Assyrian Culture Rings In Program

4f29a93b2c1d2preview-3001.jpgBy TOM ROBB Journal &
Niles West High School was overflowing with Assyrians Sunday as Coming Together In Skokie (CTIS) held its kick off event.

Niles North and West students greeted visitors arriving at the event in traditional Assyrian dress. Women wore long flowing dresses with jeweled headdresses and men wore hats with long feathers standing two feet high.

The main program brought audience members dancing in the aisles along with dancers on stage reenacting traditional wedding dances that tell stories of past great Assyrian battles and folklore.

Coming Together is a project of area agencies to encourage greater cultural understanding that includes Niles Twp. High School Dist. 219, Oakton Community College, the Indian Community of Niles Township, the village of Skokie, the Skokie library and park districts and school districts 68, 73 and 73.5, among others.

This year, CTIS focuses on the Assyrian people in a six-week series of events.

Similar events in the past two years focused on Indian and Pilipino cultures and communities.

Niles and Skokie have become central destinations for Assyrian immigrants coming to the United States from the Middle East, according to event organizers.

Niles and Skokie are among the most ethnically diverse communities in Northern Illinois, according to U.S. Census data.

There is no country of Assyria anymore. Invaders overran the Assyrian capital in 612 BC but the Assyrian culture lives on today in modern Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.

Niles and Skokie recently saw a spike in Assyrian immigrants from Iraq. Several of those high school aged immigrants from Dist. 219 spoke at Sunday’s event.

An art exhibit at the school celebrated Gilgamesh, a central hero of the Assyrian people whose story predates many stories of the Bible.

Those at the event also enjoyed pastries filled with dates and nuts, called Kadeh, laid out on a long table near Assyrian additional artwork and informational panels about Assyrian history and culture.

Among the speakers at Sunday’s event was Homer Ashurian, a former member of the Iranian congress who served under the Shah from 1975 to 1979 before the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

He said Iranian Assyrians, most of who are Christians, are not persecuted by the Islamic government but cannot participate in that government either because of their religion.

Assyrians were persecuted in Iraq under Saddam Hussein and in Afghanistan under the Taliban, Ashurian said.

Ashurian discussed immigration by Assyrians to the United States. He said many resettled in Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York and later in California.

CTIS events through February and March include book discussions, films and other Assyrian cultural events at Dist. 219 schools, Oakton Community College’s Des Plaines and Skokie campuses, Skokie Library and other venues.