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Assyrians Celebrated their New Year with Mass Wedding

Posted: Tuesday, April 02, 2002 at 06:19 AM CT

AssyriaHASAKA, Syria (AP) – With a historical pageant evoking the glory of the ancient Assyrian empire, more than 25,000 members of Syria's Assyrian community saw in their New Year of 6752 on Monday.

They also celebrated Nissan, as Assyrians call the April 1st festival, with the wedding of 16 couples performed on a stage in an arena in this northern city, 550 kilometers (345 miles) northeast of Damascus.

The brides and grooms entered the arena behind a two-wheeled chariot bearing a canopy decorated with a sun, an Assyrian imperial symbol.

The couples were escorted by men dressed in the uniforms of the royal guards of the Assyrian empire, which, at its zenith between the 9th and 7th centuries B.C., stretched form the Gulf through modern-day Iraq, Syria and Turkey to the Mediterranean Sea.

“By acting as king, I revived history,” said Osama Yakhanis, 31, who drove the chariot in royal costume along with his “queen,” Nanar Younan, 27, who was dressed as the mythical Assyrian queen Semiramis in a red dress with yellow and white embroider.

The sense of history was not lost on the bridal couples.
“I participated in this mass wedding for the greatness of the day for Assyrians,” said groom Senharib Gabro, 33, a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church.

His bride, Shamiram Eskander, 26, said: “I loved this wedding because it was not traditional.” 

“I feel very happy today,” she added.

Another groom, Zuhair Michael, 30, a mechanic who follows Assyrian Church of the East, said, “It’s a distinguished day.” His bride, Marina Mamo, 21, said, “I have always dreamed of wedding in nature. Nissan, or April, is nature’s wedding.”

The Bridegroom, khamo Quryaqus al-Youssef, 28, from the Chaldean Church, said, “my bride and I have promised each other to wed on Kha B’Nissan,” and added, “I feel very happy that we could make our promise.” Beilit Younan, his 17-year- old bride, said, “it’s a terrific day.”

One of the two Muslim Arab couples of the wedding, Mustafa Muhammad Abdulah, 33, a government employee, and Sheerin Ebrahim, 21, participated in the wedding to “join Assyrian in their days of joyance.” Anwar Korko, 48, Master in Sciences, and the chief of the organizing committee of the mass wedding and new year’s ceremonies, told the Associated Press, “The wedding and the new year ceremonies cost 3 million Syrian pounds, ($60,000 dollars).”

“The money was donated by Assyrians from all towns of al-Jazeera, (or Hasaka province that include the farthest northeastern city of Qamishly),” he added.

Gorgo said, “The wedding couples have been offered house furniture.”

Archbishop Mar Afram Athaniel of the Assyrian Church of the East, told The AP the mass wedding “was to mark the Assyrian New Year, which was celebrated by ancient Assyrians of the era before Christ and other April Celebrations.”

“The church doesn’t mind celebrating this historical day as I can’t deny it that I am an Assyrian (ethnically),” he added.

To the question: who are Assyrians, Athaniel answered, “Chaldeans, (Orthodox) Syriacs, Maronites, the followers of my church and other churches constitute the Assyrian people.”

Archbishop Dionysius Behnan Jajjawi, 72, Syriac Orthodox retired bishop of Jerusalem and Jordan, said, “in 452, in Auphisus ecuminical Synod, the first schism in church took place dividing the Church of the East into two churches, Syriac and Assyrian or Nestorian.”

In 1552, a group of Assyrian Church decided to seek union with Rome. In early 1553, Pope Julius III proclaimed Youhana Sulaka as Patriarch Simon VIII of the Chaldeans. Eventually, Sulaka’s group returned to Assyrian, or Nestorian Church of the East. As late as 1830, Pope Pius vlll confirmed Metropolitan John Hormzidas as head of Chaldean Catholics, with the title of Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, with his see in the northwestern Iraqi city of Mosul. 

“The followers of the Assyrian Church are about half million all over the world,: Athniel said, adding, “About 70,000 of the church’s followers live in Chicago, making up the largest Assyrian community in the United States.”

Elias Abraham, 38, a free worker, said, “Kha b’Nissan is a call for love, life and peace on earth.”

“Everything looks beautiful in April 1st, the nature, the animal and the human being,” he added, hoping peace “for the Palestinians who suffer of Israeli occupation.”

Souria Yousep, 70, an Assyrian resident of Chicago, the United States, said, “April 1st is a message of love for all humanity.”

She said, “I came here to join my relatives in Syria to celebrate the Assyrian new year.”

Michael W.Gilson, 55, an American from Santa Barbara, Ca, said “it’s very good festival for spring and changing from the old year to the new just.”

“It’s good to see Assyrian people celebrating their national heritage in such a meaningful way,” he added.

The Assyrians are spread across the world, with about 70,000 in Chicago. The head of Assyrian Women’s Union is Sweden, Elisabet Nison, had come to al-Hasakah to attend Monday’s celebration. 

Nissan is a message for all the world that we, Assyrians, still exist,” Nison said. Meanwhile, in qamishly, 85 kilometers (50 miles) north east of Hasaka, some 5,000 Assyrians celebrated the New Year on a heavily raining day.

The Assyrian population of Syria is estimated at more than 150,000 people, of whom about 90,000 live in Hasakah. While they enjoy freedom of worship, some Assyrians seek minority status in order to promote their language, Syriac, which is currently only taught in Assyrian churches.

“We call on the government to recognize Assyrians as a national minority, not only a religious one,” said Aziz Aheh, and executive of the Assyrian Democratic Organization.

The rituals of the ancient Assyro-Babylonian New Year celebrations signified renewal – renewal of life, nature, and of the inhabitants of ancient Mesopotamia. For 12 days, beginning, different enactments performed by the public, the priests, and even the king conveyed this important message: death is conquered; life has once again risen from the cold and dark days of
winter; spring has returned and good has won over the evil. 

Through their long historical existence, Assyrians have witnessed many massacres. The last was in August 1933 in Semeleh, a northern Iraqi town. The massacre, perpetrated by Iraqi Rashid Killani’s government, is believed to have claimed the life of 5,000 Assyrian women, children and men.

The Assyrian Calendar begins with the first recorded year of the “beginning of civilization.” The ancient inhabitants of Assyria, Babylon, and Sumer believed that civilization was a “gift from the gods” and it was marked from the time “kingship was lowered form heaven.”

The earliest sign of municipal administration (kingship in pre-historic sense) appears during the Halaf Period in Mesopotamia (over 7,000 years ago).

The most notable characteristics of this period are the sitting goddess figurines indicating a
goddess-worshipping culture and the distinctive colored potteries with geometric designs pointing to the existence of a high- culture civilization in Mesopotamia.

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