TECHNOFILE: HERITAGE INDUSTRY

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The Independent Culture
For heritage, Assyrians can call upon Babylon and Nineveh, Hammurabi and Semiramis. Among the online cultural exhibits appropriated are Hammurabi's legal code and the 4,000-year-old Epic of Gilgamesh. High culture isn't the half of it, though. A delightful page of links on the Assyria Online site claims Assyrian responsibility for the invention of bows and arrows, glassmaking, backgammon, tumbler locks, the can-opener, and mortgages. Not to mention sanitation - this is where I came across theplumber.com, featured in Technofile last week. And to round it all off, there's a link to a Swiss page about the history of the St Bernard, also known as the Assyrian Dog.

These are the flowers, some cute and others magnificent, but the soil itself is soaked in blood. A massive document posted on Assyria Online records Assyrian martyrs from the fall of Nineveh up until last December. It is a shocking text, but it is also unsettling for the wrong reasons. The reiterated motifs in the accounts of perfidy and atrocity suggest an element of national mythmaking, as do the elderly references for the sources of many of them. Of course it is perfectly possible (if not all too likely) that a people can suffer atrocities that acquire a traditional form over centuries. Nevertheless, it left me with an uneasy feeling and a desire for corroboration.

After a frustrating trawl through the Web pages of human rights organisations, Middle Eastern academic resources, and several search engines, I realised that the fault lies not with the Assyrians but with the rest of the world. Assyrians have a monopoly on Internet representations of themselves because nobody else gives them more than a passing mention. On human rights sites, Kurds feature as an oppressed people; on Assyrian sites, Kurds are oppressors. Western audiences don't care for such plot complications.

ASSYRIA'S LANDLESS EMPIRE

Any dispersed ethnic group with a presence in the United States is likely to have a presence on the Web, but few have taken to hypermedia with the flair of the Assyrians. For a people whom much of the world assume to have disappeared along with ancient Babylon, their profile is astonishing. For a people only 3 million strong, victims of perennial massacres, and unfortunate enough (politically speaking) to have their homeland in Iraq, every such asset is valuable.

Their approach to the Web combines two styles that are incongruous, but reconciled by the conviction with which they are implemented. One is the upbeat, transnational English idiom of the Web; slang phrases, facilities such as weather maps (below, right) and datelines for visitors. These are taken to the limit on the Atour site, with its voiceovers, its button marked "Government", and its greeting: "Welcome to the State of Assyria." Exile politics has always entailed a degree of fantasy, its ministers with portfolios but without power. Now it has Web software.

The other style is the bitter reiteration of suffering, as comprehensible to a 19th-century Irish peasant in its rhetoric as a "what's cool" link is to an American teenager in a suburban bedroom. A recent issue of Zenda, a clever and thoughtful Assyrian e-zine, brought the two traditions together in its regular Assyrian Vocabulary feature. Under the headline "Pump Up The Volume", the two words of the week were "martyr" and "massacre". You will not get very far on an Assyrian site without encountering them.

RIVERS OF PRIDE

Pauline Jasim at Assyria Online explains that the wavy lines on the Assyrian flag represent the three great rivers of the homeland. The dark blue line is the Euphrates, whose name means abundance; the red one is the Tigris, which stands for courage and pride; the white in between is the Zawa, and represents peace and tranquillity.

LYRICISTS OF `ZENDA'

Zenda is unusual in its reflective attempts to combine realism with a commitment to its nation's martyrology. The effort can be anguished:

"My body is weary and my mind confused. I am tired of admonishing the so-called educated. Some laugh at my persistence, some ignore my remarks, and others are telling me that I may not even be yours. They have abandoned your faith and your God. I am even more tired of blaming the English, the French, the Jews, and the Arabs, Persians and the Kurds for your own faults and shortcomings. I have now succumbed to a dark corner of my fantasy world and silently shed tears for those yet unborn. Wake up Assyria and face the reality!" - Wilfred Alkhas

KOSOVA FRONTLINE

The Kosovar Albanian newspaper Koha Ditore posts bulletins that offer flashes, skirmish by skirmish, of the kind that tend not to feature in reports on the war in Kosova. There's also a discussion forum featuring local policy intellectuals. (NB: Kosova is the PC spelling, Albanian rather than Serb.)

BYRON ONLINE

Assyria Online declines to acknowledge Byron's famous poem The Destruction of Sennacherib - "The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold/And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold" - but it is available elsewhere, along with such other Byronia as the home page for the Lord Byron Bar in Portugal; this offers a poem and a cocktail of the week.

HISTORICAL SCENES

Robert Oshana of Chicago has produced a downloadable screen-saver that features images of Assyria's ancient heyday.

TECHNOTIP

The urge to delete is also a creative urge.

WORLD WIDE WEB

YOU'LL FIND LINKS TO ALL THE WEBSITES MENTIONED IN TECHNOFILE ON ITS HOMEPAGES AT: http://www.poptel.org.uk/technofile

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