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Farid Nuz’ha (1895-1971)

Posted: Thursday, January 16, 2003 at 08:47 PM CT

Farid Nuz’ha (1895-1971)A Great Message from a Great Assyrian Man

Farid Nuz’ha was born in December 10, 1895 in Hama in Syria, of a noble family from Harbut, (Turkey) who had migrated to Syria in 1760. He was surnamed as Nuz’ha after his grand mother. In the summer of year 1911, while just a teenager of 17 year he migrated to Argentina and lived in Buenos Aires until he passed away in 1971.

As soon as he arrived Buenos Aires, he became active in the Syriac community, which eventually led to the creation of the Syrian Afremian Club (Centro Afremico Asirio) in August 1934 as a nationalist, literary, cultural and social association. In the same year, the club published the first issue of magazine (Al Jamia’ah Al Syryaniya), the Syriac League, (Asociacion Asiria) a monthly first appearing in Arabic, but latter added the Syriac and Spanish languages and Nuz’ha was its editor. According to the Club’s archives, its objectives were foster and promote a positive approach on nationalism, to organize cultural and educational seminars, to assist in the revival of Syriac sciences and literatures, and to generally expand knowledge the noble Syriac language. We have no clear and specific chronicle of the magazine but we believed that it continued publishing until Nuz’ha passed away. The magazine and its editor passed thru many difficult periods and crisis; these of course affected Nuz’ha in his personal life, but they were also significant in a broader sense.

From a very early time in his activism, Nuz’ha criticized denominationalism, disclosing thru his writings the corruption of clergy members in high places, the same clergy, which was basically ignoring national, social and cultural activities. Without fear or favor, he openly declared war through his magazine’s pages against high clergy and he clashed severely with H.H. Mar Ephrem I Barsoum (1877-1957) the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church(*). In his publication, he described him variously as “the false Shepard” or “the despotic pontiff who trifle with the nation’s dignity and fortune” or “ the conductor of plots”. Eventually, this led to his excommunication by the Patriarch. He was furious over this action, and he declined all suggestions from friends and relatives who sought to reconciliate the parties. For example, he rejected out of hand the idea of offering the Patriarch an apology, which would reinstate him as a member of the Church in good standing. In fact, he considered his excommunication a badge of honor.

This state of acrimony continued until the Patriarch passed away in 1957 and was succeeded by H.H. Mar Yacoub III (1912-1980). According to unverified sources, the new Patriarch lifted Nuz’ha’s excommunication leading to a period of gentility between himself and the church and clergy. This new and quieter phase is evident in the pages of his magazine, which became a social and literature publication with much little attention to nationalistic issues.

A brave Assyrian, Nuz’ha was a victim of denominationalism and negligence. He exemplifies a persisting dilemma in Assyrian society. In the sectarian sense, the man was a member of the Syriac Orthodox Church. But in a nationalistic sense, he was a stubborn militant and a patriotic. His dilemma was that he was not accepted by his denomination, nor was he given due recognition by the nationalists. Sad to say, many Assyrians activists (particularly those with Nestorians and Chaldeans affiliation) did not even know his name or his contributions. This is in sharp contrast to the notoriety of Nuz’ha’s friends and contemporaries – Na’aom Fayiq and David Perley – who, like himself, where Syrian Orthodox. If the names and activities of Fayiq and Perley are widely known among Nestorians and Chaldeans, then why do we know so little about Nuz’ha’s contributions? Two reasons have been offered to explain this relative obscurity. One, Nuz’ha was functioning in a relatively isolated setting, i.e., the Syriac Orthodox community in Argentina. Two, his magazine and his nationalist articles appeared in Arabic, a language inaccessible to most American Assyrians. In addition, it has been suggested that his excommunication by the Patriarch may also have contributed to neglecting him and his nationalist inheritance.

Clearly, Nuz’ha was better known figure among Middle Eastern Assyrians. His magazine was widely circulated among Syriac communities in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. I personally concluded in a previous study, (See my book: Na’aom Fayiq, the Master of the unification Thought, Sargon publishing house, Sweden, 2000) that Nuz’ha’s nationalist ideas were the basic ideology leading to the establishment of the Assyrian Democratic Organization (Mtakasta) in summer 1957. Two Malfanos; Hana Abidlaki, the founder of the Syriac school in Qamishli, and Shukri Charmokli the teacher of Syriac language in the same school, who were the representatives of the Syriac League magazine in Syria and circulators of Nuz’ha’s nationalist ideas among young generation, are seen as real fathers of Mtakasta. His importance is comparable to the Assyrian Democratic Movement (Zowaa), where Nuz’ha is considered a pioneer of the contemporary Assyrian nationalism. Zowaa views him as courageous nationalist journalist, a fact evident in the many article and research pieces written about him in Zowaa’s publications during the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Assyrian journalism.

Farid Nuz’ha was a prolific nationalistic writer and a distinguished Assyrian journalist. He often used a convoluted name for his nation (such as the Syriac nation of Assyrian, Aramean and Chaldean). He was broad-mined in his thinking and included all historic names of his nation without distinction, but for political convenience he frequently used Syriac or Syrian (Al Syryan) to refer to and include all other names; but he was learned enough in terms of history and of languages as to trace that name to Assyrian. In another of my publication, (Political Phobia in Assyrian Society, Alpha Graphic press, Chicago, 1998) I referred to the inferiority complex phenomenon of some Assyrians including their disgraceful submission to despotic rulers, and their phobia of their Assyrian name. I thought I was the first one to refer to this condition, but I would come to discover otherwise. In reading many issues of the Syriac League magazine, I discovered that more than six decades ago Nuz’ha dealt with this problem in one of his most interesting articles (issue No. 2, 5th Year, February 1939, P 10). His essay, constituted a reply to a letter he had received from a well-known writer in Mosul, north Iraq. The letter writer was a member of the Syriac Orthodox Church, and he “politely” opposed Nuz’ha nationalistic ideas on Assyrians. The following is quoted from Nua’ha’s response, the original of which is in Arabic:

“At a time, one of our honorable and ardent writers wrote to the editor of Syriac League (Farid Nuz’ha): wipe off, correct or change the Spanish name of your magazine (Asiria), because this name dose not please our country’s government since it means (Assyrian – Ashori). You are descendent of an honorable Syriac family know for its enthusiasm and for clinging to Syriac doctrine… etc, such naming should displeased you as well and must be disregarded. In his wry and amused respond, the editor, (Farid Nuz’ha) disdained the suggestion and prayed to God for protection from such a calamity. He observed in his reply: I would ask the honorable writer, if your right honorable ruler dislikes the Assyrian name, does your manner and dignity of your nation and church allow you to change them for something different simply to satisfy your prince? What you will do if your dictatorial master said to you pull out the cross form the door of your church and if he forbids the Christian community from ringing the bells? What you will reply to him if tomorrow he said to you that Syriac teaching is contrary to the official education system? You do not expect such disasters to occur! However, since you submitted to him with subservience and cowardice, this will encourage him to greater immoderation of oppression and absolutism. Tomorrow he will say to you; Hey, you Syrians … if you are faithful to your country and government, then the only way to demonstrate it is by replacing your Syriac language with Arabic. What will you then give as a reply to your government? If Syriac is nothing more than a religion or denomination then I truly say we are not in need for it. But you, as a “great master”, expert and defender of Syriac”, must say that Syriac is a nation and ethnicity not a religion and denomination. A religion or faith could be shared by many nations, as it is our status with Copts and Ethiopians, but there is no sharing of ethnicity. If we deprive the ethnicity from our people what will remain of their singularity? I am sure you will say: religion. I say, they can get the same religion elsewhere, such as Egypt and Ethiopia and that what is happening because of your teachings. If we teach our people that Syriac is a real scientific name for our ancient nation and explain to them its historic nobility, then you will see how they will adhere to this name and how proud they will be regardless of critical times and deadly conditions.

How “sweet’ you were when you, full of foolishness and ignorance, said that the name Assyrian signifies the Nestorian faith! Such view is very far away form reality and it is rejected by both experts and public. Surely, you cannot deny the reality of the fact that Syrians are the same Assyrians, descendents of the ancient Cheldeans/Babylonians and I will never accept your walkout without clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. Anyone with a minimum knowledge of language and history knows that Syrian word is originated from the Greek term “Assyrian” which is same name as “Ashori”. Apart from that, everybody knows that Assyrian is not a religious name and if you review documents of the Church history, you will see that our Nestorians brothers never recognized themselves by such name but as Nestorians. If they were recognized by such Assyrian name then they will be at an envy status, but regrettably I say that their confessional naming is Nestorian not Assyrian.

However, if the name Assyrian refer to those who had rejected merger with or melting in Arabism and resisted the oppressive governments, and who consequently suffered murdering, persecution, looting and all kinds of injustices & horror, (This is reference to Simel massacre in north Iraq on August 7, 1933) that is an exclusive great honor to them. Future generations will commemorate that martyrdom and will remember those disasters committed by the foes of God and humanity as long as there is a human being on this earth.

Syriac Writer (Farid Nuz’ha)
Buenos Aires, February 1939.

This was written more than six decades ago, but it seems as fresh as today, in that it tackles the same problems still facing Assyrians, such as Arabization, submission to the dictatorial regimes and phobia of our nationalism. It is clear that Nuz’ha was a prescient observer of his nation’s crisis, in particular when he affirmed that in due course Assyrians would designate a commemorative day for those who sacrificed their lives in Simel in 1933. In this light, would I be wrong to say that it was Farid Nuz’ha who initiated Assyrian Martyrs Day of August 7? Let us remember that David Perley was an “ideological” friend of Nuz’ha and a founder of the Assyrian American National Federation (AANF). In turn, the AANF played a critical role in the launching of the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA), and it is its largest affiliated organization. It is the AUA which established August 7 as Assyrian Martyrs Day. Unfortunately, the unavailability of documents makes final confirmation of this problematical.

As I noted earlier, Farid Nuz’ha is a great Assyrian, deserving our great respect; we should bow our heads when mentioning his name. We need to further study his career, to examine his nationalist thoughts, and to reprint & translate his honorable magazine to broader its availability for those who need nationalistic guidance at a time when it is critical for us to understand the past and present crisis of our nation.

I have often said that a nation who does not respect or commemorate its great men does not deserve to endure.

(*) The Syriac Orthodox Church’s document and memorial evidences shows that nearly all its clergies who were born in the northern part of Iraq (Assyria) proudly titled their names or surnamed by “The Assyrian” – Al Athouri - including the Patriarch who was known as Mar Ephrem Barsoum Al Athouri. But sadly, after the Simel massacre and the physical, national, legal and political tragic consequences which befell the Assyrians of Iraq, all clergies began to delete the title of Assyrian from their names including Mar Ephrem, who was well-known as a nationalist following WW1. After the Simel event, and particularly, after Mar Ephrem ascended to the Patriarchal See, he became an anti-Assyrian attacking anyone claiming Assyrian identity or involved in the national case, including Mar Shimon Ishay, the Patriarch of the Church of the East, who was involved with the Assyrian national case. Contrary to his historic background, Mar Ephrem started promoting Arabism and became known among Arab nationalistic circles as “The priest of Pan Arabism” and “The great magnate of Arabs” as described by the Metropolitan Mar Ishaq Saka in his book (The Syrians – Faith and Civilization, Aleppo archdiocese publications, Syria, 1983, P.145).

Cover of the (League of Syriac) Magazine (Al – Jami’ah Al Syryaniya), Acociacion Asiria Arabic and Spanish showing the Assyrian ancient banner (Al She’aar Al Ashoui) as banner of the magazine. Cover of the (League of Syriac) Magazine (Al – Jami’ah Al Syryaniya), Acociacion Asiria Arabic and Spanish showing the Assyrian ancient banner (Al She’aar Al Ashoui) as banner of the magazine.

Cover of the (League of Syriac) Magazine (Al – Jami’ah Al Syryaniya), Acociacion Asiria
Arabic and Spanish showing the Assyrian ancient banner (Al She’aar Al Ashoui) as banner of the magazine.

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