An open letter to Congresswoman Anna Eshoo

Boy & Assyrian FlagDear Congresswoman Anna Eshoo,

I am an Assyrian and I am the grand daughter of a survivor of the Assyrian Genocide. This makes the issue of the Assyrian Genocide extremely personal to me. And I am not alone. We are millions strong living in every corner of the world and the Assyrian Genocide unequivocally unifies us as a people because we are all children of survivors of those horrific years of 1914-1918 when Assyrians lost two-thirds of their nation.

In the aftermath of the 750,000 Assyrians who were butchered by the Ottomans, Kurds, and Persians, in Turkey and Urmia, Iran, surviving Assyrians were left with shattered lives and broken families and by the grace of God, found the courage to begin planting seeds of new generations of Assyrians to protect the Assyrian bloodline.

Assyrians may be a stateless nation, but we are not invisible. We are not nameless and we are certainly not the “other minorities” as you have callously labeled us in your April 24, 2017 statement.

Though you are only half-Assyrian on your father’s side and Armenian on your mother’s side, you have no right to denigrate the Assyrian identity.

Assyrians are a proud and ancient people. We “never forget” or take for granted our past history and struggle. We are proud of our Assyrian identity and will not tolerate anyone, not even a half-Assyrian, to behave dismissively and with malice towards our Assyrian identity.

I say malice because this isn’t the first time you have denied the Assyrian name and identity. Once is a mistake to be forgiven and corrected. Yours is a pattern of denial time and time again. How many occasions have you referred to Assyrians as “Iraqi Christians” or “Christians of Iraq?” You do realize Assyrians are not all from Iraq?

Your reference to “other minorities” also included the Greeks who suffered greatly in this period of genocide alongside the Assyrians and Armenians. Is the Assyrian name so offensive to you that you couldn’t show some semblance of respect for the Assyrians as well as the Greeks in this case to mention them directly?

Congresswoman Eshoo, Assyrian blood runs through your veins and your name is Assyrian. Your denial of the Assyrian identity is a denial of yourself. You may not care, but Assyrians take offense when you reduce their identity to “other minorities.”

You, Madam Congresswoman, have no right to insult or degrade the Assyrian people as you have done when they have always respected, supported, and looked up to you as a voice for the Assyrians. Though you are a representative of the United States Congress and not a representative of the Assyrians, there are occasions when you can lend your voice to the Assyrian cause. But it seems you are too embarrassed and hesitant to utter the Assyrian name.

Perhaps you thought we wouldn’t take notice when you referred to Assyrians as “other minorities.” But we’ve all taken notice . . . again.

You shouldn’t have to be reminded to correct or issue another statement as some have suggested. You can’t un-ring the bell.

I believe what you do need is no more support from Assyrian organizations, groups, or individuals. What you need is no more invitations to Assyrian events and photo ops. What you need is no more Assyrian votes  or contributions from your district.

You’ve disappointed the Assyrians for the last time. It’s rather simple: Deny Assyrians and Assyrians will deny you.

Respectfully,

Rosie Malek-Yonan

Update: A followup article published in AINA.

Related Video Clip

Kerry Kennedy

It was such an honor and privilege to read posts on Facebook and Twitter from Kerry Kennedy who included me in Women’s History Month Spotlight. Thank you, Ms. Kennedy, for this unexpected recognition.

Kerry Kennedy is the President of Robert F. Kennedy Center Human Rights and the author of “Speak Truth To Power” and “Being Catholic Now.”

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Kerry Kennedy Twitter 12March17.jpg

AUAF’s Bizarre Behavior Continues…

one womanOn International Women’s Day, March 8, 2017, a tribute to 12 Assyrian women was posted on the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation’s (AUAF) website penned by a young woman,  Reine Hanna. Shortly thereafter, in a haste, AUAF leadership including president Tiglat Issabey allegedly ordered the removal of the tribute. This action resulted in an immediate outcry from the Assyrian community around the globe as evidenced by the multitude of posts and comments on Facebook and Twitter.

In a bizarre plot twist, rather than issuing a heartfelt apology, AUAF threw Ms. Hanna under the bus by having her issue a forced letter of apology for her role as the villain in this macabre tale.

AUAF is one of the oldest Assyrian institutions in America. Today it is a male dominated “boys club.” There is only one woman, Ms. Helen Badawi, who holds a seat on the board while the president and the balance of the board members are men: Mr. Tiglat Issabey (president), Mr. Joseph Badalpour, Mr. Tiglad Ashorian, Mr. Billy Mendo, Mr. Ed Yonan, Mr. Edmond Ebrahimi, and Mr. John Guliana.

In the aftermath of the AUAF’s alleged decision to pull Ms. Hanna’s tribute, they eventually capitulated to issuing a formal apology. But the apology was far from genuine as it did not come from the president or the board. A misguided clumsy attempt to address the issue distorted Ms. Hanna’s intent and used her as the scapegoat in this grotesque fiasco.

Ms. Hanna’s genuine attempt at elevating a handful of women of her nation by way of a beautiful tribute has been perverted by the men of AUAF. Would it not have been more productive to applaud her initiative and encourage her to continue to highlight the accomplishments of other Assyrian women from around the world?

A simple apology by the AUAF leadership would have gone a long way to swiftly put this entire episode to rest. Instead they chose to hide behind the skirt of a young woman and make her apologize for her supposed misdeeds in writing the tribute in the first place. How dare she write about a few fellow Assyrian women? What about the rest? I’m really surprised the men of AUAF haven’t stoned Ms. Hanna yet.

In an attempt to save face, Mr. Issabey has clearly coerced Ms. Hanna to issue the ridiculous apology posted on AUAF’s Facebook page. Judging from all the comments this has now turned into a contentious issue. Perhaps Mr. Issabey will issue yet another executive order for the removal of the comments.

I will always hold Ms. Reine Hanna in the highest regard. Her heart was absolutely in the right place and when the men of AUAF couldn’t bring themselves to utter the words “we apologize,” she was unnecessarily and unfairly burdened with the responsibility.

Stay strong and hold your head up high, Reine Hanna. We have your back.

/RMY

AUAF Removes Tibute to Assyrian Women on International Women’s Day

IMG_6866In late 2005, I was in Chicago promoting my book, The Crimson Field. One of the stops on my tour was at the Assyrian National Council of Illinois on Peterson where I met a lovely 13-year-old Assyrian girl with beauutiful inquisitive eyes. Her name was Reine Hanna. After my presentation, she approached me and we spoke at some length about Assyrian history and the Assyrian Genocide. I autographed Reine’s book and made her promise to never forget our history. As I watched her walk away, I wondered if our paths would cross again.

She is in her twenties now and as fate would have it, we did reconnect after all these years. I am so proud to see how she has blossomed into an articulate and caring young woman and a passionate and dedicated activist.

March 8, 2017, on the occasion of the International Women’s Day, this thoughtful young woman decided to honor twelve Assyrian woman she selected from around the world by writing about their accomplishments and highlighting their contributions to the Assyrian community. I was honored to be included in her list and delighted to be amongst the other fabulous women whom I already admired as strong role models for the Assyrian youth. I don’t believe any of the women selected knew this was coming. It was a surprise to us all.

On the morning of March 8th, the tribute was posted on the Assyrian Universal Alliance Federation’s website and linked on Facebook. Within an hour the post went viral and then suddenly the link to the AUAF page disappeared leaving a lot of unanswered questions. Family and friends who had grabbed screenshots of the individual articles, began to tag and share them. Soon the tribute was back on Facebook in bits and pieces. Like a jigsaw puzzle, everyone was piecing it back together.

As the day wore off speculations floated around as to why the link to the page at AUAF was no longer working. Clearly it wasn’t just a technical glitch. Everyone was posting theories as to what was going on. Eventually we learned that the AUAF Leadership had ordered the tribute post to be pulled. What they failed to consider was that it was too late to un-ring the bell. The post was already flooding Facebook news feeds and Twitter.

When on the occasion of International Women’s Day, AUAF Leadership ordered the tribute to Assyrian women be removed, not only did they insult those 12 Assyrian women, but also insulted all Assyrian women around the globe by sending a message that denigrating women was acceptable. Their callous disregard for the women of their own nation was inexcusable and at the very least a public apology should have been in order. However, I have personally decided to forgive AUAF’s lack of sound judgment and instead choose to stand tall with my Assyrian sisters because that’s what a strong women would do.

Assyrian women are the heart of our nation. Without them, the heart will beat no more. They should be celebrated everyday and not just once a year. I hope that the thoughtful young woman who created the 2017 tribute to Assyrian women will expand the list and continue to honor other women as well. What a wonderful way to get to know all the fabulous Assyrian women around the globe. I would encourage her to create a Facebook page where she can promote Assyrian women from all walks of life and do so without fear of censorship or retribution.

“Never look down at anyone unless you are extending a hand to lift them up.”

/RMY

12 Incredible Assyrian Women Around the World

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By Reine Hanna

March 8, 2017 marks International Women’s Day. Here are 12 of many Assyrian women inspiring positive change across the globe. (The list is not in any order)

Attiya Gamri (Haarlem, Netherlands)

Born in Tur Abdin, Turkey, Attiya Gamri is an Assyrian member of parliament in the Netherlands. Attiya is also the President of the newly established Assyrian Confederation of Europe, and as such is the leading voice for more than 500,000 Assyrians across Europe. In this new role, Attiya advocates forcefully for the rights of Assyrians in the homeland, and looks to build stronger diaspora communities in European countries.


Rosie Malek-Yonan
 (California)

Rosie Malek-Yonan is a woman who wears many hats. She has gained international recognition as an actress, author, and activist—among many other things. Born in Tehran, Iran, she is a descendant of one of the oldest and most prominent Assyrian families. Rosie has dedicated much of her career to advocating for the rights of Assyrians, using her platform to bring attention to the Assyrian Genocide of 1914-1918. She has starred in major Hollywood films. As a human rights activist, Rosie has challenged world leaders for their failure to protect Assyrian communities in the Middle East.

 Jonta, “Yimma d’Nahla” (Nahla, Iraq)
Photos of Jonta bravely standing up to Kurdish police were all over Facebook and Twitter when Kurdish police attempted to block a protest organized by Assyrians. The protest was with regard to ongoing theft of Assyrian land in northern Iraq in response to attempted encroachment in her beloved hometown Nahla. Known a affectionately as “Yimma d’Nahla” meaning the mother of Nahla, she risked her life by demanding that Assyrians from Nahla be allowed to pass in order to reach Erbil and join the protest, proving no one is tougher than an Assyrian woman.
Helen MalkoHelen Malko (New York City, New York)
Dr. Helen Malko is a Research Associate at the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. Born in Iraq, she received a PhD in archaeology and anthropology from Stony Brook University, and a Master’s degree in archaeology of the Ancient Near East from Baghdad University. She also holds a diploma in Historic Preservation from Rutgers University. Her current research is focused on the ongoing deliberate destruction of monuments and historical landscapes in Iraq and Syria, and she was recently in Iraq doing fieldwork. She has also testified in U.S. Senate Hearings to address the cultural heritage crisis in Iraq and Syria.
Nineveh Dinha (Salt Lake City, Utah)

Swedish-born Assyrian Nineveh Dinha is the founder of HER Magazine. She spent a decade working as a journalist for local television stations in Arizona (KYMA, NBC) and Utah (KSTU, FOX) and made appearances on Fox News, before pursuing her dream of launching her own digital publication. Through HER Magazine, Nineveh seeks to recognize the pioneering achievements of today’s women – who are forging the path for others to make their mark.

Muna Yaku (Erbil, Iraq)

Dr. Muna Yaku is a Professor of Law at Salhaddin University in Erbil. She is a widely respected advocate for Assyrian rights in Iraq. She was elected to serve as the only representative of Assyrians on a committee formed when the Kurdistan Regional Government began drafting a new constitution in 2015. Members of the KRG Constitutional Committee sought to reduce the rights of minorities during the process. Despite the pressure, she fought forcefully for the rights of Assyrians. When it became clear that her demands would not be met, she bravely walked o the committee in protest, saying “These are my principles, and I will never betray my people. I will not take part in the exploitation of my people.”

Sumer Homeh (Nairobi, Kenya)

Sumer Homeh is the founder and CEO of LocalAid, an organization that strives to empower vulnerable children and marginalized communities in Kenya. Under Sumer’s leadership, LocalAid has established a number of sustainable development projects which are aimed at ending poverty, such as the LocalAid Community Health Clinic, providing free services for people living with HIV/AIDS, and the New Horizon Family, a home for former street children, providing all of their basic needs and practical education in sustainable agricultural skills. An Assyrian native to Australia, she is a long way from home.


Savina Dawood (Ankawa, Iraq)

Co-founding Etuti Institute is just the latest item to be added to Savina Dawood’s resume. A beloved Assyrian activist, Savina has made a name for herself by voicing human rights violations against Assyrians in Iraq and Syria. She has dedicated her life to humanitarian work, entering conflict zones and providing food, shelter, water, and medicine to internally displaced people. Through Etuti, Savina works to empower Assyrian children and young adults in Iraq and Syria—in the hopes of creating a new generation of leaders in the Assyrian homeland.

Atorina Zomaya (Chicago, Illinois)

Atorina Zomaya is the founder of Assyrian Kitchen—an interactive cooking show based out of her hometown Chicago. Assyrian Kitchen explores traditions and ingredients that make up the Assyrian cuisine. Known for her contagious smile and entrepreneurial spirit, Atorina has recently partnered with the Oriental Institute to host Assyrian cooking classes. She was also recently featured on Windy City Live for her newest product, Buried Cheese. Outside of the Kitchen, she has been involved in a number of cultural and humanitarian projects related to Assyrians.

Maryam Shamalta (San Jose, California) 

Maryam Shamalta has quickly become a household name in the Assyrian community worldwide. The host of “Khayla d’Attayouta” or The Assyrian Feminine Power on Assyrian National Broadcast, Maryam uses her weekly television program as a platform to empower Assyrian women. Each week, she invites inspiring Assyrian women onto her show to talk about their achievements in their various fields. In a community that has traditionally has been dominated by male personalities, Maryam has changed the game.

Kara Hermez (Stockholm, Sweden)

Kara Hermez is an Assyrian activist based in Sweden known for her courage. She is an international advocate for Assyrian rights in Iraq and Syria, representing Swedish Assyrians in the Assyrian Confederation of Europe. She has been featured in a number of television programs and various publications regarding her work as an Assyrian. Just last month, she returned home to northern Iraq with two Swedish journalists highlighting injustices faced by Assyrians in the region.

Samar George (Khabour, Syria)

Samar George is barely recognizable now as a soldier in the Assyrian Khabour Guards. In 2016, photos of Samar kneeling over her husband’s casket went viral after he was killed in action just months after they’d married. Not long afterwards, photos surfaced of Samar in uniform, training with the Khabour Guards. She decided to honor her husband’s sacrifice and carry on his mission by taking his place on the battlefield, defending Assyrian lands against terrorism and other threats. The Assyrian region of Khabour in northeastern Syria saw its darkest period when ISIS invaded its villages in February of 2015. It is said that Samar now carries her late husband’s gun.

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This article is re-published with permission from the author, Reine Hanna.

To Wikipedia Editors & Biographers

March 7, 2017

It has come to my attention that a Wikipedia editor who goes by the named LouisAragon is at it again trying to change my Assyrian identity to Iranian on a Wikipedia Article about me and then proceeded to add me to various Iranian groups. There is no dispute and it is not up for discussion by anyone that my nationality was not, is not, and will never be Iranian. It is not for LouisAragon or anyone else to alter this reality or make misrepresentations as this Wikipedia so-called editor has been doing for a few years. LouisAragon’s obsession with me, verging on cyber stalking, is extremely alarming and Wikipedia needs to put a stop to it immediately, restore my nationality to Assyrian-American, and remove me from any and all Iranian categories, and groups on Wikipedia.

Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that Everyone has the right to a nationality, and No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

My birthplace does not define my nationality. I am a U.S. citizen and I choose America as my home where I have lived much of my life.

So to all you so-called Wikipedia Editors and Biographers who continually try to alter my nationality based on your limited knowledge of who I am, just stop. 

Since Wikipedia has blocked me, and my representatives from making corrections to an article that is about me, I will post responses to its so-called editors here on my Blog, Twitter, Facebook Fan Page, and my Personal Websites. I will not be misrepresented and bullied by Wikipedia.

March 8, 2017 Update to My Post

Wikipedia’s all-knowing-so-called editor, LouisAragon, continues to argue/rant that he/she knows my nationality better than I (being the subject and primary source), assumes to know how many years I’ve spent in Iran and now further assumes to knows the birthplace of my parents to be Iran. Is this how these so-called editors contribute to Wikipedia? By assumption or bullying? Really? LouisAragon can best serve Wikipedia by refraining to inflict his/her views on biographies of living people. Perhaps this so-called editor’s skills should be exercised on biographies of the dearly departed. There’s bound to be less objections at least directly from the subjects of the articles.

NOTE: My next post Listen Up, Wikipedia will continue to develop and update  this post on Wikipedia’s Anti-Assyrian bullies.

/RMY

Assyrian Martyr’s Day

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In August of 1933, the Simele Massacre would become the first of many massacres committed by the Iraqi government against the Assyrians of Northern Iraq. The systemic targeting of this Christian nation rapidly extended throughout 63 Assyrian villages in the Dohuk and Mosul districts resulting in the deaths of 3,000 Assyrians.

The Simele Massacre would also become the inspiration for Ralph Lemkin who would later coin the term “genocide.” In 1933, Lemkin made a presentation at the League of Nations Conference on international criminal law in Madrid. His essay on the Crime of Barbarity as a crime against international law was presented to the Legal Council. Based on the Simele massacre, Lemkin’s concept of the crime would later evolve into the idea of “genocide.”

Today, Assyrians around the world commemorate this event on August 7th as the Assyrian Martyr’s Day.