Today I talked to Alda Benjamen about his book Assyrians in Modern Iraq: Negotiating Political and Cultural Space (Cambridge UP, 2021)

Examining the relationship between a strengthened Iraqi state under the Baʿth regime and the Assyrians, a Christian ethno-religious group, Benjamen studies the role of minorities in twentieth-century Iraqi political and cultural history. Relying on extensive research in Iraq, including sources uncovered at the Iraqi National Archives in Baghdad, as well as in libraries and private collections in Erbil, Duhok, and Mosul, in Arabic and modern Aramaic, Benjamen foregrounds the Iraqi periphery as well as the history of bilingualism to challenge the monolingual narrative of the state. By exploring the role of Assyrians in Iraq’s leftist and oppositional movements, including gendered representations of women, she demonstrates how, within newly politicized urban spaces, minorities became attracted to intellectual and political movements that allowed them to advance their own concerns while engaging with other Iraqis of their socio-economic background and relying on transnational community networks. Assyrian intellectuals not only negotiated but also resisted government policies through their cultural production, thereby achieving a softening of Baʿthist policies towards the Assyrians that differed markedly from those of later repressive eras.

Roberto Mazza is currently an independent scholar. He is the host of the Jerusalem Unplugged Podcast and to discuss and propose a book for interview can be reached at Twitter and IG: @robbyref

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