AUAF Honors Two Past Board Presidents

May. 09

This past Sunday, we here at AUAF were proud to open our doors and share with the community our revitalized community center. But as we move forward with our new vision, we felt it was appropriate to pay tribute to those who were instrumental to the foundation and growth of AUAF. Our Fine Arts Department led an initiative to honor two past Board Presidents of the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation: The Late Helen James Schwarten and The Honorable Homer Ashurian. 

We were proud to unveil two dedicated portraits recognizing both of these individuals in the presence of their families and friends.

Honoring Helen James Schwarten

Helen James Schwarten fled Iran with her mother and two siblings during the Assyrian Genocide in 1917. She later found herself resettling in America, where she would slowly rebuild her life. Though she would become incredibly wealthy, Helen never forgot her roots. A philanthropist devoted to her community, she spent much of her life working with Assyrian immigrants and students.

Her motivation to help fellow immigrants stemmed from her own experience as well as her deep religious faith. She aimed to assist those in the community who had been persecuted and were now struggling to start a new life. For example, she generously aided many Assyrians struggling to make ends meet by paying their bills, and would take new immigrants around Chicago to get to know the city.

Helen became an integral part of the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation, supporting the creation of the Ashurbanipal Library and initiating various educational programs, including AUAF’s scholarship fund.

She served as AUAF’s president for many years, lending both her time and financial support to ensure its success, leaving a lasting impact on the organization and a generation of Assyrians. She passed away in 1999.

Honoring Homer Ashurian

The late Homer Ashurian was born and raised in Urmia, Iran. He graduated from the University of Tehran with Masters Degrees in Archaeology and Assyriology. In 1975, Homer Ashurian was elected to serve as a Member in the Iranian Parliament, giving a voice to the Assyrian people. He served honorably for four years.

He ultimately found himself resettling in the United States with his wife, Suzy, and his two sons. Though far from home, distance did little to stop his efforts to secure a better future for his people, both in the homeland and in the diaspora. He joined the AUAF Board of Directors in 1987. Those who knew and worked with him here recall his total commitment to the organization’s mission and to the community. Ashurian dedicated his broad intellect and his boundless energy to a singular cause: Assyrians.

He had a forceful commitment to improving the lives of Assyrians in the homeland, as well as helping Assyrians in the United States through the challenges they faced with resettlement. A central part of AUAF for nearly thirty years, he retired in 2015. Though he passed away last year, his legacy lives on–both in our mission at the AUAF, and in the hearts of all the people who had the pleasure of working with him.

The Artists

The Portrait of Helen James Schwarten was painted by Detroit-based Assyrian artist Reni Stephan. The Portrait of Homer Ashurian was sketched with charcoal by Chicago-based Assyrian artist John Malk. Both paintings are now on display in our facility. See more of Stephan and Malk’s works in our Studio Gallery through the end of June.