Reflections On Assyria

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Posted by pancho from ( on Monday, February 03, 2003 at 4:30PM :

Reflections On Assyria

In San Miguel there is a good sized ex-patriate American community. You have your basic artists, painters, sculptors and have your garden variety retired people who opted for a better life on fixed incomes, who also do art...and you have your well to do rich folk who spend a season here. A house in town just sold for eight million so this is a most unusual Mexican town. The rich Mexicans also have homes here. Twenty years ago we looked at a house in town selling for ninety thousand. The lot was huge, two houses on it...and you never knew you were in a town once you stepped through the dilapidated doorway. San Miguel is a national treasure...that means you can't change a thing about its outward appearance. You can do what you want to behind the front wall, but in essence it has to remain fixed in time architecturally. That ninety thousand dollar villa today would be worth two million easily. Couldn't afford it then either.

People have moved here from around the world. Met a Turk years ago starting a hotel. There is a Lebanese restaurant, three Chinese and one sushi joint. There is at least one man from Iraq here that I know of. Lots of Canadians, Europeans etc. The American community has established an excellent hospital and there is an English language library housed in a neat old rambling villa in the ceter of town, in which there is a copy of Thea Halo's book. There is an English language weekly and just this week there were three letters from readers about Bush and Iraq...all critical of Bush. I think Montezuma's Revenge is good for Americans...purges the Yankee Doodle shit right out of them. One letter says it's all about oil, another says Bush has offended every decent sensibility and international law there is...while the other says Bush is as bad as Saddam and both must go.

I'd like to put in a good word for Saddam here. Iraq barely emerged from a rotting Ottoman Empire to have a British puppet government imposed on it I might add that the Asstians among us rushed to help...we have a knack for picking winners. By the time of the Revolution in 58 and a series of weak willed strong-men, Saddam's Baath Party emerged as the one capable enough to hold insure stability AND to keep out the Brits and their Missionaries whose one position is to Fuck whoever they get on top of. Tryng to ward off the Brits and then the Gringos is no easy thing to do. Trying to figure out which member of your opposition is on a foreign payroll can lead to gross violations of Human Rights. But through all of that, Iraq steadily made progress in every field.

If today Saddam's government has evolved in ways we in the West don't approve of, let's not forget they hardly had a moment's peace to themselves... and where they started from. Let several Muslim countries wage economic and military war against the United States for three generations then come tell us how much "freedom" and liberty is left in the U.S.A. Or let them conspire to place a client state in our midst that does to us what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians. We suffered one major hit and it unhinged us in three weeks...ready now to gut our own Constitution, International Law and anything else we feel gets in our way. And it is one thing for an Iraq to produce a Saddam, coming from its recent's another thing altogether for the United States, the land of Lincoln and Roosevelt and Kennedy and even Clinton, to produce a Bush, a Bush who stole his show. From where Iraq started, Saddam and the Baath party have been an improvement...from where America started this has been the most inglorious moment of its history. No...they are not both the same...Bush is by far the worst, and so is the "free" American system that much more to be faulted over the "tyrannical" Iraqi one, for allowing a man like him into power...and the American people far more to blame, who have every advantage over the Iraqi people for redressing their grievances and righting their wrongs, for sitting by and doing nothing to salvadge their honor and protect their system of government which gives them every opportunity to do so peaceably but requires from them the will and common decency to be worthy of an America, if they are going to be critical of an Iraq.

Which brings me to ethnicity...don't ask. What is this thing called ethnicity anyway? Is it embedded in humans that we have to kill each other for it...or is it a figment of our bloody imagination? If you drained the blood out of all of us, mixed it altogether and put it back...would be still be ethnic? If you mixed all of our pigment in one bucket and reapplied it so we were all one soft chocolaty tan, would we still be ethnic? If you mixed all of our tribal silliness and customs together, removed all geographic barriers...fed us all one food, had us all dance one dance, wear one sort of clothing and speak one language...would we be ethnically different? In the last case we would become what we essentially are...ethnically of this Planet and very boring without the diveristy we seem to hate each other for.

In ancient Greece the mountains and valleys produced villages and tribes "different" from each other. In Mesopotamia rivers, mountains and deserts created different ways of life among people sprung from common stock. Newcomers settled and joined either one or another way of established life. What is ethnicity but the set of differences between you and someone else...differences not of blood type, or skin color, nothing so fixed and immutable, but of diet and dress and language and customs...things a human aquires from the region and climate and influences surrounding her birth and life and could just as easily change for another set...or be taken as a babe to a region whose customs are entirely opposed and be raised there a happy, contended, fiercely jealous proponent of THAT ethnicity.

In our case, are we an ethnicity? In the first place there is the thorny issue of our even being Assyrian...exclusively so and not Babylonian or Hurrian etc. And how can we possibly be purely anything after 4000 years of mixing it up...of having foreigners march over us? The very fact that we were apt to convert to Christianity and Islam, and who knows what else, indicates a willingness to try new things. What is "essentially" Assyrian anyway...granted we are what we say we are? The Assyrian of Iraq feels different from the Assyrian of Iran and they feel the same about Assyrians from Turkey or Syria. I don't know what language I speak. I have friends from Iraq whose Assyrian language I barely the Assyrian that Persians speak has numerous loan do all of the Assyrian languages we speak borrow from the dominant groups surrounding them. To be sure there is a "pure" form of the language, but how many people speak it, and outside of the family circle, what good is it anyway except as a historical marker? The language has not manged to keep us together...indeed it seems to exacerbate regional jealousies and if we truly want to understand each other and not get into a huff, we'd be better off speaking anything BUT "our" language.

Not even in religion are we one thing. We are Christian and Muslim...and even there at the outset we have a major dispute going. If we get over that difficulty, we still see that we are separated by the same religion...Christianity, of which there are enough variations among us to stun a rational person. Wherever we think we see a common bond linking all Assyrians together we find on closer scrutiny a rift wide enough to keep us tearing at each other's throats...which may turn out to be the ONE common trait we share. We are not identified by our efforts to come together but to fly apart....the recent hoohaa with "Father" Sarhad, "Shorty" Golani and "Lefty" Aprim being only one of many such instances. Indeed we base our entire identity on something that is itself divided into a thousand fragments how could it be other than it is with us now?

The only thing we agree to share, that we call a decidedly Assyrian trait is our penchant for some variation of the Christian religion. When the Asstian community of Phoenix wants to establish its distinctive presence in America it builds a church. A church it calls "Assyrian". In a hundred years in America that's all we've done till you'd think being Christian is the same thing as being religion makes the ethnicity, as with the Jews. But if all the Jews had converted to Christianty they wouldn't be running around today claiming to be the BEST damn Jews you ever saw.

That's the core of our problem...that the one thing we are willing to admit to sharing... itself caused us to leave our "selves" behind. Take Christianity away from us and we hardly share a thing...and we don't even all subscribe to one variant of that. We aren't an ethnic group at all. If we take on the religion of foreigners...move to foreign lands, raise our children to thrive in those foreign lands...we eventually become associated with the ethnic groups we settle among. The only way to prevent that is to do what the Jews did...become even more decidedly one thing, cling even more ferociously to what we were before becomming a minority and setting out to travel and settle among others. We left the MidEast already divided from our own ethnic identity...replaced by a religous one that made it possible, unlike the Jews, to blend in completely to the lands we moved to...because we shared their religion. In time there was nothing left that really distinguished us from our co-religionists...because all our Christian lives we made Christianity our one supreme identifying and binding force.

In Phoenix the Asstian community wouldn't know what to do if you told them to come up with something "Assyrian" to build. Give them a list of choices and they would choose a Church every time...what is more "Assyrian" than that, they would ask? What "saved" us if not the Church, they would say.

There is no ethnic identity in being Assyrian these days. It's all a religious one with some local customs picked up from the dominant groups we lived among...just as we are doing now in America, Europe and Australia.

We haven't brought anything "Assyrian" to birth in over 2000 years. We just hate the idea of being called Christian "Arabs"...especially as we're the ones who call every Muslim in the MidEast an Arab as a way of indicating that "our" lands were stolen from us by foreigners...from Arabia. If that's true then it's by foreigners from Israel AND Arabia that the Assyrians were done away with.

-- pancho
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