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Yossarian the Assyrian

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Yossarian the Assyrian

Sep-10-2001 at 11:41 PM (UTC+3 Nineveh, Assyria)

Last edited by Fred Aprim on Sep-13-2001 at 01:03 AM (CT)

One of the most famous novels of the second half of the 20th century was Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, which takes place in World War II. I have often wondered why the hero of the 1961 book was an Assyrian and why he was named Yossarian. Now I understand. On March 27, 2001, The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicles, and other newspapers, carried the obituary, distributed by the Associated Press, of one Francis Yohannan. It turns out that Joseph Heller and Francis Yohannan became friends when both were Air Force bombardiers in Corsica in 1944, and Yohannan became the inspiration for the protagonist of Catch-22. In a 1998 interview, Heller said it was from Mr. Yohannan that he derived the unconventional name for the heretical Yossarian. Unfortunately, the obituary did not say that Yohannan was an Assyrian. He was the son of Joshua and Lydia Yohannan, both Assyrians, of Philadelphia. His brother Frankie was killed in France during World War II in April 1945. Thus, one of the most famous fictional characters of the 20th century, Yossarian, an Assyrian, was based on a real life Assyrian, Francis Yohannan. Yossarians name is obviously a combination of Yohannan and Assyrian.

The book was sold millions of copies throughout the world and was made into a movie. The term Catch-22 has become a part of our vocabulary to mean a regulation that makes you a victim of its provisions no matter what you do.
Lt. Colonel Francis Yohannan was quite an Assyrian warrior. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1974 after more than 9,000 hours in B-25s, B-36 bombers during the 1950s, B-52s during the 1950s and 1960s, and Phantom fighters during the Vietnam War. He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Bronze Star.

By Joel Elias

This article is a revision of one that was first published in Zinda Magazine (, the on-line weekly Assyrian journal.

Nineveh Magazine, 1st and 2nd Qtr, 2001.

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Assyria \ã-'sir-é-ä\ n (1998)   1:  an ancient empire of Ashur   2:  a democratic state in Bet-Nahren, Assyria (northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, southeastern Turkey and eastern Syria.)   3:  a democratic state that fosters the social and political rights to all of its inhabitants irrespective of their religion, race, or gender   4:  a democratic state that believes in the freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture in faithfulness to the principles of the United Nations Charter — Atour synonym

Ethnicity, Religion, Language
» Israeli, Jewish, Hebrew
» Assyrian, Christian, Aramaic
» Saudi Arabian, Muslim, Arabic
Assyrian \ã-'sir-é-an\ adj or n (1998)   1:  descendants of the ancient empire of Ashur   2:  the Assyrians, although representing but one single nation as the direct heirs of the ancient Assyrian Empire, are now doctrinally divided, inter sese, into five principle ecclesiastically designated religious sects with their corresponding hierarchies and distinct church governments, namely, Church of the East, Chaldean, Maronite, Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic.  These formal divisions had their origin in the 5th century of the Christian Era.  No one can coherently understand the Assyrians as a whole until he can distinguish that which is religion or church from that which is nation -- a matter which is particularly difficult for the people from the western world to understand; for in the East, by force of circumstances beyond their control, religion has been made, from time immemorial, virtually into a criterion of nationality.   3:  the Assyrians have been referred to as Aramaean, Aramaye, Ashuraya, Ashureen, Ashuri, Ashuroyo, Assyrio-Chaldean, Aturaya, Chaldean, Chaldo, ChaldoAssyrian, ChaldoAssyrio, Jacobite, Kaldany, Kaldu, Kasdu, Malabar, Maronite, Maronaya, Nestorian, Nestornaye, Oromoye, Suraya, Syriac, Syrian, Syriani, Suryoye, Suryoyo and Telkeffee. — Assyrianism verb

Aramaic \ar-é-'máik\ n (1998)   1:  a Semitic language which became the lingua franca of the Middle East during the ancient Assyrian empire.   2:  has been referred to as Neo-Aramaic, Neo-Syriac, Classical Syriac, Syriac, Suryoyo, Swadaya and Turoyo.

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