Open letter to Narsai David

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Posted by pancho from ( on Sunday, January 05, 2003 at 3:07PM :


I just finished the first sculpture I've made in a year, not counting all the work on the Lamasu. Have two others going in clay. I've been thinking hard about what course is best to follow. New York galleries keep coming to mind. There doesn't seem to be anywhere else to aim for. No matter what you sell elsewhere, you don't make it till you do it in New York. Can always go elsewhere if that doesn't work.

The kinds of sculptures I'm thinking of, subject matter and style, seem suited for a New York crowd. That's also where they know the artist is SUPPOSED to be difficult and arrogant, as long as he or she produces work that can sell. (Our people seem to adhere to the Miss Manners and Dale Carnegie philosophy of to politely make friends and influence people to buy.) Won't know till I make one or two. Luckily this trip is a short one and the trial wont happen for months yet so I can stay put back here. Let me make a couple of them and make sure I'm satisfied with the results and I'll send you photos. They will involve portrait busts and be in my own style. You know that's the toughest thing. You can learn to make fine sculpture and it can look like everyone else's...everyone making that perfect likeness and what not. There is so much to learn before you can "unlearn"...and you have to do it or else there really wont be much personal style. And it's a phony shortcut to stay up late one night, shoot heroin and fry yourself a new "outrageous" 23, with a "retrospective" two years later. When your hands have done a thousand things "right" can finally afford to close your eyes and let them go, the hands I mean...and you MIGHT get something worthwhile. It's too hard to explain...proof will be in the sculptures.

I know you prefer a systematic style with a minimum of chaos, unfortunately the real stuff in Art doesn't happen that way. Controlled chaos is more like it. If everyone was an artist we'd all starve to death and if the world was filled with successful businessmen we'd also all starve in another way.

This last trip, I visited with Phillip and Mona...congratulated them on the "evening to remember". I voiced my concern about the goal though and how I thought it best for you to be independant of the AAS and its focus on whatever corner of Iraq the same government that starves and bombs those people allows. I said the fundraising celebration was a success because our people, and others, wanted to be present and involved with the kind of event only you could present them with...that if you shifted focus the same people and more would still come. Their reaction surprised me...they said it was only for love of Garbia that people came and spent that much money...not to be there because we are starved for a classy event an Assyrian could pull off. Undoubtedly people were glad to be of help to the greater cause as an added plus...but the chance to party at the feel a glow of pride as Assyrians we hardly ever get to know this event is an ASSYRAN event, right up there center stage and done about as well as these things can be by someone who's done it among the very best, would always be their main reason for coming.

They were adamant though, even combative...saying that if not for the AAS connection hardly ayone would have attended. Things got so hot, with both of them talking over each other, as if to drown the very idea I'd presented, I stopped short and changed the subject. It didn't seem to me to just be an intellectual exchange with a difference of opinion, even a strong one. I sensed the same unwillingness to think of ourselves as anyting but a welfare basket case or tragic roadside victim that I see in so many of us, even the "proud" ones...which could be the reason they behave with so little pride...that only when Assyrians lie cut and bleeding do we expect ourselves to show any interest in Assyrians...that at no time and in no way would we otherwise gather together, pay a "lot" of money, just to revel in the feeling of being the kinds of Assyrians who appreciate these things for their OWN sake...not just to "save Assyrians"...that it doesn't take a tragedy ten thousand miles away every few decades to bring us out for one night...for one very exciting and wonderful night worth all the "trouble", in it's OWN right.

But then look at your own case. I met you when the last thing you were thinking of was installing a public monument...we did it, then you begged off to soon be moved to tears by another Assyrian train wreck in a modern history filled with wrecks and only wrecks because we never get down to the business of setting a better course or overhauling the equipment. The sight of homeless and hungry Assyrians camped under trees, yet again, moved you...whereas the plight of the Heritage, or just its richness and the shame of its demise after so long a ride through history wasn't as compelling. It's like caring about your kid only when he or she gets sick or needs an operation, or providing only enough food to keep him or her alive, screw the rest of what makes for a lively, thriving human bean, as if we were some Hottentot parents who'd developed only as far as the preliminary stages of cannibalism and coconut worship...and not the descendants, or so we claim, of one of the most brilliant civilizations that ever existed. Which of course bring us to the screamingly compelling question of, "WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO US"???...and you know my answer to that already.

We said once, twenty years ago...give Assyrians something classy and they'll respond...we DO have it in us. All that was lacking was the class...the cash was there. Mona and Phillip seem to think the blood has to be there first...and then the class can be used to get as much cash as possible. So, what happens if we ever stop bleeding? Is assimilation, where murder or starvation fails, the "Final Solution" to this Assyrian "problem"?

I think your event will always be a success because of who YOU are...the reputation, the expertise, the style, the contacts. Mingle that with the hunger in Assyrians to strutt their stuff AS Assyrians, and they'll come every year and more than once if you provide the opportunity. These things usually build up slowly, they don't take off beyond people's expectations, like your first event did.

I read now that Turkey wants Mosul and Kirkuk, that they might attack and you know how they feel about Kurds already and guess who's been forced to cozy up to the Kurds, to BOTH sides as the prevailing winds shifted, and could be accused of "selling out" or being an "ally of an enemy" of Turkey etc? America doesn't want the headache and bad press of actually ruling that region...just the right stooge for as long as he cooperates...then it's "rogue status" for him too. There is also talk of attacking Iran. Even if all of this talk is intended to keep people's working in the short run...and exacerbating instability for the long haul. People get unsettled, unhinged in their minds, through their reaction to events around them...and that COULD lead to an explosion down the line. Muslims are only getting more pissed, not less. Eventually they're going to turn on their own leadership, which is as firmly in Uncle Sam's pocket as the Shah or Saudi family or the Sabahs in Kuwait ever were. We know from bitter experience what happens to Christians when Muslims, the rabble especially, rise up. That corner of Iraq everyone, including you, is focusing on is on the crossroads of disaster.

Of course it's a tragedy...of course the children are the most innocent of victims in all of this. But what's the wise thing to do...and what can be most beneficial for the long haul and not simply to assuage people's guilt. What would constitute creative action on our part and not merely re-action? If I had any interest in those children, I'd show it by getting them OUT of the way...not building a school where they can all be exterminated by one well placed, or errant, missile...what's the difference...intended target or collateral damage, either way they're dead and soon forgotten.

Personally I think it's swell of you guys, up to your arses in whipped cream in the West, to insist those children stay right where they are, on a minefield, just so YOU wont have the uncomfortable feeling that the last Assyrian left Iraq. The last Christian may be forced out one day soon, but hardly the last Assyrian. Without US interference that country is one of the richest in the world and was well on its way to excavating and preserving all of our shared Assyrian heritage while caring for the needs of all of its people just fine, in fact, extremely well. This tripe about Saddam changing Assyrian history to make it "Arab" is bullshit foisted on us by our own Christian Right who sees this as one way to alarm us in order to get our sympathy and make us hate Saddam and Islam, (these guys are bigots and racists right up there with the Klan) isn't true and would be doomed to fail anyway cause the whole world knows better, as has been amply set down and established in thousands of books taught to millons of people from hundreds of universities and, I might blushingly add, from the pedestal of the first Assyrian public monument in 2500 years. Things Saddam has no influence with.

The danger isn't that our heritage will die out in Iraq, but that it will die out in America and elsewhere OUTSIDE of Iraq and the MidEast. That we'll neglect to care for it in the midst of all this wealth we have in the West while clamoring to dig wells and replace tin roofs in a ravaged, blighted, war-torn area where we have to get permits and ask permission to send band-aids, if it doesn't interfere with the free flow weapons, for wounds that may never cease to be inflicted, or allowed to heal.

The Christians in Iraq will just have to take whatever lumps the rest of the people there are dished out and if we would truly help them, we would help ALL of the people by voicing our disapproval for the inhuman policy this country is persuing over there. Trying to help only the Christians while the rest of the country burns is a doomed effort that in fact could recoil on them one day, marking them out yet again as has so often happened to Christians who looked to the West for aid and comfort...but our patriots don't mind and can make hay even of that because they've learned to find a grim sort of satisfaction in being "martyred" as a consolation prize...a dismal "coin" in the bank that may prove usefull some other day down our bloody road.

Basing our future, as a final resort, on how much blood we can be made to shed in the hope that this will excite the pity of some powerful entity to step in and save us...especially if you look at the bloody hands of those we're looking to, is about as stupid a thing as our patriots and thinkers WOULD come up with.

You know, there are so many competing agendas among these patriots of ours it's difficult not to rub elbows with the wrong crowd sooner or later, even when you start out with the right one, if there is such a thing. And when push comes to shove, and it will over there again, ALL of them get wiped out with no one bothering to make those nice distinctions you now make between the good and the not so good. The people in Iraq don't need your input...all the energy you are expending in building roofs and schools they can easily outmatch if this country would get off their backs. Iraq can earn, in two minutes, what it took even you a year to raise. Also, you guys are building in a war zone and "donation fatigue" may set in if you have to come back and ask for yet another set of roofs. And if that becomes necessary because of another attack from the West and further degradation, the Christians there might just see themselves slaughtered or further marginalized twenty years down the line. Europe and America have shown little concern over the slaughter of Christians to date, killing enough themselves when policy called for it. There is NO more volatile area on earth!

I believe people will come every year to your functions even if you were raising money for the Boy Scouts of America. The point is, what DO you raise the money for? I still say that our Heritage will only be "saved" here in the West...the Christian contingent of it. A Muslim Assyrian has more than just the Assyrian past to be proud of...he has the Babylonian, Chaldean, Christian, and the glory of the greatest Muslim Age, that of Haroun when Baghdad was THE city in the world. With all of that for the Muslim Assyrians of Iraq to be proud of there is no compelling need for them to emphasize any one stage in their glorious past. But the fact that they expend the time and energy to preserve the Assyrian part of their overall heritage should give us confidence that what remains of Assyrian remains is safe over there if this war would just stop. Our Christians refuse to go that by definition their world view is somewhat limited to say the least, which explains their horrible lack of sophistication... for they refuse to see or "recognize" any legitimacy of the last 1300 years of Muslim history in Iraq and the world by extension...except to count and recount their dead and losses...and wail even louder for someone to come save their Christian fannies.

But you can see the spirit of true pride or self respect isn't in them. See it in almst every word and action. After a hundred years in America, not a single school, no cultural center...yet we chastise Saddam for not caring for us as we'd like HIM to do, in a Muslim country at war no less. And I don't think, if there wasn't the gleam of all that wealth, that our patriots would be lusting for just a "tiny" Christian oil field over there to make a country of. That's why they're always clamoring about THE MONEY...who has it, who raised it, who controls it, who STOLE IT!...because they're mostly theives themselves or lowdown enough to encourage the killing of more innocents over there, Muslims OR Christians, for the chance at "getting" a country, who can't for a minute believe anyone does this for love and not cash. Most of these guys are taxi drivers and day laborers, in their hearts and minds at least, who yearn to have an oil rich BetNahrain they can "love". Hell, they'd be glad to give America whatever percentage it wanted so long as they got to dip their fingers in the bloody oil too.

I think you should continue your work on the Assyrian Heritage HERE in others should begin doing in countries outside of Iraq. Remember, the ancients didn't stay locked up between those rivers either...they went as far as they could and took their culture with them or else there never would have been any Assyria as the world knew it. We're in a New World in many need to go back to the land between those rivers, as sentimentally pleasing as it might's a kind of a Super-Conservatism out of step with what the future portends. It will be by openning up, by expanding outward, that we might thrive...not by hunkering down in remote villages in the mountains of Iraq...where we can only be involved at all by the permission of some pencil pusher in Washington. Nothing we buld there as yet stands any hope of being even semi-permanent.

And by the way, now that the US government forbids you to send any money to Iraq, unless and until you manage to get a special permit...which can be revoked at any long do you think it'll be before patriots start asking, "what happened to the money they raised for that school...were they fooling us all along...who has the money now (the amount will grow)...who gets the interest each month...did they just use the suffering of our people to make money and a name for themselves"? I realize it's a no-won situation either way...but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be better thought out so that at the least the spectre of yet another group of Assyrians "using" our plight as a way to benefit themselves doesn't arise.

Besides which it is a glaring moral contradiction to be sending millions in tax revenue over there to kill the parents, then come weeping about the plight of the orphans. That's muddled thinking and ambiguous behavior...just what we've been suffering from for so long and why we've been unable to do a damn thing in the richest country on earth these last hundred and more years.

Without an increased awareness, especially among the Western nations over there willy nilly bashing what they don't understand or value, there will never be an appreciation for that Cradle of Civilization...not if the conservative and backward forces in the US have their way. Goo is what they want and what they'll reduce the region to if that's the only way to get it, besides, weapons...the greatest single export this nation produces, need to be tested on someone in order to make sales...where better than a country whose children can be starved for years with nary a word of protest? People in this country need to be educated about the incredible wealth and richness of the PEOPLE, CULTURE and HERITAGE back there...and not just the goo underground.

You said when the children's dance troupe finished people leapt to their feet, and they weren't even Assyrian kids. That's how hungry we are. Why not fund a serious dance instructor to train a dance troupe open to Assyrian kids and have them perform next time? Making them the nucleus for a professional dance company? Why not commission Nebu to write music for the dance...why not commission our fine poets like Ninos Aho or Yousip Bet Yousip to write lyrics, set to Nebu's music, why not have Hannibal Alkhase paint the backdrops for a professional Assyrian dance troupe that can tour the world? Whassamatter...don't think Assyrians can do it? Why not begin to define what a modern Assyrian culture will be? Would people come together to support such programs for our own youngsters and promote our Heritage?...what do you think? Why can't this be the group that gets invited to go to St Petersburg, or participate in any number of cultural exchange programs held round the world annually? What did those kids dancing that night have over any ours EXCEPT the interest and support of their community?

The Ballet Folklorico de Mexico travels the world and sells tickets to people eager to see a stirring night of ethnic dance. Do you really believe we couldn't pull such a thing off? Could the Berkeley Rep make a stage available for ONE NIGHT, for a performance of such a troupe down the road...Assyrian music and all? And NOT a rigid program to remain "true" to old our dinosaurs complained we didn't in the Asurbanipal...but to blend old and new because we need to bring our culture into THIS era if it's to survive.

Assyrian kids, Assyrian dance to Assyrian music... Assyrian costumes WELL MADE and details seriously attended to...a great evening of food and wine and entertainment that's more than just a good show but a revival, thousands of miles from its birthplace, of a dynamic new manifestation of our ancient Assyrian culture. And what if...what if, one of the dances told the story, in artistic imagery not overheated and stale political rhetoric, about the glory of Assyria and the shame of what's happening to it and its people now. You know the Arts, you deal in them intimately and know many well respected artists in all fields...Art "works", doesn't it...doesn't it? What remains of us EXCEPT our Art to dazzle the world.

If any other Assyrian called for the kind of support you received...who would come? These people are using you far below your capacity to make a real difference for this Heritage. Believe me, in spite of your best efforts, the Christians of that region will find themselves here again in twenty, in fifty, in seventy-five years. Nothing significant will change over there unless and until we harness the latent energy in the Assyrian community OUTSIDE OF IRAQ and the MidEast. That's the kind of task reserved for someone like you...not gathering small change or even big change for small goals, relatively small that is. Somewhere, someday at some time, some Assyrian will have to do it if you wont. But who better than you, and can we afford to wait any longer?

Let the rest of them see if they can attract a crowd by weeping for Garbia. It's been tried, it doesn't work. Using you, with all the experience and horse sense and contacts and know-how and class, even with all of your rough spots those of us who know you cherish...for work such as they envision is like using a fine surgical instrument to peel potatoes with. The best use of your time is to lay the foundations for something with a high standard from the beginning that has a very good chance of becomming self-sustaining...of doing its work and expanding beyond what we can imagine now. We will have plenty of people who can manage it and run it well...we have no one else who can start it from scratch.

Just a thought. See you.


-- pancho
-- signature .

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