August 2019 | By Mark Satter and Joe Snell | Photos and Video by Mark Satter and Joe Snell
CHICAGO – Hundreds of candles descended down Niles Center Road in Skokie on Aug. 7 as part of Assyrian Martyr’s Day.
The annual commemoration, held at the Assyrian National Council of Illinois (ANCI), brought together 16 organizations and hundreds of Assyrians and invited guests, including Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen.
“Not many people know what has happened to Assyrians,” said Nineveh Rasho, who coordinated the event alongside William Sargool. “It’s important to remember and to instill that in our everyday routine. We have to continue to survive and thrive and that’s why this event is so important.”
Assyrian Martyr’s Day was initially recognized in the 1970s to commemorate the 1933 massacres in Simele, Iraq, according to the AUA website, and has since grown to encompass Assyrian martyrs throughout history.
This year’s commemoration began with an opening prayer and recognition of several organizations and community leaders including His Grace Mar Gewargis Younan of the Ancient Church of the East and His Grace Mar Paulus Benjamin of the Assyrian Church of the East.
“We want our new younger generations to know the reason why we left our homeland was because of these atrocities that have happened and the sacrifices that were made to keep us alive,” His Grace Mar Gewargis Younan said. “Even though we left our homeland, we know that our roots are still there.”
A highlight of the evening was a large timeline of 81 significant Assyrian events and massacres starting from 650 AD to 2015. Young Assyrians took turns reading events from the timeline.
After the readings, Assyrian singer Doug Bako performed a song.
The event concluded with a procession of candles around the facility to commemorate the individuals that have died for the Assyrian identity.
The Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation (AUAF) estimates roughly 100,000 Assyrians in the Chicagoland area and upwards of 20,000 in Skokie. That number, Mayor Van Dusen said, has continued to rise over the last decade.
“I believe the more we know about each other, where we come from, what our beliefs are, the more civil we are with each other and I find it invigorating to get to know people,” Van Dusen said.
Assyrian Martyr’s Day is celebrated around the globe at major events in cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Sydney, Beirut and Irbil. The Assyrian Policy Institute website estimates roughly 3.5 million Assyrians worldwide.
“The martyr’s efforts and their work and their tragedies won’t disappear into thin air,” Rasho said. “It’s important that we grasp that and hone it in to ourselves and utilize that every single day. We need to ask, ‘What am I doing for my community, what am I doing for my people, and why am I fighting for my people as other people have done for me before?’”