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Assyrians put celebrations on hold for August mourning
by Suzanne Hurt, Bee Staff Writer
Posted: Friday, August 04, 2000 09:21 pm CST

Business is not so good this time of year at Hubert Isaac's print shop in Ceres, home to one of Stanislaus County's biggest Assyrian communities.

Assyrians just won't schedule weddings or parties today through Aug. 11, which is known as Martyr's Week. That means Isaac's shop, AA Printing, won't get any requests for Assyrian wedding invitations or party tickets.

"They don't order, we don't print," said Isaac, himself an Assyrian. "Everything kind of slows down until the middle of August."

While not all Assyrians mark the event, others living in California, the Mideast and throughout the world go through a kind of ritual mourning every August in honor of rebels and villagers killed in northern Iraq in 1933. At the time, Assyrians were asking for autonomy within the borders of Iraq, and rebels were fighting for a homeland, said Sargon Dadesho, president of the Modesto-based Assyrian National Congress.

A seven-day massacre by Iraqi troops began Aug. 4, when Assyrian rebels trying to re-enter Iraq were killed at a border village. When the massacre ended Aug. 11, an estimated 3,000 people were dead in the village of Simel, Dadesho said.

"It's a tradition among Assyrians that we stop our weddings and all the celebrations during this week. We honor the people who were massacred in Simel and other massacres of Assyrians over the centuries," he said. Over the next week, some local Assyrians will take the time to light memorial candles at churches and graveyards. Assyrians wearing black will attend ceremonies organized by political groups. The regional chapter of the Assyrian American National Federation is hosting an event Monday at the Assyrian American Civic Club of Turlock, and the Assyrian Cultural Center of Bet-Nahrain in Ceres is hosting a program Aug. 11.

A few Assyrians will close their businesses or take a day off work Monday. Many Assyrian organizations declared in 1970 that Aug. 7 is the day to mark the massacre. Ramin Odisho, president of the Assyrian American Civic Club of Turlock, won't go to work that day at his job as a subcontractor for local government agencies.

Numerous Assyrians won't dance or sing or attend any festive parties throughout the week. Filameh Givargis can't remember an August when she had to make a wedding cake for an Assyrian couple in the 10 years she's owned bakeries in Turlock, home to another strong Assyrian community. Most won't rent a hall at the Assyrian organizations for a wedding or party during Martyr's Week.

"No one would even dream of planning a wedding that weekend. It would be in very poor taste," said Bet-Nahrain President Janet Shummon. "That's a sad week in our history. You just don't do it."

About half the Assyrian population is believed to mark the event in some way. An outcry of indignation has been known to meet those who stray outside the boundaries accepted as proper for the week. A local Assyrian promoter wanted to rent a hall for a concert a few years back, but was refused, Odisho said.

"What we are trying to do here is to make sure our people will not forget that day," Odisho said. "They gave their lives for the cause they believed in: that was the Assyrian nation. That's why it's so important for us as Assyrian people to at least honor that day."

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