Fred if you wouldn't have written on this board, I would have thought that the convention was a resounding success this year after reading Zinda!
SORRY, BUT YOU MISSED THE BEST CONVENTION EVER!
Imagine a perfect Assyrian American National Convention. No raucous crowds, no serious fights, no long ticket
lines, endless dance floors, unlimited seats at the parties and a perfect weather for the Monday picnic. Oh yes…
and political meetings, educational seminars, and daily events for children and aficionados of Assyrian arts.
Now imagine yourself at a slightly less-than-perfect, but very close to the figment of your chimeric imagination.
If you look closer, you'll find yourself surrounded by tens of security guards, smiling convention hostesses, and a
brave new convention chairwoman standing amidst several Macintosh laptops entering your registration
requests. If you attended last week's convention in San Jose, California then you were not imagining it. You
were in the house!
As Zinda Magazine predicted a few days before, the Assyrian American National Convention was the largest
organized, profitable, and eventful Assyrian convention in the history of the Assyrian American National
Federation. Perhaps as many as six thousand Assyrians gathered at the Double Tree Hotel in San Jose to
participate between August 30 and September 2.
In all, the 2001 convention was a resounding success, thanks to the leadership of Chairperson Jacklin Bejan, the
computer technology used in processing information, and an army of volunteers! Here's a blow-by-blow report
of the events for those who were unable to attend.
The Registration Process implemented for the first time here expedited the handling of ticket purchasing, events
information, and minimized unlawful activities. Everyone in the lobby and the hotel rooms was pre-identified and
accounted for. For those who had not pre-registered the process on Thursday night was slow and hectic. Those
of us who had visited the Convention website and pre-registered weeks in advance, it was over before we knew
it. Well, okay, not quite, but the only reason we had to stand in line when we arrived at about 10:30 PM
Thursday were those of you who did not register back in July.
The Welcome Packet was a work of art. Everything we needed to know about the convention was pre-bagged
and we even had maps, San Jose's points of interests, our tickets and a complete list of events in one place. So
We were all carrying a badge with our names. It was very convenient to meet people from previous conventions
whose names we had forgotten. "Ah, how are you Dr. so and so" - if only they could include the names of the
spouse and the children too.
At the Genocide Conference, Mr. Wilfred Alkhas of Zinda Magazine moderated a half-day event during which
several scholars and political activists expressed their research and views on the Assyrian-Armenian Genocide
of 1915. Dr. Racho Donef from Australia commented that "the Turks have treated the Genocide asa taboo and
have discouraged discussions on it. It would not be impossible to find people in Istanbul who may have never
heard of the Genocide."
Dr. Richard Hovanessian of the Univeristy of California in Los Angeles argued that the government of Turkey's efforts in denying the Genocide of its Christian
populations in 1915 have passed through several stages since 1918. He said that "the denial has progressed into the phases of rationalization and relativization in order
to make it sem more reasonable and to raise doubts about the intent to destroy an entire people." Lastly, Dr. Gabiele Yonan from Berlin reviewed the important
events before and after the 1915 Genocide. We were then treated to a delicious luncheon where we informally continued our discussions of the 1915 Genocide with
On Friday, after the Genocide Conference our crew was either busy preparing for the next day's Internet
Conference or pretending to be the official convention Life-Guards at the hotel spa and pool area. So we missed
the "Legends" concert with Evin Aghassi and the violinist, Soren. Maybe some of you out there who attended
this event can tell us more next week. Undoubtedly Evin and Soren easily lived up to their legendary names that
All events, whether educational, political, or entertaining were quickly filled. Often people were standing in the
back of the rooms and hallways. Because of the fire marshals code the evening parties could only accommodate
a certain number of guests. The Sunday Banquet tickets, for example, were completely sold out by Friday.
Two speakers discussed two major Internet projects at the Internet Conference on Saturday morning. Mr. Paul
Younan presented his website, Peshitta.org, remotely via video-streaming technology from his office in Chicago
and Dr. Geore Kiraz explained his Syriac Digital Library project. A group of Assyrian webmasters then
responsded to several questions from the audience. These were Dr. George Kiraz , Albert Gabrial
(nineveh.com), Firas Jatou and Peter Betbasoo (AINA.org), George Stifo (bethsuryoyo.com), Paul Younan (peshitta.org), and Sargon Tavour (thinkassyrian.com).
Mr. Tavour then announced the creation of the Assyrian Internet Group and invited others to join this group in the future. At the end of the program, Mr. Wilfred
Alkhas pledged a $2,500.00 contribution on behalf of Zinda Magazine toward the Syriac Digital Library. This amount was then matched by Dr. Bijan Davidson for a
total of $5000.00.
At the Youth Excellence Pageant each candidate gave a moving introductory speech and then demonstrated an
artistic talent. The winner of this year's contest was Mr. Anobel Odisho of San Jose, California. A student at
University of California in Berkeley, Mr. Odisho demonstrated the website he has created for the Dept of Near
Eastern Studies which allows students and faculty at UCB to search and view over 600 images of Near Eastern
artifacts. The second prize ($1000.00) went to Mr. Ramen Benjamin, and Ms. Ilbert Bakunians took the third
prize ($750.00). The first prize was worth $1500.00.
Here's a suggestion for the organizers of the Youth Excellence Pageant: we're there to hear the contestants not
the organizers! The speeches given by the organizers and the panelist were longer than the contestants. Only
when we succeeded in cutting short the speeches at the Sunday Banquet…
There were as many as four hundred people at the Sunday afternoon Political Round Table. We heard
Congressman Mike Honda and Mr. Peter Damijian educating us on the ways of becoming more politically active in Washington. Mr. Yonadam Kanna, General
Secretary of the Assyrian Democratic Movement presented the "News From Homeland" portion of the event. A film produced by Zinda Magazine entitled
"Assyrians in North Iraq After the Gulf War" gave a brief overview of who Assyrians are and why they demand greater recognition in the West.
So what happened to the cocktail reception for the serious politician in us on Sunday at 5:00?
Two other unforgettable events were the Children's Talent Show and the Assyrian Folklore & Contemporary Fashion Show. Who can ever forget those stunning
customs from Bet-Nahrain, specially hand-sown for this year's National Convention. We could not agree more with the proud mothers at the Talent Show and the
adoring audience at the Fashion Show on Saturday. These two events were worth every bit of time and money spent.
In between the seminars and coffee breaks we did pop in for a few minutes each day to see the Art Exhibition
on the first Floor. Here we had ample opportunity to talk to likes of Hannibal Alkhas and Essa Benyamin about
their work and artistic vision. One could easily spend hours in that exhibition hall.
"If you sell it, they will buy!" would have been an appropriate theme for this year's bazaar. Even the Oriental rug
dealer was sold out by Sunday evening. Instead of hiding them in a small room at the basement of the hotel, the
merchants were strategically positioned between the lobby and the dance halls. It was impossible not to pass by
the Assyrianmusic.com table or the Bet-Eil display table and not want to give up on an extra glass of Margarita.
Yes, the drinks were expensive, but didn't stop any of the attendees from consuming massive amounts. As one
bartender said: "I don't know where you guys come from, but I know you drink a lot and tip well." A guest from
Chicago commented: "We invented alcohol, others just made it drinkable."
Assyrian poetry lovers rejoiced on Saturday when Ninos Aho, Hannibal Alkhas, and Yosip Bet-Yosip assembled in an informal gathering for a 90 minutes of
non-stop Assyrian poetry recital in both Eastern and Western Assyrian languages. It was music to our ears.
The picnic on Monday could be almost perfect had there been some music. The weather on the other hand was perfect. For some reason there were no bands and
no music other then a few drummers beating on their dawulas as fast as their gonads pumping testosterone. Who could blame them!
The six-dollar admission fee for this event for which there was no entertainment was not a fair deal. On the other hand the guests seemed to be enjoying themselves
regardless of any musical distraction. There were surely plenty of other distractions with which we could easily amuse ourselves.
There were no serious fights or incidents which required off-convention police activities or reports. There were no arrests, only one 'order to vacate' against a guest.
On the sixth floor of the hotel a fire distinguisher was released and a young man with bloodied shirt was seen on Saturday evening. Any suspected troublemakers
were swiftly handled by a dozen or more security personnel.
During the Political Round Table, Mr. Fred Parhad addressed a question to John Nimrod of the Assyrian Universal Alliance about the fate of his "homeless"
Shamuramut Statue. The moderator of the program, Mr. Carlo Ganjeh, asked him to stop questioning Mr. Nimrod since Mr. Parhad's question "was not related to
any political agenda being discussed that day," shouted Mr. Ganjeh. But the persistent Parhad continued. Mr. Ganjeh called Mr.Parahd out of order and asked that
"Federation" guards and hotel security personnel to escort him out of the meeting hall.
Over the last few hours of the Monday picnic we walked up to people and asked them their opinion about the Convention. Here are a few answers:
a) Room and tickets were unusually cheap for San Jose, but food was expensive (Chicago)
b) I wish the dance floor was bigger; I did not enjoy myself at the parties (Los Angeles)
c) My wife and I are still looking for a place to sit on the grass. Isn't there any greener picnic area in San Jose? (Modesto).
d) Who cares about the damn Convention. I'm still looking for the girl I met last night at the party. Can you put a personal ad in Zinda for me? (Arizona)
e) This was my first Assyrian convention. A group of us came together and stayed in the same room. The boys across from our room were too noisy
the first night, but we were even noisier the next evening (Modesto)
And we thought the 10th Floor was the most boisterous level of the floor at this convention!
So here's Zinda Magazine's Top 10 most unforgettable events at this year's 68th Annual Assyrian American National Convention in San Jose, California:
10. Prof. Hovanessian at the Genocide Conference
9. Joseph's kabobs at the Monday Picnic
8. Fred Parhad's statuettes draped in black
7. Men's Basketball Finals
6. Portrait of Andre Aghassi at the Art Exhibition
5. The Assyrian folk customs shown at the Fashion Show
4. Remote video presentation at the Internet Conference
3. Sargon Lewie's embarrassing comments, addressing Congressman Honda at the Political Roundtable
2. David Yonan's Surprise Performance at the Youth Excellence Pageant
1. Jacklin Bejan declining the "Woman of the Year" award at the Sunday Banquet
Unofficial reports indicate that this year's profits from the convention may have been more than double the most profitable convention in the past. Leave it to the
boys and girls of Silicon Valley to give us a "corporate treatment".
Thanks to all the volunteer staff from the Assyrian American Association of San Jose, Her Majesty Jacklin Bejan, the speakers, presenters, artists, Double Tree
Hotel, and the City of San Jose for a fantastic convention.
See you all at next year's Big Event in Detroit, Michigan!
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