Assyrian Language in 'Voice of Iraqi Kurdistan'

In light of the changing times and advancements in technology in the 1960s, General Mustafa Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Kurdistan liberation m

Assyrian Language in 'Voice of Iraqi Kurdistan'
June 30, 2024

In light of the changing times and advancements in technology in the 1960s, General Mustafa Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Kurdistan liberation movement, recognized the need for a strong media voice. This voice would counter the Iraqi government’s false propaganda, uplift the morale of peshmerga fighters, and spread awareness about the revolution’s achievements among the Kurdish people, as well as regionally and internationally.

Establishing a radio station proved challenging, but with General Barzani’s unwavering determination and the relentless efforts of peshmerga fighters and officials, Voice of Iraqi Kurdistan emerged on August 20, 1963, broadcasting a range of 50 kilometers. Initially, broadcasts were limited to one hour daily in both Kurdish and Arabic.

This initial period lacked Assyrian-language programming, possibly due to a scarcity of qualified personnel. The Assyrian language presents linguistic complexities, and fluency wasn’t widespread. Furthermore, successive Iraqi governments had pursued a chauvinist policy aimed at weakening Assyrian language, literature, and identity, particularly following the brutal Simele massacre of 1933. The Iraqi government viewed Assyrians with suspicion and sought to assimilate them into Arab culture by relocating them to southern and central Iraq.

The first Assyrian voice

Although the first iteration of Voice of Iraqi Kurdistan lacked an Assyrian segment, Alber Khori, an Assyrian peshmerga, served as one of the first hosts in the Arabic language segment. Unfortunately, there is little available information about him.

Five years after its launch, in 1968, the radio station began broadcasting news, political commentary, and national songs in Assyrian for the first time. This development stemmed from two main reasons. First, General Barzani believed in the legitimate rights of Kurdistan’s diverse communities and viewed them as integral to the liberation movement. Second, Franso Hariri, an Assyrian who had risen to become one of General Barzani’s trusted confidantes within the KDP, played a crucial role in advocating for Assyrian representation. Hariri, an intellectual, politician, and peshmerga, established the Assyrian section of the radio station, working as a writer, translator, and radio host.

Following a brief hiatus, the radio station resumed broadcasting on March 29, 1974, with a message from General Barzani himself. This time, broadcasts expanded to four hours daily, with the addition of the Turkmen and Assyrian language segment. The team behind the Assyrian segment grew from one to four members, delivering one hour of daily programming featuring speeches, news, statements, and Assyrian national songs. The programming resonated with Assyrians across Iraq, Iran, and neighboring countries.

The staff of the Assyrian language segment during this period included:

— Ushana Haziran: Director and translator

— Shamasha Gorgis Shilimon: Host and translator

— Dansa Hariri: Host

— Yoshiya Tamraz: Political researcher

Additionally, Hariri made significant contributions in recruiting and guiding Assyrian intellectuals and youth to work on the Assyrian segment. Additionally, Zuhair Abdul-Masih, renowned filmmaker, worked as a director in other sections of the radio station.

Unfortunately, Assyrian language programming ceased sometime between 1980 and 1990, prior to the 1991 Iraqi uprisings. However, Assyrians continued to serve the station in other capacities, including Nissan Ushana, who remained an Arabic-language host.

Rebwar Yalda and the television era

In 1989, Assyrian peshmerga and intellectuals gained a more prominent role in media in Kurdistan. Rebwar Yalda, well-known politician, assumed the responsibility of heading the KDP’s media department alongside his duties as the Secretary of the Kurdistan Democratic Students and Youth Union. Yalda’s expertise significantly elevated the KDP’s media presence.

In February 1992, Yalda was entrusted with establishing and managing Kurdistan Television, the main Kurdish television channel. His leadership ushered in a new era for the KDP’s media. Under his guidance, a weekly Assyrian program titled “Mardutan” (“Our Culture” in Assyrian) was launched in 1992, hosted by Joseph Rasho, marking the first Assyrian program to grace the television screen in the world.

Yalda’s expertise ultimately led him to become a founding member of the Kurdistan Satellite Corporation in 1999, known today as Kurdistan TV. He served as the head of the Kurdistan Central Radio and Television Corporation from February 13, 2000, until 2004, when the TV station was officially handed over to the KDP bureau.

With Kurdistan TV’s transition to satellite broadcasting, dedicated Assyrian language programming was established in 2001 and functioned alongside programming in other languages, producing and presenting news, reports, and programs in Assyrian. This service continued until 2008, with notable journalistic contributions from the following people:

— Nawzar Pauls: Presenter and news reporter

— Baul Mate: Head of the Assyrian section, translator, writer, and news reporter

— Farid Ayubkhan: Presenter

— Amanwel Yaqub: Technical team collaborator (though not directly part of the Assyrian section)

Following the end of Assyrian language programming, Kurdistan Regional Government Minister of Transportations and Communications Ano Jawhar collaborated with a group of journalists to present a special weekly program called “Suraya,” but the program unfortunately only had a short run.

In recognition of the Assyrian community’s contributions to media in Kurdistan, former Kurdistan Region president and head of the KDP Masoud Barzani once again appointed an Assyrian journalist, Ninos Nimrod, as the General Director of Kurdistan TV on February 17, 2020. Kurdistan TV holds significance not only for the KDP but also on a regional and national level, delivering news as the primary official channel of the KDP. Nimrod, with his extensive media experience, is a trusted and skilled KDP cadre who serves as a media advisor to former President Barzani.

The Assyrians have thus played a vital role in establishing and developing the KDP’s media, and by extension, Kurdistan’s media landscape. They have become an integral part of this significant history, continuing to make sacrifices and contribute with loyalty and skill at all levels to serve the legitimate cause of the Kurdish people. Their dedication lays the foundation for a democratic and developed Kurdistan where all ethnic, religious, and ideological groups can coexist peacefully and freely under a strong and service-oriented government.

Ivan Jani Corbill is an Assyrian activist and journalist. He currently serves as the director of Assyrian Culture Center in Diyana, Kurdistan.

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