A letter from the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria Department of Education, dated Oct. 24 and provided to a Christian school in Hasakah on Nov. 1, instructs the school they must begin teaching the self-administration’s curriculum, not the Syrian curriculum, or they will face closure.
This ruling was issued against 23 Christian-led schools in northeast Syria, a Syriac Orthodox bishop said, totaling around 500 staff and over 20,000 Arab, Kurdish and Syriac (Assyrian) students.
Christians in the area say the self administration’s curriculum is not recognized and accepted by Syrian universities as well as many schools abroad.
Two years ago, a similar move was enacted on the schools by officials from the autonomous region. Some school doors were locked. A Syriac Orthodox bishop, alongside Christian organizations, at the time negotiated with the Department of Education under the condition to teach one course from the new curriculum.
“Everyone who has kids now will think of leaving the country because of this,” an Assyrian from Qamishli told the Journal.
ADM Illinois honors late Assyrian activist, works with GISHRU to build new bridges to Iraq and Turkey
March 2019 | By Joe Snell | Photos contributed
CHICAGO — In honor of late Assyrian activist Nerary Yousif, the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) of Illinois Sector has launched the Nerary Yousif Fund. The annual scholarship works together with the non-profit organization GISHRU to pay for the travel of an Assyrian to visit Iraq and Turkey.
Yousif, who passed away in November of last year, was born in Chicago and studied history and Biblical archaeology. In 2009 he traveled to Iraq and began working closely with the global Assyrian community in politics and advocacy for both democracy and human rights in the Middle East.
“It’s critical to exemplify a nationalist who was born and grew up in the diaspora,” said ADM Illinois Sector Director Alex David. “He went back to the homeland and saw what’s needed out there, came back here and brought some of that back here in his work, in his activism.”
Alex presented the scholarship idea to the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) Illinois Sector Committee in November and proposed working with GISHRU because it is critical, David says, for kids from here to visit the homeland just as Nerary did when he was a young student. “They can see the reality of things and then come back here and apply what they saw.”
The fund was formally announced at Nerary’s 40 day memorial.
GISHRU is a non-profit organization established in 2012 that organizes annual trips for Assyrians born in the diaspora to visit the ancestral Assyrian homeland.
“His activism was rooted and cultivated by his visit to Assyria,” said GISHRU Board Member Joe Danavi. “Through this scholarship in his namesake, many more can similarly experience the awakening that Nerary and many others have had when visiting their homeland.”
This year, GISHRU vetted student applicants and presented ADM Illinois with three candidates. These candidates were then requested to write a short paragraph on why they should be considered for the scholarship. ADM Illinois Sector members reviewed the applications and announced the winner in March.
The fund, roughly $2,200 in total, covers one candidate’s airfare, board, food, and miscellaneous travel expenses. David hopes that ADM Illinois will be able to sponsor more than one individual in the future.
“The crisis we are facing is we increasingly transition towards a predominant diaspora nation where our rising and future generations become disconnected from the homeland,” Danavi said. “This scholarship provides a solution to our financially burdened college students who have an interest to connect with their homeland but cannot afford to.”
The first recipient of the fund is Tanya Odisho, a Medical Student at Michigan State University. She was selected because ADM Illinois Sector Committee members felt she will come back home and continue applying herself in her community.
“I really want to be inspired by other people that are going on this trip,” Odisho said. “It’s one thing to say that we’re raising awareness and teaching people about the Assyrian culture, heritage, and genocide that has been going on, but what are we really doing to help the people back home?”
Moving forward, ADM Illinois and GISHRU will continue to work together on the scholarship annually to help build a bridge to the homeland.
“This is exactly what we want to keep in terms of his memorial,” David said. “Somebody that goes to the homeland, comes back and starts activating themselves, starts working for that cause.”
CHICAGO — Winners of the second annual Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation’s (AUAF) fine arts competition were announced on Jan. 27 at a formal ceremony hosted in the organization’s Nineveh Hall.
The theme of this year’s international fine arts arts competition was “Awakening”. Assyrians aged 18 or older were invited to submit original pieces in any two-dimensional medium excluding photography.
Submitted artwork was judged by an independent panel of jurors. Three cash prizes were awarded, including $5,000 for 1st place, $3,000 for 2nd place, and $2,000 for 3rd place.
Assyrian artist Agnes Ishak took home the first place prize. Ishak graduated from the Institute of Technology in Baghdad and currently practices art in New Zealand. Her art spans different abstract art techniques and styles.
“The awakening theme was overwhelming for me,” said Ishak, who attempted three paintings before settling on her final piece. “The winning piece I loved, and it is an accumulation of my belief in the past and present.”
Ishak completed the “Awakening” piece in acrylic for speed so she could complete the many layers and transparent colors on the top layers. She then finished the artwork with oil colors to give the piece depth. She also included a gold leaf for the Assyrian head to reflect Assyrian divinity.
“An art competition is wonderful regardless of winning because we can build a list of artists who can serve and artwork that can reflect who we are and challenge ourselves,” she said.
The winners are as follows:
Honorary Mention (5th Place): Aeluna Nissan (Auckland, New Zealand) Honorary Mention (4th Place): Nahrin Malki (Gothenburg, Sweden) Third Place: Maher Minyanish (Chicago, IL) Second Place: Qais AL-Sindy (El Cajon, CA) First Place: Agnes Ishak (Auckland, New Zealand)
After every painting, Ishak writes a short text explaining the piece. Here is her text for “Awakening”:
Awakening From there and here. From the core of history. Symmetrical worlds…. That has no limits. All mimic a people from that aura that existed before existence. Hymens……. In the beginning is the “Word” And at all times. And the “Word” carved upon every rock in the Land A body of pillar rose from the “word “. “God” blew in it his holy spirit. Then the “word” became…. Blood, nation, structure and name… A Light.. An Arrow of light.. Stretched across the atmosphere. To the core of Heaven and Earth. To the “word”. To dive in ourselves To find what has been embodied in us. But is in a state of hibernation Calling for Awakening. Calling for Stability.
Founded in 1978, AUAF is a non-profit organization that works across social services, humanitarian relief efforts, as well as educational and cultural programs. They work to serve as a bridge between Assyrian traditions across generations in the hopes of building a stronger, more connected community.
NEW SOUTH WALES — Contemporary Assyrian band Azadoota has released a new music video for their single “Bruni”.
The song, from their 2008 album “Planetarian”, released on Jan. 20 and is a comedic representation of an Assyrian mother treating her son like a literal king.
Founder of Azadoota Robin Zirwanda wrote the song when he was inspired by an early morning phone call to the band’s drummer, Evan Yako. Yako was still living at home at the time and when Yako’s mother answered the phone, Robin heard her wake Evan with, “Bruni, qoo”. The song is told from different points of view including the mother, narrator, and son.
During Azadoota’s 2018 tour across the United States, the band performed for the Assyrian Arts Institute’s gala event at the Morgan Estate in Los Altos Hills, California. That location inspired the band to shoot their next music video.
“The setting was so stunning, we sought permission to film there,” said music video producer Elle Zirwanda. “The magnificence of the location suits the comedy of ‘Bruni’ perfectly. For a song about a mum who treats her son like a prince, where better to shoot than a castle?”
The video was produced, designed, directed, and edited by Elle Zirwanda and stars Robin Zirwanda, Stuart Vandegraaff, Rodrigo Simoes, Zac Haider-Keene, and Emilio Palazzolo Dublanc. The video also features Josh Zirwanda as ‘Bruni’.
Joseph Hakobi of Shamiram Media was the director of photography and shot the video with the band in September of 2018. Editing was finished in early January.
Here are some reactions to the video from around the world:
“Azadoota takes an Assyrian cliche and displays it in a positive way. It still makes people (especially those yimmas) think about their actions and the way they raise their sons.”
Robina Lajin Frankfurt, Germany
“The song is very similar to many Assyrian households. It’s a catchy song that connects you to traditions and (Azadoota’s) colorful attire connects me to our ancient kings.”
Shamiran Echi Chicago, Illinois
“It’s so catchy! (My wife) and I watched it five times in a row and then we caught ourselves humming the melody or singing it and laughing about it for the next two days.”
Anthony Narsi Turlock, California
Learn more about Azadoota
Azadoota was founded in 1996 and is known for blending traditional music from different cultures including a horns section, rhythm guitar, brass instruments, guira and tambourine. They also wear iconic traditional Assyrian attire.
Based in Australia, Azadoota performs next at the Monkey Magic Bar in Sydney. Later this year, they are traveling to Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia to celebrate the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages.
Learn more about Azadoota by visiting their Facebook page.
VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA — The Assyrian Australian Social Development Club Inc. (AASDC) hosted their first annual Assyrian Graduation Ceremony on Sunday, Jan. 13. The program recognized over 25 student graduates from several schools and universities in the area.
The program, held at Mona Lisa Reception, included an awards presentation, speeches, poetry, and musical performances by members and friends of the Assyrian community in Victoria.
The ceremony was welcomed by AASDC members Khoshaba Youkhanna and Sidory Younan. Local government representatives also said a few words, including Victoria Multicultural Commissioner Sam Almaliki and Cr Joseph Haweil of the Hume City Council.
“In my remarks on the night, I referred to Nelson Mandela’s powerful words: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’, encouraging the graduates to pursue their dreams and make great contributions to Australia and the world,” Haweil wrote in a post after the event.
AASDC Management Board member and Community Support Worker Kinda Haroun spoke to those in attendance about the importance of creative and meaningful events in the community and a particular need in our Assyrian Australian community for projects that support education and give students every chance to succeed in their future.
Learn more about the Assyrian Australian Social Development Club Inc. by visiting them onFacebook.
Chicago – Assyrian author Vasili Shoumanov has released a new book titled “Assyrian American Association of Chicago: 100 years.”
The 128-page book provides a historical look into the Assyrian American Association of Chicago, a non-profit educational, cultural and charitable organization founded in 1917 with the mission to preserve history and invest in future Assyrians.
“These pages are filled with old and new photographs that bring the organization’s history to life and provide a firsthand look into the past and present,” Shoumanov said.
A new book release was held at the association on Dec. 16, where guests could meet with Shoumanov and discuss the book.
Shoumanov has published a number of books on Assyrian history and language including “Images of America: Assyrians of Chicago” (2001) and a Russian-Assyrian Dictionary.
The book’s publisher, Acadia Publishing, has worked on more than 14,000 books across the country with the goal of celebrating and preserving the heritage of America’s people and places. Some Assyrian books they have published include “Assyrians of Chicago,” “Assyrians of Eastern Massachusetts” and “Assyrians of New Britain.”
As a member of the Assyrian American Association, Shoumanov received his master’s degree in History of Eastern Civilizations from St. Petersburg State University. He also holds masters in coaching wrestling. For six years, he served as editor-in-chief of Homeland magazine in St. Petersburg. Among other projects, he is currently the cultural director of the Assyrian American Association of Chicago.
More books on Assyrian history are coming soon. In February of 2019, the book “Assyrians of Yonkers” by Dr. Ruth Kambar will be released.
Books can be purchased directly through Arcadia Publishing or contact the Assyrian American Association of Chicago directly by phone and get 20% off: (312) 802-2208.
December 2018 | By Joe Snell | Photos by the Teachers and Students of Motwa Assyrian Language School
Chicago, IL – An Assyrian Christmas tree has been included in The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago’s annual “Christmas Around the World” exhibit.
The event, which runs from Nov. 15 through Jan. 6, features a 45-foot-tall Christmas tree surrounded by 50 smaller trees, each representing one of Chicago’s ethnic communities including Armenia, Germany, Lebanon and Sweden.
The Assyrian tree, titled “Eedokun breekha,” features themes of brotherhood including photos of children from the Assyrian Council of Illinois (ANCI) dancing the khigga (folk dance) to holding the yalikhta (cloth decorated with coins for good luck) to images of the lamassu, the Assyrian flag, the Mesopotamian flower and the Assyrian alphabet.
A number of symbolic ornaments and flags from around the world also draped the display. Marked underneath each flag was the total number of Assyrians living in each country. Written underneath a flag of Finland, for example, showed that 300 Assyrians lived in the country. A flag of the United States showed nearly 400,000.
This is the second year the museum’s Christmas exhibit will feature an Assyrian tree. Decorating began on Nov. 4 by the teachers and students of the Assyrian Language School of ANCI. The group encourages anyone who visits the tree to post a picture and tag @AssyrianChristmasTree or #AssyrianChristmasTree. Anyone who does will be entered into a raffle to win an ornament from this year’s tree.
“Christmas Around the World” began in 1942 to honor Allied countries during World War II. That year, a single tree was newly decorated every day for twelve straight days to highlight the countries fighting alongside America. In 1994, the exhibit “Holidays of Lights” was added to incorporate over 30,000 lights on the trees and inside venue.
The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago is one of the largest science museums in the world. It includes 35,000 artifacts and welcomes nearly 1.5 million visitors each year. Major permanent exhibits include “The Great Train Story”, “Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle” and “Coal Mine”.
Last year, the museum added the Assyrian flag to its permanent display of worldwide flags.
Visit the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago main page for more information.
December 2018 | By Joe Snell | Feature photo by Andrew Aziz
Gilbert, AZ – The Mar Yosip Khnanisho Parish of Gilbert, Arizona is opening doors to its new church this Sunday.
The church, part of the Assyrian Church of the East (ACOE), was issued a permit by city inspectors on Dec. 19. They will host their first Raza Qaddisha on Dec. 23 beginning with morning prayers at 8:00 am followed by service at 9:00 am.
After 13 years of fundraising, the Mar Yosip Khnanisho Parish broke ground on construction of a new facility in February of this year at 1287 North Recker Road, Gilbert, AZ 85234. Previously, the congregation had been meeting in rented spaces. The new facility will hold up to 250 people.
Part of the fundraising efforts were selling memorial bricks engraved with names of donors. Those bricks were placed at the entrance of the new church.
His Grace Mar Aprim Khamis will officiate Sunday’s Raza Qaddisha. A number of other Christmas services this week will take place at the church. A full schedule is available on their Facebook page.
Look out for more information on the founding of the church later this week.
Visit the Mar Yosip Khnanisho Parish of Gilbert, Arizona Facebook Page for more information.