On the evening of September 3, 2015, I walked under the marquee and through the revolving door of the Hilton Hotel with a sense of pride. I was part of a legacy – an old…old legacy. As Europe was going through World War One, Assyrians in America formed a federation named the Assyrian American National Federation (AANF). Along with it, the Annual Assyrian Convention tradition was born…to tell our story.
The 82nd Annual Assyrian Convention was held in downtown Chicago. As I stood in line to register, I felt double lucky. It was also my birthday.
Once a year around Labor Day weekend, for five days, AANF holds the Assyrian Annual Convention. It is held in various American cities, which have a concentration of Assyrian population, such as Chicago, Las Vegas, San Diego, Detroit, New York, and Phoenix.
Many Assyrians from America and other parts of the world with some politicians and activists attend the convention. It includes a lecture series, state soccer tournaments, bazaars, nightly parties with many Assyrian singers perform, and on the last day, a picnic. AANF is a perfect place to promote Assyrian startups and organizations such as Gishru, a non-profit that promotes a life changing journey to our ancestral homeland – Iraq, and Nineveh Plain Defense Fund (NPDF) – a historical landmark achievement by Assyrian activists approved by Washington to support Nineveh Plain Protection Units legally and transparently.
We Assyrians struggled for centuries; and continue to struggle, for our existence. That struggle helped protect a few bits of identity, security, and dignity.
Along with the Armenians in WWI, we were systematically massacred, demographically removed, and our lands were purloined by Turkey. My grandfathers immigrated out of Van in Turkey to Iraq.
And throughout the years, our existence has been under assault in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran. We went as far as to disown family members who married Muslims. It was a threat to our survival as a culture, and we considered it the greatest insult to our honor and dignity.
That struggle served to build a stronger family and tribe connection between Assyrian people in villages and cities. It helped protect our identity while surrounded by both physical and cultural influences of the Islamic society in which we lived. Our Assyrian identity was evidenced by all we did each day.
But struggle never separated Assyrians. Instead, we faced a new type of struggle together, mainly in English-speaking countries, but mostly in the grinding of American assimilation.
Today, many Assyrian families accept marriage to non-Assyrians with alacrity. That Assyrian identity that our grandfathers died for in our homelands is melting in America. Undoubtedly.
That homeland is being reshaped. The 100-year Sykes–Picot Agreement that drew the borders of current Middle Eastern countries has ended. Technically, the borders between Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are nullified. That degree of unity no longer exists.
The combination of VP Joe Biden’s 2007 resolution to divide Iraq, (which was submitted to the U.S. Senate and passed 75-23), American’s broadly disinterest in the Middle East, Iraq’s lack of political stability, and last Friday’s portentous event of Britain leaving the European Union represents to me the crescendo that WILL produce a major domino effect. The Kurdish push for independence will have stronger momentum. The discussion to divide Iraq keeps appearing in the news more often now. The option remains on the table. The question of Assyrian self-determination will become unavoidable.
I remain sanguine. Assyrians have a great historical chance to obtain autonomy.
We Assyrians, need to think of Assyrian unification according to different metrics. Thus…The Assyrian Annual Convention and Social Networking could be a great fulcrum to promote friendship, connectedness, solicitude, identity, and predominantly, add new impetus to Assyrian patriotic verve for social involvement in Assyrian affairs. This is the significance in the Assyrian Convention. It’s effulgent 10000 times strong.
Much of the world has forgotten us. Attending at the Assyrian Convention is a statement to our presence in American cities.
Our numbers speak volumes. Those numbers send a message to the American Senate. We could invite our American Senators to the convention. We can leverage our American vote.
I’m dumbfounded to find Assyrians never heard about the Convention when I ask them. With that said, it is imperative for the AANF to achieve excellent status, strive to promote its value, and make the Assyrian Convention a stupendous and a momentous experience.
My 40th birthday is approaching and the 83rd year of the Assyrian Convention is in Arizona. The war on ISIS continues to liberate our Capital city, Nineveh, and I cannot stop thinking about my 57th birthday when the Centennial Anniversary of the Assyrian American National Federation will be held. Would it reach 10,000 attendees? What will be the state of Assyrians by then?
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