Publishing business helps Assyrian authors distribute writing
June 2018 | By Joe Snell | Photos Contributed
DALLAS — Tomas Beth-Avdalla sits in a cluttered room near his home in Gothenburg, Sweden, surrounded by aged Assyrian pictures, books, audiocassettes, videos, and periodicals that are oftentimes piled to the ceiling.
From this small office, Tomas has a significant global impact. His work to archive and preserve a global Assyrian history in modern times reaches every corner of the world.
As one of the founders of the Modern Assyrian Research Archive (MARA) as well as Nineveh Press, his passion for preserving a comprehensive Assyrian history is part of what makes his organizations so successful today. Today, MARA has archived thousands of materials and Nineveh Press has published 15 books related to Assyrians.
“For the last one hundred years, our community has had a lot of writers,” he said. “They have been writing and struggling and offering a lot of their time but in the end, for many of them it ended with not having their work published.”
Early Interest in Publishing
Tomas was born in Augsburg, Germany but grew up in Gothenburg, Sweden. He studied the Syriac language, church liturgy and Assyrian history at Mar Gabriel, an Assyrian monastery in the Southeast Turkish region of Tur Abdin. Later, he studied journalism at the Poppius Journalism School, the oldest journalism school in Scandinavia.
After studying at Uppsala University, Tomas began helping at the Assyrian monastery of Deir Zafaran just outside of Mardin, a city in Southeast Turkey. He was invited to help start a new magazine called Kurkmo that was printed in both Turkish and Assyrian.
“We had to find out a way to do it all by ourselves,” he recalls. “We wrote articles, did interviews, and took pictures. We built up an editorial plan and I was responsible for the Assyrian portion.”
Tomas returned to Sweden in 2007 to work for the Assyrian Federation of Sweden. For two years, he helped digitize their physical archive and then left to become an office administrator with Sweden’s Assyrian Youth Federation.
Entering the International Stage
It was at this time, around late 2008, that Tomas helped co-found the Modern Assyrian Research Archive (MARA).
“The proposal of MARA was to build up an archive based on source materials about Assyrians in modern times,” he said. Splitting his time between MARA and the Youth Federation, Tomas traveled all over the world collecting materials for the archive.
By 2010, MARA became so large that it established a foundation registered in Sweden with an executive board. The funding to operate the archive had dissolved by 2012, however, and all work for MARA became volunteer-based.
Earlier this year, a major announcement was made when the Mor Afrem Foundation, an Assyrian foundation based in Germany, agreed to fund the MARA initiative, including digitizing, cataloging, and continuing to collect materials from around the globe. MARA has since become a focus for the foundation.
Starting Nineveh Press
While working at MARA, Tomas began reading the archived material and realized a lot of it was not available to the public.
“Some of the material was never published or it was published in old Assyrian magazines that are not as accessible in the way that a new published book can be,” he said.
He decided to publish a collection of writings by David B. Perley, an author who devoted his life to writing on the Assyrian cause. Beginning in 2010, Tomas slowly began compiling materials he could come across from Perley.
This process lasted for six years. In early 2016, he put his findings together into a manuscript and sent it to another Assyrian publisher in Sweden for publication. He waited months for a response.
“When I saw that they weren’t going to publish my manuscript, I told them that if you don’t have the aid or if you don’t have the time to publish, I will do it myself,” he said. “When you have worked on a book for many years, you really want to come to an ending.”
Tomas researched how to print on-demand and began creating the book design.
A Collection of Writings on Assyrians by David B. Perley, was published in August of 2016. It was the first book Tomas published under Nineveh Press, a business he rolled into his graphic design studio TBA Form.
“When I was getting ready to publish this book, I didn’t have the idea yet to establish Nineveh Press,” he said. “It was more that when I saw that nobody else would publish, I thought I should publish the book.”
The Future of Nineveh Press
Today, Nineveh Press has published 15 books. Tomas sticks to subjects related to Assyrians and welcomes submissions in any language. He is also considering publishing books that don’t have to be about Assyrians but are instead written by Assyrians.
Last month, he added the ability to sponsor a whole book. He also allows individuals to contribute monetarily for Nineveh Press directly through his website, either as a one-time payment or as recurring monthly payments.
“There are a lot of different ways to support Nineveh Press because I believe that the more time I spend on it, I will be able to publish books at a more frequent pace,” he said.
His biggest challenge, he admits, is reaching people with his work. Outside of social media, he sets up booths at local Assyrian events and encourages Assyrian authors to publish their writing through Nineveh Press.
It’s important, he says, to publish Assyrian literature and to have these works reach all over the world.
“With knowledge about history, about culture, about our previous challenges, if we learn about these things, we can get strong as a people,” he said. “If we don’t have that information digitized or in published books, it’s very difficult to find this information or to obtain it.”
To learn more about Nineveh Press, visit their Facebook Page