EPIA Workshop

Assyrian Youth Workshop:

Second Generation and Integration

7-9 February 2014, Netherlands

The fifth EPIA activity, Second Generation and Integration was held in Hengelo (Netherlands) from 7-9 February, 2014. The Assyrian youth workshop was organized by the Inanna Foundation in cooperation with the other EPIA partner organizations (Yoken-Bar-Yoken Foundation, Institut Syriaque de Belgique and Assyriska Föreningen i V. Frölunda). There were in total 20 participants from five different European countries (Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Netherlands and UK).

The youth workshop aimed to bring youth from different European countries together to discuss their integration experiences in their specific contexts of living. Besides discussing existing problems, the workshop also paid specific attention to exchanging best practices and developing future collaborations. The workshop was divided into six sessions where different aspects of the integration of second generation Assyrians were discussed. The whole event will be broadcasted on Assyria WebTV.

The workshop started with a brief overview of the EPIA project by Soner O. Barthoma (NL). In the first session representatives of youth organizations made presentations about the situation of the youth within the context of integration and about their organizational activities. In his talk Naher Aslan (BE), the representative of Assyrian Youth Federation in Belgium (FJAB) discussed the general situation of youth in Belgium and provided some informative knowledge about their organizational activities. In its activities FJAB aims to encourage the active participation of its members. It mainly consists of Assyrian students in Belgium. The main goal of FJAB, according to Naher, is to promote interactions within our communities in Europe, to introduce the cultural heritage of Assyrians and to improve the coexistence of Belgian and Assyrian cultural identities. Assyrians have settled in Belgium for more than 30 years. The generation born in Belgium perceives the country as their ‘home’, and with Naher words, they ‘are proud of being Belgio-Assyrians’. The second generation Assyrians have all established themselves well in Belgium. There is no big difference in their development when it is compared with the native-born peers. Naher points out that the mother tongue use among the second generation has remarkably decreased; they either use French or Flemish in their everyday life.

The second presentation in this session was made by Daniel Danial, the representative of the Assyrian Youth Federation in Sweden (AUF). Daniel’s speech was structured around four topics that explain more or less the situation of the Assyrian youth in Sweden. The first one is sports. Daniel mentioned several positive Assyrian individuals who have been successful in different branches of sport in Sweden. According to Daniel, these are important examples for the second generation. Secondly, Daniel illustrated how Assyrians in Sweden are politically active and engaged in politics. Although their population is 1% of the country’s total population, their representation at the Swedish parliament is around 2% and they are doing much better than other migrant groups when it comes to participation in national and local elections. Thirdly, Daniel pointed out the high involvement of Assyrians in the Swedish civil societal life. Assyrians are active and visible in local municipality councils, different kind of associations, political parties, trade unions, sport clubs and they have established themselves well economically and are well known for their entrepreneurship. The last point Daniel mentioned was related to the high level of criminality (including financial crimes and frauds) among Assyrians. Daniel explained the reasons partly with the lack of education, segregation and partly as a result of the lack of trust towards the government. This topic and the reasons of criminality led to a discussion among the group. As for differences between generations, Daniel underlined the decreasing level of the mother tongue use, educational differences and change in the view of gender equality, marriage, and generally the changing norms and values.

The third speaker was Banibal Chamoun (NL) who gave an overview of the situation of the second generation Assyrians in the Netherlands. Banibal said that at the moment there are no active youth organizations in the Netherlands like in the other countries. Different from other countries, the youth in the Netherlands is organized more around the church, not around civic organizations. One of the outcomes of the ‘name split’ among Assyrians in the Netherlands has been the increased apathy towards civil organizations. Furthermore, Banibal pointed out that different from the situation in other countries Assyrians are feeling themselves ‘foreigners’ because of the development of parallel societies in terms of segregation. Nevertheless, they are doing well in education. One can speak of an upward mobility in the field education. According to a study conducted at the University of Twente, Assyrians compared to peers from other migrant groups finish their studies faster. Criminality among Assyrians in the Netherlands, according to Banibal, does not occur in a ‘group’ form, but more at individual level. About political involvement, Banibal said that in recent years there is an increasing interest among the group and some individuals made themselves visible in the political arena at local and provincial levels. The mother tongue use among the second generation like in other countries is quite less; people tend to speak more in Dutch (mixed with Surayt) with each other.

The last speaker in this session was Sanharib Simsek, the chairman of the Assyrian Youth Federation in Germany (AJM). Sanharib talked mainly about AJM’s activities. He explained the main goals of AJM as being the preservation of identity and cultural heritage, promotion of tolerance and intercultural exchange, promotion of education and creating financial means for youth activities. AJM, in Sanharib’s words, consciously put aside political problems among the community and focuses more on social and cultural activities. In order to give a message to Germans that they are ‘not only Assyrians’, AJM has included the EU’s stars in its logo. Regarding the integration situation of Assyrian youth in Germany, Sanharib stresses the fact that the term ‘integration’ is a new phenomenon in Germany which is different from Sweden. Before all migrants were seen as ‘Gastarbeiter’ and integration of these migrant groups was not a major policy goal for the German governments. As Naher stated for the youth in Belgium, youth in Germany feel themselves both Assyrian and German. Sanharib said that ‘they are patriotic, but 100% German. They love Germany, but they want to stay within the community because of the low level of acceptance in German society’. Compared to other countries, the level of education among the second generation is still low. One of the reasons is related to the specific German educational system which in an early stage classifies students and establish educational tracks that are difficult to deviate from. However, especially the new generation born in Germany has started to value more the importance of education. Again, compared to Assyrians in other countries (mainly Sweden), Assyrians are not a visible actor in German society, both in the economical and political fields. One reason for this which Sanharib mentioned is that Germany is a big country and difficult to make yourself visible in the political arena. Regarding criminality, Sanharib said that it occurs on an individual basis.

The second session of the workshop was about a less-discussed topic (in official settings), namely the gender question among the second generation Assyrians. Ilona Touma (SE) made a presentation about this topic. Ilona centred her speech on AUF’s recent activities about gender question. AUF has decided to give a strategic importance to the gender issue and to encourage particularly the participation of women in its activities. In a weekend seminar organized by AUF in 2013, the gender issue was specifically debated. Several speakers (Rakhel Chukri, Shamiram Demir and Robert Hanna) lectured in this specific event which drew the public attention of Assyrians living in Sweden and in other countries. Ilona showed how Robert Hanna has received both positive and negative reactions from the Assyrian community after his public statement about his sexual orientation. In the general discussion of this session, female participants expressed that associations are still a place for ‘men and boys’; women are indirectly excluded. Organizations with their existing forms and existing hegemonic mentalities are not attractive for women. The importance of empowering the situation of women in society is still not understood sufficiently. Participants also mentioned how Assyrians across generations have experienced a big transformation process; their norms and values have changed. They have accepted or incorporated many Western values and norms, but also kept their traditional norms and values, yet in a different context. Although they have gone through a transformation process, they have often not discussed all appeals of life to the same extent. The lack of discussion about topics which touch on gender equality, empowerment of women, oppression of women or different sexual choices have led to several serious problems (such as the ignorance/denial of such issues, the development of ‘modern’ macho attitudes, and ‘double-existence’ of individuals) within the Assyrian community.

The third session focused on education trends, problems and challenges among the youth. Andreus Aras (DE) and Laban Asmar (DE) from Kano Suryoyo e.V. gave a common presentation about this topic. They first gave a brief description about Kano Suryoyo e.V. which is specifically focused on the educational problems among the youth. Andreus and Laban stated that there is no statistics about the educational situation of Assyrians. They started their speech first with a general overview about the definition of education and its importance in the process of integration. Accordingly, education has a direct relation with the development of a society and with the integration of a migrant group in the broader society. Moreover, education has cultural impacts, that is, it increases the human and social capital of a group of people. Andreus and Laban focused on the educational situation in Germany. According to the OECD statistics, 25% of the German population has a university degree whereas 4% of Suryoye have an academic degree. The gap between German and Suryoye has been decreased when taking into consideration the percentage of German and Suryoye students. Accordingly, 3% of the German population is at the moment studying at the university whereas 1% of the Suryoye in Germany is a university student. The increase in the numbers of people studying at a higher educational level has been remarkable in Germany. For example while in 2002 there were only 14 Suryoye students at the Paderborn University, in 2013 the number has gone up to 52. This can also be seen in other countries where Assyrians are settled. Especially in Sweden, the number of Assyrian university students or those who have graduated is higher than in other countries. This outcome is very much related to countries’ educational systems. The second generation Assyrians compared to their parents’ generation value more to have an academic degree and professionalize in different areas than their parents’, which in turn changes the social, cultural and human capital of Assyrians in the diaspora. They have more educated people who are establishing themselves in different fields in the society of living, which can also regarded as ‘upward mobility’.

In the forth session, participants discussed the involvement of the youth in political activities. Miryam Aktas (DE), in her presentation with departure from the situation in Germany stated that overall, Assyrians are not active in NGOs and not visible in politics. However, they are very much engaged in activism, particularly the first generation. Different from the second generation, the first generation Assyrians are very much interested in the developments in their homeland and in macro politics. They have also adopted themselves to the digital age and are discussing ambitiously in social media platforms. There is a discrepancy between the first and second generation Assyrians’ political orientation and the level of interest in politics. This is in a way a very normal development across generations in all societies. Miryam elaborated on how youth perceives community politics. She stated that community politics and the place of exercising this sort of politics (associations or churches) are a place of adult men, quite traditional, old-fashioned and masculine. Thus, local politics are not attractive for them. As a result of this, the second generation is detached from local politics and abstain from a high level of involvement in local/internal issues. Another problem which Miryam addressed in her speech was how difficult it is for youth to find their own free space in these ‘adult men’ organizations. Therefore, they usually stay outside and develop apathy towards these institutions, and in some cases, apathy towards their own culture. For increasing the level of political engagement and activism among the second generation, Miryam underlined three main points: 1) the importance of education, 2) to broaden our perspectives by engaging in different political issues and developing relations with German youth or youth from different countries, and 3) the use of the new media. For the last point, she gave the example of the recent flashmobs organized in 26 European cities to attract the public attention for the severe situation of Christians in the Middle East.

The fifth session was an open-discussion about the problems and challenges which youth organizations are facing at the moment. The workshop participants focused on their organizational experiences, and discussed about problems and challenges and identified several problems, such as problems related to the organizational-structure, continuity of activities, developing innovative activities, the high level of passive members in organizations, the dependency of activities on individuals, the negative impacts of the ‘name split’ among the community, increasing the numbers of members, and so on.

In the last session, all participants expressed their ideas for future youth collaboration, biannual youth workshops or conferences with larger participation, organizing summer youth camps, and developing European and international youth exchange projects. The workshop ended with the evaluation session and closing speech. After the long and intensive discussions, participants had a common closing dinner and continued socializing with each other afterwards.

Inanna Foundation, February 2004

Click here for the pictures of the workshop (pictures by Sara Poli, AUF).
*** Reports about this youth workshop in different languages will be published here.

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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication (communication) reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.