Changes upset Assyrians
FRESNO, California - More than 100 Assyrian protesters took a battle with the Census Bureau to Fresno's federal courthouse Monday in an effort to force the agency to change the way it categorizes members of the ancient ethnic group.
"Don't slash our names," protesters shouted while carrying signs and small American flags on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse.
The Assyrian National Congress and affiliated organizations called the protest to focus attention on the Census Bureau decision to change the "Assyrian" category to "Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac" in this year's questionnaires.
"They are lumping us together with a religious name and a linguistic name," said Sargon Dadesho, one of the leaders of the protest, who said Assyrians believe the Iraqi government is behind the change.
"We think they've influenced the Census Bureau," Dadesho said, adding that he believes it is part of the Iraqi effort to eliminate the ethnic Assyrians, whose civilization dates to 661 B.C.
Dadesho said Iraq adopted a similar formula in 1972 against the Assyrians.
In a news release, the Assyrian National Congress said that "agreeing to be labeled as Chaldean a religious name and Syriac a linguistic name automatically declares that the Assyrians' identity is questionable, therefore weakening and even destroying any rights Assyrians had/have/could have in the homeland."
Dadesho said Chaldean was a name given to Assyrians who joined the Roman Catholic Church in 1551, and Syriac is the name of the ancient Aramaic language spoken by Jesus and his disciples.
While Assyrians are Christians, Dadesho said, the overwhelming majority are not Chaldean.
Most of the protesters Monday came from the Modesto-Turlock-Ceres area, Dadesho said, but some also came from San Jose and Los Angeles.
The Assyrian National Congress filed suit against the Census Bureau, and the first hearing in that legal battle was held before U.S. District Judge Robert E. Coyle Monday afternoon.
Coyle took under submission a request for an injunction by the Assyrian congress and a motion to dismiss the case by the government.