Convention Overview, Saturday 08/30/2003

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Posted by Jeff Atto from ( on Tuesday, September 02, 2003 at 6:00PM :

Friday night I was up late, as was every single other person there, but I don't remember exactly where I was or what I was doing. It's not because I was too drunk to remember (as many others were), but just because my memory is simply that poor. Was I in the lobby of the Hyatt (aka "Al Hyatt") chatting in the early morning hours, or was I at the party in the convention center, or in the lobby of the convention center? It doesn't matter.

I woke up at 10:00, which as I recall meant that I got around 5 hours of sleep, maybe less. I skipped breakfast and went to see a presentation entitled "Assyrian Historical Continuity" which was being moderated by our very own professor Abdulmasih Saadi. Professor Gil Stein (Director of the Oriental Institute of the U of Chicago), Prof. Stuart Creason (U of Chicago), Mark Altaweel, and Prof. Saadi all presented on different topics. I was very happy to hear Gil Stein inviting the Assyrian community to get involved with the Oriental Institute. He seemed to say "Give us your input. How can we help you?" They want to build bridges with the Assyrian community as they have in the past. In just a few weeks, after 3 years of renovation, the Assyrian wing is going to be reopened. Part of that exhibit will be the "Yalda court", named after an Assyrian who donated a sum of money to the Oriental Institute to further their good work. Later on, someone made a very clever comment (not Gil Stein) during the talk which was something to the tune of "The only thing good about the looting in Iraq was that the equipment that was going to be used to make a dam around the city of Ashur was also looted, so now it won't happen."

Professor Abdulmasih Saadi had some very interesting points to make. He put up some ancient syriac manuscripts which were the oldest known texts of ancient greek classics, as well as some writing by Yezidis that shed an interesting light on how they revere ancient Assyrian history. It said that "Nebuchadnessar is our forefather"... but can the Yezidis be "Assyrian" if they aren't "Christian"?? Care to opine?

I have much respect for this esteemed professor, but I couldn't help but notice that it was difficult for him to communicate with those in the audience using English. The points that he was trying to raise were very important, but it was hard to follow him because of this communication problem. It's a shame that such important research can go over people's heads or not get noticed at all because of a simple breakdown in communication.

After this talk I went to the end of the Youth Excellence Pageant where Nicholas of the Jilu tribe "Al-Jeloo" was awarded first place. Sitting in the crowd of this room I heard a few interesting comments. Some people thought that it was a bad idea to have "First place, second place, third place" and instead just recognize the achievements of our young people. The speaker raised a good point in saying that they were "all winners", because they really were. The five young people in that "youth excellence pageant" were shining examples of what all Assyrian young people should be.

From there I went to the "Focus on Iraq" and heard from Firas Jatou on "A Report from the Assyrian International News Agency". It was obvious to me that Firas did quite a bit of research on this topic. He had some maps that the French made from the 1920s, as well as maps from the CIA, and other maps which were all interrelated, superimposed, and multifaceted. The general point of his talk was that there is a certain area which has a dense concentration of Assyrians in the Northern part of Iraq, and which also contains many of the major Ancient Assyrian sites. He was proposing that the Assyrians concentrate on this area in particular for its historical significance as well as the population on the ground. The reverend Ken Joseph spoke as well, and he shared his experiences with his several trips from Iraq. He said that the Americans he has spoken with have told him that "Now is your chance" for the Assyrians to have some sort of a self-governing zone or homeland. He said that before war he asked the Assyrian political parties to fly an Assyrian flag over their building and they said "No, if we do that, Saddam will kill us." and then after the war, he came back and asked them again...where's the flag and they said "No, if we raise the flag now, the Sunnis or Shiites will get angry." and then he explained that from what he has seen in the past few months, that Assyrians are cowards. He repeated it, just in case anyone thought that they misheard. He then went into a mini-rant about how Assyrians have lost their way spiritually...about how not one Assyrian in Iraq that he has shared a meal with has prayed before their meal and how Assyrians need to be more religious... frankly I couldn't disagree more with that pious crap, but I'll forgive him since he's a reverend. He wants us to push for a homeland since the Americans are occupying Iraq right now. Although I didn't coin the phrase, I repeat it often: "If you don't learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it." As I recall, the British occupied Iraq and the Assyrians were their lackeys. Not levies, lackies. The British left Iraq, and the Assyrians suffered as a direct result of this relationship that they had. Who is to say that once the Americans leave this won't happen again if the Americans decide, per our insistence, to give us a tract of land?

First of all, if we were given a small country it would be the worst country on the face of the earth. Not only can our people not have an internet forum which isn't run like a dictatorship, but we have splintered off into a sub sect of a sub sect of a sub sect (have safe sects people) religiously and our political parties and organizations form, break up, and split off like cancerous cells. Let's not even begin to talk about the numerous diclarations that would be involved. Secondly, if we had a country it would be another Israel, which we all know is going to crash and burn as soon as the US stops giving them billions in aid each year. The US IS using Israel, and the entire middle east would resent us as they resent Israel if "Israel #2" was formed. Never put a Christian on an oil field!! Continuing that thought, why can't we concentrate on strengthening our presence in the homeland WHILE ALSO doing as much as we can to preserve our culture in the diaspora? Why not?????

After this, I went to an AANF-CFA youth initiative, which was actually on the program at the request of Chicagoland Assyrians who wanted their young people who are dropping out in large numbers from high school and/or not going on to college to see the importance of higher education. Unfortunately, I and the few others that were there were all from Detroit and other areas. In any case, it was an interesting conversation ranging from topics such as feminism and the history of Iraq.

Next I went to the "Generation Alap" round table, entitled ASAP, or Assyrian Students Addressing Problems. This roundtable was also a highlight for me because it was somewhat informal, yet we spoke about a great number of subjects in-depth and it wasn't chaos. There was a general format, it was run by young people for young people, and there was no outside interference... from Batheys, Kurds, Dimrods, or other "leeders". We discussed 5 main topics, but had a very healthy deviation from those topics and I think it went very well. We were talking for at least two and a half hours, possibly longer. Many contacts were made from this discussion and I think this was the first step for our youth from Europe, the US, Canada, etc. to be networked and communicating in the future without any sort of interference from the "leedership". Although we met at the convention, that doesn't necessarily mean that we have to in the future. We could organize our own "convention", but not call it that because it would be drastically different.

This was the last significant event of Saturday. There was some sort of political roundtable discussion between assyryoyos, chaldoyoys, maroniteoyos, and others...blah blah blah. Then, of course, there were parties.

After the parties I joined a group of 15 or so people in the Hyatt lobby for a "singing and talking" fun-filled early morning. Several european young people, Ninos Aho, Peter, Firas, the Dr., and many others were there.... there's nothing like staying up until 4 or 5 in the morning, singing nationalistic Assyrian songs and otherwise just talking and having fun. I took leave from this group and went up to room 960 and who did I find but all of the young people from the Generation Allap discussion... having a grand old time. I stumbled into bed at 6AM. hands hurt from all of this typing. More to come later.

"You say good-bye, and I say HALLAW"

-- Jeff Atto
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