Assyrian martyr commemoration takes place in Turlock as Obama orders airstrikes

08/08/2014 5:37 PM

08/08/2014 6:47 PM

Each year, the Assyrian American Civic Club pays homage to those who died in a 1933 attack in the village of Simmele, Iraq. Generally, it’s a quiet commemoration.

But this year, given the turmoil in the Middle East, members decided to open up the event, inviting in community members and dignitaries, said Mary Howell, chairwoman for culture and education.

As they gathered on Thursday night, President Obama announced that he has authorized airstrikes on the Islamic State to accompany drops of food and water to those who are starving on a mountaintop after fleeing.

“It was such a surprise,” Howell said. News quickly spread among those assembled. “Right as we were having our comments to our martyrs, everyone (got the news) on their cellphones.”

Howell, a teacher in Merced, said she favored the action, which does not include boots on the ground in Iraq.

“For me, I am an American first,” she said. “I don’t think they should send soldiers there.”

Nobody wants more bloodshed, but with a religious war raging, many people feel hopeless.

“Our people are dying,” she said. “We just want people in a safe place.”

Howell said local Assyrians feel very fortunate to live in the United States. Turlock and the surrounding area has a large Assyrian population, many of whom take part in events aimed at raising awareness of what is happening in Iraq. They also held a voter registration drive to encourage participation in government.

“We are just so privileged and honored that we can make our voices heard,” she said.

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