Enter the Assyrian Universal Alliance’s office and the first thing you will notice is a proud gallery of achievements, trophies, Parliamentary awards, cultural art, sculptures and a heritage flag that was only officially recognised one year ago. Once you’ve managed to stop your eyes from wandering around the room and remind yourself that you’re being rude since you haven’t even been welcomed in yet, you won’t help but notice that sitting behind a desk with towers of paperwork and a laptop screen covering their faces are the leaders of probably the most humbling NGO you could ever come across. Probably a subjective opinion, I know, since I’m an Assyrian myself, but hey, at least they didn’t think I was rude for barging in without an invitation to enter! Instead, I was greeted with a loud, “Shlamalakh” (meaning “peace upon you” in Assyrian) and 2 welcoming smiles. I knew, then, that I hadn’t broken any silent rule and wasn’t going to be left feeling ashamed. No. I was just being an Assyrian– curious and nosy. And, I suppose it took this project for me to actually appreciate and value my ethnicity as one without a country but definitely one with a rich history and a LONG list of achievements.
And that’s exactly what I put together for the AUA- Australian Chapter. The AUA was established exactly 50 years ago with the intent to represent the Assyrian diaspora which had fled their homeland of Iraq following countless persecutions, unrecognised genocides and discriminatory treatment from tyrannical regimes and oppressive forces. But I knew this already. I didn’t think there was anything special to it since I had grown up listening to the same old, sad, depressing stories of genocide from my parents and other older relatives. However, what I had failed to realise from all of this was just how controversial my mere existence as an Assyrian is. And I have the AUA to thank, for opening my ignorant eyes to this realm of endless impossibilities and exciting chaos. Happy to help and always beaming, they extended their resources, including newspaper clippings, photos from the 60s to the present and even private minutes from Congress meetings. It was hard work collating all these sources, sorting them out into a logical timeline that would provide thorough yet succinct detail about the AUA’s achievements. There were days where the “information overload” of it all would get too much but I had to remind myself of why I chose to assist this organisation in the first place. And, no, it had nothing to do with them being Assyrian. Well, kind of.
In a FaceBook post published by the AUA, a “troll” had commented, attempting to squash the AUA organisation into a pulp for being “useless” and ineffective. I responded. And it wasn’t pretty. But I did want to make the point clear that the AUA was working and working very hard, indeed, to voice the concerns of the Assyrian community and urge the Australian government to take action. But I didn’t really have the facts. I only wrote down what I had heard from my family. And it was this specific event which had made me immediately think of the AUA when Professor McDonnell informed us that we would need to choose one NGO and help them out. So, I suppose in helping the AUA out I was actually helping myself out in the process.
Well, after many late, tiresome nights in my room, laying on the floor with my notes and sources (and not to mention that cold cup of tea that lays there sadly forgotten), I was able to produce a not-so-very-humble, 15-paged document of the lists of the AUA’s achievements and history. With this, I hope to show whoever stumbles upon my project that the AUA is useful, is effective and is constantly seeking for new ways that could benefit their community while also facing denigration from all sorts of platforms imaginable.
It has been an absolute honour working with the AUA team and I daresay that I will be continuing my work with them as we aim to upload my work onto their website before the end of this year. With this information on their site, we hope to publicise and, perhaps, memorialise a history of a forgotten empire that continues to take out breaths and breathe in new ones to this day.
*ATOUR is Assyrian for Assyria