Kamber ’17 seeks Assyrian awareness
On March 1st, a sophomore student named Rinya Kamber hosted a panel discussion, along with her parents, on ISIS attack on Assyrian Christians in northern Syria. She has followed up the discussion by forming a group called ‘Northfielders for Assyrians’ to aid the Assyrian cause, in response to the recent attacks, and to raise awareness of the Assyrian people and culture.
Kamber emphasized that the heartbreaking news on numerous casualties and hostages held captive by the ISIS militants, and also discussed the destruction of over a thousand priceless Assyrian artifacts, churches, and museums. They include 3,000-year-old enormous winged bull sculptures known as Lamassu that serve as the sacred archeological icon of Assyria and a 10th century Chaldean Catholic church north of Mosul in Iraq.
“I wonder what the world would do if this happened to the Pyramids of Giza, The Great Wall of China, or the Colosseum in Rome. The majority of priceless artifacts in the museums, churches, and in cities where all the Assyrian culture has been kept and preserved for thousands of years are now all burned and destroyed and annihilated,” said Kamber.
Kamber’s father immigrated to America when he was 21 from the very village in northern Syria attacked by ISIS. Having his own father as the survivor of Assyrian genocide in 1933, he had anticipated the crisis that has now happened long before and came to the States with his siblings and parents, hoping for a better life.
His life in America can be described as a classic rags-to-riches story. Coming here with nothing, he now owns two banquet halls in Chicago area. All the engagements, weddings, baptism, funerals and other significant life events of people in the Assyrian community of Chicago take place in his banquet halls. He also helps new immigrants and refugees, most of whom can’t speak English, in getting jobs, finding housing, filing taxes, and talking to lawyers.
Kamber’s mother is also of Assyrian descent but was raised in the States, for her father moved from Iraq before her birth. She is also very involved in local Assyrian churches and reorganized the education system of churches like Sunday school programs. Additionally, she volunteers in children centers in Iraq and helps Assyrian refugees to immigrant to the United States.
Unlike her parents, Kamber is attempting to help her people and the Assyrian community by reaching out to the outsiders, who are not Assyrians or even Christians. What Assyrians have done in crisis is to lean on each other because the history of systematic genocide conditioned them to trust and only trust their own. They are known to be skeptical and distrustful towards others.
Even the younger generation born in other countries outside of the Middle East, including America, are cautious because they have been continuously told by their parents and grandparents of painful, mortifying accounts of genocide. Thoughts of skepticism are strongly ingrained in people’s minds and propagate through generations. Kamber’s attempt of stepping outside of the bubble and reaching out to people who are not Assyrians, or even Christians, is unprecedented.
“I think the only way we will be making progress is to reach out to people for help, to people who do have a power, who do have a voice, because Assyrians right now are virtually voiceless and powerless,” she said.“What I’m trying to do with ‘Northfielders for Assyrians’ is to reach out to communities that are different from us, to ask for help, to ask for advice,” she said.
In order to raise people’s awareness, Kamber has been sharing articles about ISIS attacks and Assyrian culture and history on student Facebook groups. Under her suggestion, the International Festival committee chose to donate the profits from this year’s event to the Assyrian Aid Society. She hopes that gaining people’s attention will work as a chain reaction for bigger actions and eventually help establish a safe haven for Assyrian refugees and immigrants scattered around the world.
“Hopefully, later on in life, when Carleton students hear about Assyrians again, I want them to remember that they had a fellow student at Carleton whose family was directly affected by these attacks. Assyrian awareness is being lost, and that’s what we are very, very afraid of: that no one is going to pay attention.”