The 67th Assyrian American National Convention
It was simply spectacular! Thousands of people and nearly two hundred delegates from the Assyrian organizations representing several countries were on the floor of Chicago's Hilton Hotel and Towers for the 67th Assyrian American National Convention from August 30 through September 4. There were hugs and kisses, long-standing greetings, and brief eye-exchanges. They had come from Europe, Canada, Australia, Russia, and the Middle East. They cheered, danced, argued, shouted, sang, played the drums and even carried off the pleasantly-surprised non-Assyrian newlyweds at the end of their wedding ceremony. If the ultimate goal of this convention was to bring together several thousand Assyrians from various ethnic and religious backgrounds, then the mission was fully accomplished. Yet a few conventioneers returned home empty-handed, grieving the prospects for the survival of their national organization and ultimately the Assyrian culture in America.
The Convention officially began on Wednesday. The roped-off areas of the hallways and the unfriendly faces of the security personnel reminded us of the ugly realities of crowd control in the past. Despite the well-attended nightly dance parties and the large number of people walking along the "suicide trail" this year's Convention was impressively free of any serious clashes. To our surprise the only laudable noise worth the attention of the Chicago Police came from the meetings of the Assyrian American National Federation. Mr. Fred Parhad, the famous Assyrian Sculptor, had rightfully embarked on an offensive to grab some support from the AANF delegates for the revival of his ill-fated Samuramat Statue project in Chicago.
On Friday and Saturday, several educational sessions were organized by the AANF, the Assyrian Academic Society and the Assyrian scholars on hand. Topics ranging from the Assyrian identity and heritage to music and literature were discussed by nearly thirty scholars, activists, political figures and graduate students. The speakers were some of the most prominent people in the field of Assyrian studies, politics, and the Internet technology today. The younger speakers often spoke with passionate intensity and reminded their audience that there was hope for the future of Assyrian nationalism and recognition. Unfortunately, the militant attitude of the youth in the past had drastically subsided this year and there was a greater emphasis on the quality of the Assyrian fonts on the Internet than the future of the spoken Assyrian language by 2010.
As few were listening to one speaker’s discussion of Assyrian identity in Sweden, hundreds more were preparing for another “la Vida Loca” evening at the bar rooms. The Assyrian “Jennifer Lopezes” and “Ricky Martins” gave the security officers plenty of reasons to continuously monitor the elevators and the small strip of walkway between the registration desks and Mrs. Field's Cookies stand.
This was also the year of AANF elections for the first president of the 21st Century. The president, vice-president, treasurer, and executive secretary were elected by the 165 delegates present at the Sunday afternoon's election meeting. As always, the real campaigning took place within 72 hours prior to the elections. Indeed it is during these behind-the-scene meetings and feuds that the future presidents and vice-presidents are determined. No one had more difficulty swallowing this bitter truth than the most promising candidate at these elections - Mr. Carlo Ganjeh from California.
Zinda Magazine was informed by reliable sources that at the eleventh hour, Mr. Carlo Ganjeh was told that he no longer was Zowaa or AUA's favorite to cherish the position of presidency. The most important political fight of his life had practically come to an abrupt end without even a single vote cast. Mr. Ganjeh, however, decided to continue his candidacy and met his challenge on the floor of the AANF election meeting on Sunday. His challenger, Mr. Atour Golani as expected received a substantial number of the votes from the local organizations in Chicagoland and Detroit. Each affiliate of the AANF has equal number of votes, up to five, independent of the number of their organization's total membership. Therefore, the Assyrian American Civic Club of Turlock cast as many votes as did some other organizations whose only claim to existence is a postal office address in Chicago. Mr. Ganjeh earlier had boasted that he could deliver the Chicago votes and could easily deny other candidates’ victory. However, his “platform” – a first of its kind in the Assyrian-American politics – was no match for the powerful political machine of the Chicago-Detroit region that accounts for over 50 percent of all votes cast.
Mr. Ganjeh’s defeat confirmed the apprehension of the non-Chicago delegations that no serious challenge to the Mid-Western Block can be exhibited at the AANF elections. In fact, in some circles there are now serious discussions revolving the possible secession from this 67-year-old organization. Some civic leaders find no other option left to challenge the outdated policies of the “Chicago Boys” but to found a new national organization that is a true representation of the Assyrian communities, particularly women and the youth. It must be noted that the combined revenue generated from the Assyrian organizations in California alone surpass the total income produced by all other affiliates of the AANF. Both AUA and ADM (Zowaa) also receive the majority of their financial support from the Assyrian organizations west of the Mississippi River.
The election results were revealed to the public at the Banquet Dinner on Sunday evening. The speeches at this year's gala were greater in number, longer in duration, and less exciting than any previous years. The first dance of the evening was enjoyed only shortly before midnight by which time many guests had already left their tables and were dancing among the younger crowd upstairs.
Mr. Golani's acceptance speech was quite mundane and devoid of any passion and excitement. This was certainly not the oratories of David Perley and Malcolm Karam of yesterdays. Minutes later, Mr. Sam Yono, President of the Chaldean Federation of America, stood up and injected himself into the limelight shining dimly on Mr. Atour Golani. Looming over Golani’s small stature, Yono’s general message was clear: “The Chaldean Federation is behind Mr. Golani, a resident of Detroit, and fully supports his election.” The crowd while chewing the last bites of their belated dinner applauded with high intensity.
The future of the AANF as we know it is probably going to be the most important issue facing Mr. Golani. The concerns of the unhappy delegations outside the Chicagoland must not be underestimated by the newly-elected president and his Executive Committee. Another controversial issue is the closely-watched confluence of the two Federations. The question that many were asking at the Monday Picnic was whether Mr. Golani’s election was the first step toward the emergence of a Chaldean-Assyrian American National Federation prior to the 2004 elections. Mr. Golani is the son-in-law of Mr. Aprim Rayis, the former Secretary General of the Assyrian Universal Alliance and a noted Assyrian-Chaldean political figure. His choice was certainly an important move toward the "Chaldeanization" of the Assyrian politics in the United States. Mr. Golani's most important task will be to reduce the tension building among the AANF affiliated due to the Census 2000 issue and the Chicago-centric politics of his stagnant national organization.
By Monday night the unexpectedly warm Chicago weather had cooled off, as had the libido of hundreds of Assyrian youth. Elsewhere, the future leaders of the Assyrian nation, unabashedly disinterested in the politics of the AANF and invisible to a majority of the AANF delegation, grabbed their PalmPilots, laptops, and lecture notes and slowly drove away from the corner of Balbo and Michigan Avenue. Speaking on their Nokia cell phones, they were already making plans for the next trip to the 2001 convention in San Jose, California.
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