Category Archives: Profiles

The beekeeper of Qaramlesh

By Joe Snell | May 2022 | Photos provided

Only after Aysen Sameer Uoshewh was stung in the face five times did he realize he was ready to become a beekeeper.

As his face grew swollen and he couldn’t open his eyes, he was forced to stay home for an entire week. But those pains, he said, were encouraging.

“One of my biggest fears when I started beekeeping was that I would have allergies and couldn’t work,” he said. “I was lucky to find out I didn’t have any.”

For years, beekeeping was just something Uoshewh did to help his grandfather, Touma Yusuf Mamuka, in the northern Iraqi village of Qaramlesh, an agricultural area in the Nineveh Plain located less than a 45-minute drive from Mosul.

But as the coronavirus pandemic sidelined his usual academic studies and pickup games of volleyball, the work with his grandfather increased and with it, so did his interest in bees.


Beekeeping in Iraq has existed for 8,000 years, according to UNDP Iraq, when Sumerian tablets carried recipes that used honey to treat skin infections and disease.

Increased conflict, displacement and the use of chemicals beginning in the nineteenth century severely reduced the practice. It wasn’t until the 1980s that beekeeping once again flourished as new technologies simplified the production process. At one point in the 1990s, over 500,000 hives were active across the country.

At one point to sidestep sanctions placed on Baghdad following the Gulf War, it became trendy for families to buy and maintain personal beehives on their rooftops.

It’s a trend that appears to be reemerging. The cultural and environmental importance of bees can’t be understated, said Dr. Hashim Najim Khthur al- Zuhairi, the head of the beekeeping department of plant protection in the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture.

“There are a lot of benefits that are countless,” Zuhairi said. “This wealth must be taken care of because it is very important in the country and is considered the same as any wealth in Iraq.”

There are about 6,000 registered beekeepers today with the Ministry of Agriculture, Zuhairi said. He hopes that number increases through increased workshops on the education of proper beekeeping and the emergence of new technologies.


Beekeeping in Uoshewh’s family traces back to 2003. As an agricultural professor at the University of Erbil, Uoshewh’s grandfather was assigned on a project to study bees. Mamuka’s research led him to invest in bee cells. He soon recruited family members for help maintaining the growing hives. By 2014, he managed a small empire of 30 hives.

At the height of this project, however, it was abandoned as the rapid advance of the Islamic State (IS) into Qaramlesh in 2014 forced Mamuka’s entire village to flee.

Three years later when Mamuka returned, he found the hives destroyed.

With the help of his grandson in 2017, Mamuka slowly began rebuilding the colony. It took years to grow back the hives, Uoshewh said, as they faced a number of fresh challenges, including decreased amounts of rain that make it difficult to plant flowers and the illegal importation of synthetic honey claiming to be 100% pure that drives down costs.

The Ministry of Agriculture is now trying to tackle another growing issue, the spread of diseases among bee hives.

“The beekeepers need supplies that can be provided by the Ministry of Agriculture in a subsidized or free form so that it will become popular,” Zuhairi said.

The Ministry received requests to develop laboratories dedicated to combating diseases that affect bees, he said. These sites would also provide artificial insemination to produce fertilized queens.

Iraq isn’t alone in fighting these challenges. The Ministry receives support from international aid groups to champion campaigns to revive the practice. The Zhako Small Village Project (ZSVP), with support from UNDP Iraq and the government of Germany, selected 200 households in 2017 across the Nineveh Plains and Dohuk to receive a small number of hives along with safety clothes, tools, training and business management including marketing honey in offseasons.


The market is now swelling with new beekeepers, Uoshewh said. To keep up fresh competition, he helps his grandfather install new technologies, including a device that detects the purity of honey, designing different styles of cells to improve efficiency, and digitizing recordkeeping of each cell to review which are spreading diseases and which are producing the most honey.

They also find other ways to monetize their business, creating and selling online candles with the beeswax.

Sales blossomed as Uoshewh introduced his grandfather to an online marketplace that was craving the honey. They recently began shipping orders internationally.

The family now produces enough honey to make beekeeping a full-time profession. That’s not an easy feat to accomplish. Beekeeping is largely season. The grandfather-grandson duo are busiest in the springtime, working around-the-clock to produce enough honey to sustain them through the slower winter months.

The constant labor does have its minor drawbacks. Uoshewh admits he gets stung at least once a day. “It’s a little pain, and then it just goes away,” he said, and admitted he no longer notices the relentless buzzing of the colony.

Memorial tribute honors late Assyrian leader Ashur Eskrya

By Joe Snell | May 2021

A virtual memorial tribute on Saturday honored the late Assyrian leader and president of the Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq (AAS-I) Ashur Eskrya.

Organized by Iraqi Christian Relief Council, the event included recorded testimonials from Eskrya’s friends, family, colleagues and delegates from around the world.

Eskrya passed away on April 9 due to complications from the coronavirus. Born in 1974, he graduated from Baghdad University and later became a civil engineer. In 2003, he joined AAS-I and became president in 2010, guiding the humanitarian nonprofit through some of its most challenging years during and after the ISIS genocide. 

“He steered our nation in the midst of incessant crisis and provided a disenfranchised people with, for all terms and purposes, a de facto government,” wrote Joseph Danavi, a board member at GISHRU – Bridge to Assyria.

Through AAS-I, Eskrya led reconstruction projects, built and maintained medical facilities, provided specialized coronavirus care and refugee relief, organized rural initiatives such as building irrigation channels, and fought for educational opportunites for Assyrian youth. In total, 27 AAS-I-funded schools provided K-12 schooling in the Assyrian language and served over 2,600 students. 

“Rabi Ashur’s spirit remains in the Assyrian schools in the Homeland as he strongly worked for their maintenance and development,” wrote Savina Dawood, President of the Etuti Institute. “At students of these schools, we will keep his memory alive for as long as we live.”

In 2016, AAS-I was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. 

“He was a consensus builder who reached across the table to find common ground,” wrote historian Alda Benjamen. 

Mikhail Benjamin, Vice President of the Nineveh Center for Research and Development, wrote that Eskrya was “one who would ‘agree to disagree’ when it was possible for all to accept and understand that our main goal must be protection of the existence of the Assyrian nation.”

Eskrya traveled the world to advocate for Assyrians in Iraq. In one example as ISIS descended on the Nineveh Plain, he traveled to the Canadian capital city of Ottawa to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Foreign Minister John Baird, and the Canadian Cabinet to tell the story of what the Assyrian people were confronting.

“He also came with solutions,” wrote former director of policy to Canada’s Foreign Minister. “He moved mountains through sheer force of will, connected easily with anyone who encountered him and gave me the privilege of learning more about ancient and contemporary Assyrian life.”

In another example in 2015, Eskrya oversaw the AAS-I distribution of humanitarian aid to Assyrian villages funded by the Estonian government. 

“He became my guide to Iraqi society, my teacher and my friend,” wrote Estonian journalist, independent researcher and humanitarian Hille Hanso.

Eskrya is survived by his wife, son, and two daughters.

Rewatch the global memorial tribute here:

From child’s play to the big screen

Writer, director and illustrator Scott Christian Sava on Netflix’s “Animal Crackers,” his family and what it means to be Assyrian

July 2020 | By Yasmeen Altaji

CHICAGO — When Scott Christian Sava was studying illustration at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco in the late 1980s, computer animation barely existed. He had gone to school to become a painter “like my uncles before me,” his wildest dreams entailing working as an illustrator for Marvel’s Spider-Man comics (spoiler alert – that dream came true). It’s only understandable, then, that the prospect of creating an animated children’s movie to premiere on a streaming service didn’t seem realistic.

On July 24, however, the Assyrian-Sicilian writer, director and illustrator witnessed his original animated film, “Animal Crackers,” premiere on Netflix. 

An “Animal Crackers” poster, designed by Sava.

Sava is a Yonkers native born to an Assyrian mother and Sicilian father. His work might be recognizable to many; he’s exercised his talents behind the scenes on a number of classics from “Casper the Friendly Ghost” to “Star Trek.” 

These landmark moments in his career, however, were born of humble beginnings.

As a university student, Sava snagged an internship at SEGA that led to his work in video game design at Atari. Eventually, Sava found himself working on “Star Trek.”

“That was a huge milestone, getting to paint the covers of ‘Star Trek’,” he said.

His teenage dream of working on Spider-Man comics wasn’t out the window; after about 17 years of pitching his work at comic conventions, he finally heard a “yes.” He attributes the slow but steady success to his newfound skill in animation and CGI, styles also new to many creative companies at the time.

“Rather than fitting in, I stood out so much that they had that they had to hire me.” Sava said.

Sava worked roles for various companies as what he describes as a “cog in the machine” of their creative processes. It was after his work on Spider-Man, however, that “Animal Crackers” found its way into existence.

“The boys were maybe six or seven [years old],” Sava said, recalling a day spent in their backyard at his family’s Tennessee home, around the time when he had started writing comic books for his twin sons. “We were eating animal crackers and I said, ‘Hey, what if, when you eat a lion cookie you turn into a lion, and, you know, you eat a giraffe cookie and you turn into a giraffe?’ The boys loved it,” Sava said.  

Over the next few years, he toyed with the story premise, eventually transforming it into a children’s book before one of his friends suggested he turn it into a screenplay. Despite having no prior experience writing screenplays, Sava took on the venture. 

“It changed my life, just going ‘What the heck? Why not?” he said. “So I do that, and fast forward a couple years after that, and I meet with Harvey Weinstein, who says he wants to turn it into a movie.” 

While that venture didn’t work out, Sava said the experience encouraged him to independently pursue turning his story into a movie. Like many creatives, Sava faced challenges of securing funding for his project — that is, until he found a sponsor.  

“There are, like, 12 people between me and the finances. It was like, I knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy,” he said. “We went from food stamps and our house in foreclosure to 10 million dollars in our bank account. And, suddenly, we’re making a movie.”

Soon, cast members began latching onto the project.

“The one person I wanted was Ian McKellen,” Sava said. “He was, you know, the guy in my head when I was writing Horatio P. Huntington,” an antagonist in the story. “After a few weeks, we got the word back that he said yes. And we were just like, ‘Oh my God, that’s insane.”

Actors Sylvester Stallone, Danny DeVito, Raven-Symoné and Patrick Warburton also signed on.

“We had to go back to our investor to go ask for more money to cover all of this,” Sava said, “and the investor said, ‘Sure, no problem.’” With the addition of star talent, Sava estimates the movie’s budget increased to $13 million.

All that remained was finding voices to play the lead characters, Owen and Zoe.

John Krasinski, an actor apparently unfamiliar to Sava at the time (“This was in 2014. I’d never seen “The Office!”), agreed to play Owen and brought on a voice to play Zoe: his wife, Emily Blunt. 

The movie, which Sava co-directed with animator and film director Tony Bancroft, tells the story of a family who must work to protect their circus with the help of magical animal crackers. Amid the action, a few characters are faced with the tough decisions to choose between their passions and other obstacles.

Sava’s intrigue with the theme of staying true to oneself — and one’s passion — didn’t appear out of the blue. He comments on his own experience pursuing the arts and the trope of parents nudging their children into other careers.

Sava, pictured with his mother, at the British Museum. Sava recalls admiring the Assyrian exhibit showcased at the museum. (Photo courtesy of Scott Christian Sava)

“My cousins….pursued real careers,” Sava said. “I didn’t. I can see both sides…it’s a very, very rational thing” for parents to encourage their kids to pursue a career that allows them to provide for themselves and their families. 

“But what kind of life is it where you’re living a lie?” he said. “Where…you have talents that you’re not pursuing?” 

He said of his view of the Assyrian community, “it’s amazing to see what kind of talent we have out there. I think a lot of traditional Assyrians would be surprised at…how much talent is in our blood.”

He went on to detail the “thirteen or fourteen” books he’s already written about dinosaurs, robots, pirates and magic carpets, even hinting at a mystical Assyrian-themed story he said he’d like to expand upon in the future. 

“I like writing for kids. I like magical stuff. I like stuff that, you know, is funny…and just light hearted,” Sava said. “There’s enough reality here; I just want to get away from that. That’s what I’d like to do more of.”

Breathing new life into language with Assyrian Circles

How an online language program is nurturing an interest in a mother tongue

July 2020 | Photos contributed | By Yasmeen Altaji

CHICAGO — The multi-person “tile” view of this Google Hangout bears a handful of faces.

Among those visible: a college student in Heidelberg, Germany; a Baghdad-born aspiring singer; a San Jose-based electrical engineer in training; and a mother of young children (their presence evidenced by the occasional off-screen giggle). Each of these characters, with backgrounds seemingly stark in contrast, have gathered to further one common, simple interest: speaking Assyrian.

This is the scene – albeit a virtual one – at Assyrian Circles, a new online forum that promotes active speaking and preservation of the Assyrian language. 

At the forefront of the virtual gathering, guiding her mosaic of students, is the program’s founder, Diana Atureta.

A marketer from nine to five, a visual artist at home and a passionate Assyrian speaker all throughout her life, Atureta has become a pioneer in modernizing the instruction of her ancient language.

Native to Toronto, Atureta grew up without much exposure to the Assyrian community.

“My mom would always speak [Assyrian] to me at home and even outside,” she said. “It’s a huge sacrifice when you’re an outsider to the community.”

After years of speaking Assyrian with only her mother, Atureta decided she wanted to change the language-learning game for herself and others in similar situations. 

“Why not have a space where Assyrians can speak to one another in Assyrian?” she said.  “My entire life, I’ve just grown up speaking Assyrian…I want to be part of a bigger community doing what I want to do.”

In 2018, she jotted down an idea detailing a setting where Assyrians, with or without direct access to the Assyrian community, can practice speaking and listening to their language in a safe, inclusive environment. 

Two years later, Atureta took advantage of her being featured on the Assyrian-centric Instagram account Mesoportrayal and told its following about Assyrian Circles. Soon, her vision became a reality. 

Friends and family members who had initially expressed interest in becoming involved in the program were now able to sign up for virtual “circles” (“I wouldn’t call them meetings…[meetings] sounds a little…formal,” she said) by contacting Atureta via the group’s Instagram account. So far, the account has served as a central point of contact, enrollment and organization for Atureta and prospective participants. 

On April 4, Assyrian Circles was born with its first meetup, about 10 people strong. 

Currently, the organization hosts four meetups per month, each two hours long. Participants recite answers they’ve prepared for discussion questions sent prior to the meetups. Atureta encourages participants, regardless of experience, to engage in conversation using as much Assyrian as possible with the exception of word “gaps” that more experienced participants help fill in. 

Participants are categorized into three subgroups: listeners, beginning responders and advanced responders. 

This means meetups encompass a wide range of Assyrian speaking ability. 

Fulla Kakoz, an Assyrian born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq, participates in Assyrian Circles regularly at the “beginning responder” level. Kakoz, whose family is originally from Tel Keppe, said her parents and relatives consciously avoided speaking Assyrian out of fear of discrimination. Often, Kakoz said, her family members self-identified as Arabs.

“I’ve always [spoken] Arabic,” she said, “and I always heard…other members of my family say ‘We speak Arabic. We are Arabs, and we have to speak like that.’”

Kakoz, who is 29, said she only learned of her family’s distinct Assyrian heritage about two years ago. Now, having attended two Assyrian Circles meetups, she hopes to become better-acquainted with the newfound facet of her identity.

“It’s a new experience where I can ask everything,” Kakoz, who also admired the diversity of dialects spoken at the meeting, said of Assyrian Circles. 

She said she hopes learning the Assyrian language will help her connect to her roots.

“This is my mother language. I feel…so bound to these people,” she said. “I may not look like a standard Assyrian, but I’m one of you, and you’re one of my people. We’re just one community.”

Atureta, who nudged at me to publish a version of this article entirely in Assyrian, said that seeing an abundance of Assyrians practicing their language has helped revive her own drive to continue learning and using it. 

“Whether they know [Assyrian] already or are passionate about learning it,” Atureta said, “this is something to commit to.”

Through protests and punches, an Assyrian activist fought discrimination during the civil rights movement

June 2020 | Photos contributed | By Joe Snell

WASHINGTON — Dr. Lincoln Malik was among hundreds of foreign students that arrived to Kansas State University in the early 1960s.

To increase the school’s prestige, the university president aimed to put the small city of Manhattan, Kansas on the map by admitting leading young minds from around the world. And as one of Iraq’s top students, Malik fit the bill. 

But the ambitious plan, Malik said, came at the expense of the newly enrolled students.

“We had to go and deal with the racism that existed at that time among the people in Manhattan, Kansas,” Malik said. “They made it very clear that they did not want to have anything to do with us. So very quickly for me, it was us that were foreign students versus them that were the white American students.”


Growing up as an Assyrian in the 1940s and 1950s in the town of Bataween inside the city of Baghdad, Malik said he was familiar with the “us versus them” mentality because in Iraq, the sentiment existed between his Christian community and the neighboring Muslims. 

But the discrimination looked different at Kansas State, he recalled.

“In Iraq, although there was discrimination, the Arabs and Kurds and Muslims didn’t look down upon us,” Malik said. “But when I came to Kansas State, these people really looked down upon us as though we were inferior.” 

Malik’s first battle with discrimination on campus came early in the fall semester of 1960 when he had difficulty finding student housing. 

At the time, students were required to live in university-approved housing. But a survey conducted by the school showed that nearly 70% of homeowners would not rent to non-American students and less than 10% would rent to any race.

That left Malik with few choices. He recalls his first room was in the basement of a building and it was not healthy. 

“The mildew on the walls was as tall as my head,” he said. 

In another house that Malik shared with foreign students, he recalled when the electricity and water was shut off by white students.

The discrimination extended to the classroom. For projects, Malik said it was difficult to find white students who agreed to work with him. 


Outspoken against injustice, even in his young days in Iraq advocating for Assyrian rights, Malik established himself as a leading activist on campus. He began speaking up for the rights of foreign, Black and Native American students, protested the Vietnam war and defended the Palestinian cause. 

His advocacy flourished during his writing for the student newspaper. In response to white writers referring to foreign students as GDFS, or “God-Damn Foreign Students”, Malik began referring to white students as natives.

When white students approached him about removing the word from his articles, Malik responded, “You come to our countries and you call us natives, so if that’s the proper word for you to use when you come to our countries, why can’t I use it when I come to your country?” 

His advocacy on campus culminated one day at the university’s student union. Malik and a crowd of students gathered to listen to the co-chairman of the university’s Black organization. When the speech finished, a white student yelled to the co-chairman to shut up and called him a derogatory word. So Malik walked through the students and punched the agitator in the face. 

That incident, among Malik’s criticism of racism on campus through attending rallies and his work in the student newspaper, propelled him to larger recognition on campus, he said. A few days after the event, another co-chairman of the Black Student Union met with Malik and asked him to become a member of their organization. Malik became the group’s only non-Black member. 

Discouraged by his outspoken nature, an American student invited Malik to join a fraternity. The group had taken a vote and would allow him to rush the house under conditions that he quit the organization of Arab Students and stop sitting at the Black table at the student union. 

When Malik refused, the student reminded him that joining the fraternity would allow him access to parties and he could even go on dates with sorority girls. Malik still refused.


Malik would go on to advocate while studying at UC Berkeley and Stanford. In 1991, Malik co-founded the Assyrian Aid Society of America in response to Saddam Hussein’s policies on the Assyrians in Iraq and the effects of the Gulf War. 

Recent protests are similar to the situation Assyrians are facing in the homeland, Malik said.

“Since our homeland was taken over from us by others, they have historically and are currently claiming that our lives do not matter and we have been oppressed and denied rights,” he said. “If we do not believe in their movement, then we are denying our own movement.”

Advocating is important for Malik because he thinks many students don’t know about history outside of the white experience and because of this, non-white students may be seen as inferior. 

“The people who understand our situation best are people that they themselves are living in oppression of one kind or another,” Malik said. “They might not have a lot to give to us but friendship and understanding. But that means a lot more to me than trying to get understanding or pity from an oppressor who oppresses other people.”

Listen to Dr. Lincoln Malik’s full story on The Assyrian Podcast, hosted by Peter Ibrahim


Accounts from Assyrians protesting for black lives

June 2020 | By Yasmeen Altaji

Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Some have held multilingual posters reading “Black Lives Matter” at downtown marches. Others, fearing the spread of coronavirus, have taken to platforms like Facebook and Twitter to exhibit support online. In each case, members of the Assyrian community have taken up a singular cause: the fight for justice for the black community.

Why are Assyrians passionate about this movement? What role does their Assyrian identity play in their actions?

We asked our readers to share experiences from their involvement in recent protests sparked by the death of George Floyd. These are their stories. 

Lisabelle Panossian holds up a sign she made with translations of “Black Lives Matter” in Assyrian and Armenian at a protest in Los Angeles. (Photo by Catherine Yu)

‘I Can’t Wait to Make Change’

I am a full time student at the University of Southern California. I’m going to be applying to law schools in the fall.

I just couldn’t sit with a clear conscience knowing I want to enter the legal industry and knowing how damaged it is right now. I am a little impatient sometimes, I guess. I can’t wait to be a lawyer and I can’t wait to make change. 

So when I saw that this whole movement was picking up speed again, I wanted to help. I wanted to do what I could to show that I care and that I want to see change in our justice system regarding the murders of people of color and police brutality.

I think if we build that communication and that relationship with other oppressed groups…it amplifies all of our messages so much more. And I think it’ll elevate the need for change and the need for action.

Lisabelle Panossian, 21, Los Angeles

Protesters display signs at a march in Chicago. (Photo by Jamie Cernek)

‘Because We’re Human’

I have been reading calls to action from black activists and organizers for white folks and non-black folks to come and put their bodies in between black protesters and the police. 

I had time to participate [in a protest] and I have the privilege of living alone — I don’t have to worry about perhaps compromising my household with coronavirus. I felt that it was my duty to go and physically…put my body out in protest to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and to offer my services in that regard as necessary.

Assyrians should get involved because it’s the right thing to do. Because we’re human. Because that is what you do as a member of the human race. You stick up for other people who are undergoing oppression.

There are black Assyrians in the community — black Assyrians that exist. Black Lives Matter is an Assyrian issue. We’re supporting our fellow black Assyrians in their push to receive total justice in the country.

— Jamie Cernek, 23, Chicago

‘We’re Louder When We Unite’

I have received some negative responses about my involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement.

As a persecuted minority, even if we haven’t been through the exact same stuff in history, [Assyrians] need to come from our point of understanding and really understand the cry for help that [the movement] is demonstrating. I think it’s important to stick up for other minorities. We’re minorities. If we join together, our voices will be bigger. 

I think we can apply a lot of what we’re learning right now about Black Lives Matter…to our own Assyrian humanitarian effort. I think we’ve learned that we’re louder when we unite.

— Emily Bazi, 24, Chicago

(Graphic by Nardin Sarkis)

‘We Have an Opinion On This’

I tweeted a Black Lives Matter graphic that I made for my own Twitter. 

I saw…300 people interact with it, and express their support for it. I updated it and made a new graphic in both Western and Eastern Assyrian script and I posted that to @mesoportrayal. It kind of shot out. I think 2,000 people have interacted with it and 10,000 people have seen it, which is really cool.

I think it’s really important as Assyrian Americans and I think Assyrians in general, that we show solidarity and we show our [alliance] with every community.

It puts out a statement to folks that are black, to folks who are allies, to everyone out there…Assyrians in the community, whom, maybe, we don’t hear from too often, especially on these political matters…, are supporting Black Lives Matter. 

It kind of tells the world and tells everybody out there, “Hey, we have an opinion on this and this is our opinion.”

— Nardin Sarkis, 26, London

Anabel Abraham (middle) and her sisters Christina Abraham (left), 39 and Sarha Abraham, 28, attended a protest in Chicago on May 30. The march was one of the first related to the death of George Floyd. (Photo by Michelle Solayman)

This is a New Thing for Everybody’

I always try to go [to protests]. 

I don’t know what motivates me, but I always try to go whenever there’s a protest for something that I truly believe in. We do it all the time with the Assyrian community. Maybe that’s where I get my passion for it from. 

It was an amazing experience to be with people who…recognize the movement because they feel like this is a new thing for everybody. I remember when Ferguson happened, and we were all saying that black lives matter, I had a lot more people tell me, “No, all lives matter.” I’m seeing a lot more of my peers being more accepting and supportive of the movement, now. 

We were protesting peacefully, the police were inciting violence [at the protest], so that was eye opening. I knew police incited violence, but I hadn’t seen it firsthand until [the protest].

You’re always going to have ignorant people who try to put…certain members of the community down or who only want to talk about Assyrian issues. But I feel like we’re really growing as a community and supporting other causes.

— Anabel Abraham, 25, Chicago 

A sign bearing George Floyd’s name hangs on a fence in Brooklyn. (Photo by David Yousif)

‘It’s Almost a No-Brainer’

For me, there’s…not even much of a choice in terms of being on this side of the situation. 

I acknowledge 100% that I have a privilege in my existence as a man, as a non-black person in America. And I think my body is…a resource of mine that I can contribute in some way. 

I understand, you know, people will have feelings about the very graphic and visual things that they see in terms of violence out of protest. That should not be the significant takeaway. That’s not the first thing that you should be reacting to. I would encourage people to attend an event like a protest or a march if they feel comfortable and they’re willing and able, because if you’re like me, you’ll find that most of the violence situations are incited by the police.

As a very marginalized group that has understood oppression for such a long time, you’d think it’s almost a no-brainer, like, yeah, absolutely I would stand with…another minority group that’s being oppressed by a larger group. There’s a lot of sympathy and empathy there. I think, as Assyrians, we have to stand for people who need us…just like we’d want the same for ourselves.

— David Yousif, 24, Brooklyn

‘This Needs to End’ 

A lot of what I’m doing is [on] my social media. I honestly would go protest but…the people whom I live with are at risk [of coronavirus infection].

I’m commissioning [my artwork] like, “I’ll draw you literally anything you want. Do you want a picture of your dog, your friends, a character? I will do that. Since you donated, I will do that for you.” It’s the best that I can do.

I am so proud to be an artist, and especially to be a part-Assyrian artist. I make connections. I know that I need to use my platform to let people know what I stand for and what I want done in the community, that is, for a better future not only for people of color, but for black people.

I’ve been…trying to do what I can to…protect not only my friends who are black, but also people in Chicago, because this…needs to end. I’m tired of the anti-blackness that is found, especially in the Assyrian community. And this is my way of just combating that and speaking out more.

— Leana Yonan, 22, Chicago

Graffiti on a bus shelter at the site of a protest in Chicago’s downtown area. (Photo by Michelle Solayman)

‘I Couldn’t Just Be Passive About It’

I’ve always been very supportive of Black Lives Matter. 

I think [my support] first began in 2013 or 2014 when I was… 14 or 15 years old. I really understood. I think that had to do with the fact that I had a really cohesive group of educators who were just very, very vocal about things like injustice.

Now, in the wake of the murders of George Floyd as well as [that of] Breonna Taylor…I think I always understood that it was really important to go against that, not just as an Assyrian who could understand the struggles back home, but just in general…things that are so horribly atrocious to watch that I couldn’t just be passive about it.

— Michelle Solayman, 21, Chicago 

‘We Go Through the Same Thing’

People think it’s about them. They’re getting offended…a lot of people have gotten offended over the last few days.

As someone who’s been involved in our Assyrian community, I think it’s the best to…stand up for human rights. Being such a small community, [Assyrians] have to reach out…to make as many connections as possible. 

We go through the same thing, if not worse, back home. If we don’t stand with anybody, no one can stand with us.

— Chris Dankha, 24, Chicago

Returning to Atra after 28 years

December 2019 | By Stephney Bazi | Photos contributed

LONDON — This summer marked the first time Shamiran Khoshaba stepped foot in Iraq since leaving the country in 1991 at eight years old. Like many Assyrians, Khoshaba thought she would never get the chance to return.

For years, Khoshaba lived in London and connected with Assyrians by attending conventions and using social media. She eventually joined a GISHRU Facebook group. GISHRU is a non-profit organization that conducts humanitarian and educational trips for Assyrians to parts of their homeland in Turkey and Iraq.

Early last year, Khoshaba was surprised to see a woman from London on the trip. The trip was only for U.S. based Assyrians, she thought, but later found out that Assyrians from all over the world participate, including Europe and Australia. She immediately applied to the program and was selected for the Spring 2019 trip.

Before the trip, Khoshaba was nervous about what to expect after being gone for so long. Once she landed, however, her nerves disappeared and she said she was “met by the most amazing people and that every town and village felt like her hometown.  

“I can’t stress enough the kind hospitality of our people there,” Khoshaba said.

One of the highlights from her trip was going to the Assyrian schools that are supported by the Assyrian Aid Society

“It just blew my mind that these young kids are not only learning our beloved language in school (1 of 4 languages they learn), but also they are learning Maths, Science, etc in Assyrian too.”

When she returned home, she admitted the trip made her “more vocal with non-Assyrians about my homeland and by sharing and raising awareness of things that happen in Atra”.

GISHRU means “bridge” in Assyrian. The organization’s mission is to preserve the Assyiran history and culture by building bridges between Assyrians born in the diaspora and the homeland.

GISHRU continues to fulfill this mission by leading annual educational trips in the Spring to the homeland. Khoshaba is one of many participants that further fulfill this mission by advocating and sharing her experience back home.

Ramina Samuel becomes first Assyrian counselor at Chicago’s District 219

August 2018 | By Joe Snell | Photos Contributed

Chicago, IL – Ramina Samuel’s heart was racing as she walked toward her new office at Niles North High School earlier this August. For years, the Assyrian Iraqi native had grown accustomed to filling part-time and temporary counseling positions in the Chicagoland area. Now, she is a full-time counselor at Niles North High School, a public school within Chicago’s largely Assyrian populated District 219. She is the first Assyrian to hold the position in the district’s history.

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Ramina (right) with a friend in Dohuk, Iraq.

It is a position she has dreamed of since arriving with her family to Chicago from Dohuk, Iraq in 2004. In her first year in the Chicago public school system, Samuel was held back a year into eighth grade. That experience would encourage her to help students who were also struggling with their transition into the American education system.

“Growing up in Chicago, it was difficult for me to go through the whole school system,” Samuel said. “In Iraq, your grade point average decides what field you are going to. All of a sudden in the US, I had so many opportunities. I could choose so many different colleges in so many different fields. I was not ready for that. I think my parents were not ready for that.”

After completing her undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2012, Samuel worked a year as a pre-kindergarten through middle school substitute teacher before starting her masters degree at National Louis University. Samuel wanted to tackle education disparity in Chicago’s immigrant communities with a focus on students with limited English proficiency and also those who came from vulnerable backgrounds.

“When students come here, a lot of these schools are not aware of what kind of background they’ve had,” she said. “A lot of these kids have missed months or even years of schooling, especially those that went to areas where there was persecution or war. When those children come here, they are placed into grades matching their age. I wanted to give high school students what was not always available to me as a first generation immigrant.”

Ramina 1 - editedThrough her graduate program, she was set up with a number of temporary opportunities including a position at Maine East High School as well as Madison Elementary in Skokie.

During her one year practicum, she worked at Glenbrook North High School. It was during this time that she was assigned her first Assyrian student.

“An Assyrian student needed help with FAFSA and the parents were assigned to me,” Samuel said. “The mom was very surprised when she found out I was Assyrian. She was glad that there was someone who was speaking to her in her own language and who was willing to help. It made me more sure that helping Assyrians is what I wanted to do.”

After graduating, Samuel worked at two non-profit organizations, West 40 and Mosaic Therapy. The positions taught her about strategies in alternative learning and allowed her to help students with Arabic and Assyrian as their first languages.

At the end of June 2018, Ramina heard about an opening as a school counselor at Niles North High School.

At the time, she wasn’t even looking for a new position, focusing instead on planning her upcoming wedding. After heavy encouragement, however, she finally did apply. It was the only school she would apply for this summer and she admitted not expecting a call back.

Ramina did receive a call back, though. The week of her wedding. It was also the week her close childhood friend was hospitalized and would later pass away from cancer. Despite a hectic week including two rounds of interviews, she was selected for the role.

“Receiving the position was very overwhelming,” she said. “This was one of my biggest goals but I didn’t expect it to happen for a few more years. For this to happen and for me to be able to work in a community where I can share my experience as an immigrant and my skills in culture and language, it was very exciting.”

Ramina 4 - editedNiles North High School is part of District 219. The district has made significant strides in recent years to address a growing Assyrian community, including the addition of Assyrian Naema Abraham on the school board and the formation of an Assyrian parent group.

Samuel hopes to get more Assyrian parents more involved through the new parent group.

“A lot of the lack of Assyrian parent involvement within the schools comes from our culture,” Samuel said. “We entirely entrust schools with our kids. Assyrian parents might show up to the school once or twice versus other parents we work with that are involved in every step of the way, including scheduling classes and special activities and career planning.”

In her new role, Samuel will provide guidance to students from ninth through twelfth grades. She is one of only a few counselors at Niles North that has English Language Learning (ELL) students in her caseload.

As a former ELL student herself, Samuel hopes to make these students feel more comfortable by relating to their situations.

“Students can finally see someone in a counselor position where they can see themselves,” Samuel said. “This doesn’t just apply to Assyrians. Working with immigrant students, it’s important for them to relate. I think it’s really nice for them to see that they can get to that higher education level.”


Tomas Beth-Avdalla stands up for modern Assyrian literature

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.”

Tomas Picture 2 - edited

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.

Nineveh Press Logo

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.”

A Collection of WritingsTomas 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

Language as politics: Nineb Lamassu promotes heart of Assyrian identity

The Assyrian Journal | May 2018 | Photos contributed | By Robina Lajin

Cambridge, England – Nineb Lamassu cannot take credit for his passport reading Assyria. As a PhD Candidate at the University of Cambridge, Lamassu says his wife Susan did the convincing with Australian passport officials to change their place of birth.

Today, Nineb fights for Assyrian rights, including the right to name Assyria as a place of birth, through his PhD work on language studies as well as through a number of authored books, an Assyrian language publishing company, Enheduanna Publishing, and an app designed for Assyrian language books.

“Assyria is in your head,” Lamassu said. “If you don’t believe in Assyria and don’t keep it in your heart, it can never exist on the ground.”



Born as Nineb Giwargis Toma Al Bazi in the ancient Assyrian city of Arrapkha (modern day Kirkuk), Nineb grew up in a refugee camp in Iran. His close-knit community kept their Assyrian traditions alive and promoted higher education, including putting up white cloths to hold church services and teaching children the languages of Assyrian, English, and French.

Lamassu and his family later moved to New Zealand and then Australia, where he met his wife Susan, a daughter of the late singer George Homeh. They finally settled on England, where Nineb changed his surname to Lamassu.

“I wanted a name from our homeland of ancient Assyria,” he said. “When my wife and I got married and had a son, we didn’t want our son to have my last name which is of Jewish origin or Susan’s last name which is of Persian origin. We wanted him to have an Assyrian last name.”

While in the UK, Lamassu studied Ancient and Eastern Studies in Archaeology and Ancient Languages at London’s Global University, where his work included excavating archaeological sites in Turkey and studying language courses consisting of Akkadian, Sumerian, and Biblical Aramaic.

His first Master’s Degree was in Biblical Aramaic and his second was in Modern Aramaic.

Preserving the Assyrian language is what Lamassu considers his passion. In his opinion, by losing the language – which according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is already endangered – Assyrians will lose their identity.

“Language is the one part of our identity which is forgotten the easiest,” Lamassu said. “Language is not only teaching how to speak but it is also in our literature.”

He hopes that reading Assyrian literature will one day be so common in our communities that it could reach the level of international literature.

“Assyrian literature must move us back to Assyria,” Lamassu said. “It must make every Assyrian man and woman say, ‘Wow, what a beautiful language.’”

For Lamassu, one thing missing in the global Assyrian community is a way to make the youth fall in love with the language.

Lamassu refers to Bet Kanu, an Assyrian organization that uses cartoon videos and games to teach children the language in a playful way, as a powerful tool for the youngest demographics.

The current language tools in place, he says, fail to address an age range of Assyrians.

“We have a huge gap between children, adults, and older adults. This gap is called the youth. We must use more creative ways to make our youth fall in love with the language,” he said.

In order to preserve the language at a local level, Lamassu believes that communities must begin hosting workshops, online lectures, promoting apps and engaging in social networks.

Nineb Lamassu 4.jpg


To support his work with the Assyrian language, Lamassu says it is important to get involved in politics. Every Assyrian, he says, is born political because of the oppression they experience by being denied an identity and certain rights.

During the Baath regime in Iraq, for example, he points out that it was forbidden to partake in anything related to the Assyrian heritage.

“The fact that you would speak the language and write in the language was a political act,” he said. “Language is politics.”

Lamassu calls on all Assyrian academics to be brave enough to speak up for their people, even in spite of risking their reputations or losing their high-ranking positions.

“I did not become an academic to earn money,” he said. “I became an academic to serve humanity and my people in particular.”

In order to accomplish this, he believes Assyrian organizations need to change their tactics and better utilize tools such as social media. According to Lamassu, only if Assyrians get their hope and faith restored, then they will have a chance to someday have a country.

“We need to reach Assyrians who do not care about their people and to do that we need integrity, sincerity, and practical ways of how to implement the vision,” he said. “We must understand that times have changed and we should change with them. We must not have self-interest and we have to find creative ways to move forward.”

Lamassu is running as an independent candidate on the ABNAA Al-Nahrain List 154. Parliamentary elections will be held in Iraq on May 12, 2018.