YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Leaders of Armenia’s ethnic Assyrian community said on Wednesday that while there has been no consistent government effort to discriminate against them–the ancient nation dispersed around the world–faces problems preserving its identity.
"The Armenian state does everything for us not to leave the country but there are still some problems," said Irina Gasparian–a leading figure in the community. She told reporters that getting proper education in their native Aramaic language is the chief concern of some 4,000 Assyrians living in Armenia.
Assyrians were subjected to systematic assimilation and deportation after the destruction more than two millennia ago of their powerful empire. The first Assyrian settlers came to the territory of present-day Armenia from Iran in the early 19th century after it was incorporated into the Russian Empire.
Assyrians in Armenia numbered 9,000 in the late 1980s but many emigrated in the following years in the face of worsening economic conditions.
The community leaders urged the authorities to intervene in a language dispute in one of the three predominantly Assyrian villages near Yerevan. They said the ethnic Armenian principal of the secondary school in Verin Dvin impedes classes in Aramaic language and has fired a teacher–one of the few specialists in the field.
Vladimir Khosroev–another Assyrian-Armenian leader–at the same time hailed the upcoming opening in Yerevan of the first Assyrian class. "This means that in the year 2000 our children will be able to recite poems in the colloquial language of Jesus Christ," he said.