Russian Assyrians host AJM for youth exchange

German youth association joins Russians for international collaboration to promote dialogue, unity

June 2018 | Photos contributed | By Robina Lajin

Correction: This youth exchange was not the first ever Assyrian youth exchange between Germany and Russia, as previously reported.

RUSSIA Nine members of the Assyrian Youth Association of Germany (AJM e.V.) traveled to Russia for a youth exchange between young German and Russian Assyrians.

The event, which took place from April 29 through May 10, is part of a larger objective by AJM to connect Assyrians all over to world to exchange knowledge, assist smaller Assyrian communities, and to create international unity.

“We want to focus on the similarities and bring unity into our nation, no matter where you come from, which church you go, or which dialect you speak,” said Maya Yoken, a board member of AJM and one of the organizers of the exchange.

The idea for the event came in the spring of 2017, when AJM sent a delegation of four individuals to meet with Assyrians in Russia.

“We realized that both sides wanted to learn more about the others,” Yoken said. “We had the idea of a youth exchange and one year later, here we are.”

This year’s exchange began in the Russian village of Urmiya, where participants took part in the Khubba Festival. During the yearly festival, soccer teams and dance groups travel from all over Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and other neighboring countries to participate in tournaments, perform dances, and visit friends and relatives.

Vitali Yunanov, a young Assyrian from the city of Krasnodar who teaches Assyrian dances at the festival, looks forward to traveling to Urmiya every year.

“I have a responsibility to preserve my culture that’s why I’m teaching Assyrian kids dances,” Yunanov said. “I’m teaching kids with Big Mama, my grandma. I’m creating new dances for our older group. I’m very proud of my nation, my dances, and the language.”

Group posing in circle - edited

AJM visitors also participated in a cultural program including learning about Assyrians in Russia and exploring the history of the region with Russian officials. At night, participants sang and danced at the local Assyrian clubhouse.

“It was impressive to see how fast a chain reaction can happen,” Yoken said. “At noon, we taught a dance to 15 people and at night, suddenly over a 100 people were dancing.”

Although most Assyrian youth participants from Germany speak the Western Assyrian Dialect and the Russian youth speak the Eastern dialect, a few speakers were able to help facilitate communication in the Assyrian language.

“Language is key. It even strengthened the sense of unity to see the differences and similarities because we realized the benefits of learning each other’s dialect,” Yoken said.

After Urmiya, the group spent two days in the city of Krasnodar, the second largest Assyrian community in Russia, where they visited St. George Church of the Assyrian Church of the East (ACOE), a site built solely but its members.

“We want the Assyrian youth to be globally connected, to learn from each other and be able to represent our nation internationally. And we wanted to see if our friends in Russia want to be part of that,” Yoken said.

Parade in Moscow - edited

AJM participants then traveled to Moscow and joined the annual Russian “Victory Day” parade on May 9. The date commemorates Nazi Germany’s surrender in 1945, effectively ending the European theater of World War 2. During the ceremony, Assyrian youth from both Russia and Germany walked the streets of Moscow and honored Assyrians that had fallen on the Russian side of the war.

Participants also attended a church service at St. Mary’s Cathedral, where they met Qasha Samano and a number of other Russian Assyrians to discuss the history of Assyrians in the country.

Qasha Samano invited the group to a barbecue, hosted in a cabin in the center of Moscow. The cabin sits in the courtyard of buildings which were once inhabited exclusively by Assyrians, mostly individuals from Hakkari who came to Russia after the genocide by the Ottoman Empire.

The cabin is the site for Assyrians in Moscow to celebrate everything from weddings, birthdays, and funerals.

“We dance, laugh and cry together,” said an elderly Assyrian man who is part of the Assyrian community in Moscow. “We do everything together.”

Organizers from both Germany and Russia have already begun planning the next visit, where AJM will host Russian Assyrian visitors in Germany.

AJM LogoThe Assyrian Youth Association of Central Europe (AJM) E.V. is a nationally active, free-democratic, non partisan and non-denominational child and youth Association. For more info on AJM, visit their Facebook page: AJM on Facebook

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