2018 Art Competition

Date: August 27, 2018

2018 Art Competition

The 2018 AUAF Fine Arts Competition for International Assyrian Artists gives Assyrian visual artists worldwide at any stage of their careers the opportunity to promote their work and enhance their careers. This year's theme is Awakening.

Assyrian artists are invited to submit original pieces in any two-dimensional medium, excluding photography. Art submitted to the competition will be reviewed by an independent panel of expert jurors to ensure a fair and balanced judgement process. Prizes will be awarded to the artists whose work best represent the theme:

  • 1st Place—$5,000
  • 2nd Place—$3,000
  • 3rd Place—$2,000

Submission deadline is November 15, 2018 at 11:59pm. 

The competition is open to Assyrian artists from around the world aged 18 years or older. Read our 2018 competition guidelines for more information.

 

Assyrian artist Paul Batou reveals his favorite painting

Date: February 23, 2018

Revered Assyrian artist Paul Batou is known around the world for his unique paintings that capture the beauty and the sorrow that defines the Assyrian experience. The California-based Assyrian artist will be in Chicago next month for the opening night of his solo exhibition at the Studio Gallery at AUAF: Poems & Colors.

We spoke to Batou for a quick Q&A ahead of his new exhibition. 

AUAF: What inspires your work as an artist and a poet? 

Batou: Our world is full of excitement. I take inspiration from different events, human struggles, their moments of happiness, our diaspora and our culture. All of those inspire me to create art. As for my poems, the inspiration comes from people, our thoughts, and things I hear in all sorts of discussions. 

 

AUAF: What is your artistic process? 

Batou: All my paintings start with an idea. I usually have a plan for it. Lately, my goal is to create art pieces based on our culture and connect the present to the past, to Mesopotamia. The idea or planning process takes me longer than producing an art piece. 

 

AUAF: Do you have a personal favorite among your own works? 

Batou: "Journey with Ishtar" is my favorite painting. It's also the cover of my autobiography My Last Thoughts about Iraq. It's based on a long poem that I wrote. 

"Journey with Ishtar" by Paul Batou

 

AUAF: What can people expect from your upcoming gallery "Poems & Colors?"

Batou: All of the paintings in my upcoming show "Poems & Colors" were inspired by Marina Benjamin's poems. I read all of her poems and interviewed Marina to understand her thoughts, and then I created a plan to translate her poetry into colors. Viewers will experience the colors of Mesopotamia. I've painted our language, customs, struggle, broken artifacts, love—our search for beauty and freedom in unique colors for people to connect and enjoy. 

Join us at the AUAF on Friday, March 16, 2018 for the opening night of Paul Batou's Solo Exhibition "Poems & Colors." The evening will include a poetry reading and guitar performance. Admission is free.

Q&A with Award-Winning Director Sargon Saadi

Date: October 3, 2016

Sargon Saadi is the director and cinematographer of two widely-known short documentaries: The Last Plight and Silence After the Storm

lastplight

The Last Plight (2014)

Q: The Last Plight was just selected for yet another film festival. Congratulations. Can you tell us how the short film has impacted your career? 

Thank you! The film impacted my life a lot more than impacting my career. To see our people displaced on the streets of Iraq deprived from all their property and rights is something that I will never forget. It gave me better and more realistic perspective on the state of our people, their needs and hopes.

I believe my two friends who were with my on the trip, Suzan Younan and Sonny Rouel, feel the same way.

 

Q: Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have seen The Last Plight. What did you hope to achieve through the film? 

The goal was to show the world the magnitude of the tragedy of our people. We wanted to make it clear to the politicians and the key players in the geo-political arena that self-administration and a safe haven for our people in the Nineveh Plains is the only viable solution to the Assyrian case in Iraq.

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Silence After the Storm (2016)

Even though we’re still fighting for the safe haven, I believe we accomplished our goal with this film successfully. People’s reaction to the film far exceeded my expectations. And this was largely because it was recognized on the front page of Vimeo with the “Staff Pick” award.

 

Q: You’ve managed to release two documentaries on the Assyrian plight in the space of about two years. How was filming Silence After the Storm different from The Last Plight?

Even though the topic is the same, they are completely different films with different purposes. The Last Plight is shorter and is designed to have maximum emotional impact on the audience. Silence After The Storm is a longer documentary—25 minutes—and is made to inspire the new generation to not give in to hopelessness and indifference.

Silence After The Storm is more of an “artistic” documentary, as it is a layered story involving 4 different characters—Fadi Khiyo, Savina Dawood, Nicholas Al-Jeloo, and myself.

 

Q: You were born in Syria. What was it like going back home again? 

It still feels like home every time I go there. I’m immediately more relaxed and comfortable no matter how bad the situation is.

What hurts the most is seeing our community continuously shrinking. Everything can be rebuilt, but it’s very difficult to get people who have migrated to return.

 

Q: Despite the heartbreaking situation for Assyrians in the homeland, there must have been some good moments. Can you tell us your favorite memory when filming these documentaries? 

It was almost like a chapter from a classic novel.img_8537_1

On the very last day of filming [Silence After the Storm], we went on a hike to reach this abandoned Assyrian monastery on top of the mountain in Hakkari. It was in the region of Tkhouma.

As if the hike wasn’t difficult enough, it started raining—pouring hard. The rocks were slippery and the mountain got steeper. Almost losing our breath, we kept climbing. Midway, we got stopped by Kurdish rebels who were hiding behind bushes.

After long questioning, they miraculously let us go. We continued climbing until we reached this beautiful well preserved monastery dating back to the 4th century.

All of a sudden, the sky cleared, and rainbow formed.

As cheesy as it sounds, it was a reward I will never forget.


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

Silence After The Storm is my favorite film mainly due to the fact that it was so difficult to make. I traveled to 3 countries—Syria, Turkey, and Iraq—filming in more than 30 different cities and villages. It took me 9 months to edit and finalize.

It is also the first Assyrian film to get on to Amazon Prime.

 

Q: Absolutely amazing. And at the start of that film, you said that the only weapon you know how to use is a camera. Can you elaborate a bit on what you meant by this statement? 

A picture is worth a thousand bullets.  A camera for me, specifically in these documentaries, is a weapon I can use to fight injustice with. It exposes the enemy and strengthens us.

 

sats_fadi-9

Silence After the Storm (2014)

Q: You mentioned it took you nine months to edit Silence After the Storm. The editing process must be grueling. How do you know when a film is finished? 

In my eyes, the film is still not finished. I made so many different versions of Silence After The Storm. I believe there are 6 of them. The versions were getting better as I changed them, but sometimes they would get worse, so the hardest part in editing process is knowing when to stop editing.

 

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker? 

My older brother, Akkad, is largely responsible for instilling this passion in me. When we were still little kids in Qamishli, in Syria, he would make these “karate action” short films with me and my cousins. We would jump, kick, and pretend to be actors in front of this camera which didn’t even run on batteries. It was always plugged into a wall outlet. So all the shots had to be from the same angle.

We had so much fun, and without realizing it, it built this love to make films. My brother didn’t have the opportunity to study film when he grew up, but I was fortunate enough to pursue it.

 

Q: What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your work? 

The most challenging part is to not lose track of my purpose. In filmmaking, and especially here in Los Angeles, it’s easy to get distracted and discouraged by society’s expectations and criticism.

To survive in this industry it requires thick skin and deep pockets. The former I’m getting better at, but the latter is a little trickier.

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Sargon with Andraos in 2014.

 


Q: Let’s stray slightly off-topic. You recently launched a fundraiser for an Assyrian boy named Andraos. Can you tell us a little more about him? Why did this one boy, out of thousands, leave such a lasting impression on you? 

Each time I’ve gone to Erbil, I’ve come across him randomly in different camps. Andraos is a special kid. He is an 11-year old Assyrian who has been displaced, now living in Ankawa, Iraq.

He has this love for cameras, so I would always give him my equipment to play with. Finally, I decided that I need to buy him his own. So I created a fundraising page in order to do so and to support his education. Hopefully one day he will be able to follow his passion like I did.

Sure enough, 51 people donated to the fundraising campaign. Very soon, he will have a camera and enough money to fund his schooling until he graduates.

I realize that Andraos becoming a filmmaker simply because of this fundraiser is a long shot. I understand that. But what I really want him to understand is that there is hope. Someone out there cares.

 

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

Strength. Dream. Home.

 

 

Q: Pretend you could turn back time—maybe five or six years back—and picture yourself in your native Qamishli. What’s one thing you’d love to do again that you simply can’t anymore? img_6891

I would just love to walk around my neighborhood and just casually visit my friends. I can’t do that anymore. Most of my friends have left Syria already, including all of my cousins.

It hurts to see the front doors of their homes closed.

 

Q: Are you working on anything now? What can we  expect next from Sargon Saadi? 

There is a new film that I’m writing and developing right now. You can expect a feature length documentary that is very different from all of my other films.

 

Q: Exciting—we can’t wait. In the meantime, how can people watch your films? 

My latest film Silence After the Storm is now available on Amazon, but all of my projects are listed on my website: SargonSaadi.com.


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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. 

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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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