New scholarships for Duhok seniors honors late Assyrian leader

By Joe Snell | January 2022 | Photos and videos provided

A new scholarship initiative for high school seniors in Iraq’s Duhok Governorate seeks to memorialize late Assyrian leader Ashur Eskrya, who passed away on April 9 due to complications from the coronavirus. 

The project comes amid an education crisis gripping Iraq. Dropout rates in Iraqi schools are on the rise due to armed conflict, displacement, economic hardships and a surge in COVID cases. A World Bank report in October found that schools across the country were closed over 75% of the time and remote learning opportunities were limited.

“Effectively, students in Iraq are facing more than a lost year of learning,” the report said.

The crisis is heightened in Assyrian communities with the added transportation cost of students from outlying villages into larger towns and the translation and printing of textbooks into the Assyrian language.

Organized by the Assyrian Aid Society (AAS), the Ashur Sargon Eskrya Scholarship Fund will help fill some of those gaps so that an Assyrian education continues in the homeland, AAS told the Journal.

“The scholarship not only takes some financial pressure off students and their families, but also instills a greater sense of belonging and encouragement to continue their higher education,” said AAS of America Executive Board Member Natalie Babella.

Through the fund, scholarships will be awarded to 16 high school seniors across five Assyrian high schools in the Duhok Governorate: Nsibin in Nuhadra (Duhok), Zahrira in Deralok, Zakhoota in Zakho, Shameil in Shiyoz and Urhai in Sarsing.

“This scholarship aims to highlight the achievements of those graduates that scored 90% or higher, entering university for disciplines such as dental school and engineering,” said AAS-A Vice President Renya Benjamen. “Their achievements speak to the high standards of our Assyrian schools.”

Born in 1974, Eskrya graduated from Baghdad University and later became a civil engineer. In 2003, he joined the Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq (AAS-I). He was named the organization’s president in 2010, guiding the humanitarian nonprofit in the tumultuous years during and after the Islamic State (IS) genocide, including surviving an assassination attempt.

Eskrya was an advocate for the protection of Assyrians in northern Iraq and the formation of an autonomous region for Assyrians in the Nineveh Plains, taking his case as far as New York and Geneva. 

“The Assyrian Aid Society will honor his memory by continuing the work he loved so much of helping those in need and helping the Assyrian nation thrive in our ancestral lands,” Babella said.

AAS-I, a relief organization founded in 1991, organizes home and business reconstruction projects, builds medical facilities and provides refugee relief and specialized coronavirus care to local communities among other projects.

Education is a priority for the organization, Babella told the Journal. Buses transport children from outlying villages to Assyrian schools in larger towns. The schools hire Assyrian teachers and other staff members. And specialty software translates state-approved textbooks into the Assyrian language. In total, 26 AAS-I funded schools provide K-12 schooling in the Assyrian language and serve over 2,600 students. 

In 2016, AAS-I was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

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