Assyrian Education Network

In Search of an Education Program, Part 4
by Francis Sarguis "Assyrian Kibitzer"
Posted: Friday, June 02, 2000 12:59 pm CST


Part 4 - Benjamin the Munificent

"Donít let the facts get in the way of a good story" - Groucho Marx

As a rule, Assyrian "leaders" and their organizations like to operate in secretive and autocratic fashion. With some exceptions, they bristle if the average person questions any of their actions.

This is clearly a throwback to the old days. In the Middle East, the common bloke generally would not question "authority". But immigrants who arrive West discover (some sooner than others) that respect is not to be confused with servility.

It has been several centuries since the West rejected the principle that "the King can do no wrong. " Unfortunately, this reality is slow to sink in for many. Activist Assyrians in the diaspora are volunteers, not servants. Increasingly, they resent being treated as unquestioning minions. This issue is in fact at the heart of a heated debate currently on the Internet, especially on "Zenda".

The crux of the criticism is the close-mouthed style of leadership exercised by the American head of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM), and its non-profit offshoot, the A.A.S. Whatever the system was in the old days, it is no longer enough to say "Trust me", or "I am your leader". The activist rank and file expects and demands to know.

By now, it is apparent that the modest efforts of Kibitzer to inform the Assyrian people of a subject of public interest is seen by some of our "leaders" and some of our organizations as "a threat", an "interference", or a "sabotage". But on the contrary, it has been our purpose to document the process and the actions of six Assyrian organizations which happened to have been named by the late Mr. Adams. We have already named the six groups; together they will receive about one million dollars thanks to the Will of Mr. Adams. With his final words, Mr. Adams entrusted these funds to his trustee, to make sure that they would be used only for "Assyrian childrenís schooling and education", and "Assyrian refugee assistance".

There is nothing sinister about the motives of Kibitzer. A one million dollar grant is substantial and, for Assyrians, it is also unprecedented. Can anyone argue that the average Assyrian man or woman should not be interested or informed on how this is spent? Can any one say that this is a "private affair", and not a matter for public disclosure? Incredibly, the answer to each of these questions is YES! Let us take the case of the Assyrian Aid Society of America, a non-membership, non-profit and tax-exempt spinoff of the ADM. Over two months ago, I wrote to the groupís President, to inquire exactly what A. A. S. planned to do with these funds. Unfortunately, the response I received back amounted to classic stonewalling. I had asked the basic questions any journalist might ask. The answer was to invite me to contribute funds to the A. A. S.

In a previous column, Kibitzer wrote that the most critical issue is whether the sanctity of a manís Last Will will be respected or manipulated (not only the clear legal responsibility, but also the solemn moral responsibility). But other important issues also come into play. For example, do Assyrian Presidents and Boards of Directors have sufficient maturity to conduct their affairs openly, and do they have sufficient trust in the people to act above board, and to welcome public scrutiny? Or are they too arrogant or perhaps too insecure to make adequate disclosure to the Assyrian rank and file?

Are Assyrian Presidents and Boards of Directors sufficiently competent to take full advantage of singular opportunities such as the Adams bequest? Or are they satisfied to just carry on "business as usual", because they lack the ability and imagination to grasp the occasion and infuse it with fresh ideas?

As a part of the stonewall, the A.A.S. President wrote back that "until we receive such funds, it is entirely inappropriate to comment." The Greeks had a wonderful way with language, and in this case the word that comes to mind is sophistry. This kind of evasiveness would be ample justification for the Trustee of the Adams trust to suspend the payment of the funds in question. Mr. Dusty Rhodes, the Trustee, has a serious fiduciary obligation. He cannot be expected to settle for this gobbledygook.

The Assyrian Aid Society (A.A.S.) is an organization whose primary purpose is to deliver funds to northern Iraq. According to its own prospectus, it raises funds for the following seven purposes:

  1. Medical Relief ;
  2. Rebuilding Villages;
  3. Support of an Orphanage;
  4. Family Cash stipends to needy families where the breadwinner is deceased or a political prisoner;
  5. Supporting Agriculture;
  6. Student Aid; and
  7. Help develop cottage industries.

The immediate question is how the A.A.S. intends to obey the law and to follow the Adams instructions, in the context of this overall program. It is well known that the A.A.S. (like its parent organization, the A.D.M.) has little concern for or interest in refugees. This is not said by way of criticism, but as a matter of fact. The focus of A.A.S. is on the Assyrians who remain in Bet Nahrain, not those who leave it. Presumably, therefore, this limits the use of the Adams funds to "Assyrian childrens schooling and education".

I am sure Mr. Adamsí trustee will demand to know specifics about this use, and they would be derelict to do otherwise. Many Assyrians are likewise interested to know these particulars. On a personal note, this columnist has previously visited North Iraq and Syria, where he has always been briefed in detail. In such places as Zakho and Dohuk, representatives of the A.A.S. were most eager for interested Assyrians to examine the books, past projects, current activities, and future funding plans.

They were kind enough to arrange for visits with Assyrian families in towns and in the countryside who spoke candidly about the role of A.A.S. and A.D.M. in their lives. Contrast this overseas approach to the arrogance displayed by the A.A.S. "leadership" in the U.S. Please note the irony. Assyrians in the homeland, living under oppressive circumstances, insist on candor and public disclosure. Here, in what is said to be the most democratic country in the world, the posture of the local A.A.S. leadership is diametrically the opposite. There must be an explanation for this cynical turnaround. Perhaps it shall be explained to us one day.

But all is not negative. In covering this story, Kibitzer has also had some positive encounters. For example, the Assyrian American Association of Southern California, which is one of the six groups on the Adams funding list, has adhered to a policy of totally open disclosure. A key question is this: What has caused one group to operate by stealth and surreptitiousness, while another group opts for candor and openness. Kibitzer will consider this dissimilarity in a future column.

Please send your comments to: Francis Sarguis, fsarguis@west.net



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