Protest and Reply Over
"Note on the Modern Assyrians"


Editorial Note

Multiple copies of the following protest letter have been received by The Proceedings of the Friesian School, complaining about the treatment in the essay, "Note on the Modern Assyrians." The common reply sent to the protesters is given following. The links in the following letter will lead to the viewpoints that protesters want to express.


Dear Administrator,

We call your attention to an article on Assyrians written by Kelly Ross [sic], a teacher at Los Angeles Valley College. The article contains extremely offensive, derogatory and anti-Assyrian language, and explicitly questions the ethnic identity of Assyrians. According to Mister Ross, he wrote this article for his Assyrian students, to "educate" them about their erroneous beliefs. We believe this is a serious matter of concern, as this article is extremely demoralizing for any Assyrian student to read, and makes an Assyrian student ashamed of his culture, ancestry and heritage. (You can read the full article here: http://www.friesian.com/notes/note-n.htm)

These are some of the words used to describe Assyrians in this paper; they are Mister Ross' own words and, we must assume, his feelings about Assyrians as well.

Disturbing, appalling, inflated, self-serving, deceptive, unhelpful, far nastier, ambiguous, misrepresented, "call itself 'Assyrian'", unseemly, terror, brutality, extermination, disappearance, denigrate, belittle, anti-religious, murderers, bizarre, strange, shame, invented, dishonest, force, massacre, deportation, falsehood, absurdly, self-flattering, tragic, disgraceful, shameful, belittle, insulting, not worthy, moral appropriateness, and reprehensible.

The Los Angeles Valley College Academic Rights And Responsibilities code on Faculty Ethics states in Paragraph II: "Faculty members demonstrate respect for the student as an individual, and adhere to their proper role as intellectual guides and counselors". Mister Ross is in clear violation of this guideline; his anti-Assyrian views can hardly be construed as demonstrating respect for his Assyrian students.

Numerous Assyrians have contacted Mister Ross regarding his article, and have asked him to modify it. Mister Ross has steadfastly refused to do so.

Mister Rossí article is hosted by Los Angeles Valley College, which in turn is hosted by California State University, Los Angeles [N.B., not true, ed.]. We do not believe it is proper for the College or the University to endorse such hateful views.

We ask that this article be removed from the web site, and Mister Ross to refrain from distributing this article to any of his students, be they Assyrian or not. Furthermore, we ask that Mr. Ross attend a cultural sensitivity seminar.

Assyrian organizations such as the Assyrian Academic Society or the Assyrian American National Federation can provide Mister Ross with ample historically correct and culturally sensitive material for his students. Please contact the Assyrian Academic Society (info@aas.net) or the Assyrian American National Federation (aanf@aanf.org), for further information.


Dear Assyrian Friends,

I am very sorry if anyone regards the "Note on the Modern Assyrians" as "insulting" or "anti-Assyrian." I have nothing but sympathy and esteem for the modern Assyrians and their history. It is a shame if anyone would miss that in reading the "Note on the Modern Assyrians," for whom I wish only well.

But, morally, intellectually, and educationally, I cannot tolerate examples of what I would consider to be ethnic and nationalistic mythology. The article details the problems with various claims I have heard made about the modern Assyrians that I do not consider to be true. Scholarly sources are given for the corrections made to these claims. So, the complaint is not just about me. If anyone regards harsh statements about the ancient Assyrians as insulting, I think all are aware that these are common historical judgments, especially with those who begin with Biblical judgments about the Assyrians. These may be disputed, but the complaint then, again, is not just with me.

There is a saying that one should choose one's enemies as carefully as one's friends. Since I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, any kind of enemy of the modern Assyrian people, it should be a matter of some worry to treat me as one. It is more in sorrow than in anger that I must reply to the many e-mails (with identical texts) that I have received today. This is why I began the reply with "Assyrian friends." You should know better who your friends are.

Yours truly,
Kelley L. Ross


Editorial Note

This whole business got started several years ago when I had an Assyrian student who claimed in class that the language of the modern Assyrians, Syriac, was derived directly from the ancient Assyrian language and not, as I had always understood, from Aramaic. A response to that was written up, along with one to another claim that the Assyrians were also the Sumerians, just in case the occasion again arose in class, which, as it happened, never did. Since the treatment was then posted on the internet, it attracted the friendly attention of an Assyrian who assured me that most Assyrians didn't believe those claims. I was directed to websites, however, that provoked new concerns about questionable historical claims in regard to the Assyrians. So the page grew and soon was organized with a few other examples of doubtful historical claims, all motivated by enthusiasm for ethnic or national histories.

After perhaps more than a year of resting obscurely in its footnote, all this recently drew the heated attention of some Assyrians, as expressed in the protest letter above. At first, attempts were made to correct my understanding with material sent by e-mail or referenced in weblinks. Much of this, as earlier, had the opposite effect intended, raising new concerns rather than persuasively settling the old ones. When the protest campaign then was launched, the page was obligingly withdrawn, without, however, admission that the judgments expressed therein were incorrect or inappropriate. This was considered an insufficient admission, arrogant and condescending, and the protests continued. A meeting was suggested by some correspondents. I was not sure what this was supposed to accomplish, especially when I still hadn't been able to study all the material that had been sent me in the previous week or so; and if it was intended to be a friendly discussion, I did not believe it should take place in what I felt was the intimidating atmosphere of an e-mail campaign in which both I and the Faculty President of Valley College were accused of things like "racism," "white supremacy," "anti-Semitism," and, interestingly enough (in light of the "anti-Semitism" accusation), "Zionism." The latter accusation made me especially wary when complaints about my treatment of the ancient Assyrians occasionally gave way to bursts of anti-Israeli rhetoric or condemnations of the United Nations sanctions against Iraq. I did not understand that the suggestion for a meeting was a non-negotiable demand, which apparently it was. The correspondent cut off contact by saying, "Let's see what direct confrontation will lead to." This turned out to meet a meeting with the President of Valley College. A debate with Mr. Fred Parhad about these matters was agreed for some time in September. This has now been scheduled for Monday, September 24, at 6 PM in Monarch Hall in the Campus Center at Valley College. Since Mr. Parhad denied that he wanted the "Note on the Modern Assyrians" page withdrawn, and parties interested in attending the debate should know what it is all about, the parts of the page that were withdrawn can now be found here.

Although I have been overwhelmed with hostile e-mail, not all the response has been of that nature. A few Assyrians have actually apologized for the campaign against the page, even when they also asserted that they disagreed with my opinions. Also, it had not previously come to my attention that there are members of the Syriac Christian community who reject identification with the ancient Assyrians and agree with some of my concerns. One site expressing their views is at The Theology Group [dead link]. I first heard of this from Johnny Messo, of the community in the Netherlands of the Syriac-Orthodox Church of Antioch, who sent the following e-mail. "Shlomo" is, of course, the Syriac equivalent of "salâm" in Arabic and "shalom" in Hebrew.


Dear Mr.Ross, shlomo

I was glad to read in first place your article about the modern "Assyrians" several months ago. It was obviously not known among the East-Syriacs till recently, as you have noticed yourself! I was also happy to read that "Numerous Assyrians have contacted Mister Ross regarding his article, and have asked him to modify it. Mister Ross has steadfastly refused to do so".

I hope your article will remain online as long as it is needed to defend the truth. I'm happy to express that there are at least some scholars who have the courage to raise their voice against this ghost of "Assyrianism" and share their views with the world by means of the powerful medium called the internet.

As you could have noticed, I'm against the idea that believes in tracing back "Assyrian" descent for the Syriac people. It is simply a modern phenomenon and luckily not all Syriacs have fallen for this utopia of "Assyrianism". For this idea has caused a lot of damage among our people too!

Since many "Assyrians" attacked you, I thought about sending you an e-mail that the kind of e-mails you had received, is their "normal" kind of behavior to attack people who refute their hypotheses (with scholarly proofs/facts). In this way, many (Syriac) people/scholars who are against their theories have been made virtual "enemies" of a, ironically enough, non-existing Assyrian state/nation.

Of course I myself am not unknown to them either. As if I give anything about what they think about me or about the rest of those whom they project as people who sell lies, people with hidden agendas, people who don't know what they're talking about, etc. If we can describe such people, it are rather their ardent "Assyrian" nationalists who often are able to convince innocent people (perhaps they led themselves easily be convinced and are not innocent at all) with their cheap lies who attempt to "Assyrianize" everything and everyone (even some Kurdish tribes and Ethiopians were once regarded as belonging to the "Assyrian nation"!)!

Therefore I hope to encourage you to continue you're classes with teaching what is known as historically truthful and that the idea of "Assyrianism" is nothing but a (modern) self-invented "ethnic and nationalistic mythology", to use your words, which is not supported by every Syriac. In the words of a famous scholar (an expert in modern "Assyrian" history) at the Harvard University, this name "Assyrians" is today "inseparable from a whole bogus ethnology".

Below I refer you to websites maintained by Syriacs/Arameans who strongly reject any connection whatsoever with the Assyrians of old. If they want to refute you with (scientifical) proofs that can bridge the gap or the missing link, they may start finishing to convince their own (Syriac!) people first (e.g. the ones who maintain the websites referred to below)!

We are clearly no "Assyrians", but rather Syriacs and we have always identified ourselves with the names Suryoye/Sur(y)aye (i.e. Syriacs; NEVER with othuroye/atoraye, which means in Aramaic "Assyrians"!), or according to the written testimonies of our (both West- and East-) Syriac fathers prior to the 19th century: the Syriacs were formerly known as Arameans! (Cf. also the Septuagint/LXX, Strabo, Posidonius, and Josephus)

So to us it's basically a name change that we Syriacs underwent long time ago and nothing more than that. The words are synonymous to us in meaning, and the Syriac language (resp. dialect) = the Aramaic language itself, and the same counts for the Syriac people who are factually Arameans.

Some wbesites of the views of the Syriac-Orthodox Church of Antioch and its members:

http://sor.cua.edu/Pub/AramaicHeritageSOC [dead link]
http://www.suryoyo-online.org
http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~t-issa/syr/syr.htm
http://come.to/suryoyo [empty page]
http://home-3.worldonline.nl/%7Eac4528/aramnaharaim.htm [dead link]
http://www.block21.com/turabdin
http://www.aramaic-dem.org
http://come.to/adep [dead link]
http://www.syriac-ua.org [dead link]
http://www.suryoyo.com
http://www.suryoyo.com/online [dead link]
http://www.suryoyo.org [dead link]
http://www.suryoyo.com/suf [dead link]
http://www.syriacaa.com

See their links for more websites.

The following link will bring you to the recently (2000) published book of a modern "Assyrian" (an East-Syriac) scholar. If you don't know the book yet, I can say it is highly recommendable for every objective reader! http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/9004116419/qid%3D988039031026-6940733-0206811

The Modern Assyrians of the Middle East
John Joseph PhD

Best wishes from the Syriac-Orthodox Church of Antioch and the representative (cultural) organisations of the Syriac people world wide!

shlome sbise

Yuhanon/Johnny Messo


Correspondence

Home Page

Copyright (c) 2001 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

The Forum about this came off as planned, called "Two Views on the Ancient Assyrians." While Mr. Parhad had promised us that the whole local Assyrian community would turn out for the event, no more than half a dozen people seemed to do so. I hope this is because they became aware of Mr. Parhad's own agenda and did not want to be associated with it. From statements made to us at Valley College, and from the evidence of his own website, Mr. Parhad seems to have mixed in pro-Iraqi and anti-American ideology with his Assyrian nationalism. He has even referred to Saddam Hussein as an "Assyrian" and said that the United States has killed more Assyrians by its bombing than Saddam Hussein has. There would have to be an awful lot of Assyrians manning Iraqi air defense sites for that to be true. At the time of his original appearance at Valley College in May and demands for the debate, he talked as though the United States has been bombing Assyrian villages in Iraq. What looks more like it is that Iraq, which officially regards the Assyrians as Christian Arabs, has been the one destroying Assyrian villages.

Curiously, in the debate Mr. Parhad admitted that people might not have liked ancient Assyria because it was an Empire -- like the "Empire" that the United States now has. This is a little odd, since Mr. Parhad does not seem to like the United States and appears to hope that its power will founder in military action against Iraq, while protesting that someone like me should talk about how contemporaries didn't like ancient Assyria. One would think that if ancient Assyria was enlightened, likeable, and popular, then now the United States, if it qualifies as an "Empire" by his definition, would be enlightened, likeable, and popular also. But this does not seem to be the case, and at least Mr. Parhad, disliking the United States so much, has acted on this by moving to Mexico.

Another curious feature of this debate was something that to me was rather surprising, and which I could not take into account in my original treatment of the issue, and that is the rejection of some Assyrian nationalists, like Mr. Parhad himself, of Christianity. I was aware of attempts to denigrate the Old Testament and to virtually de-Judaize an Assyrian nationalist Christianity, but it can go far beyond this, with an abandonment of Christianity altogether and a desire to revive the ancient worship of the Assyrian national god, Ashur. Unfortunately, if this is supposed to it fit in with a modern Iraqi nationalism (e.g. an Assyrian Iraqi rather than an Arab Iraqi identity), there is the difficulty that such neo-pagan worship is not something that Islâm is under any obligation, by its own laws, to tolerate. If Mr. parhad, a sculptor, provided a statue of Ashur to Iraq, good Moslems would be duty bound to destroy it. Saddam Hussein may be a completely cynical Moslem, but he is presently trying to take advantage of radical Islâm. The worship of Ashur is not going to fit in with that. Mr. Parhad might want to confer with Saddam before getting too carried away. I suspect the truth is that Mr. Parhad's views, however conformable in their anti-Americanism to Saddam Hussein's, are otherwise idiosyncratic and have little to do with Hussein's actual beliefs or purposes.

Since September 11, 2001, of course, a pro-Iraqi anti-Americanism, whether Assyrian or Arab, Ashur-worshipping or Islamic in origin, is not going to sound good to most Americans or, I hope, most Assyrians. If the Assyrian community stayed away from the Valley College forum for fear of attacting hostile attention from Americans, this was a wise response indeed, when the presumably pro-Assyrian speaker was identifying himself with the enemies of America and could barely conceal his own anti-American animus. Since many Americans may be unaware that there even are Christian communities in the Middle East (an Egyptian Christian, a Copt, perhaps mistaken as a Moslem, was murdered in San Gabriel soon after September 11), and Arab Christians are at pains to dissociate themselves from Islam (as many Moslems are at pains to dissociate themselves from radical "Islamist" ideology), the last thing the Assyrians need is an ideology to dissociate them from Christianity and associate them with, of all people, Saddam Hussein.

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