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:
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).