Assyrians throughout the world to communicate and share ideas. There are likewise several radio shows devoted to Assyrian concerns. Sargon Dadesho, a staunch Assyrian nationalist who survived an assassination attempt by Iraqi agents in California, founded an Assyrian satellite television station that broadcasts into Assyrian homes in the diaspora.
Those Assyrians fortunate enough to live in the Kurdish autonomous area since 1991 have been subject to occasional discrimination by their Kurdish neighbors. Still, Assyrian cultural and religious life has flourished in this enclave in a way unimaginable under Saddam Hussein.
This cultural effervescence has been fertile ground for oppositional politics.
The Assyrian Opposition
Historically, a good number of Assyrians joined the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) as a means of challenging the regime. Assyrians rose within the ranks of the ICP and took on important positions within the movement. One of its veterans is particularly well known. Just weeks before launching "Operation Iraqi Freedom," President Bush spent twenty minutes meeting with Katrin Michael, an Assyrian-Chaldean who survived the Baathist regime's 1988 chemical attack in Halabja. Michael, a former member of the Iraqi Communist Party resistance movement, hails from an Assyro-Chaldean village in northern Iraq and has come to be a prominent activist for Assyrian rights.
Assyrians also have formed a number of ethnic-based opposition movements that both challenged the Baathist regime and advocated a set of guiding principles for the Assyrian people in the diaspora. These parties are the Assyrian counterparts to the Iraqi Turkmen Front, the Kurdish Democratic Party, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
The first Assyrian political party, the Assyrian Democratic Organization (Mtakasta Demoqrateta Atureta, ADO ), was formed not in Iraq but in neighboring Syria . The ADO , a tiny movement created by Assyrian intellectuals and political activists in 1957 in response to that government's aggressive Arab nationalism, eventually established a presence in Chicago .
Another Assyrian opposition movement, the Bet-Nahrain Democratic Party (BNDP), advocates an autonomous state for Assyrians in Iraq . It is perhaps one of the most nationalistic of all Assyrian organizations and has its American base in Modesto , California . Its founding tenets include the negation of geographical and religious cleavages among Assyrians. It is affiliated with the Assyrian National Congress (ANC), an organization that unsuccessfully attempted to gain nongovernmental organization affiliation at the United Nations. In 2000, the regime rounded up and questioned Assyrians in Baghdad and Mosul after it was discovered that they had obtained copies of the BNDP's periodical.
The most successful Assyrian political movement has been the Assyrian Democratic Movement (Zowaa Demoqrataya Aturaya, ADM). Formed in 1979, the ADM has a fifteen-member central committee and is led by its general secretary, Yonadam Y. Kanna, who was sentenced to death in absentia by the Baath regime. As of this writing, he is one of five Assyrian members of the Kurdish regional parliament. According to its website, the ADM advocates a "free, democratic Iraq " and "recognition of the national Assyrian rights" and has worked with other Iraqi opposition movements. The ADM, like the BNDP, calls for unity among Assyrians, but unlike the BNDP, does not call for an autonomous Assyrian state. According to the ADM, Assyrians
are the children of one indivisible nation and inheritors of the Mesopotamian civilization be it Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, and inheritors of the Syriac Christian culture united by one ancient language and a history filled with human achievements and gifts.
Kanna has described his people as being the "children of Babylon and Nineveh ," a romantic and politically powerful sentiment and one which echoes the nationalistic rhetoric of other pre-Islamic minority groups throughout the Middle East . In 1989 the ADO formed the Assyrian Coalition with the ADM although there remain tensions between these groups.
At a September 2002 rally in Modesto , home to some 20,000 Assyrian-Americans, Kanna urged the United States to take on Saddam Hussein:
If you don't attack, then you are contributing to the suffering of the Iraqi people … It would lead to the building of terrorism and the threat of future attacks.
Due to successful lobbying from influential Assyrian-Americans and from Congressman Henry Hyde (Republican-Illinois), President George W. Bush designated the ADM an officially recognized Iraqi opposition movement. In a December 9, 2002 memorandum, President Bush invoked both articles four and five of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 as a means of allowing the United States government to provide financial resources to the ADM. Kanna himself participated in a September 2002 meeting of Iraqi opposition leaders in New York and addressed the London conference of Iraqi opposition leaders in December 2002. In February 2003, Kanna addressed both Iraqi opposition leaders and U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad at a conference in northern Iraq . Just hours prior to the American-led war against Iraq in March 2003, Kanna stressed the importance of the coming war for the history of the Assyrian people. He noted that some Assyrians were leaving the cities for the villages and urged diaspora Assyrians to provide humanitarian aid to their brethren.
Although the final declaration from the Iraqi opposition leaders contained a reference to Islam as the religion of the Iraqi state, an entire paragraph was devoted to Assyrian rights. It called for the equality of Assyrians among all other Iraqis and advocated for the protection of Assyrian ethnic, cultural, and administrative rights within a constitutionally protected legal framework. Similar protections for the Turkmen were likewise promulgated. There was no mention of political autonomy for either of these two ethnic minority groups, a point of contention for some Assyrian activists who had hoped to carve out a territorial unit in northern Iraq for an autonomous state and future Assyrian homeland. At the final prewar meeting of the Iraqi opposition movements in Ankara on March 19, 2003 , representatives from various groups, including the ADM, called for the protection of the rights and freedoms for all people in Iraq .
The future of Iraq now hangs in the balance. Should a postwar Iraq blossom into a democratic or quasi-democratic state, no one would welcome this more than the Assyrians. It would allow them to assert their cultural and religious rights within the context of the new Iraqi polity and relieve them of the fear of being persecuted as Christians or non-Arabs. This means assuring that Assyrians have a place in a post-Saddam Iraqi state and that their concerns about the role of Islam in the new polity are addressed. While Assyrians have demonstrated their willingness and desire for an Iraq for all Iraqis, they would not fare well in a state constitutionally influenced by shari‘a (Islamic law). This is a point that policymakers interested in promoting democracy in the Middle East would be well advised to consider.
Beyond the constitutional question, the most contentious issue facing Assyrians in the near future is the status of land claims and confiscated property. From the mid-1970s on, the Baath regime made a point of expropriating Assyrian villages and property. There are Assyrian activists in the United States who would like to reclaim lost lands. Indeed, much like the Kurds and Turkmen, the Assyrians have legally viable claims to some oil-rich lands in northern Iraq, particularly in and around the Mosul vilayet, a former Ottoman territory that the council of the League of Nations annexed to Iraq in 1925.
In tandem with land claims, Assyrians will likewise find themselves in political competition with Kurdish parties in the months and years ahead. In particular, Assyrians have bitterly complained that the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) has been at best negligent and at worst hostile toward Assyrian rights and aspirations. There is great apprehension among Assyrians that those Kurdish militias that fought with the United States against Saddam Hussein will now impose autocratic rule in those areas now under nominal Kurdish control. As a result, there is a strong possibility that Assyrian parties will join with their Turkmen and Yazidi counterparts as a counterweight to Kurdish political power in a postwar Iraq .
To achieve their goals, Assyrians will rely very much on the Assyrian-American community. Before the war, support for the removal of Saddam Hussein was widespread among Assyrian-Americans. Many of them are now returning to visit their ancestral homeland and the relatives they left behind. Others from Jordan and Syria hope to return. Family reunification and the ability to restore Assyrian churches and villages now head the agendas of Assyrian-American aid organizations. The California-based Assyrian Aid Society has been conducting such projects in the Kurdish autonomous area since 1991. Assyrian-Americans, as demonstrated by their participation in the State Department's Future of Iraq Project, are likewise eager to work with all other Iraqi ethnic and religious groups in the rebuilding of Iraq . Assyrian communities in California , Illinois , and Michigan have engaged in an impressive degree of Assyrian political activity. Whether that activity can be translated into a guarantee of pluralism within Iraq will be the great test of Assyrian-American influence and cohesion. If they succeed, this might encourage greater diaspora activism by other Middle Eastern minorities, notably the Berbers and Copts.
Guaranteeing a pluralistic Iraq will also be the great test of U.S. influence and resolve. The British failed to guarantee the rights of the Assyrians, and that failure presaged the decline of Iraq into authoritarianism and, ultimately, Baathist dictatorship. The status of the Assyrians is a barometer of Iraqi pluralism, and it would behoove the United States to consider it at every step along the way in the reconstruction of Iraq . Their concerns about the possible rise of Shi‘ite extremism should be given a fair hearing. Given the fact that Assyrians from the diaspora have been willing to work with the Americans for a free Iraq , Washington has a particular responsibility to ensure that Assyrian voices and concerns for a postwar Iraq are heard.
It is still the case, however, that most Americans have never heard of Assyrians, at least as a contemporary people. The American public assumes that Shi‘ites, Sunnis, and Kurds constitute the population of Iraq ; the Assyrian element is often overlooked. This makes it incumbent upon the Assyrians to vigorously promote their cause in the corridors of power. Washington should take heed. Assyrian freedom will be the most convincing proof of Iraqi freedom and the most demonstrable validation of the brilliant military campaign waged in its name.
The Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2003. Vol X, No 3.
 William Saroyan, "Seventy Thousand Assyrians," in William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories (New York: New Directions, 1934).
 Interview with Mar Raphael I. BeDawid, Lebanese Broadcasting International Channel, Apr. 30, 2000 .
 Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Feb. 27, 2003 .
 Walid Phares, " Middle East Christians: The Captive Nations," in Malka Hillel Shulewitz, ed., The Forgotten Millions: The Modern Jewish Exodus from Arab Lands (London: Continuum, 1999), pp. 15-22.
 Assyrian International News Agency, Oct. 5, 27, 2001.
 Efraim Karsh and Inari Karsh, Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East , 1789-1923 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 160.
 Kanan Makiya, Republic of Fear : The Politics of Modern Iraq (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), p. 167.
 Ibid., p. 170.
 Ibid., p. 175
 For a particularly informative website, with a wide range of news reports, see http://www.zindamagazine.com. Another useful source of information is the website of the Assyrian International News Agency, at http://www.aina.org. Examples of radio and television programs include Qala d'Khoyada, Qala Kheera d'Abroyeh (Chicago/Detroit); Assyrian Star Radio Program ( Phoenix ); SBS Radio Interviews (Sydney); and KSBV AssyrianVision TV (Ceres/Modesto).
 Assyrian International News Agency, Mar. 19, 2003 .
 The Assyrian Star ( Worcester , Mass. ), Winter 2002, p. 6.
 Assyrian Democratic Movement (Zowaa), at http://www.zowaa.org/default.htm.
 The Modesto Bee, Sept. 28, 2002 .
[Z-info: Jonathan Eric Lewis is a political analyst and writer, specializing in the history of Middle Eastern minority groups and their political movements in the diaspora. See Mr. Lewis' other article in Zinda in the 16 December & 11 November 2002 issues.]
Reflections on a New Russia : An Assyrian perspective
Some say grass is always greener on the other side of the fence and most often I respond with a quick ‘let's find out'. So this summer partly out of curiosity and to a certain extent out of desperation for school graduation credits, I had the good fortune of studying abroad in Moscow for 6 weeks. My no-nonsense mission was to write about the Assyrian community in Moscow a decade after the fall of Communism (a fun way to enjoy those hot and humid summer days in Russia , wouldn't you say?).
I arrived in Moscow on June 28, 2003 hoping to be greeted by a band of family connections, comrades and kinfolks. Instead, it was hard to ignore the lingering impact of communism on the deadpan faces of strangers in the place. I noticed clusters of uniformed men just standing around, talking among themselves and doing nothing more than staring at others in common public places like the airport and city's metro stations. As I now vividly recall, the passport security agent was a picture perfect replica of Hollywood 's rendition of border patrol guard: a snooty adolescent wearing an oversized military uniform with little sympathy for the rest of us who had been crammed in economy seats on the airplane for 17 hours with not much sleep than the occasional catnaps.
I was nervous as I approached the passport counter. It is hard not to be edgy in an age of unbridled terrorism: you can imagine being born in Iran and traveling abroad with an American passport these days does not exactly get you full time employment with long term beanies. I had better luck with the passport agent than the unfortunate Middle Eastern looking man ahead of me in line who got called out to be interviewed by a more mature fair-haired official. I breezed through the first check point. Counting my blessings on the way, I met a Russian-American woman who helped me get past the customs with no difficulties. To my surprise, I noticed that after telling her that I was an Assyrian I did not have to follow up with a nutshell explanation of Assyrian history as I do in the States. My Russian companion was very much literate about the Assyrian history and soon commented on the famous Assyrian-Russian healer (Juno) who aided President Yeltsin frequently during his term in office.
Like a true Assyrian after the first cordial goodbyes with my companion, we passed through the glass doors and I was greeted by a mob of Russian taxi drivers offering rides for $100 to hotels and the city's center. I searched the crowd hoping to find my contact person from school. Once again coming to my rescue, my Russian companion offered to look after my luggage as I combed the crowd. After 45 minutes of praying and wringing of hands, I found my ride.
The final and official round of goodbyes ensued. Soon after my driver and I hauled my Assyrian style packed suitcases (very heavy) down a muddy and deteriorating stretch of road for 200 meters. Finally, out of breath and by now perspiring, we reached her car. For better or for worse, I soon found out that Cirina, my driver, spoke very little English which is not that uncommon in Russia . Everybody in this country claims to speak English, knows someone who lives in America or studies at one of the fine academic institutions in the States. All the same, I was glad to discover that Russians embrace the Western lifestyle with open arms and having an American passport in this country was as good as carrying gold in your pockets regardless of your ethnicity.
The ride from the airport to my host family's home took about 30 minutes on busy Russian highways where traffic rules are nonchalantly enforced. Everybody drives fast and tries to cut in front of other drivers. Driving in this country requires a bit of courage and a lot of road rage in order to survive the brutality of those sharing the same space on the road with you.
Needless to say on the way, I felt I had stepped into a time capsule- everything was gray: the weather, the cars and the tall post-soviet apartment buildings that were now showing their age. It was very eerie: the scenery reminded me of my childhood in Iran- a lot of concrete buildings with nig-nag shops scattered everywhere, old trucks making clouds of black smoke as they accelerated on the wet pavements and a lot of stalled cars parked randomly along the side of the road. Of course, it was the pushy cab drivers back at the airport that reminded me of days gone by when mother and I used to decline rides from cabbies who would not take ‘no' for an answer and would insist- driving slowly along side of you- until you finally gave up and accepted a ride.
Moscow possesses a lot of Middle Eastern charm that I knew and love. For example, Russians love to tell other people to obey the law while actively taking measures to ignore them personally. I remember one early morning on my way to language class an old babushka (grandma) was yelling at a driver for not yielding to her while she Jay walked across a chaotic 4-way boulevard. The funny thing is you could always pick out the Americans walking in the neighborhood. They always crossed the street on the zebra lines and waited patiently for the traffic to clear (Notice: in Russia pedestrians yield to traffic instead of cars waiting for people to cross the road). My trips to school usually took an extra 5 minutes because I use to cross three intersections before arriving at Moscow State Social Academy in Vykhino.
At last, Cirina and I arrived at my host family's home (or as Russians call them khoziaika) around noon time. My khoziaika was a retired chemist in her early sixties. She had a two bedroom apartment and compared to American standards the place was very small but she had a big heart which made up for the niceties one can enjoy at a five star hotel. This angelic woman, despite the economic hardships and hurdles of getting around in a big city during Chechen terrorist bombings, managed to provide a comfortable dwelling for me. (Notice: an average Russian earns a meager income of $120 per month and pensioners get even less.)
I quickly realized that life in Russia is full of contrasts. Average Russians are poor but very generous; Novyi (new) Russkii are very rich but self-centered. The disparity is even more obvious in the background where you will find large beautiful parks and heavy forested areas in neighborhoods that comprise the most dilapidated gray apartment buildings. I kept thinking to myself if Home Depot could come to Russia : now there is real pot of gold ready for taking.
My focus needless to say was more academic; hence, the economic opportunities would remain a burden for those more interested in that field. Well on that note, I called my Assyrian connections in Moscow the minute I found a phone. And for the less seasoned travelers who do not speak the local language, there is nothing sweeter than hearing Assyrian spoken by complete strangers. Soon arrangements were made to meet my first Assyrian-Russian family. I got picked up by the family's chauffeur and was given a mini- tour of the city on the way. Twenty minutes later I was standing at the front door of a complete stranger, getting dragged in by the chauffeur passed coded doors, walking up two flights of stairs and finally meeting what would be my only Assyrian family contact in Moscow for the next 6 weeks. Unlike my khoziaika's house there was no chipping paint, no peeling wallpaper or squeaking wood floors; instead, I stood in a wide hallway smelling Dolma and other Georgian food. This spacious condo showed how the Novyi Russkii lived- well. I was ushered to the kitchen or rather the Russian version of dining room. I was greeted with a nicely decorated table: fine china, gold rimmed water goblets, caviar of different varieties, Georgian appetizers and Assyrian food. The contrast between the Assyrian driver and the host was painfully obvious. The driver was invited in out of formality, but he swiftly declined and made his way out of the building as soon as possible. Still, the warm Assyrian hospitality in Russia is alive and well. Almost immediately my host encouraged me to feast on the none-stop servings of food on the table. Keep in mind Russia is not a good place to come if you are dieting. The food in this country is rich, greasy and finger licking good.
After assessing the residence, I turned my attention to the household. I noticed that my host was the only one speaking Assyrian. His wife was Georgian and logically had no command of the Assyrian language and the children were more eager to speak English than converse in Assyrian. I am not sure if their reluctance was out of apprehension or lack of skills; either way, it seems to me that the battle of forcing Assyrian children to speak their native language is being fought globally.
Wanting to impress the host with my Assyrian language skills and nationalism, I asked him why he cared so much about the Assyrian cause. Without any hesitation in his response, he declared that some years ago, when he was a teenager, a Russian man had denied the existence of Assyrians in the modern times. My host was so angered that he spent endless days studying the Assyrian history at the famous Lenin Library in Moscow (by the way if you get a chance to visit Russia make sure you drop by this library which houses a large collection of ancient Assyrian books).
After that appalling experience, my host became a sort of freedom fighter for Assyrians in Russia. He organized an economic union with five other fellow Assyrians and considered expanding work opportunities for Assyrians in the region. The nascent organization seemed to blossom rapidly until two fellow Assyrian members got greedy over making more profits than working for their umta. Eventually, the whole business union kind of fell apart.
My host like most Assyrians living in diaspora possessed a resilient affection for his kinfolks. Currently his interests seem to focus on amalgamation of the merchant class with the academia. He was clearly very successful businessman and an intelligent person, so I could not resist asking if he had read books by the Neo-socialist Hannah Arendt- Karl Jaspers graduate student in the late 1930's. His response was a confused facial expression as he gestured in the negative. Nevertheless, I was very impressed to learn that this man had realized that the ‘Rights of Man' are embedded in upholding one's ethnicity. He maintained that the survival of a stateless nation depended on creating a strong political organization that is fuelled with the wealth of the merchant class and knowledge of academic scholars. His intentions were clear: to work with organizations that had Zionist mentality. I recall an earlier phone conversation with my host while I was still in the States: he had mentioned that Russia was closer to the homeland than America . Now, I knew what he meant by that comment. He meant that it would be pointless to join those who had already assimilated into another culture. (However, I do not subscribe to his views because I have realized that all Assyrians living in diaspora have to some extend assimilated into the main stream culture. A culture survives in diaspora only if the members of that culture view their ethnicity superior to general population; otherwise assimilation, regardless of its proximity to the homeland, dilutes the core stack).
I had spent the first portion of my summer vacation reading the collective works of Hannah Arendt and the interview with my Assyrian-Russian host seemed to elicit same reaction. I recommend the reader to look over the section of the book called “What remains? The Language Remains”; if you are interested the title of the book is The Portable Hannah Arendt and it is edited by Peter Baehr.
My host was an astute Assyrian, so he lost no time in getting some personal history on me. In next to no time, I found myself confessing my desire to attend the Melta Conference being held in Moscow . My host was gracious enough to hastily make necessary contacts with the conference sponsors only to find out that the conference had adjourned sooner than anticipated. I was very disappointed. I had traveled half the globe to meet these Assyrian scholars and now I had missed the whole thing. Sensing my disappointment, my host amiably invited me to his daughter's engagement party which he assured me would provide great opportunities in meeting other Assyrians.
Throughout my six hours visit in this Assyrian home I noticed that family members and guests dropped by, had dinner and conversed until very late in the evening. The men consumed copious amounts of alcohol while the women chattered amongst themselves. The atmosphere was jovial and friendly. However, I was too jet-lagged to enjoy the company, the great Assyrian Dolmas and other Georgian food. I basically sat silently and watched everybody else until my host brought in his daughter's bride-groom gift. He then inquisitively asked if I was married. I knew what was to come next so I held my breath as I whispered in a long exhale ‘no'.
In a flash the whole agenda had changed, my host's new mission was to get me married to the most suitable eligible Assyrian bachelor, as soon as possible. As I protested over the familiar speech of ‘you must marry… soon… as soon as possible…' once again in a distant land, I realized that some traditions just do not change. As luck would have it I would miss the engagement party due to school orientation program that week.
For the chuckling spinsters who enjoy their freedom more than marriage, take caution and do not travel alone in Russia because Russian men are downright handsome and brainy. With that note of advice, I invite you to look forward to future articles on my summer travels in Russia , covering the Russian environmental problems, economics, demography and culture and their impact on the Assyrians living in those regions.
Christian Translator Killed in Iraq , Branded as a Traitor
(ZNDA: Baghdad ) Napoleon, a translator for the U.S. Army, was shot to death, along with his 16-year-old son, early Thursday in Khaldiyah by four men. The victims were sleeping on the sidewalk next to their house to escape the heat.
Napoleon's family is Christian and uses Western names, hence his unusual name. Relatives set up a tent outside his home to receive condolences next to a wall riddled with bullet holes and stained with dried blood.
''He was killed because he was a spy and a traitor,'' said a neighbor. He and other townspeople spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing they might be targeted in any vendetta.
Since the ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime and the capture of Baghdad in early April, Fallujah and Khaldiyah, part of the notorious ''Sunni Triangle,'' have become a center for anti-American sentiment, with attacks against U.S. troops an almost daily occurrence.
Working with the U.S. troops is risky business in the region, with vendors advised against selling much-needed ice to the Americans. U.S. soldiers also have been refused entry to some restaurants in Fallujah.
Even motorists are warned to stay well away from U.S. military convoys passing through the area.
Napoleon's family say he was killed not because he was working for the Americans, but because he was a member of the country's Christian minority.
Napoleon was a former major in Saddam Hussein's al-Quds ( Jerusalem ) Army, a militia force that supposedly included millions of volunteer fighters as a backup to the regular army.
''He was my officer in the al-Quds Army, and we considered him part of our family, until he began working with the Americans,'' said the neighbor, a carpenter.
Others in the area said Napoleon was warned several times to quit his job with the Americans, including once when a percussion grenade was thrown next to his house.
''Warning leaflets were sent to him, and people talked to him, asked him to quit, but he wouldn't. I think he was happy with the wages,'' said another neighbor.
Translators are paid an average of $300 a month, a large sum by Iraqi standards.
Napoleon's brother blamed the Americans for his brother's death.
''When the Americans kill Muslims, we pay the price. Muslims can't get to the Americans, so they target the Christians,'' he said.
Neighbors insist otherwise.
''Why wasn't his brother killed? It was not his religion that killed him, it was his line of work. That was his doom,'' said the carpenter.
USAID Announces U.S. – Iraq University Partnerships
(ZNDA: Washington , D.C. ) The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has announced that grants have been made to three university consortia, each led by a U.S. institution of higher learning, to partner with and strengthen Iraqi universities. Additional grants will follow in the coming weeks. The Higher Education and Development (HEAD) program for Iraq is one of USAID's most significant engagements with the university community in recent years. The universities will support the work of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to strengthen the capacity of Iraqi universities.
Archeology and Environmental Research . The first of these grants, a $4,131,274 award, is to a consortium led by the Research Foundation of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook that will partner with Baghdad University , Al Mustansiriyah University in Baghdad , Mosul University and Basrah University . The consortium, which includes Columbia University , Boston University and Oxford University ( England ) will provide tools and training to:
Modernize curricula in archaeology and Assyriology and conduct research using modern analytical methods; and
Develop curricula in environmental health and conduct environmental research programs using modern techniques.
Agriculture . A second award in the amount of $3,770,724 is to the University of Hawaii 's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources that will partner with the University of Mosul 's College of Agriculture and Forestry which is located in Hamam al-Alil. These resources will:
·Strengthen academic programs and extension training in agricultural sciences at the University of Mosul and the University of Dohuk ; and
·Rehabilitate the research infrastructure and the agricultural research program at the University of Mosul .
Raising the Bar: Legal Education Reform in Iraq . A third award, in the amount of $3,827,734 is to the Human Rights Institute of DePaul University College of Law (IHRLI) and the International Institute of Higher Studies in Criminal Sciences (ISISC) in Siracusa , Italy , working in association with the University of Baghdad . The goal of this activity is to engage in and generate a broad-based reform of the legal education system in Iraq as a central and necessary element of the nation's transition to democracy.
Nina Klyana Marathon Run: Pledge Your Support for AAS
It has been four years since my first marathon training in August 1999, which lead me to complete Honolulu Marathon in December 1999 and raised money for the Leukemia Society.
Crossing the finish line gave me that special feeling that motivated me for the next run. Soon after, I ran Chicago Marathon in October 2000 and New York Marathon in November 2002; and completed numerous 5K, 10K and half Marathons. Earlier this year I decided I would try raising money for every marathon I run, and each time, would be a different organization.
I did not realize my first cause would be one that hit home.
As many of you know, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in April of this year. Everything has moved very fast since her diagnosis, starting with one mammogram then another, to a mastectomy and chemotherapy. As difficult as this has been for our family, we are grateful she has another chance with us. It is unfortunate many families cannot say the same. For this reason, I will run honoring the second chance my mother is getting. I asked my mother to choose an organization and she chose the Assyrian Aid Society of America (AAS). She wants the Assyrian of Iraq to know there is a second chance at a better life. We are grateful to our government for librating Iraq . We are grateful to our troops and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice in freeing the Iraqi people.
The AAS was established in 1991 in response to the difficult conditions imposed by Saddam's regime after the Gulf war. The Assyrian Aid Society of America is a charitable 510 (c) (3) non-profit organization dedicated to:
Helping Assyrian in need, 2-Promoting Assyrian Heritage and culture, 3-Building a structure capable of responding to unexpected crises that require immediate mobilization to help our people, 4- Focusing American and International attention to the needs and humanitarian concerns of the Assyrian people particularly in our ancestral homeland of Bet Nahrain. For more information log on: www.Assyrianaid.org
The AAS, among other functions, has been instrumental in establishing Assyrian schools, publishing text books, providing needed support for the Assyrian population including food, shelter and medicine in the northern region. After the liberation of Iraq , their service area has expanded to the rest of the country to support the entire Assyrian population.
For this purpose, I am training to participate in the PF Chang's Rock ‘N' Roll Marathon Arizona , scheduled for January 11, 2004 , and I am looking for your support. Please see the attached form.
Assyrian Aid Society Pledge Form
Nina Klyana runs the PF Chang Rock ‘N' Roll Marathon January 11, 2004 in Phoenix Arizona
Honoring my mother, Youlia Mishail, second chance at life!
Please check one of the following
? $1.00 per mile X 26.2 miles = $26.20, or
? Single Amount donation of $________
? $250 Business Donation (Name of business will be printed on running shirt)
Please make your check payable to Assyrian Aid Society. Indicate “Nina Klyana Marathon Run” in memo.
Send Payment to:
Assyrian Aid Society
C/O Nina Klyana
4133 W Seldon Lane
Phoenix , AZ 85051
Lecture in Los Angeles: Tea, Literature & History
A Guarded Moment Commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Semele Massacre with a Recently Published Book
will be held in the evening of pre-Thanksgiving Sunday at the American-Assyrian Association of Southern California.
The President of the Association, Shamiram Tabar, cordially invites You to partake in this eventful presentation by the author of the book The Program is set in Four Stages:
Introduction and Presentation
Brief Exspose on " Assyria Tomorrow"
Questions and Answers
DATE: Sunday, November 23, 2003
TIME: 5:00 P.M.
SCHEDULE: 6:00-8:00 P.M. sharp.
Please Be Prompt!
Not to Miss a Moment of this Exhilerating, Unique Historical Event.
Mr. Ivan Kakovitch will be on hand to for book-signing ceremony.
Assyrian American Association of Southern California
Akh Min Khamyani Returns to Chicago on October 12
We are excited to announce, due to popular demand, Akh Min Khimyani will make another showing in Chicago .
Sunday October 12, 2003
Niles West High School - School Theater
5701 Oakton Street
Skokie , IL . 60077
Show Time begins at 7:00 PM
Please go out and get your tickets ASAP!
Locations where you can pick up tickets from are:
For more information please visit us at: http://www.strategicentertainment.com
Shikhtane Running Baghdad
I am very acquainted with the modern political history of the nation of Baghdad and I have remained conversant with political development even after I have arrived here in exile. It is my duty to the degree of honesty to convey my experience to our younger Assyrian generations.
We all know that the sordid royal regime of the Hijazis lasted nearly 37 years while the nationalist Republican government of Abdul Karim Qassim lasted less than 5 years; with the first Baath government lasting only about 9 months; the Aref brothers both lasted less than 5 years. But for our shock the bloody regime of Saddam lasted nearly 35 years.
Previously Saddam Hussain had adopted the name Saddam Al Tikriti and his name appears to me for the first time in a book which I read as a young boy in 1963 on the assassination attempt on Qassim's life. His role in that operation was minor and as a matter of fact all the Baath party at the time was implicated. Saddam fled the country as did the general secretary of the party Fuad Al Rikabi while the rest were tried and imprisoned but later were freed by nationalist Qassim himself.
Most of those involved in the 1959 assassination attempt left the Baath party to become Nasserites including the general secretary who was later executed by Saddam.
Fearing execution made Saddam flee the country because he had a dream that he must rule and must destroy the nation and knock it to the ground.
It is reported that Saddam joined the Baath party around the year 1957 and was recruited by a senior Baath member Abdul Khaliq Al Samaraie, later executed by Saddam.
When the Baath party took power in 1963 the name of Saddam does not appear at all but his name started to surface in the autumn 1964 during Aref regime following internal intelligence's reports that the Baath party had plotted to overthrow the government.
It is rumoured that early in 1964 Aflaq intervened in the election of the Baghdadi leadership of the Baath and asked for Saddam's elevation. He succeeded.
The Baath Party from its first inception was a motley organisation where members vary from total reactionaries to true revolutionaries and this led to the division of the party into two wings ‘left' and ‘right'.
With the pan Arab leadership in Damascus , the leadership expelled Ahmed Al Bakir and Saddam Al Tikriti (among a few others) from the party in 1966. This tiny group formed a separate party rival to Damascus and started working to take power in Baghdad .
In the academic year 1967/68 Saddam still a student at the University of Baghdad exploited the students' strike at the time by proposing to Aref that if his Baath party was allowed a share in the government he would work to end the strike but the strikers knew about the deal so they chased Saddam to beat him up but Saddam fled the campus by jumping over the fence.
In about mid July 1968 with a pre planned scheme both locally and from outside Saddam in league with others takes power. Deposed Aref arrives in London wearing his brown striped suit and was met at the VIP section of the airport by Britain 's officials.
Saddam now has half of the share in power and before the end of the same month he enters the office of the new Prime Minister Abdul Razaq Al Naif with a gun in his hand. He beats Al Naif with the butt of the gun and takes him to the airport and had him flown to Morocco . Al Naif was later killed on London 's street by a secret agent the same year I arrived in Britain in 1978.
That day in July Saddam's Baath party gained full power with the whole organisation not more than the size of a secondary school. The reign of terror has started that will last for 35 bloody years of liquidations, purges and wars.
Saddam takes the presidency in July1979 holding a sword in one hand and a shoe in the other. He sends a clear message on his inauguration day that you either obey or you go by the sword. To prove his words he executes about 20 Baathists of the would be his rival in a ‘blood festival' in Baghdad .
In 1980, at the peak of his power and the coffers full from pumping oil he declared that it is his duty to bomb Tel Aviv. Later that year sent his poor soldiers across the Iranian desert causing a catastrophic bloody war that would last for 8 years bringing ruin and destruction to the land.
Just after his soldiers returned home with 1 million sacrificed and still fresh from his euphoric ‘Pyrrhic victory' of the second ‘Qadissiya' he eyes the Kuwaiti treasures, the adventure that will seal his devastating mission on earth.
In the build up to the first Gulf war he declared bombastically and childishly that he owns the weapons to incinerate half of Israel making himself another Nassir of Arabism. Following his defeat in 1991 and the imposition of sanctions and the starvation of the nation he ran out of policies because all those he adopted have failed so he went to his flag and wrote between the three stars, possibly in his own handwriting, the Arian slogan ‘Allah Akbar', the signal that he will fight a religious battle and keep himself and the thugs around him for another 12 years. On April 9 Saddam leaves Baghdad into hiding in a barge full of water melons and the nature of that fake man becomes clear-from bedouin to bedouin. Now he is no more than a ‘dead man walking' moving from one hiding place to another in his white dishdasha.
Now we understand that Saddam brought the Baath to power and that he has also ended the Baath party as an organisation and sent his henchmen, once dreaded, looking for hiding places like dizzy sheep. The same poor henchmen who presided over special courts and send men and women to their death in the name of Saddam.
My Holy Bible triumphs here that all those who live with the sword shall perish by the sword.
Britain under the disposal of Saddam
My introduction gives hints for the nature of the past regime in Baghdad and one can see how London or Britain has become a centre for political orphanage both for Baghdadis and others. Regimes fell and regimes rose via these subversive centres.
For nearly 20 years I have been watching the nature of this holy alliance between Baghdad and Britain when the latter committed itself fully at the disposal of a brutal dictator the former destitute and bedouin boy from Alauja. The past imperial power descends to this level of misery in order to survive as a player on the world scenes.
I myself have witnessed Saddam's agents and Britain 's ones together chasing the nationalists living in this country. Britain provided Saddam with information including individuals' movement within the country and outside and regularly harassed individuals blacklisted by Saddam.
When Baghdad invaded Kuwait in 1990 the policy of this country was that Saddam has to leave Kuwait but when the US moved into Kuwait to dislodge Saddam , Britain had no option but to follow the giant state in order to appear strong at world's stage.
This time the Baghdad-Britain axis was broken and even some Saddam's agents were imprisoned, but not for long.
After Saddam's defeat and his withdrawal from Kuwait his regime became isolated and felt he cannot survive internally now the mighty US is against him.
He pioneered a plan by arresting 4-5 Britons and put them in a notorious Baghdadi prison and sent signals to Britain that these men will remain languished here unless they return to the alliance as before.
Britain capitulated to gain freedom of those prisoners and agreed a secret deal that they will work together as before and will provide Saddam with information and will harass individuals blacklisted by him. This lasted even after Saddam fell from power on April 9.
Saddam in return will do his utmost and protect the British interests especially in the nature of the government after he is gone.
The recent Sunni rebellion targets US soldiers but never British ones and the recent recording tape of Saddam, although politically-clinically dead, asks for the departure of the US troops but not the British. This is the holy Alliance .
Saddam's agents are in Britain and some in other European countries and one day with Saddam's relatives and his grand children will form the next government should Britain 's slice of the cake is reduced.
The regime of April 9
I have seen regimes change in Baghdad with a degree of legality but the current regime change has no any grain of legality.
A regime run by these figures has no future and even does not deserve to survive. What happened to that giant nation to be run by a council of pygmies?
How many times did the Kurdish leaders kiss Saddam and where is the national identity of those members who were picked from the ashes of oblivion? Where is the mettle of those who abandoned what they stood for?
No one in this regime recognizes the Assyrian existence as a nation but the regime is prepared to accept the presence of Nasara Christians but without power.
When the regime looked for the inclusion of the Turks in the council they found themselves in awkward position that they cannot do that without the angering of the Christians so they chose a Nisrani Christian.
The regime now is dominated by the Shia and that meant to us all the transfer of power from the dictatorship of the Sunnis to the dictatorship of the Shia. How can you legitimize such regime?
In the past Sunnis ruled but Christians although deprived from power prospered and the others were sidelined. What the Christians got now is nothing.
The Communist party have a single seat and the whole Assyrian nation have a single seat. How many ‘divisions' have the Communist party?
This regime and the ministers must be dissolved and a true government be established by technocrats not affiliated to any party with the representation of 25% for each group the (Sunnis), (Shia), (Kurds & Turks) and (non Muslims). Non Muslims include Assyrians, Yazidis, Mandeans, Armenians and the rest. This is a true democracy with no group dominating others and posts of importance be shared by the groups but the regions will be run by the respective communities.
The current rebellion is a Sunni revolt protesting their loss of power and has nothing to do with Saddam and his ousted men. Saddam is finished.
Government of technocrats should be transitional until elections are held where all the political parties are allowed to compete.
The transitional government must decentralize and devolve the power to the provinces and this must include provinces for Assyrians and other ethnic groups.
This transitional power must restore law and order and services and prepare the country for elections. Also must negotiate with the US and agree on mutual cooperation and a staged troop withdrawal and the closure of the British Embassy.
The Assyian province now not tomorrow
Before the start of the American action against Saddam a group of Assyrian individuals lost in the ‘wilderness' entered the office of the British government and either met the one in charge or submitted a petition to him.
Britain invaded Kosovo and handed Kosovo on a ‘platter' to the Muslims without the Albanians making any crucial move. Kosovo remained Serbian even under the 300 years of Turkish occupation but Britain handed it to the Muslims.
Did the boss of Britain say a word about the future of the Assyrians in their own homeland and did somebody hear a whisper on television or radio or even a note to a journalist? He talks a lot about the Kurds, Bosnians, Kosovars and Arafatists but can not mention the Assyrians, in the same way he can not mention the Lebanese Christians, the Southern Sudanese and the East Timorese.
We have a large Assyrian presence in the US and we have to shake the earth and turn the tables and ask the assistance of the US . The Kurds fought decades and achieved nothing. The Shia kept flogging themselves and never fired a shot, not even a sling but now are at the helm of this new regime, thanks to US. Why can't we do the same?
Zowaa is the leading party on the ground but this Zowaa is emasculated and his power is only unleashed on other Assyrian groups. It is a paper tiger and would bring us to a total oblivion in our own homeland. Zowaa and non Zowaa will sell us.
An Assyrian group or committee must be formed that will include individuals from independent Assyrians. Party representatives may join.
This group be given the power to speak on behalf of our nation and must be led by powerful activist like Rev ken Joseph.
We must have an agenda that will seek the creation of our own Assyrian province and this is a must and this Assyrian province is described and known as the Assyrian triangle. In fact this is the minimum what we want.
The solution works by creating two provinces in Nineveh one West of Tigris river run jointly by All including Assyrians and the other one is East of Tigris run by Assyrians and Yazidis. The East Tigris extends from Zakho, Sarsink and Dohuk in the north to Assur in the south and suburb of Aqra and even to Ankawa .to the East. The Kurds have to accept by compensating for the villages they took from us.
Every province in the country must have a devolved power in all matters without the interference of the centre. If any ethnic group adopts a federal system then we go for a federal system ourselves.
Our Assyrian presence in Baghdad will not be favourable with the new realities and this might trigger the reverse migration to the Assyrian province(s) and this requires building new towns and villages and expanding the current ones.
We must administer our province fully in all matters and we use our language as a formal language and start Assyrianisation of the province by using Assyrian names for all towns and villages and even changing all names whether personal, road names or geographical names.
The Chaldean question
The Chaldean Clergy was silent for nearly a century and the church never indulged in the political or ethnic issues.
When considerable members of the Chaldean church joined the Communist party in the 1950s and 1960s the church did not utter a word.
Even in the past decades especially after the first Gulf war the church continued in its ecclesial duties to serve its people especially under the late patriarch Bidawid.
It is absurd that some unlettered Chaldean mullahs with no inkling in the history of our nation and our people seek to sow division among our ranks at such crucial time our nation is facing.
In a jealous way that is unchristian the Chaldean mullahs seek our division that would please our tormenter especially in the north.
We the Assyrian people, Madinhaye, Syriac and Chaldean must defeat such schemes of conspiracy and isolate the Chaldeans mullahs.
We must allow the Chaldean cadre a clear and prominent say in the affairs of our nation and every Assyrian body or committee must show the proper representation of our three churches dominated by the Chaldeans.
There are many in the Chaldean section of our people who will stand by our Assyrian national cause and we all together must make life difficult for the schismatic Chaldean clergy by all means including petition to higher bodies, joining other churches or forming a new church should the clergy remain defiant.
Saddam came to power and stayed in power for 35 years and he plundered a nation and wiped out a Republican generation with help from outside especially Britain .
He hands over the power to a reactionary civilian junta and flees into hiding and his legacy dries and disappears. His rule is finished and seemingly the Hijazis are to succeed him.
Baghdad is now cleansed and a history of nearly a century is gone and we have to start again from scratch. Saddam whitewashed the whole nation and mesmerised a population that once took pride of its struggle in the 1950s and 1960s.
Why we did not do it like Eastern Europe which was transformed into western pseudo democracies by peaceful means and why we did not allow the Baathists to disappear like the Communists? All this was done to install the sordid Hijazis and make the nation psychologically prepared to accept the transformation through Saddam's hard work of 35 years. According to Saddam he and they have the same ancestral Hijazi line.
We the Assyrians so far have not gained anything but we must push our way through the corridors of power and ask for recognition and nationhood. Zowaa is not for us but for our demise. If we don't do it now we are finished.
For now the men and women ruling Baghdad are paraded on Arab channels as the embolden of the new era in Baghdad and recently I spoke to my mother who is at least 85 years old and without school education but very clever. She told me in our Assyrian dialect of Nineveh when you watch television kkhazid ani kalwe wa khmare. I told my mother in more suave language that they are all shikhtane.
Dr. George Habash
For the Sake of this Unique Nation?
Many Assyrians hold the dream of national unity dear to their thoughts and hearts. However, modern Assyrian history has proven that the "political thought" has failed to bring the various pieces of the Assyrian fabrics together. Why? The sad reality is that our people were always, and still are largely, driven by the Church. It is for this reason that the early 20th century nationalists like Yusuf Malek, Agha Potrus, and others recently as Afram Rayis, while recognizing themselves as Assyrians from the Chaldean Catholic Church or believing in unity by using compound name, failed despite their hard efforts.
A very important question here is: Is this messy issue today really about the name or is it about the control of the Church of the East. The Chaldean Catholic Church synod failed to elect a patriarch in Baghdad for the first time in its 173-years history, as it left it to the Vatican to decide. The synod (August 19 to September 2, 2003 ) failed after two weeks of heated discussions and arguments to reach a consensus. However, the majority of the bishops returned on September 3, 2003 , after such strong disagreements to sign a letter sent to Ambassador Paul Bremer, American Civil Administrator of Iraq, stating that they were a separate ethnicity and demanded a separate representation in Iraqi government and new constitution. Many Assyrians asked, what happened? We thought that the majority within the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq , including Mar Ibrahim Ibrahim of the Detroit diocese, had reached an understanding of unity through this title ChaldoAssyrians!
First, if the readers pay close attention to the list of bishops who signed the letter in question in its Arabic version, they will see that Mar Ibrahim Ibrahim did not sign the letter. His name is there and perhaps in his own handwriting, however, his signature is missing. The other point I need to make here is that the majority of the twenty-two Chaldean Catholic bishops have been historically strong opponents of nationalizing the church. The words of the Late Patriarch, Raphael Bidawid I on the Lebanese International Satellite TV Station (LBC) in 2000, are still afresh in our ears. Labeling the members of the Chaldean Catholic Church 'ethnically Chaldeans' is a mistake. Are the members of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iran and the Assyro-Chaldeans in Malabar , India ethnically Chaldeans? Were the Nestorians of Cyprus in 1445 ethnically Chaldeans when they adopted this latter title, i.e. Chaldeans, as they converted to Catholicism? We know as well that there was no Chaldean bishop, priest, group, or congregation before the fifteenth century. Thus, the question to ask is, why are certain clergymen and few intellectual making such propositions and claims?
I keep asking myself, what was the motivation and force behind this latest Third of September letter to Paul Bremer. Some say we cannot ignore the Vatican factor. It is reasonable to consider that the Vatican understands the Chaldean controversy, since the Vatican created it. The Vatican understands that due to sheer numbers and power of the Catholics in addition to the weakness of the Church of the East in Iraq , time is ripe to win the latter church over. Some argue that as long as the Church of the East existed, the Roman Church will always be considered as a substitute in Christianity's global theatre. The Church of the East will always be considered as the real star since it was there before the 'Roman Church'. So, what does this really mean?
On the one hand, two interwoven points made by two groups need to be addressed: One Assyrian group claim that as long as the Assyrian Church of the East existed under such exact title, the Assyrian national movement will struggle to make serious progress as many Catholic and Orthodox Assyrians will refuse to take part in the Assyrian national movement. This group claims that having the name Assyrian in front of the Church title means in reality equating the two titles Nestorian and Assyrian! Since a Catholic does not want to be associated with Nestorius, hence, he/she will refuse to cooperate. The second group claims that as long as the Chaldeans (Catholic Assyrians) are not part of the Assyrian national movement, the movement will struggle in Iraq . They claim that the Assyrian national movement will survive, but it will always struggle, having the congregation of the Chaldean Catholic Church more as its challenger than its defender. Both groups argue that the moment the Church of the East merges with the Chaldean Catholic Church under a title that does not include the name Assyrian and recognizes this religious term Chaldean, the Assyrians, politically, will have better chances to establish a stronger and more powerful voice in Iraq .
The mother Church of the East in Iraq is helplessly getting weaker and weaker. Unless a miracle takes place, this church is destined to die eventually; it is only a matter of time. The question is, are we going to cling to this dying church or are we going to say to ourselves let us get over this pride in a once glorious church and save it for future generations. A friend from Chicago pointed to Ecclesiastes 7:8-9, which teaches us: "Better is the end of a thing than its beginning; and the patient man in humbleness is better than the proud in spirit. Be not hastily angry, for anger rests in the bosom of the fools." The Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church are one church that was divided in 1553 and it is time to reunite them again for the sake of the survival of both.
On the other hand, the Assyrian Church of the East is in a big dilemma. The bishops are polarizing the church and the patriarch, for all practical purposes, has lost control over many of them. It seems to me that the present patriarch will reside over the church until his time will come (we pray after long life) and the congregation will live the big chaos in the church with his departure since no one person will be able to hold the church together. Mar Dinkha tried to walk in the path of unity. In 1980, he offered Mar Addai, Patriarch of the Ancient Church of the East (successor of Mar Toma Darmo) to accept him as Associate Patriarch, however, the plan did not materialize as Mar Addai demanded more authority than what Mar Dinkha was willing to concede. (Read: Mar Aprem George Mooken. Western Missions Among Assyrians. Trichur , India : Mar Narsai Press, 1982, p. 142) However, we know that it was the Iraqi government that blocked any effort that would materialize in the unity of the two churches. He tried later in 1994, when he signed the Christological Understanding with the Vatican . However, some say that the independence of the new proposed Church (united Assyrian Church of the East and Chaldean Catholic Church) from the Vatican was of great concern. The communications between the Assyrian Church of the East and Chaldean Catholic Church stumbled and reached a dead end few years later. Was it really the independence of the united church from Rome the reason, or was it certain Assyrian bishops, who simply do not want to see the union materializing. Was it the independence of the church or the pride of elder generation Assyrians, who feel that they will be betraying their forefathers by becoming Papal?
Then, came the unconfirmed news from Baghdad . The perhaps rumors claimed that there was some sort of communication between certain bishops of the Chaldean Catholic Church participating in the Chaldean Church synod and Mar Giwargis Sliwa, Archbishop of the Church of the East in Baghdad and Mar Addai, Patriarch of the Ancient Church of the East. Mar Addai and Mar Giwargis presumably have told the Chaldean bishops 'NO' to the compound title ChaldoAssyrians; they stated that they were Assyrians and that they will not accept any compromise about the Assyrian name. The next day, the Chaldean bishops met again and decided to write the letter to Ambassador Bremer. I personally question if this ever took place and doubt it strongly. It seems to me that the furiousness of certain Chaldean bishops have reached a degree they could not bare with any longer. The reason being is that all news agencies, newspapers, magazines, and international satellite stations, keep mentioning about the 'Assyrians' or 'Assyrian Christians' and ignore the title Chaldean. This has been swallowed bitterly by some Chaldean bishops. Furthermore, the Kurds have not rested. Rumors have it that the Kurds have been bribing certain clergymen in return for creating this mess. While Assyrians and Chaldeans were busy fighting these petty arguments among each other's, the Kurds have secured their grip on northern Iraq and turned it to the so-called Iraqi Kurdistan. Twelve years ago, a fellow Assyrian and a dear friend of mine met with Archbishop Paul Karatas after he fled north of Iraq after the uprising in 1991. He ended in Istanbul and was a guest at the Chaldean Diocese and the archbishop for few days. The archbishop asked him where was he from? My friend answered 'Barwar.' They talked about Kurdification of northern Assyrian towns and villages and the archbishop said, fifteen years from now the Kurds will control all of Barwar as well; just like they have controlled other Assyrian regions in north of Iraq. I think the Archbishop is a prophet.
Fellow Assyrians, the way I see it, the Assyrians and the Chaldeans must re-unite for the sake of existence in Iraq in general and north of Iraq ( Assyria ) in particular. We need each other in order to survive in a very hostile world. Continuous name calling by one side against the other on various discussion forums and other media outlets is not going to help. In fact, such practices give the excuse needed by the separatists to continue in their devilish campaign. Furthermore, we should refrain from negative reaction towards the September 3 letter because what is important is its outcome. The way I see it, such moves are useless; let us be patient. The American Administration in Iraq knows well who really struggled and who suffered, it was for that reason that the seat in the Iraqi Governing Council was given to the Assyrian Democratic Movement. The Coalition Administration in Iraq want to keep us under one seat and united. The Western world was shaken after September 11, 2001 and the future of Christianity in the Middle East has taken serious considerations. Some argue that the civilized world is going to assure that Christianity is alive and protected in the Middle East and the Moslem world after what happened. It has begun in Sudan and the tide will extend to other regions where for centuries the Christians have been oppressed and persecuted.
There is a difference between making a point through a scholarly and civilized manner and between expressing nothing but emotional outburst and using bad language while making a point. The prior could convince the reasonable among society; the latter inflames the situation, as it turns to a matter of stubbornness. Every one of us must put the future of our people as a whole ahead of his/her own interest. To every clergymen and laymen, men and women I say, seats are tempting, however, for a true Christian and nationalist alike there should be no higher seat than the seats of Assyria and Jesus Christ. Let us work in the path of re-uniting this broken home and church … let us pray together for:
One Language called Syriac
One church called Church of the East or even Chaldean Church of the East.
One nation called Assyrian
This composition will preserve all titles and satisfy most of our people. We cannot satisfy everybody, however, we must try to bring as many as we can under one umbrella while trying as hard as we can to safeguard true history.
The saying goes; if there is good will, there is a solution. There is no reason whatsoever why we cannot bring our broken communities together. The reason why we cannot iron our differences has always been because of few individuals, few individuals whose only advantage is that they decided to get involved while the majority of society decided not to be active. Just think about that, we are allowing few unholy clergymen, opportunists, and ill at heart to keep us torn apart. We have individuals who have no true vision or serious national dreams; however, they have made a name for themselves by living on other's mistakes. We have been losing to the Kurds in our ancestral homelands; we lost our lands, homes, and population because Assyrian organizations have not been fighting the real enemy. A person that chooses division over unity is not a child of Christ; an organization that has no vision, real national agenda, solution for the Assyrian question, or alternative for the nation's problems, yet tries to get publicity from putting other organizations down is not worthy to be called as Assyrian organization. An Assyrian leader who has failed for years to lift a finger against the atrocities of the Kurds in northern Iraq but finds it so natural to bash fellow Assyrians is not a son of Assyria .
When are the people going to stand up and stop this mockery in Assyrian political and religious affairs? When are we going to stand up and say enough is enough to the Assyrian mediocre national movement that is ruled indirectly by Kurds and Arabs? Why are we not helping ourselves when there are nations that want to help us? When are we going to wake up? When Assyria is buried officially and the so-called Kurdistan is proclaimed the land of the Assyrians!
Unity of our Syriac-speaking people in Iraq is our demand; we accept no other option.
The Mask of Warka
A tip from an Iraqi led to a frightened boy, then to a smuggler, finally to a farm where — wrapped in rags under six inches of dirt — Iraqi police and U.S. troops recently found the priceless Mask of Warka, "the Mona Lisa of Mesopotamia," the face sculpted 5,500 years ago and stolen during the liberation of Baghdad.
Acting on another tip, searchers were directed to a garden near Tikrit, where they found a buried cache of weapons, including 23 missiles capable of shooting down aircraft.
Intelligence is the tool we need to find out where to dig. Those now so gleefully certain we will find no weapons of mass destruction may be surprised if — someday — an Iraqi technician, no longer terrified of reprisal or eager for reward, directs us to an easily hidden sack of deadly germs.
Such a find would be treated with suspicion by the legion with a stake in failure. Planted by the C.I.A., they'd say; or, old viruses left over from a previous era. Nothing that helps justify our overthrow of this generation's bloodiest tyrant — not human rights, not even a major victory in the war on terror — will they find acceptable.
Evidence of that deep-seated denial is the reaction to the most significant and extensive poll conducted this year by the Gallup organization.
The startling finding: despite all the hardships — the early looting, the explosions and killings afterward, the publicized lack of power and worry about water, fear of the bands of criminals that Saddam released and of terrorists that Syria and Iran exported — despite it all, two out of three residents of Baghdad believe that they are better off today under occupation than they were in the "orderly" times when Saddam was butchering his opposition.
That is the opposite of the impression created by pictures of explosions and angry shouters. The Gallup results that get the news lead are those showing a slip in President Bush's approval rating. But when the newsworthy measurement of Iraqi pro-overthrow opinion is even reported, a secondary finding is emphasized: the popularity of Jacques Chirac.
How should Bush and Tony Blair react to such failuremongering in the face of strategic success? They acted on the best information and logical evaluation, took no chances in stopping a proven sociopath and — as Bush coolly reminded grumpy U.N. politicians who had vacillated for a decade — "the world is safer today."
Realistically we should expect political campaigning, not gratitude, from the temporary leadership we appointed. As night follows day, members of the Iraqi Governing Council will outdo one another in demanding more authority quickly — thereby currying favor with potential voters and future European customers — while secretly hoping our coalition sticks around to make the country governable.
We should take full advantage of the Franco-German-Russian shortsighted unwillingness to take part in Iraq 's reconstruction. For example, that means the $10 billion claim on Iraq 's empty treasury to pay for Saddam's arms should be paid by New Iraq on the day Vladimir Putin redeems the czarist debt, including interest, and not a day sooner.
We should also take the $21 billion portion of the $87 billion budget that Bush earmarked for rebuilding Iraq 's infrastructure and make that an obligation of an Iraq Reconstruction Finance Corporation. It is right for America to pay the military costs of regime change because it was clearly in our (and the free-riding world's) anti-terror interest. But New Iraq's huge oil reserves should be collateral for our low-interest loans to pay for the rebuilding of that nation's economy.
The Iraq we ultimately leave behind will be happy to be rid of all occupiers. It will belong to the Arab League and OPEC. But it will not sponsor terror nor threaten its Kurds and Shiites with genocide. New Iraq has a good chance of showing its oppressed, downtrodden neighbors what freedom and enterprise can do for Arab peoples.
The happily recovered mask of Warka, with its mysterious oval face and darkened eyes — relic of the Sumerian civilization that invented writing — is a suitable symbol of the reborn nation. She may look a little like Hillary Clinton wearing sunglasses, but I think I can detect a smile.
Assyrian Man has A Gift For Giving Fascinating Tours of South Florida 's Past
Most mornings before Miami comes alive, historian Paul George can be found walking near his home in Little Havana.
"The pattern's pretty much the same," he says. "I walk in the direction of Saints Peter and Paul Church and make a visit. Sometimes there's a new business open, a humble mom-and-pop, a dollar store."
It's part exercise, but mostly it's his unique form of man-on-the-street research -- the research method that has earned him de facto status as South Florida 's most accessible and knowledgeable historian.
The information he gleans on his walks -- the details of Miami life -- is used in his popular series of historic tours, held in conjunction with the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, back in full swing this month after a summer hiatus.
On his walks, he's seen animal sacrifices. He's discovered the Star of David hidden under a cross in an art deco building, once a synagogue, now a church. His walks are so regular that each Mother's Day morning, he can count on seeing a group of women in blue blazers and tan skirts singing songs to the Virgin Mary in front of her statue.
George sees details he says no one can see from a car window. And in this historian's mind, the details of South Florida 's past -- short by history's standards -- are the keys to building a sense of a community in a region perpetually opening its doors to newcomers.
He calls what he does "public history"; he is that rare academic who likes to keep the ivory tower at a safe distance.
"Many historians are attached to universities and don't get out much past that," says Andy Brian, president and CEO of the historical museum. "Paul kind of lives in both worlds. He's able to take the scholarly background and convert it into information that's consumable for the average person."
At 60, George is anything but a few years from retirement. He married wife Laura when he was 46. She was 24. They now have three children: Paul Jr., 11; Mathew, 9, and Maryrose, 2.
This month, George started his 13th year as professor at Miami Dade Community College , the same school he attended before earning degrees at the University of Miami and Florida State . Alumni of his 16-week class, Miami & South Florida History, include politicians, lawyers and judges. He's president of the Louis Wolfson II Media History Center and sits on the Metro Miami-Dade County Historic Preservation Board. He has published eight books and curated six historical exhibits.
Next, he will curate a show on the history of Broward County Jews at the Jewish Museum of Florida in Miami Beach . He also just finished teaching the first 30-hour Miami History Course for Tour Guides, which the County Commission is considering as part of mandatory accreditation procedure for tour guides.
George's name has appeared hundreds of times in South Florida newspapers in the past 10 years, quoted on issues as disparate as the history of South Florida voting, mobsters who've lived among us, the mysterious Miami circle and the Florida migration of Jews and Cubans.
George will tell you the reason he has his fingers in so many pies is that when he graduated in 1975, there just weren't any teaching jobs for doctors in history.
"I had to become resourceful," he says.
Gary Mormino, a professor of history at the University of South Florida and a friend for 20 years, also gives tours around Tampa . But not in the same way and in so many permutations.
"Anyone can do a tour and anyone can give lectures, but it's the passion and the enthusiasm and genuine affection for the subject and the audience," says Mormino. "He's done it so many times that faking it would be impossible. He really does love his craft."
Close to his roots
George was born in Miami . His Assyrian father came to the United States from London as a World War I refugee. His mother was born in Philadelphia to Assyrian immigrant parents.
George's father worked as an upholsterer. Mom stayed home. There wasn't much money in the George household and his parents stressed the importance of education. George's brother, Edward, is an oncologist in Virginia Beach , Va. His sister, Anna, teaches first grade in Dallas .
He gets his strong faith from his mother and is very proudly an old-fashioned Roman Catholic. When the family went to Disney World in July and missed Mass, George made up for it the day he returned, checking in for 11 a.m. Mass at Gesu Catholic Church near his office.
George grew up in the same Little Havana house he lives in today, having bought it from his parents in the '80s. He holds on to his personal history the same way he holds on to South Florida history. "I'm a very nostalgic person," he says.
He has watched his neighborhood change and then change again. By the time his family arrived in 1951, Jews had already started to leave. But it wasn't until 1960, for instance, that a Little Havana theater provided Spanish subtitles for movies. The arrival of 125,000Cubans to Miami-Dade in the 1980 Mariel boatlift changed the neighborhood dramatically.
His Little Havana neighborhood is now mostly Cuban, and George doesn't speak Spanish. His wife is from Spain and their children are bilingual. Friends suspect he understands more than he lets on. But his lack of Spanish language has not prevented him from examining and understanding Miami 's varied Hispanic populations.
He's watching now as Little Havana and the surrounding neighborhoods become increasingly gentrified and more diverse with Hispanics from other countries moving in.
In many ways, George has never quite fit into any version of the neighborhood. As a kid, most of his neighbors were white Southerners, with a few immigrants sprinkled in.
"I felt very different. My father was from the old country and my mother was one generation removed from that," he says. "It was the Deep South and I was darker skinned than most people."
He still loves the neighborhood and the institutions it houses.
Each Thanksgiving Day, George organizes a fund-raiser for Saints Peter and Paul Catholic School , which his children now attend. This year marks the 50th anniversary of what is known as the Turkey Bowl, a football game with alumni as the players. George hosts a victory party after the fund-raiser at his home.
"The cheapest beer at Winn-Dixie and potato chips. That was Paul's victory party," says Robert Parente, director of the city of Miami 's mayor's office for film, arts and entertainment and a friend of George's for 30 years. "His wife has totally classed him up and they're much more elaborate."
Like George, Parente is a student of Miami 's history, but he does not have George's mind for details. Once, when George couldn't arrange his schedule to do a cemetery tour, Parente pinch-hit. "I did OK for the first five minutes because the people around me were the obvious people: the Burdines, the Tuttles. But then I came across something I couldn't remember. I would have needed a stack of three-by-five index cards as cheat sheets in order to even remotely do what flows out of him."
A regular guy
George didn't teach this past summer, but his schedule was full, nonetheless. There were four booklets financed by the Florida Humanities Council, which will allow for self-guided tours of Little Havana. He has just completed a history of Gesu Catholic Church. It might seem to be a straightforward telling of the growth of a parish, but to George, it's urban American history, Catholic history, downtown history, downtown parish history and the history of new immigrant populations.
It is that kind of mix that he finds most fulfilling.
His personal and professional lives seem to be forever intertwined. On a Little Havana tour, for instance, he points to a home once owned John B. Riley, the first mayor of Miami and an organizer of Gesu. George tells the crowd that Riley drank himself to death in the bathroom while his wife prayed outside the door. He heard the story from Riley's grandson.
Heidi Johnson-Wright and husband Steve Wright moved from Columbus, Ohio, to Little Havana a little more than two years ago. They bought a 1922 Spanish Mission style home, renovated it and then set out to learn what they could about their adopted city. Enter George.
"What is really cool about him is that he's just a regular guy. He's not some sort of unapproachable academic. You can go have a beer with him," she says. "He gives you a feel of what life was like earlier in the 20th century. It definitely gives you a greater appreciation for the area."
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