All posts by bbjoe15

Opinion: Assyrians don’t have to face generational trauma alone

Our community must begin an open dialogue about mental illness and embrace outside support. 

By Dr. Ramina Jajoo-Frindrich | December 2022

So what does a rheumatologist and a psychiatrist have in common? After all, one medical field specializes in musculoskeletal ailments and rare disabling autoimmune disorders, while the other focuses on the emotional and mental well-being of an individual. 

It turns out, a lot more than meets the eye. Although one could say it is common knowledge that chronic pain from arthritis leads to anxiety and depression, many people with clinical depression experience physical discomfort and fibromyalgia, an often debilitating, chronic and diffuse bodily pain syndrome. Given extensive persecution and trauma suffered by our people, how does this mind and body connection manifest itself? More importantly, is our community ready to discuss a much-tabooed subject such as psychiatric disorders?

A few years ago, I was treating an Assyrian patient for Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that causes dryness of the eyes and mouth and, in severe cases, inflamed joints and multiorgan malfunction, even death.

For reasons unbeknown to me, he started flaring. After a few visits, he finally admitted that he never took his medication. Gradually, he became more irate, demanding immediate control of his symptoms yet refusing standard pharmacological remedies. In his words, “I become like a lion when I am in pain. I will destroy anything and anyone in my path if I don’t get what I want.” 

After threatening and verbally abusing my staff, even propositioning one of them, I was left with no choice but to prioritize the safety of my employees. A decision was made to discharge him from the practice. Interestingly, I would occasionally run into him at our church during Sunday brunch.  

After a few similar incidents, I started wondering if a behavior such as this is a manifestation of cultural upbringing as opposed to prior traumatic events, affecting generations within a community, or even perhaps a combination of the two. 

It wasn’t until I started volunteering at Seyfo Center, also known as the Assyrian Genocide Research Center, and through talking with several genocide scholars and attending various lectures on Holocaust and other genocides that I learned about intergenerational, or generational, trauma. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 Americans experience mental health illness in a given year. In comparison, Sjogren’s syndrome affects only 1% of the population, thus making mental health disease a far more common condition. 

The incidence of mental health disorders in the Assyrian community remains unknown for a variety of reasons that are beyond the scope of discussion in this article. However, it may be reasonable to assume that given the extensive and ongoing trauma and persecution suffered by our people, the incidence of conditions such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and personality disorders such as borderline personality (BPD) is significantly higher. 

One of the most extensively studied group of people with somewhat similar experiences are the children of Holocaust survivors. According to the American Psychological Association, in 1966, Canadian psychiatrist Vivian M. Rakoff, MD and his colleagues recorded high rates of psychological distress among children of individuals who survived the Holocaust, and the concept of generational trauma was first recognized. 

Since then, numerous studies have looked at intergenerational trauma among the Jewish people. For instance, a similar study in 1988 found signs and symptoms of trauma in the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. It is theorized that generational trauma can be induced through in-utero exposure to chemicals involved in maternal stress, such as cortisol, that impact future development or through epigenetic changes. These are the changes to an individual’s DNA as a result of a traumatic experience that can theoretically be passed down through generations

It is hypothesized that changes in the DNA impact brain development, and affect how the limbic system in the brain regulates emotions and how one responds to stress. This, in turn, impacts personalities, relationships, parenting, communication, and views of the world. 

Of particular interest to me was borderline personality disorder (BPD); not to be confused with bipolar disorder. BPD has a lifetime prevalence of 6% and is characterized by instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, emotions, and impulsivity across a wide range of situations, causing significant impairment or subjective distress, fear of abandonment, increased risk of substance abuse and, in severe cases, self-harm and suicide. 

For readers interested in this particular type of personality disorder, I recommend “I hate you, don’t leave me”  by Jerold Kreisman, MD and Hal Strauss. In a personality disorder, one’s way of thinking, feeling, and behaving deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time. The pattern of behavior usually begins in late adolescence or early adulthood. Without treatment, personality disorders can persist with devastating outcomes. 

Treatment of generational trauma typically involves any combination of individual, group, or family therapy with or without medications in the more severe and debilitating cases. Secondary anxiety, depression and PTSD must be addressed as well. 

It is a well-known and researched fact that individuals with strong family ties and community support do much better in terms of coping with stress and trauma. Historically and characteristically, Assyrians have been very family-oriented and support was generally abundantly available in various settings such as extended families and friendships formed through volunteerism at various charitable organizations and churches. However, given mass migration and families losing members due to persecution or simply getting separated from their loved ones, makes this more challenging in the case of genocide survivors and their descendants. 

The church and the clergy are particularly in a unique position in that they can provide spiritual support to our traumatized nation. Within the psychiatric world, it is an established and much-studied fact that persons with higher spirituality and self-transcendence have a stronger ability to cope with change and adversity. 

Although we as Assyrians can take advantage of these community-based resources with relative ease, we have yet to tap into our broader medical community that can offer professional and target-specific treatments that are currently available. 

“Knowing you aren’t alone or helpless and knowing that there may have been factors outside of your control might help process the trauma,” says licensed clinical psychologist and parenting evaluator Melanie English, PhD in an article by Health magazine. “When we process things and understand them, we can then often find coping mechanisms. When we find coping mechanisms, we can heal, and redefine ourselves and reclaim a part of our life.”

As my paternal grandparents barely survived the genocide of 1915 at the hands of Ottoman Turkey and their Kurdish allies, it would have been amazing if services such as counseling had been readily available to them. Regrettably, that is no longer possible. 

However, in the aftermath of ISIS, as Assyrians are migrating to the diaspora, we must ensure that our community has easy access to not only community-based resources but also mental health specialists. It is time that we shun the taboo associated with mental health illnesses and become proactive in caring for our emotional as well as physical well-being. 

An open dialogue on platforms such as The Assyrian Journal is a step in the right direction, hoping that we can reduce abnormal and counterproductive behavior, such as that elicited by my former patient, and ultimately prevent it from becoming an accepted cultural norm.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Assyrian Journal.

Author: Dr. Ramina Jajoo-Frindrich was born in Tehran and completed medical school in Australia. She is a retired Rheumatologist residing in Phoenix. Dr. Jajoo was previously a partner at Arizona Arthritis and Rheumatology Associates. She currently serves as strategic consultant and president of Seyfo Center, Arizona Chapter.

Knowledgebase seeks to bridge Assyrian graduate students worldwide

December 2022 

A newly launched database seeks to connect Assyrian graduate students around the world.

The Graduate Student Knowledgebase, created by the Assyrian Studies Association (ASA), provides resource catalogs, in-person and virtual workshops and access to travel grants for academic conferences.

“Part of the reason why we created this knowledgebase is because there was a gap of no single resource or record of where all of the Assyrian graduates are,” ASA Executive Director Alexandra Lazar wrote to the Journal. “We need to get our Assyrian graduate students connected so we can facilitate more research in the field of Assyrian studies.”

Twenty-seven students have so far enrolled in the initiative from as far as Scotland, Sweden, Canada, Australia and the United States.

Besides networking events, students will be invited to social retreats, facilitated reading groups and feedback workshops where they can discuss research, thesis and dissertation projects. 

“It’s important for graduate students to be connected because when working on your doctoral work, at times it can be very isolating,” said Nadia Younan, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto who enrolled in the knowledgebase. “One of the best forms of support are other students who are going through the same experience.”

Younan, in the final year of her thesis, is writing about Assyrian pop music and the construction of identity and community building through music. 

Programs like the knowledgebase, she said, help not only to connect students working in similar topics, but also provide mentorship and expand the types of topics covered in Assyrian academia.

“There is a plethora of research to be done on Assyrian studies, particularly in the arts and humanities,” she said. “We have a growing body of history and political science, but we need sociological studies, we need anthropological studies, there hasn’t been, to my knowledge, thorough academic research on Assyrian dances. And what about Assyrian art? Assyrian studies is a largely untapped field and we need to broaden our scope of humanities research.”

ASA was created in 2019 to promote academic study of Assyrian heritage. Students enrolled in the knowledgebase have access to the organization’s growing academic resources, according to Lazar.

To measure the database’s success, ASA plans to conduct follow-up surveys of enrolled students every six months to one year. Lazar said the organization is hoping to enroll at least 50 students by the end of next year.

For now, ASA is growing the program by relying on word of mouth, email and social media blasts. It hopes to attract new students at its next event in January, “Women’s Rituals in the Ancient Assyrian Household.”

Photo exhibit traces genocide’s impact on traditional Assyrian garments

By Joe Snell | November 2022

A photo exhibit showcasing traditional Assyrian clothing from the early 20th century premiered on Oct. 19 at the State Parliament of New South Wales.

The collection of black and white portraits, titled “Assyria: A Woven History,” traces the changes in clothing styles brought on by the SEFYO genocide of 1915. That period during World War I saw the mass slaughter and deportation of about 250,000 Assyrians by Ottoman forces and Kurdish tribes.

“A lot of people don’t really know much about the genocide,” said Ramsin Edward, the exhibit’s curator. “They’ll know there was loss of life, but they don’t think that deep into what else it impacted. We wanted to demonstrate the impact that the genocide had on folk garments, particularly in influencing certain elements and motifs, and also show how displacement has impacted the transmission of traditional knowledge.”


Each Assyrian village maintains a unique clothing style with its own history. For centuries, it was up to these villages to pass their styles on to the next generation.

But as World War I approached, Assyrians were uprooted and moved to larger cities or overseas, leaving behind resources for handcrafting their clothing.

Some Assyrians abandoned the practice entirely, distancing themselves from their identity as newly-built nation states pressed for assimilation. 

Others continued the tradition, but replaced handmade fabrics and natural dyes with machine-made textiles and imported materials, often of cheaper quality. 

Edward said the patterns and motifs relevant to communities before the genocide also began to fade from the clothing.

Assyrians today continue to wear the traditional clothing, known as julet khomala, often for large celebrations including weddings and Kha b’Nissan (New Year), but Edward said these outfits no longer are identical to those worn before SEYFO.

“There were a lot of technical things that we lost as a result of the genocide,” Edward said. “Photographs from Alqosh or Baghdeda show the textiles, the tapestries and the headpieces are the same, but the actual dresses themselves, with all of the different colors and shiny fabrics, these are things that wouldn’t have been worn about 100 years ago.”


Edward was approached in late September by MP Hugh McDermott to produce a cultural exhibit at the State Parliament. The regional group of bi-partisan politicians included New South Wales Labor leader Chris Minns, the Minister for Multiculturalism Mark Coure, and the Shadow Minister for Multiculturalism Steve Kamper. 

Edward utilized the extensive photo archive of the Assyrian Cultural and Social Youth Association (ACSYA), which digitized a series of photos from different libraries. The photos he selected showed Assyrians in julet khomala across different villages in Mesopotamia. 

The exhibit was hosted by the Assyrian National Council of Australia (ANCAU) and McDermott, who represents the New South Wales District of Prospect that is home to a large Assyrian community.

McDermott co-chairs the Parliamentary Friends of Assyria Initiative, established in 2009 to advocate for the rights of Assyrian communities in Australia as well as those in the homeland.

Along with the photos, the event showcased Assyrian paintings of former Australian Prime Ministers. Assyrian community leaders gave speeches and the Ashur Dance Group performed traditional dances accompanied by live singing.

“This was a fantastic event celebrating the history of the Assyrian people, discussing their right to self-determination and paying respects to Assyrians who were victims of persecution of genocide,” McDermott wrote after the event. 


Traditional garment making today is confronted by a number of challenges.

Increasing globalization has chipped away at indigenous group’s uniqueness, according to a statement by ACSYA. That’s why documenting traditional processes, the statement continued, is so important to keeping the culture alive.

Exhibits on the history of julet khomala have traveled across Australia. Traditional clothing was featured last month at the Assyrian Music and Cultural Festival in Sydney. Mannequins posed in modern-made garments from different villages.

That collection is now headed to Greenacre in New South Wales in a collaborative project with the Babylon Cultural Association to showcase garments specifically from Tur Abdin. 

“Culture is in a constant state of flux, influencing and being influenced,” ACSYA wrote on their site. “Prioritizing the documentation of Assyrian folk garments and traditional garment making is not to confine it conservatively, but to invest in the social and economic development of indigenous Assyrians, as well as maintain this rich heritage for present and future generations.”

ACSYA is still looking for a semi-permanent home for the exhibit, Edward said. 

And its mission to retain traditional garments and pass on their knowledge remains. ACSYA next March aims to launch a new book project titled “Garments of Assyria” that photographs modern Assyrians in the traditional clothing.

“A lot of the work that we do when we promote our culture is done within our own community,” Edward said. “It’s very important that we branch out, that we connect with diverse communities to share culture.” 

Christian schools in northeast Syria ordered to teach self-administration curriculum or face closure

November 2022

A letter from the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria Department of Education, dated Oct. 24 and provided to a Christian school in Hasakah on Nov. 1, instructs the school they must begin teaching the self-administration’s curriculum, not the Syrian curriculum, or they will face closure.

A copy of the letter, dated Oct. 24 and issued to a Christian school in Hasakah, Syria on Nov. 1.

This ruling was issued against 23 Christian-led schools in northeast Syria, a Syriac Orthodox bishop said, totaling around 500 staff and over 20,000 Arab, Kurdish and Syriac (Assyrian) students.

Christians in the area say the self administration’s curriculum is not recognized and accepted by Syrian universities as well as many schools abroad.

Two years ago, a similar move was enacted on the schools by officials from the autonomous region. Some school doors were locked. A Syriac Orthodox bishop, alongside Christian organizations, at the time negotiated with the Department of Education under the condition to teach one course from the new curriculum.

“Everyone who has kids now will think of leaving the country because of this,” an Assyrian from Qamishli told the Journal.

Law scholarship for Assyrian American students names winner

By Joe Snell | October 2022

One of the nation’s sole scholarships reserved for Assyrian American students pursuing a law degree has named its 2022 winner.

Ronnie Kawak, an Assyrian attending the Indiana University School of Law, was selected among applicants from across the country to receive the Kalogerakos Family Law Scholarship, a $2,500 need-based award that can be used toward tuition, books and other expenses.

“Growing up outside of the community and really trying to establish this connection, scholarships like this let me feel like I’m welcomed and I’m not somewhere where I’m not supposed to be,” said Kawak, who was born in Virginia and later grew up in Indianapolis. 

The scholarship, launched last year, is administered by the Assyrian American Bar Association (AABA). The group was founded five years ago and comprises 100 members in a dozen states as well as five countries. 

Adriana Rahana, a law student at the University of Illinois Chicago, was last year’s award recipient. 

There are at least 10 scholarships offered by organizations across the country that are reserved for Assyrian American students, but Tony Kalogerakos, one of the founding members of AABA, felt it was important to create a need-based award dedicated to the law.

“Since we are all immigrants, we don’t always know what route to take,” he said. “It’s advantageous for any community to have more lawyers. And the current national discourse about immigrants in general makes it even more imperative that we create and supply a pipeline for legal training for Assyrians.”

Kalogerakos in the past offered the scholarship through his law firm, Injury Lawyers of Illinois, LLC. But it was important, he said, to provide the scholarship through AABA to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest so he wasn’t alone in selecting the winner. 

To win this year’s award, Kawak had to complete an application form, submit two letters or recommendation and write a 500-word essay on how he plans to use his legal education to address an issue in the Assyrian community. 

Kawak’s winning essay explored the history of Assyrians in establishing law and then compared it to the responsibility of Assyrian Americans in continuing this tradition. 

“One thing I want to do is dedicate my career to benefitting our nation and encouraging others to do that,” Kawak said. “Experiences like this scholarship really helped prove to me that this is a community that will accept me and you.”

Wine festival in northern Iraq passes on Assyrian heritage to next generation

By Joe Snell | October 2022

Wine making in the Assyrian village of Dehe is a tradition that goes back centuries.

But as hundreds of people departed this northern Iraqi village in recent years due to armed conflicts and a lack of job prospects, some feared the tradition had left with them. 

With the support of Assyrians in surrounding communities, a new wine festival seeks to retain Dehe’s storied history, pass it on to young people and keep the wine flowing. 

“The people of Dehe don’t have support, they don’t have young people anymore,” said Maryam Shmoil, an Assyrian from Iraq who leads the youth and women empowerment organization Assuritu. “If we don’t support each other, there will be no more Assyrians there.”

Every corner of Dehe, a village in the Sapna valley near Iraq’s border with Turkey, is brimming with stories. On one street, a church dates back to the 5th century, another to the 10th century. And during the Seyfo genocide in World War I, many Assyrians fleeing Tyari, an area in the Hakkari region in Turkey, sought refuge here. Its population continued to grow, and by 1961, over 600 people called Dehe home. 

But the village was destroyed during the Anfal campaign, an operation carried out by Iraq’s Ba-athist regime in the 1980s. All families in Dehe reportedly fled. People slowly returned in the 1990s and early 2000s, culminating in an initiative to build 56 new homes and other infrastructure. It’s estimated that by 2012, about 250 people moved back. 

But ongoing Turkish bombings into northern Iraq have since scared many away. Today, fewer than 30 people live here, and nearly all young people are gone.

Winemaking in the Middle East dates back to biblical times. Assyrians in the ancient empire beginning in 2,500 BC were renowned for their expansive planting of vineyards and the production of wine. It was a major part of the ancient empire’s economy.

Assyrians today continue the tradition, gathering grapes in home gardens and monasteries to produce simple blends. Some villages, including Dehe, continue the traditional methods of semi-drying grapes under the sun before gathering them to be squashed in a hawisla, or large bucket. And the traditional fermentation process takes about 40 days, unlike the two-week period that is used today by introducing different strains of yeast.

Shmoil had the idea of hosting a festival in the village two years ago to support those still in the area that were making wine in the traditional way and to pass on its heritage to younger generations. 

“Our youth are far from our traditions,” Shmoil said. “We are developing and improving things, but we need to do this without forgetting our traditions. We have to learn and protect it.”

After a year-long delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s event, organized by Assuritu and the Kolokhta Association, took place on Sept. 16-17. The first day began with introductions and activities for about 30 participants that had arrived from nearby communities including Duhok, Sapna, Bebedeh and Khomaneh. Yousif Odisho, an Assyrian from Bebedeh, presented a lecture about the references to wine in Assyrian literature. 

Participants then heard about Dehe’s history and how its people are living today. In the evening, participants split into groups to collect both black and white grapes. 

Local villagers began the second day with workshops on the ancient and traditional winemaking processes. A new hawisla was then built and the collected grapes were loaded inside. Groups took turns stomping them, sometimes dancing khigga while doing it. 

Some of the elderly people of the village gathered to watch in amusement and clap along to the music. 

“A man from the village came up to me during the event and said bisema raba (thank you very much),” said David Gewargis, an Assyrian based in Duhok. “You could tell they were really happy to see us and to see youth being active, gathering, dancing and having fun and doing an activity.”

The experience brought tradition to life for Gewargis, who has never witnessed the winemaking process first-hand despite his mother being from a village in the Sapna Valley.

“We go to Assyrian houses and they tell us they make wine and start explaining it, but to actually witness the process step by step is different than when you hear about it,” he said. “You’re closer to the tradition and you’re passing on that knowledge, that heritage.”

The wine will now ferment for 40 days before villagers package it for selling.

This year’s festival was simple, Shmoil said, and that’s why she’s reluctant to call it the first annual event. Instead, it laid the seeds for a much larger week-long gathering in the future, and one that travels to different villages each year, including Barwar and Nahla.

Moving the event to different sites is important, she said, because Dehe isn’t the only Assyrian village with a declining population and unique traditions.

“This village has a great history,” Shmoil said. “If we want to protect our identity, we have to protect our villages.” 

*Photos contributed

Book review: Strong case made for Hanging Gardens of Babylon in ancient Nineveh

“The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: An Elusive World Wonder Traced” (2015) by Stephanie Dalley

This review was written by Jessi Arabou from the Assyrian Cultural and Social Youth Association (ACSYA) based in Sydney, Australia. Keep up with ACSYA cultural preservation and awareness projects here: ACSYA

This is by far the most convincing and compelling argument among other texts for the location of the elusive ancient world wonder known as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The book takes viewers on a journey in a detective-like narration by methodically eliminating all previous locations with indicators towards archaeology inferences and cuneiform inscriptions and presents the case for its location in the ancient city of Nineveh. The author’s erudition is exquisite. What makes her argument more legitimate is the magnificent feat of ancient engineering that is meticulously presented and supports such a structure to properly function.

The book is presented as a mystery, so this review will not disclose any spoilers. This is a must-read book on the lost wonder of the ancient world.

Where to purchase: Amazon

About the author: Stephanie Dalley is a British Assyriologist and scholar of the Ancient Near East. She is known for her publications of cuneiform texts and her investigation into the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. She proposed the site was situated in ancient Nineveh and was constructed during the rein of King Sennacherib. Dalley also published her own translations of the Babylonian myths ‘The Descent of Ishtar’, ‘Gilgamesh’ and ‘The Epic of Creation’ among others. Dalley is today an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University.

About ACSYA: The Assyrian Cultural & Social Youth Association is an independent non-profit organization headquartered in Sydney, Australia. Established in 2014, the organization strives to revive the Assyrian culture through field trips, exhibitions, workshops and training sessions.

Assyrian language course passes crucial hurdle in Chicago-area school district

Niles Township High School District 219 is on the verge of becoming the first public high school system in the US to offer Assyrian as a world language.

By Joe Snell | September 2022

In a major decision over seven years in the making, a committee tasked with reviewing and implementing curriculum changes to a Chicago-area public school district voted this month to recommend an Assyrian language and culture course.

The course, which would mark the first accredited Assyrian language program in the country offered at a public high school, now moves to the district’s Board of Education to hear on October 11 and a vote in November. If approved by the Board, it will become an official course offered in the district’s public high schools. Students could then register for the course beginning January 2023.

“This is a course that is not only something our district will offer, but it’s something that is possible for any school in the state,” said Caroline Benjamin, a school administrator in Chicago’s District 219. “This truly becomes a blueprint for other districts.”

Niles Township High Schools, or District 219, includes Niles North and Niles West. Total enrollment at both high schools is over 4,700 students and composed of about 30% Assyrians, according to estimates by D219 Suraye, an Assyrian parent group in the district. 

Any changes to the district’s course offerings must first receive approval from the Curriculum Standards for School Improvement (CSSI) Committee. The process to receive approval from the body can take years and many meetings.  

In the case of the Assyrian languages curriculum, work began in 2015. The idea was born out of a D219 Suraye parent meeting, co-sponsored at the time by Benjamin. The group was advised by school officials to begin the process by conducting a survey of interest of over 1,000 8-10th grade students.

Despite reported interest, progress on implementing the program together was slow as regular turnover in school administration meant Assyrians frequently started near the beginning to win over new educators. And some school officials were concerned that the course would take students away from other language programs, an educator told the Journal.

A trial of the course was offered in 2017 as a summer elective. Ten students enrolled in the class taught by an Assyrian staff member. The summer option continued for three consecutive years and became a virtual option in 2020 following the spread of COVID. 

But parents wanted more. The course needed to be held during the school year, one parent said, and it had to be offered full-time in the fall and spring. 

So advocacy continued. Benjamin recalls going back to the school’s administration saying summer elective courses weren’t enough. This time, however, things were different. The course had reportedly grown momentum with the addition of Ramina Samuel, a school counselor at Niles North and current co-sponsor of the Suraye parent group.

“Ramina came in and started asking the right questions and started pushing in a way that took people out of their comfort zone,” Benjamin said. “They started realizing, ‘These people aren’t going away, these people aren’t going to stop.’”

A full-time curriculum was presented to CSSI in the fall of 2021. The committee responded favorably, according to notes obtained from the discussion, but admitted their hands were tied — as long as the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) didn’t recognize Assyrian as a world language in their annual school catalog, an accredited course at a public high school couldn’t be offered.

“That was not something at that time that seemed possible,” Benjamin said. “We didn’t have the team that we do have now advocating at that level.”

Assyrian activists and political leaders mobilized. Village of Lincolnwood Trustee Atour Sargon and Assyrian Policy Institute (API) Director Reine Hanna pressed state representatives to nudge the Assyrian curriculum onto ISBE’s radar. 

“The significant progress made in recent weeks is the result of many years of advocacy and persistence by advocates and community members,” Sargon wrote to the Journal. “Had the community not pushed for it in the face of immense obstacles, we simply wouldn’t have reached this stage in the process.”

With the support of State Rep. Jen Gong-Gershowitz, who co-chairs the newly established Illinois Assyrian Caucus, a December 2021 meeting was arranged with ISBE. 

The state board approved thirteen Assyrian courses, which have since been added to the Illinois State Course Catalog that is slated for release this fall.

Despite state approval, the course still needed a CSSI recommendation to be included in the district’s class offerings. A second committee meeting was set for March.

In the weeks leading up to the presentation, the Suraye parent group worked with community activists to drum up support among school officials. During a February meeting with the district’s Board of Education, Assyrians presented over 800 letters of support from community members.   

During the second CSSI meeting, Assyrians presented updates on the ISBE approval along with the letters of support. CSSI had no more questions about the curriculum, according to meeting minutes, but as changes to the district’s course catalog only gets approved once a year in September, the proposal would again have to be put on hold.

As the proposal sat in summer limbo, World language teacher Thomas Neal, together with Samuel and math teacher William Sargool, worked in detail on what the curriculum could look like. The group also worked closely with Assyrian schools in Australia that had already developed a K-12 program and launched a text book series to teach the language. 

After six months, Assyrian parents and educators presented for a third time to CSSI on Sept. 13, but with another hurdle to overcome: the committee had many new faces and nearly tripled in size. Renewed questions were asked, including if this course would lead to an enrollment drop in other world languages. Following the meeting, and despite pushback from some CSSI members that was challenged by Charlene Abraham, a new Assyrian member of the committee, the curriculum was finally recommended to be presented to the Board of Education for approval as a two-year language option that would fulfill the student’s world language requirement. 

The requirements for the appointed teacher of the curriculum are still in discussion. At the state level, the teacher would need a PEL (Professional Education License). Further requirements including endorsements and additional teaching courses will have to be decided by the district.

And as parents and educators wait for the Board of Education’s final vote next month, work is already underway to take this curriculum to the national level. 

One thing is certain: District 219 is poised to become the first public high school district in the US to offer Assyrian as a world language. 

“This didn’t start connecting until the right people were hired in the right positions,” Benjamin said. “That’s why bringing people into spaces like schools where they reflect the community truly matters. It couldn’t happen with just one person advocating.”

An earlier version of this article cited eight Assyrian courses approved by the Illinois State Board. That number was since found to be thirteen.

An earlier version also cited the district’s Board of Education voting on the curriculum Oct. 11, but the vote is in November, the board will be hearing about the curriculum in October.

Ancient Assyrian healing practice revived at national convention 

By Joe Snell | September 2022

An ancient healing practice thousands of years old was revived Sept. 4 in Arizona.

Incantation bowls are ceramic bowls inscribed with healing prayers.

The first found bowls date back to the 2nd century in the Middle East, but scholars believe the practice could trace back to the ancient Babylonian empire.

The bowls were used to cure physical injury, safeguard during childbirth and protect against wild animals.

And they would be used differently across Assyrian, Jewish and Nazarean Mandaic communities.

But in the 1800s, Christian missionaries stifled the practice, believing it to be involved with magic and sorcery.

Incantation bowls were revived by Esther Elia, an Assyrian artist in Albuquerque, who last year began a project to recreate these bowls.

“The more Assyrians that contribute to this project will make our name greater, will give more awareness about who we are as I start to put these exhibitions in our contemporary galleries,” Elia said.

“I think people are interested in who we are and this is a great, easy way for people to start to understand who we are, what we care about, what we’re praying for and what our stories are from our own mouths. Not from people who have interviewed us, not from people who are writing about us in the past tense or in the current, ‘This is who the Assyrians are,’ we’re telling people who we are.”

On Sept. 4, Esther led a workshop at the Assyrian American National Convention to teach the history of these bowls.

Participants then wrote down their favorite verses or stories and created bowls of their own.

“[It’s] our ability to name ourselves, to put our history down, recapture an artform that has been lost to time and tell our story in our own words,” said Mariam Pera, a workshop participant and Assyrian based in Chicago.

*Featured photo by Joe Snell

You can learn more about the Prayer Bowls project here: Esther Elia Prayer Bowls

Book review: Assyrians flourish following collapse of ancient empire

“Assyrians Beyond the Fall of Nineveh: A 2,624 Years Journey” (2013) by William Warda

This review was written by Jessi Arabou from the Assyrian Cultural and Social Youth Association (ACSYA) based in Sydney, Australia. Keep up with ACSYA cultural preservation and awareness projects here: ACSYA

Researching online articles, literature or history books at your local library about the Assyrian people post ancient empire consistently stopped at the sacking of the capital city, Nineveh, at 609 B.C. Only sporadic references accounting for the existence of the Assyrians could be found. Author William Warda, in his novel, “Assyrians Beyond the Fall of Nineveh: A 2,624 Years Journey,” presents a case for the continuation of the Assyrian people that survived the empire’s decline and flourished under subsequent empires.

The book not only presents evidence of continuity but also delves into cultural and inherit ancient traditions that were carried on by the custodians of the land while under subsequent classifications as vassal states and semi-independent kingdoms. The presence of culture intertwined with the Assyrian identity are the main precursors and are presented as salient identifiers.

Warda uses a plethora of references and sources to augment the case for continuity. While there are minor reflections on the lay out, presentation and a small number of references (which have not stood the test of scrutiny), the overwhelming vast catalogue of information is more than enough to dissect and use.

*Following the writing of this review, there has been an overall increase of resources available which shed further light for the case of continuity following the collapse of the ancient empire. Viewers of the recent documentary “Assyria A.D.” can take solace in that this book lays the groundwork for the inevitable conclusion and that they will also find shades of the movie laced throughout the book.

Where to purchase: Amazon

About the author: William M. Warda is an Assyrian writer and community activist. Born in Iran in 1941, Warda told the Los Angeles Times he was a 4-year-old boy in Urmia in 1946 when he saw his village plundered, his father shot through the head and his 6-month-old sister bayoneted by Turks. He was prevented from burying his father’s corpse. Arriving in the United States in the 1960s, Warda wrote dozens of article about Assyrian history. He served as the president of the Assyrian American Association of Southern California from 2006-2010. He later joined the organization’s board of directors. Warda passed away last month.

About ACSYA: The Assyrian Cultural & Social Youth Association is an independent non-profit organization headquartered in Sydney, Australia. Established in 2014, the organization strives to revive the Assyrian culture through field trips, exhibitions, workshops and training sessions.