On Mother Language Day

Date: February 21, 2018

Despite a wide array of international efforts to preserve it, the Assyrian language is steadily on the decline. Our believed mother tongue is losing out to English and other world languages, particularly among younger generations of Assyrians, as more and more become a part of the diaspora community.

Too often do we take it for granted. It’s almost as though because the language has survived thousands of years, through war and displacement, we feel that it will simply continue to do so without our active efforts. Think about this: Nearly everything you learned about in your history classes–from the Middle Ages to William Shakespeare to the signing of the Declaration of Independence–occurred while there were Assyrians somewhere in the world speaking their rich language.

It is our duty as Assyrians to pass the language on to future generations. Preserving an endangered ancient language is a huge undertakingand often times it might seem like too great of a challenge. We must make a choice to accept its preservation as our duty. Take the initiative to learn your language: Accepting this responsibility is the only way to ensure its survival.

“We understand the beauty of our mother tongue when we are abroad.”
George Bernard Shaw 

This International Mother Language Day, we’re sharing 10 small ways you can do your part:

    1. Subscribe to Bet Kanu–the “House of Creation.” Founded by a talented group of young and dedicated Assyrians in Syria, Bet Kanu offers a wide range of products designed to make learning the Assyrian language easy and enjoyable. Available in both Eastern and Western dialects, Bet Kanu products are used and loved around the world. From mobile apps to games, songs (click here to watch the “Finger Family” song in Assyrian), and videos, the team at Bet Kanu makes available modern resources to learn an ancient language. Be sure to check out KANU KIDS for adorable mini-series like the hit “Nino & Mia” that will spark interest in even the youngest Assyrian minds–teaching them the language and valuable lessons!
    2. Download Base 2 Applications apps. Take a look at their popular Assyrian apps available to you in the App store. Their apps will make learning the alphabet fun at any age.
    3. Visit LearnAssyrian.com. This website is a wonderful resource, but requires serious commitment. Grab a sheet of paper and a pen, and get ready to teach yourself using their free 41-page guide. If you’ve got little ones at home, Learn Assyrian is also home to the wildly popular Assyrian alphabet learning blocks. Order yours today!
    4. Attend classes at the ANCI. The Assyrian National Council of Illinois offers Assyrian language classes for both children and adults in the Chicagoland area. Take advantage of these free courses; before you know it, you’ll be reading right to left with ease. Assyrian language classes are offered across the United States. If you’re outside Illinois and looking for a class near you, feel free to contact us for help.
    5. Check out SargonSays.com. Sargon Says offers an English to Assyrian dictionary that is an incredible resource to those looking to refine their language skills, as well as those new to the language.
    6. Stop by The Ashurbanipal Library. Our library here at the AUAF has tons of resources available for anyone looking to learn the Assyrian language, like Dr. Simo Parpola’s famous Assyrian-English-Assyrian Dictionary.
    7. Enforce the popular “Assyrian Only” rule in your home–and not just when the grandparents are around.
    8. Challenge your friends. The next time you guys are hanging out, challenge each other to use only Assyrian. It may seem weird at first, but it can also be fun.
    9. Make a pledge to learn the Assyrian alphabet by the end of this year. Here’s a great video from Rinyo to help you do so!
    10. Watch video lessons created by Modern Assyrian on Youtube.

2017 AUAF Scholarship Recipients

Date: January 10, 2018

AUAF values education and the role it plays in helping young Assyrians build a better future for themselves and their community. As the nation’s largest not-for-profit organization supporting Assyrian American higher education, we have awarded more than a million dollars in scholarships over the years.

Here are our scholarship award recipients from 2017:

 

Amanda Slefo, Northeastern Illinois University
$5,500

With the support of the AUAF, Amanda Slefo obtained her ELL endorsement from Northeastern Illinois University. She tutors recent immigrants and refugees at the AUAF.

 

Rashel Pakbaz, University of Cambridge
$5,000

Rashel Pakbaz is a PhD student. Her goal as a researcher at Cambridge is to collect, document, and examine ancient and modern Assyrian music in order to identify the ways in which it helps preserve the Assyrian ethnic identity.

Nenous Thabet, University of Baghdad 
$5,000

Nenous Thabet is a young Assyrian artist from the Nineveh Plain in Iraq. After escaping ISIS, and later returning to help rebuild his hometown, Nenous plans to attend art school in Baghdad, Iraq. Learn more here.

Khoyada Scholarship 
$4,000

We were proud to partner with the Iraq-based Chaldo-Assyrian Student Union, commonly known as Khoyada, to present $4,000 in scholarships to top Assyrian high school graduates in northern Iraq: Nataliya Sabah Shaya, Lara Hikmat Khaleel, Isha Ismaeel Isha, Georges Marqus Eramia, Ator Tawr, and Rafil Aamir Goryel. Details here.

 

AUAF Awards Scholarships to Top Assyrian Graduates in Northern Iraq

Date: December 20, 2017

Through community grants and scholarships, the AUAF helps Assyrian students across the globe gain the support and education they need to shape our community’s future. We were proud to partner with the Iraq-based Chaldo-Assyrian Student Union, commonly known as Khoyada, to present $4,000 in scholarships to top Assyrian high school graduates in northern Iraq. 

Recipients of this AUAF scholarship included: 

  • Nataliya Sabah Shaya
  • Lara Hikmat Khaleel
  • Isha Ismaeel Isha
  • Georges Marqus Eramia
  • Ator Tawr
  • Rafil Aamir Goryel

These students were identified as the top high school graduates of the 2016-2017 academic school year, and are now enrolled at various universities across Iraq. It is our hope that the scholarships awarded would encourage these students to continue to excel as they pursue higher levels of education. 

The scholarships were presented at Khoyada's anniversary party held in Alqosh, Nineveh Plain on December 9, 2017. The AUAF also recently presented a $5,000 scholarship to Assyrian artist Nenous Thabet, who plans to pursue artistic studies in Baghdad next year. 

AUAF Awards Scholarship to Rising Assyrian Artist

Date: December 13, 2017

Through community grants and scholarships, the AUAF helps Assyrian students across the globe gain the support and education they need to shape our community’s future. We were proud to award a $5,000 scholarship to Nenous Thabet as he pursues artistic studies in Iraq.

Nenous is a young artist living in Bakhdida, a town in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain. In August 2014, his family was forced to flee their hometown as ISIS invaded the region, and spent three years living in Ankawa. Nenous and his father, Thabet Mikhael, are both artists and were deeply impacted by the footage that emerged showing the terrorist group’s destruction of Assyrian heritage sites. While most felt powerless, Nenous decided there was only one thing he could do: Rebuild.

They waged a war on art and culture, so I decided to fight them with art.

Following the liberation of the Nineveh Plain in early 2016, Nenous’s family returned home to find it in ruins: Homes were burnt from the inside out, buildings reduced to rubble, churches blackened by fire. Worst of all, the town was empty. A vibrant city had become a ghost town.

Nearly a year later, life is slowly returning to the town. Nenous and his father led a campaign to eliminate ISIS graffiti in various towns of the Nineveh Plain, leading a team of artists who together painted colorful murals over hateful words. Families have moved back, shops have reopened, and school is in session—but there’s a long, long way to go.

Nenous remains committed to his goal, and continues to recreate iconic pieces. He’s garnered international attention for his work, even landing a feature on CNN. He says his goal is to rebuild Nineveh. “Everyone is born with a purpose. I think this is mine,” he says.

Check out our full interview with Nenous below.

AUAF Awards $5,000 Scholarship to Artist Nenous Thabet

Through community grants and scholarships, the AUAF supports Assyrian students across the globe gain the support and education they need to help shape our community's future. We were proud to award a $5,000 scholarship to Nenous Thabet as he pursues artistic studies in Iraq. Nenous is a young artist living in Bakhdida, a town in Iraq's Nineveh Plain. His hometown was destroyed by ISIS, but his family has since returned and has vowed to rebuild.

Posted by Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation on Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Plan a Family Trip to The Art Institute of Chicago

Date: June 14, 2017

This past weekend, our Fine Arts Program organized a field trip to The Art Institute of Chicago—one of the world's most famous museums. We saw this trip as an opportunity to expose our students to various types of art from diverse cultures, and use student interest and curiosity as a starting point for exploration. It is one of our goals here at AUAF to broaden student perspectives of both art and the world. We hoped our trip would inspire them to understand significance in various types of artworks.

Check out a highlight video from our trip.

If you've ever taken your child to a museum, you certainly know just as well as we do that it's difficult to keep children engaged (and quiet) for long periods of time when they've got nothing to do. We created an easy scavenger hunt activity for our students which kept them on the look out for select paintings, and asked questions designed to help students unveil meaning in each one. They really enjoyed it! As you can see in the above video, it retained their interest and kept them focused the whole way through (phew).

The Art Institute has so much to offer kids and families. Children under the age of 14 are admitted free of charge. Download our Art Institute scavenger hunt activity for your family trip. We recommend only taking pencils (just to be safe), and be sure to give the kids something to write on (we used mini-clipboards).

Tip: General admission to The Art Institute is free for Illinois residents every Thursday from 5:00pm to 8:00pm. 

Click to download AUAF's Art Institute Scavenger Hunt (PDF).

Here are The Art Institute of Chicago galleries that you will have to visit in order to complete our activity:

Additional Resources

5 tools to help you learn Assyrian

Date: March 26, 2017

As a tribute to the traditional twelve-day celebration of the Assyrian New Year, we’re sharing unique ways to honor Akitu no matter where you are in the world as we count down the days to Kha b’Nissan. 

It’s incredible to think that the Assyrian language has survived, evolving and spreading, for nearly seven thousand years. For the first time in Assyrian history, the majority of Assyrians live outside of our traditional homeland, and as a result, many are unable to read and write in Assyrian. Take the initiative to learn your language: Accepting this responsibility is the only way to ensure its survival.

Here are some ways to learn the Assyrian language:

  1. Subscribe to Rinyo. We are proud to count ourselves among Rinyo’s biggest supporters. The organization was established to make available modern resources to help young Assyrians learn their language. Products are available in all Assyrian dialects. From mobile apps to songs, videos, and interactive books, Rinyo’s products are used and loved across the globe. Check it out: Learn the Assyrian alphabet with this fun song.
  2. Visit LearnAssyrian.com. This website is a wonderful resource but requires serious drive and commitment. Grab a sheet of paper and a pen, and get ready to teach yourself using their free 41-page guide. If you’ve got little ones at home, LearnAssyrian is also home to the wildly popular Assyrian alphabet learning blocks. Order yours today.
  3. Download Base 2 Applications apps. Take a look at their popular Assyrian apps available to you in the App Store. Their apps will make learning the alphabet fun at any age.
  4. Attend classes at the ANCI. The Assyrian National Council of Illinois offers Assyrian language classes for both children and adults in the Chicagoland area. Take advantage of these free courses; before you know it, you’ll be reading right to left with ease. Assyrian language classes are offered across the United States. If you’re outside Illinois and looking for a class near you, feel free to contact us for help.
  5. Sargon Says. SargonSays.com offers an English to Assyrian dictionary that is an incredible resource to those looking to refine their language skills, as well as those new to the language.

 

5 Important Reasons to Teach Your Kids Assyrian History

Date: March 24, 2017

As a tribute to the traditional twelve-day celebration of the Assyrian New Year, we’re sharing unique ways to honor Akitu no matter where you are in the world as we count down the days to Kha b’Nissan. 

Most diaspora-born Assyrians have a vague sense of their history. They know, for example, that it spans thousands of years. They’ve heard and repeated the phrase “the cradle of civilization.” They can probably name a few famous Assyrian kings, and they surely know of Queen Shamiran. Fast forward a couple thousand years—they also know that our modern history has been defined by genocidal violence. But that’s about it.

If you’re a parent, you certainly don’t need to be told why it’s necessary that you’re involved in your child’s education. However, it can be difficult to figure out what subjects to prioritize now, and what can wait until they’re older, especially with limited resources available to you. But’s important to expose them to Assyrian history. Here’s why:

  1. Children develop a greater appreciation of history when they learn it early.
    Studies have shown that skills children are taught to appreciate at an early age translate into good habits and deep passions as they grow and mature. Take, for example, a child that spends every Sunday cheering on the Chicago Bears with her parents. She will likely become a Bears fan for life (and also develop serious levels of patience). Or consider a child who takes music lessons—he’s far more likely to continue to practice as an adult. A child who goes fishing with his father, and so on. While learning Assyrian history is not exactly a recreational activity, it can be fun. Children enjoy fun facts and interesting stories. Spend some time talking about the history of the great nation of which they are descendants. Keep reading for ideas on how to provide them with opportunities to ask questions and seek answers about their history.
  2. They will not learn about Assyrian history in school. Most Assyrian-American students will never hear the word “Assyrian” uttered by their teachers, nor will they see it printed in a textbook. Those that do might come across it once or twice while flipping through pages when searching for their assigned reading, but its is never a part of a school’s curriculum. While Assyrian history is certainly not the only one that’s overlooked, it must be prioritized in Assyrian households. It is absolutely important to encourage children to learn about the history of Western nations, but it’s just as important to realize that their history classes will exclude information about Assyrians. This will have lasting negative effects on their understanding of their own history, as it’s likely they will come to accept its exclusion as a lack of importance. Spend time personalizing Assyrian historical figures and events for your children. Check out our list below for ideas on how to do this. They should have the opportunity to learn about topics and important events related to Assyrians that they will not be learning in class.
  3. It will help shape their identity as an Assyrian. As children grow and mature, there is a natural, increase desire for them to explore their roots—they want to know who they are and where they come from. Learning Assyrian history can provide Assyrians of any age with a better sense of their identity, including children.
  4. Exposing your child to Assyrian history will help them develop qualities like empathy and tolerance.
    Learning about your ancestors and cultural heritage is essential. For most Assyrians growing up in American schools, they naturally view the histories of other peoples, including their own, as foreign. Giving them the opportunity to study Assyrian history will help broaden their perspective. They will come to understand and appreciate that there is more to the world than what they’ve known. A child who is taught about other countries and backgrounds is more likely to grow up to be compassionate, socially-aware, and tolerant.
  5. Learning about Assyrian history helps children build connections with their community.
    A child who has been given the opportunity to explore their own history is more likely to get involved with their community later in life. This can mean many things—perhaps they will get involved with the Assyrian Athletic Club, pursue Assyrian studies, or become a social activist—regardless, they will recognize the importance of their involvement. They will grow up feeling connected to other Assyrians, and will appreciate the sense of belonging.

Here are some easy ideas: 

  1. Visit The Ashurbanipal Library at AUAF. As the largest collection of Assyrian texts outside the homeland, you will find almost everything by Assyrians or about Assyrians under our roof. Not only will they find plenty of books on Assyrian history, but they will appreciate the experience.
  2. Take a trip to the Oriental Institute. The museum’s Assyria Collection will leave any young one in awe of their history.
  3. Try one of our Assyrian-themed arts and crafts activities. They provide the perfect opportunity to talk to your kids about their history, and gets the little ones engaged.
  4. Encourage your children to select an Assyrian book or figure for their school project when possible.
  5. Share with them important documentaries focusing on Assyrians. The Last Plight is a moving documentary that’s a must-see for all Assyrians. Though it’s only ten minutes long, it packs a heavy message. It may not be appropriate for your youngest kids, but those in the double-digits should see it. It’s guaranteed to spark all the right questions.

Q&A with author Dr. Sargon Donabed

Date: September 27, 2016

Sargon Donabed recently published his newest book, Reforging a Forgotten HistoryHe completed his PhD at the department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto in 2010. 

Q: What inspired you to pursue Assyrian studies? 

Feeling that an injustice had been done and that I was duty-bound to correct it. That was the eternal optimist in me. The one who read too many fantasy novels about chivalry and honor and the like. I suppose I at times also like to swim upstream. I don’t know exactly why, but I suspect it is because most humans enjoy being contrarian at times. img_1979

Q: What does an average day look like for you at work? 

Well now that I am the chair of my department it is a gigantic disaster of emails. Walk, breakfast, play with my daughters (1 human, 2 feline), head to work, teach courses, answer more emails, come up with projects and ideas I may never have time to do, read TPS reports, speak with Bill Lumbergh, you know, the usual.

Q: What prompted you to author Reforging a Forgotten History? 

I wish I could say it began as something other than a thesis – but in reality that’s where it came from. So I suppose in a way I was forced to write it in order to graduate. At least the first rendition. But then I simply wanted the story to be available for people to read. And I wanted to challenge the academic status quo which has in the past shown little room for the inclusion of the Assyrian narrative/s.

Q: Can you elaborate a bit on what you mean by ‘forgotten history’? 

Essentially that the history has been forgotten. No one remembers it or even cares to remember it. Not scholars, politicians, nor in many cases the people themselves. But it was and is a part of the puzzle and necessary to make it more vivid and complete.

Q: What was the most challenging part of writing this book? 

The personal stories. The emotional ties that one develops to the work and its subjects. It was quite draining at times. I must admit that in any such cerebral and emotional situation, it is good to have some kind of a physical outlet. Also meditation or contemplative prayer – including communing with nature in whatever form that takes – is a must to retain focus and conviction.

Q: Have you traveled to the homeland? What was it like? 

“Well, China’s in the heart, Jack. Wherever I go, she’s with me.” I have a difficult time with notions of home. Home to me is where my friends and family are – I have seen a frightening trend in the Assyrian community whersargondonabed5e there is now some kind of a formula that makes one Assyrian. And there are varying degrees. Today things are Iraq-centric, again to me an issue. So ‘homeland’ for many Assyrians means somewhere in Iraq. But it is the same with those from Tur Abdin or Gozarto or Urmia. Perhaps a bit less so but some of it still exists.

Q: Three words that come to mind when you hear the word Assyria

Neglect, politics, vision.

Q: What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing the Assyrian diaspora? 

Integration and acceptance that the diaspora is also home. Everyone came from somewhere, someplace else – and I mean that in a holistic sense across the globe. Thus when you are home, what must you do? Take care of it. Your house, town, state/province whatever. Care for it like you would anyplace. I take issue with a homeland political focus that neglects places outside of the Middle East; neglects culture, and thus is against amalgams. It is a reality and any culture that is stagnant will die.

Furthermore, I hope people begin to support their children to follow their hearts in finding some type of work that moves them, makes them happy, gives them purpose. Not everyone finds such a place but to assume success is dictated by money or station or degree is sad. It takes a multitude of individuals doing a range of things to constitute a thriving ecosystem. When one segment is off, all suffer. It takes a village and all that, and certainly everyone in the village isn’t a doctor or a lawyer or a professor for that matter.

Q: Describe the Assyrian community in Boston. 

boston

Assyrians of Eastern Massachusetts by Sargon Donabed and Ninos Donabed published in 2006.

There really isn’t a community in Boston anymore. In the early part of the 20th century there were Assyrians who had moved to the city, predominantly from Harput in the Ottoman Empire and later Turkish republic. But as the town was destroyed in WWI, the flow of immigrants stopped. Worcester, an hour from Boston, is a bit different and has a more continuous current. Unfortunately being Assyrian is a bit taboo among people who are adherents of the Syrian/Syriac Orthodox Church (formerly known as Assyrian Orthodox and earlier as Assyrian Apostolic Church of Antioch) who make up the majority of people in the state. It’s a disaster really, and when the church changed its name officially, the original settlers and their descendants went through real mental and emotional anguish. Imagine a religious institution telling its people they are not what they have identified as for ages? Then ridicule them and force them to either leave or simply be the butt of jokes and harassing. Sad and a major contribution to the Balkanization of the Assyrian community, especially in the USA.

Q: Is it important to you that your children speak Assyrian?

Language is an important and wonderful element of human culture. It is also a tool. It is not a necessity that one speak Assyrian to be Assyrian in my mind. But if one speaks Assyrian why not try and preserve it and help it grow? It would only seem logical to me that such is the case, especially as it gives to the beautiful tapestry of cultures around the globe.

Q: You are very passionate about animal rights as well as wildlife and environmental conservation. Can you explain what drew you to these important issues? 

I think it’s asinine to live in world with an infinite amount of life around us (and within/on us) on a daily basis and not realize we share this world, this existence with so many others. In a largely anthropocentric existence where in 20 years humans have actively destroyed 10% of the wild spaces on the planet I think it is the duty of humans to learn to be producers once more and not solely consumers. There must be a symbiosis of existence. And in an attempt to not lose sight of the trees for the forest, to understand that humans too are animals, and that just as the individual life matters, non-human animals are also individuals and are deserving of the same life, freedoms, and respect/reverence. I challenge everyone to try and lead a more compassionate existence of thinking beyond themselves. Tough in a society of me me me but I think it can and should be done.

sargondonabedQ: What are some of your hobbies? 

I have a deep love of martial arts and yoga. I have practiced Goju Ryu karate and White crane and Long Fist Kung Fu. For yoga, I am partial to ashtanga though I have practiced hot/Bikram and Kundalini at times. I love my volunteer work at the local animal shelter. It is kind of a home away from home. Enjoy hiking/camping, kayaking etc. Anything outdoors where you can smell the elements. I am also a big fan of fantasy books and film and love comic cons etc. So thankful to my folks that they wanted us to learn every sport possible, so my brother and I enjoy playing a variety of sports. Go with the season I suppose.

Q: So you’re a sports fan. Name your favorite teams.

Every Bostonian is – “They hate us cuz they aint us” – I mean it’s kind of life here. I am partial to the Pats, Celts and Bruins….but I must admit Fenway is a great venue on a summer day or evening.

Q: What’s your favorite quote? 

Oh I have so many. My mother has some doozies but I think I may try to patent them first. I hope I have some great ones one day. Here are a few:

Henry David Thoreau: “Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”

Tolkien: “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Chief Dan George of the Tsleil-waututh Nation of Burrard Inlet, British Columbia: “If you talk to the animals, they will talk with you and you will know each other.”

Wendell Berry: “Care allows creatures to escape our explanations into their actual presence and their essential mystery. In taking care of fellow creatures, we acknowledge that they are not ours; we acknowledge that they belong to an order of harmony of which we ourselves are parts. To answer to the perpetual crisis of our presence in this abounding and dangerous world, we have only the perpetual obligation of care.

Tad Williams: “The Qanuc-folk of the snow-mantled Trollfells have a proverb. “He who is certain he knows the ending of things when he is only beginning them is either extremely wise or extremely foolish; no matter which is true, he is certainly an unhappy man, for he has put a knife in the heart of wonder. The Qanuc have another saying: ‘Welcome stranger. The paths are treacherous today.”

Bill and Ted: “Be excellent to each other. Party on dudes.”

Oh so many. Most of the best of them I have found among fantasy authors from Robert Jordan to Steven Erikson and Raymond Feist.

Q: What are you most proud of about your work?

sargondonabed6

Dr. Donabed giving a lecture in Chicago.

That I could do something to help, something to honor my parents and grandparents but also my teachers and all that they had imparted to me through the years. The ‘me’ without them and their love and inspiration didn’t accomplish anything. Additionally, I like the fact that much of it flies in the face of what many take as canonical. It is a good thing to defend those who are defenseless.

Q: What are you working on next? 

I almost always have too many wild schemes I am working on. A general text on Assyrians. Some conferences. A fantasy novel. Trying to get a new shelter built in my town, some wildlife crossings up in important migration areas, having fun with my family and friends, and winning a fantasy football championship. Oh and opening a brewery/distillery/winery in a town called the Shire which is down the street from Rivendell where the pubs lack TVs and everybody knows your name.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your books? 

That stories are powerful. That we tell them to others and ourselves everyday. They shape our lives. Furthermore everyone and everything has one and every single one has meaning, has significance. Don’t ever forget that. In the microcosm, that the Assyrians matter. To steal another Tolkienism, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future” – I would only add that I would define ‘person’ in the broadest sense possible.

Q: Where can people purchase your books? 

Most of the books are on Amazon. I am also working with some students to get a website built on sargondonabed.com, and I have an author page on Facebook. I generally loathe using social media…but for some things I must admit it has its uses I enjoy exploiting.


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Q&A with Nineveh Press founder Tomas Beth-Avdalla

Date: September 20, 2016

Tomas Bet-Avdalla is the founder of the Nineveh Press. The Nineveh Press publishes new books and reprints old and rare books and periodicals concerning Assyrian language, literature, history, and culture. 

Q: Where were you born? 

I was born in Augsburg, Germany, but I grew up in Gothenburg, Sweden. My parents are from Tur Abdin, Assyria.

Q: You are based in Sweden—what’s the Assyrian community like there?

The first group of Assyrians came to Sweden in 1967, and Assyrians today are a large minority group in the country. They come from different parts of the Middle East, and belong to different Assyrian churches. In Sweden, they live in most major cities, where they are organized in different local Assyrian associations and Assyrian churches. The Federation organizes most of these local associations, and Assyrian political parties are also represented in the country.

Q: Before we get into the Nineveh Press, can you tell us a little about your work with MARA? 

mara

From the MARA archives.

The Modern Assyrian Research Archive (MARA) is a digital and physical archive founded in 2008 by doctoral students and academic professionals interested in Assyrian Studies. The aim of MARA is to locate, collect, and preserve source material and literature on the history, culture, and language of Assyrians from the nineteenth century onward. The source material is digitized and made available by MARA is comprised of images of unpublished documents and manuscripts, non-copyrighted publications, and audio recordings of oral sources collected all over the world. MARA’s goal is to compile the world’s largest digital and physical archive on Modern and Contemporary Assyrian culture by making use of extensive international private and professional networks.

I am one of the founders of MARA and have served as its project manager since its establishment. Our first years with MARA were funded, and I was able to work as an employee to carry out the work under the direction of MARA’s Advisory Board and MARA’s Foundation Board, but due to lack of funding in recent years, all of our work has been voluntary. I am currently the lead of our team of volunteers.


Q: What inspired you to establish the Nineveh Press?

Actually the same reason that I decided to get involved with MARA, and that is to take care of our modern Assyrian literary heritage and spread it. MARA has contributed to several now published books and articles, and I found it important to contribute to the Assyrian community and others and publish some important works.

Within Nineveh Press, I have established a book series called MARA Collected Texts, of which David B. Perley’s A Collection of Writings on Assyrians is the first book.

Q: How many books have you published so far? 

To date, I have published two books. The first book is a translation from Swedish into English of The Assyrians – From Nineveh to Södertälje, which is a short introduction to the Assyrians by the author Svante Lundgren. The second book is the collection of writings by David B. Perley A Collection of Writings on Assyrians, which I have edited. Occasionally some new titles and reprints from the publisher Beṯ-Froso & Beṯ-Prasa Nsibin are made available through Nineveh Press.

perley_cover_front

Published by the Nineveh Press.


Q: You’ve mentioned your new publication, A Collection of Writings on Assyrians a couple times now. Can you tell us more about it? 

David B. Perley was a prominent and prolific author who devoted his life to writing and to the Assyrian cause. The book is a compilation of Perley’s writings including articles, speeches and letters. By reading his numerous writings, I have learned a lot myself, received clarity on many issues, but above all, I have been strongly influenced by his straightforwardness, clear language, and affection to achieve something for the Assyrian nation through the written word.

I started compiling his writings years ago, feeling that the work of such a powerful writer must be published in a dignified manner. Up until now, his published works were only made available in several Assyrian magazines that are currently inaccessible to most. This project in total has taken me six years to complete. All of the effort and all of the work it has taken was worth it.

I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the Assyrian Foundation of America for their support towards the printing of this book.

Q: Who is your all-time favorite author? 

It is difficult to choose just one, and therefore I will have to name several: Orhan Pamuk, Theodor Kallifatides, Naum Palak, Jan Guillou, and of course, David B. Perley.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you? 

I am a freelance graphic designer and work mainly with designing printed materials such as books, magazines, and flyers. Actually, with the Nineveh Press, I design all of the books myself. Most of my free time goes to MARA and the Nineveh Press—and of course to family and friends.

Q: So, what’s up next at the Nineveh Press? davidbperley

I am completing the second book in the book series MARA Collected Texts—a collection of the writings of Dr. Abraham K. Yoosuf. He was one of the Assyrian delegates to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Very interesting texts about the aftermath of the Assyrian Genocide during WWI will be published in this book.

Q: Picture the Nineveh Press ten years from now. What does it look like? 

Since establishing the Nineveh Press, I have received very positive feedback, and many have contacted me wanting to publish their works. It’s exciting, but it is important to be realistic and know that this activity is limited, especially when interest to read such texts is not so widespread. But I still hope to contribute to change that, and inspire them with new literature and knowledge of the Assyrians in modern times. I hope the Nineveh Press will spark an interest among today’s Assyrian youth.

shipping

Shipping out copies of the newest book published by Nineveh Press.

Q: Three words that come to mind when you hear the word Assyria

My native country—for me, as someone who has never lived there—is really more like a thought, a dream, and in the heart as opposed to a reality; but still no more than a reality for the drastically diminishing minority of Assyrians who remain there.


Q: Where can people purchase your books? Do you ship internationally? 

All books published by the Nineveh Press are made available through Lulu. Those interested should visit lulu.com/ninevehpress. When an order is placed through Lulu, the book is printed and shipped to the customer, wherever he or she resides. For more information, visit the official website: www.ninevehpress.com or send an email to info@ninevehpress.com. Follow the Nineveh Press on social media where you can receive the latest news, information, and inspiration.


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Q&A with Children’s Books Author Julia Sorisho Rodgers

Date: August 15, 2016

Q: When did you know you wanted to write? 

A few years ago, I took my children to our local library in the Washington, D.C. area, and came across an international books section for young children. I flipped through bilingual books written in Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish, Arabic, and Hebrew. I was inspired by the collection and thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to publish a bilingual Assyrian and English board book?”  I especially wanted to publish board books because my three children used to chew or rip every paperback book we owned.

 

Q: What attracted you to children’s books? 

I became a mom in 2010, and since then I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of children’s books with my little ones. Like many other parents, I believe that reading to young children can instill a lifelong love for reading and curiosity.  I was inspired by great writers and illustrators who seamlessly blend whimsy with beautiful art, particularly Eric Carle. He’s my favorite children’s writer and illustrator.

 

ataweh

“My Assyrian Language Alphabet” by Julia Sorisho Rodgers

Q: Do you have a favorite among your own books? If so, which one and why? 

I really prefer my second book, Atwateh d-Lishani Atoraya. I worked harder at the illustrations. It’s bigger than the first book, and has over 20 illustrations.  I wanted to present the Assyrian Alphabet and corresponding words with images that children can relate to. For example, instead of painting a cross for the word “sleewa,” I painted an image of an Assyrian girl holding a Palm Sunday cross. I imagined that some parents would use the image as an opportunity to talk about Assyrian Christian traditions.  For the word “nooneh,” I painted clown fish thinking children might relate those images to “Finding Nemo.” I also included things children do, like build sandcastles, hold a teddy bear, kick a ball, and blow out birthday candles. I also tried to make some images countable.  Parents can help their kids count the geese, fish, apples, and zebras in the book and build basic math skills.

 

Q: When did you know you were an artist? 

I illustrate my books, but I definitely do not consider myself an artist.  I never obtained the training I’d need to refine my work. That is not a #humblebrag. Before I started, I did not know the difference between a filbert, a flat brush, or round brush. Often times I’d turn to YouTube and enter searches such as “how to paint skin tones” and “how to paint a beach scene.” I had to improvise and teach myself techniques late at night, after my kids went to bed.

 

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Farm Animals by Julia Sorisho Rodgers

Q: What is the illustration process like? 

For me, it’s quite challenging, especially painting people and children realistically. I did not want to be too literal with my images, but I’m not a cartoonist either. I used Google image searches and perused stock photography to find images of kids, people, and animals that I think were interesting. My pictures are often a modification those images or a composite of many images. I used acrylics, colored pencils, and markers for the illustrations, and used Adobe InDesign to design the book.

 

Q: What comes first? The words or the pictures? 

For me, the concept comes first. I wrote Khaywate d-Khaqla (Farm Animals) because children have an inexplicable love for animals and the sounds they make. I also thought a classic alphabet book would be a great addition to an Assyrian child’s library. From there, I tried as much as possible to create a rhyme scheme in both books in order to make the books memorable and rhythmic.  I tried as much as possible to not torture our beautiful language. I enlisted the help of many linguists and experts (including Malpana Michael Younan of San Jose, California, and Dr. Alda Benjamen of Washington, D.C.) to fix practically every aspect of my writing – word choice, grammar, syntax, and usage.

 

Q: What part is more satisfying to you—writing or drawing? 

Definitely drawing. I wish I was a better Assyrian writer, but I definitely do not have the gift or ability to write the way I’d like to write in Assyrian: with whimsy and playfulness like authors such as Sandra Boynton or Dr. Seuss.

 

Q: What are you working on next? 

I am not sure yet. My relative encouraged me to write an Ancient Assyrian history book for children.  I think there’s a lot of potential in that idea.

 

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Assyrian Alphabet puzzle available for purchase at the Ashurbanipal Library.

Q: What inspires you? 

There is a movement to create new and exciting products for the Assyrian children in diaspora, and I’m inspired by the creativity emerging from that movement.  Elaine Alkhas created a wonderful Assyrian Alphabet puzzle perfect for toddlers. It’s perfect for teaching fine motor skills.  Robert Oshana created an Assyrian Alphabet blocks set that can be used to teach both letters and vocabulary. My kids had a lot of fun playing with those blocks. Shameran Hanna published A Sailor Went to Sea, which is particularly great because proceeds support Christian genocide relief efforts in Iraq and Syria. Then you have an incredible array of apps and videos created by Rinyo, Base2Apps, and Ninos Warda. I am particularly fond of those products because they are fun, creative, and engaging.  In addition to publishing MoonSahraRomil Benyamino just published Benjamin and the Miniature Man. I’m looking forward to adding that book to our library!

 

Q: What impact do you hope your work will have? 

I hope more people join this movement to create new products for our children. We already spend a small fortune on Legos, Thomas the Train, American Girl dolls, and the like. We need Assyrian-themed toys like superheroes, princesses, and ninjas. We need an Assyrian “Bob the Builder.”

 

Q: Why do you feel it’s important for Assyrian children to learn their native language?

It’s tough to maintain bilingualism. It is very hard for me to speak Assyrian without making embarrassing mistakes. However, in publishing my books, I’ve discovered that I’m not alone. Certainly, many “second gen” Assyrians are excellent in their reading and writing abilities, but many also share my struggles. Even though it can be hard to speak Assyrian regularly, I pray that we don’t give up. Our language is precious and beautiful. We have to dedicate the time to appreciate it and learn it so that it doesn’t become extinct.

 

Q: What does a typical day look like for you? 

I am a part-time consultant for a federal government agency (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).  When I’m not working, I enjoy the fun aspects of motherhood (i.e. building Hot Wheels tracks and ninja-fighting with my kids).  I also reluctantly tackle endless laundry and cooking and cleaning.

 

julia's gang

Julia’s boys.

 

Q: Do you read often? What is your all-time favorite book? 

Unfortunately, I do not read as much as I’d like to. The book I’m currently reading is by Dr. Sargon Donabed titled, Reforging a Forgotten History: Iraq and the Assyrians in the Twentieth Century. My favorite book is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

 

Q: What’s your favorite quote? 

It’s one of my favorite Bible passages: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Titus 3:4-6

 

Q: How do you balance your identity as an Assyrian and an American? 

I think I balance my dual identity in a myriad of small ways. I try to cook Assyrian food so that my children are familiar with dishes like dolma and kubbeh. Two of my children have Assyrian first names. I published the bilingual Assyrian/English books to help young families teach their children Assyrian. I also hope that non-Assyrians use the book to learn our language. I try to support Assyrian political activism in Washington whenever possible.

 

Q: Three words that come to mind when you hear Assyria

“Strong” because of our endurance through almost every horrific tragedy. “Fragile” due to our current persecution, out-migration from our homeland, and destruction of precious historic and cultural sites. “Eternal” because I believe God has a divine plan for our people and will not abandon us.

 

farm animals

Farm Animals by Julia Sorisho Rodgers

Q: What are you most proud of about your work? 

A few years ago, the Skokie Public Library purchased a few copies of Khaywate d-Khaqla as part of an early childhood literacy partnership with area preschools. I was thrilled to know that SPL was that committed to serving the Assyrian-American population in this way. Also, I was happy to receive grant support for both books from the Naby-Frye Assyrian Fund For Culture (NFAFC). The fund helped defray printing and shipping costs, which tend to be relatively high for board book printing. Finally, I’m most thrilled when I get emails from parents who tell me their children like reading my book with their grandparents — those are wonderful memories to make.

 

Q: Where can people purchase your books? 

Both of my books are available on Amazon: Atwateh d-Lishani Atouraya and Khaywate d-Khaqla. For bulk orders, email me at assyrianbooks@gmail.com.

 


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