A soccer tournament in honor of the late Assyrian leader Ashur Eskrya wrapped up last week in Duhok.
Sixteen teams from across northern Iraq participated in the competition representing towns and cities including Mangesh, the villages of Dawodiya, Malabrwan, Hazargod, and the Semele region.
“The tournament is meant to be a celebration of Ashur’s life and the annual Akitu soccer tournament where he would pitch the ceremonial kickoff,” said Assyrian Aid Society of America (AAS-A) Vice President Renya Benjamen who, alongside her husband Dr. Joseph Danavi, supported the Duhok brank of Khoyada, AAS-A and the Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq (AAS-I) in organizing the tournament. “This tournament is a vibrant display of two grassroots organizations we are very close to, the Assyrian Aid Society and Khoyada Student and Youth Union, collaborating to provide joy to the youth and pride to the competing villages,” Benjamen wrote to the Journal.
The championship match on Aug. 23 began with a minute of silence followed by speeches from political and organizational leaders. The son of the late Eskrya, Sennacherib Ashur, welcomed the players by kicking the ball from the center of the pitch. The team of Brewer beat Hazargod 3-2. Trophies and medals were given to the teams as well as individual prizes.
Fouad Touma received the award for the best player of the tournament. The top scorer of the games was Fadi Iyad and Artin Khoshaba won the award for the best goalkeeper.
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.
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 opportunities for Assyrian youth. In total, 27 AAS-I-funded schools provided K-12 schooling in the Assyrian language and served over 2,600 students. In 2016, AAS-I was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
The Assyrian Journal| September 2017 | Photos contributed | By Joe Snell
Chicago – Bailey Bitbabo was only nine years old when she competed in her first Assyrian Open golf tournament in 2014. Only two years later in 2016, as the youngest competitor in the field and only woman, she shot the lowest individual score and won the closest to the pin award.
“Bailey is gearing up to take this game very seriously,” said Alex David, who started the Assyrian Open in 2014. “She’s got all of the skillset and support from her family. She’ll have the support of our community as well.”
This year, Bailey joined 57 other golfers at the fourth annual Assyrian Open. The Chicago-based event took place on Sunday, Sept. 17 at Old Orchard Country Club in Mount Prospect, Il.
The best ball or scramble format was used for the first time this year, where each individual on a team hits the ball and the team decides which ball to play. This format eliminates individual competition in favor of a team score.
“It was a request from most of the golfers,” Lazar said. “It makes gameplay go by faster and it’s more fun. It keeps everybody competitive because even if you have one or two bad players, the others can carry the team and you end up with better scores.”
This year’s outing served as a fundraiser as well as friendly competition, as money from sponsors and donations from players will go back into the Assyrian Athletic Club’s (AAC) upcoming youth sports program.
“After seeing Bailey and how much she’s progressed over the last couple of years, it’s on my mind to get some sort of youth league or kids program going to get them involved in golf at a younger age,” Lazar said.
The event was sponsored by Tim Ardam of Synergy Logistics, Tony S. Kalogerakos of Illinois Injury Lawyers, Ashur Shiba of G&G Cabinetry, Johnson Shino of Advanced Auto Body, and Dr. Mark Mkrdichian of Family Care Dental.
The total cost to put on the tournament was roughly $5,500. Registration for each golfer cost $125 and included play for the day, a buffet dinner immediately following the competition, and an Assyrian Open polo and hat.
On the day of the event, Lazar recruited two of her AAC directors, Ramsena Giannoni and Ashtar Toma, as well as Nina Slefo to help with registration and the awards ceremony.
Awards were also presented across four competitions: best overall team, the closest to the pin, longest drive, and best dressed team.
The best overall team competition was won by Steve Shino, Noel Nonah, Tony Dashto, and Romeo Warda. The Old Orchard pro shop also awarded them a chance to come back and play for free.
The best dressed award was created this year after Lazar wanted to recognize a group of four golfers who have been going above and beyond since the tournament began.
Taymen Gindo, whose father was one of the initial founders of the event, and his team of Tim Youkhana, Ashoor Yonan, and Patrick Shino, have worn outfits including colorful high socks and kilts with polos since 2014. This year, the team won the best dressed competition with tuxedo shirts.
“Our goal was to go out there and have fun,” Gindo said. “There are, of course, awards, but it’s all about hanging out and having a good day of golf with a bunch of Assyrians.”
TWO MONTHS TO PLAN THE TOURNAMENT
Although the tournament has been around since 2014, this is the first year it was hosted by the AAC. The group’s president Movina Lazar, who was elected to the post in March, was granted the event rights in July. That left her only two months to reserve a golf course and plan the outing.
“We contacted 15 courses in the Chicagoland area and received different feedback from each one of them,” Lazar said. “A lot of these places are booked out months in advance, so that was the biggest obstacle we came across.”
When Robert Younan of Luxe Promos heard that Lazar was taking over the event for the AAC, he wanted to lend his design skills.
Younan, who has done marketing work for Coca-Cola, the Chicago Marathon, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Blackberry, didn’t want to push Lazar on the redesign and later admitted that she wasn’t even initially open to switching the design.
“I just showed her how it would look if we were to touch it up and she loved it,” he said.
Younan, who has been golfing with the same team in the tournament since 2014, applied the design across this year’s polos and hats.
“When I create logos, I try to stay simple and gave it a touch that would look good on clothing and hats and open up the imagination for the community,” he said.
Decades ago, the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation (AUAF) hosted a golf tournament for the Chicago Assyrian community. That event ended over 10 years ago, and in 2014 Alex David had the idea to bring it back.
David recruited George Gindo and Tony Eshaya to help run the event, which attracted over 60 golfers in its initial year.
“Assyrians aren’t known for being golfers,” David said. “It’s showing the evolution of living in a Western culture, that we are becoming more cultured and more aware of the things that are around us.”
All proceeds that year were sent to Iraq to serve internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Earlier this year, David approached the AAC about taking over the event.
“I believe in organizations,” David said. “Everything should be run by organizations even though they were started by individuals. It provides more accountability, there’s more trust, and there are more resources to expand.”
He knew he could trust Lazar to put together the event because she had been a large help in organizing over the first two years.
“Movina helped tremendously on the first one,” David said. “She knew the ropes and wasn’t in unfamiliar territory. I knew I could trust it with somebody who has been there before.”
ASSYRIAN ATHLETIC CLUB
AAC is a Chicago-based club that organizes sporting events and leagues for all ages throughout the Chicagoland area. They host an ongoing Assyrian basketball and volleyball league as well as a Winged Bull soccer team, Babylonian softball team, and a ten-week yoga program in the spring called Shiluta Yoga.
Moving forward, Lazar would like to move the AAC golf tournament around the United States.
“There are golfers in other states that have asked to participate or for us to help host something in their areas,” she said. “One of my biggest goals is to have a weekend tournament. We know there’s a solid group of Assyrian golfers out there. It all runs smoothly now, it’s just about growth at this point.