What It Means To Me To Be An Assyrian

By: Abbey Mikha

Shlama, ow Shlomo, greetings to you in the dialect of my father, in the dialect of my mother, and in the dialect of the ancient rivers and mountains which my people hailed from time immemorial. To think, to live, to feel Assyrian is not for me an occasional remembrance, it is a passion and a duty. True, we are all human beings, from whatever nation we come from, and true, we are grateful citizens of our countries of adoption, where we try to build a new life with new dreams, but as Assyrians we cannot but carry with us, everywhere we go, the song of our old language, the memory of our lost past, and the pride that kept us alive to this day.

The turning point in my life as an Assyrian was when I realized how little known my people are to the outside world and how fascinating their story is. I marveled at my nation’s instinct for survival, the struggle of an old culture, which defied centuries of foreign rule and refused to surrender. I felt deep injustice, I cried in pain for all Assyrians who, in the last two centuries, were sacrificed in terrible genocides, uprooted from their motherland and forced to err in never ending exile because they just happened to be there on their ancient land, after so long, and because they still stood, not moving an inch even though they were very different from the peoples around them. I took pride in those Assyrians surrounded by hostile nations who fought against all odds for an independent state in Assyria and I felt anger when I learned how superpowers such as the English, during the World Wars, gave us promises, which were never fulfilled. I then understood that nobody really cared for our suffering and that we the young Assyrians, like our forefathers, should proudly keep fighting for our rights, or lose our identity and disappear.

I started to feel the pride associated with my Assyrian heritage at a very young age and as I grew older it grew stronger within me, and as I grew wiser, I realized how important it was for me to carry my people’s name. Being an Assyrian means being united within my nation and being united within myself. I am very proud to be an Assyrian with heritage from Alqosh, Zerineh in Jilu, and Mardin in Tur Abdin, which is one of the main reasons my friend’s call me the United Nations of Assyria. There is an inseparable emotional bond between my nation and I.  I accept all of my people even those who are not well aware of our history, loving all Assyrian communities, singing in eastern and western dialects, traveling in time and space from the clay tablets of Ashurbanipal’s library, below earth, to the ancient monasteries, above the mountains and feeling the pride in being the daughter of a nation which gave birth to the first civilizations of humankind.

Today I remembered all Assyrians who fled the homeland, the image of my great grandfather who walked from Turkey to Kiev, which at that time was a part of Russia.  Wherever we live, those of us whose ancestors were lucky enough to escape the Seypa Genocide of 1915 share an indestructible thread, which binds us as one, in addition to history, religion, culture, and language; the story of our common suffering and of our strife to remain and resurrect again.

When I realized that our people, who contributed so much to the world and contributed so much to who I am, had been forgotten, I found my Assyrian turning point. This is when I started to want to prove that Assyrians do exist today, and that I am one of them. At one point in time one of my history teachers told me that Assyrians are extinct, he said there is no such nation, that the ancient Assyrians amalgamated with other cultures, and that we did not survive. Ever since that day I have wanted the Assyrian culture and identity to survive within me, since I knew in my heart and in my mind that he was wrong. This is when I found out that not everything which is written in history books, is true, especially about my people. This is when I understood that truth was relative, and that if we do not stand for who we are, our truth will never be known.

I believe I was born to be Assyrian and to be proud of being Assyrian. One of my favorite pastimes is to share the Assyrian culture with people who are not from our background; food my mother taught me to cook, songs in our language, stories from long ago:  Gilgamesh, Enuma Elish, The Epic of Inanna and Atra Hasis, tales of kings, queens and shepherds, memories of ancient glory and recent sufferings. I am proud of who we were and who we are today and who I am as part of this nation. I will never let anyone deny me the right to call myself Assyrian and to honor my ancestors and their dreams.

Being an Assyrian means to me not only to defy time, but also defying everyone who thinks that our nation did not survive. To be an Assyrian is to know that it does not matter which church we are from, because we are still one nation, one people who speak one language, the same that Jesus Christ spoke. To be an Assyrian means to let everyone in our nation help in the building of our home, a home with a foundation called nothing other than huyada, or huyodo, unity. Our minor differences, as Assyrians from different communities or dialects, are only due to our long history. Instead of fighting, we should accept one another because every one of us has something to offer our common home, which is the Assyrian Nation.

What I will do to preserve my Assyrian identity is to try to educate myself in whom we were in ancient times, as well as who we are today, and what we need to do in order to survive in the future. An identity can only be preserved through the heart when people relate to what they are preserving and when they share true love for their nation. When sincere love exists, the preservation of one’s culture and identity becomes natural even for Assyrians who never lived in the homeland and never grew up around their countrymen and countrywomen.

How can I not feel pride for a people who survived so many acts of cruelty and were literally crucified, yet still are living and breathing today on the earth? We, Assyrians, are survivors, and there shall hopefully be Assyrians on earth till the end of time! Whenever I discuss with fellow Assyrians our situation today, some people mention the theory that because of living in diaspora, Assyrians will be extinct in a few generations, as will our language, and our culture and heritage. My answer to these thoughts is and always will be: I was not born in my homeland, I did not even grow up around Assyrians and if anyone should have lost his or her Assyrian identity, it would be me, but if anyone has found it and kept it, it has also been me.  This means that the children of Assyria will find their way home, and they will never forget who they are or where they came from…

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77 Comments

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