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