Why Assyrians Must Demand Accountability to Protect our History and Future

The Curious Case of Nineb Lamassu

In May 2018, the families of prominent Assyrian writers Youel A. Baaba (1930–2010) and Sargon Boulus (1944–2007) approached me and asked for help through a mutual friend. In 2012, these families donated their collections of the authors’ works and other materials to the Modern Assyrian Research Archive (MARA), an archive of Assyrian texts established by Assyrians in 2008 and based at Cambridge University. In the intervening years, however, Ninif Tooma (better known as “Nineb Lamassu”), MARA member from 2008–2012, who was tasked with managing the donations, ignored requests regarding the fate of these materials. The families were deeply concerned and, through this mutual friend, reached out to me knowing that I am an Assyrian based in the UK and active in writing and speaking on Assyrian issues.

My investigation was not initially about Mr. Tooma; I simply wanted to find the material, and approached Cambridge directly since I had been informed it had been sent there. In the course of that research, however, I discovered alarming information regarding Mr Tooma — including the false representation of his academic status, squandering of funds given for his research, and neglect if not abuse of texts whose preservation he was tasked with — that I feel compelled to now report.

On 6th March 2019, Francois Simmons the librarian responsible for the collection at the Faculty of Asian and Middle East Studies (AMES) at the University of Cambridge, revealed to me that:

  1. The donation made by the Baaba family completed in 2013, a collection of more than 500 books, transcripts, letters, maps and family trees were not being held by Cambridge.
  2. Mr Tooma had deregistered from the university and had taken the materials with him.

This was later corroborated by Professor Geoffrey Khan, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge and a major scholar of Assyrian dialects, in a follow up email. I include both below.

On 9th February, 2019, Mr Tooma participated as a speaker at a British Museum symposium alongside academics representing the University of Cambridge. As this image shows, Mr Tooma advertised his affiliation with Cambridge in his listing at the event, despite having previously deregistered. I replied to the above emails asking when Mr Tooma deregistered from the university. Prof. Khan did not reply.

British Museum, 9th February 2019
The link to the full schedule is here.

Having learned that Mr Tooma had taken the materials with him to his personal home (at a date the university refused to disclose) I relayed this information back to the families of Youel A. Baba and Sargon Boulus.

I proceeded to reach out to individuals associated with MARA in order to familiarise myself with the situation before contacting Mr Tooma directly, since I still had no background on the situation:

A current board member of MARA responded promptly to my query regarding MARA’s relationship with Cambridge, as well as questions about the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation (AUAF) funding a research position at Cambridge which I assumed was related to this work, stating:

“Nineb has not been involved with MARA for several years. During the time of his involvement with MARA, he never brought up the issue of receiving funding from anywhere — so it is not correct to state that any such thing took place “under the auspices of MARA”. MARA is currently approaching its end. MARA’s relationship with the University of Cambridge is inexistent, with the exception of their earlier decision to allow us using their logotype. The original materials are securely stored in the Assyrian Association of Gothenburg, Sweden, as one single collection owned by MARA, but we are planning to donate the whole collection to an academic institution, shut down the website and close down the foundation in 2019.”

What I had now learned from MARA’s helpful reply was that:

  1. MARA is an inactive organisation and will be formally shutting down at some point this year.
  2. MARA had an “inexistent” relationship with Cambridge, save for permission to use the university’s logo on its website and published materials.
  3. Money donated to Cambridge by the AUAF was not connected to any work MARA was undertaking regarding donations made to them.
  4. MARA failed to secure sufficient funding to continue its work.

AUAF Funding

The AUAF, an organisation based in Lincolnwood, IL with over $30m in its accounts, were funding research activity at Cambridge for a period of six years (2011–2017). I have included their financials detailing all donations made to “organisations and entities outside of the U.S.” over this period of time.

A three-year funding period was awarded from 2011–2014 for a total sum of $128,604.
A further year was awarded in 2015 for a sum of $56,582.
One final year was awarded for a sum of $38,081.

The total funding awarded to the University of Cambridge during 2011–2016 is $223,267.

This money was intrinsically tied to Mr Tooma (the “individual”) who facilitated the funding to Cambridge to support his own activities at the institution. No one else benefited from it or was involved. But what was it for? And why did it end in 2017?

Contacting Mr Tooma

I contacted Mr Tooma on 19th March 2019 and he responded five days later. His answers are listed below, with my statements and questions in bold, his answers in quotes, and with my commentary on each answer directly underneath. In my email to Mr Tooma, I made it clear that I was publishing an article on these events and that I would include his answers verbatim with no editing. I have also put important segments of his answers in bold.

a) “They [the donating families] had said you were being unresponsive for a great amount of time and ignored all of their inquiries.”

This is simply not true as I try to answer as many of the emails that come to me as possible but there are always the odd email that may be missed. To state that I have “ignored all of their inquiries” is simply not true. Of the families that have donated to cambridge, I have had many communications with them. I am involved in a number of projects and I receive a plethora of emails everyday. Thus, sometimes I might miss emails but nothing I am aware of (if I have missed any, I would be more than happy to attend to them). Please provide who informed you that ALL of their inquiries have been ignored so we can add them to this email for clarification.

After I forwarded Mr Tooma’s response to the families, the Baaba family responded by notifying me that: “He [Mr Tooma] is definitely lying about that! I sent several emails to him that went unanswered. Once we received the letter confirming our donation that was it.” The letter confirming the donation to Cambridge from Mr Tooma was sent to the Baaba family on 19th November 2013. This family has been in the dark regarding the whereabouts and status of their donation for nearly six years.

b) “… you had taken them all with you when you deregistered from the university”

Nothing was taken to my house when I de-registered, they were taken prior to that for the reasons stated below. 
I believe that you are inquiring about the late Youel Baba collection that was donated to the MARA foundation to be housed on permenant loan at Cambridge. These collections were at Cambridge for a number of years but had to be moved when the basement at the university was being renovated. I offered to house them in my home untill the faculty is ready to take them back. This was my effort to ensure that they do not get damaged and/or mixed with other boxed books; and in fact they have been somewhat of a burden on my family as we have a small home with a teenager and a toddler. They have remained in my home for about a year in their boxes waiting to be returned. The number of boxes do not allow me to take them easily in my car and would ideally need a truck to do so. I have mentioned the books to Prof. Khan multiple times and my need to get them back and free the much needed space at home. I am now working in Iraq but have offered to have the university send a transport company to take them back during my absence. My wife would be there to open our doors and help accoridngly.

Again, this is not in line with responses received from Cambridge. As per the emails included earlier, both Ms Simmons and Prof. Khan both notified me in no uncertain terms that Mr Tooma had taken these materials to his home after he had deregistered from the university, and not “prior” as per Mr Tooma’s response. Given the reluctance to provide definitive answers, how long these collections were kept at Cambridge or at Mr Tooma’s home is still unknown.

c) “I am preparing an article with everything I have learned…”

If this is for the families who requested this information, then please do so. I have been always open and honest with the families and others so I have nothing to hide. If it is for the public, then I am conerned and troubled by your intentions. I would like to understand where this is truly coming from. Anyhow, I urge you not to make it a public article as this will harm us — the small community of Assyrian activists by forcing them to take sides unecessarily. You are a bright young man and this is not a good use of your talents in my opinion. Ofcourse, ultimately, you are free to do as you wish.

To be clear: this article is not “harming” us as a community. It is creating a space for us to ask difficult questions of our organisations and people and hold them accountable for their actions, as well as consider solutions for the betterment of Assyrians everywhere.

1. Can you tell me the current status and whereabouts of the donation made by the family of Sargon Boulus? Do you have all of those items at your personal residence alongside the donations made by the family of Youel A. Baaba?

The Rabi Youel Baaba’s collection is currently stored, free of charge, as I have already mentioned above. The three-four notebooks of the great Sargon Boulos are at my house too. There are more with his nephew, a wonderful friend called Ashur Yousif. The idea was to get someone to do a PhD on Sargon Boulus, through these books and what my friend Ashur Yousif had promised to post the rest through, once we found someone to do her/his PhD on this. There was an Iraqi poet/scholar that had already done his MA on Sargon Boulus and he has been trying to find the suitable institution and/or supervisor to do his PhD in and under. 
All of the MARA material as far as I am aware, are located in two locations: some are with Tomas Ishik, the MARA project director, in Sweden and the above are stored at my home in boxes as they came from Cambridge during their renovations of the basement about a year ago.

Throughout these exchanges, I was in touch with Boulus’ family, and received this on 10th March 2019 as part of a response concerning my offer to help locate the material: “I am truly saddened by Nineb’s total disregard to my inquiries. I would appreciate any help that I get in order to get the material to those who would benefit most from them. Thankfully, I did not send Nineb any additional material even when he insisted that I do so.”

Another message 11th March 2019: “I am very concerned about my late uncle’s works especially since Nineb has not responded to any of my inquiries. Nineb’s refusal to respond to me has irritated me a great deal.”

At this juncture, it became clear that both the Baaba and Boulus families regret having accepted Mr Tooma’s proposal to donate the materials to Cambridge through him, and both confirmed that they have been ignored by Mr Tooma since the donations were fulfilled.

2. Can you explain why you were ignoring these families after you made obligations to them in 2013 to digitize the material they were donating?

The families were not ignored as I mentioned earlier. I am not aware of any emails coming from these families, which I have ignored. Once my friend Ashur Yousif, the nephew of the great Sargon Boulus had sent me an email asking me why I have ignored his email but I replied to him and told him I had not received any communication and I never heard back from him since. I am happy to answer any of their inquires, if they email them to me, in fact I will email them this week and asking them about any queries they may have. 
These donations were made on behalf of MARA and not on a personal basis. The digitization was limited because funding to MARA was limited despite my efforts and the efforts of many hard working MARA members to solicit funding. I was however, able to obtain donations to have the materials shipped to Cambrdige from California. You are more than welcome to help on the funding front if you can, MARA is in dire need of assistance on this front.

This response is another denial of neglect. There is no need to explore it further.

3. Why did you take the material with you to your personal home and not request the consent of these families beforehand, or not even notify them afterwards?

As the librarian of the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies’ library, Francoise Simmons, has notified you on her reply to you on the 6th March 2019, the books are awaiting to be catalogued, the faculty would not be able to shelve them if they are not catalogued — this is normal and standard procedure. As I explained earlier, we are struggling to find the funding to catalogue them. As to why I took them to my personal home: I took them to make sure they are not damaged and/or mixed with other boxed books during the basement remodelling at the Cambridge location. I felt responsible for the care of these materials since I was the one that facilitated obtaining these collections for MARA. My home was the most cost effective way to do so. Also, I respected the late Youel Babaa and the very talented late Sargon Boulus and did not want their materials to get lost. The primary objective was and remains to find necessary funding to catalogue and digitise the material, but we have not been successful to receive the necessary funding to this end.

This is key. In my correspondences with both the families and Cambridge, there was no mention of taking the material to Mr Tooma’s personal home because of “remodeling work” at Cambridge. Both Ms Simmons and Prof. Khan did not cite this as a reason, and the families had no idea because Mr Tooma was not communicating with them.

Both Ms Simmons and Prof. Khan said that Mr Tooma took the material to his home after he de-registered from the university. Prof. Khan said he took them to “continue to catalogue them there”, whereas Mr Tooma has said he is “struggling to find funding to catalogue them.” These are two different tasks and two different statements.

This also ignored the letter of acknowledgment sent by Mr Tooma to the Baaba family in November 2013. That letter included the important sentence “our librarians are now in the process of cataloguing the books” — indicating to the family that the process had started, when in reality, they were being kept in a basement in the same boxes they were shipped in (otherwise the material was indeed “mixed” and not kept together). No effort was made to keep the family updated on the process of the cataloguing the material either, as established throughout this piece.

In March 2014, Mr Tooma followed up with the Baaba family once, noting that he and his colleagues “are slowly but surely working on cataloguing your father’s books, and plan to shelve them very soon.” Again, according to their status of being boxed in a basement in Cambridge before being moved to Mr Tooma’s home at an undisclosed date, this is not an accurate claim.

Lastly, it is worthy to note, Mr Tooma did not respond to my question on why he did not notify the families about any of this when he had “a number of years” to do so.

4. According to public records, the AUAF funded a position at the University of Cambridge for a period of six years, totaling over $200k in payments. What were the AUAF paying for and what did you present to them at the end of the six years?

I hold the AUA Foundation and its board of directors with the highest respect. I feel the AUA Foundation is a great institution that has contributed greatly to the preservation of our identity and culture. Thus, the AUA foundation have been kind enough to donate to a program at Cambridge to document the endangered Assyrian dialects, and through these funding, I was employed to work as a research assistant. The donations were made to the university and not to me directly so I cannot confirm the amount nor the duration. I suggest you ask the AUA foundation regarding such details. I am adding the director of the AUAF to this email to shed light on this matter, if they see it necessary.

As included earlier, I did not need to ask the AUAF for financial information since it is public record and retrievable online. It is significant that Mr Tooma cannot confirm “the amount nor the duration” given that he was the sole recipient of the funds to my understanding and facilitated their transfer between AUAF and Cambridge. Since Prof. Khan has chosen to not respond to any further inquiries of mine, I cannot confirm anything more from Cambridge’s perspective. What is established however is that the Research Assistant position Mr Tooma’s occupied at Cambridge received $223,267 over a period of six years.

Moments after I emailed these questions to Mr Tooma (as per the below), he forwarded them to a third party requesting help on how to proceed.

It is worthy to note that the third party’s suggestion of directing me to MALDP as per the image below was not heeded by Mr Tooma, who made no mention of this project in his response to me five days later. For entertainment purposes, I followed the link to see what it uncovered and was greeted by a poor PowerPoint presentation and nothing else. You can find it here. If this was what over $200k in funding produced, Mr Tooma was probably sensible not sharing it with me.

5. When and why did the AUAF stop funding the position you occupied at Cambridge?

Again, the AUA foundation was generous enough to fund the program for a specific duration. They have an executive board and are bound by the decisions of their board. I suggest you ask them why they stopped. I am forever appreciative of their past and future support for all worthwhile projects.

I include below a letter from the AUAF to Mr Tooma dated from 11th May 2017. The letter makes it clear that after “multiple attempts” to contact Mr Tooma spanning over a month, the AUAF received no response and were forced to cancel a lecture they had organised. I was also informed that Mr Tooma missed a confirmed flight purchased for him to Chicago on 31st March 2017 with no explanation.

It is worthy to note that Mr Tooma — appreciative that I am contacting him directly — refuses to disclose why funding was halted from his perspective.

Letter from the AUAF to Mr Tooma in May 2017.

6. Did any of this funding go towards helping digitise the material that was being donated to MARA?

The funding was intended for a research assistance position to document the various dialects of the endangered Assyrian language. It was not for MARA digitization.

The AUAF were funding a position at Cambridge occupied by Mr Tooma to document Assyrian dialects, and this funding or work had nothing to do with MARA. Mr Tooma was involved with MARA (from 2008 to 2012) at the same time he was associated with Cambridge in another capacity — yet was also finalising donations made to the institution for MARA in 2013, whilst working for Cambridge in another capacity with this funding.

If you are confused, you would not be alone. There are several layers of converging and diverging interests at work, with several grey areas: what Mr Tooma promised the families, MARA’s capacity to deliver, Mr Tooma’s position at Cambridge, Cambridge’s own capacity and relationship with MARA etc.

7. What is the current status of MARA? What is the nature of its relationship with the University of Cambridge?

I am a former board member of MARA. While I am friends with several of the board members, I do not feel that it is my place to provide a current status of it. I am adding Tomas Isik who is the project manager to answer your question. I can say that MARA is in need of funding and would welcome your help on this front. It is a great project that should be nurtured and if we have any energy to spare, we should focus them on helping MARA obtain the needed funds to sustain itself and prosper as a project.

We have already established that MARA is liquidating this year through an existing representative, so this appeal for help is disingenuous. Interestingly however, Mr Tooma’s answer did not contain any information about MARA’s relationship with Cambridge (which has already been established as “inexistent”).

8. It is widely publicised that you were studying for a PhD at Cambridge and this fact contributed heavily to your reputation as well as the support you received from the Assyrian community. How long were you studying for a PhD at Cambridge and when did you quit exactly? What happened?

After I moved to Cambridge, I started working for university and then I did my MPhil which progressed to starting with my PhD studies at Cambridge. However, due to limited funding and my family obligations, I decided to place my PhD program on hold and look for work. I will continue my PhD program but at this time, I cannot afford it. I did not quit, I deregistered and this is something very normal and common — I am not the only one who has done this in the past nor am I the last. My affiliation with Cambridge ends April this year and both Prof. Khan and I are hoping we can renew the performance based rolling contract.

Again, my questions were not answered in any detail and no dates were given. I asked when and how long for, but these questions went unanswered. Cambridge’s website lists Mr Tooma as having started his PhD in 2014 with no further details or thesis subject. In that respect, both Cambridge and Mr Tooma have failed to provide me with any information regarding the substance of Mr Tooma’s studies at the university, nor any other activity that solicited funding from Assyrian organisations like AUAF.

9. Do you have any relationship with the University of Cambridge right now? If so, what is the nature of that relationship and who is funding it?

My affiliation with Cambrdige ends this April (as per the above with the possibility of renewing the current performance based contract). I am working on recording (document) the various dialects, transcribing and translating the recordings. I accepted a role with INGO to work in Iraq, which I am very excited about. It is my hope, I will be able to resume my PhD as soon as I am able to sustain my livelihood and studies. I have no idea where did the university obtain the current funding.

It is very unusual to not know the source of funding when you are its sole recipient. Given non-disclosure despite direct questioning, it is my assumption that this current “performance-based contract” — something not mentioned by Prof. Khan in his correspondences with me about Mr Tooma — is either unpaid or has been put in place in order to maintain the affiliation between Mr Tooma and Cambridge for whatever reason.

Mr Tooma taking a selfie with Prof. Khan in the backseat, March 2019 — Iraq

Mr Tooma had no intention to contact these families to update them about the real status of their donations or the relocation of these materials to his personal home. If he did, it would not have taken my involvement to compel him to respond to them. I queried the status of these materials with Cambridge initially on 5th March 2019. Cambridge responded on 6th March 2019. Mr Tooma contacted the Baaba family on 7th March 2019 and provided an update — two days after my involvement began in this matter.

When external pressure was applied, all of a sudden, the “renovations” at Cambridge were completed and the books could be returned to the university.

In his update to the Baaba family, Mr Tooma insisted that “it is too much work to catalogue such a sizeable collection” and therefore he had to “shelve” the collection in the hope of finding “the funds and the right individuals.” “Fearing for the books,” Mr Tooma brought them to his house “until when the renovation is completed.” He attached an image of the books in boxes, and included his mobile phone in the picture “to confirm the date.” Finally, he voiced the conspiracy theory: that me and a “group” of my “friends” are “trying very hard” to bring him down and “character assassinate” him. Despite that, he concludes, his “intentions were, are and will always remain good.”

On 16th March 2019, Mr Tooma followed up again at length with the Baaba family after I had advised them to contact the Cambridge directly for answers. Some segments below:

I don’t know what you were briefed by Max Joseph, but this is what the situation is and facts from this end (I am adding Prof. Khan on this email should there be any doubts on the validity of what I am telling you).
My normal position as Prof. Khan’s research assistant terminated about a year ago (more or less), when the institution funding my position decided it was best to fund similar projects in the USA rather than the UK and asked me to join their project there but this option did not suit my family.
The idea was, and officially still is, for the books to be digitised and shelved in Cambridge on a permanent loan by MARA (please check the MARA website, which still has Cambridge logo on it).

Firstly, this claim (“about a year ago”) would mean Mr Tooma’s position ended due to lack of funding around March 2018 — when he was already in Iraq campaigning in the Iraqi Elections.

Secondly, the institution funding his position did so through 2016, and ended it for different reasons according to the letter provided earlier.

And thirdly, the constant, dangling of MARA (“which still has Cambridge logo on it”) in front of these families despite now having already established its impending liquidation is dishonest and only serves to shift attention away from complete, personal failure by externalising this failure and providing false reassurances.

On the contrary to his accusations about my intentions, I was actually attempting to help MARA secure funding in April 2012 together with Mr Tooma.

After AUAF had stopped funding Mr Tooma’s position at Cambridge by the end of 2016, Mr Tooma moved to Iraq to pursue a political career by running as a candidate in the Iraqi Elections on Abnaa Nahrain’s list. One highlight of his campaign involved posing with the exposed remains of Simele martyrs. This effectively politicised these martyrs during an election, and tied their sacrifice to his own aspirations at the time to be an Member of Parliament in Iraq.

These innocent people did not die in 1933 for a political party, much less a single person’s vanity. To use their unearthed remains in a campaign video — and unearthed they were given we can see fresh, darker dirt around the skull and bones, a clear sign of tampering to forcefully render them visible — is shameful, but it is something Mr Tooma decided to do.

Mr Tooma campaigning in the 2018 Iraqi Elections on the Abnaa Nahrain list at the site of the Simele Massacre. For the full video, please click here.

My only other exchange of note with Mr Tooma occurred last year. During a meeting with an Assyrian American national organisation as an official candidate running on the Abnaa Nahrain list, Mr Tooma referred to the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU) as “NP-Gnu” (NP-”steal”). Mr Tooma claimed he was not voicing his own opinion, but merely echoing what some Assyrians were saying in the Nineveh Plain, despite providing no evidence to justify using the term. As I put in an emailed response to Mr Tooma about this incident on 2nd May 2018:

Relaying the words of what some people allegedly say in Iraq is in itself an act of bias and calculation. A lot of people say a lot of things. What is reported is always selective — by journalists, politicians and ordinary citizens. The least we owe ourselves and each other is taking responsibility and ownership for what we select — and backing it up with evidence if challenged on it
If I cannot identify any evidence of a claim that has come to my attention, I simply do not keep it alive by repeating it. Especially in a formal setting.

These shameful campaign videos and slander of Assyrian self-defence forces earned Mr Tooma a total of 502 votes in the Iraqi elections. It seems Mr Tooma was at least partially correct in his parting appraisal of himself in October 2016:

“Again, what do I know, I am a linguist and a poet, not a politician. How fortunate for me!”

After an event organised in part by Mr Tooma at the British Museum in February 2019 titled “Living Assyria”, he took to Facebook to criticise ANB Sat, a media station he felt had neglected the event.

Mr Tooma’s Facebook post from 1st March 2019

Instead of focusing on perceived neglect by a media outlet, Mr Tooma launched into conspiracy by slandering “global governance” — an ongoing initiative undertaken by Assyrian individuals associating freely around ideas of self-reliance — and the “[Assyrian] policy institute” — an organisation which produced the outstanding recent report on the Iraqi Elections I was honoured to work on, and which received no “funding” from ANB Sat or anyone associated with the media outlet.

Again, Mr Tooma chooses to tie together everything he perceives as against him or his interests by attacking their connections, reputations and intentions, when in fact none of these entities pay any attention to him. This represents an ongoing pattern of behaviour.

Mr Tooma has, for several years, succeeded in enamouring sections of the general Assyrian public with his status as a Cambridge academic for his own personal and professional gain, while alienating several colleagues with his shady, unprofessional conduct, and taking on Assyrian material history he was in no position to take on.

He has received over $200k in funding for no clearly identifiable purpose and no product to show for it. If an individual were to accrue such a sum of money for a specific purpose, it is clearly reasonable that their research would be visible and accessible to the community that is funding it. And I see nothing. It is also my belief that if such an individual did produce something after so much material support, they would be proudly sharing their work with someone who is seeking to account for the fate of the money.

Instead, there is a complete absence of accountability in the face of embarrassment. What was this money for? The AUAF is not a private company — it is a non-profit community organisation bearing the Assyrian name and flying the Assyrian flag. It is accountable to us, and each and every Assyrian has a right to ask questions of it.

Conclusion

Mr Tooma has made a career out of broken promises. He has moved from one organisation to another, from one group to another, and from one individual to another, constantly building and burning bridges. His career should serve as a negative example: this is a man who wields even his own name as a shield. The tendency of Mr Tooma to portray himself in correspondences as a misunderstood, wounded provider too busy to respond because of other matters of profound urgency and importance is an overcompensation for failure.

Demand Accountability. No More Grey Areas

Assyrians are impoverished not only in terms of land and political strength, but in terms of our inability to collect and organise our written history in a diligent, robust and reliable way. This task is essential in order to give current and future generations a window into the history which has defined them. The material history from the empire days lies strewn across a myriad of museums across the world, but our more intimate and personal modern history lies in the homes of ordinary Assyrian families who do not have a clear idea of what to do with it. It is the purpose of this article to appraise past and current efforts with a view to laying both the intellectual and practical foundations for a way forward.

In order to forge this way forward, we must see where things have gone wrong in the past in order to not repeat the same mistakes.

It is only by holding individuals, organisations, media outlets, political parties, and churches accountable for their words and actions that we as Assyrians can make progress towards behaviours and ends favourable to all. We deserve the very best. The families of Youel A. Baaba and Sargon Boulus deserve the very best. Young Assyrians growing up and witnessing the myriad of problems we have while trying to devise solutions for them deserve the best, most of all. I do this in the spirit of wanting to one day peruse the library of Youel A. Baaba and the unpublished poetry of Sargon Boulus.

Our History is Sacred. Let’s Treat it That Way

MARA did not work out, but its purpose was noble. As a community, we need to take this very seriously because so much of this material is lost to garage sales, donation bins at local shops and other such places forever out of our community’s reach. We must treat the preservation of our modern history with the seriousness and professionalism it deserves.

As a global diaspora with various, idiosyncratic local organisations — each with their own strengths and weaknesses — we need to pursue this collection and documentation of our written history collectively and with a generous approach which prioritises the work, not the personalities behind it. This approach must be objective, transparent and held to deep scrutiny, because it is our collective written history at stake — not any one individual’s ambitions or status.

A new association has now formed in the U.S. called the Assyrian Studies Association. This organisation is supported the Assyria Foundation of America. From my perspective, ASA is an exciting project involving sincere and hardworking people. There is also the Assyrian Policy Institute, which produces briefings and reports focusing on Assyrian issues in our homelands. We need to support these efforts. That means raising awareness and finding reliable sources of funding for them so we can build professional and transparent organisations that work for our collective benefit.