Circle Studio, Inc. in Chicago

From the Gothic cathedrals of Western Europe, to the Tiffany stained glass of the United States, to the simple design of raised glass on a door, we can all appreciate the beauty of glass artists.  Although I usually write about museums or libraries, for my first post of the new year, I would like to write about a stained glass art studio that I visited.

Circle Studio, Inc. is one of the few stained glass art studios in the Chicago area, and even in the United States.  This is because stained glass is not as popular as it once was.  The peak of its popularity in the United States was during the mid-19th and early 20th centuries.  However, despite its waning popularity, it is still universally regarded as a beautiful style of art.

Joseph Badalpour, an Assyrian from Iran, founded Circle Studio, Inc. in 1975.  He is likely the only Assyrian who works with stained glass as a career.  In 2020, Mr. Badalpour was kind enough to give me a personal tour of his studio!

Mr. Badalpour opened Circle Studio, Inc. right after he received a Fine Arts degree from the American Academy of Art in Chicago, where he specialized in painting.  He took the skills that he learned from painting and applied them to stained glass.  He has had stained glass studios in different locations in the past but is currently at 3928 N. Elston Ave. in Chicago.  His clients have included the Oak Park Temple, the Assyrian Christian Church, and the Assyrian Cultural Foundation (where he serves as the Fine Arts Director), as well as many other religious institutions, private homes, and businesses.

When I entered Circle Studio, Inc., the beautiful variety of color immediately caught my attention.  Stained glass pieces surround the entire space, hanging from the walls and ceiling.  There are even several stained glass lamps on display at the studio.  All of the glass pieces were created by Mr. Badalpour and his team, although several of the pieces are actually antiques that Circle Studio restored.

As we walked through the studio, Mr. Badalpour explained to me the process of creating stained glass.  First, he talks about the idea of a piece with his client and sketches out the design during the process.  Once the client approves of the sketch, he creates a detailed sketch on paper, using the exact dimensions of the anticipated glass piece.

He ultimately uses that sketch as the blueprint for creating the stained glass.  This involves cutting out pieces of glass into different shapes like a puzzle, and then sticking them together in a process called soldering.

Some works are made from different pieces of colored glass, while other works require Mr. Badalpour to hand-paint colorful designs onto the glass.  Not all glass pieces contain color.  Sometimes, Mr. Badalpour bevels the glass, meaning that he carefully carves out designs onto the glass itself.  Beveling can look nice on both colorful and clear glass.

This is the supply of glass sheets at Circle Studio, Inc.
This floral design was hand-painted onto the glass.

If you are interested in watching a video filmed at Circle Studio, here is a 2-part interview or Mr. Badalpour, produced by the Assyrian Cultural Foundation.  However, unless you know Assyrian (neo-Aramaic), you will not understand what they are saying in the interview!

Joseph Badalpour Interview Part 1

Joseph Badalpour Interview Part 2

The above stained glass window can be found at the Assyrian Cultural Foundation’s Ashurbanipal Library in Chicago. It is surrounded by Ancient Near Eastern motifs. In the center is the Ancient Assyrian King, Ashurbanipal, the founder of the first systematic library in the world. To the left of him is a cuneiform table, like the ones discovered in his library. To the right is a Bible with two verses about Assyria written in Syriac: Isaiah 19:24-25 and Luke 11:32.

Click here to read my post about a related topic: the Halim Time and Glass Museum.

Click here to read my post about the Assyrian Cultural Foundation’s (formerly, the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foudnation) Ashurbanipal Library in Chicago.

Sources and Further Reading
“About Us.” Circle Studio. (accessed January 2, 2021).

Assyrian Cultural Foundation. “Interview with Joseph Badalpour Part1.” YouTube, August 21, 2018. Video, 31:17. (accessed January 2, 2021).

Assyrian Cultural Foundation. “Interview with Joseph Badalpour Part2.” YouTube, August 21, 2018. Video, 31:17. (accessed January 2, 2021).

Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago

The University of Chicago was founded in 1890.  The oil magnate, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., played a large financial role in its creation.  Two years later, the university began a Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.  Today, this department ranks among the top Ancient Near Eastern programs in the United States, primarily focusing on the ancient civilizations of Anatolia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia.

In 1919, James Henry Breasted, an Egyptologist at the University of Chicago, founded the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.  Receiving funding from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (the son of the oil magnate), the goal of the Oriental Institute was and still is to be a place where scholars may conduct further research on the Ancient Near East.

In 1931, the University of Chicago completed construction on a building specifically designed to house the Oriental Institute.  This building contains a museum and an archive/library.  The library does not circulate its materials, meaning that you cannot take any of its books home.  Unfortunately, I have not seen the Oriental Institute’s library, because it is only open to faculty, staff, students, and members.

Assyrian Reliefs taken from Sargon II’s Palace at Dur Sharrukin

The museum portion of the Oriental Institute houses artifacts from archaeological digs that the University of Chicago conducted from the 1920s through 1940s.  These include ancient Assyrian, Egyptian, Israelite, Nubian, Persian, and Syro-Anatolian artifacts.  Tours of the museum are available, either by docents or by downloading a free app.  Visitors to the museum may also watch short films at the museum related to the Ancient Near East.  Additionally, prior to COVID-19, the Oriental Institute frequently hosted events and lectures.

I once visited the Oriental Institute with a librarian group.  During our time there, we went on a tour of the conservation lab, which is on the upper floor of the building.  It was amazing to see where staff maintain and preserve the museum’s priceless artifacts.

After the Oriental Institute underwent renovations in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it renamed its ancient Assyrian wings after two modern Assyrian donors to the museum.  The Dr. Norman Solhkhah Family Assyrian Empire Gallery is named after an Assyrian philanthropist originally from Iran, Dr. Norman Solhkhah.  This section of the museum contains reliefs from Dur Sharrukin, the palace of the Assyrian King Sargon II.  It also contains the Sennacherib Prism, where the Assyrian King Sennacherib describes his campaigns against Israel and Judah.  The Judean perspective of the campaign can be found in the Bible in 2 Kings 18-19.

The Sennacherib Prism at the Oriental Institute

The Yelda Khorsabad Court Gallery is named after Dr. Sharukin Rami Yelda, an Assyrian orthopedic surgeon originally from Iran.  This section of the museum contains a 16-foot winged-bull, or lamassu, that the University of Chicago discovered in 1929.  Originally discovered in over a dozen pieces, the Oriental Institute pieced the lamassu back together after it arrived in Chicago from Dur Sharrukin in Khorsabad, Iraq.

This is an Assyrian lamassu, or winged-bull, from Dur Sharrukin in Iraq. ISIS damaged the archaeological site where it came from in 2015.
If you look carefully at the lamassu, you can find Cuneiform text.

Although the Oriental Institute’s website is not the easiest to search, it provides free access to a valuable number of the University of Chicago’s publications.  These include the Assyrian Dictionary, an Akkadian dictionary that took 91 years to make; the Demotic Dictionary, an ancient Egyptian language dictionary; books about important excavations, and more.  A guide to the publications available online can be found here:

In case you are interested, the University of Chicago also has one of the best libraries I have ever seen.  Here is my post about it:

Sources and Further Reading
About. Oriental Institute. (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Catalog of Publications.” Oriental Institute. (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Dr. Norman Solhkhah.” Atour. April 20, 2020. (accessed November 28, 2020).

“The Dr. Norman Solhkhah Family Assyrian Empire Gallery.”  Oriental Institute. (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Dr. Sharukin Yelda.” U. S. News and World Report Heallth News. (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Emeritus Physician’s Estate Giving Honors Family Legacy.” Swedish Hospital Foundation. March 1, 2015. (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Iranian Immigrants Give Back to Chicago Hospital.” The Iranian. April 9, 2007. (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Oriental Institute Museum.” Google Arts & Culture. (accessed November 28, 2020).

Rome, Kristin. “Iconic Ancient Sites Ravaged in ISIS’s Last Stand in Iraq.” National Geographic. November 10, 2016. (accessed November 28, 2020).

Shoumanov, Vasili. Assyrian Yellow Pages 2020. Chicago: 2020.

“The Yelda Khorsabad Court Gallery.” Oriental Institute. (accessed November 28, 2020).

Syriac Orthodox Monastery of Saint Mark in Jerusalem

The city of Jerusalem has a 16th century Ottoman wall surrounding its Old City.  The area within these walls is allotted into four sections: the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter.  Although Armenians are Christian, they were the first country to nationally convert to Christianity, so they have kept a presence in Jerusalem for centuries.  That is why they have their own quarter.  Despite the name, none of the quarters are solely made up of one group of people.  In fact, hidden away in a narrow street of the Armenian Quarter is St. Mark’s Monastery.

St. Mark’s Monastery is not Armenian but Syriac Orthodox.  When people hear of the Syriac Orthodox Church, they assume that it is connected with the country of Syria.  However, that is not the case.  Syria gained independence from France in 1946, but the Syriac Orthodox Church is one of the oldest churches in the world.  According to an article (“National and Ethnic Identity in the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Assyrian Identity in Post-Empire Times.” Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies 18, no. 2 (2004): 5-22) by the Finnish Assyriologist, Simo Parpola, the words “Assyrian,” “Syriac,” and “Syrian” all derive from the word Ashur, the name of the Ancient Assyrian Empire.  Since the Assyrian Empire once dominated the Middle East, its name influenced the region.

During the first few hundred years of Christianity, before the Catholic and Orthodox churches even split, churches from across the globe held ecumenical councils.  During the fourth ecumenical council in A.D. 451, called the Council of Chalcedon, the churches excommunicated those adhering to monophysitism, which states that Jesus only had a divine, not human, nature.  Those expelled included the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox Church, and the Syriac Orthodox Church.  Today, these latter churches claim that their theology was misrepresented at the Council, and that they did still believe in Jesus’ humanity.  Regardless, because of this early split, these Eastern Churches developed on their own.

This is the Syriac inscription over the entrance to Saint Mark’s Monastery.

Most people from the Syriac Orthodox Church (also known as the Jacobite Church, because of one of their bishops, Jacob Barradaeus) lived in what is present-day Turkey.  They built a church in Jerusalem in the sixth century A.D., which became St. Mark’s Monastery. According to Syriac Orthodox tradition, it was built over the Upper Room where Jesus had his last supper.  Today, anyone can visit the church and have a tour with the caretaker.  Fortunately, when I visited the church, the caretaker allowed me to go downstairs to the site of the earliest church.  The current church was built on top of it.  Archaeologists did not discover this earlier church until 1940.

The authenticity of this Syriac inscription found at St. Mark’s Monastery is debated.

The Syriac Orthodox Church’s liturgy is in a modern dialect of Aramaic.  That is because, prior to the Islamic invasion of the Middle East in the seventh century A.D., the Middle East’s lingua franca was Aramaic.  After the Islamic invastion, those who did not convert to Christianity kept their Aramaic language and did not replace it with Arabic.  The modern Aramaic script is called Syriac.  If you attend a service at St. Mark’s Monastery, you can hear the Aramaic liturgy and see the Syriac prayer books used.

If the Syriac Orthodox Church is not confusing enough, I would like to add one more confusing element to it.  Today, many adherents of the Syriac Orthodox Church consider themselves ethnically Aramean, because they speak the Aramaic language.  Since they lived in the Middle East before the Islamic conquest, they are certainly not Arab, even if most of them can speak Arabic today.  However, it is only in the 20th century that the Syriac Orthodox Church adopted the Aramean identity.

St. Mary’s Assyrian Apostolic Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, mentioned on this commemorative bookmark, is now called the Syriac Orthodox Church in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.

The identity of the Syriac Orthodox Church remains a controversial topic today.  Whereas some, but not all, from the Syriac Orthodox Church consider themselves Aramean, others call themselves Assyrian.  In fact, one of the founders of Assyrian Nationalism in the early twentieth century, Naum Faiq, was born into a Syriac Orthodox family.  Assyrian nationalists claim that they are descended from the ancient Assyrians and want to build an Assyrian homeland.

Members of the Assyrian Church of the East also believe that the Syriac Orthodox Church is descended from the ancient Assyrians.  Similar to the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Assyrian Church of the East is an ancient Middle Eastern church that speaks Aramaic (although an Eastern dialect, unlike the Syriac Orthodox Church’s western dialect).  It was excommunicated from the mainstream church at the third ecumenical council in A.D. 431 (the Council of Ephesus), because its members were associated with the heretic Nestorius.  According to those from the Assyrian Church of the East, who also identify themselves as descendants of the ancient Assyrians, the reason why the Syriac Orthodox Church stopped calling itself Assyrian in the twentieth century was because it wanted to distance itself from the Assyrian Church of the East.  This was not only for religious reasons, but primarily because they did not want to experience the same fate as the Assyrians, who were massacred in Simele, Iraq in 1933.  At Simele, between 3,000 to 6,000 Assyrians were killed by the Iraqi government, both for political and religious reasons.

This photo is in the public domain and taken from Wikipedia. It explains the splits in the churches that use Aramaic liturgy.

Although the Syriac Orthodox did avoid its own massacre, it did not escape massacre earlier in the 20th century.  Approximately 200,000 members of both the Assyrian and Syriac Orthodox churches were massacred during WWI, along with the one million Armenians murdered during the Armenian Genocide.  Many Syriac Orthodox people moved to Israel after that, and still live there today.  Throughout the 20th century, many others moved to Sweden and the United States.  If you are interested, a Syriac Orthodox Group in New Jersey has recently uploaded over 2,000 Syriac Orthodox and Assyrian books online here:

St. Mark’s Monastery has a connection with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947.  I plan to write about that soon. (September 20 Update: Here is the Post about the Dead Sea Scrolls.)

Sources and Further Reading

“Dayro d-Mor Marqos.” Syriac Orthodox Resources. (accessed September 13, 2020).

Donabed, Sargon and Ninos Donabed. Assyrians of Eastern Massachusetts. Charleston: Arcadia, 2006.

Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Monophysite.” (accessed September 13, 2020).

Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Nestorianism.” (accessed September 13, 2020).

Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East.” (accessed September 13, 2020).

Parpola, Simo. “National and Ethnic Identity in the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Assyrian Identity in Post-Empire Times.” Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies 18, no. 2 (2004): 5-22. (accessed September 13, 2020).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, also known as “The Met,” in New York City is arguably the best art museum in the United States.  Founded in 1870, the Museum continues to expand as it collects more and more artwork.  This past April, 2020, The Met turned 150 years old.

Published in 1967, the children’s novel, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler won the prestigious American children’s literature award, the Newbery Medal, in 1968.  E. L. Konigsburg’s beloved book is about two siblings who decide to run away and live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  During my visit to The Met, it did not take me long to want to live there too.

Ancient Babylonian lion panels at The Met

Reminiscent of The British Museum in London, The Met’s collection ranges from ancient archaeology to modern art.  Unfortunately, because the Museum is so large, I was only able to see a small portion of it.  I was especially sad that I was unable to see The Met Cloisters, which is a separate building that opened in 1938 and displays Medieval European architecture and replicated Medieval gardens.  In 2016, the Met opened a third building called The Met Breuer, which solely displays modern and contemporary art.

One of the highlights that I saw during my visit to The Met were its Period Rooms in the American Wing.  These recreated rooms provide you a peak into what certain rooms, such as a bedroom or dining room, would have looked like during different periods of American history.  Items in these rooms include furniture and lamps from varying periods.  Another section of The Met, similarly, recreates historic European rooms.

The Met contains a Musical Instruments section, which includes some Stradivari violins.

Unfortunately, I did not have time to go through these, but The Met has a Greek and Roman Art section, an Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas section, an Egyptian Art section, an Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia section, an Asian Art section, a Photographs section, and many other sections.  However, I did get to briefly go through the European Paintings, 1250-1800 section and The American Wing.  As I went through them, I surprised myself by recognizing many of the paintings, which are obviously famous if I immediately recognized them.

Washington Crossing the Delaware, an 1851 painting by Emanuel Leutze

I spent most of my time in the Ancient Near Eastern Art section.  As its name implies, it has archaeological objects from the Ancient Near East (the Middle East today).  The Met purchased some of these objects, received some as gifts, and acquired other by participating in archaeological digs.  Some of the objects that were acquired from England were dug by Sir Max Mallowan, a British archaeologist from the 20th century, and husband of the famous mystery writer, Agatha Christie.

The Met’s Ancient Near East section contains reliefs and lamassu (winged-bulls/lions) from Ancient Assyrian palaces, which are located in modern-day Iraq.

Because The Met is so large, visitors have the option of taking guided or audio tours.  I am not 100% sure, but I think the guided tours are part of admission, but the audio tours are an additional fee.  The audio tour is available in up to ten languages.  The Met also offers tours, for a fee, to a select number of visitors prior to opening to the public each day.

I want to mention that The Met has a research library, which primarily serves staff members and students.

The Met is currently closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, as of right now, it plans to reopen in August, 2020.  Until then, The Met’s website provides detailed information about the items that it houses.  It also provides a virtual tour through Google Arts & Culture.

An Ancient Assyrian relief of a king and eunuch at The Met

Sources and Further Reading

“American Wing Period Rooms.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (accessed June 20, 2020).

Gannon, Devin. “The Metropolitan Museum of Art Plans to Reopen in August.” 6SQFT. May 21, 2020. (accessed June 20, 2020).

“History of the Museum.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (accessed June 20, 2020).

Konigsburg, E. L. From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1967.

“Maps.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (accessed June 20, 2020).

“The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Google Arts & Culture. (accessed June 20, 2020).

“Thomas J. Watson Library.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (accessed June 20, 2020).

William Saroyan, Assyrians, and the Joys of Research

Prior to a few decades ago, researching beyond the public library to learn about a random topic of interest would have been too much of an effort to be worthwhile.  Thankfully, technology continues to make it easier and easier to research almost anything.  As an example, I will demonstrate how I was able to satisfy my curiosity about the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, William Saroyan, by using tools that were not available until recently.

I first became interested in William Saroyan when I read the introduction to Sargon Donabed’s book, Reforging a Forgotten History: Iraq and the Assyrians in the Twentieth Century, which quotes a section of Saroyan’s short story “Seventy Thousand Assyrians.”  Most people do not know about modern Assyrians, so the fact that someone wrote a short story about them in 1934 piqued my interest.  I had never heard of Saroyan before, so I went to:

Research Tool #1: Wikipedia

Although Wikipedia is not viewed as an authoritative source, it is a great place to start learning about a topic.  In many ways, it is better than a print encyclopedia, because it gets updated more frequently.  Its bibliography also provides links to other resources on a topic.

From Wikipedia, I learned that Saroyan was an Armenian-American writer, which explained why he knew about Assyrians.  Armenians and Assyrians are both Christian minorities found in the Middle East, so they often befriend, or even marry, each other.  It also explained why his surname ended in “yan.”  Most Armenian surnames end in “ian” or “yan,” because it essentially means “son of.”

A 1991 U.S. stamp of William Saroyan.

After getting an idea of who Saroyan was, I tried to look for his short story “Seventy Thousand Assyrians.”  Luckily for me, an Assyrian magazine called Zinda had posted it online:

The gist of the story is that the anonymous, Armenian narrator goes to get a haircut in San Francisco.  While getting a haircut, the narrator asks his Middle Eastern-looking barber, Theodore Badal, if he is Armenian.  The barber says no, he is Assyrian.  The story then proceeds with the narrator and Badal comparing their cultures.  What specifically captured my attention was Badal’s gloomy monologue:

“We were a great people once,” he went on. “But that was yesterday, the day before yesterday. Now we are a topic in ancient history. We had a great civilization. They’re still admiring it. Now I am in America learning how to cut hair. We’re washed up as a race, we’re through, it’s all over, why should I learn to read the language? We have no writers, we have no news- well, there is a little news: once in a while the English encourage the Arabs to massacre us, that is all. It’s an old story, we know all about it. The news comes over to us through the Associated Press, anyway.” — [This story appeared in Saroyan’s first book of short stories, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories, published by Random House in 1934.]

What is significant about Badal’s statements is:

  • Everything that he said could easily be said by an Assyrian today. 
  • Assyrians still lament the dying of their culture.
  • Many Assyrian refugees in the United States are still barbers.
  • Assyrians still do not have well-known writers.
  • Assyrians are still facing persecution (e.g. ISIS). 
  • In 1933, a large percentage of Assyrians were massacred during the Simele massacre in Iraq, which is perhaps what this 1934 short story is alluding to.

Because the story felt so authentic, like the retelling of an actual event, I decided to search for Theodore Badal.

Research Tool #2: Family Search

Family Search is a free genealogy website, which is specifically useful for researching public U.S. records.  To use it, all you have to do is create an account.  It is similar to, but the latter is not free and provides you with access to more records.  The Mormons, or Church of Latter-Day Saints, founded both of these genealogy resources, because, according to their theology, a person can be posthumously baptized.  For example, if you have a deceased ancestor who was never baptized, he or she cannot enter heaven, so if you posthumously baptize that ancestor, then when the resurrection comes, he or she can accept this baptism and be saved.  Therefore, thanks to Mormon theology, the U.S. has wonderful genealogy resources.

On Family Search, I found a 1930 U.S. census record from San Francisco of a man named Theodore Badal, who was born in New York and whose father was born in Persia (present-day Iran) and spoke Assyrian (neo-Aramaic).  The Theodore Badal in “Seventy Thousand Assyrians” said that he was living in New York prior to San Francisco, although he also said that he was born in “the old country,” not New York.  However, the parallels were still too similar to ignore.  In the story, the narrator calls both himself and Badal young men.  In 1934, Saroyan would have been around 26 years-old.  The Badal that I found on Family Search would have been 22, according to the birthdate on his WWII draft registration card from 1940.  Badal’s draft card also said that he was 5 feet 10 inches.  According to Saroyan’s story, the barber was tall.  Although 5 feet 10 inches is not necessarily that tall, it would have been tall for Saroyan, who was 5 feet 8 inches (according to his 1981 obituary in The Washington Post).

My obsession with this topic grew, so I proceeded to try another research tool.

Research Tool #3: Request Vital Records from the County Clerk

Vital records are birth, marriage, and death records.  If you know the date and location of a person’s birth, marriage, or death, you can contact the County Clerk’s office where the event occurred and request the vital record.  Nowadays, you can just go to the county clerk’s website, print and fill out a request form, and then mail it, as well as a check, to the County Clerk’s office.  If you are not related to the person, you can request a genealogy copy, as long as the event occurred a long enough time ago.

I do not know why I felt compelled to request a genealogy copy of Theodore Badal’s 1946 death record, but I did.  From it, I learned the following:

  • Badal’s parents were born in Iran
  • Badal married and divorced a non-Assyrian woman 4 years his senior.
  • Badal did not serve in WWII.
  • Badal’s occupation was “musician.”
  • Badal died of tuberculosis at the age of 34.

Perhaps this Theodore Badal was not the same as Saroyan’s Badal, but they definitely had lot of similarities.

After this, I wanted to try and read Saroyan’s 1950 book, The Assyrian and Other Stories, published by Faber and Faber.

Research Tool #4: WorldCat

Most public and academic libraries in the United States pay to have their catalogs available on WorldCat.  This amazing website allows you to search and see which libraries in your area have a certain book, magazine, DVD, etc.  After finding the item that you want, all you have to do is type in your zip code, and the closest libraries with that item will appear first on the list.  Although most of the libraries in WorldCat are located in the United States, many large libraries in other countries also use it.

After finding the book on WorldCat, I requested it through my public library’s inter-library loan system.  It, as well as other stories in it, referenced Assyrians.

Next, I decided to watch the 1943 film, The Human Comedy, for which Saroyan won an Academy Award for Best Story (the predecessor of the Best Screenplay award).

A largely autobiographical story, the film includes a scene in which the protagonist’s classmate has to read about the ancient Assyrians in class.  According to the class’ textbook, the Assyrians were “long of nose, hair and beard.”  When the teacher scolds the protagonist, Homer, for disrupting the class, and asks him to summarize what they had learned, Homer provides a funny monologue about the different uses of the nose, for he says that if the textbook mentioned noses, then it must be important.

The movie’s reference to Assyrians as people with “long” noses could be seen as offensive.  However, since in “Seventy Thousand Assyrians,” Saroyan specifically mentioned how both Armenians and Assyrians tend to have large noses, I wondered if Saroyan was trying to poke fun at an actual textbook, and point out how out of place the comment was.  After doing some Google searching, I came across another research tool that I want to highlight.

Research Tool #5: Internet Archive

Since 1996, the Internet Archive, headquartered in San Francisco, has been digitizing and uploading millions of books and other resources, especially those that are no longer under copyright.  People can digitize and upload content themselves, or send items to the Internet Archive to do it for them (for a fee).

Included on the Internet Archive is H. G. Wells’ bestselling history textbook, The Outline of History: Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind (1920), published by Cassell and Company.  According to chapter 16, “Their [the Assyrians’] physiognomy, the long nose and thick lips, was very like that of the commoner type of Polish Jew to-day.”  The rest of the page mentions further information about the Assyrians, which closely parallels what The Human Comedy’s fictional textbook says about them.  I, therefore, believe that Saroyan was basing his classroom’s textbook off of Wells’ textbook. 

After reading this snippet about the Assyrians in Wells’ textbook, I felt thankful that at least Saroyan did not also borrow Wells’ snide about Jews.  However, this, of course led me to further investigating.  Unfortunately, Wells negatively portrayed Jews in his other writings as well (such as in The Invisible Man).  However, Saroyan, did not come off as guiltless of antisemitism.

Research Tool #6: Google Books

Google has attempted to digitize every book that there is.  It did encounter copyright lawsuits, which put the project on a standstill for a while.  Right now, the books that they have already digitized, but are still under copyright, only have a select number of pages visible to read.  Even if you cannot read the entire book, it is a great way to get an idea of what a book is about, and see if it is something you need for your research.

From the pages publicly available in Google Books of Saroyan: A Biography by Lawrence Lee and Barry Gifford, I learned that Saroyan’s son, Aram, claimed that one of the reasons why his father divorced his mother was because he learned, 6 years after their marriage, that his wife was Jewish.  However, based on the biography, I doubt that this was the only reason.

For anyone who braved through this entire post, I hope that you not only learned more research tips, but also enjoyed learning more about Assyrians and William Saroyan, who was famous during his lifetime, but has sadly been forgotten. 

Sources and Further Reading

Lee, Lawrence and Barry Gifford. Saroyan: A Biography. New York: Harper & Row (1984).

Saroyan, William. “Seventy Thousand Assyrians.” Zinda Magazine 13, no. 8 (June 3, 2007). (accessed February 18, 2020).

Saroyan, William. The Human Comedy. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company (1943). (accessed February 18, 2020).

Smith, J. Y. “William Saroyan Dies at 72.” The Washington Post, May 19, 1981. (accessed February 18, 2020).

Wells, H. G. The Outline of History: Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind. London: Cassell and Company (1920). (accessed February 18, 2020).

Yonan, Ann-Margret. “William Saroyan’s ‘Seventy Thousand Assyrians.’” Zinda Magazine 13, no. 8 (June 3, 2007). (accessed February 18, 2020).

Assyrian War Memorial

My uncle enjoys estate sale shopping, so in 2016, when he was cleaning out his house in order to move, he came across many interesting items that he had acquired over the years.  One of those items included a booklet, bound in an unassuming, brown cover.  Inside this booklet, dated 1944 (the year before World War II ended), it says, “Assyrian Americans of Chicago who are serving in the armed forces of their country.  Assyrian National Association of Chicago, Inc.”  With the exception of a brief introduction to who Assyrians are, the rest of this booklet depicts black and white photos of Assyrian soldiers, listed in alphabetical order by last name.  My uncle knew that I would enjoy this book, so he gave it to me.  Ever since then, I have attempted to track down its history.

Because my uncle purchased the booklet from an estate sale, I assume that the estate sale must have been happening because one of the soldiers depicted in the book had died.  Unfortunately, I cannot confirm this guess, but I did learn other interesting facts about the book.  First of all, I tried to discover what became of the Assyrian National Association of Chicago.  I eventually learned that it was renamed the Assyrian American Association of Chicago, which does still exist.

As I continued digging, I learned that the Ashurbanipal Library, an Assyrian library belonging to another Assyrian organization, the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation, did not own this book in its collection.  However, it owned multiple reprints of it.  This reprint edition was published in 1993 by the American Assyrian Amvet Post #5, in order to raise money for a war memorial in Elmwood Cemetery.  As I did more research, I found two Chicago Tribune articles about how one of the soldiers pictured in the book, John Hosanna, worked tirelessly to create this war memorial.  Unfortunately, Hosanna, who began the campaign in 1992, died a month before the memorial’s completion in 1997 (see

My research eventually led me to visit the Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois.  This cemetery used to be an American Civil War post before it became a graveyard, so it now has some Civil War memorials.  An Assyrian Church eventually purchased plots in this cemetery.  Section 45 not only has the Assyrian War Memorial, but also contains numerous Assyrian graves, many of which have tombstones written in the Aramaic script, Syriac.  The majority of these graves date to the first half of the twentieth century.  (Most of the more recent Assyrian graves can be found at the Montrose Cemetery in Chicago, including the grave of the late Assyrian Church of the East patriarch, Mar Dinkha IV).

Graves with Syriac script in Elmwood Cemetery

Much research has been done on the history of different minority groups who served in World War II.  However, that is not generally the case for Assyrians.  For instance, most people do not know that the U.S. diplomat in Japan during World War II, Eugene Dooman, was Assyrian.  He grew up in Japan because his parents were Assyrian missionaries from Iran serving there.  Additionally, not many know about the Assyrian Levies from Iraq, who helped the British during World War II.  Since the British oversaw Iraq during that time, these Assyrians were some of the many men from British territories and colonies who fought in the British army during WWII.  Hopefully, more research will be done in the future, but in the meantime, we can be thankful for men like John Hosanna, who worked hard in preserving a bit of history.

Assyrian War Memorial in Elmwood Cemetery – River Grove, IL

Sources and Further Reading

“Assyrian AmVets Memorial.” The American Legion. (accessed October 12, 2019).

Borsky, Daniel. “Veterans Hope to Set Memories in Marble.” Chicago Tribune, July 29, 1996. (accessed October 12, 2019).

“Elmwood Cemetery and Mausoleum.” Dignity Memorial. (accessed October 12, 2019).

“Forest Park Cemeteries.” The Historical Society Forest Park. (accessed October 12, 2019).

“Our History.” Montrose Cemetery and Crematorium. (accessed October 12, 2019).

Peters, Lincoln R. Biak-Zambo: A Story of Two Soldiers. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2000.

Sclair, Helen. Encyclopedia of Chicago, s.v. “Cemeteries.” Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 2005. (accessed October 12, 2019).

Shavit, David. The United States in Asia: A Historical Dictionary. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.

Shoumanov, Vasili. Assyrian American Association of Chicago: 100 Years. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2018.

Zielinski, Graeme. “Last Chance for Immortality.” Chicago Tribune, April 5, 1998.      (accessed October 12, 2019).

Ashurbanipal Library

Many people have heard about the Ancient Assyrians when learning about ancient civilizations in history class, or when reading the book of Jonah in the Bible. However, most people do not realize that there is a Christian, ethnic minority group in the Middle East that still identifies with this ancient civilization. Assyrians live in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. Although they speak the languages of their home countries, whether that be Arabic, Farsi, or Turkish, their mother-tongue and church liturgy is in Aramaic. Prior to Islam, Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Middle East. When Islam spread into the region, the Christian groups who refused to convert to Islam, also refused to replace their Aramaic language with the cognate language of Arabic.

Because of the instability and numerous wars in the Middle East within the last 100 years, Assyrians have been fleeing the Middle East in waves. The recent upheavals in Syria triggered the most recent wave.

Currently, Chicago has one of the largest Assyrian populations outside of the Middle East – at least 100,000 people. Because of this, Chicago also has many Assyrian organizations. One of the largest is the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation, which houses a library of approximately 8,000 books. These books range in topics from Assyrian history, Middle Eastern politics, and Aramaic dictionaries. The books do not circulate, and are in the process of being cataloged and made searchable online. However, visitors and researchers are still welcome to visit the library during its visiting hours:

The library is housed in the building below and is named after Ashurbanipal, an Ancient Assyrian king known for his extensive library of cuneiform tablets, where the Epic of Gilgamesh was found.

The neo-Aramaic dialects spoken by Assyrians today use a script called “Syriac.”

The Ashurbanipal Library contains many Syriac books including this book of religious poetry from 1577.

Sources & Further Reading:

“Ashurbanipal Library.” AUAF. Accessed July 22, 2019.

“At a Glance: The Assyrian Community in Chicago.” AUAF. 2018.

Encyclopedia of Chicago. s.v. “Assyrians.” By Daniel P. Wolk. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 2005.

Shoumanov, Vasili. Assyrians in Chicago. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2001.

Stein, Edith M. “Some Near Eastern Immigrant Groups in Chicago.” M.A. thesis, University of Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1922.