The Calling of the New
Assyrian is the second jointly published collection of poems by Ninos
Aho and Yosip Bet Yosip; the first ensemble was produced and published in
the early 1970s under the title Atoraya Khata – the Modern Assyrian.
The new collection introduces a composition of new poems – with a few
renditions of their classics - on two CDs, one by each artist. While Ninos
Aho presents his lyrics in both east and west vernacular Assyrian dialects (Swadaya
and Turoyo) well polished by classic Syriac, Yosip Bet Yosip reads in
East Assyrian only(1).
The listener, at first, is overwhelmed by the comprehensiveness of the
collection consisting of one powerful poem after another. Indeed, the
compilation of such magnitude on modern media(2) marks a
great accomplishment that can be classified as a milestone in contemporary
If one can set aside some time for careful listening and reflection, which
is a pre-requisite to appreciate this marvelous collection, it becomes
evident that the lyrics can only come from someone who was involved from the
early days in organizations who shaped our nation’s Umtanayuta. Ninos
was a second generation Mtakasto (Mtakasta) (Assyrian Democratic
Organization) activist while Yosip was a member of the Youth Organization
acting as founder of Huyada (Assyrian Universal Alliance).
Their message marks a continuation in the footsteps of well-known great
teachers and fathers of Assyrian nationalism and to a certain extent
revolutionaries like Freydon Aturaya, Adday Alkhas, Yuhanon Qashisho, and
Ninos Aho was born on April 24, 1945 (Nisan of the Assyrian Year 6695) in
the small village of Girkeh-Shamo in the Syrian-part of Mesopotamia.
From his early youth, Ninos was interested and moved by the teachings of the
Assyrian national leaders like Naum Faiq and Farid Nuzha. He believed in
national activism with high ethics and dedication. He diligently worked and
continues to work towards the revival of Assyrian culture, heritage and
unity. He has written numerous articles, and poems published in Assyrian
magazines. Ninos’ mastery of the eastern Assyrian dialect is no surprise at
all if one knows that in 1972 he had the privilege to have the late and
great poet Rabbie William Daniel as his teacher.
Ninos is powerfully eloquent in his poems. His lyrics are the basis for
dozens of romantic and national songs compiled and published in 2000(3)
as an Anthology.
The statement “continuing to deliver his nationalistic ideology through
his poems” in his biography, makes me fully convinced that he has his
guidance from the late Malfono Naum Faiq’s nationalism about whom David
Perley wrote in a biographical study (4):“…he [Faiq]
transformed the inmost truth of his nation into verse”.
Yosip Bet-Yosip was born on April 15, 1942 (Nisan of the Assyrian Year 6692)
in the village of Zumalan, a village in the region of Urmia., Persian-part
of Mesopotamia. In his early youth Yosip was eagerly interested in Assyrian
culture and heritage and listened curiously to traditional songs, poetry,
and story-telling conducted by the local elders. He joined Shushata Umtanaya
(National Progress), a well-known Assyrian youth organization and became
more involved in Assyrian organizations. He was involved in the
establishment of the first ever Assyrian library project in Iran.
In 1968 Yosip witnessed the founding of the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA).
Along with Maestro Nebu Isaabey’s music his lyrics were selected as the
first Assyrian National Anthem (Romrama). He has written numerous
poems, articles, and coral lyrics and is an active member of the Assyrian
Choir in San Jose/CA. His most recent activity was – among others - the
presentation of “The Garden of Gods – My Homeland Bet-Nahrain” at the
World Congress of Poets held in Iasi, Romania during October 2002.
Both poets, one being from the West the other one from the East not only
span a cosmos of nationalistic Mesopotamian heritage, they share a deep
friendship for decades. Knowing both of them(5), I’m
convinced that their friendship serves as one key source for their
inspiration as well.
Images & Concepts
Personally, the great discovery of this collection is that both poets
masterfully tackle themes of nation, ancient history and its modern
interpretations by applying strong images and concepts. They associate the
glorious past of pre-Christian authorities (e.g. by referencing such ancient
Assyrian deities and figures as Ashur, Tammuz, Ishtar, Gilgamesh along with
metropolis like Nineveh, Akkad) with modern themes of nationalism and unity
without missing the elements of the Christian Era.
Ninos’ images for instance pull you into each poem and deep into history and
back to modern places of Assyrian presence. While listening, it is difficult
resisting a seductive meta-level of feelings.
Yosip applies strong and powerful messages as well. Even though he is
embedding his messages into contextual information, certain historical
knowledge is expected to follow. He presents his messages in a chronological
fashion, consequently forcing the listener to be fixed into a thoughtful
state, yet delightful.
Ninos’ poems are a potent force in the ongoing reinforcement of the
homogenous yet multi-denominational Assyrian nationalist identity.
Furthermore, poetic interpretations of history as a narrative of the past
synthesized into the present of Assyrians projected on their historic
homeland Beth-Nahrin as presented by Yosip have the same reinforcing effect.
Ninos recites and articulates strongly. Yosip sounds like a distant
messenger, though both carrying heart-touching messages. The series of poems
pulls the careful listener into a journey riding over a rainbow that spans
thousands of years, while its colors symbolize the different cultural,
religious and national facets along the timeline of Assyrian history.
As an example, I would like to touch few of the poems that stand out the
most for me, acknowledging that this is a subjective and random choice only.
The poem Yuhanon Qashisho for instance is more than a wonderful
obituary to the former teacher and editor of Hujada magazine. Despite
the teariness Ninos triggers about a great lost, he masters to sow hope
through a powerful link in placing him as a consort and pupil to the great
figures like Naum Faiq, Yuhanon Dolabani, Ashur Yusuf and Freydon Aturaya.
He calls them to be prepared to welcome him accordingly.
In different poems Ninos recalls memories of the early years in the national
movement in Chicago, touches events and encounters, formulates a poetic
reply to Professor Oppenheim. He dedicates a beautiful poem to the reunion
of friends in Qamishly not missing to give homage to Girke Shamo,
his birthplace. The latter has been wonderfully vocalized by Ninib Lahdo,
born in Girke Shamo as well.
Alpa Shinne meqim Mshiha is a lamentation about lost of homeland.
Most striking for me is its beautiful style – through refrains of key
concepts in each verse, the messages are hammered into the listeners’
Among my favorite selection in case of Yosip is Sluta d’Aturaya d’Idyum
(The Prayer of Today’s Assyrian). It is a powerful mythical and religious
poem. For me it is a bridge to the strong traditions of ancient Assyrian
religiosity, though with one new significant aspect: The “New Assyrian” does
not accept the pre-Christian Era as so-called pagan period anymore. On the
contrary, it is the source and rationale for his 2000 years of dedication to
Christian beliefs, rooted in Assyria.
Similarly outstanding to me is Wardi w Kitwe (Flowers and Thorns).
Here the poet is comparing History as documented in the Bible
in contrast to that portrayed in the Mesopotamian tablets. He complains
about cutting ties with the ancestors and adopting different traditions,
namely replacing Utnapishtum with Noah, Hammurabi with Moses, Gilgamesh with
Samson and so on.
I believe that this subject in general deserves more attention by Assyrians,
because Jewish people mastered the creation of the God Yahweh to have an
equivalent to God of Gods, Ashur; while succeeded in adapting major
religious concepts of Assyria and made them survive until today. Also Greek
and Roman people adopted Christianity without denying their pre-Christian
traditions and history. Why should Assyrians of today be less proud of the
history and religious traditions of their ancient forefathers?
The Garden of Gods is a political poem on Mesopotamia, which served
as cradle of civilization; yet under heavy attack today. It is a poisoned
land, its inhabitants driven out of the country, its river dried, and the
land not able to provide even a cradle for its own children.
In addition Yosip presents few more political poems. In one, he talks to the
flowers of Mesopotamia representing the Assyrian Martyrs and listens to
their critical messages about the state of the Nation. They go so far
offering even to die again to save the Nation from its problematic
The collection is cohesive and sounds like a story, yet highlighting very
different facets. It is a story of a nation filled with the hopes and
sorrows of life along its history – reflecting on its passion and
aspirations; it is a philosophical approach for a scattered nation. For me
the poets manage to create a sense of urgency, their messages are courageous
and bold. They do not match the hesitant and common approach of
nationalistic reality in struggling to overcome the nation’s fragmentation
in order to unite. As a result, the poems provide a source of guidance to
those who seek new orientation.
Overall, I regard the lyrics as a homage to the Assyrian nation, its
history, its identity, and its strong desire for unity. If there is anyone
who can bridge the existing gap of the Assyrian national movement through
passing over the heritage of its great teachers like Yuhanon Qashisho and
William Daniel to the younger generation whose young inquisitive minds
starve for such presentations, then it must be Ninos and Yosip.
I highly recommend the collection “The Call of the Modern Assyrian”.
It is a beautiful collection of poems. Needless to say, I expect more of the
poets work in the near future. Also, I think that both poets have yet
another national duty to accomplish: the re-creation of the same eastern
verses in Turoyo. Without this their messages will not reach the
hearts of all Assyrians.
(1) For the first time, Yosip Bet-Yosip presented his
poems (Bo’uta Othurayto and Sluto dOthuroyo dYawmono) in the west Assyrian
at the Mesopotamia Association in the City of Augsburg in Germany on October
2002. The readings were enriched by few beautiful ballads.
(2) Produced by the Assyrian-American Association of San
Jose, California. Background music by various peoples and studios, and a
beautiful design by Homer Younan
(3) For more biographical information, see also the
Leaflet provided in the cover of the CD
(4) Anthology of Poems by Ninos Aho, published by the
Assyrian Voice Production 2000. The 18 poems in west and east dialect are
vocalized by Ninib Lahdo, Aziz Saliba, Kamil Hanna and Wadi Al-Safi. The CD
is available from Nahro Beth-Kinne, 122 Rue des 2 Eglises, 1210 Brussels,
(5) Naoum Palak, the "Sainted Apostle of Nationalism"
extracted from and comments on "A Brief Study in the Palak Nationalism", by
Dr. David Barsoum Perley LL.B. – Review by Sanharib Shukri, Australia, 2002
(6) I’ve known Ninos since 1986 when we meet during a Kha
b’Nisan celebration in Hackensack, New Jersey. I was on a research stay in
Princeton and guest of the late Orthodox Bishop Samuel for the day; Ninos
gave the welcome speech to the evening in Turoyo. I made the acquaintance of
Yosip at the Assyrian-American Association in San Jose, California in 1994.