I’m a proud Assyrian (Syriac) woman and always happy to explain my origins and family history. There hasn’t been a single encounter where I would prefer to simplify my roots or the history surrounding my people. No, I’d rather embark upon a story about my people’s identity and heritage. But I’m also a proud academic, activist, and writer. I grew up in Europe fully aware of my privilege of getting a great education and more so, the respect of family and friends regarding my achievements. I have worked in and represented the Syriac Orthodox Church in a political assembly, and I have campaigned, given speeches and written articles on the history and the political situation of the Assyrian people in Turkey as well as Iraq and Syria.
However, I have this one trait, which, taking aside all of my many skills and achievements, makes me look like a half-baked Assyrian woman. My inability as well as my refusal to learn to cook our traditional dishes.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I love our food, and I enjoy the stories behind their creation, in particular when my grandmother tells me from her time living in a tiny village in Tur Abdin. But, truthfully, cooking has never been something I’m interested in, and my disposition hardly affords me the patience it takes to cook one of our delicious specialties.
has come to my attention that among our community’s youth and our elders, it is
considered an embarrassment for Assyrian women not to know how to prepare dishes
which make our culture so unique and beautiful. “You are not a real Suryeyto
if you can’t cook Yapprakhe or Kutle”, there are even memes
about the cooking skills being a condition to find a suitable wife.
Besides the fact that these memes lack humour and taste, they also convey a very worrisome tendency toward sexism and misogyny among our younger generations. Despite the fact that they’re being raised in a seemingly tolerant and enlightened environment, they are already being groomed to have a dated and patriarchal notion of where women are socially expected to be. There are entire Facebook meme pages dedicated to this troubling ideology, like Shahinat Min, which are intended to provide entertainment and act as satirical representations of our community’s shared traditions and culture. However, these pages regularly share reductionist and sexist memes, seemingly harmless, expressing ideas about a woman’s worth being directly tied to her ability to cook, clean, and roll your dolma. It’s not harmless, it’s a perpetuation of a patriarchal society that has been continuously resisting any and all attempts of progression.
If it was truly of utmost importance to keep our culture and heritage alive through such things as cooking Kutle, it would only be reasonable if expected of both men and women. This, sadly, is not the reality, and the brunt of keeping our community’s culture alive is borne of women alone. And yet, men in our community are often the most present in political and leadership positions, simultaneously commanding the most respect and adoration for doing what, let’s admit, is their duty. Nevermind the fact that women have ascended to positions of power themselves, just not in our political parties. Pascale Warda, for example, served as Minister of Immigration and Refugees in Iraq’s transition government after 2003. Februniye Akyol was the first Syriac Christian woman elected Deputy Mayor of the Assyrian town of Mardin in Turkey. In the Diaspora, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo became the first Assyrian-American elected to the US Congress in 1992. I’ll never forget the collective bafflement when I first met Syriac-Orthodox Patriarch H.H. Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II as a representative. I was the only woman in the hall of the monastery, undoubtedly agitating their expectations of women needing to behave in a demure and soft-spoken manner. Traditionally, whenever women visit the monastery, they usually gather in the kitchen and help themselves to some tea and chatter. While I do enjoy spending time with the nuns and talking to them about everyday issues, I’d rather be present during moments that could define political decisions.
Our people have had a proud history of great empires, prolific kings, and a rich culture which we carry on to this day. In the present, we are artists, activists, and writers; but all of the famous ones that you know are men. The few times that women are the subjects on Assyrian social media platforms is either as subjects of sexist memes or as victims of horrific crimes, such the brutality of ISIS. Where is the focus on the incredibly strong and talented women, in the Diaspora and Homeland, who run charities, initiatives, who are activists, who give speeches at the UN representing our people? Where is the celebration of our women as leaders and heroines for young girls to look up to? Where is the respect for women who aspire toward academia or political careers? Why are women not actively involved in the dialogue of shaping the future of a people on the brink of extinction?
The truth is bleak for Assyrian women: we’re expected to stay at home, make babies, teach those babies to speak our language, and to keep our culture alive by cooking traditional dishes. And while I do want these elements of our culture to stay alive, I don’t want to be limited to these options. I personally want the possibility to reach higher. I am a proud Syriac-Assyrian woman, reaching for a bat to shatter the glass ceiling that our community has held over my head, telling me I shouldn’t talk back during political discussions with men, telling me not to raise my voice when I’m not heard, telling me not to criticise our church or political leadership without risking the damage of my own reputation.
I hope this appeal to all of you will give the coming generations of young girls the chance to be praised for their strong will, the fulfilments of their dreams (whatever they might be) and to be actively involved in the decision-making process concerning our people.
 meme (/miːm/ MEEM), is an activity, concept, catchphrase, or piece of media that spreads, often as mimicry or for humorous purposes, from person to person via the Internet.