In August, I plan to visit the Assyrian Food Festival in San Jose for the first time. I’ll also be attending the 84th annual Assyrian American National Federation (AANF), commonly known as the Assyrian Convention, in Scottsdale, Arizona. Coincidentally, my 41st birthday, which is fast approaching, happens during the convention which makes it more special.
Unfortunately, there appears to be negativity hovering over this Convention. Some Assyrians on Facebook commented: “It’s not like it used to be.” “It is all about money.” “AANF is a corrupt organization.” “Its definition of success is based on a profit margin.” “There are many losers.” “It is all about parties, swimming pool music, getting high, and drunk.” “It’s a meat market.” “Cheap.” “Sleazy.” “It’s not for me.”
If you are one of those Assyrians who feel like that about AANF, I understand.
But as I write this post, I cannot stop thinking about a theory commonly called “Tin Disease.” During the harsh winter of 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia with 600,000 men. He returned to France with 10,000 men, losing 98% of his troops. According to this theory, the main cause of death of all those men was not really the cold: it was a button – a uniform button made of tin. Because in very cold weather, Tin buttons would disintegrate and turn to dust. Napoleon’s Army couldn’t keep their jackets closed and majority died from hypothermia. Historians and chemists alike, enjoy telling this story to explain, not only the failed military invasion, but the eventual collapse of Napoleon’s empire.
Today, the president of AANF proudly claims on a Facebook that “This is the only event [AANF] in the diaspora that brings together 2,000 people over a weekend and offers them a variety of activities.”
2,000 attendees represents approximately 0.5% of the entire Assyrian population in America. Wikipedia estimates there are 400,000 Assyrians living in the which means that 1 in every 200 Assyrians living in the US, attend the conference. In my opinion, this low level of attendance shows the lack of desire for Assyrians to connect which I view as lamentable.
The number of annual attendees should arguably increase, especially after the 2003 American liberation of Iraq, when thousands of Assyrians migrated to the US. I hope that by my 57th birthday in 2033, which will be the same year as the Centennial Anniversary of the AANF, that attendance reaches 10,000.
But to be fair, AANF is not solely to blame.
I find the quote by the Italian writer Carlo Levi to be perfect for our story: “The future has an ancient heart.”
I do not intend this blog post to highlight AANF as an organization: I wanted to emphasize the Assyrians who create history, with AANF as the venue to discuss, appreciate and document the history of our lives. Just know that all our stories in AANF are part of us now. And that they are bigger than us. They will always be.
Assyrians represent the unification of the ancient and the future at the Assyrian convention. It is a romantic idea. Romance, after all, is a nostalgic form of our history.
Every time I attend the convention, I feel I’m part of a legacy – an ancient and deep-rooted legacy. As Europe went through World War I, Assyrians in America formed the AANF. Along with it, the Annual Assyrian Convention tradition was born…to tell our story…stories that connect us, those are our chemical molecules. Those are endorphin of our brain, the interwoven relationship between chemistry and history comes alive at the conventions. That is why I love the AANF mission, vision, and value. I support it.
Because of the decreased interest in attendance, future Centennial Anniversaries of AANF appears to be the opposite of the grandeur of ancient Assyria. So do not listen to your inner voice when it tells you not to attend. I invite you to come and perform countless acts of kindness for other Assyrians in exchange for a new story.
In this post, rather than speculating on the reasons for the Facebook comments above, or get involved in nuisance arguments with others, I’d rather talk about the positive molecules of our lives. I want to shape the process of thought by supplying the substance of thoughts.
So despite all the negativity surrounding the Assyrian convention, I’m here to tell you – it’s okay. Just come. Even if you don’t have a group, a girlfriend, or a boyfriend to come with, it’s okay. I am going, because I want to be connected. So you should too! Let the endorphin’s reaction of our connection be caused of our unity. The aromatic molecules from our stories are abundant. We will have something to talk about.
See you at the convention, or maybe earlier at the Assyrian Food Festival, stop me… I’ll smile very serenely and say, nice to meet you. That is our future.
P.S. 1. I am not a member or a volunteer for AANF. I did not get paid to write this.
P.S. 2. Last year and this year I’m staying at Embassy Suites by Hilton Scottsdale Resort last year. A seven-minute walk from the convention hotel.
P.S. 3. If you enjoyed this story, share it please.