The Assyrian Policy Institute held its inaugural conference in Washington, D.C. from June 9–11, 2022, presented in partnership with the Assyrian National Council of Illinois. The innovative three-day event brought together more than 160 participants from all over the world for panel discussions, workshops, breakout sessions, networking, advocacy, and more.
The event featured a dynamic group of guest speakers and informative sessions which explored Assyrian-centered issues and key themes. A statement issued by the API Board of Directors stated the following: "As we reflect on the Assyrian National Conference, we have renewed optimism that our community will rise to the vast challenges before us. The intent of this conference was to engage and energize a community of activists who will continue to chart new paths forward in Assyrian organizing and advocacy. The space was created to enable attendees to discuss, strategize, strengthen our relationships with each other, and reclaim our connections to our lands and our histories. We hope you left this conference inspired, informed, and with deeper insight into the challenges we face together."
Over the coming weeks, the API will be developing a comprehensive report including materials and resources based on the discussions from this conference to serve as a framework and a roadmap for our future work.
All photos by Stephney Martin Photography.
Day 1 Highlights: Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill
The conference kicked off with a briefing on Assyrian-American advocacy priorities before heading to Capitol Hill for meetings with Members of Congress. The API team was joined by guest speaker Commissioner Carmen Morad who spoke on the importance of community-led advocacy. Due to lasting and varying Covid restrictions, meetings with Members of Congress were held in a variety of formats—including outdoor and virtual meetings. Participants met with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Rep. Josh Harder (CA-10), and Rep. Anna Eshoo (CA-18) to discuss issues of concern to the Assyrian-American community and hear about the work being done to address them. Rep. Harder announced the relaunching of the Congressional Assyrian Caucus, which he now chairs. Conference participants secured commitments from Rep. Schakowsky and Rep. Eshoo who both agreed to join the caucus.
Later that evening, a Welcome Session was held during which attendees shared their perspectives and reflections on being Assyrian and the various challenges faced by the community through an open mic session.
Day 2 Highlights: Panel Discussions, Book Talk, Diaspora in Bloom
The general sessions on Day 2 of the conference featured an incredible speaker lineup—from scholars and educators to community organizers and advocates. The dynamic group of guest speakers brought knowledge and enlightening perspectives to key topics affecting Assyrians today. The morning session included an emotional screening of the Assyrian short film GRACE (2021) and remarks from Assyrian activist Bedri Diril about his family's fight for justice in the murders of his parents in southeastern Turkey. Dr. Michael Youash gave a presentation about the future of Assyrians in Iraq, followed by a live community assessment about the state of the Assyrian Diaspora. The afternoon session consisted of three panels exploring the impact of genocide on Assyrian identity (Dr. Mariam Georgis and Jordan Jonas), the importance of recording Assyrian oral histories (Dr. Ruth Kambar, Annie Elias, and Kathy Sayad Zatari), and Assyrian language preservation (Sargis Yonan and Ramina Samuel). The evening session included a book talk with Dr. Alda Benjamen about her new book, Assyrians in Modern Iraq. The API was delighted to host the remarkable virtual reality experience Nobody's Listening Exhibition by Yazda as part of Day 2 to highlight the suffering and plight of the Yazidis under ISIS.
We were pleased to host "Take Two: Assyrian Film in Diaspora," a pop-up exhibition by Diaspora in Bloom later that evening. The innovative exhibition brings together prominent movies, television, music videos, and contemporary video art from the Assyrian diaspora to reflect on the evolution of Assyrian society and popular culture. By contextualizing prominent works of Assyrian media created globally in one collection, this curation explores the nature of time and memory and allows viewers to contemplate the future of Assyrian society, culture, and art. Curated by Nardin Sarkis and Akadina Yadegar.
Day 3 Highlights: Breakout Sessions
The final day of the conference kicked off with remarks from Isa Yaramis, President of the Assyro-Chaldean Association of France, who offered remarks on the status of international Assyrian organizing. A panel discussion featuring Dr. Sargon Donabed, Joseph Hermiz, Dr. Arianne Ishaya, and Dr. Ruth Kambar followed in which panelists explored the early history of Assyrian-Americans in the United States.
Breakout sessions took place in the afternoon. These smaller group workshops and roundtable discussions enabled attendees to meaningfully engage with guest speakers and deep-dive into key issues, focusing on advancing ideas and brainstorming solutions to unifying challenges.
In addition to the Assyrian National Council of Illinois, additional conference sponsors included the Retina Institute of Illinois (Dr. John Michael), Arseen Auto Body, Humboldt Farms, ACSIYO, the Assyrian Studies Association, Injury Lawyers of Illinois (Tony Kalogerakos, Esq.), Full Smile Family Dentist (Dr. Edison Ishaya), Dr. Peter and Hon. Atour Sargon, Asset Recovery Solutions, and Dr. Dennis Gelyana.