Assyrisk identitet, historia och politik

The father of Assyrian journalism

Kategori: Identitet

My speech at the commemoration of Naum Faiq and the celebration of Assyria TV's 3 years:
Dear friends,

On behalf of Assyria TV, I welcome you all to the anniversary of our great national icon Naum Faiq. He left us 85 years ago but his thoughts and heritage has continued to be a lodestone in our nation's path from generation to generation. His ideas have inspired the Assyrian movement to continue his struggle for national unity and survival of the vulnareble Assyrian people -- a people who are involved in denominational splits and dissociating themselves from their pre-Christian ancestors.

During the days of Naum Faiq the Assyrian people experienced an unimaginable tragedy, the Seyfo genocide, at a time when the Middle East map would be redrawn during the First World War. Today we are witnessing the continuation of this genocide. It has come so far that we are facing a total eradication of the Assyrians from their ancenstral land -- from Nineveh Plains, Gozarto, Turabdin, Urmia and other Middle East locations. Today, one hundred years later, the Middle East once again is shaken by war that will redraw the map again. And the indigenous peoples are once again paying the price for this transformation.

During the days of Naum Faiq the survivors from the genocide were expelled from their homes and ended up in refugee camps. Today, the same thing has befallen the remaining minority and our innocent children have once again ended up in refugee camps in the Kurdish regime's grace, whose goal is to make us "Christian Kurds". During the days of Naum Faiq Kurds participated in killing Assyrians. Today, their grandchildren are trying to take away what little land was left in Assyrian hands. At the same time, they try to show the world that they are our protectors. And we in our ignorance praise their actions and propaganda.

During the days of Naum Faiq, our people were splinttered in various churches and clan affiliations. Today, the divisions continue to shake our people, while the various factions and churches are acting on their own, and each group wants to demonstrate that it represents the entire community. Therefore today Naum Faiq’s words about unity and consensus still ring strong. It is our job to continue his struggle for survival, to prevent our ship from capsizing in stormy sea that devours the weak.

Our existence in our homeland, which is drenched in the blood of our martyrs, is under threat of extinction, while our leaders continue to put their interests above the nation, because they have learned nothing from history. Therefore our voice remains weak, while our enemies succeed in dividing and weakening us. During the days of Naum Faiq those splits cost us our ethnic rights. Even today our divisions keep on depriving us of what little is left.


The Assyrian national movement has for a hundred years struggled for our survival. But its strength is not sufficient to withstand internal or external enemies if it lacks a free voice. For this reason, the movement has been weak for a long time, while our ethnic rights have been ignored. One of the reasons for the Assyrian movement's weakness is the absence of a voice in the media, particularly television. When the technology made Assyrian television broadcasting possible, we remained passive and relied on other groups. But it's no secret that these groups have the primary purpose of profiting on national ideology. This continues today, as the experience of the past two decades has shown quite clearly. Regrettably, the Assyrian movement allowed itself being exploited by these groups.

Three years ago, we made an attempt to break this pattern when we started Assyria TV. And today we celebrate here its third birthday -- again in the context of our national icon Naum Faiq’s commemoration, because he is regarded as the father of modern Assyrian journalism. Three years ago we began broadcasting in Assyria TV to no longer rely on other groups, in order to determine our own destiny. In Assyrian we say; we must scratch our own head by ourselves. Our goal has been the same as Naum Faiq’s -- an independent Assyrian voice in the world. We therefore follow in his footsteps, inspired by his active journalistic work in journals such as Kawkbo d Madenho (Eastern Star), Intibah (awakening), Bethnahrin (Mesopotamia), Huyodo (Union) and others.

During the days of Naum Faiq we had Assyrians who were willing to sacrifice their life for our people's survival. But divisions within our community thus led to a lost battle. Our representatives took these splits with them all the way to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919-20. In the end, we as a nation became losers in the new Turkey and throughout the Middle East. Naum Faiq and his friends in the United States had also sent representatives to Paris. One of them was Abraham K Yusuf, a relative to Ashur Yusuf and a captain in the US Navy. He kept a diary of all meetings with the major powers and visits to Paris and London, alongside with Bishop Afrem Barsom (later Patriarch). Their demands were an independent Assyria. But his diary shows that the Assyrian delegates who had come from various places had difficulties to reach agreement in their demands or to coordinate them. Internal conflicts and misunderstandings were major obstacles in their efforts, despite the fact that everyone wanted his people’s wellbeing --- but each in his own way. Therefore, great powers had more leeway to increase disagreements among the Assyrian delegates and give them empty promises. In the end, the British had plans to let the Assyrians end up in the "protection" of a prospective Kurdish autonomy -- a scenario that is all too familiar today. Now we hear the same from the West, which means that the Assyrians may fall under the Kurdish KRG’s "protection" in northern Iraq. It is possible that in the near future we can hear the same about the Assyrians in Gozarto in Syria, where Kurds are on the rise.

Today we are experiencing similar problems about divisions as in the 1920s, even though we now have political parties, which was not the case at the days of Naum Faiq. When the Turkish leader Erdogan visits Stockholm, some 25-30 representatives of different Assyrian factions gather to demand their rights in Turkey. He notes ofcourse that it is a fragmented representation and get a larger space to play his false game. He pretends of being a friend of the Assyrians and wants to show his good will in the case of Mor Gabriel’s confiscated land. Recently he had presented his "democratization package" in which he promised that Mor Gabriel’s land would be returned. During the visit in Stockholm, he reminds the Assyrian representatives of the two months deadline to apply for the title deeds. But when it comes to reality, it turns out that only part of the monastery’s confiscated land has been registered to its rightful owner. The rest is still subject to various legal proceedings, according to the monastery's lawyer to Assyria TV.

At the same time that we begin the centenary of the genocide Seyfo, the same Turkish leaders take a move, where they say Syrian Orthodox Church will get permission to build a new church in Istanbul. They claim this is unique in the Republic's history and no group has ever received permission to build a church since 1923, according to the Turkish Prime Minister, who has gatheterd Christian leaders. The claim is certainly not true. The Assyrians have built new churches in Turabdin as late as the 1950s, for example, Mor Sharbel in Midyat. But the government wants to make a big deal of it. This way they also to kill two birds with one stone; on the one hand taking the edge off our demands for Turkish recognition of the Seyfo, on the other hand creating conflict between the Assyrians and the Latin Catholics who own the land where the new church in Istanbul is supposed to be built. And that is in addition a Latin cemetery. How do we as Assyrians react on the promise of a new church? We applaud it and believe that the anti-Christian policies and oppression in Turkey now will be transformed towards benevolence. But we are fooling ourselves. Moreover, it is far from certain that the Church in Istanbul will actually be built. Politics can easily turn and use the tangled bureaucracy to find excuses, as we have already witnessed in same case by the governor of Istanbul.

The Assyrians have been for centuries alienated from their ethnic roots to the point that we began to deny our ancestors. But a hundred years ago a national revival movement began by patriots like Ashur Yusuf, Naum Faiq, Sanharib Bali, Fraydon Atoraya, Farid Nazha, Yuhanon Dolabani and their friends. They made no distinctions between Assyrian churches or geographical areas. Their goal was to unite all the factions in a national struggle for survival, in order not to perish in a sea of hostile Muslim neighbors. Today, the descendants of those patriots are the ones who work for a real unity within the Assyrian people. It is these people who build Assyrian churches and institutions wherever they go. They are the ones who make sure that Assyria TV can stand up with the goal of being the Assyrian movement's independent voice. We cannot build a stable base on adventurers or false nationalists. We expect both financial and moral support from those behind the construction of the Assyrian churches and institutions, as well in terms of Assyria TV as the main activities in general.

Naum Faiq was convinced of the media's major role in the national struggle. Through the media ordinary people could become enlightened and not allow themselves to be exploited as slaves to totalitarian regimes. He wanted freedom for his people to liberate it from the misrule of others. When France in the 1920s wanted to cut Lebanon from Syria and make it a country of Christians, some Assyrian leaders opposed the project. They preferred to live under Arab rule. One of them was the Syrian Catholic Patriarch Afrem Rahmani, who had also come to the Paris Peace Conference. Naum Faiq wrote this about him in his magazine Bethnahrin:

"... Is in Paris where he supports some Syrians requirement that Lebanon Mountains not be separated from Syria. His Excellency was born in Mosul, one of the Mesopotamias’ origin places. He grew up on its meadows and under its sky. But instead of addressing his country of Mesopotamia and its Assyrian congregation safety requirements, we find him neglecting his duty towards his homeland and the nation, by embarking on matters that do not concern him. He recalls in his operations about a man who finds his house destroyed but instead begins to repair someone else’s."

Naum Faiq was a faithful son of the Syrian Orthodox Church and an Evangelical deacon. But he did not hesitate to criticize the church leaders' mistakes, at a time when the patriarch was the legitimate representative of his community to the Ottoman Turks. He was a good friend of Patriarch Elias Shaker from the time of Amid (Diyarbakir) and was also Shakers’ Turkish language teacher. Both left the city in 1912. When Shaker became patriarch in 1917, he could not travel to Constantinople to get his office confirmed by the Sultan. It was the middle of a world war. But in the fall of 1919, he made the trip and was decorated with Ottoman medals of Honor by Sultan Vahideddin. When Naum Faiq heard the news, he wrote to Patriarch Shaker and asked; How can you wear a medal that is stained with the blood of your people? He wrote about it in Bethnahrin. Therefore, we know that. Shaker stayed in Constantinople for more than three years (with short breaks for touring in Syria and Palestine) and ended up putting all his cards in the hands of the Turkish rulers, who formed the Republic. To show his unswerving loyalty Patriarch Shaker renounced all minority rights of his community. In my forthcoming book all details are described.


But our subject here is Naum Faiq and the role of journalism among our people. As we have already mentioned, the Assyrian movement remained without a voice when Assyrian television broadcasts began to evolve 10-15 years ago. Assyria TV has now attempted to fill this void, but we are still in the construction phase and need support to develop. Despite our limited resources, we have defended a part of the legacy of Naum Faiq, Yuhanon Dolabani and their friends, for example, in our programs about historical revisionism by anti-Assyrians. As you know, these revisionists for ten years have attacked the Assyrian movement and its ideals in their television programs through a satellite channel which is funded by the faithful’s contributions. They have ridiculed the name Assyrian and pasted labels of “pig” on it. They have challenged, dishonoured and violated a whole group that bears this name. But what these revisionists have made is like a football game where there is no goalkeeper. Therefore, it is not difficult to score goals against an open cage. Anyone who descends to such a low level of dignity can play such a game.

Once we had the opportunity to broadcast via Assyria TV, we paid attention to this revisionism. Our programs had a great impact on the Assyrian general public in many parts of the world. Here we revealed the ugly game of anti-Assyrians that conceals the truth. They argue shamelessly that Naum Faiq had nothing to do with the Assyrian nationalism, but should be called the father of Arameanism. The basis for this claim is a single article in Huyodo from 1921 where Naum Faiq was editor. The thing is that neither Faiq nor Dolabani had anything against the name “Aramean.” They saw it as part of their cultural heritage. But they regarded the term Assyrians as a politically unifying force to unite all sections of our people. Unlike today's anti-Assyrians, neither Naum Faiq nor Dolabani had aims to create division among their people. These revisionists, who use the name conflict as a tool for their own purposes by deepening divisions, were once upon time members of the Assyrian movement. Today they gall over anything called Assyrian.

But, as the saying goes, the great mountain finally could not give birth to more than a rat. When Assyria TV invited them to the studio to defend their false allegations, they did not dare come and be confronted with the truth. They had nothing in thier defense when we took out the original to the above article from 1921. We showed that what is said in Naum Faiq’s name is a pure lie, that in the same article there is also the name of Ashur-Kaldo and that the entire first issue of the magazine Huyodo was a tribute to the Assyrian struggle for independence, with General Agha Petros’ picture on the front and the caption "To the honour of Assyria." We also showed that what they say about Dolabani is a lie. They have said that in his youth he mentioned the word Assyrians few times but when he had come up in age, after 60, he realized that it was wrong and never used that name any more. Obviously, such statements are an insult to Naum Faiq’s and Dolabani’s memory. Dolabani and his friends have raised a whole generation of Assyrian patriots who have made major contributions to our culture and ethnic heritage, inspired by the ideas of Ashur Yusuf and Naum Faiq.

In our programs on this topic, we have also shown the reason for the caution of Dolabani after the time at Adana School, where he wrote burning Assyrian patriotic poems. There were two patriarchs who had forbidden him to acquaint himself with Assyrian nationalism after the peace negotiations in Paris and Lausanne had disadvantaged the Assyrians. These two patriarchs were Elias Shaker and Afrem Barsom. The latter turned about and became an anti-Assyrian during his time as patriarch (1933-57). Despite his superior’s ban Dolabani never denied his Assyrian identity, but he kept a low profile and devoted himself to cultural issues for the rest of his life. These programs in Assyria TV show very clearly the liberal media's power. How else would we be able to respond to all the false accusations? Of course we can write in our journals, but the written words do not have the same impact among our people as television does. 

The Assyrian movement has been damaged greatly from internal conflicts over the last 30 years. The movement has lost confidence and activities have encountered unexpected obstacles. Assyria TV's first year was a disappointment as a side effect of these problems. After a few months of successful work it began to stagnate and the number of viewers came to be halved every month. In the end, a few enthusiasts took initiative to revive Assyria TV’s development. For two years they conducted the work on a voluntary basis. They even spent money from their own pockets in addition to all travel and any loss of earnings.

For this reason, we frankly acknowledge that the channel is in great need of financial support to stabilize its work. But the expense is not in the technical side --transmitting via the web is very cheap. The expense is in production costs, which needs to be reinforced with paid employees so as not to burn out the few enthusiasts who are left among us. If each of us pays 20 or 30 dollars a month it is enough for good production. Now, we have a banking system where one can visit our website and in five minutes register the number of his bank card. And his support would be deducted automatically every month. For those who wish, my colleagues here will show them how this is done.

Assyria TV is an independent organization that is not tied to a specific Assyrian party. The channel has all the prerequisites to be the Assyrian movement's free voice and welcome any efforts from interested members. It is important that we take advantage of the opportunity that Assyria TV offers us as a movement. Otherwise, we will return to the time when we were dependent on other groups and our own voice would be muted.

Hoping that you will show that you are the descendants of the heroic people of Turabdin and our Assyrian ancestors who have given the world civilization; we thank you in advance for your generosity. We bow our heads before the memory of our innocent martyrs and all the national heroes like Naum Faiq. We may honor their heritage as long as we live.

Thank you for listening!


 Augin Kurt Haninke

Assyrian Association in Södertälje, Sweden on February 8, 2015.