The Best Assyrians

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Posted by farid from ( on Thursday, July 24, 2003 at 1:31PM :

The Best Assyrian Of Them All...

Is close to illiterate...has an undemanding life and mightily challenged by working on a committee to put on an awards devoutly, orally, Christian...would never dream of standing out in a crowd...ready to fawn at a moment's notice...extremely hostile to anything he or she never thought of before...wary of anything beyond his or her abilities or scope and easily impressed by baubles and proximity to "important" people.

These people also tend to be rude and crude, though appearing ever so well mannered... and constantly on the lookout to chase anyone away who doesn't fit the suffocating boundaries of Assyria in it's Diapers. And from this bunch comes our leadership...the tallest of the pygmies. These people have succeeded in driving away the few among us more thoughtful, circumspect and open to previously unimagined possibilities who, nonetheless, seem overly delicate and easily sent packing. And this is what they really excell at...this is how they maintain their franchise, this is the real, national "work" they do, this is how they strive for "unity", by driving away all who disagree...and these are the ones with letterhead stationery ready to stun and amaze world leaders and now, god help us, the Media.

One thing above all else...these people and their leaders are suspicious of excellence, of even an attempt to reach "very good"...afraid of raising the bar off the floor where it's been for centuries just so's Nana's hairy little dumpling won't feel put upon, as if it should be the easiest thing in the world to be the "heirs of Ashurbanipal". A major part of their stranglehold on the right to be called an Assyrian is their insistence that nothing beyond mediocrity humble and unassuming and non-threatening enough, like Christ be really and truly and safely Assyrian. After just one hundred years of this kind of leadership and standards, including "inspiration" for our young people and you can see where it leads...right down to the basement of a hotel where the delegates of the Nation are meeting in caterwauling conclave or something.

The really funny thing is that we don't seem to know what do with ourselves once we're free to be Assyrian. What we do rather is play at being Christian and call that the same thing. There is NO one standing in our way or persecuting us as Assyrians and there never has been..the thing we always point to that held us back in the we were just waiting all these hundreds of years, raring and roaring to explode in all sorts of "Assyrian" directions..."just give us the sligtest chance...remove these chains, Oh Lord...and we'll show 'em"!

And so we got away...made it to Christian countries where we knew we would be safe to be "ourselves"...not Assyrian countries mind you...but Christian ones, again reveling what the crux of all this wailing and weeping has been about. Since no one stops us or puts us down in the West (where we are "Free At Last...Free At LAST"!!)... but on the contrary, as San Francisco showed us and Chicago and Detroit would have shown...we are welcome, even eagerly blocks, no hurdles, no discrimination, what do we do? Two things; first we go to complaining that Saddam won't offer our children Assyrian language schools in Iraq and some other guys won't accomodate our "deepest aspirations" in Turkey or Syria. We do this at conventions in the the United States where our children roam the halls shouting and cursing their boredom in English...not Assyrian. We say it's an outrage that Muslims don't respect our language and history...then we allow a ZOWAA to remove the painting of an Assyrian artist because he used "their" color in a negative way. This is supposed to show Saddam and his type the enlightened way to deal with this proud and noble People.

The other thing we do is fight, kick, gouge, block, discriminate against and generally try to destroy or render ineffective other Assyrians whom we see in "competition" with us, the more "true" Assyrians. Needing someone to either put us down, or to put down ourselves...and there being no one at all remotely interested in playing either part...we take it on ourselves to do both and stab, bite, frustrate, villify and spread lies about whomever we get our hands on...something not even a Saddam bothered to do to us.

Put us in a room and tell us we're free to be express our Assyrianismness and we'll hem and haw...stare at the ceiling...look over to see what the other guy is doing, with an eye out to stop him if he dares anything...stand around dopey and confused for, after all, what IS Assyrian anyway, until someone whips out that Jew history book laughingly called the "Word of God" and proceeds to tell his neighbor that, considering everything, it was a pretty good deal all the way around, turning Christian that is. There we were, broke and despised, no empire no nothing..and we get to go to a Jew Paradise, skip the bother and headache of building anything here on earth, if we'll just agree that it was a good thing to take a sweet, innocent, unoffending young Jew and break his bones and drive nails through his body and hang him there...small price for us to pay when you consider the "eternal reward" for such a gross and heinous act, something any ancient Assyrian, who didn't run away from the fight, would have spit upon...and then some other man or woman will point out, chapter and verse, where Yahwe says we're all right...when he needs a babysitter for his darlings or someone to play the part of public executioner..."isn't that a wonderful thing", several Assyrians will now most of them being down on their knees weeping and wailing through gnashing teeth..."we don't have a pot to piss in but we get to see Yahwe and all the faster and more clearly if we'll eat shit uncomplainingly for as long as we're on earth"...within sight of our children.

The only positive example I know of that veers away from this is the Chaldean organization CARE...whose members, among other activities they participate in and initiate that bring pride and public recognition to their heritage, actually dare go out to the Detroit public schools and educate the students about who the Chaldeans were and are. And the howlingly funny thing about this is that no Assrin patrot has EVER attempted such a thing, nor would...yet Assyrians have the nerve to tell Chaldeans they don't exist...when for all practical purposes Assyrians are ones who died and forgot to be buried. I don't know which is have "never existed" but speak out now...or to "have existed" and remain silent now.

And here I'm going to wander through the Shumirum Monument project again. To me it's come to mean more than it ever started out to be...much more than a bronze monument to one Assyrian queen, perhaps even a failed monument at that. It's become an ungainly 900 pound canary hauled down into the mine shaft these people have made of "Assyria" to tell us how poisonous is the national air we suffocating the place is. You'd think that having a city like Chicago agree to install the monument a couple of blocks from the Oriental Institute, one of the world's most respected centers for the study of Assyriology, on the lovely campus of the University of Chicago, would be an honor...would at least be seen as a good thing. Or at the very least that no one, no Assyrian and certainly no leader of Assyrians, would object to.

You'd think that if you believed these people were really interested in promoting us as Assyrians to the larger public or even to our own children. I certainly thought they would. Therefore it came as a shock that John Nimrod, our redoubtable General Secretary of something called an Assyrian Universal Alliance (which is Christian, not Assyrian, is hardly Universal or even "city-wide" and certainly isn't an Alliance of anybody but John and his Bored) would step in and threaten to sue the city of Chicago if it installed the Shumirum Monument.

I remember at a meeting with the Arts Council, held especially to discuss his objections, as his reasons, that the site chosen was too near the south side where the slaughterhouses used to be...over 70 years ago...that the neighborhood on the south side wasn't a good one and that no Assyrian would drive through it to see the monument. He also objected to the students having picnics on the massive lawn and playing frisbee and football. In private he'd also told me there were too many "Blacks" (when really there're only a few...the rest of them hanging out on Clark Street where his World Hindquarters are)...though that wasn't exactly the term he used...this, however, he didn't mention to the members of the Arts Council.

Michael Lash, Director of Public Art, patiently explained that the last slaughterhouse closed decades ago...that the University had recently purchased ten square blocks of land on the south side of the campus and soon new dormitories and classrooms would be built, placing the Shumirum right in the center of a newly constructed campus. As to having to drive through the south side, even in its present condition...he suggested that Assyrians could drive into the campus from the north, or the West, or boat across Lake Michigan. As to the students and their games this was, after all, a university. My preference, and I assumed every other Assyrian's, was always for a site that would present this monument and the history engraved on it to others...not just our own people. The purpose was to educate others about us, let them know we exist and who we are and to that end a well known univeristy with an international student body would be ideal...for the students would take with them, tucked away in a corner of their minds perhaps...if there was any room left, a memory of what they'd seen and read and so spread the word even farther. And of course over the years there would be a constant flow of new people coming through and that could only help us reach even more.

After waiting for John to find an alternate site, as he'd demanded he be allowed to do, the Arts Council heard nothing from him for three years and, tired of waiting, decided to go ahead and install the Shumirum without his blessing. When Nimrod got wind of that he quickly wrote a letter threatening to sue the city if they did. Not wanting the publicity if word got out to other potential donors that an organization donating artwork could be so angry with the city as to sue it over placement, the Arts Council decided to shelve the project till Nimrod dropped his threat. From their standpoint the Arts Council and the City of Chicago was honoring the Assyrian community and couldn't even begin to understand what this "leader" (and the Assyrian people as well since no one uttered a peep) found so objectionable in the proposed site that he would rather see the monument mothballed.

This was a puzzle to me also, especially considering Helen Scwarten, John's older sister, had paid $100,000 herself just to see the monument completed quickly so it could be installed (and died waiting on her brother). Shumirum provided me with an insight I wouldn't have had the opportunity to gain otherwise because through her I had the chance to see our leadership, from the MidWest to California, in action...behaving in ways that revealed what really drives these people and how little the rest of us are really interested in this Heritage.

In the first place and contrary to all their claims...they aren't interested in serving anyone or anything but their own need to be seen as leaders of an Assyrian Nation and all of them harbor a secret, deep rooted fantasy that they'll be called upon one day to be Supreme Leader. If something will be of benefit to Assyrian people but will in any way diminish their own sense of who they are or should be, or wreck their chances to be the greatest among a host of midgets...they'll kill it. John did this, Jackie did it and Atour labored mightily at it too. Assyria is to exist at all only if it furthers their claim to be its's shining stars, or at the least the ones through whom any benefits must flow...and their focus isn't on the country as a whole or the world, but rather their own be seen as the "club above other clubs"...and each of them as the "leader among leaders of clubs" that city or town. That's the extent of their perspective, that's their "Vision"...that's their "Long View".

I've come to the conclusion that Nimrod, like Jackie, would rather the monument dies than it get installed without them...without tangible proof all of us can see that THEY made it possible. It galls them, I know, that someone else had to make the monument...but having conceded or thrown away that much "glory", they aren't about to let it slip from their hands any either goes up through their efforts, with a clear indication that they played a pivotal role, that THEY got to decide something, or it can just as well, or better yet, gather dust and rot in obscurity. You can see this in Jackie also in her decision to ban me from the convention in San Jose because I wouldn't service her on my knees...replacing fifteen bronze sculptures with three clay pots by that famous Assyrian artist, Melinda Chavez, peace be to her. Chavez was appropriately gratefull...Chavez was amenable...Chavez was, in reality, propbably stunned to be asked...Chavez allowed Jackie to share the spotlight...therefore Chavez was "real" and "true"...or at the least, docile...which is the Assyrian trait of preference par excellence. You couldn't do better for a pet than to adopt an Assyrian.

As a result of lots of things these past few years I find myself with an unpaid foundry bill. I am fortunate that the foundry isn't pressing me about it, that they understand what hit me, but neither can I cast any more sculpture till I pay off. Just a few weeks ago I had someone contact John Nimrod with an offer to send the monument to Chicago after all...but only if there was a site agreed upon and an installation date set. If the monument was to be installed there was a way by which the foundry bill would be taken care of...and not by Nimrod paying it either. One of the sites Nimrod had floated was on the north side of Chicago, where the better Assyrians and Jews live. Nimrod wanted the Shumirum Monument in a park near his home. The Arts Council had reluctantly now everyone understanding what Nimrod was all about and what kind of fluff the rest of us are made of. I held out because it was never part of the 13 year deal to make a monument that one petulant man, who gave not a dime himself while several other Assyrians, besides his sister, gave thousands to...would decide this thing unilaterally and only with his own, narrow, interests in mind.

We insisted that Nimrod put everything in writing and sure enough a letter came from him stating that he would pay all crating, shipping and installation costs (and happily too as this was the only way he'd get the monument) and that the place he wanted it was not the park on the north side after all, but at the proposed site of the new AUA headquarters, the land for which had recently been purchased. The park on the north side we'd all heard about for six years was out...the as yet to be built AUA headquarters was his choice...take it or leave it. I gagged...balked and said I'd rather melt the monument down and sell it for scrap bronze than to ever see it at the AUA anything. More than likely the monument would have sat either in the basement on Clark Street or in his yard for years because Nimrod would only install the mounument where it would do HIM the most good and that might be in the most obscure setting possible. Why should he allow me, an outsider, the "glory"...the attention...the notariety? That's how these people think...THAT'S their one "Assyrian" trait held in common with the leaders of other clubs and organizations.

Since I couldn't bring myself to slime the monument that far, I refused to send it at all...which cost me with the fellow who was the go-between...who'd expected to be the one to finally broker the deal and break this impass. I am, with a monument paid for by several Assyrians, to the tune of $200,000, fifteen years after I started it and six since it was completed. No one wants it, not really, not unless they can use it for the same old dismal ends...and I'm not about to be party to the very thing I see is killing us all...namely the short-sighted greed and lust for petty distinction among our most undistinguished leadership who only get these "lofty" positions because they scare off anyone unwilling to play these distressing and depressing games of theirs..people either afraid of being stabbed in the back and gossiped about or who've already received the "treatment".

If I try to install it in any other city in the United States Nimrod will write a letter threatening legal action for he's convinced his sister's donation makes the monument his own personal property. No city government needs that kind of grief. This was supposed to be a joyous affirmation of what is best about us...not this travelling freak show it's become instead.

My foundry bill isn't so much that I can't sell the monument someone who'll bury it in a sculpture garden somewhere on a private estate. Such people do exist. That would take care of the bill and I could get back to casting new sculpture. But somehow that doesn't seem right either.

I think the most proper outcome after all, is to cut the statues up and melt them down. Somehow that seems to me to bring this thing full circle as the best and most fitting resolution. The monument was born, it was accepted, it waited on us...and after several years, it died waiting, like John's sister did. As far as the other donors go...they all had ample time to make themselves fact a threatened lawsuit against John for his interference would have shut him down immediately. He had no right and no legal basis whatsoever to get away with any of this. But what Assyrian has EVER stood up for him or herself...even when all and the ONLY opposition we get comes from our own puny people?

Perhaps it wasn't a failure after all. Monuments are much more than an accumulation of metal and stone put up to glorify or commemorate something. They can be that and only that...but the best of them have something lasting to say that has meaning far beyond. Perhaps this is one monument that achieved its goal and did it better than I could have expected and in a way I never intended...and then only because it came to such an end. Public monuments should reflect the people they come from. Usually people want the best about them to be known and preserved...usually. But we are an unusual people drowning in that Christian amber Tiglath mentioned. We have labored mightily down through the centuries to deny and bury what we claim is our essential Assyrian identity...the one we could lay claim to long before Christianity bled us white. But the truth is best, even when it's an unpleasant one. And the truth of this monument is that no Assyrian wanted it, not really, not badly enough...not if it meant changing over to new ways of thinking and being Assyrian. Jews stayed Jews no matter what Christians did to them for 2000 years and Jesus and his father were BOTH Jews!...they never broke faith and it's the core and essence of their strength. We...we turned into pseudo-Jews and it's brought us core, no center, no gumption, no guts...just pious cant and a hope and desire to die out and get it over with.

Nothing new will be built on the rotten foundation we've been left with...nothing. Maybe the Shumirum has to die, maybe we aren't ready for it...maybe it will cause some of us to re-think some things and without that we're dead and deserve to be.

Maybe that was it's real function as a's apparent failure, really its success. I can live with that.

-- farid
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