Shadows of the Past: The Role of Persecution within the Self-identification of Young Assyrians in New Zealand and Australia
The Assyrian people (Assyrians) have regularly faced persecution in the Middle East. A contributing factor to the injustices they have experienced is their vulnerable position in the region as a predominantly Christian minority. While Assyrians were targeted by anti-Assyrian forces before the 1915 Assyrian Genocide (Sayfo), it is this mass murder that significantly altered the future of the minority thereafter. For over one hundred years, Assyrians have continued to flee the Middle East for the West in search of safety and stability. Generations of Assyrians are being born and/or raised in the West, far removed from the Assyrian homeland primarily found in Iraq. This disconnection has created doubt within the Assyrian diaspora as to whether the Assyrian identity, culture, and traditions will be able to survive in the West. Moreover, a key binding attribute of the diaspora and said aspects is the persecution endured by Assyrians. Often freely discussed, the rhetoric of persecution and Assyrian suffering (jinjara) has been transmitted between generations. This has influenced the Assyrian collective memory and identity. The Assyrian-focused scholarship recognises both the worry raised within the diaspora and the intergenerational transmission of persecution rhetoric. However, there is no existing understanding into the extent to which persecution has influenced young Assyrians’ self-identification and perception of their Assyrian identity. Furthermore, the scholarship continues to overlook the Assyrian communities in New Zealand and Australia of which, the latter forms a significant portion of the Assyrian diaspora. This thesis amalgamates both aspects in questioning the potential role persecution has had on the self-identification of young Assyrians in New Zealand and Australia. To accomplish this, between July and September 2020, one focus group and five semi struct ured interviews were conducted online with eight young Assyrians based in Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia. The main finding of this research is that in lieu of a connection to the Assyrian homeland, these young Assyrians have created new, Western-oriented Assyrian identities which are not tied to persecution. Instead of looking toward the past, they are building identities that focus on the prospects of a brighter, more certain future in the West.