Category Archives: World News

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.” 

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

New pizzeria in Tur Abdin region of Turkey opens amid spike in local tourism

By Joe Snell | June 2022

Nestled inside the mountains of southeastern Turkey’s Tur Abdin, a new pizzeria opened on June 3 to a crowd of local politicians, government officials and residents from as far as Europe. 

Those in attendance celebrated the business, İzla Pizzeria Arkah,  and praised the return of its owners Gevriye Cil and Morris Dal, who left Germany a year ago to return to their native village of Arkah. 

Map of Tur Abdin /Source MIzizah

The restaurant, which took 10 months of construction and features panoramic views of the region’s rolling landscape, opened amid a surge of local investment that has driven tourism to the region. Nusaybin District Governor and Deputy Mayor Ercan Kayabaşı said the province of Mardin, the eastern half of which is located in Tur Abdin, is making strides toward becoming the capital of tourism.

“New businesses are opening every day,” Kayabaşı said during the restaurant’s grand opening and later continued, “Although Nusaybin is a rural neighborhood, such beautiful businesses are opening that I believe it will become one of the most important tourism destination centers in the future.”

A small café in the city of Mardin. /Photo by Athra Kado

Tur Abdin consists of more than 80 villages and was home primarily to followers of the Syriac Orthodox church. Many Assyrians, however, were forced to abandon the region in the 1980s and 1990s during Kurdish and Turkish clashes, made to choose between leaving their homeland or death if they refused to lodge and feed fighters from either side.

The situation became more stable in the 2000s, and encouraged families that had previously fled to Europe to return and rebuild their homes and businesses; but recent threats by Turkey of a military incursion into northern Syria have unsettled some locals, who are bracing for another round of violence.

The Mor Qeryaqos monastery in the village of Zergal in the Batman province. The village is empty of inhabitants, leaving only shadows of what once stood here. /Photo by Athra Kado

Clothing shop rises amid rubble of Batnaya

By Joe Snell | December 2021 | Photos and videos courtesy of Shlama Foundation

A new women and children’s clothing shop in Batnaya, a village in the Nineveh Governorate of northern Iraq, sits among heaps of rubble and Islamic State (IS) graffiti. The business is part of a slow trend to revive the area, which was largely destroyed by IS and subsequent fighting by US-led forces.

Sandra Yacoub is among the many Assyrian Chaldean Syriac residents that fled Batnaya in August 2014 as IS overran the area. She first traveled to Simele and eventually landed in Beirut. As she realized her refugee case had stalled, she returned home to find her village in ruins. Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) estimates that about 1% of the village remained standing.

Determined to live in her homeland, and with retail experience she picked up in Lebanon, Yacoub decided to open a clothing store. Her project was supported by Shlama Foundation, a nonprofit based in Erbil. In total, the shop cost $5,400 to build.

But Yacoub now faces a new hurdle of finding customers. Once home to over 5,000 people, today the village houses about 500, largely because it still sits in rubble. Those that have returned are resilient. The first man to come back two years ago lived in the wreckage of his old home among stray dogs and a caved-in ceiling.

The money is simply not there to remove the debris, Noor Matti, a Shlama Foundation Board Member, told the Journal. And work to repair houses and restore electricity and water is regularly delayed because of a lack of resources and booby traps laid by the extremist group. 

USAID last year provided two power generators and helped clear some of the rubble to get the village back on its feet. The debris of seventy homes were cleared at a cost of about $3,000 each; but 250 homes still need to be removed.  

There are reminders everywhere of IS. Buildings and debris lay covered in graffiti. And a prison for IS family members is nearby. It was supposed to be relocated to Mosul city, but the process has yet to be finalized.

“The IS scars are still there, and they’re the most visible in Batnaya,” Matti said.

Where is Batnaya?

Batnaya is in the Tel Kef District in the Nineveh Plains, about 15 miles north of Mosul and south of Alqosh.

New medical center in Lebanon serves Assyrians impacted by port explosion

By Christina Salem | February 2021 | Photos provided

A new medical center in Lebanon will serve Assyrians living in areas affected by the explosion that rocked Beirut on Aug. 4.

Located in Bauchrieh near the Assyrian church of the east Archdiocese-Assyrian martyrs square, the center opens as the country’s dire economic situation, made increasingly worse by the coronavirus pandemic and last year’s port blast, has completely collapsed Lebanon’s healthcare system and forced citizens to question how to address growing mental health issues.

“Mental health is always something invisible and the majority is not aware of,” said Jack Jendo, spokesperson at the Assyrian Support Committee (ASC). “Assyrians will definitely visit the health center for many services and have to be aware that mental problems have much more of an effect on their health than physical incidents.”

Photo by Assyrian Support Committee

As many as 30,000 Assyrians currently reside in Lebanon, according to the Assyrian Policy Institute. Most are located primarily in Beirut and Zahlé.

From 2014 to 2018, the community was largely supported with their healthcare needs through an ASC agreement with St. George Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in Beirut. Under the deal, the hospital would admit all patients for free who presented an ASC ID card. That included doctor visits, laboratory and minor surgeries. For major surgeries, patients could apply to ASC’s medical support program and receive coverage of severe medical cases. 

But today, the situation is much different. A large explosion in Beirut on Aug. 4 rocked Lebanon’s capital, resulting in more than 200 dead and 6,500 injured. St. George Hospital, which faces the port, suffered extensive damage with shattered windows and weakened infrastructure. 

The damage meant long wait times for people requiring medical attention, and the added stresses of the coronavirus pandemic and an already weakened economy caused the total collapse of Lebanon’s medical system. ASC members required a new plan for mental and physical health, an Assyrian in Lebanon told the Journal.

“The center is actually one of the best projects we launched, especially now, when hospitals are collapsing, people have almost no income, and medical health became a luxury,” Jendo said.

The new center will address mental and physical health and includes doctors of all specialties. The facility includes equipment such as a dentist chair, ultrasound display, electrocardiogram and other advanced tools. The project cost around $30,000, with three months of funding for mental health services and six months of funding for medical services provided by ASC’s partner, the Catholic Relief Services.

Since August, the ASC has worked with partners to conduct over 50 visits to families who reported mental health-related problems. The organization plans to open a separate healthcare space in the Assyrian Martyrs Square in Beirut. The center will only conduct its services for 6 months, as it is only a temporary project, ASC aims to continue with this project and reach out to as many beneficiaries while the project is in effect.

One of the greatest challenges the ASC deals with is that members of the organization are struggling with their own mental health after the explosion.

“Currently, our executive team is doing a great job in the administration and implementation of the project, and in case of emergencies, we forget about ourselves and head immediately to the most vulnerable and do our best to help,” Jendo said.

Photo by Assyrian Support Committee

The center is also prioritizing mental health in youth. In November, ASC launched a series of psychosocial activities for children who were directly and indirectly affected by the blast. The youth programs are led by experts in the child protection field that have previously worked with children who were affected by ISIS attacks in Khabour and Nineveh beginning July 2014.

The traumas incurred during those attacks resulted in many children who were unable to speak, Jendo said; however, many have begun showing signs of healing after working with ASC.

“Sessions are a set of fun activities that provide a safe space for children to find their mental peace and not traditional mental support,” Jendo said.

Amadiya survey part of ongoing project to track northern Iraq’s dwindling population

By Joe Snell | February 2021 | Photos provided

An effort to document the population of rural villages in Iraq’s Amadiya district aims to curb the region’s declining population.

The study by Shlama Foundation, a nonprofit based in Erbil, is part of an ongoing project to continually track Assyrian Chaldean Syriac population figures. 

“A nation and its traditions can’t just survive on urban cities,” said Shlama Foundation board member Noor Matti. “Without rural villages, a vital part dies and is never brought back. It’s time now to get as much assistance to these villages as possible.”

Documentation work in Amadiya, a district in Iraq’s Duhok Governorate, began in late December when a team of three Shlama members initiated discussions with village mukhtars (head of the village). Despite the rural area having less than 3,000 people that call it home year-round, Amadiya houses one of the largest number of inhabitable Assyrian villages in Iraq and has remained an important region to preserve the culture.

In total, the assessment found 2,992 people live across 48 inhabitable villages. Of these villages, 36 host families year-round. The remaining villages only have people living in them during the spring and summer months. 

Despite a large number of concentrated villages in the region, the study confirmed the population is decreasing quickly. Twenty villages have been abandoned due to wars, ethnic cleansing and a sharp increase in the number of people moving to city centers over the past 70 years.

Google Earth video of the Amadiya District.

Launched in 2017, Shlama’s population project updates figures of Assyrian villages on a rolling basis. Occasionally, like with the Amadiya survey, population figures for an entire district are refreshed. 

“The project is a response to NGOs overlooking smaller villages or being completely unaware of their existence,” reads a statement by Shlama on their website.

With these figures, Matti said villages will attract more attention and with that attention, more support.

“We always knew that most villages have suffered a population loss, but it still hurt when it was verified,” Matti said. “We want to, at a minimum, halt the population loss and eventually reverse it.”

All major areas have been documented with the exception of Baghdad, Matti said. Shlama plans to collect figures from Iraq’s capital by the end of the year.

Only two decades ago, Iraq was home to more than 1.5 million Assyrians. Today, that number is fewer than 400,000 and steadily declining. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kahdimi urged Assyrians and other ethnically indigenous groups to return to the country; however, some cited that security concerns and a lack of reconstruction efforts remain impediments to their safe passage home.

Homeland Coalition seeks to boost Assyrian collaboration by removing governing body, voting process

November 2020 | By Joe Snell

WASHINGTON — A new international forum aimed at bolstering communication and knowledge sharing among Assyrian organizations supporting the homeland launched on Nov. 14 with representatives spanning Lebanon, Syria, Germany, Iraq and the United States. 

After more than a year of brainstorming the concept and pitching members to join, the Homeland Coalition kicked off virtually with a meeting of five organizations and seven representatives. The coalition is part of broader global efforts by non-profit groups supporting Assyrians to gather around the same table.

“We believe it’s more effective and efficient to serve our people, especially in the homeland, when we’re connected and closer to one another,” said President and Co-Founder of Etuti Institute, Savina Dawood. 

The concept of the forum originated with the Etitu Institute in the spring of 2019. The group began noticing some of their work was overlapping with other group projects. It became difficult to avoid the problem, Dawood said, because there wasn’t an organized communication line between organization leaders.

Promises of groundbreaking new coalitions are nothing new to the Assyrian community. Many attempts that have been touted as revolutionary have fallen apart before even launching. Before starting a new coalition of their own, Etuti’s leaders worked to identify why previous attempts had failed. They concluded that the introduction of voting for a hierarchy of leadership fueled internal divisions and led to their closure. The politics would often lead to infighting and overshadow the very work they set out to accomplish, Dawood said. 

To avoid internal conflict, the Homeland Coalition was structured informally and with flexibility. The group doesn’t run on a governing body or voting for approvals. There are no special registration requirements or mandatory group projects. Participating organizations are welcome to come and go as they please and have the right to decide whether or not to share what they are working on. After discussions, members can choose if they want to collaborate. In short, the key to the coalition is simplicity. 

“Sometimes we don’t realize that these small steps are key pieces of the big puzzle,” wrote Shlama Foundation Board Member and member of the coalition, Ranna Abro.

The informal structure is aimed at achieving three goals: bringing similar-minded groups to the same table, creating an open dialogue of projects and future plans, and sharing knowledge, resources and skills acquired from years of on-the-ground experience. 

To participate, organizations must fulfill three requirements: they must be working toward the homeland, their work must be philanthropic in nature and they must be registered in their respective country or at least in the process of registration. 

So far, eight organizations have agreed to participate: Etuti Institute (Iraq and the US), Shlama Foundation (Iraq and the US), Assyrian Society for Helping and Development (Syria), Assyrian Aid Society – America (Iraq and the US), Gabbara (Armenia) and the Assyrian Church of the East Support Committee (Lebanon). Two new organizations, Shopra Group (Iraq) and Assuritu (Iraq), are also involved. 

Media organizations are allowed to participate, although in a limited capacity. As all meetings are off the record, media personnel function strictly as observers and can ask questions at the end of discussions.

At Nov. 14’s inaugural meeting, participants agreed to meet every quarter and to allow only two representatives per organization. During the lull between meetings, communication remains ongoing through emails and a WhatsApp group. Emergency meetings can take place if requested. 

To create a space where all organizations are on the same level, talks are facilitated by an outside group. The Assyrian Policy Institute led this month’s meeting and will facilitate meetings for the foreseeable future. The next meeting is scheduled for February. 

Even after the first meeting, participants told the Journal they already found similarities in their work and agreed to further discussions on how to avoid overlap. 

“I truly believe we can be much more productive, effective and efficient in our work individually and together as organizations in this path, when we are together, when we are connected in communication, we can share and collaborate,” Dawood said. 

In Artsakh, Assyrians of Armenia rise to country’s defense

November 2020 | By Joe Snell

WASHINGTON — Assyrian-Armenian brothers Torgom Sayadyan and Artur arrived from Russia to the front lines of Artsakh to defend the region against a fierce offensive by Azerbaijan and allied forces. It was here, as Torgom became injured in the conflict, that Artur clung to his brother as he died in his arms.

Since fighting erupted between Armenian and Azerbaijan on Sept. 27 over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, also referred to as the Republic of Artsakh, five Assyrian-Armenian fighters, as young as 18 and as old as 59, have been killed and six others wounded. Their service highlights mounting military, medical and donation efforts by Assyrian communities around the world to support Armenian forces. 

The ongoing fighting has left more than 1,200 Armenians killed and many more wounded. This is the most serious escalation in the decades-long territorial clash that pits the two former Soviet states and a growing list of powerful allies on both sides. 

As a small community inside Armenia, Assyrians have rallied to the defense of the country they now call home. It’s a bond, many said, that goes back centuries. 

“We have almost the same destinies,” said Dr. Anahit Khosroeva, an Assyrian-Armenian and a leading researcher at the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences in Armenia. “Assyrians in Armenia, being a Christian nation, they have always considered Armenia as their home.”

Troops in Artsakh. (Photo by Roberto Travan)


There are four Assyrian-populated villages in Armenia: Arzni, Verin Dvin, Dimitrovo and Nor Artagers. The country has a total population of nearly 3 million and is home to roughly 5,000 Assyrians. That number was about 6,000 just a few decades ago, but the disintegration of the former Soviet Union and economic challenges have forced many to leave to Russia and surrounding countries. 

Armenia requires a military service from its citizens beginning at the age of 18. When the conflict in Artsakh erupted in late September, about 25 Assyrians were on active military duty. And despite having already served their country, others volunteered on contract with the Ministry of Defense. 

Today, more than 100 Assyrians are fighting for Armenia, Khosroeva estimates. This includes Rudik Sarkhosh, 59, who initially was denied volunteer service because of his age. But Sarkhosh refused to leave his local recruitment office for five days and demanded he be taken to the front lines. He eventually was sent to the conflict. 

Sarkhosh has since died in the fighting. He joins four other Assyrians who have died, including three fighters on active-duty and another volunteer. 

Reports last month indicated that two Assyrian fighters have gone missing in action. One soldier had only moved to Artsakh two years earlier to live with his mother. When the war started, he signed up as a volunteer. 

Military service is not the only way that Assyrians are rallying to the Armenian front lines. Assyrian nurses have also joined the fight. Nurses are in dire need, a source told the Journal, and some are flocking to hospitals near the fighting and others are choosing to remain in hotly-contested areas. 

One Assyrian nurse living in Artsakh had the opportunity to leave when the war broke out, but decided to stay and volunteer. Others, like Arusik Babasieva from the capital of Yerevan, have chosen to volunteer in the conflict zone.

Bag filled with sand, used to protect the civilian hospital in Stepanakert, arrive to the front lines. (Photo by Roberto Travan)


Assyrians in the country who can’t fight are supporting Armenia through donation efforts and media platforms, many of which have been organized by local churches. 

Two registered ACOE buildings reside in Armenia, one in the town of Dvin and another in Arzni, while many smaller, non-registered churches also dot these communities. Despite being built around 1830 and at one point in fear of collapse, churches are the lifeblood of the villages and nearly everything is organized through them, a source told the Journal. 

So when fighting with Azerbaijan first broke out,  Assyrian Church of the East (ACOE) priest in Armenia Father Nikademus Yukhanaev, along with local volunteers, didn’t hesitate to help the troops and residents of Artsakh.

“We don’t have a homeland but Armenia is as our homeland,” Yukhanaev said. “We are living here for nearly 200 years and we are free to use and teach our language, we are free to worship in our churches and keep our culture. The attitude of Armenians is very good to us. That is why every Assyrian thinks that he should defend his homeland.”

Yukhanaev and a small group began traveling between villages and setting up donation drives. Initially, volunteers collected clothes and food. After posting efforts on Facebook, donor numbers grew larger and other Assyrian groups began pitching in, including a group of children in Dvin that sold fruit and donated all proceeds to an Armenian fund.

Today, the volunteers send a truck full of food and other items to the conflict area every two days. The contents vary depending on the needs of the troops. Last week, women in the villages sent bags of fresh-baked kadeh for the troops to eat on the front lines.  This week, the group organized 100 sleeping bags and non-perishable goods.

Mourning of a lost life in Artsakh. (Photo by Roberto Travan)


Grassroots volunteer efforts like those by Yukhanaev soon attracted global attention. Arsen Mikhailov, the Assyrians’ MP in Armenia’s Parliament, announced in late September that money had been received from communities in Russia and Ukraine. Other communities in Europe, Australia and the United States have also donated. In total, Khosroeva estimates that Assyrian individuals and organizations around the world have donated about $100,000 to support the Armenian fund and to assist with humanitarian aid.

Organizations like A Demand for Action (ADFA), a Swedish-based non-profit that works for the protection of Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Armenians and other minorities across Iraq and Syria, receives dozens of Artsakh requests daily from individuals asking for warm clothes, food and hygienic supplies.

In an announcement last week, ADFA sent humanitarian aid to 1,400 Artsakh families. And they are now sending 30 tons of winter clothes to the area.

But despite international support, some Assyrians in Armenia are concerned that the world is growing disinterested with the conflict and the indifference could lead to another genocide. 

“Right now, the international community has to speak up about this issue,” Khosroeva said. She recalls watching the world lose interest in the Syrian conflict and now believes the same indifference is afflicting her own country. “If they don’t benefit from Armenia, they don’t care. I believe being silent, you are becoming a part of the crime. We have to speak up.”

Housing project brings new homes to Barwar

October 2020 | By Ata Younan

CHICAGO — In a move to mitigate illegal land grabs and help internally displaced Assyrians return to their homes, sister organizations Assyrian Aid Society of America and Iraq (AAS-A, AAS-I) are joining efforts to build six homes in the village of Chaqala in the Barwari region of northern Iraq.

The construction project confronts a long history of aggression and destruction in the region, according to AAS. The project joins a string of recent fundraising efforts by the organization to rebuild damaged infrastructure caused by a decades-long crossfire between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Republic of Turkey. 

“We can’t have the mentality of ‘should we build because it may be destroyed?’” said Vice President of AAS-A Renya Benjamen. “As long as we have resilient Assyrians that want to remain in the homeland and build, we have to support that.”


Chaqala is located about 50 minutes from Zakho along the Khabur River, making it a prime area for crop cultivation.

Currently, 60 families from Chaqala remain internally displaced, with most of them residing in Dohuk and Baghdad, according to AAS-I President Ashur Eskrya.

While other villages in the area have seen life return with the rebuilding of infrastructure, Chaqala has had no such luck. According to Eskrya, AAS had to interfere in the matter, communicating with government officials, current non-Assyrian residents and the Kurdistan Provision Council.

“After a lot of pressure on the authorities, people of the village were granted permission to build on the land,” Eskrya said. 

Although the farming villagers remain displaced, they continue to make the trek north to tend to their land, planting and harvesting throughout the year.

“They’re coming up from Dohuk, from Baghdad even in some cases, just to farm their land because they don’t want to rely on donations, on social services. This is their land, and they want to reap the benefits of it,” Benjamen said.

During their time in the village, the farmers have used a vacant school as a temporary shelter.

“They’re still going up to farm, but they don’t have permanent homes and that’s where we’re coming in to help them,” she said. 

Some cases within the Chaqala rebuild are more complicated than others and are still pending in court, according to Eskrya. One such example is of a house built on the Khabur River that needs to be demolished. 

“Issues like this take more time because of the circumstances involved from a long time ago,” he said. “The government promised those Kurdish people who are residing in those lands a compensation for leaving the land. Apparently they are staying there until they receive some kind of compensation to leave.” 

Eskrya said that Assyrians who lost their homes refuse to let their land go. 

“Till this day obstacles remain, but it’s important that people have a place to live,” he said. “We want to give hope and open the way for others to come back to the village that they had to abandon.”

Assyrian Cultural Foundation has donated the first $50,000 and an additional $85,000 is needed to fund the six homes.  The hope, he said, is to eventually rebuild all 60 homes. 


The displaced families from Chaqala originally traveled south from the Hakkari mountains after the Assyrian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. According to Eskrya, about 15 Assyrian homes were built between 1922 and 1923 and over the years, life continued to flourish in Chaqala.

After the Kurdish uprising in 1961, residents fled their homes and found shelter in safer areas within the region. They attempted to return in 1991, but found neighboring non-Assyrians had illegally settled and built homes on their land, according to AAS.

A 2016 fire destroyed thousands of trees and grape vines in the area. Following the disaster, AAS once again re-adapted the land so that the villagers could continue farming.

“We found that this [project] would be the most fitting because it returns life to a village and ensures that we put a stop to the land grabs that have been going on,” said Benjamen.


For Eskrya, who has worked with AAS for 17 years and lived in Iraq all his life, illegal land grabs and internal displacement is nothing new. However, he is adamant about the possibility of successful, permanent resettlement throughout Iraq’s historically Assyrian villages. 

He encourages even Assyrians living in diaspora to consider a reclaim of their lands. 

“It is very important for our people abroad not to forget their roots,” he said. “It’s ok if you want to travel and try life elsewhere. Just like other people from other countries, they leave home for different reasons. Some leave to make more money, but they always come back home.”

Assyrians who have official government documents can prove land ownership, according to Eskrya, and in cases where such documentation does not exist, ownership can still be established through tribal rights, although this route is harder.

“It is very important that our people who own those lands by inheritance come forward to claim them,” Eskrya said.  “The more time that passes, the harder it will be to get them back. We are the aboriginal people and we need to get back to our roots.”

Tel Keppe district solar project tackles Iraq’s escalating energy concerns

September 2020 | By Joe Snell | Featured photo by Shlama Foundation

WASHINGTON — A new solar energy project in northern Iraq will provide electricity to Assyrian homes and farms and combat a growing dependence on diesel-powered generators that some residents worry are polluting the Nineveh Plains.

The initiative, aimed at the village of Tesqopa and surrounding Tel Keppe district, joins an increasing number of energy-related efforts that were born after electricity outages began plaguing the country decades ago. Now, an ongoing budget dispute with the federal government threatens to make beefing up energy resources progressively more difficult. 

Electricity supplies in Iraq typically meet only half of the required demand, said Faiz Yono, the Chief Engineering Consultant on the project, due to years of destruction in conflict and mismanagement and corruption. This translates into about eleven hours of available electricity per day and accounts for government mandated power outages. To receive additional electricity, many residents rely on personal or neighborhood back-up diesel generators that can produce toxic fumes.

“The Iraqi consumer is on their own in trying to obtain electricity for the other thirteen hours of the day,” Yono said.

Orchestrated by the Shlama Foundation with the help of US volunteers, the new energy project will provide solar-powered electricity to 100 homes in Tesqopa and 30 farms in the surrounding Tel Keppe district. Panels will also power 40 street lights. The energy will primarily be used as a backup when the government mandated outages occur.

Financed by a one million dollar USAID grant that was approved last September, the money is contingent on the organization completing 12 milestones over a 23-month period. 

Phase one of the project is complete, a source with knowledge of the progress told the Journal. Earlier this year, an outreach program traveled across Tesqopa to educate families about the initiative. A lottery process then determined the 100 homes that would receive the panels.

After an on-the-ground assessment by engineers to determine energy requirements of each home, about a quarter of the equipment was purchased. Remaining equipment will arrive in upcoming phases.

Tesqopa and surrounding farmlands were chosen as the destination for the project due to a USAID grant requirement that insisted the money be used in an area liberated from the Islamic State (IS).

Today, most of the region’s farmers have significantly reduced the number of acres they harvest because of a lack of adequate electricity to pump water, Yono said. Water is currently hand-pumped from wells and sits dormant inside storage tanks. With the solar panels, water from the wells will be pumped directly to the farmland and will allow farmers to increase the number of acres they can plant. 

Money from the grant is spread across engineering as well as procuring and installing the panels. 

A portion of the grant also went toward training six engineers. Most of these individuals had their engineering education interrupted during the ISIS occupation. 

“This is a unique project in that it is empowering six native Nineveh Plains engineers to become solar experts and start a company that will compete in the slowly growing market for solar energy in Iraq,” Yono said.

The engineers hope to turn the venture into a sustainable business, a source told the Journal, and at the end of the contract term, engineers plan to sell panels and offer installation.

Shlama’s solar project is slated to launch during the first quarter of 2021, although a specific date is not yet confirmed.

The energy project joins a growing shift to replace popular diesel-backed generators with clean alternative energy, culminating in this year’s announcement of Iraq’s first solar energy park.

“It’s not just about providing consistent electricity through a green alternative,” said Shlama board member Noor Matti. “It’s about educating people on the long-term adverse health effects of toxic fume exposure and improving health outcomes in the long-run.”