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Assyrian Community in Kazakhstan Survived Dark Times, Now Focuses on Education

P1100559(2)ASTANA – Among the numerous nationalities that live in Kazakhstan, there is a very small community that has lived through some of history’s darkest times to preserve their language and cultural heritage. Today, there are only about 350 of them left in the country. Their origins lie in historical Mesopotamia, the birthplace of the ancient civilisation that evolved into the world we know today.

In an exclusive interview with The Astana Times, 76-year-old Nelly Bit-Suleiman, deputy chairwoman of the Assyrian Cultural Centre in Almaty, shared just a glimpse of the incredible story that made a once-mighty nation disperse throughout the world in search of a refuge – a refuge that Kazakhstan offered willingly in times of great challenges.

“[Assyrians] have been living in Kazakhstan since 1950.Our homeland was on the territory of modern Iraq. The whole area of the Tigris and Euphrates river banks was populated by Assyrians, ” Bit-Suleiman said.

P1100577(2)Today, that ancient territory has become part of several countries: northern Iraq, southeast Turkey and northeast Syria.

“But my ancestors were forced to flee to what is today the territory of Iran because of their religion, as they were orthodox. Then, in 1915, my grandfather and my parents fled Iran to the Russian Empire for the same reason. At the time, Russia gave them shelter. And until 1950, we lived in Tbilisi, Georgia. In 1950, our family was deported to Kazakhstan by a decree of Josef Stalin.”

According to Bit-Suleiman, because the Assyrian community is so small and most of them are relatives, Assyrians have to marry outside their own ethnicity.

Without the possibility of visiting their historical homeland, “Assyrians in Kazakhstan made their priority higher education, ” Bit-Suleiman said. Most Assyrians in Kazakhstan have a higher education today and are successful businessmen and hard-working people, she said.

“Because I was born in Georgia, I never had the burning feeling to visit my historical homeland. I consider Georgia my homeland, ” Bit-Suleiman explained.

“But we have been living in Kazakhstan for such a long time; we have been accepted well in [these] lands since 1950. We first settled in Shelek (Almaty Oblast). We had our own farm and grew crops, vegetables, fruits, pretty much everything.”

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