Four flags fly as one at Melbourne’s Greek Festival

Assyrians showcase unique dances alongside Armenian, Greek, Australian traditions

March 2019 | By Joe Snell | Photos contributed

It might have been the old country. Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians gathered in celebration. Holding hands. Sharing dances. Telling stories of their great empires.

But this was Melbourne. And the gathered crowd at the Lonsdale Street Greek Festival in Australia were given a taste of three uniquely different and strikingly similar traditions.

The Assyrian Australian Social Development Club (AASDC) was invited by their Greek friends to show off a number of traditional dances, including the Shaykhani and Azien L’Tamma, at the longest running Greek festival in Melbourne. Held on Feb. 23 – 24, the Greek Centre for Contemporary Culture estimates that nearly 150,000 visit the event every year.

“We need to organize more of these festivals to send messages of solidarity between the three nations,” said AASDC Art Committee Officer, Khamo Somo. “We need to be present at the Greek and Armenian cultural events and we as Assyrians need to invite them to our festivals to provide our youth to build deeper connections and long-term relationships.”

On a brightly lit stage in front of thousands of festivalgoers, twelve Assyrians aged 18 to 33 performed into the early evening. The dancers are part of “Ashur Group”. Established in the Victoria region in 2017, the self-funded group of 20 dancers perform at cultural events as well as non-Assyrian events including at the Royal Children Hospital and the Cohesion Festival in Hume city.

“Last night we had the pleasure of performing with our Assyrian and Armenian brothers and sisters,” said Peter Stefanidis from the Pontic Greek Community. “We celebrated our solidarity as a people.”

Held at the historic Lonsdale Street Greek Precinct, the Assyrian dancers performed on Feb. 23, an important day for Assyrians known as “The Black Night”. The name originated four years ago in Khabur, Syria when ISIS terrorists launched a deadly assault on 35 Assyrian villages in the region. The attack killed dozens and took hundreds hostage.

The day is remembered by Assyrians around the world through cultural presentations, art exhibits, and educational awareness. The day was especially important for “Ashour Group” as most of its dancers are recently immigrated from Syria.

“We thank our brothers and sisters, the Armenians and Greeks, who stood by our side to reach their wide audience and the broader Victorian community,” said AASDC Community Support Worker Kinda Haroun. “They welcome us to work together and send powerful messages that our nation is alive.”

Founded in 2012, AASDC is a non-profit organization based in Victoria that works toward empowering and providing support to the local Assyrian community. The group places a priority on building local relationships. Some events they have hosted include a Graduation Ceremony (First annual Assyrian graduation ceremony held in Victoria, Australia), sports events, and a Martyrs Day Commemoration.

Learn more about AASDC by visiting their Facebook page.

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