The sixty-seventh Convention of the Assyrian American National Federation (AANF) was held in Chicago, Illinois, from August 31 to September 4, 2000.   Ms. Guita Hourani, Chairwoman of the Maronite Research Institute (MARI), addressed the conventioneers.  She spoke about cultural activism and the role of the individual and the community in  preserving and advancing the Syriac tradition.
AANF is a federation of Assyrian associations in the United States. It was founded in 1933 following the massacres of the Assyrians in Iraq.
The Assyrians are the descendants of the inhabitants of ancient Assyria. This nation was a dependency of Babylon at first but soon became an independent state by the 14th century BC.  Assyria developed into a mighty kingdom encompassing a great part of the lands now known as Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. Throughout its history, Assyria was led by great leaders of whom the most prominent and famous are Tiglath-pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib, and Esarhaddon.  This grand civilization was characterized by its monumental structures, now seen in the ruins of Nineveh, Ashur, and Nimrud. [i]
The Assyrians were among the first to believe in Christ as the Messiah.  After their conversion, they eagerly took the call into the very heartland of the Far East.  There they spread the Good News and the language, Syriac, made holy by Him Who spoke it -- Christ, the Son of God made Man.
Since the fall of the Assyrian empire, they have suffered because of their race; and since becoming Christians early in our era, they have endured because or their faith. The massacres of the first part of the 20th century caused the exodus of most of the Assyrians from the Middle East to Europe, the United States of America, and Australia. This race,  whose homeland was once a cradle of civilization and a rival of other ancient empires, is a now another people in the Diaspora.
The Convention brings Assyrians together to share their current and future concerns, a collective memory, and past glory. Like all people of ancient cultures, they are threatened by complete assimilation within their newly adopted societies.  Yet, they make a conscious effort to protect and pass their culture on to their offspring. It was in this spirit that Ms. Hourani spoke about preserving and rejuvenating their culture and sharing it with others.
On the level of the individual, Ms. Hourani talked about sharing one’s own tradition with friends, colleagues, and acquaintances through dinner parties, poetry reading, music performances;  gift giving of books,  videos, compact disks to ones local library, Alma Mater, political  representatives, and friends.  Get actively involved in writing a family history, collecting and  preserving family and community memorabilia; participating in cultural activities in ones  neighborhood or city by presenting movies, theater and music performances, art exhibits,  and story telling. Give local lectures about the tradition at schools, organizations, libraries, and churches.  Generously invite others to celebrate special feast days and share  in special  occasions and celebrations. Invite and support students and researchers to live in the  community and study it.  Read and learn more about ones tradition. Get ones children  interested in their culture and have them invite their friends for a fun and interesting evening  centered around something that is uniquely Assyrian.  Movie nights featuring culture and history  at ones home occasionally are a pleasure to be enjoyed with invited friends, family  members, and school or work colleagues. Concentrate on exposing ones children, cousins,  nephews and nieces to the tradition.
On the community level, Ms. Hourani encouraged the participation in international festivals, state and federal cultural and educational  activities. Have an open house at the church or one of the organizations  where people will learn more about the culture and have a refreshment.  Publish written  articles locally and beyond. Utilize local radio and TV programs to inform and educate the  public.
Support efforts to record oral history and the making of documentaries of the  community in the U.S. and in the native land. Put on productions, theater, musicals,  concerts, and exhibits that promulgate the culture. Sponsor a joint event with other  minorities or peoples of ancient cultures. Invite and pay the expenses for a famous or  prominent member of the media to visit your homeland to write about the plight of your  people. Have church choirs participate in the all the public celebration of Christmas.
Create summer studies programs in the Middle East for teenagers with modules on the  history, geography, literature.  This will encourage ties between these young people and  other members of your community in the Middle East. Cooperate with the local historical societies and federal agencies like the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress which are involved in these pursuits in preserving, recording and retelling the history, lore and cultural achievements cultures found in America.
Ms. Hourani stressed the fact that sometimes a community either assimilates into or isolates itself from the larger society. Either one would be detrimental to the preservation and promulgation of ones culture. She believes that sometimes people impose a self isolation on themselves, and prevent others from knowing them, sharing their joys and sorrows, understanding them, and appreciating the wonderful experiences and enlightenment that spring from their heritage.  “How can we expect people to know us if we do not tell them who we are; if we don't invite them to our homes, churches, organizations, to intermingle culturally with neighboring communities?  Can we expect them to support our causes and sympathize with us if they don't know us?" Ms. Hourani asked.
She observed many positive elements in the convention. They include:

    • The continued use of the Assyrian language by the Assyrian American people.
    • The exclusive use of Assyrian music and songs throughout the convention.
    • The invitation and encouragement of young graduates to present their research findings or socio-political experience.
    • The sense of collective pride.
    • The recording of Assyrian music, songs, and poems in Compact Disks and the promotion of Assyrian art, especially the reproduction and reinterpretation of ancient art.
    • The founding of several endowments to promote education, researches and lectures on Assyria and the Assyrian people. Endowments such as The George Mardinly Educational Fund in New Jersey, The David B. Perley Memorial Assyrian Fund and the Mishael and Lillie Naby Assyrian Lecture Fund at Harvard University, and The Naoum Faik Assyrian Book Fund at Columbia University are some of them.

Ms. Hourani observed that the Assyrian people live in a real Diaspora in the hope that one day they will regain their ancestral land and revive their culture.
She was deeply affected by the wholehearted and warm welcome that she received.  She was overwhelmed by the respect, admiration, and love that the Assyrian people have for Lebanon in general and the Maronites in particular.
MARI and Ms. Hourani hope that this invitation will only be the first step toward a deeper intellectual, academic, and cultural cooperation between MARI and the Assyrian organizations in the United States.