Architects of the Capitol Plan
This past weekend I was invited to attend an event in Chicago to pay tribute to the Assyrian poet and activist, Ninos Aho. I met many old faces and some new characters, who both shared a common attitude that evening – that shaking "Mr. Zinda’s" hands followed by a 2-minute conversation may bring one closer to public scrutiny. I had no idea Zinda had become such a thorn in the eyes of the beholders in the windy city. One person even asked a ridiculous question: “So I hear you’ve left Washington (with a smile on his face).” A few weeks earlier a bogus commentary on the Internet forums had declared Zinda and ISDP in Washington bankrupt, packing their bags, and leaving Washington. I smiled back and answered: “As long as our people need us, Zinda will be staying in Washington. Perhaps you should be coming to Washington and give us a hand instead.”
The old centers of the Assyrian political hubbub in the 80’s and 90’s - Chicago and San Jose – are now the focal points of a bizarre rivalry between two heads of an Assyrian church. In the last two years, not only was there a split in the Assyrian Church of the East, the Assyrian American National Federation voted itself out of the Assyrian Universal Alliance, and there was a recent split in the Assyrian Democratic Organization’s leadership (in North America). Even the event this past weekend in Chicago was marred by these nonsensical enmities: one group within the AUA (where Ninos Aho had been actively engaged in the political dialogue) boycotted the event and another AUA group attended the event with much fanfare and support. I did not see any ADM members in the room either. These days our poets and entertainers are also victims of our religious and political biases. One had to simply listen to the speeches on Sunday and quickly identify the lines of these leanings in our political parties. Very sad!
More distressing though is the fact that none of these characters in San Jose and Chicago even matter to what is going on in Iraq and in Washington. They are what an old mentor of mine, Misha Ashurian in San Jose, used to call the “rotten tree stumps” – roots that no longer have any use and must either be honorably discharged or allowed to self-decay. Misha is a lot kinder and diplomatic than I when it comes to name-calling.
Fortunately, the politics of the Assyrian nation is now in the hands of a completely different group of organizations actively engaged in the political capitols of the U.S. and the European Union. In November a new lobbying organization was formed in Europe and a young, energetic Assyrian – Mr. Ninos Warda – was hired to meet the challenges of applying pressures to sway opinions in Europe. Here in Washington, Mr. Michael Youash, has been doing that on a daily basis since 2003.
Mr. Youash is the director of the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project. Both ISDP and Zinda came to Washington around the same time, soon after the start of the war in Iraq in 2003. Not long after, another important organization, The Assyria Foundation, directed by Ms. Waleeta Canon, was registered in Washington (see this week's Bravo). While over two million dollars was being spent on saving three church buildings in California for the ephemeral satisfaction of a few bishops, these three organizations in Washington have been struggling to provide policy, inform the public and the decision makers, and offer humanitarian support and Assyrian learning – all on a trivial budget. Zinda has learned that now supporters of one or the other camp of the Assyrian bishops and the Patriarch have begun influencing the financial contributors to ISDP – making it difficult to “sustain” a presence in Washington. The influence of our “churches” in distracting us from our political focus in Washington and in Brussles does not end here. It is vital then to understand and appreciate the amount of work successfully completed by the individuals and organizations in Washington defending the rights of every Assyrian in the U.S. and in the Middle East.
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The United States Institute of Peace recently hosted the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Omar Fattah, at a public event. ZINDA attended hoping to learn about the KRG’s feelings on a possible invasion from Turkey, their plans for statehood and the impact of oil deals and oil laws – all matters important to Iraq and by extension, Assyrians. There was only a short time allowed for questions and many could not be asked.
Mr. Fattah easily answered question after question – even making witty comments along the way, lightening the mood in the room. That was except for two questions (the most allowed to participants) from the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project’s (ISDP) Director, Michael Youash. The mask of confidence and assuredness broke down – Mr. Fattah flinched, more than once, trying to answer what clearly became the two toughest questions of the morning.
The first question attacked Mr. Fattah’s constant emphasis on the leadership role of the KRG in democratizing Iraq by virtue of its 15 years of experience and fundamental belief in the values of democracy – as he put it. ISDP asked about the KDP/KRG’s role, through their Peshmerga (Kurdish militia), in denying Assyrians and others the chance of voting and even stuffing ballot boxes in the 2005 elections. Drawing everyone’s attention to the fact that both the US Department of State and US military both reported the disenfranchisement of the minorities in the Nineveh Plain clearly put Mr. Fattah on the defensive.
His answer was embarrassing, to say the least, responding, “If there was a problem in an election that took place 5, 10 or 15 years ago, we hope to learn from the mistakes that happened, but what is important for us is that we believe all nationalities in the KRG must have their full rights.” People turned to look at one another quizzically wondering what elections he was referring to and why he refused to even try and explain the role of his government in denying Assyrians the basic right of choosing their own leaders just 2 years ago – in 2005.
Mr. Fattah confirmed to the room that just like any other petty dictatorship, KRG representatives do not intend on even giving thoughtful answers to avoid accountability. Instead he was content in providing unclear, grandiose lip-service to the principles of democracy and human rights.
ISDP’s second question is what every Assyrian has been asking oneself since KRG Finance Minister Sarkis Aghajan also adopted the 2003 vision of the Assyrian Democratic Movement regarding the Nineveh Plain. ISDP indicated the agenda of Assyrians in establishing some type of federal unit based on Article 125 of the Constitution of Iraq but that it seemed to conflict with the Article 2(1) of the KRG’s Constitution which calls for the Nineveh Plain to be ‘normalized’ (a KRG term for expanding their boundaries). Mr. Youash asked him to explain the contradiction between Article 125 and Article 2(1) and concluded “Will these minorities, including the ChaldoAssyrians, as promised by Finance Minister Aghajan, have autonomy within the KRG?”
Mr. Fattah’s response was long winded and paid lip-service to democratic ideas but also included the following statement, “We will give them [Assyrians] the choice to see how they want to be governed, how they want to govern themselves in the KRG” (emphasis added by ZINDA). But Mr. Fattah’s response continued, and it is in his last remarks that he revealed the KRG’s truest face and intentions. He said, “The problem has also been, that in the political parties that have represented, […] Assyrian and Turkmen political parties have not been able to elect effective leaderships for themselves, and it is not our job to elect their leaders, it is up to those groups and those parties to choose their own leaderships” (a comment made by Mr. Fattah to his translator Qubad Talabani about Sarkis Aghajan was audible but was not translated by Mr. Talabani).
Mr. Fattah’s last comments turned on the lights in everyone’s heads in the room, as his answers came full circle. He started out by avoiding irrefutable evidence that the KRG denies minorities the chance to elect their own leaders. He then goes on to indicate that they will be governed by the KRG and within the KRG, but concludes that the KRG feels Assyrians, “have not been able to elect effective leaderships for themselves”. This is KRG ‘democracy’: they will not let us vote, confirm that autonomy is actually just a plan for absorbing the Nineveh Plain into the KRG, and justify this agenda on the basis that they do not like the leaders we democratically elect – despite their attempts to silence us.
The room was embarrassed for KRG Deputy Finance Minister Omar Fattah, something the audio tapes will never properly convey, but was tangible in the room at the end of his response.
ZINDA, using the opportunity, approached ISDP’s Michael Youash to get inputs on a number of issues – that is after US Government officials exhausted their questions of him. Most importantly is the status of the $10 million being budgeted for religious minority internally-displaced persons (IDPs) in the Nineveh Plain. ZINDA readers will recall that ISDP played the central role in this historic piece of legislation (click here). Mr. Youash stated, “The $10 million passed by making it into the House report, but the entire budget has yet to pass. Nothing is certain in Washington, but we are doing all we can. We are focusing on briefings requested by various offices on this priority and working with numerous government offices on the technical issues of rolling-out the spending and projects for Iraqi minority IDPs in the Nineveh Plain.”
ISDP is also ensuring that the US Government is held transparent, being the primary source of consultation for the policy and language of legislation requiring the US Government to report all spending in the Nineveh Plain (see ISDP press release in this week’s News Digest). This work is historic in that it made the first reference and direction of a policy focus on the Nineveh Plain. Our community will hopefully learn to support ISDP’s efforts and the currently undergoing in Washington by the Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council of America (CASCA) – mentioned in both of ISDP’s press releases.
When asked about community involvement Mr. Youash stated, “Certainly CASCA is mentioned in our release and we also benefit so much from the Assyrian Aid Society in getting us vital information about our peoples’ needs. Our whole community shares in these successes. Numerous individual efforts and support from other organizations, both in the Middle East and in the US, played roles in seeing ISDP’s policy research and work go forward in Washington. It would be impossible to name everyone who made a contribution but we can definitely say this is the result of a community that comes together to work for the common good.”
It is unclear what the overall impact of ISDP’s efforts at engaging KRG representatives in such policy forums will be, or in assisting Washington decision-makers in understanding the challenges Assyrians face throughout Iraq. What is clear is that when given the chance, ISDP is capable of exposing the KRG’s Deputy Prime Minister as a spokesman for tyranny on the one hand and securing a critical focus by the US Government to help our people in critical areas such as the Nineveh Plain on the other. This is work from which the KRG cannot hide and which our community cannot ignore.
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This past Sunday the CBS news show, “60 Minutes”, aired a segment on the plight of the Iraqi Christians. The producers of this segment first made contact with the Chaldean Federation of America with a primary focus on Chaldeans and the refugee angle of the story. In early 2006 they met with ISDP during an ISDP field mission to Iraq. They maintained contact since, but the show failed to get accepted for production for reasons internal to “60 Minutes”. The producers, however, maintained interest. ISDP kept them engaged by informing them of the Washington missions led by the Assyrian politicians arriving from Iraq.
A few months ago ISDP assisted in briefing “60 Minutes” on the unspeakable plight of the Iraqi Christians today and the increased threat of their cleansing from the country. “60 Minutes” also contacted Dr. Donny George in New York, who helped them understand the plight. At that point “60 Minutes” also made contact with Rev. Canon White who testified to USCIRF when former Minister Pascale Warda, Dr. Donny George and Michael Youash of ISDP testified in July of this year. Within months the show was produced.
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While ISDP has been diligently meeting demanding schedules in Washington, the Assyrian “collaborators” from North Iraq have also been dignifying our presence in the Capitol with their brief visits. Mr. Fawzi Hariri, Minister of Industry, as reported by Zinda in mid-January (click here), failed to dispose of the Nineveh Plain Resolution when he met with Rep. Anna Eshoo. One month after the Congressional testimonies to USCIRF (click here), Mr. George Mansour, another KDP member and Minister of the Civil Society Affairs in the KRG, came to Washington and left empty-handed. Mr. Mansour runs the Ishtar TV - a Kurdish propaganda satellite television program financed by the KRG. The KRG was quite displeased.
This week, Rev. Emmanul Baito, a priest of the Assyrian Church of the East, cloaking under the pretense of being a director of a humanitarian organization, is knocking on many doors to no avail. The Assyrian Church of the East re-instated Rev. Emmanuel Baito Youkhana, the brother of the KRG cabinet minister, Nimrod Baito. The latter is a member of KDP and the Minister for Tourism in KRG. Of course, the Assyrian Church of the East denies any connection to Rev. Baito’s visit, as did Mr. Praidon Darmo – the acting Secretary General of the AUA – denying any AUA connection to Mr. Fawzi Hariri in January, whome he accompanied in Washington. Dr. Emmanuel Kamber, former Secretary General of the AUA, resigned his post shortly after this fiasco in Washington and the untimely visit of the AUA officers to Tehran.
All three visitors from North Iraq are Assyrian and work within the Kurdistan Regional Government to undermine any effort in Iraq and abroad for the establishment of an autonomous administrative area for Assyrians in North Iraq. They come to Washington to influence the Congress and the State Department in pushing for the Kurdish “self-rule” and the Kurdish “control” of the Christian affairs.
Were it not for the facts presented by the ISDP on the violations of the human rights by the KRG and the land thefts under the auspices of the KDP, and the significant relationships built between Mr. Yoash in Washington and the concerned members of the U.S. Congress each of these three trips to DC may have resulted in a calamity for the helpless Assyrians in Iraq.
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Now there is a new player engaged in Washington – the Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council of America. CASCA is implementing an aggressive agenda of advocacy and lobbying in the United States, in line with the programs framed here since 2003. The refugees issue in Syria and Jordan, the Nineveh Plain Resolution, the future emigration policies regarding Iraqi Christians, humanitarian aid to the Assyrians internally displaced in Iraq are just a few of the many challenges that will be on ISDP and CASCA’s plates in DC. Working together ISDP and CASCA have done much more than any other groups in the U.S. to make our voices heard since the liberation of Iraq.
Our readers can rest assured that Zinda is staying indefinitely in Washington and so are these Assyrian organizations, moving and shaking the foundations of public opinion toward our people. Your moral, physical, and financial support of our organizations in Washington is needed now more than ever. Personally, I have always asked for our readers’ generosity during the holiday season for the needy and the helpless. I have no shame in begging for your assistance this year again in helping our people in Jordan and Syria, and the displaced families in Iraq. However this year I also ask you to give a little more of your love and include our actively-engaged non-for-profit organizations in Washington – in particular ISDP and the Assyria Foundation.
Plenty of good work is being done in Washington by these incredibly talented and energetic young Assyrians. They are highly educated, driven, and enthusiastic. I am very proud of them and so should every concerned Assyrian. The collaborators from North Iraq and those diverting our attention from the real work ahead of us in America must be warned that neither these “sparks of hope” nor Zinda Magazine shall rest in the Capitol until the rights of every Assyrian is guaranteed in their homeland, free of any foreign control.
The Assyrian Refugees in Jordan - A Primer
For some time, I have wanted to get a closer look at the situation faced by current Assyrian refugees who have fled Iraq. I did not want to travel to the Middle East region without first arranging face-to-face meetings with some of these refugees. The necessary arrangements were made for a visit to Jordan, thanks to the invaluable assistance of two Assyrian individuals who live in the region. I shall briefly return to them below.
As we have all heard in the media, there are currently an astounding 4 million Iraqi refugees – two million of them have left the country, and another two million are “internally displaced” (IDPs). My comments relate solely to the Assyrians, who are a small segment of this total.
There was a first wave of Assyrian refugees as a result of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, followed by the U.S. coalition offensive which expelled him from that country, and culminating in Hussein’s vengeful rampage against his own population. I previously met a number of these refugees in early 1993 (in Athens, in Istanbul and the Refugee Camp at Silopi, Turkey, and in North Iraq). I met still other Iraqi Assyrian refugees on a visit to Syria in 1999.
A second and larger wave of Assyrian refugees fled Iraq as a result of the bloody civil war and anarchy which followed the American invasion in 2003.
In considering the current plight of these thousands of Assyrian refugees, it is useful to consider three general categories:
(1) The IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). These are Assyrians who could no longer tolerate the perils of life in such places as Basra, Dora, Baghdad, Mosul, etc., and who sought sanctuary while remaining within the borders of Iraq. To protect life and limb, they fled to the Kurdistan region, where the political climate is generally calm. Most of these IDPs are a part of the second wave.
(2) A number of Assyrians who have fled Iraq and landed in a neighboring country have managed to secure residency in a Western country. These Iraqi Christians usually fled from Iraq to Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Greece. Their ordeal in one of these “sanctuary” countries lasted a number of years, depending on when they would be accepted as permanent residents in a country such as Sweden, Canada, Australia, etc. Unfortunately, very few of them were able to enter the U.S. Even though it is the US which is responsible for this refugee disaster, it is also the US which has the poorest record when it comes to assisting the refugees which it has created. One dramatic statistic: Sweden, with a population of 8 million, and with no involvement in the Iraq invasion, has accepted some 20,000 Iraqi refugees per year. The US, with a population well over 300 million, and bearing the sole responsibility for the Iraq invasion, has accepted 600 of these refugees per year.
(3) Thousands of refugees fled Iraq for Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Greece. However, the overwhelming bulk of them will be found in Syria and Jordan. Their future remains in legal limbo in all of those countries. In some cases, they are holding out hope of being accepted for residency by a Western country. In other cases, there is little hope of finding a third country for settlement. I met some refugees who had been in Jordan 14 years or more.
My focus here relates to the third category. Their leaders asked me to help publicize their plight to the Assyrians in the West, and in any case it is my obligation to do so.
As conditions intensified following the “liberation” of Iraq, Assyrian refugees generally fled to Syria, where the rules of entry were more lax. Jordan was more restrictive from the outset. However, most recently, Syria has been overwhelmed by the refugee influx, and like Jordan it is now requiring an entry visa. As a result, Syria and Jordan have become equally problematic destinations for the refugees.
The refugees in both Syria and Jordan are undocumented (much like the Mexican illegals in the U.S.). I did not visit Syria on this trip, but conditions there are more or less similar to those in Jordan. Some are able to work for cash, and predictably they are grossly underpaid. According to the N.Y. Times (Nov.20, 2007), the unemployment rate in Jordan hovers between 14% and 30%. Therefore, it is not so easy to find work, no matter how low the pay.
Understandably, both Jordan and Syria view the Iraqi refugees as a drain on their economy, and an unwelcome intrusion into their social fabric. Neither Jordan nor Syria provides any assistance or subsidy to them. The elderly are particularly vulnerable, because they are often physically unable to fend for themselves.
In this bleak landscape, it was heartwarming to find considerable humanity and solidarity among the refugees I visited in Amman. More specifically, East Amman has become the “home” for some 500 Assyrian families, as well as about 1,500 Chaldean families. It was explained to me that on average, one must apply a factor of 5 to each family in order to get the approximate population total. (There are also some 3,000 Assyrian families in Syria). I was also told that many of the IDPs who fled to the north of Iraq still own their properties in Iraq. On the other hand, the refugees in Jordan sold all their possessions before fleeing the country. By now, they have exhausted their cash, and they are basically penniless.
The Assyrian refugees in Jordan are organized into two communities. One is the group which follows the “New Calendar” Church of East, with Patriarch Mar Dinkha at its head. The other comprises members of the “Ancient Calendar” Church of East, with Patriarch Mar Addai at its head. The first group is approximately twice the size of the second. Each of these groups maintains community activities under the guidance of a governing “Committee”. In separate visits, I was able to meet personally with the 7 or so members serving on each of these Committees. The Committee for each group receives all contributions, prioritizes the needs, and maintains detailed records of all outlays.
These two groups have been blessed with special assistance from the Rum Catholic Church in Jordan, which has provided each of them with meeting facilities free of any rent. The “Ancient Calendar” group functions at the Zahrira Center, an impressive multi-purpose facility. The “New Calendar” group functions at the Nisibin Center; this group organized somewhat later, and it was provided rent-free use of a building which required some remodeling to accommodate classrooms, as well as group activities.
Although the use of their facilities is shared by other organizations, each of these Assyrian groups has organized classes teaching our mother tongue, and they have also organized computer instruction. Assyrians from Dubai have donated new computers. At this time, each group has many needs. For example, one group is without any heaters in its teaching facilities; the other group is hoping to do minor upgrades of the recreation facility for its youth. Mr. Emanuel Kelaita of Dubai personally donated $4,500 to the refugee groups to help upgrade the teaching facilities. Notwithstanding such individual acts of generosity, few of the needs will be met, and both of the Committees have prioritized their spending in the following order: (1) Urgent medical care; (2) Widows and elderly without support; (3) Special needs in large families.
Only a modest amount of charitable help is provided by international non-profit organizations, such as Caritas. I am sorry to say that the Assyrian diaspora community, with rare exception, has remained distant and unmoved. For this reason, I want to list the names of diaspora Assyrians and groups who have donated to the refugee Committees. These names are based on the notes taken during my visit. Although every one who has helped the refugees deserves our thanks, I am assuming that the list below does not represent everyone who has assisted. Any such omission on my part is inadvertent, and I apologize for it. I do not claim to take perfect notes. Moreover, the refugee committees themselves are normally not in a position to know about contributions, except for those which are directed to them:
It is fitting here to offer special recognition to the Assyrian Foundation of America, an organization founded a number of years ago by Aprim Sayad, Catherine Pickering and Sam Jacob. The AFA was richly blessed some 10 years ago by a major bequest from the estate of Benjamin S. Adams. While Mr. Adams in his Will provided for some minor bequests without imposing any conditions, he gave the substantial part of his estate to 6 Assyrian organizations, and imposed specific conditions on the use of these monies. His conditions require the funds to be used for two purposes, and for no other: (1) Aid to Assyrian refugees; and (2) to Help for Assyrian children’s education.
Allow me to digress briefly on this point, because some readers may not be familiar with the subject. These six conditional bequests amounted to well in excess of one million dollars. The six Assyrian organizations were to divide the monies in the following proportion:.
Clearly, the refugee challenge in Jordan and in Syria may be the largest disaster to have befallen our people since the arrival of the Adams bequests. And if ever there was a need for these funds to be applied to the twin purposes specified by Mr. Adams, surely the vulnerable refugees in Jordan and Syria fit that purpose perfectly.
I consider the contributions sent to these refugees by the Assyrian Foundation as a sign of respect for the trust Benjamin Adams placed in this organization. But when I scan the list of those who have sent help to the refugees, I am disappointed that I have not found the name of the five other organizations who received cash from the Adams Will.
Is this a case of organizations who have deliberately failed to step forward with refugee aid at this time of critical need? Some of these groups are little more than “paper organizations” with no membership, and a small governing board accustomed to conducting their affairs in secret. I am familiar with this wall of secrecy because I ran into it when I was preparing a series of articles for Zinda, to inform Assyrians about the ramifications of the Adams legacies.
Such small-mindedness aside, the Adams funds were not given as a blank check to these groups. As I wrote at the time, these funds were placed in their hands as trustees, and they have a solemn obligation to spend them for the purpose they were intended. It would be a welcome gesture for these five other groups to submit a comment to Zinda explaining whether they have been assisting our refugees in the Middle East and, if so, to what extent. This cannot be called a private matter. It is a matter of interest and of concern to our community at large.
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It is possible that some potential contributors are not sure how to transmit funds to the refugees in Jordan and Syria. Let me cite at least three ways (and no doubt there are other means as well) in which funds from the diaspora can be sent to the refugees. The key person in two of these options is a most dedicated Assyrian named TOMA R. YOUKHANA.
One method is to deliver the cash to Mr. Youkhana who will provide a thorough accounting.
A second method is to do a wire transfer to Mr. Youkhana’s special bank account in Jordan.
For any contributor who insists on being “hands-on” with a donation, he or she can deliver the funds personally or via a friend or relative who is traveling to these countries.
As to funds which are sent to Mr. Toma Youkhana, he records them meticulously (noting all receipts and corresponding disbursements), and any interested Assyrian can examine his bookkeeping.
Mr. Youkhana was educated as an engineer in Baghdad, where he was an active businessman who found it necessary to flee with his family in 1991, in the wake of the first Gulf War. He continues to pursue his business from Amman, as an Iraqi émigré. Being one of the few Assyrians who was able to establish permanent resident status in Jordan, he is able to maintain a bank account in the country.
Account Name: TOMA R. YOUKHANA
Mr. Youkhana may also be contacted personally in any of the following ways:
Assyrian refugees in Jordan and Syria alike lavish praise on Mr. Youkhana for his personal efforts. I have personally relied on him myself both with the wire transfer method and the personal delivery method, and I can attest that in both approaches he performed admirably, as expected of a professional. Mr. Youkhana’s meticulous record-keeping, coupled with the accounting practiced by two Committees, assures great transparency.
A second person who has been pivotal in this drama is Mr. Aprim Shapera of England, currently employed in Dubai. He is a graduate of Baghdad University in Political Science, where he also earned a Master’s Degree. Mr. Shapera is a frequent lecturer and writer on contemporary Assyrian issues. He has been a tireless advocate of the refugees’ cause. Teaming with Mr. Emanuel Kelaita, a prominent Assyrian businessman in Dubai, the two of them have inspired the small Assyrian community in that Emirate to raise and deliver aid through the auspices of Mr. Youkhana. Both of these persons have made several visits to the refugees of Syria and Jordan, and they are intimately familiar with refugee conditions. Both continue to seek new sources of aid.
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As I pondered the financial woes of the Assyrian refugees in Amman, I was told by them that they had seen a number of Assyrians visitors from the diaspora, especially from the church ranks. However, I got the impression that they did not consider most of these visits meaningful, because they seemed more along the line of photo opportunities rather than substantive in nature. Bishop Mar Bawai was seen as an exception, in that he has actively raised funds in the U.S. over a period of time, and he continues in this effort.
My visit was uplifting and depressing, both at the same time. I wondered why the diaspora Assyrian community has generally remained so aloof from this disaster, and our many compatriots who are in such dire need. I know that this inaction is not for lack of ability. Who can deny the lavish sums many of us are quick to spend at Conventions and at gala events. And isn’t it amazing how our people dig deep into their wallets in order to wage a judicial battle, but don’t seem much motivated to help our hungry and poor in their hour of great need.
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On my return from this trip, I was interested to learn what sums had been spent by the opposite parties in the current intramural tug-of-war within the Church of the East (sometimes known as Dinkha vs. Bawai, or is it the other way around?). I spoke to a key person on each side of this joust, and according to what they told me, the two sides have now spent in excess of $2,000,000 in combined legal fees. Of course, the fight has not ended, and yet more legal fees will be incurred by both sides.
Recently, there was some loud cheering from one side when a judge issued an
Order disposing of an important issue. Apparently, the other side will not appeal this adverse ruling. However, this Order has not put an end to the judicial process. Barring an out-of-court settlement on the remaining issues, the tussle will continue, and we can expect to see more good money thrown down the rat hole.
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How much money could be raised at the annual AANF convention, if done aggressively and with imagination? This organization was created in America out of the tragedy of Simel in 1933. Today’s refugee crisis is the most momentous one in our time, and it cries for our people and organizations to step forward, to demonstrate some resolve and commitment.
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At the personal level, I am most familiar with the Turlock-Modesto Assyrian communities. The Assyrian American Civil Club of Turlock (AACCOT) is one of the largest and best funded groups in the diaspora. What commitments has it made in support of its fellow Assyrians in Jordan and Syria? Up the road in Ceres, we have an organization which claims a commitment to Assyrianism second to none. Not so many years ago, its leader received a large monetary settlement from the previous Iraqi government. It was my understanding that he had personally pledged to use these funds “on behalf of the Assyrian people.” What is he waiting for? To my knowledge, desperate refugees in Jordan and Syria have yet to receive any support from the Bet Nahrain organization.
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No doubt there are Assyrians in the diaspora who object that large numbers of their fellow Christians have fled Iraq, and have placed themselves in this current predicament. Some of them living comfortably in America or other Western venues do not want to do anything to promote Assyrian depopulation in Iraq. Of course, many of these same diaspora Assyrians had themselves abandoned the “homeland” in pursuit of tranquility and opportunity, neither of which they could realize in Iraq. Readers of this report should know that 99.9% of those who have abandoned Iraq have no intention whatever of returning there. This was the firm position of the refugees I met 14 years ago who lived in the rat holes of Istanbul, and it is the same position of the more recent refugees of Syria and Jordan. All of them have dreams, just as we dreamt before them. Those in the diaspora who have genuine compassion for their brothers and sisters left in limbo should not withhold their help on the grounds that this encourages our people to leave Iraq. Be assured that it was not the hope of receiving some meager charity that drove these refugees to abandon their possessions and their home. They were fleeing for their lives and they should be viewed as the helpless victims that they are.
Surely there is no greater test in one’s religious faith and no higher value in one’s moral code than to aid and comfort the afflicted, and to extend a hand to our compatriots in need. It is urgent that we open our hearts and our pocketbooks. Better late than never.
“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
Mr. Francis Sarguis is a retired Assyrian attorney and lives in Santa Barbara, California.
Kidnapped Assyrian Monk Released in Turkey
Courtesy of the Bianet
(ZNDA: Mardin) The Kidnapped Assyrian monk, Edip Daniel Savci, 43, was released on Friday 30 November. Rabban Savci, a monk in the Syriac Orthodox Church, runs the Mor Yacub (St. James) Monestary in the city of Midyat in the Mardin Province. The Monastary has two monks and 4 nuns. 12 Assyrian students study in this monastary.
Rabban (Friar) Savci was kidnapped on the way from the city of Mardin to his village of Baristepe in the Midyat district. The kidnappers demanded 300,000 Euros (US$445,000) for his release.
He was released in the city center of Batman, a neighbouring province, three days after he was kidnapped. Police have since his kidnapping arrested five suspects: Abdurrahman Oral, Mehmet Emin Oral, Şefik Oral, Halil Esen and Zeynel Karaman. Police are still seeking two suspects. The suspects belong to a cigarette-smuggling and racketeering gang lead by Abdurrahman Oral, police say.
Rabban Savci described his arrest in the following: "I went shopping to Midyat and on my return, a vehicle coming from the opposite direction blocked the road. As the people in the car were getting out, another car approached me from behind. When they too got out of the car, I realized they had bad intentions. They wanted me to go with them. When I struggled against them, they punched me. Some of them were armed. I was so frightened I got into their car. We were a total of 5 in the car now. They drove me around until midnight. At one point I was taken out of the car and put in a minibus. Then they took me to a house, and hid me in the stables. On watching the news of my abduction, one of them said, “The situation is bad”. Four of them argued over letting me go. They were repentant. The following day, the owner of the house saw a photograph of me on television and realized I had been abducted. That man and a youth released me when the other two were not around.”
After being released, Priest Savcı was greeted by both Syriac Christians and Muslims with cheerful drum and horn music.
Rabban Savci was asked to identify five people in detention in Batman. As he left the police department, Savci said that he was able to convince a young man to release him after two other kidnappers left the house. Savci denied that a ransom had been demanded and declared that because of his religious convictions he had not filed a complaint against the kidnappers. “I still do not know why I was kidnapped."
On Sunday many Assyrians gathered to give thanks in the Mar Yaqub Monastary during a Mass given by Savci and Metropolitan Samuel Aktas of the Syriac Orthodox Church.
“I forgive those who kidnapped me. I want everyone to forgive them too,” said Savci
ADM Statement on PUK Chief Relations Officer's Comments
For Immediate Release
We are deeply puzzled by what Mullah Bakhtyar, the Chief Relations Officer of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan said in an interview with Al-Mallaf Press that: "people have the legal right in declaring a region or country of their own if they possess historic and geographical land. Turkmans and Chaldo-Assyrians are residents in Kurdistan and have the rights of full citizenship; but cannot own any land because there are not any Turkman or Chaldo-Assyrian land in Kurdistan or in Iraq."
Such statements are absolutely unacceptable and describe and reflect undemocratic attitudes that are influenced by the past governing regimes. This statement reflects a totalitarian and nation- melting culture that excludes other nations. This is not what we expect from a prominent officer in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a partner with a leading role in the national unity, a partnership in the development of pluralism and freedom concepts in Iraq.
The Chaldean Syriac Assyrian nation does not need an introduction on their history as the indigenous people of Iraq, in spite of our recent decline in population in Iraq and for known reasons which permit futile attempts for ethnic marginalization and scare practices. These tactics are an excuse to seize our legitimate national rights.
As for the alleged non-existence of the ChaldoAssyrian land, all we have to do is take a look at the history of Mesopotamia, and we will find that all of Mesopotamian land, Kurdistan included, is the inheritance of the Assyrian Babylonian Civilizations. If we were to look at the people that are most loyal and feel the sense of belonging to their roots in the homeland (Iraq) undisputedly we will find that Chaldean Syriac Assyrian nation is an ever proud nation of its history and culture, who are deeply rooted in Iraq's land and are not "resident guests" as described by Mr. Bakhtyar, for the owner of a house can never be a guest in his own house.
We are confident that Mr. Bakhtyar's statement does not reflect the views of the leadership of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
Mar Delly Says Security for Christians Improving in Iraq
Courtesy of the Christian Post
Mar Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, gave a press conference in Rome on Nov 23.
Delly, one of 23 Roman Catholic leaders recently elevated to the position of cardinal by the pope, told Italy-based news agency Adnkronos International (AKI), "The security situation in Iraq is improving for everyone, including us Christians."
"Christians in Iraq are not separated from other members of society so if the security situation improves, everyone will benefit."
In the interview, Delly spoke of the importance of unity in Iraq and of the cohesion between the diverse groups in the country.
Approximately 70 percent of Christians in Iraq are part of the Chaldean community., which recognizes the authority of the pope despite being aligned with eastern rite churches and having its own liturgy and leadership. The Chaldean Church is also found in other parts of the world including the United States, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Australia.
Mar Delly told a group of reporters that he is urging Iraqi Christians who have fled the country in the wake of the high levels of violence to return home. He made the appeal at the Vatican as he was preparing to be inducted as Iraq’s first Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI.
He told reporters that his elevation to cardinal was an ‘honour for all Iraqis, and not just Christians.’ He added that he would use his new position "to convince those who have left Iraq to return and help build the country."
On the subject of inter-religious dialogue, Delly said, "I hope that the Vatican continues to speak to other religions.
“Our objective is not to proselytize but to collaborate and live together with others," he added.
During a meeting late last month of the world's Catholic cardinals, Cardinal Walter Kasper, who serves as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, briefed the cardinals on relations with other Christians, focusing on the church's relations with the Orthodox, Protestants and Pentecostal movements.
Courtesy of the Catholic News Agency
15 November 2007
(ZNDA: Rome) The director of the cultural affairs of the Chaldean Catholic Church and the rector of Babel College, Auxiliary Bishop Jacques Ishaq, said that Iraq’s President Talabani has promised Chaldean Patriarch Mar Emmanuel III Delly he will intervene to ensure that “Christian students will be able to take a test on the Christian religion at the end of the year,” which means that the faith will be allowed to be taught.
In an interview with the Office for Migrant Ministry of the Archdiocese of Turin, Bishop Ishaq said, “The Iraqi educational system is based on an evaluation that is obtained by the sum total of the final grades in each subject. In many schools, the only religious instruction is in the Islamic faith, and consequently, Christian students find it much more difficult to obtain grades similar to those of their Muslim counterparts.”
Bishop Ishaq pointed out that one of the problems is “finding teachers who teach the Christian religion. The fleeing and forced emigration of Christians has resulted in many educated persons leaving the country. In addition, there are the problems of the chaos in Baghdad and which have reached the Ministry of Instruction and those responsible for such decisions who at times can obstruct or encourage laws that favor the Christian minority.”
Despite the problems, he said, “Christians are still perceived as bearers of culture.”
AAS Medicines Reach Arbil, Iraq
Michael E Bradley, Administrator, AAS-A
For Immediate Release
29 November 2007
At 1 PM local time on Sunday November 11 in Erbil, Iraq, nearly 700 pounds of requested medicines were received by the Assyrian Aid Society - Iraq for immediate distribution to it's free pharmacies in Northern Iraq.
In the photograph above, crates of medicine are being offloaded in Dohuk.
The medicines, valued at US$92,500, were purchased for only US$7400 (approximately eight cents on the dollar) by AAS-A via MAP International, a Christian health organization in Brunswick, Georgia, and the International Dispensary Association Foundation in the Netherlands.
AAS-A Medical Director Dr. Alex Malick coordinated this project from Sacramento, California.
The Assyrian Aid Society of America is a charitable organization recognized by the State of California and the government of the United States of America, dedicated to assisting needy Christian Assyrians in Northern Iraq and around the world. Over the past 15 years AAS-A has raised over $4 million to, with its sister organization, the Assyrian Aid Society – Iraq, to build schools, staff and supply medical clinics, facilitate life-saving surgeries, rebuild homes, irrigate farmlands, bring electricity to villages, and implement a host of other vital programs and services.
Something seems out of place in this small Kurdish village.
First, there are the low-slung homes with the pastel exteriors - yellows and pinks - that scream for attention against the rugged backdrop of pine trees and mountain peaks. Then, up on a hill, sits a church with a squat steeple. But it's the cross reaching toward the magnificent blue sky that stands out in this predominantly Muslim country.
The Assyrian Catholic Church serves 32 families who fled the violence of Baghdad for the relative calm and security of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq. The homes are among more than 5,000 units in 100 Christian settlements across Dahuk province in the Kurdish region.
The Kurdish regional government has financed the developments in hopes of providing Christians with a haven.
"When I came here, I just started building," said Patrice Isaac Peto, an Assyrian Catholic who left his house and business in Baghdad two years ago. "I didn't know someone was going to help us."
The Kurdish government has financed the construction of at least 5,000 houses in 100 Christian settlements across Dahuk province, including in the village of Teena, Iraq.
Further north in the town of Gedeky, Ischa Zaya Sliwa explains the circumstances that drove him from Baghdad. After earning $400 a month for three years as a chef with an American-run company, Sliwa, 52, said local Shiite militiamen persuaded him to quit his job.
"They weren't bad guys, they just threatened me," said Sliwa, who added that some militiamen will "kill you without any warning."
After reluctantly abandoning their cramped apartment in August 2006, Sliwa, his wife and three daughters moved 260 miles north to the city of Dahuk before driving another three hours to Gedeky last November. They have since settled into their new three-bedroom house.
"We were offered a free house in a safe place," Sliwa said. "It was difficult not to accept."
But the charitable gesture is not without controversy.
Increasingly, critics and some political analysts contend these Christian communities are part of an effort to strengthen the Kurdish region's ever-growing autonomy from Iraq's central government in Baghdad by diversifying its population.
Franso Mattey, a private contractor who has overseen much of the building in Dahuk, said funding for the projects comes directly from the Kurdish government, which also provides monthly stipends of roughly $80 to an estimated 7,000 Christian families who now live here.
Mattey said his engineers design and construct homes at an average cost of $17,000 to $20,000, but he steadfastly maintains his mission is a humanitarian one.
"We just want to help the people," he said, arguing that the Kurdish government also has provided funding to rebuild 30 Muslim villages in Dahuk. "There are no political parties involved."
While that may be true, critics are also quick to note that the man leading the project is Sarkis Aghajan Mamendo, an enigmatic Iraqi Assyrian politician who is currently finance minister in the Kurdish regional government.
Mamendo, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, also backs the Ishtar satellite TV network, where he is often seen shaking hands with constituents, members of the clergy and other government leaders. But he rarely, if ever, speaks publicly. Multiple requests for interviews sent to his offices elicited no reply.
Mamendo's efforts have made him famous among Christians around the world. In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI awarded him the Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, one of the Vatican's highest commendations in recognition of his work on behalf of Iraq's Christians.
The Christian building boom in the Kurdish region began in the late 1990s with a U.N. program that funded reconstruction of villages leveled under Saddam Hussein's government. Yelda Guywailgese's house was one of 20 in Gedeky that was blasted to the ground in 1988.
"They even took the bricks," said Guywailgese, a 60-year-old farmer, referring to Iraqi soldiers who dynamited his house and doused his apple orchard and tomato field with acid.
In 2001, Guywailgese and the other villagers returned to reconstruct their homes with U.N.-provided materials.
Today, this Christian village has risen from the ashes and expanded to more than 30 houses and 250 people. Among the newcomers are many families from Baghdad who were lured with free housing.
Despite the peaceful new life, Kurdish officials may not be able to keep everyone in the region. Several of the rebuilt and newly constructed villages lack health clinics and schools, though all have at least one church.
"The first thing needed is a church, but so many families have come here with children so now we need a school," said Guywailgese.
For those who have relocated to the north from Baghdad, the transition is often trying.
Peto, who shuttered his shoe factory after it was looted a second time in 2005, has found no work. The 64-year-old businessman has turned to harvesting tomatoes and apples, and selling wood for a living.
In the meantime, Peto's 21-year-old son, Fadi, has delayed his studies because he doesn't speak Kurdish, the region's official language that is predominantly spoken in classrooms of most universities.
The winding roads running into Teena are sometimes impassable, trapping residents and barring the priest from making his 30-mile trip to perform Mass weekly at the village's church.
"Life is difficult here," Peto said.
Back inside his new house in the rebuilt village of Gedeky, Sliwa said he wanted to leave Iraq because of "too many bad days." The deployment of Turkish troops along the border with Turkey, an hour's drive north of Teena, is also troubling.
The Turks are poised for a cross-border offensive against the Kurdistan Workers Party, which has been fighting for autonomy for Turkish Kurds since 1984 in a conflict that has killed nearly 40,000 people.
Yet, Sliwa, a former prisoner of war during Iraq's conflict with Iran in the 1980s, promised he would someday return to Baghdad once the security situation is restored.
"I returned home once," Sliwa said, referring to his internment in Iran. "Maybe I'll return home again."
Baghdad Museum will Re-open Before Year End
Courtesy of the Sunday Times
25 November 2007
By Jon Swain
(ZNDA: Paris) Almost five years after it was ransacked by hordes of looters in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, the Iraq museum in Baghdad is about to open its doors again.
The museum, famous for priceless antiquities representing the world’s earliest civilisation, is scheduled to open next month, according to its acting director, Amira Emiran.
Visits will be confined to just two galleries on the ground floor containing Assyrian and Islamic treasures that are too large and heavy to be easily removed. The remaining 16 galleries will remain empty and closed and security will be tight.
Nevertheless, Iraqi and American officials are keen to portray the opening as a sign that security in Baghdad has improved after the chaos of the past few years.
Emiran announced the opening at a gathering of experts at the United Nations educational, scientific and cultural organisation (UNESCO) in Paris to discuss measures to save Iraq’s antiquities from looting and destruction, according to The Art Newspaper.
A UNESCO official said: “Dr Emiran announced that the museum would be opening in December. But even if she says it is going to open, this has to be treated with some circumspection. The situation is so volatile.”
The Assyrian Hall has monumental sculptures, including stone panels from the royal palace at Khorsabad and two winged bulls. The other large gallery that is opening, the Islamic Hall, has the eighth century mihrab from the Al-Mansur mosque in Baghdad. It is also hoped to display 10 monumental Parthian sculptures from Hatra in the courtyard which links the two galleries and through which visitors will pass.
The decision was welcomed by Matthew Bogdanos, a colonel in the US Marine Corps reserves, who investigated the theft and destruction of thousands of artefacts from the museum and from thousands of Iraq’s poorly protected historic sites where looting has been conducted “on an industrial scale” since the war.
Bogdanos, a New York prosecutor, said: “I don’t know if there is any such thing as a right or wrong moment to open the museum. But great things are won by great risk and the museum should open and it should stay open. If it means doubling security, then double security.”
The ransacking of the museum in April 2003 in the aftermath of the US invasion provoked worldwide outrage. American soldiers were criticised for watching as looters, taking advantage of the Iraqi government’s collapse, plundered the building.
“It was as if a hurricane had hit,” said Donny George, the museum director at the time, describing his return to the museum after it had been plundered. “What the looters could not take, they smashed.”
Some 15,000 items vanished. In time, some priceless objects were recovered, including the 5,200-year-old sacred vase of Warka, the world’s oldest-known carved-stone ritual vessel, which was returned in the back of a car.
Bogdanos believes the smuggling of antiquities from Iraq helped to fund the insurgency. He recalled that in one raid in 2005 in Anbar province, northwest of Baghdad, marines captured a group of insurgents in an underground bunker and found arms and a chest of more than 30 stolen museum items.
About 10,000 pieces remain missing despite a worldwide hunt; they include the 8BC ivory plaque of a lioness attacking a Nubian, which is inlaid with lapis and carnelian and overlaid with gold.
The museum was founded by Gertrude Bell, the legendary British archaeologist and explorer, in 1923. It was considered one of the finest in the Middle East but was rarely open to the public during most of the last 20 years of Saddam Hussein’s rule.
George, the renowned director, who is a Christian, fled Iraq following death threats in August last year. Before he left he sealed the museum entrance with a 3ft-thick wall of bricks and concrete to keep out thieves.
George yesterday questioned whether it was the right time to reopen the museum. “If it was me I would not open it,” he said. “The priceless artefacts inside are safe from theft or destruction so long as the museum remains sealed.”
Tehran Galleries Display Hannibal Alkhas' Paintings
A painting by Hannibal Alkhas
(ZNDA: Tehran) Several paintings by the Assyrian-Iranian artist, Hannibal Alkhas, were on display at the Baran Gallery in Tehran between November 17 and 29..
The paintings reflect nearly 60 years of the modernist artwork from several phases of Mr. Alkhas' life.
Hannibal Alkhas is the son of the Assyrian writer, Adai Alkhas, and was born in 1930 in Kermanshah, Iran. He is currently living in the U.S. and was unable to travel to Iran for this exhibit due to poor health.
Mr. Alkhas dispatched 40 of his latest works to Iran to be showcased at the Elaheh Gallery in June 2007.
Until December 17 Hannibal Alkhas' artwork will be on display at the Museum of Fine Arts of the Sadabad Complex, where bout 800 artworks by veteran and young painters and sculptors will be showcased during the exhibit.
In October of this year, the Iranian Academy of Arts in Tehran informed the public of its intention to purchase a collection of artworks painted by Iranian Christian artists. Among these paintings are artwork by Mr. Alkhas.
The paintings, which are to be bought by the end of the Persian calendar year (March 2008), will first be displayed at a special exhibition organized by the Academy.
According to IAA a national art museum under its auspices will house this collection.
Mr. Sohrabi, the IAA director, noted that " this exhibit will provide a long-awaited opportunity for Christian artists to display their work and have it publicly appraised... We have many great masters amongst our Christian community and we must create this opening for them to make their mark by showcasing their art."
Mr. Sohrabi, according to Mehr News went on to say: “Works by contemporary artists such as Hannibal Alkhas, Marcos Grigorian, Sirak Melkonian and many others with whom we are less familiar will be on display in the exhibit."
On the acquisition of the collection, Mr. Sohrabi explained, “It is part of our mandate to negotiate for the purchase of artworks with Christian and Assyrian art centers in Iran as well as with the churches. We will also accept donations from collectors in the sphere of Christian art."
Mongolian-era Christian Cemetery Discovered Near Soltanieh
Courtesy of the Mehr News
3 December 2007
(ZNDA: Tehran) A Christian cemetery dating back to the Mongol era has recently been discovered near the Soltanieh Dome, an Islamic monument registered on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. Soltaniyeh, situated in the Zanjan Province of Iran, some 240 km to the north-west from Tehran, used to be the capital of Ilkahate (Ilkhnid) rulers of Persia in the 14th century.
A single gravestone bearing ancient script led a team of experts from the Soltanieh Dome Cultural Heritage Center to the discovery of the burial ground, the Persian service of CHN reported on 3 December.
The artifact was unearthed by the team about two years ago during a demarcation operation for the dome site. “We were assisted in the deciphering of the script by a number of Christian historians. After examining the relic, they informed us that the artifact dates back to the Mongol era and that it was highly likely that a cemetery dating back to that time would be located in the vicinity,” the center executive manager Mohammadreza Qorbanzadeh said.
A translation of the inscription reads as follows: “Jesus, the only Son of the Father, when it is time to return, the sleeping soul of the late…” Other parts of the inscription are illegible due to erosion. “The cemetery, which is located near the Abbasabad region of the Soltanieh Dome and the ancient city of Soltanieh will add to our knowledge of the history of these sites,” Qorbanzadeh said.
The Mongol ruler Hulagu Khan (c. 1217-1265), who founded the Ilkhanid dynasty in Iran, selected the north central region of Iran for his center of government. Hulagu’s mother, Sarkutti Baji, showed an inclination towards the Christian religion and as a result many Christian residents of Tabriz emigrated to Soltanieh (location of present day Zanjan), being an area over which he ruled. Hulagu's wife, Dokuz Khatun, was a Christian member of the Church of the East.
In addition, Marco Giovanni Brambilla, an Italian professor at Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University, during his studies on the city of Soltanieh, had previously surmised the existence of a Christian Mongol era cemetery in the region.
Look for an upcoming book in 2008 entitled "Early Christian Remains of Inner Mongolia" published by Brill. For content and the breadth of its coverage click here.
Assyrian Lobbyist Hired for Work in Brussels
The Assyria Foundation
Following the opening and advertising of a vacant Assyrian lobbyist position in Brussels, the Assyria Foundation of the Netherlands is happy to announce that Mr. Ninos Warda from London, United Kingdom, has been selected to fulfil this role.
Following the successes of the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project (ISDP) in Washington, which has been in operation since April 2005 and has lobbied for the Assyrian rights in Iraq, and taking into account the increasingly important role the European Union will have in the future of Iraq, a similar role as that of the ISDP has been created in Brussels so that there may also be a full-time lobbyist working in Europe, and more particularly within the various institutions of the European Union.
Dr. Matay beth Arsan of the Assyria Foundation of the Netherlands wishes to express his gratitude for the various people who applied for the position and is happy that the Assyrians in the Diaspora now have a growing number of intellectual and motivated Assyrian youth who can use their knowledge and expertise for the benefit of their nation. It is hoped that all applicants who applied for the role can aid in the successes and the benefits which will be produced by this important initiative. Ms. Attiya Gamri, an Assyrian-Dutch politician, spoke to all candidates and she also expresses her happiness with the decision to appoint Mr. Warda as lobbyist in Brussels.
Last week Ms. Gamri spoke to the Assyrian associations and political organisations in Europe in the city of Wiesbaden and explained the aims of this important project: "The Assyrians in the EU support this project and are prepared to give it the efforts it requires.”
Following his selection Mr. Warda commented: "As soon as possible we will create an international advisory committee, the members of which will all be EU politicians, Dutch politicians, professors, scholars, lawyers, doctors and human rights activists. We hope also to visit Assyria soon.”
Ms. Attiya Gamri is proud that Mr. Ninos Warda, an Assyrian born in London, whose parents were both born in Iraq, will work full-time for this project.
Mr. Warda holds a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree. He is currently studying for his Masters in Law (LLM) in the field of International Law at the University of London. He is fluent in both written and verbal English and also in both dialects of the Assyrian language. He is a role model for many highly educated young Assyrians in the Diaspora.
This important project and initiative is to begin in November 2007.
Assyria Council of Europe Attends First Conference
On Tuesday 27th November the Assyria Council of Europe (ACE) attended their first conference in the European Parliament. The conference dealt with the issue of Iraqi Refugees in the Mashreq Countries and had speakers from various respectable organisations such as Amnesty International, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and also the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The conference was also attended by two commissioners from the European Commission.
This conference is the first of many which ACE plans to attend in order to gain more information about the current situation of Iraqis in the Middle East and also to raise awareness of the plight of the Assyrians.
The following is a brief summary of the meeting written by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) :
The situation of Iraqi refugees in the Mashreq - a major challenge for the European Union The EU and its Member States should provide more financial support to the work of the UNHCR in the Mashreq area and to the Mashreq States (Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan), Member States should make sure that asylum seekers coming from Iraq are able to access EU territory and obtain international protection and finally more resettlement places should be made available for Iraqi refugees in EU Member States. These are the main appeals made to Member States and Institutions by the representatives of UNHCR, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the International Rescue Committee and Amnesty International EU in the course of a debate on the situation of Iraqi Refugees on 2 November. The debate, which focused particularly on the situation in Syria and Jordan, was organised by the European Parliament Delegation for relations with the Mashreq Countries.
The speakers stressed that the situation for Iraqi refugees in the region is extremely critical and that the support of the EU to the hosting countries is absolutely necessary in order to provide refugees with their basic needs, such as food, health care and education. The speakers also expressed concerns with regard to the closure of the Jordan and Syrian borders. During the debate calls were also made for a more coherent European policy towards Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers, which should follow the UNHCR and ECRE guidelines.
For the Commission, Gianluca Grippa, DG External Relations, stated that in the next weeks funds will be allocated to strengthen already existing projects in the region and that the budget for 2008 will be decided on the basis of studies from external competent organisations, such as the study of UNDP on Syria. The Commission also called for more efforts by the Member States.
Finally it was pointed out by the speakers that despite the recent news of Iraqi refugees voluntarily returning to Iraq, the country should not be considered as safe yet and no forcible return should be carried on.
European Parliament Condemns Persecution of Christians
(ZNDA: Brussels) A resolution was approved on 16 November by a near unanimous vote condemning violence and injustice against Christian believers.
Asia, according to this resolution, has the most numerous violations to religious freedom. The resolution was adopted by a margin of 57 to 2 with one abstention with regards to “serious events which compromise Christian communities' existence and those of other religious communities.”
Referring to various international agreements and conventions that protect human rights and religious freedom and citing a list of violations of religious freedom, the resolution strongly condemns a plethora of acts of violence.
In the text, the European parliament “urges the governments of the countries concerned to improve the security situation of the Christian communities; stresses therefore that the public authorities have a duty to protect all religious communities, including Christian communities, from discrimination and repression;” and calls on European Union institutions to raise the issue at a political level with the countries where violations occur.
The resolution mentions the cases of abducted and/or killed Assyrians in Iraq and Chaldean priests.
Assyrian Musician Gabi Shamun Passed Away
Report by Hanibal Romanos, Hujådå Magazine, Sweden
(ZNDA: Sodertalja) The Assyrian musician, Gabi Mushel Shamun, passed away on 3 November after a heart attack. Gabi enriched the Assyrian music culture with his oud-playing and composing.
Gabi Mushel Shamun was born in 1954 in Qamishli in northeastern Syria after his parents moved into the town from the village Gerke-Shamo. His family originates from the village of Ehwo in Tur-‘Abdin. He went to elementary school in Qamishli. Gabi grew up surrounded by the young and developing modern western Assyrian folk music. He learned to play the oriental instrument - oud.
In the Autumn of 1972 the Brotherhood of Mor Yaqub of Nsibin Association in Qamishli was established. It gave the Assyrian music a scene for new impulses and a chance for the new talents, singers, dancers and musicians. Gabi Shamun was one of many young active Assyrians who spent a great deal of time in the Association to develop the Assyrian music culture and spread it widely. In time Gabi advanced his skills and eventually began playing jumbush (banjo) and guitar.
The only music recording that we know of from this time in which Gabi Shamun participated is a demo recording from the summer of 1973. It was a song composed by the musician and composer Gabriel Asaad, who also in this period gave Gabi some lessons in music. The song is called "O Habibto Shafirto" (“O Beautiful Beloved") with lyrics by the poet George Shamoun. Gabi Shamun played jumbush, Gabriel Asaad on violin, Riyad Nasrallah on accordion, Nabil Fatho on darbuke and Sardanapal Asaad on vocals. The recording was only a demo and therefore was never distributed (a short time later the lyrics where changed to Tuma Nahroyo’s poem Sawkah Gdomeh).
Gabi Shamun performed gradually on stage in parties, apart from some of the above mentioned names, with other Assyrian musical personalities of that time: George Chachan, Jalil Maiilo, Jan Karat, Elias Dawud, Hanna Maqdisi Elias, Toni Husni and others.
Music recordings were done, but those have either been lost or fallen into oblivion by the negligence of the owners of the reel tapes (the technique that was in use at this time).
In 1975 Gabi Shamun began to study the classical Oriental and Turkish music in the Turkish Institute of Higher Music in Istanbul with oud as the primary instrument.
In 1979 he finished his studies with honors and returned to Qamishli where he could continue being active in the developement of the Assyrian music as a music teacher and as an artist in concerts and parties.
In the middle of the 1980’s he composed music to several poems by George Shamoun, about the world peace and also about the different traditional Assyrian rites and customs (songs with connection to Easter, Christmas and other holidays). The success came to form a children’s musical that in appearance would be a beautiful picture, but unfortunately it never got performed. In 2005 a piece of this musical was heard, sung and played by Gabi Shamun, in an interview with Gabriel Afram on the Swedish Assyrian radio program, Qolo.
In 1986 he moved to Sweden but returned back to Qamishli after four years. At home in Qamishli he taught music in the beginning of the 1990’s in the newly founded music institute together with George Chachan and the other music teachers.
In 1991 Jan Karat released his album Qolo da-Shlomo w-Hubo in which Gabi Shamun played oud-and was the musical leader. He also participated as a composer to one of the songs of the album, Qolo d-Habibtidaydi (“My Beloved’s Voice”). Lyrics were by Jan Karat.
In 1997 he emigrated with his family to Bremen in Germany where he resided until his death. In Bremen he was active in different orchestras. In 2002 an album was released by the singer, Michel Jaddo. The album’s name is Shnighutho (“Love”) and contains 8 songs, all composed by Gabi Shamun and lyrics were written by different poets. Songs like Qritho (“Village”) display Gabi Shamun’s great skill in composing classical Assyrian music.
Gabi Shamun saw it as his responsibility to work for the future of the Assyrian music. He talked about the importance of protecting it and that young Assyrian musicians should take inspiration from the scales and tones of the church instead of borrowing from non-Assyrian music and thus put a non-Assyrian stamp on our music.
In later years Gabi worked with an album where he was recording texts from many different songwriters. Unfortunately he never finished it. His sons will however continue the work to complete it and to hopefully release it some day.
Gabi Shamun, an highly educated musician, was an excellent oud-player. He was always frank when someone wanted his opinion on music and he never sacrificed quality.
Certainly his point of view on the importance of quality was one of the reasons why he couldn’t produce more. At the same time he was a humble person and loved by those around him.
At 53 Shamun is survived not only by a mourning family that includes his two sons, but a music legacy that will never be forgotten. His funeral took place on 9 November in Bremen. His decease is a great loss to the Assyrian musical culture and the Assyrian people.
Narsai's Taste of Mediterranean Raises Over $160,000
Michael E Bradley, Administrator, AAS-A
For Immediate Release 30 November 2007
Over $160,000 was raised for the Assyrian Aid Society of America's humanitarian projects at it's sixth annual Narsai's Taste of the Mediterranean fundraising dinner and auction on Friday, November 16, 2007 at the Ritz- Carlton Hotel in San Francisco, with over 350 supporters in attendance.
The first five Narsai’s Taste of the Mediterranean dinners and auctions raised a total of nearly $700,000 since the event's premiere in November 2002.
This year's celebrity chefs were Philippe Jeanty (Jeanty at Jack's in San Francisco, Bistro Jeanty in Yountville), Erik Cosselmon (Kokkari in San Francisco), Gary Rulli (Emporio Rulli in San Francisco), Nader Sharkes (Director, Culinary Arts Program, Contra Costa College), and Jean Pierre Dubray (Ritz-Carlton). Wines were donated by Darioush, Hanna Winery, Miner Family Vineyards, Darioush, and the Narsai and Venus David Vineyards, all wineries with Middle Eastern roots.
U.S. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo was the dinner’s Honorary Chairwoman.
The dinner featured traditional music by Dan Eshoo and the Ancient Echoes and a classical piano performance
by Assyrian-Russian performer Lena Akopova, plus live and silent auctions.
Narsai David, President of the Assyrian Aid Society of America since 1995, is Food and Wine Editor at KCBS Radio in San Francisco.
The Assyrian Aid Society of America is a charitable organization recognized by the State of California and the government of the United States of America, dedicated to assisting needy Christian Assyrians in Northern Iraq and around the world. Over the past 15 years AAS-A has raised over $4 million to, with its sister organization, the Assyrian Aid Society – Iraq, to build schools, staff and supply medical clinics, facilitate life-saving surgeries, rebuild homes, irrigate farmlands, bring electricity to villages, and implement a host of other vital programs and services.
ISDP Release: 60 Minutes: Iraq's Christians in Peril
For Immediate Release
Washington: December 3, 2007 – CBS’ 60 Minutes distinguished itself again in breaking the general silence on the perilous situation Iraq’s ChaldoAssyrian Christians are facing; suffering from deliberate ethno-religious cleansing as US forces must watch.
Information on the exact situation is problematic, but the strongest figures indicate that upwards of 25 to 30 percent of Iraq’s Christian ChaldoAssyrians have become refugees since the invasion and that an overwhelming proportion are internally-displaced persons (IDPs), mainly going to the Nineveh Plain, but also Dohuk and Arbil.
This is ethno-religious cleansing by any definition. A letter from an Islamist group operating in Baghdad was read, it stated, “To the Christian, we would like to inform you of the decision of the legal court of the Secret Islamic Army to notify you that this is the last and final threat. If you do not leave your home, your blood will be spilled […] You and your family will be killed.”
60 Minutes’ focus on the targeting and almost successful cleansing in former Iraqi Christian urban population centers such as Dora draws attention to religious-based targeting – a major factor in the flight of ChaldoAssyrians from their ancestral homeland of over 6,700 years.
The US Government officially states that ChaldoAssyrians are victims of generalized violence. The 60 Minutes report reveals the direct persecution of this indigenous minority. ChaldoAssyrians are particularly targeted and are facing ethno-religious cleansing. The US Government must develop a policy to deal with this crisis.
Michael Youash, Project Director of the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project, said, “The basics of any policy must see aid reaching Christian ChaldoAssyrians and other minorities equitably and especially for IDPs; the formation of a formal local police force in the Nineveh Plain and the removal of obstacles to the creation of the Nineveh Plain Administrative Unit allowed for by Art. 125 of Iraq’s Constitution.”
Staff from 60 Minutes first met with ISDP in Iraq regarding the situation of Iraq’s Christian ChaldoAssyrians in early 2006. At that point, they were also working with the Chaldean Federation of America on the situation of refugees in the region. Meetings with ISDP and the Assyrian Aid Society followed in 2007. “60 Minutes must be recognized for bravely pursuing a story despite the security risk and the fact that no decision-maker in government really wants to deal with this crisis.” said Youash.
The show, entitled, “Vicar: Dire Times for Iraq’s Christians”, aired on Sunday, December 2nd, 2007. Those interested can visit the website for the program: click here.
The Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project's (ISDP) research and policy analysis maintains that ChaldoAssyrians and Iraq's other, real minorities (e.g. Turkmens, Shabaks, Yezidis, Mandaeans and others) are the best variable for leveraging the development of a genuine and sustainable democracy over the long term. For the United States, Iraq’s real minorities are also the truest ‘moderates’ as defined by the National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terror. As such, they are a key element in the fight against extremism in Iraq and the Middle East as a whole. ISDP works to ensure that these minorities are factored into policy development accordingly through research and policy analysis for all relevant stakeholders.
ISDP Release: KRG Ministry of Finance Prejudicially Targeting ChaldoAssyrians
For Immediate Release
Washington: November 16, 2007 – The US Department of State, in a report to Congress, specifically identified the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Ministry of Finance as a source of the “considerable hardship” the Christian ChaldoAssyrian community is facing.
The report was issued pursuant to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriation for FY 2007; which states: “The Committee is concerned regarding reports of U.S. reconstruction and relief assistance in Iraq not reaching all segments of the Iraq population, particularly minority populations. The Committee has heard reports of villages in the Nineveh Plain region not receiving assistance. Therefore, the Committee directs the Secretary of State to report […] on the ethnic and geographic distribution of U.S. assistance programs and specifically a report on all U.S. assistance reaching the Nineveh Plain region.”
Early on the report indicates, “In Ninawa, the Christian minority faces considerable hardship. Some factions are under-represented politically; some suffer from uneven resource transfers from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Ministry of Finance (MoF); and some experience human rights abuses.”
The legislation and the issuance of the report itself are major achievements bringing attention to the crisis ChaldoAssyrians are facing. It creates the basis for developing a policy. The US Government’s verification of the destructive, prejudicial role played by the KRG and MoF in the Nineveh Plain region, by exposing the efforts of the MoF in marginalizing segments of the community is vital for finding solutions to KRG-generated problems.
ISDP’s policy work and briefings, underlying the development of the legislation, continues to raise concern of many in Congress. Representatives Mark Kirk, Joe Knollenberg and Frank Wolf spearheaded the legislation. Constant expressions of alarm at the deteriorating situation facing Christian ChaldoAssyrians by the Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council of America played an important and timely role in this critical process.
ISDP’s Project Director Michael Youash said, “Despite opening up to policy considerations for Christian ChaldoAssyrians, the report lacked significant awareness of actual developments about US reconstruction on the ground – that cannot be captured on data management systems. ISDP will continue to follow-up and ensure policy-makers are aware of the reality and the challenges on the ground for minorities.”
Attiya Gamri Visits Dubai, Visits Assyrians
(ZNDA: Dubai) Ms. Attiya Gamri, a member of the Labor Party in Holland's Parliament of the Overijssel Province, recently visited the Assyrian of Dubai.
Some 300 Assyrians live in Dubai of which half have formed a close bond and celebrate the Assyrian national days like Kha b’Nisan, Kalu Sulaqa, the 7th of August Martyrs' Day and nearly weekly gatherings or picnics with Assyrian dancing, music and food.
In Dubai the churches offer three facilities for the Assyrians: a school, the reception halls and the sport facilities. The churches include the Syriac Orthodox, Roman Catholic, the Maronite and the Protestant Church. Most of the Assyrians in Dubai congregate in the Maronite church where the Mass is performed in Arabic and sometimes in Western Syriac. There is also a well-known private primary and secondary school in Dubai run by the Chaldean nuns from Iraq.
During her short stay in Dubai, Ms. Gamri met with a few Assyrian families. Most Assyrians work for foreign companies or are successful business owners. Two such prominent Assyrian business owners are Mr. Emanuel Kelaita and Mr. Dinkha Lachin.
Most Assyrians in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which includes Dubai, are originally from Iraq, but have British, American, Canadian or Australian citizenship. During the last few years a small number of Assyrians from Iraq and specifically from Baghdad left the suburb of Dora and settled in UAE.
Helen, a mother of 4 children and the wife of well-known businessman in Iraq, explains that they received threatening letters from the Islamic groups who also took their car, money and furniture. “They wanted us to be Muslims. I took my children and left Iraq with my husband who set a business in Sharjah (Sharjah is one of the seven emirates in the UAE). Now we are safe in the UAE and the rest of the family is in Baghdad. Every time the phone rings I’m afraid that it will be from Dora with a message of death or the killing of my family in Iraq,” says Helen.
The Assyrian writer Aprim Shapera, also in Dubai, wrote 8 books about the different subjects regarding the Assyrians. Assyrians in Dubai call him ‘the Assyrian ambassador’ since everyone from abroad appears to know him and calls him when they visit Dubai.
During Ms. Gamri's visit, Mr. Shapera organised a dinner with some the Assyrian families in Dubai. Ms. Gamri spoke about the important work done in Washington by the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project (ISDP) and the Assyria Council of Europe (ACE), two institutions dedicated to policy and advocacy in America and the EU, respectively, with regards to the Assyrian rights in Iraq. Mr. Emmauel Kelaita is a major financial supporter of the ISDP project.
The story of the Assyrians in Dubai is not different from the one in Brazil or U.S.A. Robert and Caroline are orignially from Australia. They are married and have 2 children. Caroline's grandfather left his village, currently in Turkey in the Lake Van district during Sefyo. Her grandfather told her about the church they had in Van, the Mar Zaya Church, and how the Assyrians were killed in 1915. He lost every member of his family as they were all killed by the Turks. He was a little child and went to Nineveh and later to Baghdad. His children went on to U.S., Kuwait, and now some are in Dubai. In a span of 80 years three generations of a family have lived as refugees in their own land.
Zaya Marcus and his wife Elina Barjam, originally from Iraq hold Canadian citizenship. They tell a similar story. Zaya is the main organizer of the Assyrian celebrations and the New Year's party and the other national events. “This is not enough; we need a place in Nineveh, where the real celebration will take place. It is time to work for it. This is our last chance,” says Zaya.
Ms Carmen E. Asker, a busy Lawyer from Iraq, is the dynamic organizer of the Assyrian gatherings. Every weekend there is a picnic for the Assyrian families on Sharjah Lake where everyone exchanges news from the homeland, eats Dolma, Bushalih (soups), Kipti (meatballs) and other Assyrian traditional food. Carmen says “there is a need among the Assyrians in Dubai of being together so that we can live in solidarity and keep our traditions. That’s why I organise this”.
Assyrians of UAE are the frequent supporter of the Assyrian refugees in Amman and Syria. Aprim Shapera and his colleagues raise funds for the needy Assyrians. They have paid many visits to these countries in order to meet the Assyrian refugees and help meet their requirements.
Recently Mr. Kelaita visited North Iraq and paid for the construction of a school building in Sharafiya village – near Alqush - to be used as Assyrian Youth and Women Center.
Mr. Shapera hopes that in the future a charity dinner can be organized for the lobbying works in the European Union and the USA. “UAE is a free market and socially-relaxed society. There are no barriers on social and cultural activities and services are excellent and much better than in Europe and America. There is a fair chance for everybody and for sure if Assyrians know this fact they will come to work or invest in UAE” says Mr. Shapera.
Ms. Gamri told the Assyrians in Dubai about her last visit to "Assyria" and explained what kind of power some towns exert in Iraq, and also about the lobbying work going on in Europe. The Assyrians in Dubai are very interested in learning more.
Ms. Gamri left Dubai, impressed by the magnitutde of the ongoing mega-development work, and by the small, but effective Assyrian community there.
HSA Release on Establishment of Syriac Fed of Germany
"Foundation of the “Syriac Federation of Germany (HSA)”
On October 3, 2007, the convention for the foundation of the “Syriac Federation of Germany (HSA)” took place in the rooms of the Mor Ephrem Church in Heilbronn, Germany. Delegates of twelve member organizations participated in this meeting for the election of the executive board and the committees. The newly founded “Syriac Federation Germany (HSA)” consists of 17 member organizations.
St. Gabriel Gütersloh , SK Suryoye Heilbronn, Assyrisch-Deutscher Verein Paderborn, Assyrischer Kulturverein Gütersloh, Syrisch-Orthodoxer Kulturverein Hamburg, Suryoye Bietigheim-Bissingen, Bethnahrin Informations- – und Sozialbüro Augsburg , Tur Abdin Memmingen, Aramäer Heilbronn , Tur Abdin Kirchardt, Bethnahrin Kulturzentrum Gütersloh , Suryoye Tauberbischofsheim , Mesopotamien - Beth Zabday Kulturverein Pfullendorf, Suryoye Heidelberg –Sinsheim- Kirchardt, Aramäischer Sport- und Kulturverein Kirchardt, Tur Abdin Würzburg, Tur Abdin Delbrück.
After the greetings, the delegates introduced themselves. Again, they underlined, that the goal of the new federation is the unity of our people. All names of the Syriac people should be treated equal in future without making any differences. Afterwards the final statute was discussed. All change requests resulting from the first meeting in July were included and the minutes of the last meeting were read out. Both was unanimously accepted. Then, the delegates made a concept and a plan for the following six months.
Afterwards, the elections of the executive board of the federation took place. All important positions could be filled with competent persons.
The following persons were selected in the executive board and the committees.
1st Chairman: Saliba Joseph
1st Treasurer: Bülent Mete
1st Secretary: Yasmin Melke
1st Sport: Circis Gök
1st Culture: Nuri Ayaz
Media, Public Relation and youth:
Youth committee: Johannes Evis
1st Supervisory Board: Hazni Aydogdu
Cash auditor: Philipp Örüm, Isa Bisse
The principle of the “Syriac Federation of Germany (HSA)” is the unity of our people. Furthermore the federation will cooperate with each institution of the Syriacs (Aramaen, Assyrian, Chaldean) , as far as the cooperation serves for the well-being of our people.
HH Mar Dinkha Celebrates 50th Anniversary in Los Angeles
(ZNDA: Los Angeles) To commemorate His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV Catholicos' 50th annivarsary in the priesthood, hundreds of Assyrians gathered in Los Angeles on Sunday, 24 November, for a Golden Jubilee celebration that included special prayers, songs, and a banquet.
His Holiness arrived in Los Angeles on Friday, 23 November, accompanied by His Grace Bishop Mar Aprim Khamis, special assistants Arch Deacon Younan Younan from London, and Father Paul Benjamin. They were greeted by Father George Bet Rasho, President of St. Mary's Church council David Dizayer, Chairman of the board of advisors Charles Begini, Deacon Walodia Gewargis, and other parish members.
Hundreds of parishioners gathered before services at St. Mary's Assyrian Church of the East on Sunday as His Holiness arrived, to greet him with songs. The Holy Mass service was full to capacity with people waiting outside to enter. In addition, the service included the ordination of deacons Rameil Eaywazi and Maroun Eyvazzadeh, and reader Antoni Eshoie.
Mesopotamian Sculpture Sells for Record 57 Million Dollars
Courtesy of the Agence France Presse
(ZNDA: New York) A tiny and extremely rare 5,000-year-old white limestone sculpture from ancient Mesopotamia sold for 57.2 million dollars in New York on 5 December, smashing records for both sculpture and antiquities.
The carved Guennol Lioness, measuring just over eight centimeters (3 1/4 inches) tall, was described by Sotheby's auction house as one of the last known masterworks from the dawn of civilization remaining in private hands.
"It was an honor for us to handle The Guennol Lioness, one of the greatest works of art of all time," Richard Keresey and Florent Heintz, the experts in charge of the sale, said in a joint statement.
"Before the sale, a great connoisseur of art commented to us that he always regarded the figure as the 'finest sculpture on earth' and it would appear that the market agreed with him," they said.
Five different bidders, three on the telephone and two in the room, competed for the sculpture. The successful buyer was identified only as an English buyer who wished to remain anonymous.
The sale easily broke the previous record for the highest price for a sculpture at auction, which had stood at 29.1 million dollars and was set just last month at Sotheby's in New York by Picasso's "Tete de Femme (Dora Maar)."
It also beat the 28.6 million dollars paid for "Artemis and the Stag," a 2,000-year-old bronze figure which sold also at Sotheby's in New York in June and held the record for the most expensive antiquity to be sold at auction.
Described by Sotheby's as diminutive in size, but monumental in conception, The Guennol Lioness was created around 5,000 years ago -- around the same time as the first known use of the wheel -- in the region of ancient Mesopotamia.
The piece was acquired by private collector Alastair Bradley Martin in 1948 and has been on display in New York's Brooklyn Museum of Art ever since.
Keresey described the work before the sale as "one of the oldest, rarest and most beautiful works of art from the ancient world."
"This storied figure, in its brilliant combination of an animal form and human pose, has captured the imagination of academics and the public since it was acquired by the Martins in the late 1940s," he added.
The figure depicts a standing lioness looking over her left shoulder, her paws clenched in front of her muscular chest.
Experts have speculated that the figure may have played a role in some ancient belief system or mythology in Mesopotamia, which today lies in parts of modern day Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran.
The proceeds of the auction are to go to a charitable trust formed by the Martin Family.
Assyrian Spy for Iraq Gets 4 Years in Prison
Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune
(ZNDA: Chicago) Noting that Sami Khoshaba Latchin was lousy when it came to espionage, a federal judge on 27 November sentenced the Des Plaines man to 4 years in prison for acting as a sleeper agent of the Iraqi government.
"He wasn't very effective as a spy," she said.
Assyrian Staffer at Rep Radanovich's Office in Modesto
Courtesy of the Modesto Bee
(ZNDA: Washington) Evlene Andrews left Iraq for good. Now, the Baghdad native and naturalized U.S. citizen is finding out what the civics textbooks don't teach. She's connecting Northern San Joaquin Valley residents with Congress, as a newly hired staffer in the Modesto field office of Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa.
The work puts Andrews, 29, at the intersection of politics and constituent service. It's a high-stakes but often low-glamour place where performance can shape a congressional reputation or turn an election. Andrews, and staffers like her, track down Social Security checks. They navigate Medicaid. They find benefits, run interference and explain policy.
"I'm not telling you I'm a superwoman," Andrews said. "I have lots of help." Indeed, congressional help abounds. Every House member can hire between 14 and 19 staffers for their Washington and district offices. All told, some 20,000 staff members serve individual lawmakers and various committees.
At the top, staff salaries approximate the pay for members of Congress. Radanovich chief of staff Ted Maness, for instance, is earning about $156,000 a year. Other San Joaquin Valley lawmakers pay their chiefs of staff about the same.
Valley lawmakers likewise pay their field staff roughly equivalent salaries, many in the vicinity of $36,000 a year.
But few, if any, congressional staffers share Andrews' background as a foreign-born Assyrian, someone who came of age directly under the reign of Iraq President Saddam Hussein.
"She seems like a wonderful young woman; she brings a lot of enthusiasm to the job," Radanovich said, explaining that "it was an added plus" that Andrews was an Assyrian born in Iraq.
Andrews' hiring reflects both her own persistence and some constituent-minded calculation on Radanovich's part.
Andrews lived in Iraq until 1997, a member of the country's minority Assyrian community. Her Anglo-sounding last name, she said, reflected her family's Christian roots. She studied accounting for a year at Baghdad University before moving to Europe and then, in September 2000, to Modesto to join her sister.
"I was looking for a better life," Andrews said, adding that she has no interest in going back to Iraq.
In coming to Modesto, Andrews joined an estimated 15,000 other Assyrians living in the San Joaquin Valley. It's one of the largest such populations in the country, centered in part within Radanovich's district. Radanovich explained that he was talking about staff needs to an Assyrian supporter in Turlock -- a man, it turned out, for whom Andrews' sister was working.
A part-time student at Modesto Junior College, where she is studying for a bookkeeping certificate, Andrews had been working for a bank. She had let her sister know, in no uncertain terms, that she was interested in more stimulating work.
"I am a complaining person; I always want to do more. I was looking to move up, to do something different with my life," Andrews said. "My sister got sick of hearing it every day."
Radanovich subsequently hired Andrews last month to serve as one of three staffers in the Modesto field office.
People bring their complaints and, Andrews said, she tries to find answers. In time, she says, she just might want to go to Washington.
"I'm learning the issues as I go along," Andrews said.
Christianity Began in Mid-East - Not Europe, Says Pope
Courtesy of the Zenit News Agency
(ZNDA: Vatican City) Christianity didn't originate in Europe, but rather has its roots in the Middle Eastern world of the Old Testament, says Pope Benedict XVI.
Antique Dealer Sentenced in Assyrian Art Fraud
Courtesy of the Associated Press
(ZNDA: London) An antique dealer was sentenced on Friday, 16 November to nearly five years in prison for working with his parents to create sophisticated fakes of statues, paintings and other works and passing them off as priceless.
Judge William Morris sentenced Shaun Greenhalgh, 47, of Bolton, England, to four years and eight months while giving his mother, Olive, 83, a suspended term of 12 months. Greenhalgh's father, George, 84, will be sentenced later.
All three pleaded guilty earlier this year to defrauding art institutions and other buyers over a period of 17 years.
They had also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder the proceeds from the sale of a fake Egyptian statuette to the city of Bolton.
The creations made by the Greenhalghs included Assyrian stone reliefs, a Celtic kilt brooch, and several copies of paintings by American artist Henry Moran.
"It was the most diverse and sustained art forgery case I've ever seen," said Detective Sgt. Vernon Rapley of London's Metropolitan Police.
Detectives said the family found a genuine copy of a catalog detailing the 1892 sale of the contents of Silverton Park, the home of the 4th Earl of Egremont. The family used it to get ideas on what items to fake and, once the items were fabricated, they used the catalog as proof of provenance when presenting their knockoffs for sale.
Shaun Greenhalgh created the fakes, while his parents handled most of the sales.
"Mainly George was the front man," said Detective Constable Ian Lawson. "He looks honest, he's elderly and he shows up in a wheelchair."
The family's biggest sale was the Amarna Princess, a 20.5 inch statuette depicting one of the daughters of Queen Nefertiti, the mother of King Tutankhamun. It was sold for $902,678 to the Bolton Museum in 2003.
Two real Amarna statuettes exist. One is in the Louvre in Paris while the other is at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia.
The scheme unraveled when the family presented three Assyrian stone reliefs to the British Museum in 2005. Experts doubted their authenticity, noting the horses' reins were not consistent with other Assyrian reliefs and that there were misspellings in the Cuneiform script inscribed on the work.
The museum notified police.
Detectives said the family made about $3.08 million but did not live lavishly. They had $1.02 million in a bank account.
"There were not living in luxury at all," Detective Constable Halina Racki said. "They were really living in poverty — a very poor, basic lifestyle."
Chaplains Struggle to Protect Monastery in Iraq
Courtesy of the National Public Radio
In a patch of sloping hillside in southwest Mosul — next to a junkyard of destroyed Iraqi army tanks — sits Iraq's oldest Christian monastery.
Saint Elijah's, a fortress-like complex of buildings dating to the 6th century, was badly damaged during the U.S.- led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Now, a few U.S. military chaplains are struggling to protect the ancient Chaldean Catholic monastery from neglect, unexploded ordnance and looters.
History of the Monastery
At one time the freshwater creek and surrounding hills, prime grazing land, made this valley a sweet spot for early Christian monks to build a place to live and worship. But today, rusting Russian-made Iraqi tanks and bombed-out car shells are piled in a junk heap next to the monastery.
First Cavalry Division Pvt. 1st Class Nathaniel Irvine walks carefully around shards of old pottery. Chunks of old plates and clay jug handles litter the monastery's ground along with shrapnel from tank and mortar rounds. U.S. soldiers have removed more than 130 pieces of unexploded ordnance from the site, but there could be more.
It's believed Dair Mar Elia, or Saint Elijah's monastery, was built in the late 6th century by early Chaldean/Assyrian Catholic monks. Armies under Persian ruler Tahmaz Nadir Shah attacked and looted the place in the 17th century, slaughtering the three dozen monks who lived here.
By Chaldean/Assyrian tradition, monks' bones were often buried in the monastery walls. And on this windy hillside, Irvine says, soldiers have found what they believe are human remains sticking out of the crumbling walls.
"Look inside down there; there's a bone they've found down there, so it's believed they're probably buried in these two tunnels," he says.
Destruction of Today
Today the outer wall of the monastery's chapel looks as though it were swatted by the hand of a giant. But it was no giant: It was a U.S. anti-tank missile fired in 2003 by advancing 101st Airborne soldiers battling an Iraqi tank unit based in and around the site.
"(The 101st) fired upon the tanks using stuff that would destroy the tanks. They were being fired at so they had to return fire," Irvine says.
The tow missile that crashed into the ancient chapel's wall could be chalked up to the fog of combat. But the same can't be said for the sophomoric graffiti scrawled around the place and the big "Screaming Eagles" logo painted above the chapel's door.
"If you look over the sanctuary you'll see the 101st Airborne patch. We've since tried painting over it and washing it off, and it won't come off," Irvine says.
U.S soldiers four years ago also white-washed the stone alter and the two-story high walls of the chapel, covering remnants of 600-year-old murals.
An ornate, shell-shaped stone alcove with a cross still adorns one wall. Looters apparently got the second one: an identically shaped alcove on the other side of the door sits empty with chisel marks around it. And in the roof line, right above the alter, you can still see a square, man-made opening to the sky.
Leaving a Mark
101st Airborne soldiers were hardly the first soldiers to leave their mark here. Previously, Iraqi tank units trashed the monastery, damaging rooms and filing an ancient cistern with trash and feces. Near the monastery's entranceway, there's much older graffiti: A Crusader-era Jerusalem cross is carefully etched into the stone, perhaps a vestige of some medieval battle in the region.
Today the monastery sits on the edge of forward U.S. operating base Marez. Despite the ravages of war and neglect, Saint Elijah's remains an enchanting place. The reddish-brown sand walls seem to soak up the sharp, late-afternoon sun. Underground tunnels, now grass-covered and partially collapsed, poke through the earth near an egg-shaped cistern.
Irvine, a 21-year-old from South Dakota, is trying to help preserve the site and gives soldiers occasional tours.
"I love it coming here," Irvine says. "Just the atmosphere it has versus being at work or running outside the wire where it's stressful. Very relaxing."
Some of the damage U.S. forces did here can't be undone. But U.S. military chaplains are trying to protect the site as best they can during wartime.
Capt. Martin Chang, the chaplain here, calls the largely unexplored site a potential archeological treasure trove. But with a war still on, the simple chain-link fence chaplains have erected around the monastery may be its only protection for years to come.
On Stan Shabaz' Essays
Thank you very much for publishing Mr. Stan shabaz' article, "Assyrian References in Modern Near Eastern Literature" in the last two issues of Zinda. I enjoyed his article immensely and look forward to more such works from Mr. Shabaz. I am hoping that he will introduce us to more Near Eastern writers and their literary works, not only in reference to the Assyrians, but in broader terms, i.e. Middle Eastern social and political perspective, and Mr. shabaz' singualrly unique and artistic assessment of oriental expression.
Western & Eastern Assyrians & the Attempts for Church Reformation
History reveals that the Western and Eastest Assyrians have always gone through similar experiences and developments, independent of each other. This is once again true when we take a look at what is happening in the Church of the East and the Syriac Orthodox Church.
Just one year ago it was almost impossible for a Western Assyrian to publicly criticize decisions of a bishop or priest. The patriarch, the bishops and the priests were since ancient times regarded as holy people who always knew better and no ordinary man could even imagine criticizing their acts. This old way of thinking is now changing rapidly among the ordinary members of the Syriac Orthodox Church.
People are increasingly asking why a bishop, priest or patriarch cannot be held accountable for his deeds or be asked tough questions. This development was only recently triggered by disclosures about doubtful acts of the clergy in various media such as Radio Qolo, Eastern Star News Agency (ESNA) and SuryoyoSat, all three based in Sweden. The list of accusations includes money scams, sex scandals, lies, excommunication of whistle blowers and infiltration by foreign states.
A similar development is witnessed in the Church of the East where the patriarch, bishops and priests are increasingly losing their “holy” immunity. The process in the Church of the East has recently lead to many members leaving the church and becoming members in another one. This has also an equivalent in the Syriac Orthodox Church on a minor scale as Father Tarzi and some 300 families in the U.S. left the church as a result of a money scandal among a couple of bishops and the patriarch. During his recent trip to Sweden Father Tarzi appeared on SuryoyoSat exposing the extensive corruption in the Syriac Orthodox Church.
The European church reformation is around five centuries old, but in the Assyrian churches it is just beginning. And as one would expect the reformation process has begun among the communities living in the democratic west and not in Assyria. The outcome of this process may lead to the final separation of church and state among Assyrians and the transfer of power to the secular organizations, as it eventually did in medieval Europe.
Where are Our Clergy?
I watched the 60 minutes Sunday December 2. It was very disturbing. The Reverend Canon Andrew White, an Anglican chaplain who suffers from multiple sclerosis, is a very brave and Christian man who has spent his life serving the Christians of Baghdad. Instead of an Anglican chaplain I was expecting to see our own bishops there. Where are our own bishops? I am sure there are many our own ghasheh that are brave and christens who stay with their people. I think the rest of the Qasheh are fighting in the churches, living in the fine houses, and driving fine cars in the west.
Mr. Eashoian is an Assyrian artist and has recently released a new CD of his music. To sample his music visit his website: click here.
Viklund and Her Baseless Accusations
Recently, Ms. Margareta Viklund, the Chairperson of the Swedish Committee for Assyrians, SKA, issued a response to Mr. Nimrod Baito, the Minister of Tourism at the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Secretary General of the Assyrian Patriotic Party (APP), regarding her visit to Northern Iraq in May of this year. While Ms. Viklund is fully entitled to share her views, I find the language Ms. Margareta Viklund used extremely offensive and wholly inappropriate. It is also inconceivable since the language came from someone who, as a former member of the Swedish parliament, is ostensibly knowledgeable enough to know the protocols of proper public discourse. Ms. Viklund has absolutely no right to insult Mr. Baito, who in this case represents not only himself but also the political stand of the Assyrian Patriotic Party (APP), of which I am a member. As such I find her words offensive to me as well as to other members and supporters of APP.
As examples of Ms. Viklund’s unbecoming rhetoric, she accused Mr. Baito of either being; I quote; “bribed, indoctrinated, brainwashed, hypnotized, accepted large sums of money from Kurds to betray his own people, or being blind not to see the truth”. On the other hand, at no time did Mr. Baito attack Ms. Viklund or use offensive words or expressions.
Before we analyze each of the accusations she labeled Mr. Baito of, we have enough reasons to think that Ms. Viklund believed at least in one of the accusations she made. For that reason, we will attempt to analyze and scrutinize her accusations in order to better understand her personality, motives, and the hidden agenda behind her inappropriate expressions.
We are in desperate need for organization like the one Ms. Viklund presides over, to act as a partner to our people as well as our various political and other organizations. By the same token we are in no need for help that attempts to drive a wedge among our people or between our various organizations.
I believe Ms. Viklund had a very good opportunity to prove her point of view and neutrality, had she only accepted Mr. Baito’s invitation to visit Nineveh Plain and Kurdistan again and engage with other Assyrian organizations and individuals who she previously ignored. It is very telling that she refused his offer (Her refusal is implied in her accusations contained in her reply). Mr. Baito, and for that matter the entire APP organization, stand by his response to Ms. Viklund and all previous statements. We will not back down to the now all too familiar tactics of intimidation, slander and malignant. The entire Assyrian community has experienced far too much of such tactics in recent history, and it has since moved on.
Is Marcel Josephson An Assyrian Missionary, Patriot or Purely a Tourist?
Prof. Alexey Tamrazov
I got acquainted with Marcel Josephson in the most modern way, via Internet, with the help of my old Assyrian friend from Armenia Dalila Arzumanyan. She got in touch, also via Internet, with Givargiz Badare and asked him to give her the contact address of an Assyrian from Kyiv. Givargiz chose me and soon Dalila forwarded me her message to Marcel about me. Shortly after, Marcel and I communicated directly: he from the USA and me from Ukraine.
I speak about this in details in order to show our compatriots, who have not bought PC yet and are not connected to Internet, that with certain skills and desire and technical opportunities, the distance between Assyrians who live all over the world can be reduced. I can obviously say, that your pen pal, who lives thousands miles away may become closer to you than your neighbor.
Due to scattering all over the world, to Assyrians as no other nation in the world, Internet can fill up the lack of communication, joint projects, manuals, and education can give the chance of revival. The example is our communication with Marcel.
Though, for realization of such communication, there is one important detail and problem left. It’s a language problem. There are many dialects and local admixtures in Assyrian language. “Armenian” and “Moscow” Assyrians, Jilvae and Talnae can hardly understand each other.
And there is one problem more, more likely to our “Russian” and “Ukrainian” Assyrians: though we can speak everyday language, we poorly know the literature, political or social language of our intelligentsia. That is why, when a not Russian-speaking Assyrian speaks to us, we speak with the help of English language. That’s how we’ve found common language with Marcel in difficult situations.
Marcel Josephson is an Assyrian born in 1951 in Abadan, Iran. He is married to Diana, the daughter of Nicol Sayat, member of the Assyrian Church of East mission in Urmia. In former times, the father of Marcel, Joseph, was in sympathy with Russian (Soviet) state and even served in the Urmian Mission in Iran. That is why Marcel knows a lot about our life. Marcel got higher education in Tehran. He acquired the profession of mechanical engineer.
In 1986, being married and having his firstling, Dada, Marcel immigrated to Europe (England, Holland), where he stayed about a year, and than moved to Canada, where he lived for 6 years. In Canada his second son was born (Sharrukin), and in August 1993 he and his family moved to San Jose, California, where he works as an engineer for a company, which produces chips for computers. He is a member of Assyrian American Association of San Jose. He is satisfied with his life and work in the USA.
Comfortable life in the USA inspired Marcel to visit the countries of the former USSR he heard of in childhood from parents and friends. The first trip he made was to Georgia and Armenia, where Assyrians took refuge in a period of the First World War. Later he understood that many Assyrians after the collapse of the USSR left Armenia and Georgia for the North. This year Marcel decided to visit St Petersburg, Moscow and Kiev, and then a trip to Georgia and Armenia once again.
Having refused to settle oneself in my apartment, Marcel decided to stay in the hotel “Lybid”. Another thing surprised me. Marcel turned out to be a professional and inquisitive tourist, who in advance got to know all the sights he wants to visit. Of course those sights were Lavra, museums, Podol and the rest of the standard selections of a tourist. Marcel didn’t want me to be his guide and saw everything he wanted on his own. But when the next evening I drove him through Kiev at night, he recognized everything accurately.
In such a way, on the question - Who is Marcel: Tourist, Assyrian patriot or Missionary? - I can answer that it’s all of the above. He is a tourist. Otherwise he wouldn’t be so much interested in the history of Ukraine, wouldn’t rush to cross Kieiv- the cradle of Kiev Russ and the capital of a modern European state, take photographs of it and visit all the places of interest just in 2 days.
Marcel is an Assyrian patriot because he gave his children Assyrian names and wants them to inherit the memory about their ancestry. He is also a patriot because after coming to the USA, he entered the Association of Assyrians in San Jose and represents this organization in his trip to the countries of the former USSR. Also because he studies Assyrian language in his spare time, compiles the Internet manual of Assyrian language for elementary education. He went through the roads, where once his compatriots located, it was his purpose to get to know their way of life, their needs and opportunities as the representatives and bearers of Assyrian culture. And that also proves that he is a real patriot.
But Marcel is also a missionary because he visited us. It was his purpose to raise our educational level in terms of knowledge of the Assyrian history, literature, traditions and culture. He brought us some teaching compact discs and a book-manual of grammar by Rabi Kouroush Benjamin, which he set up on PC his own hand. Later, after coming back home, he patiently answered all my questions via Internet, searched Assyrian-English dictionary in the Internet and gave me useful recommendations.
The mission of Marcel is native, it was not imposed, it was not controlled, and nobody demanded a report. But unlike many Assyrian social figures, Marcel neither in words nor in actions showed that he makes something for promotion or to be famous. He is very modest and educated person, and he doesn’t know that I am writing about him right now, because he would have deprived me the pleasure to write about such a phenomenon as he is. Though taking into consideration that tourism is a personal choice of everyone, and patriotism is a state of soul, the main thing for us is that Marcel is as a missionary of culture, friendship and enlightenment. I wish there were more people like Marcel!
Mr. Josephson's fascinating travel journal appears in the LITERATUS section of this issue. Be sure to take a look at the photos inserted within a pdf file at the end of that article.
Dr. Sharpe's Article on Adiabene Removed
I just wanted to take this opportunity and inform the readers that after several exchange of e-mails with Anthony David Marks, Chairman of Israel Hasbara Committee (IHC) and with Michal, Assistant to the Chairman, regarding the article of Dr. Victor Sharpe M.D. titled "Who Truly Deserves a State?" in which Dr. Sharpe (based on claims by Kurdish M. Izady) claimed that Adiabene (Arbil) was Kurdish and its people were Kurds during early Christianity, I received an e-mail last Thursday, (November 15, 2007 4:37:01 AM) from the IHC informing me that they have decided to remove the article in question from www.infoisrael.net (the official site of the IHC) until further study is completed. I am pleased to inform the readers that on Monday, November 19, 2007, the article was physically removed from the web site.
I believe that other fellow Assyrians wrote to the IHC. By being persistent (keep writing) and convincing (supplying enough references) we won a battle against revisionists of the Assyrian history.
We must never underestimate the power of writing back to web sites, newspapers and magazines and challenging things that are not accurate as long as we do it in a polite and civil manner, use commonsense, supply information and references to back up our point and be persistent. We can make a difference, one step at a time.
The Cloud Runner
She wore puffs of cloud for shoes on the soccer field, cloud as light as a spring morning. Her cleats were like tiny ice cones that melted on the grass from her blazing speed, only to form again before she took the next step. All those years from the sideline I watched her grow into a ferocious sweeper in the backfield. It was a magnificent sight to behold as she challenged cocky forwards from the opposing teams and then spat them out like cherry pits – “Get out of my way!”
Today, another Sunday in August, once again I root for her from the sideline. She is much older now, a young woman, and if she has lost some of her old fire and speed, it doesn’t show in her playing. Unless I don’t want to see it just to hold on a bit longer to that little girl who turned into a fighting machine on the soccer field. I remember when college came and she blew a knee, my heart broke, not only to see her in pain, but also to realize that perhaps her days as a player were over. And they were through the rest of college and some years after.
Once again she has started to play, almost healed, on a team comprised of young women her own age. They call themselves The Old Bags. Most are professionals working in various fields. Some also have young children who stand on the sideline with daddy to cheer for mommy. At halftime the little critters swarm all over mommy for attention, and get it, too, along with a dose of the strategy the team plans for the second half.
I coached her in the early years, until more qualified coaches took over in high school. She still is a clean player, because I drummed that into her head. Playing clean was essential in any sport, I preached, and that sportsmanship displayed grace and maturity. Confidence. Players who act injured and pretend to be in pain on the soccer field embarrass me. I have seen it so many times, even among our own Assyrian players from the internationally competitive teams. Sportsmanship, gentlemen, especially if you represent Assyrians. Cut out the bad acting. Get your carcass off the grass and play – unless you are hurt. I admit I have seen it mostly among men players and rarely women. Please, gentlemen, sportsmanship.
She faked nothing. She came to play. If injured, she left the field with the dignity of a grand dame, and if she had tears, I think they were more for not playing rather than for the pain. It’s called sportsmanship. Love for the game. How well I remember.
I remember a lot of other things from those early soccer days: the heat, the cold, the icy drizzle that always seemed worse for the person watching the game from the sideline. Yet all became a mere inconvenience when the game began. She had come to play and I to watch her and that’s what mattered. I remember well the young player who wore the Number 9 on her jersey, because I had said 9 is a strong number, and proud, and to always wear it with the same passion she had for her Assyrian heritage.
I would shout from the sideline to No. 9, “Turn on the jets,” stretching the word “jets” like a plane’s contrail in a blue sky. “Turn on the j-e-e-e-e-ts!” Then my mouth would drop as she blazed across the field like an Assyrian cavalryman storming over the plain. No. 9 turned on the jets, all right, and took me along for the ride of my life. I loved to watch her youth and enthusiasm. The dedication. The focus. She had it all. She still does – in everything she pursues. Yet she loves to play soccer for what it is and the skill it takes to play it – and not for the sole purpose of winning games.
Glory is lovely, but lovelier still is the road to glory.
Watching her play from the sideline on this sunny summer’s day, I feel the same as I always have about soccer. Although my days as a player are long gone, hers are still in her grasp, and I know she will hold on to them for as long as she can. She reminds me so much of myself growing up in Tehran, where I lived soccer – or football, as it was called there – day and night. Although I lacked the luxury of playing on good soccer fields, or often in soccer uniform as No. 9, I played whenever and wherever I could. Many of us kids did: sometimes on legitimate fields, but mostly on the school playground, in the parking lots, and, with a tennis ball, on the sidewalks like street urchins out of Charles Dickens.
I was considered a good player. Could I have been a first class player with a coach’s help and training, and with the right opportunity? Could any of us who grew up in that world? Could we have gone on to play on the big teams? Perhaps, but it’s foolish to brood over the subject now. On the other hand, not everyone wanted the honor, for we had other lives in mind for ourselves. Also, for me, the choice was made in my early teens, when I came to America, where at the time hardly anyone played the game. Besides, my heart and dreams were elsewhere: I preferred a pen for my hand rather than a ball for my foot.
Even if I had played in American, I doubt I would be half as good as she in her formative years. As she still is this afternoon playing with the old bags. In every way she is better than I ever was: her speed, ball handling, strategy, and the skill to kick both left and right-footed. I had a taste of how good she was years ago when my team of grownups played against her team of youngsters. My team lost. It was resounding loss.
I played left wing in a 4-4-2 pattern against her sweeper and she ran rings around me like a magician. I had no chance. No matter what I did, and my teammates, we failed to penetrate her shield of defense, whereas her team’s forwards swept over us like hurricanes. Looking back to that game, I dramatize the experience as what Ashur’s enemies might have encountered on the battlefield as they tried to breach the Assyrian lines. That must have been quite a sight.
Not that I gloat over a nation’s magnificent armies as much as I do its literature, art, music and science, but in this case it is the symbolism that reflects the Assyrian heritage I cherish. Had I lived in Assyria, I probably would have hung around with the local bards, artists and musicians – and drunk wine with them.
The defeat that afternoon on the soccer field made me humble. More importantly, it made me proud. No one takes pride in defeat. It is not in our nature. Yet, for me, it was something to be proud of, because I was defeated by a superior player. A great and a tenacious opponent. I relished that loss as a gift. Those moments are rare in life, as rare as a vision.
Oh, yes, that day I took pleasure in my defeat, pleasure in being soundly beaten on the soccer field by my daughter Sadie, the little girl I came to call The Cloud Runner. That same little girl, now a beautiful young woman, is also a nurse. What a noble profession for my Sadie, for the warmth of her heart radiates from the touch of her hand.
Watching her this afternoon command the backfield like a general, once again my heart soars with joy. At the same time, it also begins to feel the weight of loss, as she will marry in the coming months and no longer be my little girl. Just the thought of it hurts, even though I am happy and want all the best in the world for her and her future family.
But then again, I also take heart in knowing that I might be given a grandchild who could develop into a player like her mother. Wouldn’t that be something! How lucky to root for two Cloud Runners in one lifetime.
Christmas in Iraq Made possible, in part, by the AAS
The Assyrian Aid Society ~ Chicago chapter hosted its annual Christmas drive on December 1, 2007 at the Hanging Gardens Banquet in River Grove, Illinois.
As in previous years, the mission of the Christmas drive was to raise funds for Christmastime in Iraq. An intermediary between the East and the West, the Assyrian Aid Society has played an integral role in building public awareness by successfully demonstrating its abilities to achieve unprecedented philanthropic work, with focus mainly on today’s Iraq while the Assyrians continue to endure tumultuous times, alongside the entire country’s population.
The Assyrian Aid Society of America is a charitable organization, consisting of eight chapters throughout the United States. Its mission is to help Assyrians in need, and to promote the Assyrian culture, while building an organization whose structure is capable of responding to crisis, particularly in our ancestral homeland Iraq. Mr. Robert Mulhim is the President of the Chicago chapter, while Mr. Peter Bityou is the director of the Chicago and California offices.
Since its foundation in 1991 by Dr. Lincoln Malik, the Assyrian Aid Society has pioneered exceptional programs, catering to educational and medical needs of the Assyrian community in Northern Iraq. Among its most prestigious programs has been Narsai’s Taste of the Mediterranean ~ Narsai David, President of the national office based in San Francisco, California. A prominent chef in the bay area who has helped raise over one-half million dollars in the past five years for humanitarian projects in the homeland.
Likewise, in Iraq, under the directorship of Mr. Napoleon Pattoo, the Assyrian Aid Society has responded to some of the most challenging catastrophes in Iraq, following the Gulf war and the toppling of Iraq’s former government. To name a few, the society has been directly responsible for reconstructing war-torn villages, including irrigation channels and water distribution networks. Similarly, it has implemented the Assyrian language in the formal educational system of Iraq’s Northern region ~ from teaching to translating and printing books in the Assyrian language. Look no further, the society has established dormitories in Dohuk and Erbil to accommodate secondary and university students from remote villages who lack the means to subsidize their own education.
Medical needs are no stranger to a society who encompasses charitable clinics in Ankawa, Baghdeda, Caremles, and other villages. Just recently, medical supplies were received in Erbil for immediate distribution to its gratis pharmacies through the interdisciplinary efforts of the Assyrian Aid Society - America and Iraq. We congratulate the Assyrian Aid Society on its benevolent efforts.
Turkey from the perspective of Syriacs
Marcel Josephson at Cafe Pushkin in Moscow.
Here I met with Qasha Samano Odisho pastor of the Assyrian church of the east in Moscow. Born in Dohuk, he was ordained to priesthood about 10 years ago. Previously, he was a deacon in the same church under then Qasha Khamis Yosep (now Mar Es-Haq). He speaks Russian fluently and is planning on learning English as well. He is married and has a 5-year-old son Ashur.
On Saturday, 6/30/07, I attended the 50th birthday party of an individual by the name of Vladick which was held in a banquet hall. Some 150 people were invited to this party. I was sitting with Qasha Samano at the same table. Many came to greet him.
Only a few spoke a few words in broken Assyrian. Honestly, I felt saddened. But when the band started playing, one should have seen how well they danced to Shaykhani and Bauguieh tunes. I got encouraged that deep down they have very strong patriotic feelings although they don’t speak the language. I have to emphasize that most of the guests were from within the Assyrians who came to Russia from Turkey. This faction never had a good exposure to the Assyrian language. I heard many cell phones going off that had Assyrian song ring tones. I photographed Vaso Sadoev’s car (the singer from the Arzni village in Armenia). He is driving a Lumina minivan with Assyrian flag in the back of his license plate. In a long time I had not seen people giving away shaubaush when their beloved ones danced. The shaubaush all goes to the band. Shusan the MC, formerly a singer and handheld drum player sang a few Assyrian mountain folkloric songs.
I attended the Sunday, 7/1/07 church service. Some 20 students from University
of Moscow attended the service. It appeared that this was a part of their curriculum for
certain dissertation on the rites of different churches. After the church service, Qasha
Samano held a Q&A session for them followed by a coffee/tea reception. At church, I
met many highly educated individuals who seemed to be active in church and also
committed to civic causes. To name a few, I spoke to Eager Nazarrov, a lawyer, Maria
Nazarova, an MD (husband and wife), Nikolai Youkhanov, a Ph.D. political sciences, and Slava Faris (born in 1985 in Moscow originally from Dizin, the village of Saramos) who recently published a book on Assyrians in Russian. He autographed a copy of his book for me.
I met with Vilgelm (William) Iosipov an entrepreneur. He invited me to his house located in suburb Moscow. He has a boulder landscaped in his yard with engraved God Ashur on it. His daughter is a dentist and married to Russian lawyer. He also has a son Leonid. William speaks Assyrian (in Urmie dialect) fluently. He recently made a documentary DVD in Russian showing that the most accurate icon of the Jesus Christ is the one replicated from Assyrian artifacts. William was the VP of the Assyrian federation in Russia. But it appears that a group of prominent individuals have different view on how our organizations in Russia should be structured. He was talking about a parliamentary format.
Qasha Samano took me to the house of his parents-in-law. They are Deacon Arsen and Ludmila Khoshaba. Arsen’s origin goes back to Gawar and Ludmila’s to Van. They have four daughters; three of whom are married. Arsen is a goldsmith. He was ordained to deaconship about six years ago. Ludmila completed music school in 1974 in Moscow. She also completed business school in 1981, worked as a manager during the Soviet Union and still works as a manager. Ludmila has recorded four albums so far and has her 5th album is in works. She toured USA in 1991, Europe in 1992, and former USSR republics for concert on many occasions. She composes music and writes lyrics for her works. While at their house, she played piano and sang. I found her music very different from what I have heard our pop singers sing. One would conveniently identify the Assyrian authenticity with a touch of the Caucasus influence in her melodies. Her music is a rich assortment of love songs, spiritual hymns, and folkloric music all with a very authentic Assyrian theme.
St. Petersburg (Arrived 3 July, Stayed 3 days)
This city is only 300 years old. Peter the great build the Hermitage as his winter
palace here. The city has been built on a network of canal system. There are some 600
bridges connecting small section together across these canals. Number of churches in St.
Petersburg during Tsar was 313; during Soviet Union only 13 were open. I took the
popular over night train “The Red Arrow” from Moscow to St. Petersburg. The
decorations and quality of the furniture and service were phenomenal. There are only a
few hundred (maximum 1,000) Assyrians in St. Petersburg. Here I met with Rabi
Mikhail Sado a linguist of Semitic languages. He spoke to me in pure Urmie dialect. He
is fluent in many other Assyrian dialects. Born on June 9, 1934 in St. Petersburg, he
taught Hebrew in Russian orthodox seminaries. He is retired now. He spent 13 years
(1967-1980) in prison during the Soviet Union because of religious activism. He invited
me to his house and showed me his library. His house was full of art work (paintings and
sculptures) and solid wood furniture. The hutch and buffet were made in 1700. He had a
functional music box made in 1867. His desk and chair were from 1902. Rabi Mikhail Sado’s origin goes back to Hakkari, village of Levon north of Tiari. His father was Bell and mother, Khargil. His wife Zina was born in Moscow. She was only one when her family had to leave USSR for Iran under Stalin’s order. She was raised in Iran and returned to USSR in 1962.
The Sados have two sons; 44 and 42. I met the younger; Rabban Estepanos who is the presiding priest of the oldest Russian Orthodox Church in St. Petersburg, Cathedral of The Holy Trinity of St. Alexander Nevsky Monastery built 1703-1714. During Soviet Union, the government buried many communists in the gardens of this monastery to desecrate the Christian faith. This church is the seat of the metropolitan of St. Petersburg.
Rabban Estepanos speaks Assyrian fluently. He helped his father in publishing a book in Russian on the life and accomplishments of the prominent Assyrians in the USSR. Rabi Mikhail Sado’s older son (a transportation business owner) funded this publication.
60 Assyrians in St. Petersburg were killed under Stalin’s order. A memorial monument in their remembrance was erected in St. Petersburg on August 27, 2000. Rabi Mikhail Sado showed me a video of the opening ceremony for this monument. More than 1,000 Assyrians in the entire USSR were killed under Stalin’s order.
Kiev (Arrived 6 July, Stayed 3 days)
Set at the banks of the Dnipro River, this 1500-year old city has many cathedrals, churches, and monasteries with aesthetically pleasing architectures. The Cave Monastery needs a full day of exploration. Here I met with Alexey Tamrazov a retired scientist mostly specializing in design of experiments. During Soviet Union, he was sent to Cuba for one year to work on a development project. Born in Kiev in 1939, Alexye’s origin goes to back to Gawar. His wife Iryna is Ukrainian and they have two daughters Shushana (a mathematical analyst married to a Ukrainian software engineer) and Shamala (a piano conservatory student). Alexey invited me to his house and I had a very memorable time.
He showed me many clips of the Assyrians’ social gatherings. Traditionally, on the first Friday after Easter, the Assyrians meet at the cemetery with a lot of food and drinks for a whole day long event. There’s no music though.
At Alexey’s home I met with Janna Moukhatasova. Born in Kiev, she is the grand-daughter of Shamash Bejan of Gawar. A chemist by training, she teaches Russian language in Long Island NY. She was spending the summer in Kiev. Her son Noumroud (Nino) Moukhatasov a tennis champion in Ukraine is the head coach for Molloy College women’s tennis team in US.
There was once an Assyrian organization in Kiev but it appeared that there was not much going on. They publish an Assyrian News periodical in Ukrainian language.
The Assyrian church of the east is trying to get back a Ukrainian orthodox church that appeared to have been paid for at one point by a single individual. Barely 2000, the Assyrian population in Ukraine is divided in small pockets of individuals over many cities (Kiev 300, Doniesk 300, Niejyn 150, Vynitsa 120, Sumy 120, Krasnoarmeysk 300, Mariupol 80, Zaporojiy 150, Korostyn 60, Zolotonoshy 100, Harkov 20, Jitomir 50, and Kramatorsk 120).
Tbilisi (Arrived 9 July, Stayed 4 days)
Since this was my second trip to Tbilisi, I did not do a lot sightseeing here. I just took half a day to get a peeling massage at the sulfur bathhouses and see a few churches, a mosque, and a synagogue. I also climbed to the top of the hill over looking Maydan to see the statue of “Mother Georgia”. I met with David Adamov the VP of the Shotapouta on many occasions. I have known David for a year now. There is very noticeable forced assimilation tendency at the government part in Georgia. As a result, minorities including Assyrians do not get any support from government for their cultural programs. There are massive US and European aid programs in Georgia mainly toward infrastrctural development projects.
David believes that if our politicians in the US get involved with influencing the Georgian authorities, things may work more favorably for our people back there. There are 350,000 Armenians and 400,000 Azeris in Georgia. These two minorities receive aid from American embassy. Our population in Georgia is too small to have a good leverage to benefit from these programs. $10,000/YR will do everything they have in mind for our people here in Georgia.
Joblessness is taking big toll on our youth. Some 18 Assyrian young men are in prison because of stealing and drug related illegal activities. Our Shotapouta in Georgia needs a lot of support. Only a few individuals have taken it upon themselves to maintain our ethnic entity. Barely with any means, they still strive for key cultural activities.
They want to teach language. They want to get together and play sports. They want to have a place to establish a dance ensemble. They need funding. $3,000/YR will rent them a good size space to practice dances. $2,000 will buy them a decent audio system.
Irina Khavshamba completed her 1st year studies in Batumi and is trying to get transferred to Tbilisi. Her community work involves helping Elbrouz in Gardabani with gathering statistics on people moving out of village. She also helped Lina Yakubova while filming her documentary in Georgia. Irina speaks Assyrian, Georgian, and Russian. I did not meet her on this trip.
I also met with Giuli, Diana, and Olgha. We have one student (Tsira Agakhanova) who completed her 1st year studies, one student (Helen Tasoeva) how has taken her entrance examinations waiting for results, and one student (Sarrah Mosolova) in individual tutoring program. The group tutoring program will no longer run. Qasha
Benny was not in Georgia during my visit.
Yerevan (Arrived 13 July, Stayed 5 days)
Since this was my second trip to Yerevan, I did not do any sightseeing. Given the size of the education program here, I spent enough time to understand how well the program was working. We had eight student in college and four in tutoring. One college student has been expelled out of program because of poor performance. He did not turn in his grades for the first semester. We will have upto five new college students on top of the seven already in program. This program has created a lot of hope for the participants.
I met with most of them and talk to them one-on-one. I am truly convinced that we are doing the right thing.
Atour, our Shotapouta in Armenia had their election last December. Unlike in Georgia, here in Armenia Assyrians as well as other minorities are recognized by the government. Shotapouta just published the second volume of the Assyrian Alpha-Bet book using UNICEF funding. On July 12, 2007 evening Shotapouta held a book presentation event in the cultural center for minorities where many of our fellow Assyrians attended.
Shotapouta has been given 15 minutes/day of radio broadcasting time.
Government is paying the anchor ADM 25,000/month. This is about $80. As part of their community work, the students in our program are gathering material for the radio broadcast.
For Nissan festival last year, Armenian government funded the outfits for our folkloric dance ensemble, a sum of ADM 1,000,000 (about $3,000). In a nut shell, our Shotapouta here is doing all the right things utilizing all available resources in a self sufficient manner.
I visited Arzni and Dvin where I met with most of the students in our program. I discussed with Arsen Mykhailov a potential project that the Assyrian Foundation of America may be willing to sponsor. I also met with Qasha Es-Haq Tamraz. The two churches in Dvin and Arzni are now officially considered the property of the Assyrian church of the east (as opposed to Armenian Orthodox Church).
Because of upcoming Tamuz games in Urmie, the sporting practices were in high gears. I attended a basketball training session where girls took on the boys. It was very exciting to watch them play. It was same old filthy gym and a few kids were playing barefoot. But the spirits were pretty high.
I met with Mikhail Sadoev (known as Misha the Assyrian) an accomplished musician specializing in zourna and duduk. Born in 1948 in Qouylasar, his both parents are of Urmian decedents. He has five sons and two daughters. In 1970s he was on Armenian traditional music ensemble and traveled to 28 countries for performance. He now plays in funerals (an Armenian tradition for mourning). He also makes very high quality zurnas and duduks. He showed me his workshops both at home (for fine works and repair jobs) and in a shop (for roughing). In an evening in Arzni, he played a few pieces in Moqam. His performance was accompanied by an accordion. Although very structured, there are parts in Moqam that the performer takes on improvisation and Mikhail did an excellent work in improvisation. He is an extremely skillful musician.
They have the music talent in their family. The band performing in the 50th birthday party that I attended in Moscow consisted of one of his brothers (Vaso Sadoev), two of his sons, and a few of his nephews. That too was one of the best performances of Assyrian pop music I had ever seen.
For exclusive photos of Mr. Josephson's trip click here (PDF file - Photos Only / 4.4 MB)
Welcome to a Desolate Habbaniya
Mikhael K. Pius
Earlier this year Mr. Wania Yosip Benyamin produced, with help from Albert Oskar Production Co and the Assyrian Fine Arts Society of Chicago, a DVD titled “Welcome to Habbaniya.” It is classified as a documentary. The DVD, which is being sold in Assyrian markets for $20, was praised and promoted on AssyriaSat TV programs of Ceres, California, mainly, I believe, because some of their organization’s members are featured in it and not because of its merit.
Wania is a musician, a saxophone player, and although he doesn’t really have a prominent name as such, it would have been more appropriate for him to produce and sell a CD or DVD of his saxophone tunes to get a foothold in the Assyrian musical market, as all other singers and musicians before him have done. Instead he chose to become a “documentary” producer.
Who inspired him to take this step and what was his motivation? Was it a nationalistic devotion to record the history of his birthplace? Or was it the illusion of fame, or the allure of gain, or both?
I don’t think he was trying to preserve history, for he offers very little in that regard. But Habbaniya, after more than half a century, is still a popular theme for writers, broadcasters and social entertainment organizers and of interest to former residents of Habbaniya and some of their offspring and friends. Perhaps Wania’s basic intention was fame and gain; to ingratiate and please his friends and certain former families of Habbaniya and gain popularity as well as make a pretty penny in the process.
I guess many people aspire to do something unusual or important in their lives. Most of them are after personal success and what comes with it. But some do it for self and nation, while others love what they do and do it for self-fulfillment and for what little benefit it will provide to others. And there are still those whose intention is to make money as well as achieve some form of popularity at any cost.
But most of the time, such venturesome persons, either have a natural talent for what they do, or they obtain the skill through application—work, experience, practice, research, etc.—sometimes decades of it to achieve success. I believe Wania’s goal was money and popularity but without much talent or sweat.
Wania’s BVD is about 2 hours and 40 minutes long. The “live” part—the clips of Habbaniya music-and-song show staged by Albert Oscar and his band accompanied by Wania on the saxophone—are entertaining, and the video footage Wania and his brothers have made of the locale that once was Habbaniya “town” is of interest. But the rest, some 90 minutes are not for every viewer but only for those who are featured in the DVD. This is an endless reading list of residents’, shopkeepers’, and athletes’ names, many of which are not known to an average former Habbaniya resident. And the technical and artistic aspects of the DVD, I’m sorry to say, leave much to be desired.
I really don’t know Wania or what his special ability is, except for the saxophone I’ve heard him play. But I can see that he is neither a historian nor a proficient documentary producer. I’ve met him only very briefly in the 2005 Habbaniya Reunion in Skokie. He seemed to be a good person, and sounds like a good one on the DVD. But I did know his late eldest brother “Meeshu” (Michael) well. He was a good dancer. Partnered with Marlene, they were the third-heat winners to Davis E. David and Naima Ishmaiel who won the second heat in a dance competition held by the Social Club of Habbaniya in August 1953. Davis and Naima of C.C., Habbaniya went on to win second place in the finals to LAC Crawford and Mrs Wood of RAF Station, Habbaniya
My argument is not so much that Wania has done something that is not really his specialty, but that he has even called this low-grade work a documentary! It ticks me when I see people bragging or exaggerating or patronizing or pretending to be something that they are not just to prove themselves, for they are not only trying to fool others but also themselves. Sooner or later, such persons will be seen for what they actually are.
Blue print of Civil Cantonment & Levy Camp of Royal Air Force Station of Habbaniya, Iraq.
Brief Statistics about C.C. & L.C. Camps
The total area occupied by Civil Cantonment and Levy Camp was less than one-fifth of the air base, or less than one square mile. The C1 & C2 type of houses were built in bungalow lines of six homes, with six lines in a block, making 36 homes in a block, with a common potable water faucet and toilet house and bath house for each gender situated between each two blocks. Similarly, the D, E, and L type of houses were built in six bungalow lines in a block but 12 homes in each line, totaling 72 homes per block. A type houses were two units in each line and B, K. & J type were, basically, six homes in a line but some were not. Non-uniform homes and some shops constructed later and not situated in the Bazaar were built helter-skelter by or for shopkeepers, chokidars, (guards) etc. The few F type superior quarters and some J & K type houses had front gardens, while all A, B, F, J, & K type quarters had private toilet and bath, some with a tiny kitchen. The Levy Officers’ family quarters were also of the superior type. All superior quarters and some C1-type of homes had electricity, but C2 and D type and all other smaller houses had no electricity.—-MKP.
I can see why Albert Oskar has been tempted to get involved in the project. As Wania’s friend, his motive may be patriotic, and he is also a business man and the star musician and singer of the BVD. But I wonder why the
Assyrian Fine Arts Society has given its name to a work that is not quite fine or artistic.
I don’t think it is money, because I doubt if the product would generate them a sizeable cut to make it worth their while. And as it is the work of a first-time amateur in the field, it certainly wouldn’t give them prestige recognition.
As a piece of history, I would rate “Welcome to Habbaniya” 2 or 3 in a scale of 10. Wania barely touches the historical aspect of Habbaniya: No description of location, geography, or a cursory description of the air base and its surroundings; no mention of racial composition of the local camps, or mention of other races and the relations between Assyrians and them; no plan or description of the camps, the houses and their arrangement, the utilities, the roads, the types of employment, the relations and inter-action between the British and their local employees; no mention as to how and by whom the camps were administered, or about the everyday social life, or amenities (entertainment, medical, and other facilities), the living standard, the various feasts and festivals celebrated; no mention of the nearby towns of Falluja and Ramadi (that have now become notoriously famous in the world!) and the Habbaniya residents’ relation thereto. There is a lot more that is missing, but these are just a few of the things that come to mind now.
Wania cannot remember the names of the Officers-in-charge of C.C. during the two decades, except “Campbell” [Squadron Leader Lovett-Campbell] and “Mr. Jones” whom he erroneously calls “Mr. Johnson” and who was actually Assistant Officer-in-charge in early 1950s. In fact there were some ten or eleven of them, with their Assistants, beginning with Mr. Jack Ingram (Cota) in 1937 and ending with Squadon Leader F.N. Morris in 1955 through 1959, when the remainder of Royal Air Force personnel was booted out of Iraq and the CC administration was taken over by Iraqi officials.
Wania only names five presidents of the most important of the seven local clubs, i.e. presidents of [RAF Assyrian] Employees’ Club. These five presidents administered in the latter years of the club. Actually there were six others before them, beginning with Shmouel Eshaya when “Arsenals” Sports Club was renamed RAF Assyrian Employees’s Club. Then there was Philip Malik, Polous Kambar, Albert Aghassi Babilla, (after five years of Avimalk Yonan ended in August 1952 following the May 1952 Habbaniya labor strike), David (Charlotte’s husband) and Murad Ablakhad (after Baba Mirza).
Moreover, some of the information Wania furnishes is not quite right; some of it is rather exaggerated, erroneous and even misleading. He starts off, for instance, by telling us that Assyrians of Habbaniya, meaning those living in Civil Cantonment (C.C.) and Levy Camp (L.C.), had a combined population of 30 or 35 thousand people. He promises to mention the names of 75% of these, meaning some 22 thousand or 26 thousand names (depending on which figure you take) of Assyrians only, but ends up reading out only 1,100 names (by my count), or just over 3% of the 35 thousand.
He also tells us Habbaniya “town” contained some 1,500 homes. How could he fit 35 thousand Assyrians (let alone all the other races that lived among the Assyrians) into those, fifteen hundred small, mostly one- or two-bedroom mud houses? Even if he squeezed the average of 23 persons in each house like sardines in a can, he still wouldn’t be able to fit them in! But using common sense only, one can arrive at an educated guess even with a minimum of research.
Actually, the combined number of houses in C.C. and L.C. with their families was 1,900 to 2,000 by my count according to the drawing I made of the “town,” in 1991, and not fifteen hundred. There were some houses in which only one, two or three persons lived and on the other extreme there were houses sheltering seven, eight or even ten persons. We will take an average of five-person family. 2000 multiplied by five gives us a total population of ten thousand (the actual number was just over eight thousand according to CC Office records), including all races and not just Assyrians. Of the eight or ten thousand inhabitants 60 to 65% only was Assyrian and the rest were Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Indians, Pakistanis, Yezidis, etc. (The British personnel with their families [which are not included in the above figure] living in RAF Station part of Habbaniya was only 1,200 to 1,500.)
When we Assyrians talk about Habbaniya, we are really picturing the local “town” of Habbaniya, namely C.C.
and L.C. Simultaneously, we are also thinking of the Assyrian Habbaniya of the two-decade RAF-era (1936-1955), and not of the Habbaniya of many years after it was handed over to the Iraqi Government on May 2, 1955, because the bulk of the Assyrian residents left the place within the first few years following the handover. Only a handful of Assyrians (probably 10 or 15%), along with a bigger percentage of Kurds and Arabs and a few Armenians, stayed behind and worked for the Iraqis. Apparently, Wania’s family was one of the ones that stayed behind when Wania was a young boy, residing many more years in Iraqi-Habbaniya, and some portion of Wania’s information is obviously based on the period following the handover.
It would also seem that most of the details Wania reads out are from the top of his head, or “those that I remember,” as he keeps saying, gleaned (during “three months of thinking and remembering”) apparently without prior published research work or personal interviews with knowledgeable former Habbaniyans. And a good share of the names he mentions and personal pictures he shows are not known to the average former RAF-Habbaniya resident because they are of the Iraqi-era (the younger Assyrian generation) of Habbaniya. As a matter of fact, some of the pictures and names he mentions seem to be of the Dora (Baghdad) residents, most of whom were previously Habbaniya residents.
Wania, however, seems to have a fairly good grasp of the names and family identity of some residents, as well as of professions and various trades, such as shopkeepers, musicians and owners of chaikhanas (tea houses) and maikhanas (alcohol bars), taxi drivers (whom he calls “drivers”) shoe sellers and repairers, gaimar(cream) and milk sellers and local nurses, and so on.
Wania’s information is preferential and not objective. For instance, he starts off his listing of inhabitants with the C-Type houses, but he gives priority to Benyamin Yalda, his siblings and parents even though they did not live in C-Type quarters but in Levy Camp. (Incidentally, although he mentions a few friends and acquaintances living in Levy Camp, he doesn’t actually include the L.C. residents on his reading list.)
Wania identifies our family of ten (living in C2-Type until 1950 and later in K-Type) by our retarded youngest brother’s nickname “Koiya” (Meshaiel) who in his early teens in early 1950s was probably Wania’s street playmate, instead of identifying our family by my father’s name or, if unknown, by our late brother Appy (Aprim Khammo Pius) who was very well known in Habbaniya through his little CC Bookshop & Library (1946 to 1952) located at the western side of C.C. Indoor Cinema—and not in Reading Room as Wania indicates. I know this is irrelevant, but if I may brag, Appy was also widely known, in Baghdad, as the founder of the famous Coronet Bookstore, a family-owned book-and-record business, from 1953 to 1973.
Wania’s list of sportsmen and athletes includes, hockey and tennis players, boxers, cyclists, athletes (runners, high jumpers, swimmers, body builders), and other kinds of sportsmen, but most of them are identified by their first name only, and qualified by their relatives’ names and many of them are of a younger generation. He rarely mentions the names of noted athletes of the early Habbaniya years (1937 through early 1940s). For instance, he mentions—but of course!—Benyamin Yalda’s obscure name as a soccer player and a boxer, but he fails to name the all-round sportsman Andrious Mama Jotyar, or the Assyrian sports pioneers, such as boxers Havil “Jinja” Lazar (also footballer and champion cyclist), and Alosha Isaac, or a younger one, Shimshon Gewargis Daniel who won, twice, the “Best Boxer” title in C.C. in 1951. What about the old time great footballers of “Arsenals” and Tigers teams, such as Sam “Tittouna” Shmouel, Para Pius (also great swimmer), Yacoub “Khouna” Awrahim, Yosip “Banzu” Shumon (Shidrak Yousif’s father), Haido Patros (Mukhtar), Yacob Patros, Daryawosh Awrahim, Sheba Benyamin, Yosip “Tich” Yahu, Orahim “Aby” Paashu, Esho “Tich” Atniel, and the multi-talented John Isaac (soccer, hockey, tennis, drama, song-writing, dancing, magic tricks, civic council member, etc), or the first organized hockey Assyrian players, Francis Warda (Shimshon Warda’s father) and Nimrod Babona (Axo’s stepfather), just to name a few?
Among the swimmers are a Dodi and Ninus, who are not known by our generation of Habbaniyans. What about Yul Bahram Marbo, who was the first to win the canal long-distance race in September 1951, and his runner-up Akhshirash Mammo Jango? He names a few younger bodybuilders but misses the earliest and best, Spania Barkho. An obscure tennis player like Philip Malik is listed, but not Youkhanna Odisho who was always in the top competition against Habbaniya and Baghdad champions; or, among the best of the earliest: Bejan Rasho, Benyamin Gandallo, etc. Incidentally, Philip N. Benjamin (aka Philip Malik) was basically known in Habbaniya sports circles as a qualified, accredited referee.
Wania doesn’t mention anything about the Armenians and other races, except a few names. Armenians in the early years had their own soccer team. Among the prominent sportsmen were Jerayer Chachanian (tennis, and top soccer and hockey player) Hrant Yesayil Sayadian (soccer, music) and his brother Arsain (soccer, hockey), Warastad Markarian (basketball and volleyball champion), and in soccer and tennis Abram Babayan (today’s AssyriaSat sports commentator Nick Babayan’s father); or top Kurdish sportsmen of “Blackpool” team era: Hassan Zubair, Nasir Hamadi, Hamma Pitchka, and younger ones of Oriental Club, Ibrahim Haidar, Baqir and brother Azeez Nouri; Jamiel Jowhar (hockey and tennis), Ahmad Jowhar and Qaddouri Ahmad (hockey) and in tennis Ahmad “Salma” Mahmoud and singles local champion Hassan Jumaa, among others.
There were also many good sportsmen among the Indians, especially in hockey and tennis, among them Mr. S. Edwards, Mr. Bann and his son Dominic, not to overlook the legendary Mr. Ambrose Vincent and his several sons, Teddy, Allan, Clarence, Raymond, Ramzi, and Sameer, all multi-talented athletes.
Among the Indians and Pakistanis were also several prominent persons who held important positions, among them Mr. M.A.Khan Sahib, BEM, Mohammed Yacub, BEM, Roa Sahib Mount Ethiraj Kannon, and Mr. P. Kumara Velu, the latter also a sports official, just to name a few.
Among the singers mentioned, he points out that Albert Oskar and Sargon Gabriel are the top Habbaniya singers, which is obviously patronizing. Although noted singers today in USA, they were only young boys in Habbaniya. He misses the one and only famous singer of the time, the late William David Shino (as well as his sister Juliet) who was the Assyrian Band lead singer and the life of almost every dance party and modern wedding celebration in Habbaniya.
Wania, as the anchor man, brings on his program Benyamin Yalda and Sargon Aboona to tell the viewer about Raabi Yacoub’s Union School, the most talked about aspect of Habbaniya, not to mention its Reunions. Appa-rently, they came unprepared. Benyamin, somewhat out of his element, hardly contributes anything to the program except his well-dressed presence. Sargon manages to remember the first names only of some of the teachers, but misses others, such as Yuliya Shmouel, Youel Baba Ruben, Khamis DeBaz, Albert Aghassi Babilla, and Dinkha Rab-Khaila Zia Gewargis, and (who taught English for a while) Eileen Hickman and (Indian) Mrs. Malaram. Sargon mentions “Tikkin” as Armenian [head] teacher, but there was also Arshalous Onik Sanasarian, “Paroun” Hrant, and “Sit” Mary, aptly nick-named “Suitcase” by the older students. Raabi Yacoub engaged two or three Arab teachers also to strengthen Arabic teaching in the latter two or three years of the school.
No mention is made of anything else, except that some [younger] pupils of the school [after it was taken over by the Government] achieved success as professionals after attending high school and college in Government institutions. Union School Boy Scout and Girl Guide movement (1st Habbaniya [Iraq] Scout Group) the pride of the school, was forgotten and so were other aspects of the school, such as the student body and its make up, Raabi Yacoub’s inspiring morning pep-talks, sports activities, the school building, administration, and curriculum, and so on. And what tiny information Wania provides himself, is about the school under the government administrator, Istad Antwan Qaseer, after Raabi Yacoub’s school was taken over in 1944.
One last thought: Among the first people Wania thanks lavishly for assisting him in producing his DVD is—guess who?—Benyamin Yalda, presumably mainly for the pictures he has supplied Wania with. But some of those pictures “donated” by Benyamin Yalda are Andrious Mama’s, while still others, especially those professionally bordered and captioned, are my creations from HUSCA Magazine, the tell-tale art work of which has been cropped out to conceal my identity.
The redeeming aspects of the BVD, however, are the “live” clips of staged Habbaniya music-and-song shows by Albert Oscar and his band, as well as the home-made footage of the ghost town that was Habbaniya local camps. These are sandwiched between Wania’s four long sessions of “name-calling.” And the shows are a relief!
The date of the footage is not mentioned, but it would seem that it was made a year or two after the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003. (Incidentally, the weed-infested soccer ground Wania calls Employees Club football ground, was actually called the C.C. football ground.)
The local camps Wania shows us are desolate, a ghost town, and a sad sight for a former resident of Habbaniya to watch. There is really nothing left of what was the homey but neat Habbaniya “town,” except the derelict ruins of CC Indoor Cinema house and Union School building, which later became the Government intermediate school, and (in better shape) the St. Mary Queen of Peace Catholic Church, the Mar Gewargis Church of the East and the Flood Relief Canal (which Wania calls “river”) and its bridge. The once lush residence of C.C. Officer in-charge is now a dilapidated house occupied by the area Police Commandant, and the Assistant Officer in-charge’s house is gone. And gone also is the memorable RAF Assyrian Employees’ Club building with its summer elevated-stage garden, replaced by a neglected and abandoned government school building.
However, the footage is the most interesting part of the so-called “documentary.” Unfortunately, its appeal is somewhat dulled by the video’s low grade photographic, technical and artistic qualities. Despite today’s digital editing, the DVD resolution of the footage is somewhat poor and the characters are not sharp and, in some cases, hard to recognize.
Wania gives some oral description, but there is no editing or technical direction and oftentimes the unsteady camera focuses on Wania or his brother playing saxophone, more than panning the landscape. And instead of blending sad background music with the melancholy scene to create the right mood, the saxophonist plays a cheerful tune while moving around in semblance of a dance.
Disregarding the deficiencies and the unsatisfactory artistic and technical quality, some people will find the DVD enjoyable, especially those few preferential individuals or families who have provided Wania with a good collection of their family pictures and who “star” in the “Documentary” and whom Wania greets intimately while he is reading their names, talking about them more than others. But for most viewers, particularly those unrepresented in the video or those non-Habbaniya residents, sitting and watching a continuous array of B & W photos that flick, “sail” or flash by on the screen without captions or oral description, and listening to an unending drone of unknown names of Habbaniya residents is pretty boring I think, not to mention the tit-bits of misinformation Wania feeds the viewer.
A final word: I’m well aware that this criticism will not make me a popular person, even with some of my friends, and a few might even think of me as a nasty spoilsport. But by merely telling the truth as I see it, I’m doing the reader a service as well as warning those who venture to do something important in their life to make sure first that “they have the stuff.” to do it!
Note: Please use magnifying glass to read the fine text on the blueprint.
Asahel Grant: The First American to Fail in Iraq
History News Network
3 December 2007
Mr. Taylor is the author of Fever & Thirst: An American Doctor Among the Tribes of Kurdistan, 1835-1844 (Academy Chicago Publishers, 2005), a biography of Asahel Grant, M.D. (1807-1844). Taylor, a writer, former Peace Corps Volunteer, and history teacher, has traveled extensively in Turkey and the Middle East. He currently lives in Seattle.
On October 21, 2007, in Turkey’s Hakkari province, eight Turkish soldiers were taken prisoner after a clash with Kurdish rebels. Digital photos of the men, hidden in a forested ravine, soon appeared in Kurdish news services, and then the soldiers vanished. Two weeks later, despite search efforts by the Turkish Army, the soldiers emerged and were handed over to Kurdish officials in Iraq.
To those who know Hakkari, where the episode began, such a disappearance is anything but surprising. For this is terrain that reads like ad copy. “Gashes in the Earth!” it might say: “Hidden Canyons! Buried Torrents! Pinnacles of Rock!” In Hakkari mountain is packed against mountain like vertical cordwood, as if two great invisible hands, one in the north at Lake Van, the other at Mosul on the Tigris, have taken between them a patch of earth and pressed it into a tight, wrinkled heap. It is as rough as ground can get.
It’s also a place with a past. For five centuries, from the time of Tamerlane (ca. 1400) until the First World War, the high peaks of Hakkari were dominated by tribal Nestorian Christians, truculent warriors whose villages and terraced fields clung to near-vertical cliffs. Their first American visitor, who arrived in October 1839, came to the mountains riding on a mule. This was Dr. Asahel Grant, aged thirty-two years, a missionary physician from Waterville, New York.
Grant was not the first Western traveler to penetrate this region, but he was the first to come out alive. Grant was preceded in 1829 by Friedrich Schulz, a German scholar who came to Hakkari on an expedition sponsored by the Academy of Paris. Schulz gathered artifacts and mineral samples, took measurements of castles, and made no effort to hide either his money or his expensive scientific instruments. In Julamerk, now the city of Hakkari, he met Nurullah, the Kurdish Emir. In Kochanes, a nearby village, he met Mar Shimun, Patriarch of the Church of the East and nominal leader of the Nestorian tribes. While returning to Persia, Schulz was shot in the back and killed, along with his servants and several accompanying Persian officers. Nurullah, the man behind this deed, was never brought to justice. Hakkari remained beyond the control of any government, Ottoman or Persian.
This was the situation in 1839, when Asahel Grant, alone and unarmed, rode north from Mosul and entered the Hakkari mountains. At the Nestorian village of Duree, just south of the current Iraqi-Turkish border, Grant left his mule behind. In the terrain ahead even mules were useless, so he took on porters and exchanged his animal for a pair of goat hair sandals. At this point Dr. Grant looked nothing like a New England Yankee. He wore the loose robes and pantaloons of the natives. His skin was darkened by months in the sun, his beard had grown out, and on his head he wore the turban favored by all hill people, whether Kurd, Nestorian, or Jew. Ever mindful of Schulz’s fate, he never allowed himself to be observed taking notes, and his gold coins he kept hidden in a roll of salve.
The next eight weeks, filled with danger and exhilaration, were the high point of Grant’s life. In Hakkari he discovered a wonderland of snow-crusted peaks, rushing rivers, and terraced gardens. He met the Christians’ patriarch, Mar Shimun, and made plans for American schools in the mountains. The Nestorians flocked to greet him and receive medical care, and the Kurds came as well. A terrifying encounter with Nurullah, the murderer of Schulz, ended in triumph when Grant “cured” the Kurd of a flu-like illness using a powerful dose of tartar emetic. By Christmas 1839 he had returned to the American mission station in Urmia, northwest Iran, where he had begun his long journey ten months before.
Grant’s goals were plain: to heal the sick, to bolster the area’s Nestorian Christians for the fight against “Mohammedan delusion,” and to prepare them to lead in the “spiritual regeneration of Asia.” The grandiosity of this plan did nothing to keep him, in the remaining four years of his life, from striving for its fulfillment. Reality, of course, steered him in quite a different direction.
Mountain life, Grant discovered, was hard. Hakkari’s windowless hovels were built of mud and stone. Its terraced fields, hacked from the rock, shuddered beneath the assaults of winter avalanches and spring floods. From their caves, bears emerged to ravage crops and kill sheep; and the wolves were never far behind.
Among humans, intrigue abounded. The Kurdish emir, Nurullah, plotted against the Nestorian patriarch, Mar Shimun, a prelate who carried a loaded rifle whenever he went abroad. Nurullah’s nephew, also a Muslim and a good friend of the patriarch, plotted against his uncle. Some Christian tribesmen wanted to kill the emir; others planned to kill their own patriarch. The Turkish pasha in Mosul wanted to hang all of them. And all the while the raiding, blood feuds, brigandage, and sheep-stealing went back and forth in every possible Christo-Kurdish combination, with the Christians making a special point every Good Friday to attack the Jews.
Dr. Grant’s arrival, all parties believed, foretold European encroachment and conquest. Thus, though he abjured politics, his very presence made a political statement. Strictly honest in his dealings, generous and kindly to a fault, Grant and his motives were always suspect. When he built a mission house in Asheetha, a Nestorian village, all assumed that he was building a fortified castle. In a world where only “my enemy’s enemy” was a friend, the man who loved all people was building on sand.
In 1843 the Kurds united their forces and, aided by Christian allies, attacked three Christian tribes whose raids had proved especially vexatious. The result was a massacre. Grant, helpless and discouraged, fled the mountains forever. He died a year later in Mosul, a good man in a place that had overwhelmed him. The Kurds, meanwhile, turned his abandoned house into a fortress, the very thing they had accused him of building.
Fond hopes, blunt reality, bitter retreat: these words have played out so often in human history that their repetition palls. But the pattern can be compelling, especially in that always-new form: the History You Don’t Know. This is certainly true in the case of Asahel Grant, who was, after all, the first American to fail in Iraq. In 2007 Grant’s place of burial, a Mosul church that dates to the 3rd century A.D., is inaccessible to Americans, and descendants of the Christians who once buried him are either dead, in exile, or hiding in the shadows. In the mountains rebellious Kurds fight on, while their enemies plot revenge. Just a few miles north of Mosul, a great dam across the Tigris threatens to give way at any moment. (Is there anyplace here that doesn’t instantly transform itself into a metaphor?)
Now, for all but a few, the Fond Hopes are gone, and Blunt Reality has turned a thousand Humvees into junk. Bitter Retreat may take a while, but I have a feeling we’ll get there. Sooner or later.
The following is the full text of the address Pope Benedict XVI delivered on 21 November 2007 at the general audience in St. Peter's Square. The reflection focused on the fourth-century Assyrian theologian, Aphraates.
Pope Benedict XVI
Dear brothers and sisters!
On our journey into the world of the Fathers of the Church, today I would like to guide you toward a little-known area of the universe of faith, namely those territories in which the Churches of Semitic languages, not yet influenced by Greek thought, flourished. Such Churches developed through the fourth century in the Near East, from the Holy Land to Lebanon and Mesopotamia. In that century -- which was a period of clerical and literary growth -- the ascetic-monastic phenomenon was developed with autochthonous characteristics, which did not come under the influence of Egyptian monasticism. Hence the Syriac communities of the fourth century represent the Semitic world from which the Bible itself evolved. They are an expression of a Christianity whose theological formulation had not yet come into contact with other cultural currents, but rather lived thinking their own way. These are Churches in which asceticism in its various hermitic forms (hermits in the desert, in caverns, recluses, stylites), and monasticism in the form of community life, play a vital role in the development of theological and spiritual thought.
I would like to introduce this world through Aphraates, also known as "the wise one." He was one of the most important and enigmatic characters of fourth-century Syriac Christianity. He lived in the first half of the fourth century and was a native of the Nineveh-Mosul region -- today’s Iraq.
We have little information about his life; he had strong ties with the ascetic-monastic environment of the Syriac Church, on which he reflected a great deal in his work. According to some sources, he was the head of a monastery, and later ordained a bishop. He wrote 23 speeches known as Expositions or Demonstrations, in which he discusses different topics of Christian life, such as faith, love, fasting, humility, prayer, ascetic life, and also the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, and between the Old and New Testaments. He writes in a simple style, with short sentences and at times contrasting parallelisms; nevertheless he manages to make consistent speeches by developing articulated arguments.
Aphraates came from a clerical community halfway between Judaism and Christianity. The community was very closely linked to the Mother Church of Jerusalem, and its bishops were traditionally chosen among what were called James' "relatives," the "Lord’s brother" (cf. Mark 6:3): These people were connected to the Church of Jerusalem by blood and faith.
Aphraates spoke Syriac, a Semitic language like the Hebrew of the Old Testament and like the Aramaic spoken by Jesus himself. The ecclesial community in which Aphraates lived wanted to stay faithful to the Judeo-Christian tradition, of which it felt it was a daughter. Therefore it maintained a close relationship with the Jewish world and its sacred books.
Significantly Aphraates defines himself as a "disciple of sacred Scripture," of both the Old and New Testaments (Exposition 22,26), which he considered his sole source of inspiration, and so often mentioned it that it became the center of his reflections.
Aphraates develops different arguments in his Expositions. True to his Syriac tradition, he often presents Christ’s salvation as a type of healing and consequently, Christ as a doctor. In keeping with this, sin is seen as a wound, which penance alone can heal: "A man that has been injured in battle," says Aphraates, "is not ashamed to put himself in the hands of a doctor. ... Equally so, he who has been injured by Satan should not be ashamed to admit his fault and to distance himself from it, asking for the medicine of penance" (Exposition 7,3).
Another important aspect of Aphraates' work is his teaching on prayer, and particularly on Christ as the master of prayer. The Christian prays following Jesus’ teaching and the example he has set us: "Our Savior taught us to pray saying: 'Pray in the secret of the one who is hidden, but who sees everything.'" And again: "Enter your room, pray to your Father in secret, and the Father who sees this will reward you" (Matthew 6:6). … Our Savior wants to show that God knows the desires and thoughts of the heart" (Exposition 4,10).
To Aphraates, Christian life is centered on the imitation of Christ, taking up his yoke, following him on the path of the Gospel. Humility is one of the most apt virtues in a disciple of Christ. It is not a secondary consideration in the spiritual life of a Christian: Man’s nature is humble, and God exalts it to his own glory. Humility, Aphraates states, is not a negative value: "If man’s root is planted in the earth, his fruits ascend before the Lord of greatness" (Exposition 9,14). By remaining humble, even in his earthly surroundings, a Christian can establish a relationship with the Lord: "The humble man is humble, but his heart rises to the uppermost heights. The eyes of his face observe the earth, but the eyes of his mind observe the highest summit" (Exposition 9,2).
Aphraates’s vision of man and his physical reality is a very positive one: The human body, in the example of the humble Christ, is called to beauty, joy and light: "God is attracted to the man who loves, it is right to love humility and to stay humble. Humble individuals are simple, patient, loving, honest, righteous, experts in what is good, prudent, serene, wise, calm, peaceful, merciful, ready to convert, benevolent, profound, thoughtful, beautiful and attractive" (Exposition 9,14).
Often in Aphraates’ teachings, Christian life is presented in a clear ascetic and spiritual dimension: Faith is its base, its foundation; it makes of man a temple where Christ himself lives. Faith therefore enables a true charity that is expressed in the love toward God and toward one’s neighbor.
Another important aspect in Aphraates’ thought is that of fasting, understood in its widest sense. He speaks of fasting from food as a practice that is necessary to be charitable and pure; of fasting in the sense of self-discipline with a view to sanctity; of fasting from vain and loathsome words; of fasting from anger; of fasting from owning goods in the context of the priestly ministry; of fasting from sleep to pray.
Dear brothers and sisters, to conclude, we return again to Aphraates' teaching on prayer. According to this ancient sage, prayer is achieved when Christ dwells in the heart of Christians, inviting them to a coherent commitment of charity toward their brethren. He writes:
"Give relief to those in distress, visit the ailing,
Be solicitous to the poor: This is prayer.
Prayer is good, and its works are beautiful.
Prayer is accepted when it gives relief to your neighbor.
Prayer is heard when it includes the forgiveness of sins.
Prayer is strong when it is full of God’s strength" (Exposition 4,14-16).
With these words Aphraates invites us to join in a prayer that becomes Christian life, a life that comes to fruition, infused by faith, by openness to God and, as such, by the love for one’s neighbor.
The Bible Revisited
Ann-Margret “Maggie” Yonan
The Books of Moses, as discussed in part I of this article, (please see Zinda November 12, 2007) are primarily based on three most important elements: the Genesis story of the wandering patriarchs of the Israelites, the Jewish Exodus out of Egypt, and the conquest of Canaan by the Davidic Dynasty, establishing a vast, united Hebrew empire. We demonstrated how the Bible was pieced together in the seventh century B.C. from old source documents and we raised questions about the existence of Israelite patriarchs, (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and asked whether or not there was an actual Jewish Exodus out of Egypt, an “Ark of the covenant” or for that matter so-called “prophets” in Israel, especially in the context of a glorious empire that David and his son Solomon might have established, as the Bible depicts.
Israel’s Mythical Patriarchs
The story of Israel begins with the patriarchs as described in the Bible to provide the historical tradition with which the ancient Jews have been identified. The Bible names Abraham, his son Isaac, and his grandson Jacob, (also known as Israel) as the patriarch of the Jews. But as we will shortly see, these biblical stories are neither based on historical reality nor any archaeological evidence. If we examine the early Israelite settlements to try to piece together how the Jewish patriarchs might have come to Canaan from Ur of the Chaldees, we will have to admit there’s no evidence to support any of the patriarchs of Israel stories, hence these biblical narrations remain legends and the origins of the Israelites as outlined in the Bible remain obscure.
As mentioned previously, most of the biblical narratives were initially woven together from earlier sources, and we came to believe these stories mostly because the pastoral life of the patriarchs seemed to mesh well with the Bedouin’s way of life. Yet the search for the historical patriarchs was ultimately unsuccessful, since none of the periods around the biblically suggested date of 2100 B.C. provided a compatible background to the biblical stories. The assumed sudden westward migration of groups from Mesopotamia toward Canaan, (the so-called Amorite migration) in which Albright placed the arrival of Abraham and his family was later shown to be illusory. Archaeology completely disproved the contention that a sudden, massive population movement had taken place at that time. Subsequent attempts by De Vaux to place the narratives of the patriarchs in the Middle Bronze Age, (2000-1550 B.C.) also failed. Moreover, attempts by the American scholars Speiser and Gordon to place them against the background archive found in Nuzi in northern Iraq was proven to be completely inaccurate. The Israeli biblical historian, Benjamin Mazar and his attempt to place them in the Early Iron Age also failed to establish a convincing link.
It would have been impossible for Abraham to have traveled from Ur to Canaan via a caravan route around 2100 B.C. as the biblical writers have suggested. We now know through archaeological research that camels were not domesticated as beasts of burden earlier than the late second millennium and were not used in the ancient Near East until well after 1000 B.C. The camel caravan carrying gum, balm, and myrrh were products of the lucrative Arabian trade that flourished under the supervision of the Assyrian empire in the eighth–seventh century B.C. Precisely at this time, Assyrian sources describe camels being used as pack animals in caravans. Moreover, the Philistines, a group of migrants from the Aegean or eastern Mediterranean, had not yet established their settlements along the coastal plain of Canaan until sometime after 1200 B.C. Their cities prospered in the eleventh century and continued to dominate the area well into the Assyrian period. The mention of Gerar as a Philistine city in the narratives of Isaac, suggest that this city had a special importance and was widely known at the time of the composition of the patriarchal stories. Gerar is today known as Tel Haror, and excavations there have shown that in the Iron Age I, the early phase of the Philistines, it was a small insignificant village. But by the late eighth and seventh century B.C. it had become a strong, heavily fortified Assyrian administrative stronghold, an obvious landmark. All clues point to a time of composition of the patriarchal stories after the time in which the Bible reports the lives of the patriarchs took place. This means that patriarchal narratives were created in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.
Beginning with the Arameans, who dominate the stories of Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel and his relationship with his uncle Laban, we can determine the relationship of neighboring peoples with the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. The Arameans are not mentioned as a distinct ethnic group in ancient Near Eastern texts before 1100 B.C. They became a dominant factor on the northern borders of the Israelites in the early ninth century B.C. when a number of Aramean kingdoms arose throughout the area of modern Syria, among them the kingdom of Aram-Damascus, which was sometimes an ally and sometime a foe of the kingdom of Israel, for control of the rich agricultural territories that lay between their main centers. In fact, the cycle of stories about Jacob and Laban metaphorically express the complex and stormy relationship between Aram and Israel over many centuries.
Aram and Israel were military rivals, but much of the population of the northern territories of the kingdom of Israel seems to have been Aramean in origin. The book of Deuteronomy describes Jacob as “the wandering Aramean,” and the stories of the relations between the individual patriarchs and their Aramean cousins clearly express the consciousness of shared origins. The biblical description of the tensions between Jacob and his uncle Laban, establishing a boundary stone east of the Jordan to mark the border between their peoples reflects the territorial partition between Aram and Israel in the ninth-eighth centuries B.C.
Among the descendants of Ishmael listed in Genesis 25:12 are the Qedrites, (from Ishmael’s son Qeder) who are mentioned for the first time in Assyrian records of the late eighth century B.C. and are frequently referred to during the reign of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal in the seventh century B.C. Before that time, they lived beyond the territories of Judah and Israel, occupying the western fringe of the Fertile Crescent. In fact, Ishmael’s sons Adbeel and Nebaioth represent north Arabian groups that are also first mentioned in the late eighth and seventh century Assyrian inscriptions. Ishmael’s third son, Tema is most likely linked with the great caravan oasis Tayma in northwest Arabia, mentioned in Assyrian and Babylonian sources of the eighth-sixth centuries B.C.
The Genesis narratives also reveal unmistakable familiarity with the location and reputation of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires of the ninth-sixth centuries B.C. Assyria is specifically mentioned in relation to the Tigris River in Genesis 2:14, and two of the royal capitals of the Assyrian empire, Nineveh recognized as the capital of the empire in the seventh century B.C. and Calha, its predecessor are mentioned in Genesis 10:11 (both are J documents). The city of Haran plays a dominant role in the stories of the patriarchs. The site still called Eski Haran, (old Haran) is located in southern Turkey, on the border with Syria. The city prospered in the early second millennium B.C. and again in the Neo-Assyrian period. Assyrian texts mention towns near Haran such as Terah, (Abraham’s supposed father) Nahor, and Serug, Abraham’s purported forefathers, (Genesis 11:22-26, a P source).
The German biblical scholar Martin Noth long ago argued that the accounts of the events of Israel’s earliest periods of existence, the stories of the patriarchs, the Exodus, and the wandering in Sinai, were not originally composed as a single saga. He theorized that they were the separate traditions of individual tribes that were assembled into a unified narrative to serve the cause of the political unification of a scattered and heterogeneous Israelite population. Noth pointed out that many of the stories connected with Abraham are set in the southern part of the hill country, in Hebron and Isaac is associated with the southern desert fringe of Judah, particularly Beersheba, whereas Jacob’s activities take place in the northern hill country that were part of the kingdom of Israel. Noth therefore suggests that the patriarchs were originally quite separate regional ancestors, who were eventually brought together in a single genealogy in an effort to create a united history for the Hebrews. The figure of Abraham therefore functions as the unifier of northern and southern traditions, bridging north and south.
It is entirely possible and even probable that the individual episodes in the patriarchal narratives are based on ancient local traditions, yet the use to which they are put and the order in which they are arranged transform them into powerful expression of seventh century Judahite dreams. In the fragmentary evidence of the E version of the patriarchal stories, presumably compiled in the northern kingdom of Israel before its destruction in 720 B.C. by Assyria, the tribe of Judah plays almost no role. But by the late eighth and seventh centuries B.C. Judah was the center of what was left of the Israelite nation, and in that light the J version of the patriarchal narratives are nothing more than a literary attempt to define the unity of the people of Israel rather than an accurate record of the lives of historical characters living more than a millennium before.
The heartland of Israeli settlements have been excavated for the last 60 years, and information on any signs of occupation from the Stone Age to the Ottoman period were recorded in order to study the highland’s long-term settlement history. The early Israelites appear to have been pastoral nomads, who settled on the fringe of the desert they once roamed, and became seasonal farmers. They eventually settled in these hill-top acres and became herders and farmers, with a simple culture of subsistence, around 1200 B.C.E.
No traces of religious beliefs or cultural traits by which to assess their distinctiveness were found. The same material culture can be seen in Moab, in Edom, and Ammon, so what distinguishes the Israelites from their neighbors and defines their unique ethnicity? To date, we have no evidence of particular distinction, and no evidence the Ark of the covenant’s existence.
Was there a Jewish Exodus out of Egypt?
In the story of the great exodus of the Jews out of Egypt, the biblical hero Moses is said to have been the spiritual leader of the Israelites who led them out of Egypt after confronting the tyrannical pharaoh, in an attempt to deliver them to the “promised land.” So important is this story of the Israelite’s liberation from bondage that the biblical books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, (a full four-fifths of the central scriptures of Israel) are devoted to the momentous events experienced by a single generation over a span of forty years. During these years occurred the miracle of the burning bush, the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the appearance of manna in the wilderness, and the revelation of God’s law on Sinai, all of which were the “visible manifestations of God’s rule over both nature and humanity.” The God of Israel, “Yahweh,” previously known only in “private revelations” to the patriarchs here reveals himself to the nation as a universal deity. But if there were no patriarchs, as we have demonstrated, then there is no basis for this revelation, which means that this narrative is entirely a myth, the same way the patriarchs of Israel were based on ancient local legends.
If these stories were based on historical realities, then let us consider archaeological evidence to discuss these biblical episodes. The stage is set for this dramatic exodus out of Egypt at the end of the book of Genesis, with the sons of Jacob living in security under the protection of their brother Joseph, who had come to power as an influential official in the Egyptian hierarchy. They were prosperous and content in the cities of the eastern Nile delta and had free access back and forth to their Canaanite homeland. After the death of their father, Jacob, they brought his body back to Canaan and set it in the tomb alongside his father Isaac and grandfather, Abraham, in the cave of Machpelah in Hebron, Judah. Over a period of four-hundred years, the descendants of the twelve brothers and families grew into a nation, just as “God had promised” and according to the Bible were known to the Egyptians as the Hebrews. But this biblical story tells us that times changed and eventually a new pharaoh came to power, “who knew not Joseph.” If Joseph had been a powerful and influential official in the Egyptian hierarchy, how is it that this new pharaoh did not know of him? Why did this pharaoh suddenly enslave the Hebrews, forcing them into construction gangs to build the royal cities of Pithom and Raamses?
The Egyptian inscriptions do not mention the Hebrews in Egypt. In fact, the only people identified by the Egyptians during the Fifteenth Dynasty of Egypt, who ruled from about 1670 to 1570 B.C., (the time which the Bible dates the Hebrew bondage) were the Hyskos, a Semetic group from Canaan. Recent archaeological excavations in the eastern Nile delta have confirmed this and indicate that the Hyskos “invasion” was a gradual process of immigration from Canaan to Egypt, rather than a lightning military campaign. The most important dig has been undertaken by Manfred Bietak of the University of Vienna, at Tell ed-Daba, a site in the eastern delta identified as Avaris, the Hysklos capital. The Tell ed-Daba finds are evidence for a long and gradual development of Canaanite presence in the delta, a situation uncannily similar to the stories of the visits of the patriarchs to Egypt and their eventual settlement there. Egyptian inscriptions of the sixteenth century B.C. that recounts the exploits of Pharaoh Ahmoses of the Eighteenth Dynasty tell us that he sacked Avaris and chased the remnants of the Hyskos to their main citadel in southern Canaan, Sharuhen, near Gaza.
The expulsion of the Hyskos is generally dated on the basis of Egyptian records and the archaeological evidence regarding the destruction of Canaanite cities, around 1570 B.C. But the Bible tells us that the Hebrews, after their Exodus out of Egypt, constructed the Temple at Jerusalem in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign, which would be 480 years after the Exodus. According to this date, this roughly places the Exodus in 1440 B.C. That is more than one hundred years after the date of the Egyptian expulsion of the Hyskos, around 1570 B.C. Furthermore, the Bible speaks about the forced labor projects of the children of Israel and mentions in particular the construction of the city of Raamses, (Exodus I:II). In the fifteenth century B.C. such a name is inconceivable. The first Pharaoh named Ramesses came to the throne in 1320 B.C. more than a century after the traditional biblical date.
The earliest mention of Israel in texts found in Egypt in the stele describing the campaign of Pharaoh Merneptah, the son of Ramesses II, was at the end of the thirteenth century B.C. If this is the case, then we have a problem! No mention of the name Israel has been found in any of the inscriptions or documents connected with the Hyskos, nor is it mentioned in later Egyptian inscriptions, or in an extensive fourteenth century B.C. cuneiform archive found at Tell el-Amarna in Egypt, whose nearly four hundred letters describe in detail the social, political, and demographic conditions in Canaan at that time. As we know now, the Israelites emerged only gradually as a distinct group in Canaan, beginning at the end of the thirteenth century B.C. There is no recognizable archaeological evidence of Israelites presence in Egypt immediately before that time.
A late thirteenth century B.C. papyrus records how closely the Egyptian commanders of the forts monitored the movements of foreigners as follows: “We have completed the entry of the tribes of the Edomite Shasu, (the Bedouin) through the fortress of Merneptah-Content-with-truth, which is in Tjkw, to the pools of Pr-Itm which are in Tjkw for the sustenance of their flocks.” This report is important in many ways: First, it names the two most important sites mentioned in the Bible in connection with the Exodus. Succoth, (Exodus12:37, and numbers 33:5) as we now know is the Hebrew form of the Egyptian Tjkw, a name referring to a place or an area in the eastern delta that appears in the Egyptian texts from the days of the Nineteenth Dynasty, the Dynasty of Ramesses II. Pithom, (Exodus I:II) is the Hebrew form of Pr-Itm, (the House/Temple of the God Atum.” This name appears for the first time in the days of the New Kingdom in Egypt. Two more place-names that appear in the Exodus narrative seem to fit the reality of the eastern delta in the time of the New Kingdom. The first would be the city of Raamses, (Pi-Ramesses) or “The house of Ramesses,” in Egyptian. This city was built in the thirteenth century as the capital of Ramesses II in the eastern delta, very close to the ruins of Avaris. Secondly, it tells us that the border between Canaan and Egypt was so closely controlled, that if a great mass-exodus of fleeing Israelites had passed through the border fortifications of the pharaonic regime, a record should exist. Yet in the abundant Egyptian inscriptions describing the time of the New Kingdom in general, and the thirteenth century, in particular, there is no reference to the Israelites, not even a single clue! These inscriptions have given us details of the nomadic groups from Edom who entered Egypt from the desert. The Merneptah stele refers to Israel as a group of people already living in Canaan, but they give us not a single clue or word about early Israelites in Egypt. Israel is absent from Egyptian walls, temples, tomb inscriptions, and papyri, either as friend or foe of Egypt, or as an enslaved nation. As the Israeli archaeologists have pointed out, the escape of even a tiny group from Egyptian control at the time of Ramesses II seems highly unlikely, given the fact they would have had to cross an entire desert to get to Canaan! The Egyptian grip on Canaan was firm. In the el-Amarna letters Egyptian kings tell us that a unit of fifty Egyptian soldiers was big enough to pacify and contain the unrest in Canaan.
The annals of the great Egyptian conqueror Thutmose II tell us that he marched with his troops from the Eastern delta to Gaza, a distance of about 250 kilometers, in ten days. A relief from the forts and water reservoirs in the form of an early map that traces the route from the eastern delta to the southwestern border of Canaan were uncovered in the course of archaeological investigations in northern Sinai by Elizer Oren of Ben-Gurion University in the 1970’s. These remains prove that each of these road stations, closely correspond to the sites designated on the ancient Egyptian relief. We can hardly accept the idea of a flight of a large group of slaves from Egypt through the heavily guarded border fortifications into the desert and then into Canaan in the time of such a formidable Egyptian presence. Any group escaping Egypt against the will of the pharaoh would have easily been tracked down not only by the mighty Egyptian army, but also by the Egyptian soldiers in the forts in northern Sinai and Canaan. The biblical narrative hints at the danger in attempting to use the coastal route, hence the only alternative would have been to use the desolate wastes of the Sinai peninsula, and even that possibility is contradicted by archaeology. According to the biblical account, the children of Israel wandered in the desert and mountains of the Sinai peninsula, moving and camping in different places for a full forty years. Even if the enormous figure of six-hundred thousand fleeing Israelites given in the Bible is an exaggeration, some archaeological traces of their generation-long wandering in the Sinai should be apparent. Yet, except for the Egyptian forts along the northern coast, not a single campsite or sign of occupation has ever been identified in Sinai. Repeated archaeological surveys in all regions of the peninsula, including the mountainous area around the traditional site of Mount Sinai have yielded nothing. Not a single sherd, no structure, no house, no trace of an ancient encampment. One might argue that a small group of wandering Israelites cannot be expected to leave material remains behind. But modern archaeological techniques are quite capable of tracing even the very meager remains of hunters-gatherers and pastoral nomads all over the world.
According to the biblical narrative, the children of Israel camped at Kadesh-barnea for thirty eight of the forty years of the wanderings. The location of this place has been described in the Bible, (Numbers 34) and it has been identified by archaeologists with the large and well-watered oasis Ein el-Qudeirat in eastern Sinai. A small mound with the remains of a Late Iron Age fort stands at the center of this oasis. Yet repeated excavations and surveys throughout the entire area have not provided even the slightest evidence for activity in the late Bronze Age. Even Ezion-geber, another place where the children of Israel supposedly camped during the Exodus era, and mentioned in the Bible as a port town on the modern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, has been excavated repeatedly and has revealed no trace of the wandering Israelites.
Two hundred years of extensive excavation and study of the remains of ancient Egyptian civilization that has given us a detailed chronology of the events, places, and personalities of the pharaonic times, which should have yielded some evidence of the Israelite exodus. Yet, archaeology has only provided us with historical migration patterns of the Semites who came to Egypt during the Bronze Age from southern Canaan. The reasons for their migration to Egypt are varied but largely due to famine, and the great Nile delta offered them fertile grounds by which they could sustain themselves during the drought years.
Archaeology has shown us no traces of Israelites wandering in the areas the Bible mentions, and all the cities named in the story of the Exodus were built in the seventh century B.C. (hundreds of years after the reported Exodus took place) which means the biblical writers pieced these legends together to create a starting point from which the Israelites could unite and construct their history during their exile in Babylon. If there was no Jewish Exodus out of Egypt then there was no Moses.
The Mythical Dynasty of David and Solomon
The biblical epic of Israel’s transformation from a period of judges to the time of the monarchy begins with a great military crisis, as described in I Samuel 4-5, in which the Philistine armies destroyed the Israelite tribal levies in battle and carried off the “Ark of the Covenant” as booty of war. The Israelite legend depicts David of Judah fighting the goliath of the Philistines, killing him with a single stone from his sling-shot. The biblical David emerges as the new hero of Israel, and once he is declared king over all of Israel he defeats the Jebusites who occupied Jerusalem at that time, and makes the city his capital. Before he dies, David establishes his great dynasty, which is inherited by his son, Solomon. His son Solomon then consolidates the Davidic dynasty and organizes it into an empire and accumulates great wealth and constructs a temple to Yahweh in Jerusalem. For all their reported wealth and power, neither David nor Solomon is mentioned in a single known Egyptian or Mesopotamian text, and the archaeological evidence in Jerusalem for the famous building projects of Solomon is nonexistent. Apparently nineteenth and early twentieth century excavations around the temple mount in Jerusalem failed to identify any traces of Solomon’s fabled temple or palace complex. Yet the bible describes Solomon’s rebuilding of the northern cities of Megido, Hazor, and Gezer. All three sites have been excavated extensively Megido in particular was excavated by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago in the 1920’s and 1930’s. At first, some of the impressive Iron Age remains were attributed to Solomon. Located in a strategic spot, where the international highway from Egypt in the south to Mesopotamia and Anatolia in the north descends from the hills into the Jezreel valley, and links to Egypt, (Isaiah’s Highway?) Megido was one of the most important cities of biblical Israel. In this expedition archaeologists believed they found the famous palaces and royal stables of King Solomon, but the truth became unavoidable after a few decades of excavations.
Most of the archaeological evidence is actually dated to the early 9th century B.C.E., decades after the death of Solomon, and some fall in the 10th century B.C.E., long after the time of David. The Davidic dynasty seems to be a myth and there’s no compelling evidence for a historical existence of a vast united monarchy, centered in Jerusalem and encompassing the entire land of Israel. The fame of the Davidic dynasty, however, could not be a complete legend, to the extent that in 1993 a fragmentary artifact was found at Tel Dan in northern Israel, and the inscription written in Aramaic tells how king of Damascus Hazael, kills Jehoram son of Ahab, king of Israel of the “House of David,” which historically establishes David’s name in the region. The stables and the palaces found belonged to a later city built by King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel in the early ninth century B.C. and is confirmed by the ninth century Assyrian inscription which describes the great chariot force of king Ahab of Israel.
It seems that King Ahab, the son of the great Omri, and his notorious wife, Jezebel, the Phoenician princess, were the mighty couple who first brought the Kingdom of Israel to prominence, building magnificent cities to serve as administrative centers of their expansive kingdom. They succeeded in building one of the most powerful armies in the region, with which they conquered a great deal of territories in the north.
All the glory that should have been bestowed by the biblical writers upon the famous Omri dynasty was showered on the Davidic dynasty instead, to support Josiah’s ambition of expansion of the northern Israelite kingdom. The biblical writers, especially the Deuteronomists tried to replace the glorious work of the Omri family and to establish the legitimacy of Josiah, a Judahite, as the true heir of the Davidic Dynasty. Moreover, the biblical writer’s motives seem to have been exclusively tied to the de-legitimization of the northern Israelite’s Mesopotamian cult worship and to replace it with the centralized worship of Yahweh at the temple in Jerusalem.
There is hardly a doubt that Samaria was indeed built by Omri, since later Assyrian sources call the northern kingdom of Israel “the House of Omri,” an indication that he was the founder of its capital, Samaria. Omri and his successors earned the hatred of the Bible precisely because they were strong, and had succeeded in transforming the northern kingdom of Israel into an important regional power that overshadowed the poor and marginal kingdom of Judah. The fact that Israel had emerged as a power in the region, had consorted with other nations, married foreign women, built Canaanite type of shrines, supported a diverse culture and religion, was unbearable and sinful to the Judeans. As we have demonstrated in part I of this article, the priestly writers of the Bible had tried to glorify Judah and its hero David, and had condemned the northern kingdom of Israel, its priests, its kings, defining them as heretics precisely because they would not yield to the power and prejudice of the Judahite priests. The Omri dynasty worshipped Mesopotamian Gods, they collaborated with Assyrian kings, and they built a glorious kingdom in the northern territories of Israel with the help of the Assyrian kings. This earned them the hatred of the Judahite priests who wrote much of the Bible and who glorified their Judahite heroes, David and his son Solomon.
Israel, as a state, enjoyed natural wealth and extensive trade connections that distinguished it from the impoverished Judah. Israel, under the Omri dynasty, had the necessary organization to undertake huge building projects, establish a powerful army, and to develop a complex settlement hierarchy of cities, town, and villages. This made it the first full-fledged kingdom. Its goals and achievements were dramatically different than the kingdom of Judah, therefore, it has been totally obscured by the Bible’s condemnations, and supports the claims of the later, southern and Davidic dynasty, for predominance. In this manner, the Bible has demeaned and misrepresented nearly everything that the northern, Omride dynasty did.
Jezebel is demonized in the Bible by the Judahite priests because she was not Jewish, and therefore a foreigner who supported the Mesopotamian cult worshipped by the northern kingdom of Israel. Her husband, king Ahab did not support the racist ideologies of the Judahite priests, and earned their hatred for his open-minded and revolutionary social, political, and religious programs he instituted in the northern territories. This famous couple was at odds with the so-called prophet Elijah and his protégé, Elisha, two famous “prophets of Yahweh” who condemned Jezebel and Ahab for their reforms and revolutionary ideas. Elijah plotted to dethrone this famous couple by claiming that “Yahweh had instructed him to destroy the House of Omri.” The biblical narrative regarding Jezebel and Ahab is so filled with inconsistencies and anachronisms, and so obviously influenced by the theology of the seventh-century B.C. biblical writers, that archaeologists and biblical scholars have suggested that “it must be considered more of a historical novel than an accurate historical chronicle.” Among other inconsistencies, the reported invasion by Ben-Hadad of Damascus did not take place during the reign of Ahab. The key to this new understanding is the sudden appearance of monumental inscriptions that directly refer to the kingdom of Israel. The first mention of the northern kingdom of Israel in the time of the Omrides is not accidental. The westward advance of the Assyrian empire from its Mesopotamian heartland, with its long tradition of recording its ruler’s acts, profoundly influenced the culture of crystallizing states like Israel, Aram, and Moab. Beginning in the ninth century B.C. in the records of the Assyrians themselves and those of smaller powers in the Near East, we at last gain some first-hand testimony on events and persons described in the biblical texts.
In the time of David and Solomon, political organization had not yet reached the state that it did during the Omri dynasty. But a century after David and Solomon, the internal economic and political pressures had brought about the rise of fully-developed territorial and national states in the Levant. In the ninth century and after, major political events were recorded, and these inscriptions are crucial for establishing precise dates for events and personalities mentioned in the Bible.
There is some dramatic evidence from Assyrian sources that the Omrides became powerful in Israel. The 9th century B.C. Shalmaneser III stele, known as the Monolith Inscription, found by Henry Layard at Nimrod in the 1840’s, describes an anti-Assyrian coalition led by King Ahab of the Omri dynasty, confronting the Assyrian army on the Orontes River in Syria. This stele depicts the famous battle of Qarqar, in which the greatest Assyrian ruler King Shalmaneser III, who ruled from 858-824 B.C., is advancing his army and there he sees the enemy of “1200 chariots, 700 cavalrymen, 10,000 foot soldiers of Irhuleni from Hamath, 2,000 chariots, 10,000 foot soldiers of Ahab, the Israelite, 500 soldiers from Que, 1,000 soldiers from Musri, 10 chariots, 10,000 soldiers from Irqanata.”
With the help of archaeological evidence and the testimony of outside sources, we can see how the vivid scriptural portraits that doomed Omri, Ahab, and Jezebel to ridicule and scorn over the centuries, skillfully concealing the real character of the first kingdom of Israel. Yet, the “rebel” Jehu, is pictured in the Bible as “God’s instrument” to destroy idolatry in Israel, is shown in the famous “black obelisk” of Shalmaneser bowing low to the ground at the feet of the great king of Assyria. Shalmaneser III wrote: “The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri, I received from him silver, gold, a golden saplu-bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king.” Jehu, in the Bible is depicted as the reported exterminator of the Omri family, but the fact that Shalmaneser III defined him as “son of Omri” means that he ruled a vassal kingdom whose capital city, Samaria, was founded by Omri, his grandfather, not David, nor Solomon.
The fall of the Omri Dynasty did not end or eliminate the Mesopotamian Baal cult, nor did any king after them abolish it. In fifteen years, four Israelite kings were assassinated, with Pekah’s assassin and successor, Hoshea, being the last king of the kingdom of Israel. Hoshea, at first, proclaimed his loyalty as a vassal to Assyria and offered tribute to the Assyrian king Shalmaneser V, but secretly sought an alliance with Egypt. When Shalmaneser V learned of this, he took Hoshea captive and invaded what was left of the kingdom of Israel. Assyria captured Samaria in 730 B.C. and deported the Israelites to the Assyrian empire. Only the kingdom of Judah, its temple, and its Davidic dynasty survived.
This period was followed by a brief occupation of the kingdom of Israel by the Arameans through the conquests of king Hazael and his son Bar-Hadad III, kings of Aram-Damascus, at the second half of the ninth century. But in 811 B.C, a new reigning Assyrian king, Adad-Nirari III, having seized Damascus and crushed its power in the region, ended the Syrian hegemony. The northern kingdom of Israel had pledged its loyalty to Assyria since Shalmaneser III, and it now became the favored Assyrian vassal under Adad-Nirari III. Now the northern kingdom had an opportunity to recover economically and regain its lost territories from Aram-Damascus and the expansion continued under Jeroboam. This is how the northern kingdom, around 800 B.C. achieved its Golden Age.
Critical evidence comes from the Assyrian sources which reveal that the kingdom of Israel was famous for breeding horses and its chariot forces long after king Ahab faced Shalmaneser III with two thousand chariots at the battle of Qarqar in Syria in 853 B.C. The Assyriologist Stephanie Dalley has found convincing evidence in Assyrian records that some of the empire’s vassal states specialized in horse-breeding and export of horses used in chariot and cavalry warfare. At Megido, archaeologists found the architectural remains of an important horse-breeding farm. It is possible that in the days of Jeroboam II Israel bred horses not only for its own military requirements but for chariot units throughout the Assyrian empire. A clue comes to us from a period immediately after the conquest of northern kingdom by Assyria. A special Israelite chariot unit was incorporated into the Assyrian army, In fact, Stephanie Dalley’s research on Assyrian tablets provides information from the “horse list”, in which officials, officers, and units of the Assyrian army in the days of Sargon II were employed by conquered people. The Israelite’s chariot brigade was the only foreign unit permitted to retain its national identity. The Assyrian King Sargon II says it best, “I formed a unit with two hundred of their chariots for my royal force.” This indicates that the Israelite chariot units were given a special status in the Assyrian army. The information from the Horse list mentions an Israelite commander named Shema, probably a chariot commander, who served in a high post in the Assyrian army and was a member of the king’s entourage.
The resurgence of Israel under Jehu’s grandson, Joash had more directly to do with the Assyrian humbling of Damascus than “God’s reported change of heart” as described in the Bible. The end of the regional hegemony of Aram-Damascus gave the northern kingdom of Israel, which had pledged its loyalty to Assyria during the reign of Shalmaneser III, a splendid opportunity to be recognized as Assyria’s most favored vassal. Under the leadership of King Joash the northern kingdom quickly recovered and started regaining its territories that had been lost to Damascus. Under the Assyrian protection, the expansion of Israel continued under Jeroboam II who extended Israel’s kingdom’s boundaries well into the former territories of Aram. The kingdom began to prosper around 800 B.C and this is reported even by the Judahite priests of the Bible. The biblical author of the book of Kings was forced to find an explanation for this otherwise puzzling good fortune enjoyed by the “sinful” northerners. He explained the turn of events by the sudden compassion of the God of Israel, (2 Kings 14:26-27) but we can now see that a more likely reason was the Assyrian aggression against Damascus and Israel’s eager participation in the growing Assyrian world economy.
It is at the height of wealth and prosperity of the northern kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam II rule that we have the first record of “prophetic” protest. The oracles of Amos and Hosea, two self-proclaimed prophets, who denounce the “corrupt” and “impious” aristocracy of the northern kingdom of Israel serve to document the opulence of this era and to express for the first time ideas that would exert a profound effect on the emerging Deuteronomist ideology. Amos condemns those who “have built houses of hewn stone” and his contemporary, Hosea speaks out against those who “multiply falsehood and violence; they make a bargain with Assyria.” Afraid of this prosperity and the influence it might have on the Israelite changing society, Hosea declares, “Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride upon horses; and we will say no more, “our lord God,” to the work of our hands.” These “prophetic” condemnations affected the followers of Amos and Hosea and their cries took on a new meaning in light of words declared by these self-appointed prophets and their criticism of the wealth and its effect of foreign ways of life of the people of Israel shifted the social and political tides.
With the death of Jeroboam II in 747 B.C., and the coming of a new king in Assyria, Tiglath-Pileser III, (also known by his Babylonian name, Bel, Pell, Pul) the structure of Israelite society changed dramatically, as Israel became a more controlled vassal of Assyria. Pekah joined the rebellion of Damascus against Assyria and things went down hill from there on. By the time Tiglath-Pileser’s death in 727 B.C., most of the territory of the northern kingdom of Israel had been annexed directly to the Assyrian empire. Yet Hoshea, the assassin of Pekah and the last king of Israel, having quickly offered tribute to Assyria, began a disastrously dangerous plot. After the death of Tiglath-Pileser III and the accession of shalmaneser V, Hoshea sent secret word to one of the Egyptian lords, hoping Egypt would now be ready to join the anti-Assyrian coalition. Taking the ultimate gamble, Hoshea ended his tribute to the new Assyrian king. Shalmaneser V immediately started a campaign of liquidation. He laid siege on the city of Samaria and deported its population to the Assyrian empire. There is considerable debate among scholars whether Shalmaneser V survived to see the capture of Samaria or whether his successor, Sargon II, who came to the throne in 722 B.C. was responsible for the coup de grace. But it is from Sargon II that we have the fullest account: “The inhabitants of Samaria, who agreed and plotted with a king hostile to me not to endure servitude and not bring tribute to Assur and who did battle, I fought against them with the power of the great gods, my lords. I counted as spoil 27,280 people, together with their chariots and gods, in which they trusted. I formed a unit with 200 of their chariots for my royal force. I settled the rest of them in the midst of Assyria. I repopulated Samaria more than before. I brought it people from countries conquered by my hands. I appointed my commissioner as governor over them. And I counted them as Assyrians.” Samaria and what was left of it became an Assyrian province.
With the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel, the southern kingdom of Judah flourishes, with its king Hezekiah at the throne of David. Hezekiah implements dramatic religious reforms and Judah becomes the center of the Hebrews. In 705 B.C. the venerable Assyrian king Sargon II dies, leaving his militarily untested son Sennacherib to inherit the throne of Assyria. Hezekiah, in his illusion of power and glory, with the “might of Yahweh” on his side declares Judah’s independence from Assyria, and rebels against the new Assyrian king Sennacherib. Judah enters the anti-Assyrian coalition, backed by Egypt, (2 Kings 18:21; 19:9). Four years later, in 701 B.C. Sennacherib comes to Judah with a formidable Assyrian army. Hezekiah’s revolt against Assyria proved to be disastrous! Though untested, Sennacherib more than adequately proved his battlefield talents. King Hezekiah of Judah was no match for him. The combined Assyrian records and archaeological excavations in Judah adequately confirm the intensity of the systematic campaign of the siege of Judah. The grim archaeological remains mesh perfectly with Assyrian texts. A vivid illustration of the Assyrian siege of the city of Lachish is preserved in extraordinary detail on a large wall relief that once decorated the palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh. Its short inscription reads, “Sennacherib king of all, king of Assyria, sitting on his throne while the spoil from the city of Lachish passed before him.” Archaeological evidence also reveals that Judah and its outlying areas never recovered from Sennacherib’s campaign.
The two kingdoms of Israel and Judah were thus destroyed and the majority of their population deported to the Assyrian empire. After the Assyrian period came the Egyptian yoke, until the Babylonian dynasty of Nebuchadnasser, king of Akkad, in 597 B.C. seized Judah and exiled the remaining Judeans. The Babylonians allowed them some form of autonomy and religious freedom until the Babylonian empire crumbled and was conquered by the Persians in 539 B.C.
Apparently Cyrus the Great and his son Cambyses allowed the tribes to return to their land and rebuild their temples, and they even enjoyed autonomy under the Persian rule. Upon their return, the northern Israelites sought to reunite with their Judean brothers, but they were not allowed to participate in rebuilding the temple due to the Judean’s belief of having “divine right” to determine the character of Judean orthodoxy. Since the Judean priests had gained prominence in exile they once more became the leaders of the people of Israel, leading the Israelites in religious and national affairs.
Archaeological and scientific evidence proves that most if not all of the biblical stories are inaccurate and based on the prejudicial views of the biblical writers from the Judahite kingdom of David and Solomon, yet the biblical writers weave the stories together in such a way as to preserve the identity and religion of the ancient Israelites and to give the people a history by which they can uphold their cultural and religious traditions to this day. There were no prophets in Israel with the exception of those self-designated prophets who saw the northern tribes of Israel as sinful and wicked, consorting with foreign leaders and establishing socio-economic reforms and creating political alliances with the two great empires of Egypt and Assyria.
Albright, W. F. 1961. Abraham the Hebrew: A New Archaeological Interpretation. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 163: 36-54.
Alt, A. 1966. Essays on Old Testament History and Religion. Oxford.
Bietak, M. 1996. Avaris the Capital of the Hyskos: Recent Excavations at Tell ed-Daba. London.
Dalley, S. 1985. Foreign Chariotry and Cavalry in the Armies of Tiglath-pileser III and Sargon II. Iraq 47: 31-48.
De Vaux, R. 1978. The Early History of Israel. Philadelphia.
Dever, W. G. 1990. Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research. Seattle: 85-117.
Finkelstein, Israel. 1988. The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement. Jerusalem: 295-36.
Frerichs, E. S. and Lesko, L. H. (editors). 1997. Exodus: the Egyptian Evidence. Winona Lake.
Gordon, C. H. 1964. Biblical customs and the Nuzi Tablets, in: Campbell, E. F. and Freedman, D. N. (editors). The Biblical Archaeologist Reader. Volume II. Garden city: 21-33.
Gunkel, H. 1964. The Legends of Genesis. New York.
Halpern, B. 1994. The Stela from Dan: Epigraphic and Historical Considerations. Bulletin of the American School of Oriental Research 296: 63-80.
Lipinski, E. 2000. The Arameans: Their Ancient History, culture, Religion, Leuvn.
Mazar, A. 1990. Archaeology of the Land of the Bible 10,000-586 B.C. E. New York.
McCarter, K. P. 1996. Ancient Inscriptions: Voices from the Biblical world. Washington.
Meyers, E.M. (editor). 1997. The Ancient Near East. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East. New York.
Naaman, N. 1994. Hezekiah and the Kings of Assyria. Tel Aviv 2I: 235-254.
Niemann, H. M. 2000. Megiddo and Solomon-A Biblical Investigation in Relation to archaeology. Tel Aviv 27: 59-72.
Noth, M. 1981. A History of Pentateuchal Traditions. Sheffield.
Prithchard, J.B. 1969. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton.
Redford, Egypt and Canaan, in the bibliography to chapter 2.
Sarna, N. M. 1999. Israel in Egypt: The Egyptian sojourn and the Exodus, in :Shanks, H. (editor). Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple. Washington: 33-54.
Sarna, N. M. 1986. Exploring Exodus. New York.
Schulte, H. 1994. The End of the Omride Dynasty: Social-Ethical Observation on the subject of Power and Violence, in Knight, D. A. (editor). Ethics and Politics in the Hebrew Bible. Atlanta: 133-148.
Silberman, N.A. 1982. Digging for God and country: Exploration in the Holy Land 1799-1917. New York.
Speiser, E. A. 1964. Genesis: Introduction, Translation, and Notes. Garden City.
Steiner, M. 1998. David’s Jerusalem, Fiction or Reality? It’s Not There: Archaeology Proves a Negative. Biblical Archaeology Review 24/4:26-33, 62.
Stern, E. (editor). 1993. The Main Archaeological Sites in Israel and Jordan. The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. Jerusalem.
Stern, E. 2001. Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, Vol II: The Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Periods 732-332 B.C.E.
Tadmor, H. 1996. Philistia under Assyrian rule. Biblical Archaeologist 29: 86-102.
Williamson, H. G. M. 1996. Tel Jezreel and the Dynasty of Omri, Palestine Exploration Quarterly 128: 41-51.
Yadin, Y. 1982. Is the Biblical Account of the Israelite Conquest of Canaan Historically Reliable? Biblical Archaeology Review 8:16-23.
The Hebrew Bible
A Report on MESA 2007 Held in Montreal, Canada
This year's Middle East Studies Association (MESA) Annual Meeting was held in Montreal, Canada, from November 17-20. MESA represents the largest gathering of experts in issues pertaining to the Middle East in North America, and thousands of people attend each year to hear current research conducted and studied in the area. Assyrians are generally overlooked in discussions among panelists; however, over the last few years Assyrians have made their presence known.
Among many prestigious speakers, panelists, and scholars present discussing a range of issues regarding the Middle East, the Assyrians were represented on 2 different panels:
"Evolution and Impact of Modern and Ancient Identities in the Middle East: Assyrians, Land, Identity, and the Modern Nation State"
Sponsored by the Assyrian Academic Society
Chair: Hannibal Travis, Florida International University
Waleeta Canon, Assyria Foundation
Nationalism, Land, and Identity: Iraqi Assyrians in an Era of Plurinationalism
Shariman Mado, Wilfred Laurier University
Cultural Genocide and the State of Assyrian Christians in Iraq: Demographic Manipulations, Acculturation, and Assimilation
Aryo Makko, Stockholm University
International Diplomacy during the Interwar Period: The Mosul Question 1924-25 and the League of Nations
Nineb Lamassu, Firodil Institute, UK
Assyrian-Kurdish Relations in Hakkari: A History of Coexistence and Calamity
"Minority Communities: Identities and Conflicts"
which, among other speakers, featured:
Sargon Donabed, University of Toronto
"Ethno-Cultural and Religious Identity of Syrian Orthodox Christians"
From Left: (Standing) Hannibal Travis, Waleeta Canon, Aryo Makko, Nineb Lamassu, and Shariman Mado.
Waleeta Canon discussed the history of Assyrian claims to autonomy and nationhood in northern Iraq, as well as he legal framework for land reclamation and compensation under Article 132 of the 2005 Iraqi Constitution, and the interim constitution that preceded it. She also highlighted the adoption, at the 2003 Assyrian Democratic Movement conference in Baghdad, of the "Nineveh Plains Administrative Region" program for administrative autonomy. Shariman Mado described the destruction of Assyrian churches and other cultural property by the prewar Iraqi state, as well as by policies of the Kurdistan Regional Government. In the paper on which her talk was based, she discussed the Assyrian experience as a violation of an indigenous people's rights under international law, and a form of cultural genocide as defined by the U.N. Economic, Social and Cultural Council.
Aryo Makko detailed the results of his thorough archival research into British and Swedish diplomacy during the period between World War I and World War II concerning the "Mosul Question" decided by the League of Nations in 1925. Among other findings, he described the mass murder and deportation by the postwar Turkish state of Assyrians from disputed territory, which destroyed the hopes of Assyrian leaders and British diplomats of creating a viable Assyrian community after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.
Finally, Nineb Lamassu provided an analysis of the linguistic and ethnic ties of the modern Assyrians to their ancient forbears, and of Assyrian-Kurdish relations from Ottoman times through the current federal system in Iraq. His talk exemplified the work of the Firodil Institute as an independent academic and cultural organization based in London that promotes research and education relating to ncient and modern Assyrian history and culture
The Assyrian Academic Society sold many books and DVD's on Assyrian history and culture to attendees at MESA's book bazaar.
Academic conferences such as these have their own inherent value - Assyrians who participate as audience members are able to contribute to the conversations during panel sessions and ensure that Assyrians are not only part of the conversation, but that mis-information about Assyrians is not disseminated. Having Assyrian panels and also scholars spread throughout the conference panels and roundtable discussions also gives the Assyrian issues the both broad and captive audiences.
Assyrians do not have a shortage of university students, scholars, and experts to participate in MESA each year. For those in the field of academia, law, history, social sciences, politics, and many others, this is a unique experience not only to share your knowledge and views on current, historic, or ancient Assyrian subjects, ranging from language, culture, current policy, or anything pertaining to Assyrians, but it is also an invaluable opportunity to meet and network with experts in academia, government, and both public and private sectors from all over the world.
We urge you to submit an abstract for the MESA conference in 2008, which will take place in Washington, D.C. For this year's panels, please click here.
For guidelines on how to submit an abstract, including registration fees and deadline: click here.
This year, some of our brightest scholars were unable to attend due to financial difficulty. If you cannot attend, or cannot submit a paper, please consider donating specifically to helping offset the costs of bringing the best and brightest Assyrians from around the world to help advance the awareness of Assyrian issues at MESA. All donations can go specifically to "Grants for Scholars" and are tax-deductible under U.S. law: click here.
Academia is where history begins and ends. Let's help write it correctly.
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