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Assyrian Endowments in the United States
by (ZNDA) Zinda Assyrian E-Zine
Posted: Tuesday, November 14, 2000 11:14 am CST

Ever since Assyrians began arriving in this country during the 19th century, they have expressed their concern for co-ethnics in two ways: first by promoting the preservation of their culture and heritage in the diaspora, and second by helping the communities remaining in the homeland. In many cases they have established charitable institutions, such as the Assyrian Orphanage and School (New Jersey), probably the first solidly funded charitable institution among Assyrians. The AOS celebrated its 100 anniversary in the year 2000. In other cases they have established scholarship funds which distribute moneys. In more recent cases, they have placed endowments with existing institutions that then use the income of the fund to promote Assyrian causes - usually educational.

In order to determine the direction for growth in this area, it is useful to assess the extent of existing endowments, both institutional and independent, which in some way contribute to the preservation of Assyrian language, culture, and heritage. An added benefit of such an assessment is to to identify existing resources so they will be a help to a larger group of our community.

The word "Fund" has been broadly used by community groups: the Assyrian Georgian Relief Fund or the Fund for Modern Assyrian Studies. In such usage, it is not clear whether there is a principle amount of money that remains in perpetuity and from which income only is used, or whether the moneys rotate in and out as the need arises. Here I want to focus only on those funds which have been designated as endowments - the principle remains in perpetuity and is not tapped for current use. As you can guess, such endowments require such a level of stability in the administering institution as to inspire confidence in the donor of the principle that in fact the principle will be both wisely invested, and the income only spent. The donor often, though not always, also gives the endowment a meaningful name, sometimes a family name, that will endure in perpetuity. Examples in the United States abound of such endowments: the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Gates Foundation are among the thousands that exist. These endowments are of such large dimension that they have funds to administer themselves. A funding institution like the National Endowment for the Arts or the National Endowment for the Humanities are not endowed but depend on money allocated to them for annual expenditure by Congress. In the parlance of fund raisers, the latter group depend on "soft money" whereas the former have "hard" or relatively reliable money.

Getting back to Assyrian efforts to create reliable funding, the first such attempt, the Assyrian Orphanage and School, served by such activists as Naoum Faik, used its meager resources to buy a small apartment building in New Jersey and sent rental income to Lebanon and Syria to support orphanages and schools. This may not have been its only source of money, but at least it had the basic income from the building. In the aftermath of WWI the need for orphanages and community run schools was especially critical.

Two of the other early funds that operated as endowments, and do to this day, also come from the western Assyrian community: The George Mardinly Educational Fund (New Jersey - mainly moneys donated by George Mardinly) and for many years administered by the late Rose Dartley and The United Assyrian Organization of Massachusetts Educational Fund (Massachusetts). The latter was funded chiefly by émigrés from Harput who worked in the industries of Worcester, Lowell and Boston. Both of these funds focus on scholarships given to residents of their respective states.

The Timatheus Mushel Soleiman and Family Memorial Assyrian Fund may be the first endowment established after World War II. It may also be the first one dedicated for the benefit of Assyrians but administered by a non-Assyrian institution. These are the terms of the endowment: "following the lifetime of the donor, income will be paid to the Assyrian Presbyterian Church, Yonkers, N. Y. And to COEMAR to advance religious education in the mother tongue, Assyrian, of worthy young people in Iran, with preference given to orphans and particularly those dwelling in the Rezaiyeh area." The endowment was established with the United Presbyterian Foundation, Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1983. The donor, who lost his entire family during the Assyrian genocide, and himself an educated product of Urumiah College (graduated in 1918), is one of the great Assyrian philanthropists whose generosity spreads from the Assyrian cemetery in Teheran to the Assyrian community in Turlock. In addition to this large fund, he also set up smaller ones, in the name of his wife and another one in his own name. All the endowments are administered by the same institution.

The uses of the income from this fund are extremely restrictive: the income is used to support Assyrian Presbyterian churches, especially in Urumiah, and to provide fellowships for the training of Assyrians who enter the ministry. Since its inception in 1983, the principle of the fund has increased as has also the expendable income. Yet because of the language of the terms, its benefits are not as broadly applied for the benefit of the Assyrian community as might have happened. One can certainly hope that the church in Urumiah will sustain itself over a long time and if it does, it surely owes much to the support from this Soleiman Fund. On the other hand, one would wish that the administering institution would find ways of using the funds for broader educational purposes within the Assyrian community.

Newer endowments, beginning in 1979, appear with the recognition of the realities of our American diaspora: the need to preserve and propagate our Assyrian identity. In order of establishment these endowments are as follows:

The David B. Perley Memorial Assyrian Fund - 1979, Harvard University

This is a book fund established by the family and friends of David B. Perley, an active and devoted member of the Assyrian-American community. The purpose of the fund is to promote the development of research materials on the history, culture, literature, and language of the Assyrians since the 17th century of our era. Specifically, the fund will be used first to subsidize the publication of works devoted primarily to the Assyrians and second for the acquisition of archival materials, collections and other rare historical materials dedicated to the collection of materials related to the Assyrians since the 17th century and publication.

Support from this endowment has transformed Harvard University's collection of resources for the study of modern Assyrians into one of the best in the world. In addition to the rich archives of the ABCFM (American Board for Christian Foreign Missions) and a strong Syriac manuscript collection, Harvard now holds the best collection of Assyrian periodicals from around the world, especially early ones. The collection is enriched by ephemera such as photographs and special occasion booklets that helped to make the 1999 exhibit "The Assyrian Experience: Sources for the Study of the 19th and 20th centuries from the holdings of Harvard University libraries," an educational and heart-warming occasion for many Assyrians. Aside from collections, the Perley Fund also subsidizes publications such as Studies in Neo-Aramaic (Wolfhart Heinrichs, ed. 1990), the catalogue and selected bibliography accompanying the above exhibit (Naby, Hopper, 1999), and Assyrian-Chaldean Christians in Eastern Turkey and Iran -Their Last Homeland Re-charted ( Sanders 2000).

The Assyrian Foundation of America Book Fund - 1998, The University of California at Berkeley

The entire amount for this fund came from the organization that gives its name to this fund. The focus of the fund is dedicated to the collection of materials related to the Assyrians by a public university.

The Mishael and Lillie Naby Assyrian Lecture Fund - 1999, Harvard University

The proceeds from this Fund shall be used for the purpose of bringing one or more lecturers annually to Harvard University to make public presentations regarding the culture and history of the Assyrians during the medieval and modern periods. A secondary use of the Fund income is designated for the presentation of a prize to a member of the Harvard community for an outstanding research paper about medieval and modern Assyrians. dedicated to facilitating lectures about Assyrians since the Christian period and to promoting research within the Harvard community through a periodic prize.

The fund was established by the daughter and son of the named persons. With added support from the local Assyrian community, the income from this fund supports public lectures at Harvard University which benefit the University and Assyrian communities.

The Naoum Faik Assyrian Book Fund - 2000, Columbia University

This is a library endowment fund intended for the use of Columbia University in building and maintenance of a collection of materials related to Assyrian history and culture during the Christian era. While it is expected that the University will collect materials in all necessary languages, particular attention is directed to Assyrian language materials, including manuscripts.

The James Family Assyrian Lecture Fund - 1999, Northwestern University

The final terms of this substantial fund established by the late Helen Nimrod James Schwarten, remain to be determined. Generally however, it is dedicated to facilitating lectures about Assyrians.

As more and more Assyrians gain a comfortable level of material comfort, some begin to consider charitable distribution. The late Adam Benjamin distributed much of his estate in this manner to Assyrian organizations without requiring that the funds form endowments - essentially he donated soft money but to directed purposes. Other Assyrian families such as the Miner family from Ada, of Oracle fame, has chosen to direct its giving to educational institutions without consideration to specifying use for Assyrian causes. Their recent contribution of over $4.5 million to Roosevelt University represents the way other Assyrians are sharing their bounty. Let us hope that the increasing prosperity many of us enjoy will open our wallets to soft money giving for worthy causes, but also toward endowments that allow us to help ourselves know ourselves and become well-known. What a terrific way to ensure the family name survives.

Dr. Eden Naby
Harvard University

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