Assyrians Celebrated their New Year with Mass Wedding

By Mr. Salim Abraham - Syria
Reporting for the Associated Press
Mon Apr 1, 5:08 PM ET

http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=535&u=/ap/20020401/ap_wo_en_ge/syria_assyrians_2

Pictures from the Assyrian New Year Celebration in Syria

AL-HASAKAH, Syria - With a historical pageant evoking the glory of the ancient Assyrian empire, more than 25,000 members of Syria's Assyrian community saw in their New Year on Monday.

They also celebrated Nissan, as Assyrians call the April 1 festival, with the wedding of 16 couples performed on a stage in an arena in this northern city, 550 kilometers (345 miles) northeast of Damascus.

The brides and grooms entered the arena behind a two-wheeled chariot bearing a canopy decorated with a sun, an Assyrian imperial symbol.

The couples were escorted by men dressed in the uniforms of the royal guards of the Assyrian empire which, at its zenith between the 9th and 7th centuries B.C., stretched from the Gulf through modern-day Iraq, Syria and Turkey to the Mediterranean Sea.

"By acting as king, I revived history," said Osama Yakhanis, 31, who drove the chariot in royal costume along with his "queen," Nanar Younan, 27, who was dressed as the mythical Assyrian queen Semiramis in a red dress with yellow and white embroidery.

The sense of history was not lost on the bridal couples.

"I participated in this mass wedding for the greatness of the day for Assyrians," said groom Senharib Gabro, 33, a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church.

His bride, Shamiram Eskander, 26, said: "I loved this wedding because it was not traditional."

"I feel very happy today," she added.

The Assyrian population of Syria is estimated at more than 150,000 people, of whom about 90,000 live in al-Hasakah. While they enjoy freedom of worship, some Assyrians seek minority status in order to promote their language, Syriac, which is currently only taught in Assyrian churches.

"We call on the government to recognize Assyrians as a national minority, not only a religious one," said Aziz Aheh, an executive of the Assyrian Democratic Organization.

The Assyrians are spread across the world, with about 70,000 in Chicago. The head of Assyrian Women's Union in Sweden, Elisabet Nison, had come to al-Hasakah to attend Monday's celebration.

"Nissan is a message for all the world that we, Assyrians, still exist," Nison said.

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Assyrian New Year Celebration in the Homeland - 6752

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