|AANF: Its Functions & Organization||Ivan Kakovitch|
|Assyrian Television Producer Arrested For Soliciting Opinion
Iraqi Christians Optimistic About Constitution Text
|The Crimson Field Book Cover Revealed
|The Assyrian Martyr
The Trail of Tears
Time To Clean Up the Mess
|Assyrian American National Convention Education Programs
Elect an Assyrian to Congress
|Iraq's Draft Constitution and the ChaldoAssyrians
Mar Bawai Soro: His Vision, Wishes, & Roadblocks
For the Erased
|Winner of the NGA Writing Competition 2005|
Assyrian American National Federation
The yearly Convention of the Assyrian American National Federation (AANF) is the most enlightening achievement any organization of Assyria has ever orchestrated.
Its credo is to assemble masses, so that they meet, discuss, debate, lodge their grievances, and walk away with novel ideas of their brethren, only to tally such thoughts, and to embark on presenting dogmas, theories and plans for the nation of Assyria, all over the world.
In 1933, right after the Semele Massacre of August 8, a group of die-hard Assyrian community residents of the Eastern Shores, that had migrated to the United States during World War I from Assyria, under the control of the Ottoman Empire, for almost five centuries, assembled in a small and damp basement of the house of David and Rose Dartley, and enacted the establishment of the Assyrian American National Federation, (AANF).
Seventy-two years later, this august body still functions, and its activities are ever increasing with each generation.
Some thirty-seven associations of various degrees of memberships form the core of this Federation. Some associations such as the Turlock Civic Club lead all others, with a membership hovering over 1,000 members. But, there are some that register a mere half a dozen active members.
The trend is that each association member of the Federation is to hold bi-annual elections to elect a President and a Board of Directors. All members are free to participate in such an election, regionally.
More or less, the same trend is, executed by the Federation, when the member associations send their delegates to the annual Convention, which rotate in three geographic zones in the United States, namely, East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast. The delegates representing their districts and regions participate in the election of the President and other members functioning as Vice President and an Administrative Body, every two years. The elected hierarchy is limited to a two term, two-year terms.
For almost three and a half decades, the Federation was to function as a non-denominational, non-political affiliated cultural and national conglomeration of the resident Assyrians of the United States of America. Then, in the early 70's, the hiatus prevailed, and the Federation fell victim to a political organization, namely Assyrian Universal Alliance, (AUA) a brainchild of Mr. William Sarmas of Cannes, France.
Suddenly, all past Presidents and Vice Presidents, along with most Board of Directors and Administrators of the Federation, whose terms had expired, or would be expiring in due time, jumped on the bandwagon of AUA. The McArthur adage: 'Old Soldiers Never Die, They Just Fade Away', was reversed, and they chose to die as leaders, rather than to fade away. They were in search for a vehicle for continuity of leadership, hence, they just passed the hat from the Federation to AUA.
In reality, but not in practicality, AUA alarmed the Federation by superimposing its authority over the latter. This process was easily accomplished, since all past Presidents, along with most of the Administrative Body of the Federation could cast their ballot on any issue, including nominating and electing the new President and the Vice President. Hence, with over two dozens of past Presidents and Vice Presidents, the members of the Federation stood no chance to beat the drums against the AUA appendage.
Process of Politicizing
By sheer ruse and pervasion, the Secretary General of AUA and his Assistants scrambled a dogma, and placed the Federation under their thumbs. This adventurous posture of AUA not only did not enhance the Federation's functions, but, practically created a diatribe among its member associations, since not all would agree on a political power, placed in the hands of the few, and especially those that were selected, to lead AUA on a dictum of international relations with the outside world.
The Secretary General of AUA was, selected by friends and associates, behind the closed doors, and no Assyrian was allowed to participate in such a selection, unless he was its member. This procedure disenfranchised a great deal of regional Assyrians at large, and a great number of individuals as well as association members of the Federation, rebelled and fomented their own political entities, thus creating an in-house political struggle -- a civil disobedience -- that has never ceased to exist, ever since. This civil disorder, ultimately, set an example of chaos and anarchy in the ranks, the functions, and the organization of the AANF.
Assyrian Television Producer Arrested For Soliciting Opinion
(ZNDA: Baghdad) On 26 August three military cars confronted Anmar Majid, an Ashur TV Satellite correspondent in Iraq, and took him into custody by the Iraqi military personnel without a warrant or charges.
Mr. Majid was imprisoned for one day and tortured. Mr. Majid was accused of producing a television program in which he had solicited the opinion of his viewers on how Prime Minister Ja'afari is performing in the area of security.
Ashur TV and its employees protested such actions, reminding the Iraqi security forces of similar actions taken by the previous dictatorial regime.
Iraqi Christians Optimistic About Constitution Text
Courtesy of the AsiaNews
(ZNDA: Baghdad) Patriarch Delly is satisfied by the new text: “It is not perfect, but with time it can be improved.” Chaldean Bishop of Mossul: the constitution does not guarantee the freedom to convert from Islam.
Christians in Iraq are optimistic about the new constitutional text, but hope for the improvement of certain points in which the principles of Islam (one of the sources of law) and those of democracy seem to contrast, particularly in terms of the full respect of religious freedom: Islam, in fact, does not accept that Muslims convert to other religions.
“It is still too early for a definitive evaluation of the new constitution,” the Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, Monsignor Emmanuel III Delly said in remarks to AsiaNews, “We, as Iraqis, are satisfied for the time being, but discussions are continuing on various points.” The Patriarch is certain that “most Christians in Iraq are confident about this text, which is not perfect, but which can be improved with time.” Msgr Delly does not seem worried. “The fact that Islam is one of the principal sources of legislation does not jeopardize freedom and respect for all other religions.” Patriarch Delly says he will continue to “defend his flock as Iraqis and as Christians and encourage them to profess their faith freely and without fear.”
Hopes are high also in Mossul, an area among those most affected by terrorism and where, over the past year, Christians have often been the target of violence by Islamic fundamentalists. Local sources speak of “great expectations and optimism,” even if Monsignor Paul Faraj Rahho, Chaldean Archbishop of the city, in an interview with AsiaNews, expresses some doubts, especially about Article 2 of the constitution, which appears to highlight the difficulty and ambiguity of juxtaposing the respect for Islam and that for democratic principles and basic rights. “Islam is the official religion of the state,” the text reads, “and a basic source of legislation…No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed principles of Islam, of democracy and of basic rights and freedom outlined in this constitution.”
“We are in a predominantly Muslim country,” Msgr Rahho remarks. “We are not concerned that Islam is the state religion, but being a basic source of legislation contradicts the principles of democracy and freedom, and, above all, the other possible sources are not mentioned.” The Bishops points to the possibility of “one day finding ourselves faced with laws which are compatible with Islam but not with the values of a free society.”
The prelate points to the second point of the same article as an example of such a contradiction: “This constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi population and full religious rights for all and the freedom of faith and religious practice.” Religious freedom includes also that of being able to change one’s faith; Archbishop Rahho stresses however that, in order to respect Islamic law, this is impossible: in many Islamic countries, conversion to other religions is discouraged or prohibited. Therefore, citizens cannot freely change their religion without contravening Article 2 (a). At the same time, however, if the freedom to abandon Islam for another faith is not guaranteed, Article 2 (b) is contravened.
But Islam willingly welcomes converts from other religions and here, Msgr Rahho warns, “the biggest problem” takes shape. “When one or both parents become Muslim,” he explains, “minors in the family are also automatically registered as Muslims: this involves the imposition of a new religion even on those who have not chosen it.” Once again,” the prelate emphasizes, “the question is why can one convert to Islam and not vice versa?”
“As Christians,” the bishop concludes, “we hope that with time the new constitution will arrive at guaranteeing more clearly the respect for all basic rights.”
The Crimson Field Book Cover Revealed
(ZNDA: Washington) The book cover of one of the most anticipated historical novels is finally revealed with the release of this edition of Zinda Magazine. The cover was designed by Mr. David Daryawish, winner of the "The Crimson Field International Book Cover Contest" in July 2005 (click here).
Ms. Rosie Malek-Yonan's The Crimson Field is due out later this month. This year's attendees to the Assyrian National Convention in Boston will be able to hear Ms. Malek-Yonan reading excerpts from her book at the Arts and Literature seminar on Saturday, 3 September.
Assyrian-Swedish journalist, Nuri Kino, writes about The Crimson Field: "It's literature at its best." He continues: "I’m almost always skeptical when a storyteller or writer leaves little to one’s own imagination by making very clear and bold statements. But that is not the case with Malek-Yonan. In The Crimson Field it’s important for the reader to be brought along when a soul is extorted from a slaughtered body and let the author tell us to look down at the earthly body, in order to understand the feelings of a mother who is driven from her homeland and forced to leave her only child.
Rosie Malek-Yonan’s liquid and lyrical style of writing is a perfect blend of long and short phrases each a poem in itself. The cadences of a concert opera are evident in her writing. A concert you don’t want to leave. Colorful, her writing jars all five senses. The reader smells and touches what her characters experience. The reader sees, feels and tastes what the characters do."
For more information about The Crimson Field click here.
The Assyrian Martyr
Fadi Butrus Karromi
The Assyrian Nation has a very ancient and well known history all over the world. Its outstanding history, which is more than 7000 years in old, is a good proof of this. It has enriched the human civilization with its different sciences, medical, social and religious contributions, its litrature and the great establishments. The modern world can witness these great achievements in the walls of the old city of Nineveh, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Nimroud, Ur, and others.
Until this very day its sons are giving to humanity something new in all fields of sciences and knowledge. So it is not strange to find Assyrians (Syraic, Chaldean, Assyrians) sacrifices with their blood and lives for the sake of their National Name.
This great Civilization has been the subject of different kinds of oppression and persecution upon hands of its enemies through the history. In not so distant time time, a very horrible mass slaughter was committed in Simile against the innocent and disarmed civilians (women, children and old men) , as well as other crimes such as raping, obligatory displacements, leaving their homes and lands, and migratiosn. In spite of these terrific deeds, the Assyrians were strong to face such difficulties and continue existing here in Beth Nahrian as a genuine society. This big sacrifice is a strong indication of our love of our land..
In the new Iraq, we must unite and find one name that brings us as Christians to confront the dangers that confront us today. Thus our words would be listened to more powerfully if we are united. Those who represent Christians in the new government must suggest the making of a memorial installation for our Martyrs and for creating a self-autonamous zone in the cities that Christians are majority in order to practice their rituals and orders more freely and to feel that they are equal in this new country, as well as to consider them a very ancient and genuine ethnicity in Iraq.
Ninos Danny Jando
In the article Assyrian Church of the East is the National Church of Kurdistan, you mention that "I would like to say that all those that oppose the unifying ChaldoAssyrian designation ...do so because they oppose the union of our nation and not the heralded Assyrianism that they trumpet."
As someone of exclusively Syriac descent, I find this highly hypocritical. You mention that these people are against the unification of our cultures, but you, sir, are dishing out the exact same thing. The evidence is glaringly obvious: the term ChaldoAssyrian is liberally used in the article. Well, you probably agree that the difference between Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Jacobites are about the same, yet you only include two of these cultures in your title. Just as you claim the people you criticize may understand it or not, you are expressing blatant favoritism towards Assyrians and Chaldeans, and rendering the Syriacs insignificant. The term ChaldoAssyrian lacks political correctness It is construed by most Jacobites as a form of racism, and justifiably so. Please include the Jacobites in your addressing of us. A suitable suggestion would be JacoChaldoAssyrian. As silly as that sounds, you have no right to criticize others about being separatists if you are doing the exact same thing.
The Trail of Tears
Simone M. Nouri
In 1838 white settlers who came to America from other places drove the Cherokee Nation over 1,000 miles from southeast of the country to Oklahoma and took possession of the land that legally belonged to the natives, and did not care a bit about the misery and death that caused the natives, thousands of the natives either died or were shot on the way for no real reason by this barbaric act.
The offspring of the same people are in Iraq today and encouraging the Kurds and others to apply these tactics to the Assyrian people. It worked then and it is working today in Iraq. The only difference is that to the Assyrians are driven many miles further from their land into foreign lands.
Just the other day I was listening to president Bush’s speech about the new Iraqi constitution that is being signed by the Iraqie people, and he was bragging about Muslim people of Iraq, namely the shies, the sounnis, and the Kurds, are practicing their democratic freedom to sign the constitution or not; like these were the only people in Iraq. He did not once mention the Assyrians or Christians, like they don’t even exist. The majority of the Assyrians in the United States, voted for President Bush thinking that he will help us, but it is obvious that the same blood runs through President Bush’s veins as did the white settlers.
The only thing Mr. Bush is intrested and cares about is Iraq's oil and if a couple of million people, namely the Assyrians, are eliminated in the process, so what. The British have tought him to keep the area Islamic and the oil will flow your way much easier.
And while all of this is going, the Assyrian people keep turning the other cheek, for how much longer we can live with this behavior?
When are we going to realize that if we want anything we have to do it ourselves and not depend on others. The west needs Iraq to be another Islamic state, the new constitution dictates the Islamic laws. I can not see how the Assyrians fit in this picture; we need to protect ourselves by exhibiting some kind of self-determination. We have been divided by other forces and divided we will be conquered, we need to unite under one name: Assyrians. That is the only way.
There is no choice in Islam. There are no freedoms. The doctrine is "submission". The Qur’an orders Muslims to submit and obey, where there is no democracy. Therefore where there is Islam, there will be no democracy.
Time To Clean Up the Mess
I read your opening article in this issue of Zinda. I think it was a timely article. I am not a member of the Church of the East but I always feel home when I go to the Church of the East parishes and respect it as the church of my forefather. Lately I have been very disturbed by the level of politicization of this church's affairs in California. A lot of my relatives from this church have shown strong feelings toward different leaders of the church. When you ask them question you can feel that their opinion is biased based on some sort of propaganda rather than real facts. It saddens me to see this church in such disarray. From one had you see a very hardline and ugly feeling amongst its member (specially in San Jose) against Mar Bawai. From other hand you hear news about very insulting comments from church leaders in San Jose aganist Assyrians of Iran etc. Then you hear about Mar Bawai trying to sell the church to Catholics! Or Mar Bawai is a member ADM. And you name it. And all these come from people that I thought were active members of the church. Most of these people are not bigots but when they talk like this about their own church it concerns me. I have no idea if these rumors are true or not. I am just raising my concerns that as an Assyrian and as an observer from outside who cares about well being of any Assyrian institution.
It is time for church leaders to come together and clean up this mess.
It is above all the responsibility of Mar Dinkha and Mar Bawai to do this. From one hand Mar Dinkha needs to explain to the public why there is such level of bad feelings against Mar Bawai among his followers. For an outsider it looks like more "Dadisho Style" character assasination rather than rational criticism. From other hand Mar Bawai needs to explain how come he has disenfranchsed so many of his church members specially those from Iran.
In such crucial times in our nation's history and risks and challenges that our communities face in Iraq and else where in the middle east, this is the most unfortunate thing to see.
I hope the church leaders will wise up and act in a manner that suits their rank and responsibility.
Assyrian American National Convention Education Programs
Friday- September 2
2:00 PM - 4:00 PM
Ancient Assyrian History and Culture
Dr. Burton Anderson – Chicago
4:00 PM - 6:00 PM
Economic Development Forum
Ken Morse -MIT - Entrepreneurship & development in ME
Saturday- September 3
1:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Assyrian Art & Literature
Dr. Anahit Khosroeyva, Author of “The Assyrian Genocide”
3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
International Country Reports
Nuri Kinno, Renowned Assyrian Journalist, Sweden
5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Our Future in the Middle East
Ayman Abdilnour, syria4all.net – The case for Syria
Sunday- September 4
12:00 - 2:00 PM
Assyrian Political Round Table
Introductory Talk: Janet Abraham – Society for Threatened Peoples (UN NGO), Germany
Abgar Maloul – Assyrian Democratic Organization
Elect an Assyrian to Congress
John Kanno for U.S. Congress
Fundraising Dinner Reception at
Assyrian Association of Southern California
Sunday, September 18, 2005
$100 per person
__ We will be able to attend. Enclosed is our contribution in the amount of ____ covering the cost of ____ tickets.
__ We will not be able to attend but here is our contribution in the amount of ____ .
Contributions from corporate accounts are prohibited. Campaign Finance Laws require the following information:
For more information call Rebecca at 310-544-7307 or Josephine at 714-846-0615 or write to
Tickets are sold in advance. Please make checks payable to “Kanno for Congress” and mail to:
Kanno for Congress
There will be a silent sign up sheet for additional contributions on voluntary basis only.
Paid for by Kanno for Congress FEC#C00411512.
Iraq's Draft Constitution and the ChaldoAssyrians
WASHINGTON -- In an unprecedented move, the U.S. administration is attempting to whitewash the division of Iraq's Christian ChaldoAssyrians along sectarian lines in the recently tabled Iraqi constitution. This effort, driven by Kurdish authorities, facilitated in part by the complacence of the Bush administration, only makes the U.S. guilty of aiding and abetting in the perpetuation of a Saddam era program of cultural genocide against this ethno-religious, indigenous group.
U.S. officials must intercede on this matter and reverse something that will entrench one of Saddam's most heinous human rights abuses, instead of abolishing it. ChaldoAssyrians are neither Arabs nor Kurds. They speak the language of Christ and have kept that language alive despite Saddam's best efforts. They are one ethnic group who are also Christians from an array of denominations. Their values are so aligned with those of Americans and other western societies that they have little trouble assimilating when forced to flee Iraq. They are the most ardent pro-democracy community in Iraq. ChaldoAssyrians are presently slated to be governed as a religious minority in accordance with Islam's principles.
The U.S. must intercede and have the language corrected to reflect the Christians' ethnic unity if it wants to avoid laying the foundations for the exodus of these indigenous people from their homeland.
Mar Bawai Soro: His Vision, Wishes, & Roadblocks
In an interview on Ashur TV on August 6, 2005, Edward Michael asked His Grace Mar Bawai Soro certain questions regarding his vision and thoughts regarding the Assyrian Church of the East and other topics that are being circled around in the Assyrian community.
Here is a summary of that interview:
Answering a question about the truthfulness of rumors that he had asked attorneys to write his letters to His Holiness Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV, Mar Bawai stated that he had many regular correspondences with the patriarch. He wrote these correspondences personally and that no attorney was involved in them. However, in the last six to nine months, some problems and unrest have occurred in our community. In addition, Mar Bawai stated that he has received threats against his life and other means of scare tactics from a known source. Since these problems are happening in our community and have certain links to these threats, it was necessary to inform the local and federal authorities about them in order to keep a legal record just in case something wrong should happen. Both authorities are interested in such events because they have responsibility towards the safety of the citizens. We must remember, stated Mar Bawai, that 30 years ago, Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun was assassinated here in San Jose. Therefore, the authorities are interested with what is going on today in our community in San Jose. They have a complete file about the said assassination and they need to stay on top of things.
Mar Bawai stated that all correspondences between him and the patriarch are private, however, a copy of correspondence that is related to the issue at hand has with discretion been given to the attorney of the church, in the context of the attorney/client privilege. Mar Bawai added that he is surprised how these reports and discussions are finding their way to the public and how people knew about them. These threats, continued Mar Bawai, are coming from members of our church. Those people are being motivated by others because of Mar Bawai's stance and position on certain issues, which those people do not like and hence they are inciting these problems.
Regarding his vision and philosophy in life, Mar Bawai stated that life experiences, as a priest and bishop for more than 20 years, has developed these main objectives:
1. Advance the Unity of our Churches:
Mar Bawai stated that today our churches are divided into three segments: Assyrian Church of the East – New Calendar, Assyrian Church of the East – Old Calendar, and the Church of the East of the Chaldeans. These divisions in our church happened first 450 years ago and again for the second time 40 years ago. We are very apart and sometimes different; however, to many of us we want to see unity replacing divisions because in unity we satisfy God. How this unity is going to come about is the responsibility or the task of the three synods, the three patriarchs, all bishops, priests, deacons, and all believers. Mar Bawai stated that he is here to preach and promote unity and not to determine how it is created. All of us must seek unity but at the end, the respective authorities in the three churches shall make it happen.
2. Promote the Unity of our People:
As a bishop who preaches the word of God to the people of God and who has all this love for his nation, people, and church, Mar Bawai stated that his goal is to see a national unity among our people as well. Our people are spread in many countries, under many names: Assyrians, Chaldeans, Suryaye, who to him are his own flesh and blood. Hence, Mar Bawai is not dictating how this unity to come about, but he is saying that unity must happen in order to prosper and ultimately survive. While church unity complies with God's will, national unity will save our existence in our homeland and enhance our communities elsewhere.
3. Restore Spiritual Life among Assyrians:
Thirdly and foremost, Mar Bawai stated that he wants to create a spiritual revival in his people. He wanted to bring Jesus Christ as the sole authority in our church and make Jesus the center of our lives as our forefathers have done for 1950 years.
When asked about the obstacles that stand in the path of accomplishing these three goals, Mar Bawai gave the following main reasons:
1. Misunderstanding of Church:
Our people do not envision the church correctly; they look at church as a civic institution where they can go and pray in. They are not aware that church is the "House of God" and that it is completely sacred. Only people with spiritual consciousness and those who have been touched by the grace of God and His Word could understand the true meaning of what a church is and what it represents. Such people will surely understand that the church is a spiritual institution and not a secular one. Therefore, Mar Bawai added, we need to increase religious education among our people.
2. Lack of Clarity and Accessibility of Church Canons:
Canon Law of the church must be clear and available to the believers and to the public so that ambiguity in certain affairs in the church will be removed from the life of the church. Furthermore, legality in church, said Mar Bawai, is very important. Accountability to church laws must start from the head of the church and all the way to the lowest rankings in church because when the members of the church see their church leaders are respecting church laws and are being held accountable, they too will begin to respect those laws, thus live a stronger Christian life.
3. Delayed Liturgical Reforms:
Many people do not understand their liturgy. When people do not understand what is being stated during the mass, they begin to attend the church more or less for non-religious or spiritual reasons, thus missing the opportunity provided through the liturgy, which is the salvation of their souls.
In short, Mar Bawai regretted rumors that are being spread by certain naïve people. He emphasized love between all the segments of our one nation, spirituality in church, and finally advocacy of a religious and a national unity. He did not state how to accomplish either unity, but that we had to get it done for our own benefit. He believes that we must understand what the church stands for; understand its teachings and laws; and everybody in church including its hierarchy, clergy and laity, to be held accountable for these laws, which at the end are set for the protection and the survival of the church as a whole. Mar Bawai concluded, when we understand and everything is clear, it is very likely that we will successfully overcome any challenges facing our community.
For the Erased
Diamanda Galás commemorates victims of a long-forgotten Turkish ethnic cleansing
Ages ago at college in her native California, singer, composer, and cultural provocatrice Diamanda Galás abandoned the study of science to pursue her true passion: experimental music. But biochemistry's loss is our gain; over the last two decades, her controversial works have earned her a place high in the avant-garde music pantheon. Fearlessly outspoken, frighteningly knowledgeable, and dangerously openhearted, Galás dedicates her latest work, Defixiones: Orders From the Dead to the estimated 3 million to 4 million victims of the Armenian, Assyrian, and Anatolian Greek "ethnic cleansing" committed by the Ottoman Turks between 1914 and 1923.
Since 1999, Defixiones has been performed to near unanimous acclaim at prestigious venues the world over, from London's Royal Festival Hall to the Sydney Opera House, from the Athens National Opera to Mexico City's Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana. Its New York premiere (presented by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's "What Comes After: Cities, Art + Recovery" international summit) is scheduled for September 8 and 10 at Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts, Pace University—appropriately enough, just across from City Hall, mere blocks from ground zero.
The word defixiones refers to warnings engraved in lead placed onto graves in Greece and Asia Minor, threatening desecraters with grievous harm. Galás uses this term in a broader memorializing sense, urging us to remember the forgotten dead, the "erased," the massacred. Her epic performance for solo voice, piano, and electronics speaks for the poet-author in exile—both far from home and in his homeland—as well as for "born outlaws," as Galás calls homosexuals, echoing Genet.
Informed by excerpts from the Armenian Orthodox liturgy and the traditional amanethes, or improvisatory lamentations sung at Greek funerals, Galás 70-minute masterwork showcases both her astounding vocal technique and her enormous capacity for rage, compassion, defiance, and ferocious emotionalism. Though at times truly fearsome in its raw, insistent pathos—familiar to those who know her crushing Plague Mass (1990) or Schrei X (1996)—Defixiones' real power lies in those seductively lyrical, quiet passages that occur just before Galás wail of existential anguish erupts in reverberant majesty. Iraqi artist-scholar Selim Abdullah notes, "The sentiment, strength . . . and sensitivity contained in this Saturnian representation go back to the very aspects the Greeks gave to a whole Occidental culture." Awash in blood and tears, and haunted by images of unspeakable (and until now, largely unspoken) butchery, Galás funeral mass is cathartic, but neither glib nor sentimental. Any redemption is hard-won.
I spoke with Miss Galás who has lived in the East Village for the past 10 years, on two occasions in mid August. Over multiple cappuccinos—caffeine being her current drug of choice—she dazzled me with her famous intelligence and often barbed wit. Onstage she's a mythic figure come to life; in person she is perhaps even more mesmerizing.
Few people in America, other than those of Greek, Armenian, or Assyrian descent, seem to have heard of this horror. Why is it so unknown? This country discusses one or two genocides and markets them in very contrived ways. They don't write about them truthfully, the way [author and concentration camp survivor] Primo Levi did. Think of Spielberg and the legions of mediocrity he has propagated.
And there's the conflicting numbers, and . . . What does it matter if it was 6 million or 2 million or 200? Genocide is genocide. Every culture has its particular way of killing and torturing its enemies. And the Turks are still trying to cover it up by calling it deportation, but that's just another word for "death sentence."
You're perceived as the voice of the fallen and forgotten. Is that something you've chosen? No—I hated being the poster girl for the AIDS epidemic. It had to be done, but I hated it. I never meant to be political— I'm an artist. An artist can only speak for herself. But if you get particularly good at something it has a sort of universality, and then it has a certain audience, and you're answerable for that. Like Adon [Syrian-born poet Adon Ali Ahmed Said]—a great, great poet—who is seen as the voice of a "leftist movement" of some sort, but he's only writing about what is truth to him.
How did you come to create Defixiones? My father is an Anatolian Greek. All my life he's talked about how the finest Greek culture was from Anatolia—home to Assyrians, Armenians, Greeks, and Jews, who for centuries traded languages, songs, ideas, histories—and how many of these cultures are indistinguishable from one another. So the notion of racial purity there is just absurd. He also told me about the atrocities committed by the Turks against Greeks from Asia Minor. But the direct catalyst was an interview I saw with Dr. [Jack] Kevorkian, who said, "I'm Armenian, I know what torture is all about. I know the difference between homicide and helping people end a life of misery." He was so articulate, and he was discussing Greek Stoic philosophy and the Armenians in the same breath, which I found very unusual at the time. So in 1998 I said to myself: It's time to do this work.
Later I read Peter Balakian's book Black Dog of Fate, which talks about what being an Armenian in America means—it means you're invisible. It's the same with the Greeks. Most people think of Greek culture as a dead culture: Socrates and Aristotle and the statues . . . And they think Assyrians are the same as Syrians.
Then, as a fellow at Princeton in 1999, I studied texts by Giorgos Seferis and others in preparation for a performance at the Vooruit Festival at the Castle of Ghent [in Belgium].
Defixiones is somewhat a work in progress? Yes. Currently I'm using texts by Giorgos Seferis, [who] is like my bible—and Nikos Kazantzakis, who people will know from his novel The Last Temptation of Christ. And Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose poem is addressed to the people who survived. Everyone just hated him. And Yannis Ritsos. And "The Dance" by Siamanto, with its description of brides being burned alive. And the pro-genocide poem "Hate," which was published by [the Turkish newspaper] Hürriyet and broadcast by the BBC in 1974, right before the invasion of Cyprus—about why the Turks should decapitate the Greeks.
September is such a politically charged month . . . Yes, starting with the destruction of Smyrna in September 1922. And Black September 1955, when Turkish officials waged a disinformation campaign stating that Greeks had bombed the consulate in Thessalon resulted in the desecration of Greek churches and the mutilation and murder of priests and other men. And the Black September of Ariel Sharon's going into Lebanon in '82. He was doing a real con job. And then the situation in America in 2001 . . .
Your aggressive style and disturbing subject matter automatically put you outside the mainstream. Yet your music has a surprisingly broad appeal. Well, I've been creating sacred masses, which are not exactly a popular art form in this country today. But they're meant to be, literally, for the people. The American idea of a populist art form is rap. Some of it is good, but most is appalling in that it promotes stupidity and the abuse of the same groups that monotheist totalitarian governments persecute: women, homosexuals, and anyone who doesn't speak precisely your language.
You must get tons of hate mail. Fundamentalists of all sorts despise me. I'm attacked by my own people too—American Greek men who are homo- phobic and think everything I say is heresy. I got shit recently from a Jewish promoter about doingDefixiones in Mexico. She asked me if I really believed people would be interested. And I thought: "Please don't insult my intelligence—or theirs. They'll understand the concept of genocide as it has occurred and continues to occur to so many people around the world . . . "
I want to perform Defixiones in Istanbul and Smyrna. The psychic manifestations of violence can be just as devastating as the physical acts—especially when people refuse to recognize them. It's depersonalizing. I have a line in INSEKTA: "Believe me, believe me." Not being believed can kill.
Who are your fans? People who find it necessary to think for themselves in order to survive, because they're damned by the fact they don't agree with the mediocrity that society shoves down their throats. They rise above this by continuing to educate themselves. This is especially true of homosexuals, who are born outside the law anyway. They're still figuratively and literally buried alive by the Egyptians and Turks. Here in New York they're visited upon by the Aesthetic Realism Foundation and treated with electroshock. In Iran, they hang teenage "infidels." It's unbelievable that ethnic groups still shut out those who can be so disciplined and organized, and who can do great things. [Gay men] either disappear completely or they address the situation. They've had to—to save their own lives. They are great fighters. I say these are the first soldiers you should enlist, not the last. This is the man to whom you should say, "Will you be my brother? Will you help me?"
Will the Turkish government ever admit these atrocities? I think it will be forced to, through the ongoing work of their own scholars, both old and young, and by artists and writers who want to be part of the rest of the world, despite the horrific censorship that the Turkish government exercises over them. My website is listed as a hate site, which is completely ridiculous. I do not hate the Turkish scholars who are trying to address true events in the world. There are many Turks who want to see things change, but they're not given the opportunity to express themselves. When they do, they get sent to prison or mental asylums. Midnight Express is absolutely the truth.
But until the government officially apologizes, there is no reason for it to be accepted by the European Union. You must admit what you've done—it shows that your present actions will be mandated by the apology for your past actions. But until this happens there can be no trust at all.
Winner of the NGA Writing Competition 2005
The New Generation Assyrians is pleased to announce that on Saturday the 27th of August 2005, the winner of the NGA’s first international writing competition was announced at the annual NGA Graduation Ceremony.
The winner is 28-yeard old Rabin Bet-Khoodoo from Hamilton, Ontario Canada. Mr. Bet-Khoodoo’s work, ‘The Assyrian Nation, Scattered but Alive’ will be published in the Literature section of the NGA’s website shortly. Congratulations Mr. Bet-Khoodoo!
The NGA would just like to take this opportunity to thank all the websites which advertised the NGA Writing Competition and helped spread the word about it. We also would like to thank our panel of judges for taking time out to participate in this event. Without it this event would not have been possible.
Well done again to Mr. Bet-Khoodoo.
We look forward to receiving even more pieces of work in our next writing competition.
Mr. Bet-Khoodoo's winning essay was first published in Zinda Magazine on 25 March 2005. To read this essay click here.
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