Interview with Dr. Yasmeen Hanoosh, Author & Prof. at Portland State University

Yasmeen Hanoosh is the author of The Chaldeans: Politics and Identity in Iraq and the American Diaspora. Here’s a link to learn more about the book: https://read.amazon.com/kp/embed?asin…

She is a literary translator, fiction writer, and Associate Professor at the department of World Languages and Literatures at Portland State University, where she directs the Arabic program. She received her Ph.D. from the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan in 2008. Yasmeen studies the cultural politics and literary expressions in post-2003 Iraq, especially what concerns the country’s ethno-religious minorities. Her first monograph is entitled The Chaldeans: Politics and Identity in Iraq and the American Diaspora (Bloomsbury, 2019).

Her current research project focuses on the contemporary intellectual scene of southern Iraq. As a fiction writer, Yasmeen has published a short story collection, Ardh al-Khayrat al-Mal’unah (The Land of Cursed Riches, Al-Ahali Press, 2021). Her second collection, Atfal al-Jannah al-Mankubah (Children of Afflicted Paradise) has been translated and excerpted in several languages, including English, Spanish, and Italian. Her English translations of Arabic fiction have appeared in various literary journals and publications, including World literature Today, Banipal, ArabLit Quarterly, and The Iowa Review. Yasmeen’s translation Closing His Eyes (Abbas), received an NEA translation fellowship in 2010, and her translation of Scattered Crumbs (al-Ramli) won the Arkansas Arabic Translation Prize in 2002, and has been since excerpted in a number of publications and anthologized in Literature from the Axis of Evil: Writing from Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Other Enemy Nations (2006).

In addition to her scholarship, translation and writing, Yasmeen has been teaching the Arabic language and directing the Arabic program at PSU since 2010. She also teaches a wide variety of courses on Middle Eastern culture and literature, including Critical Perspectives on the Middle East (UNST), Oil Cities and the Arabic Novel (HONORS), the Arabian Nights, among many others. Before coming to PSU she taught at the University of Michigan (2002-2009), al-Akhawayn University in Morocco (2003, 2005); The American University in Lebanon (2004); The University of Virginia in VA (2003); and Wellesley College in MA (2007-2008).

Interview with Sami Rasouli, Iraqi-American Activist & Restaurateur

Sami Rasouli is an Iraqi-American who grew up in Iraq and lived in Minnesota as an adult until 2004. He returned to Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion of his country, hoping to bring reconciliation between his country of origin and his country of choice. For the past 12 years Sami has worked in Iraq with the Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT), a group dedicated to the principles of nonviolence. He returns to the U.S. each year to educate Americans about the situation in the Middle East and to help build people-to-people relationships.

On September 19 of 2020, a bomb placed at the entrance to The American Institute for English in Najaf, Iraq, founded by Sami Rasouli, went off at about midnight. No one was present or injured but the building and school were destroyed. His friends and colleagues are helping him rebuild the school. If you want to help, visit https://gf.me/u/za9rqb

Interview with Reni Stephan, Assyrian American Artist

Reni was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1981. In hopes of a brighter future, his family decided to leave their home country when Reni was ten years old. This dream was made a reality as they entered the United States in 1993, and Reni was immediately enrolled in elementary school. At an early stage of his life, Reni discovered a profound love for drawing. His talent was undeniable and noticeable by his teachers.

During his high school years, art became Reni’s priority. Taking many classes in this field, his artistic interests swelled, and Reni began to realize that he could fuse his passion for art with the dedication he had for his ancestors’ culture he’d left behind. Reni pursued his college education in Creative Studies in 2005, where he furthered his reach and began painting and sculpting. Inspired by Western art, as well as legendary artists, Reni dedicated his life to his crafts. With each piece that Reni creates, he strives to remain true to his Assyrian and Babylonian heritage and ensure its survival through his portrayals. Not only does he seek to influence all generations of Assyrians, but he also hopes to inspire the people of the world.

In recent years, Reni has been commissioned to create several large artistic creations in places of worship, community organizations, and commercial establishments. His signature style speaks volumes about his creativity, and enforces his personal message that he echoes “I was born to re-create my ancestors’ art despite its destruction by ISIS.”

Interview with Dr. Rocco Errico, Author, Lecturer and Biblical Scholar

Dr. Rocco A. Errico is an ordained minister, international lecturer and author, spiritual counselor, and one of the nation’s leading Biblical scholars working from the original Aramaic Peshitta texts. For ten years he studied intensively with Dr. George M. Lamsa, Th.D., (1890-1975), world-renowned Assyrian biblical scholar and translator of the Holy Bible from the Ancient Eastern Text.

Dr. Errico is proficient in Aramaic and Hebrew exegesis, helping thousands of readers and seminar participants understand how the Semitic context of culture, language, idioms, symbolism, mystical style, psychology, and literary amplification—Seven Keys that unlock the Bible—are essential to understanding this ancient spiritual document. Dr. Errico’s publications include: Let There Be Light: The Seven Keys, And There Was Light, The Mysteries of Creation: The Genesis Story, The Message of Matthew, Setting a Trap for God: The Aramaic Prayer of Jesus, Sodom and Gomorrah: What Really Happened, Classical Aramaic Book 1. He is also the co-author, with Dr. Lamsa, of 13 Aramaic Light biblical commentaries (seven on the New Testament and six on the Old Testament).

Dr. Errico is the recipient of numerous awards and academic degrees, including a Doctorate in Philosophy from the School of Christianity in Los Angeles; a Doctorate in Divinity from St. Ephrem’s Institute in Sweden; and a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the School of Christianity in Los Angeles. In 1993, the American Apostolic University College of Seminarians awarded him a Doctorate of Letters. He also holds a special title of Teacher, Prime Exegete, Maplana d’miltha dalaha, among the Federation of St. Thomas Christians of the order of Antioch. In 2002, he was inducted into the Morehouse College Collegium of Scholars.

Under the auspices of the Noohra Foundation, he continues to lecture for colleges, civic groups and churches of various denominations in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe. https://noohra.com/

Interview with Prof. Geoffrey Khan from University of Cambridge

Professor Geoffrey Khan is a Semitic Language Linguist, Researcher and Lecturer at the University of Cambridge. He studied for a B.A. degree in Semitic Languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Akkadian, Ethiopic) at School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, which he completed in 1980. Thereafter he went on to graduate studies in the same institution and was awarded a Ph.D. degree in 1984 for a thesis entitled Extraposition and Pronominal Agreement in Semitic languages, which concerned form and function of various syntactic structures in Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Akkadian and Amharic (subsequently published as Studies in Semitic Syntax, 1988). In 1983 he moved to Cambridge, where he was employed as a researcher on the Cairo Genizah manuscripts in the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research group at Cambridge University Library.

In 1993, Professor Khan was appointed as Lecturer in Hebrew and Aramaic at the University of Cambridge. He has subsequently remained in Cambridge, being promoted to Reader in Semitic Philology (1999-2002) and Professor of Semitic Philology (2002-2012). In 2012 he was elected as Regius Professor of Hebrew, which is his current position. Some of his honors include election as Fellow of the British Academy (1998), election as Honorary Fellow of the Academy of the Hebrew Language (2011), election as Fellow of Academia Europea (2014), election as Honorary Member of the American Oriental Society (2015), election as Extraordinary Professor (Honorary) by the University of Stellenbosch (2016), the award of the Lidzbarski Gold Medal for Semitic philology by the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft (2004) and the award of honorary doctorates by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2017) and the University of Uppsala (2018).

Visit this website in the near future to view the Aramaic archives nena.ames.cam.ac.uk

Interview with Raya Nassif, Ancient Language Specialist

Raya Nassif lives in Babel governorate, specializing in ancient languages. She graduated from the University of Babylon. She is the creator of content related to antiquities and ancient Iraqi civilization. One of the topics that she talks about is the Epic of Gilgamesh that is presented in a video format amongst other ancient texts.

Watch Raya’s YouTube videos https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfG9tfnuWjrTYL8Rvgr2pKQ

Interview with Dr. Susan Adelman, author of “After Saturday Comes Sunday”

A pediatric surgeon, Susan Adelman has also been an editor, a president of many medical organizations, a painter, sculptor, jeweler, and now an author. After extensive travel – including many trips to the Middle East and India – she wrote the biography of a dear friend of hers and her law professor husband. This is Ram Jethmalani, a legendary lawyer, member of the Indian parliament, former law minister, writer, mediator of the Kashmir dispute and law teacher. Adelman’s husband called him the greatest lawyer in the English language in the world.

Her second book evolved out of her friendship with a Chaldean grandmother who she met while performing a series of operations on her nephew from Iraq. This became a book about Aramaic, those who still speak it today – Chaldeans, Assyrians and Kurdish Jews – and the impending doom of the Christians in the Middle East because of ISIS and related groups. At present, Adelman is working on a book about the deep connections between Jews, Israelis and India – linguistic, cultural, and historic – and their linkage through Zoroastrianism.

Watch the interview with Dr. Adelman and read the following Q&A:

Q: What is the book After Saturday, Comes Sunday about, and what inspired you to write it?

A: The book tells the story of the Aramaic language and the last living people to still speak it, the Chaldeans, the Assyrians, and the Kurdish Jews. It then turns to the challenges the Christians have had, and still have, in the Middle East and what we need to do to help them if they ever are going to maintain Aramaic as a living language.

Q: What did you discover throughout the process of writing this book, particularly in regards to the relationship between the Jews and Chaldeans?

A: I already knew a great deal about the closeness between the Jews and Chaldeans in the old country, because I learned much from the Karim and Norma Hakim family over the last forty years, but of course my research added much more to the picture.

Q: You wrote on page 45, “The greatest Jewish community of the ancient world was in Babylonia.” Tell us about that history, and how, little by little, it became extinct in Iraq.

A: The Jews first were brought to Assyria by the Assyrians in 722 BCE and next by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.  In each of these two exiles, thousands of Jews were deported to Assyria (probably Nineveh Province), then Babylon.  After the great temple was destroyed in Jerusalem in 70 CE, Jews escaped in all directions, many of them to join their countrymen in Iraq.  For hundreds of years, 90% of all Jews in the world lived in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, under Muslim rule.  This was a highly organized community, a center of learning, and the place where all the most important Jewish literature was compiled.  Baghdad was one third Jewish up to the Second World War.  That war, and the persecutions that took place in Iraq after the formation of the State of Israel, caused the Jews to flee to Israel.

Q: What are the differences between the Aramaic spoken by the Jewish people and that spoken by Chaldeans and Assyrians?

A: Aramaic is an ancient language, perhaps dating back to 1000 BCE, and over time it has undergone many changes, evolved, spread to many countries and communities, developed new dialects and in some places undergone changes that created a new language.  Several different scripts even evolved.  Different communities – Jewish, Christian and Muslim, Samarians, Mandaeans – developed their own variations, some of which are mutually intelligible and some not.  In some towns the Christians and Jews could understand each other and converse.  In other towns, even towns that were not large, the differences were so great between, say Syriac and Jewish Aramaic, that they could not understand each other.  The grammar stays the same in all of them, and they share this grammar with Hebrew and, to some extent, with Arabic.  I speak Hebrew and some Arabic, and this enables me to understand some Chaldean, but I suspect I am largely relying on the Arabic that is mixed into it.

 Q: After Saturday, Comes Sunday was your second book, and it’s very well researched. So is your first book Rebel: A Biography of Ram Jethmalani. What challenges did you face writing your books, given that your career was previously dedicated to the medical field?

A: The first book drew heavily on the many trips we have made to India and the over 40- year close friendship we have had with Ram Jethmalani.  I had heard many of his stories in real time, and what I had to do was research the details, the background and the legal cases.  The next book drew on the over 40-year friendship I have had with Norma Hakim and her family, and it also drew on my many trips to Israel plus my previous knowledge of Jewish history.  What I had to do, again, was to research all our respective histories, the differences between the different communities, the important people, and the major events.

Q: What message do you want your readers to take from your book?

A: In the last chapter I go through the needs of the Chaldean community if they want to settle again in their historic villages in Iraq, speak their language and keep their culture alive.  To do that, they need help from a superpower, and that power must be us.  They have done a great deal of work in putting together their issues and needs; now we need to follow their lead.

Q: Based on your research and observation, your intimate relationship with the Chaldean community, and your interest in world affairs, what future do you see for the Christians in the Middle East?

A: While I know that some of my Chaldean friends say that all that needs to be done is to turn out the lights, I am more hopeful.  I even am hopeful as I watch what has happened to the poor Maronites in Lebanon.  I even maintain hope when I see how the Kurds have been betrayed, and how they see themselves as competing with the Chaldeans for the same land. I think it will take a massive effort to reestablish a Chaldean community back in Iraq, and I think the diaspora will have to step up in an effective way.  Remember though, the Jews did it. In the end it may be hard to attract a lot of people to villages, but if there are places to go to, some may retire there, young people may visit, even stay, educational centers may be built, and tourism may develop.

Q: What future do you see for the Aramaic language?

A: The language lives on in the Jewish Babylonian Talmud, many Jewish prayers and in the Jewish religious schools all over the world.  I am pleased to see that the Chaldean churches are getting interested in teaching Chaldean and that there are websites and courses in Aramaic available now.  If Chaldeans and Assyrians continue to push this education, they plus the Jews can keep their respective versions of Aramaic alive.  Remember, Hebrew almost died as a spoken language until the State of Israel was recreated. Then the language was revived, words added from Arabic, English, French, German and Russian, and the grammar modernized.  If the Chaldeans could keep their community intact, they can do the same thing.

Q: Are you currently writing a book, and if so, what is it about?

A: Yes, drawing from my experience writing about India and about the Middle East, I am writing about what draws so many Israelis, and Jews in general, to India.  What are the deep and historic connections between us?  Do they go through Iran? Yes.  How are our Jewish, Hindi and Buddhist religions connected through the historic religion of Iran, Zoroastrianism?

Interview with Omari Rush, Executive Director of Culture Source

Omari Rush has engaged the arts as both a passion and profession, and in each mode, he continues to enjoy discovery and deepening impacts. As executive director of Culture Source in Detroit and as the governor-appointed chairman of the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, he advances efforts to have creative and cultural expression thrive in diverse communities. Complementing that work, Omari is a board member of Arts Midwest in Minneapolis, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies in Washington, D.C., and the Lewis Prize for Music.

Omari earned degrees in music from Florida State University and the University of Michigan, and extended his love for learning by managing the K-12 education program of the University Musical Society (UMS), by serving on the John F. Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education National Advisory Committee, and by serving as the chairman of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation. A lapsed clarinetist, Omari now uses his voice to co-host an arts-focused radio show on WEMU-FM and recite Robert Frost poetry. https://culturesource.org/

Interview with members of the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project

Dr. Azar Maluki (MD), was born in Najaf, Iraq. He is a board-certified dermatologist, and was a consultant physician and professor at the University of Kufa, Iraq. He is married to Shaymaa Jakjook (M.Sc., Geography) and has two sons and one daughter. Azar first visited Minneapolis in 2011 and 2013 with a delegation of Iraqi health professionals as part of the exchange visits between Najaf and Minneapolis organized by the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project. He arrived in Minneapolis with his family in 2015 and joined the Dermatology Imaging Center in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota -Twin Cities Campus as a Research Fellow. Dr. Maluki has been actively involved in IARP in both Iraq and Minnesota, and has directed one short documentary film as part of the Iraqi Voices project. In October 2020, Dr. Maluki was elected as Board Chair of the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project.

Kathy McKay was a founding member of the Iraqi & American Reconciliation Project (IARP) in 2007. Kathy, along with several others in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, was interested in reaching out to Iraqis and learning more about the historical and current lives of the people of Iraq. Early activities included funding water filters for schools in Najaf as it was the Americans who had destroyed the water treatment plants. Several delegations of Iraqi professionals over subsequent years traveled to the twin cities area. In 2012 Kathy and a delegation of six others were hosted for two weeks in Najaf, Iraq. Kathy is now an advisor as Board Member Emeritus, enjoying the rich Iraqi Voices programs, community gatherings, and friendships she has made over the years. During her working life, Kathy was a licensed psychologist and health care administrator. https://reconciliationproject.org/

Interview with Samira Cholagh, Author and Chef

Samira Cholagh’s childhood was spent in Baghdad, Iraq, learning to cook from the women of her family, growing her fascination and love of the culinary arts with each passing day. Drawn to cooking as young as age 10, she has been giving the gift of her extraordinary food to her family for years. She has also shared these talents with her community, and has begun building upon the establishment of a culinary empire – as an author, TV and radio cooking host and beloved member of her community – built on traditional, delicious recipes and foods crafted with an open heart.

Far removed from her time experimenting with her mother’s cooking utensils as a child, Samira’s degree in engineering – more specifically in soil testing – may sound like a far cry from the typical background of a chef, but the basics of both jobs mirror each other more than you’d think. Recipes require an attention to detail – much like engineering – and after penning three cookbooks, her talents and culinary abilities are more than proven. “Accuracy in following recipes from cookbooks can make a huge difference in cooking and baking,” says Samira. “When following a recipe – spending all that money to buy the ingredients, the time that is spent in the kitchen – you want to end up having a delicious dish.”