EPIA Seminars

An Intergenerational Approach to
the Problems and Challenges of the Integration of Assyrians
(16 March 2013, Augsburg)

The second EPIA seminar activity An Intergenerational Approach to the Problems and Challenges of the Integration of Assyrians was held in Augsburg, Germany on March 16, 2013. The seminar was organized by the Yoken-Bar-Yoken Foundation in cooperation with the other EPIA partner organizations. Four speakers were invited: Dr. Andreas Önver Cetrez (senior lecturer at Uppsala University), Dr. Yusuf Güney (Psychologist, Vienna), Christine Lembert (Ethnologist, Augsburg) and Kenan Araz (Sociologist, Köln). The seminar attracted around 50 people and was held in the Augsburg city library.

The seminar was opened by Abdulmesih BarAbraham, Chairman of the Trustee Board of the Yoken-Bar-Yoken Foundation who also gave an overview about the EU Grundvigt program and more specifically about the EPIA project.

All speakers based their presentations on conducted research about different aspects of the integration of Assyrians. In his first presentation, Dr. Cetrez focused on the impacts of 'collective trauma' on second and third generation Assyrians in Europe. He showed how this trauma has been transmitted and transformed between different generations and the central role it plays in the construction of group identity in terms of stereotypes (outgroup) and prototypes (ingroup). As the first presentation of the seminar, the presentation of Dr. Cetrez provided a substantial theoretical framework for the whole discussion following. The seminar continued with the presentation of Dr. Güney in which he discussed the topic by using the concept of social capital. With departure from the research results that he conducted among 10 Assyrian families living in Vienna, Dr. Güney showed the changing societal and cultural norms and values among Assyrians throughout their settlement in Europe. As concluding remarks, Dr. Güney emphasized the importance of respect, tolerance and dialogue between generations for developing plausible solutions for intergenerational problems among Assyrians.

Christine Lembert, who as an ethnologist is involved in different inter-cultural dialogue projects, shared her research results about the Assyrians in Augsburg. Importantly, she focused on the meaning of being 'Assyrian' for second and third generation Assyrians. The answers of the Assyrian youngsters revealed the central elements of the identity construction in the diaspora, such as 'We are different' (assuming a distinctive identity), 'We are not Turk' (differentiation), 'We are a special Christian group' (further distinctiveness), 'We are open to integration' (showing differences from other immigrant groups) and 'Seyfo as part of our identity' (the role of collective trauma in the identity constructions). Kenan Araz, who is a sociologist who has been working integration projects among immigrants in Köln, addressed similar integrational problems based on his research which he conducted among Assyrian and Italian immigrants. Araz discussed the ongoing tensions between generations and showed how families follow a 'protective' approach towards their children with the fear of 'disappearance' in terms of assimilation in Europe. At the end of his presentation he conducted a short survey on the intergenerational relationship with the question posed, What can elders learn from the younger generation? And respectively: What young generation can learn from the elder? The seminar ended with the second presentation by Dr. Cetrez in which he addressed the intergenerational problems at more practical level based on the survey results that he conducted among Assyrians in Sweden. The survey results showed very remarkable patterns about the integration of the second and third generation Assyrians, their upward mobility, their open attitude towards other groups, the declining role of religion in shaping the everyday of Assyrians and so forth.

With regard to the seminar panel discussions moderated by EPIA project leader Soner Onder of the Inanna Foundation, one can mention the following problems and challenges of the Assyrian diaspora from an intergenerational perspective:

  • Generally, there is little discussion about tensions between generations within Assyrian families. 'Learning links' between generations do not function properly; this prevents a respectful and fruitful interaction between generations.
  • Tensions can be explained with the experienced collective trauma and with the impacts of migration on a completely different environment.
  • Tensions are based upon the fear of assimilation and thus disappearence which is expressed in terms of gfishrina b-Aurupa. The re-production of this fear paves the way for the inward-looking attitudes and tensions between parents and their children.
  • Instead of confronting each other with the experienced problems, most of the people either deny or ignore problems. Silence is the 'worst' strategy to deal with these problems effectively.
  • The religious and civic organizations of Assyrians do not have a specific agenda for dealing with the intergenerational problems.
  • In general terms, the aforementioned problems have impacts on the social, cultural and political development of Assyrians. With this regard, there is an urgent need for dealing with the intergenerational problems which are related to their collective trauma. Trauma can be turned into a performative act by repairing the damaged, ineffective intergenerational links.

Inanna Foundation Click here for the pictures of the seminar.
See the report written in German by Miryam Athra Abraham.
See Hujada Magazine for an article about the seminar in Swedish, "När trauma blir en kollektiv identitet" (L. Asmar, 27.03.2013).

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