The Golden Inspiration

“A grandfather is someone with silver in his hair and gold in his heart.”
– Author unknown, from my old memories notebook.
My family used to call him “Babby Khanis” The people in the village used to call him “Mokhtar” I didn’t recognize his real name until I started going to school at the age of eight. The teacher in the class asked us about the names of our fathers and grandfathers; and when it was my turn, I said, “Babby Khanis” The teacher, who was from our village, Tel Sakra, started laughing then said, “Your grandfather’s name is Yakhnis, not Babby Khanis” Every time I remember this incident I laugh, because in the Assyrian language, Babby means “my father” Khanis was the abbreviation of Yakhnis, the proper name of my grand father. The large family of “Babby Khanis” consisted of, a son, six daughters, and 38 grandchildren. They all used to call him the same name, “Babby Khanis.” He was a wise man and well respected. The people of our village chose him to solve the problems that occurred For that, they called him “Mokhtar”, which in the Assyrian language means “the Mayor.”
He was a farmer who lived with my grandmother, Nargis in a small house surrounded by a raft of trees He had always been a strong man. He was kind, friendly, what seemed to me, a grandfather. The whiteness on his hair was like the snow over the mountains. The wrinkles on his face were like the old dried land with a very long history. The sadness in his eyes showed all the suffering he had throughout his entire life. My grandfather passed away in 2009 in Chicago, United States at the age of 92 years. He spent much of his life moving from country to country from the time he was born.
“Babby Khanis’s life began in 1917 in Tkhoma, Province of Hakkari, Turkey. His father was a priest” my father said. “In 1917, The Kurdish forces, under the command of the Ottoman Empire, who were Muslims, murdered the Assyrians, Greeks, and Armenians who were living in southern Turkey because they are Christians. Today this is known as “the genocide.” Then he continued, “The Assyrians who were left alive separated into two groups; one group escaped to Northern Iraq and the other group fled to Salmas city, in Northern Iran, and that’s where the family of your grandfather went. Thereafter, in 1930, when he was 13 years old, an earthquake occurred in Salmas city, Northern Iran. This earthquake resulted in thousands of Assyrian fatalities. The Assyrians who survived moved to Northern Iraq by their relatives.” My father paused trying to recall the whole story that my grandfather had told him. In the darkness and silence, tears dropped from my eyes imagining the blood and tears shed over the roads, which my grandfather’s family walked along, without food or water. Then my father continued “In 1933 the Iraqi army started the war against the Assyrians in Northern Iraq thinking that they were helping the English army in the period of the English colonialism. Babby Khanis survived, but my grandfather did not. The Assyrians that stayed alive, including your grandfather, escaped to Syria where they got help from the French. Thereafter, they lived in villages safely on the bank of the Khabour River.”
“He had two brothers,” my aunt, Mariam, the eldest of my grandfather’s family said. “The eldest was Zaia, a deacon, who stayed and lived in Iran. The youngest was Mosheh, who died when he was just 18 years old shortly after they arrived to the Syrian land.”
According to a friend of my grandfather, Younan, the marriage of my grandfather was managed between two families. He said, “Due to the rules of our church, The Assyrian Church of the East in 1930’s, you had to marry a second cousin in your family. A first cousin is not
allowed” He continued recalling then said, “The best wine in the 33 villages was made by your grandfather. Every year on November 15th many people used to come to our village just to taste the wine of your grandfather.” Then he added, “November 15th of every year is a memorial of Saint Khanania in our village, Tel Sakra. The people of our village make food for the visitors from other villages and cities to eat after the mass. This was followed by serving homemade wine. Three people were selected as a board that taste the wine was made by the village families, and decided which one is the best. Your grandfather’s was Always the best.”
“After the death of Moshe, your grandfather’s brother, Babby Khanis became depressed and lonely,” my uncle, Benyamin, said. “My uncle, Qasha Yousip ( Qasha means priest in the Assyrian language) thought that Babby Khanis must get married to overcome his sadness. So, he gave his daughter, Nargis, to Babby Khanis as a wife.”
“He was working alone- no brothers or sisters- taking care of his sick mother,” Shamasha Khoshaba, a cousin of Babby khanis said. “A few terrible people in the village tried to bother him by uprooting his small trees, or by damaging the canal of the water in his field, but he never got involved in a fight, or argument. He just repaired the damage and continued his daily life. Yakhnis taught all people of the village how to devote their lives to helping others. He helped the widowed women that didn’t have help. Khalty Chibo was one of them. She used to see her field irrigated and didn’t know who did it until the end of 1980’s. Khalty Senameh, another widow, said, “I was surprised when I went to the field in my farm I saw the trees were pruned and the field was irrigated. I was dying to know who did it.” It was your grandfather’s nature to love helping people.”
My uncle, Benyamin, added, “He was a good speaker in the community. He used to make us laugh with funny stories. One time we (the men of the village) were sitting around an old fire pit as usual; discussing current issues in the village and trying to find solutions. There was an old man talking randomly nonstop and loudly. We wanted to stop him, but according to our culture, it is considered dishonorable to tell an old man stop talking. Babby khanis suddenly said, “I have a good idea today!” Everyone looked at him, including the older man. He continued “Anyone who wants to talk has to pay one Lyra (Syrian currency) and this money will be used for painting the walls of the church.” That old man was avaricious, so he stopped talking the entire night! This was a good idea to continue talking about good things as well as collecting some money for the church.”
“He was a peaceful man who loved to help people until the last day of his life” Younan, friend of my grandfather said. “There was a man, George, who used to fight with his wife Mary constantly. Finally, they decided to divorce. Yakhnis heard about that. He was sick, but with his sickness he decided to try to solve the problem. He called George, then Mary and asked them for meeting separately. He met them both. Later, the problem was fixed. They are a happy family now. No one knows to this day how he resolved their issue, or what he told them, and the couple never said the details. A couple months after this story was told, Yakhnis passed away.”
Babby khanis moved to the United States when I was 17 years old. I spent most of these 17 years with him. He was my teacher in the school of life. As a little boy, I didn’t understand many things, but these days, when I have a problem, I remember one of his sayings, “Sargoun, every person in the world has problems in his or her life. If someone doesn’t have problems, that means he or she is not alive. God creates the life in this way. People and problems are inseparable. They might be big problems such as a war where thousands of people are involved
or it may be a small problem like smoking where only one person is involved. But my advice to you when you have any kind of problems is, sit down and in your mind separate the problem to small parts. Then try to solve each of these parts one by one. It will be easier to get the most of the problem solved.”
He even taught me how to take care of plants. He took care of his trees like his own babies. If even one of his trees turned yellow or dried out he became very sad. He did his best to get it back to life. If he couldn’t, then he cut it off and seeded a new one at the same spot. “The plant is created by God who created us. It doesn’t talk, but has feelings just like us”, Babby Khanis told me while we were walking between the trees in the field. Then he continued “Not only do we have to feed and irrigate them they need our love and care as well. Then he asked me, “Do you know why I have the prize of best wine in the village every year? It’s the love I give to trees. The tree gives me the best product mixed with its soul, and the result is the best wine.”
He also used to encourage me to study. He always used to tell me, “Sargoun, school is a war between you and the book. You are an Assyrian warrior. You have to win this war just like Assyrian kings in the past. In the Assyrian king’s time the power was how strong you were; nowadays, the power is how educated you are…” Up to this moment, I feel the soul of Babby Khanis with me; I recall what he told me and use it as lessons to help me face the challenges not only in school, but also in this life. Everything I know about Babby Khanis is from the time I spent with him while he was alive. But, later I have become interested in knowing about his earlier life. I believe what I have discovered on his wisdom should be honored and taught to the next generations of our family as well as other people.

Sargon Yakhnis/ Chicago