It is the year 6769 according to the Assyrian calendar and Assyrians worldwide are celebrating the occasion of the New Year called Akitu.
This week, several communities across the world have been celebrating Akitu, the celebration of the New Year in the Assyrian-Babylonian calendar. In Iraq’s northern Duhok Province, thousands of Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syriacs, who celebrate this event have come together from inside Iraq and neighbouring countries to participate in the annual celebration.
“I came from Baghdad, along with my family and my companions. The celebrants did not only come from Baghdad but all Iraqi provinces,” said one of the attendees of the celebration. “Delegates from abroad participated and celebrated the Assyrian Babylonian New Year.”
According to some researchers, Akitu, the word for “beginning” in the ancient Sumerian language, was first celebrated in the third millennium BC and has been observed since.
While the majority of the Assyrians around the world now follow the Christian faith, they continue to celebrate their Assyrian cultural heritage.
“We are reviving the original Iraqi civilisation with the presence of the original Iraqi components,” said another participant.
Since the US invasion in 2003, the number of Christian Assyrians in Iraq has significantly dropped. According to some community members, before the invasion, at least half a million Assyrians lived in Iraq alone. However, due to threats, increased discrimination, and hate speech many Assyrians emigrated to Europe and the US. Furthermore, the rise of ISIS in 2014 and the persecution and forced conversion of Christians have caused thousands more to leave the country.
While these actions have not deterred this community from celebrating their cultural heritage, many activists say that the authorities need to continue to support and protect the Assyrian Iraqi community.
Since the defeat of ISIS in Iraq in December 2017, civil society and non-governmental organisations have attempted to mend relationships and promote national reconciliation between the different communities within Iraq.
With security and stability finally returning to the country, the Iraqi Government should put effort to support all of the communities and ethno-religious groups within Iraq to reify the country’s history of being “the cradle of civilisation”.