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Assyrian students unite

HUDSON HOU/daily bruin

10, 19, 05

Paul Benjamin receives various responses from people when he tells them of his ethnicity. Along with other Assyrian students, Benjamin helped put together the Assyrian Students Association to help spread the word about their heritage.

 
By Lindsey Morgan
DAILY BRUIN CONTRIBUTOR
lmorgan@media.ucla.edu

When he tells people he is Assyrian, Paul Benjamin is no longer surprised by the often-confused looks he gets in return.

He has heard people say Assyrians are extinct, had others ask him if he means he's from Syria and has memorized an explanatory talk on his heritage. The lack of awareness of the existence of Assyrian culture and ethnicity is something Benjamin, a second-year business economics student, and several of his peers hope to change.

The lack of awareness of the existence of Assyrian culture and ethnicity is something Benjamin, a second-year business economics student, and several of his peers hope to change.

With the aims of preserving their culture, meeting fellow students with similar backgrounds and educating the campus population, they recently formed the Assyrian Students Association.

At the moment, ASA has about 25 members on campus, said Kimona Issa, the group's president and a fourth-year physiological science student.

With a worldwide Assyrian population of five million or less, Issa said it was exciting to see so many Assyrians at UCLA.

"We're a pretty small minority in the world in general," he said.

At its peak in 650 B.C., the Assyrian Empire stretched as far east as the Persian Gulf, as far west as Egypt and as far north as present-day Turkey.

With a rough history in Iraq and Syria, the ability of Assyrians in the United States to come together and express their ethnic identity is special, said Michael Fishbein, a lecturer in the department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures.

In Syria and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, there was no tolerance for Assyrians attempting to maintain their own non-Arab identity and language, Fishbein said.

"In the United States, in some sense, one is free to express an ethnic identity without the political overtones," he said.

Members of the association are excited to express their identity and share the existence of their culture.

"We want to expand other people's knowledge of who we are," Benjamin said.

"When someone asks me what my ethnicity is, I tell them I'm Assyrian. Their first question is if I'm Persian, and then they're like, 'Oh, Syrian!'" Benjamin said.

"Then I have to go through this 20-minute spiel on what it means to be Assyrian."

Benjamin is not the only one with a spiel. Other Assyrian students have very similar experiences.

"You never really come across anyone who knows what Assyria is," said Holly Nabiey, a fourth-year Arabic and political science student and historian of ASA.

"We don't even exist to a lot of people."

The Assyrian population is a small one and many people don't know about it, agreed Fishbein.

Assyrians are people "whose ancestors came from one of the communities that preserved the modern Aramaic language in the Middle East. ... They have a good deal of folklore and music and art in common and a common ethnic identity," Fishbein said.

Modern day Assyrians speak various dialects of Aramaic, the prevalent language for most of the Middle Eastern population prior to the Islamic conquest, Fishbein said. The Islamic conquest took place in the mid-seventh century.

The dialects of Aramaic spoken by Assyrians are in danger of being lost for political reasons in the Middle East, as some governments attempt to rid themselves of local ethnic and minority identities which are seen as subversive, Fishbein said.

Assyrians are very aware of their identity, and many have moved to Iran and the United States in an attempt to preserve them, he said.

"They're conscious of being, by and large, Christians in an environment that has become overwhelmingly Muslim ... they're conscious of not being Arabs, and they think of themselves as the people who were there before," Fishbein said, noting that there are some Assyrians who are not Christian.

Those Assyrians who have moved to other countries live in tight-knit communities.

"All Assyrians pretty much know each other," Nabiey said.

Besides providing a place for Assyrian students to get together and spread knowledge about their ethnicity to other people, the association hopes to work with churches in the local area to help Assyrian kids go to college, Benjamin said.

For students like Benjamin and Nabiey, being Assyrian means being part of a larger, culturally-rich community deeply rooted in history.

"It's just pretty cool being part of something that you think has a lot of meaning," Nabiey said.

"To be part of something that's so ancient makes you think, 'Wow, my roots go so far back.'"

"The language that we speak is the one that Jesus used to speak," Nabiey said.

"I'm proud to be an Assyrian," Issa said.

"But at the moment it's kind of difficult because not many people know about Assyrian culture," he said.

As far as having Assyrians called an extinct people, Issa had one response.

"I'm Assyrian, and I'm alive," he said.

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Who are the Christians of Iraq?

October  

Assyrian students unite 10, 19, 05

Iraq bishops ready to seek help from Pope  10, 19, 05

Charter vote resonates with Valley Iraqis Likely passage gives many hope 10. 18. 05  

Dividing the Chaldeans from the Assyrians by the Iraqi Constitution  10, 18, 05

A monument in France dedicated to the Remembrance of Assyro-Chaldean massacres by the Ottoman Turks. 10, 17, 05

Swing state' of Nineveh may be moving in favour of constitution 10, 15, 05 

Iraq votes for the Constitution and for its future 10, 14, 05

Forgotten victims - Iraqi Christians who speak the language of Jesus  10, 14, 05

Mgr Sako: people in Kirkuk have not read the constitution but will vote  10,13, 05

Terrorism strikes all Iraqis, says Patriarch 10, 13, 05

Assyriska a national football team without a country  10, 12, 05

Referendum: 'Yes' in Kurdistan and Southern cities and 'No' in Kirkuk, al Anbar and Diala 10, 12, 05

Chaos depriving Towns from Voting - The Minorities Fear the Domination of Islamic Parties10, 12, 05 

Bas-reliefs of winged goddesses discovered in western Iran 10, 12, 05

Immigration of Iraqi Chaldeans Abroad Passes through Jordan 10, 12, 05

Baghdadis tell their stories  10, 12, 05

Assyrialogist Henry Saggs Dies at 84 10, 10, 05

Letter by Ms. Jacqueline Zomaya The Assyrian representative to the Iraqi National Assembly 10, 10, 05

The Kurds are "cleansing" their domain ­ and provoking a civil war in Iraq  10, 09, 05

Nestorian label "imposed unjustly upon the Assyrians"  10, 08, 05

Iran's Assyrian MP-Felicitation to the Supreme Leader  10, 8, 05

Syriac Manuscripts from the Vatican Library: Volume 1 10, 08, 05

Sunnis Threaten Referendum Boycott if Rules Not Changed  10, 05, 05

Helping the Iraqi refugees in Jordan  10, 04, 05

Final Draft of Iraqi Constitution  10, 03, 05

Two More Assyrian Children Orphaned  10, 02, 05

Discoveries of the Assyrian antiquities in Syria 10, 01, 05 

Sectarian Strife tears apart Baghdad's Neighborhoods 10, 01, 05

September

POLITICS-IRAQ: Kurd's Voting Shenanigans Cloud Key Province 9, 28, 05 

Church in Iraq Helps Rebuild New Orleans Parish; U.S. Relief Agency Bridges Partnership 9, 28, 05

The Armenian Genocide And The Assyrian Factor 9, 28, 05

Interview with the Writer and the Historian Rosie Malek-Younan 9, 28, 05

Assyrian Cultural Festival in Ceres CA. 9, 27, 05

Swedish Radio's Decision to End Turkish Language Broadcasts 9, 27, 05

Assyrian Refugees Face Harsh Discrimination in Greece 9, 26, 05

A cry of help by the Assyrians 9, 26, 05

samples of songs by various Eastern and Western Assyiran singers. 9, 24, 05

USAID: Iraq Reconstruction and Humanitarian Relief  9, 24, 05

4 Assyrians Killed in Assassination Attempt on Former Iraq Assyrian Minister  9, 23, 05 

Seminar in Stokholm About Seyfo ( world war one massacres)  9, 22, 05

Iraq chaos threatens ancient faith 9, 22, 05 

The Crimson Field Previews 9, 17, 05  

Treatment of Horses" by the Assyrian scientist of the 13th century Faraj  9, 21, 05 

A New Satellite T.V. Program From San Jose 9, 20, 05

English translation of the ancient Mesopotamian tablets  9, 20, 05

First Nestorian [Church of the East] search engine goes online 9, 19, 05

Download Assyrian songs.by ReeMon 9, 18, 05 

Letter from the 'Save the Assyrian Campaign'. 9, 16, 05 

Growing Opposition to Dividing the Assyrians 9, 16, 05

Books by Assyrian writers 9, 15, 05

English cardinal warns of Iraqi constitution  9, 14, 05

Brutality Against Christians in Iraq Continues 9, 13, 05

John Kanno for Congress  9, 12, 05

Reply to Culomnist Ken Rudin   9, 12, 05

Assyrians: Wine-producing season starts in Midyat 9, 11, 05

Iraqi Christians cautious about new constitution 9, 11, 05

Assyrian Human Rights Documentation Project Launched in Canada 9, 6, 05

Fire Consumes Over 500 Assyrian Shops in Baghdad Suburb 9, 6, 05 

Education in Armenia for Assyrians and other Minorities 9, 6, 05

Capital of Musasir gov't in northwest Iran Discovered  9, 5, 05

The Assyrian Democratic Organization Rejects Iraq's Constitution 9, 4, 05

The Ordeal of the Christians in Arab countries 9, 3, 05

August

"Arab Christians"? Not in My View  8, 31, 05

Emotional Funeral for Assyrian Murdered By Kurds in Iraq 8, 31, 05 

Risking it all for a song 8, 31, 05

Iraq's draft constitution and the ChaldoAssyrians 8, 30, 05

Kurdish Reprisal Attacks Against Assyrian Christians in Iraq  8, 27, 05

For Basra's Christians, Hussein era the good old days 8, 28, 05

Assyrian Restuarant in Chicago Reminds Iraqis of Home 8, 28. 05

Assyrians in Northern Iraq terrorized by the Kurdish Mlitia 8, 27, 05

Iraq's Proposed constitution could lead to fragmented state. 8, 27, 05

Conflicts between Kurds and the Shabak 8, 26, 05

New Iraq constitution may throw women's rights into Stone Age  8, 26, 05

Assyrians of Telesqof demonstrate against being divided in the Constitution 8, 25. 05

Assyrian Demonstrators Voice their Concern about the New Iraqi Constitution 8, 24, 05

A letter from the Rep.of Shabak in the National Assermbly  8, 24, 05

New Iraq constitution must protect Christians 8, 22, 05 

The text of the latest Proposed Iraq Constitution  8, 22, 05

Outside View: Who lost Iraq?  8, 22, 05

Iraq's Religious Minorities Concerned About Islamic Constitution 8, 22, 05  

Iraq TV's 'Cops' breaks new ground  8, 21, 05  

Young Catholics Gather in Baghdad  8, 20 05

Iraqis Squeezed Out By Kurdish Expansion, Muslim-Centric Constitution 8, 20, 05

A Memoradum from the Christians of Iraq to the Drafters of the Constitution. 8, 20, 05

Shafting Nineveh: The Fate of Iraqi Christians 8, 20, 05

Plea for Assyrian Christians and Iraqi minorities 8, 18, 05

Undemocratic aspects of the new Iraqi constitution draft 8, 17, 05

Iraqis vent rage on call-in TV after bombs kill 43 8, 17, 05

Iraq's Non-Muslims' Constitution Fears  8, 17, 05

Kurdish Gunmen Open Fire on Demonstrators in North Iraq 8, 16, 05

Their suffering continues 8, 14, 05

IRAQ: Focus on constitutional concerns 8, 14, 05

Photos form homeland  8, 14, 05

Despite Turmoil, Christians Place Faith in New Iraq 8, 13, 05 

Iraqi-American Translators: The Untold Story 8, 12, 05

Life in Ankawa 8, 12, 05

Why Torah's Hebrew script was Changed to the square Assyrian script 8, 11, 05

Assyrian Restaurant in Chicago  8, 10, 05

Speech at the Commonwealth Club of California By Fred Aprim 8, 10, 05

KURDS TAKE A HARD-LINE STANCE ON IRAQI CONSTITUTION  8, 10, 05

72nd Assyrian American National Convention   8, 09, 05

Unresolved Iraqi Constitutional Points  8, 09, 05

Information wanted for Upcoming Documentary about Iraqi women 8, 09, 05

Assyrian Objection to the Nationality Law 8, 06, 05

Iraqi Christians Remember Church Bombings One Year Later 8, 05 05

Looted history  8, 05, 05 

Book Release: Rosie Malek-Yonan's "The Crimson Field" 8, 05, 05 

Iraq Must Avoid a Rollback of Rights 8, 04, 05 

Nina Shea: Rule of law, rule of Islam  8, 4, 05

Iraqis in U.S. Won't Vote on Constitution 8, 03, 05

Bush's Global War on Christians 8, 01, 05

An Open Letter to Patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka I  8, 01, 05 

Democracy could struggle in Islamic Iraq  7, 30, 05

Assyrian Granny Shimmes's Contribution to Rendezvous of Civilizations 7, 29, 05

House amends funding bill to help Iraqi Christians 7, 29, 05

Iraq draft constitution fails to protect religious, human rights, USCIRF says  7, 29, 05

 

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