Since the genocide of Armenians, Pontic Greeks and Assyrians (also called Chaldeans and Syriacs) in the Ottoman empire in 1915, these communities have been subject to a diaspora with new settlements in countries far from their ancestral ones.
A diaspora is defined as a scattered population with a common origin in a smaller geographic area.
Imagine an American diaspora where for every one American still living in the United States, five have fled to escape ethnic persecution. Now you can stop imagining that scenario and come to terms with the fact that this is the current state of affairs for Assyrians.
Assyrians are now residing in Sweden, the United States, Canada, Germany, Australia, Russia, Netherlands, France, Jordan, United Kingdom, and many other countries that have opened their doors.
The total population of Assyrians living in countries outside their native and indigenous homelands of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey outnumber those living in the original homelands by five to one. This is not by choice; rather, it is driven by ethnic persecution.
Flip a typical six-sided die. Roll a 1 through 5 and you flee your home. Roll a "lucky" 6 and you're now living in your home with the incessant fear that it's only a matter of time before you're forced to flee too. And the diaspora has continued to grow since the invasion of Iraq. Recent events driven by IS (Islamic State) in Iraq and Syria have dramatically driven that number up.
In fleeing, Assyrians have integrated into their new home countries, learning multiple languages and cultures, and have contributed to all aspects of life, from technical and legal to medical and political. Assyrians have learned how to adapt to their new homes.
But how will the Assyrian culture or any other diaspora community preserve its rich heritage and not totally assimilate?
The Jewish community has been one of the most persecuted communities in the world. From the exodus in the Old Testament to the Holocaust, Jews have endured as a strong and resilient community. An impressive 193 Jews have been awarded the Nobel Prize; that is roughly one quarter of all award winners since 1901.
What can another diaspora community learn from the Jews?
The more educated you are, the more you will be able to contribute back to society and at the same time drive change for your ethnic community. The state of Israel was not created overnight. Jews prepared themselves for the opportunity back in the mid-1800s by educating and supporting their people. The statement may be oversimplified, as preparations may have even started earlier than that, but my point is this: Education is the key to driving change for the community.
How can Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs start?
- Go to school and educate yourself in a field that you are passionate in.
- Be the best at what you do. Others in your ancestral homelands are being killed for having your ethnicity. Use it as motivation to drive yourself.
- Be proud of your ethnicity. Learn who you are and teach others. If someone asks if you are Persian or Arab or Italian or Greek or even Japanese (yes, I got Japanese once), be polite while explaining and educating them as to who you really are.
- Preserve your language. I have been in many conversations with people who think Neo-Aramaic (Assyrian) is an "extinct language." New schools and even apps -- Assyrian ABCs, ZalinVille, Ishtar Games, Assyrian and many others -- have been developed to preserve the language and culture. Use those tools to educate yourself, your children and your families.
- Get involved by joining grassroot efforts like A Demand for Action, your local association, your federation or political party and support each other.
- Internalize the saying "Never forget, and never again."
Choose your life, your passions, and your career and become the best in whatever it is, and always remember that you are also an ambassador. You have a voice to give to the unheard. It's only when the diaspora understands the value of both melting into the societies they live in and preserving their ethnic identity that it can flourish.
By raising awareness, rallying, fundraising and debating, we have made known, to the rest of the world, that the ongoing ethno-religious genocide at the dirty hands of Islamic extremists will not be tolerated.
Never forget the atrocities that have happened to your ancestors, and never allow something like this to happen again.