Ancient + Modern Assyrians
I often find myself wondering why museums like the Met, British Museum and Louvre never mention that the heirs of the ancient Assyrian and Mesopotamian pieces they display still exist.
It wouldn’t make sense for these same museums to tell their patrons that yes, the Greeks, Chinese and Egyptians still exist because well — they have nation-states. It’s already understood that they’re around.
Assyrians on the other hand are indigenous to a handful of nations in the Middle East: Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. They are now spread virtually all across the globe. Numbering less than 3 million internationally Assyrians have no real country of their own. Their ancient language — Aramaic — is not taught with the support of any government. Instead, Assyrians rely on the church and the learned to pass down their language, once spoken by Christ.
To be Assyrian is not easy in any sense. If anything, it’s easier to assimilate and shed one’s heritage.
If museums want to really educate the public on the work of the ancient Assyrians, they need to also tell those same patrons that their descendants are alive and in some cases — particularly for the Assyrians in the Middle East — are not doing well at the hands of persecution and other forms of systemic, institutionalized discrimination by the Iranian and Arab-majority governments.
I had an idea for Assyrians worldwide to share their photos with me — photos of themselves with our ancient, priceless and fragile history — to show the world that yes, Assyrians are alive!
I asked Assyrians to share photos standing next to the majestic Lamassu — one of the most iconic ancient Assyrian symbols — a protective deity that was placed in front of palaces to ward off evil.
Below are photographs of Assyrians paying homage to our past and ensuring our ancient culture continues for another 7,000 years.
I asked Assyrians worldwide what makes them proud to be Assyrian.
These are their answers:
”I’m proud because my ancestors were the first ones to build a civilization. Once upon a time they ruled the world.”
— Dina Marqus, 25, Iraq
“The kindness and strength of our people. And their love of food!”
— Dorine Aziz, 28, USA
“When I see the Lamassu it is awe-inspiring. I’m just awe-struck.”
– Zalgai Aho, 38, Sweden
“I’m proud of our existence. The times I’ve been the most inspired by my surroundings have been whenever I’ve met Assyrians of my own generation with a love and vision for the Assyrian cause. It gives my life meaning.”
— Sharrat Ninua Cherry, 18, Sweden
“What makes me proud to be Assyrian is that my Lord Jesus Christ spoke my language.”
— Stuart Benyamin, France
“I’m proud to be Assyrian because we actually care. We’ve survived genocide after genocide which shows how strong we are as a people.”
— Robina Lajin, 23, Germany
“When I was a kid I used to dread being asked about my nationality because it made me feel different. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to not only value my culture, but treasure it. Being Assyrian is an inextricable part of my identity and I couldn’t be more proud.”
— Megin Nadrisha, USA
“’I’m proud to be an Assyrian because Assyrians are one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Other people were living in caves, but we were building the Tower of Babel. Also we have our own language and alphabet, this is really important [because] many languages use [the] Latin alphabet. We have a language with strong grammar. There are many [great] things about being Assyrian and I love all of them.”
— Anita K., 28, Iran
“The greatness of the ancient empire! Knowledge, science and power!”
— Arkadiy Danilov, 39, Russia
“The moment I walked in this museum [British Museum] I felt something there belonged to me. When I laid my eyes on the Lamassu I got this feeling that that was mine. Growing up my parents always reminded me to be proud of who I am and to never forget who I am. I am Assyrian and proud.”
— Mari Toma, 23, USA
“I’ve lived in two countries throughout my life — Australia and the United States. Seeing how, despite living in the diaspora, we have always managed to come together in any part of the world makes me feel a great sense of pride in my nation. We seek refuge in each other and make any place we reside in feel like home and I’m blessed to have been born into it all.”
— Melissa Lazar, USA
“Walking into a room of Assyrians and feeling a sense of joy — seems rare in other cultures.”
— John Jenzeh, USA
“What makes me proud to be Assyrian is knowing I’m a part of a rich legacy of people who exemplify greatness, perseverance and resiliency, even in the worst of times.”
— Adessa Sworesho, Canada
“Our history and the strength of our people to keep fighting!”
— Shamiran Echi, USA
“Our unwavering faith, our rich history, our great language and the diversity within our people.”
— Aessin Shikwana, USA
“The reason why I am proud to be Assyrian is the responsibility that has been bestowed upon me to educate the world about my enriched culture. Being Assyrian is more than just an identity, it’s carrying the weight of a civilization founded over two thousand years ago.”
— Peter Warda, 30, USA
“I’m proud to be Assyrian because I belong to a culture that has existed for thousands of years. A nation that has contributed in the past to science and medicine. We managed to keep a very old language alive despite the genocides and persecution we faced since the destruction of our empire.”
— Logal Kako, 25, Sweden
“Our history, our language, our names, our food, our dances and our culture. And our perseverance over the last few thousand years.”
— Athra Barhy, 31, Australia
“Being in the Louvre surrounded by all of our history and feeling so important to be living, breathing proof that we are still here; we still speak the language; we still know our roots and nobody can take that away from us. It brought tears to my eyes. I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with pride and sadness all at once.”
— Lisa Kiorkis, USA
Basimeh raba/Taudi to the Assyrians from the following countries for sharing their beautiful photographs: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Sweden, France, Iraq, Germany, Australia, Denmark and Russia.
This is an on-going project. Please email me your photos if you ever find yourself among the Lamassu.