(The content of this site is based on data collected 1996-1997)
Illustration: Ann Ahlbom Sundqvist
Some comments on the re-publishing of this study of Assyrian cultural activities on the Internet – more than 10 years later.
This study is based on fieldwork and other data collections that I conducted during the second half of the 1990s. I can truly say that I was impressed by all the web enthusiasts that were striving to create a transnational Assyrian community – a "cyber nation" on the Internet. However, the development has been incredibly fast during the last decades and today (2010) it is hard to imagine the almost science fictional impression that ideas about cyber communities gave back in the nineties. When looking back at the development of the Internet it seems as if the "cyber space" that was announced on the home page of Nineveh On-line 1997 has become less virtual over the years. Today we are living in both worlds – using the Internet for shopping, reading, finding information, communication, playing, dating, etc, etc.The boarder between virtual and real often appears to be diffuse and in fact, not so important any more.
Svenskt visarkiv shut down this website in 2008 because we felt we could no longer guarantee that all links were relevant and functioning. The lifespan of articles online can sometimes be quite short. However, we have received many requests to publish it again, an indication that the content is still regarded as important. This new edition has some corrected links and dead links have been deleted, but otherwise the text has not been changed at all. I urge all readers to regard this as a historical document (in our rapidly changing world) and an example of how the Internet could be used by Assyrians in the Diaspora in the late 1990s.
Technical developments have always changed the conditions for communication. Today in the era of mobile telephones, nobody needs to keep a meeting place or an exact time in mind. "I call when I arrive", is usually good enough. We take it for granted that the person we are meeting will have his/her mobile on. "I am at the central station. Going down the escalator. Where are you?" Times are changing, our behaviour changes with it and modifications often follow the new means of communication.
It is possible to be Assyrian without a geographically defined country. It is therefore possible to live in a local context in Turlock, California in the USA and at the same time feel a strong affiliation with persons in Södertälje in Sweden, the common denominator being the idea of participating in the same community. This gives new meaning to the concept of nations.
Stockholm in July 2010,
In discussions on today's multicultural societies, we often use terms that imply that a person or thing belongs to, or originates from, a certain ethnogeographical region. "The homeland" is regarded as a centre or source of cultural flows: "they do that because they come from there, and we do this because we're from here". There is a strong conviction, both among minority groups in exile and among the majority society, that cultural activities emanate from already existing patterns. In Subcultural Sounds. Micromusics of the West (1993), the ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin discusses the terms "homeland" and "mother country". Slobin points out that from a cultural point of view many groups do not have a homogeneous "homeland". Due to various circumstances – political, social, economic etc – cultural flows often take completely new paths. In addition, owing to new means of communication, not least electronic networks, there are greater opportunities than ever before to build up communities that are not governed by national boundaries.
This case study within the research project MMM (Music Media Multiculture – Lundberg, Malm & Ronström 2003) examines the community which is being established among those people with Middle Eastern origins who call themselves Assyrians.
Assyrians do not have a geographically based centre for their cultural activities. Like a large proportion of the Assyrian people, Assyrian culture lives in exile. Internet has provided Assyrians with a unique opportunity to create a virtual "homeland", a centre for cultural activities and information.
The term "diaspora" has been used to describe the situation of this type of "scattered" religious groups. The most obvious example is the Jews, who were forced to live in the "diaspora" outside Palestine until the state of Israel was formed. But an important difference between the lives of the Jews and the Assyrians in the diaspora is that for the Assyrians no such symbolic or actual centre exists of the same dignity as the Jews' "home" Jerusalem. The old ruined towns of Mesopotamia are long since deserted, and most Assyrians are well aware that their lives in the diaspora are permanent, at least for the foreseeable future.
My intention with this study is not primarily to throw light on the Assyrian group as such. My aim is rather to give an example of how a group of people can establish and maintain a cultural community across national boundaries with the help of present-day technological means of communication.