May 28, 2020 | By Joe Snell
CHICAGO — The Assyrian National Convention will no longer take place in Palm Springs and is likely to be canceled for the first time in nearly 100 years because of the pandemic, according to officials in charge of organizing the event.
The convention was scheduled to run from September 3-7 in Palm Springs; however, the Westin Mission Hills hotel, the same venue that hosted last year’s event, confirmed that because of the pandemic they can no longer guarantee hosting the event after they reopen in June.
Now, organizers are scrambling to decide whether the event should even continue.
“This would be devastating but understandable under the circumstances,” said Assyrian American National Federation President Martin Youmaran. “We’re already a fragile nation with our numbers. The last thing we want to do is to be a cause of more outbreak of COVID and a resurgence of numbers.”
A call with the federation’s board of advisors earlier in the week strongly encouraged organizers to cancel, one AANF committee member said, citing liability concerns and fear of a coronavirus outbreak.
The first convention was held in 1933, the same year that AANF was founded. Today, the event is a mix of lectures, sporting events, vendors and pool parties and regularly draws thousands of Assyrians from around the world.
And despite periods of inconsistent documentation, sources indicate if this year’s event is canceled, it will be the first time in history.
This year’s convention was also scheduled to host federation elections. Every two years, the organization allows its members to vote for new officers, but that may now be postponed until September 2021.
Now, the decision to cancel rests on conversations with hotels in Arizona, one organizer said, and Texas has also become an option.
“We weren’t having luck finding a location for convention in Arizona prior to this whole thing,” Youmaran said. “But with the changes happening, we’re actually considering Arizona because it still has a big Assyrian footprint locally.”
If the convention does move forward, it likely won’t look like years past. New considerations include having people sign waivers upon arrival, conducting regular temperature checks, limiting the number of attendees or scrapping the weekend altogether and holding in-person lectures in major Assyrian cities across the country.
On Tuesday, organizers sent an eight-question survey to previous convention attendees asking whether they would consider registering for convention this year.
By Wednesday, nearly 700 people responded. Early results indicated that many respondents would not even consider attending.
After the survey ends on Sunday afternoon, organizers will discuss the event’s future. An official decision on canceling the event could be made as early as Sunday evening.
“At the end of it, convention is a way for us to come together, to learn more and to plan our future,” said AANF Educational Chairman Dr. Joe Danavi. “We can do that in a very creative manner without having to be there in person.”
See a video recap by The Assyrian Journal of last year’s convention here.