(AINA) -- David B. Perley was one of the 20th century's most influential figures among America's Assyrians. Perley was born in 1901 in Harput but fled during the genocide and came to the US in 1918 where he resided for the rest of his life. He was among the founding members of the Assyrian National Federation (known today as the Assyrian American National Federation) in 1933, and for a long time he held several positions within the Federation, including chairman. He studied law and had his own firm. He died in 1979 at the age of 78.
Related: Assyrians: Frequently Asked Questions
Related: Brief History of Assyrians
Perley was a prolific writer and from 1930 until his death he published numerous articles and book reviews in Assyrian magazines like the Assyrian Star, the New Beth-Nahreen and Athra. Tomas Beth-Avdalla has now done a great deed as he has collected practically everything that Perley wrote about the Assyrians in a massive 700 page volume. The book mainly features published texts, but also some texts that have never been published but which have been found in private archives. The book is divided into eleven sections:
- Articles. The oldest is from 1933 and the last was published posthumously in 1983.
- Book Reviews. Perley was a frequent reviewer; this section is more extensive than the first.
- Letters. The editor has made a choice and only published those that are of the most interest.
- Speeches. Contains speeches that Perley gave, or magazine summaries of these.
- Perley's pamphlet Whither Christian Missions from 1943 (new revised edition in 1944 and 1946).
- Reviews of the pamphlet (V).
- Writings regarding Perley.
- Two unidentified and anonymous texts that the editor thinks may have been written by Perley.
- Quotes by Perley. Perley was good at one-liners and some are gathered here.
- Photos. A number of photographs from Perley's life.
- Extracts. This last section features pictures of some of Perley's writings.
There is a comprehensive index, which is very helpful for readers who want to focus on any particular topic.
The book is extremely versatile and not only gives a picture of what Perley felt about various issues, but also about what others thought about him and how his pamphlet was received. Tomas Beth-Avdalla has collected the material for several years, and for anyone interested in Assyrian matters it is a joy that you can now make the acquaintance of this Assyrian patriot in such an easy way. Virtually everything is collected between two covers. There are texts of Perley's that are lost, but the vast majority of what he wrote is here.
One text that has been lost is an autobiography that Perley worked on for a long period of time and that was also mentioned in magazines. It is a pity we do not have access to it for Perley writes otherwise very little about his upbringing in Harput and his flight from the genocide.
Related: Assyrian Genocide
What did Perley write? Two main topics engaged him in particular. He began his career in the Assyrian movement in 1933 and it was the Simmele massacre that got him involved. Again and again he returns to the British betrayal of the Assyrians, which is also the theme of his book titled Whither Christian Missions. Although his father was killed in the Turkish genocide of World War One, Perley rarely wrote about the genocide and showed no bitterness towards Turkey. Instead, he focused on the Simmele massacre and expressed a fierce criticism of the British betrayal of the Assyrians.
In addition, he was extremely interested in ancient Assyria. This interest is particularly expressed in his reviews. He reviewed a long list of books on the Assyrian empire and the archaeological excavations in Assyria during the 19th and 20th centuries. He was extremely well read and versed in these matters, and in one of his letters he defines his life's mission as fighting against the idea that the ancient Assyrians would have been particularly brutal. He sees two sources of this erroneous perception, the Old Testament and the British poet Lord Byron.
What is Perley's writing like? He is a good writer with colourful expressions. However, he often takes to exaggerated expressions in which a person or a book is glorified in effusive terms. The reviews often end with expressions like "this is a book that every Assyrian must read" and when he writes about Assyrian patriots he commonly refers to them as immortal and the greatest who ever existed. He used big words to an equal degree when it came to things he did not like: "The book is a fraud and have no merit, neither literary nor informational."
Occasionally, Perley also wrote about ecclesiastical matters--an area where he had good insights. Although he himself belonged to the Assyrian Apostolic Church, his texts are mostly about the Assyrian Church of the East ("Nestorian"). He wanted to defend it against accusations of heresy and frequently stressed that the Church's true name was not "Nestorian" but "Assyrian."
Perley belonged to the Assyrian Apostolic Church--or, as he put it, he was a Jacobite--but he was keen to constantly emphasize that the most important aspect is the Assyrian ethnic identity regardless of church affiliation. You can change your church affiliation, but not your nationality, he stressed. "Assyrians are Assyrians without any religious qualifications." You could say that Perley fought a life-long struggle against the anti-Assyrian tendencies, which he saw as a major threat. According to him, all other names used for the community have to be eliminated; otherwise the heterogeneity of names will eliminate the people.
In 1973 Perley was named "Assyrian of the year" by the Assyrian Universal Alliance, which received great attention in the US. An interesting detail is that the same congress appointed Ahmed al-Bakr as the "honourable Assyrian of the year", Saddam Hussein's predecessor as leader of the Baath Party and Iraqi President.
A reviewer should read the entire book, which I have done. It is clear that a person, during 45 years of writing, repeats himself and that is the case with Perley's writings. As he returns to the same subjects again and again, the reader soon begins to recognize arguments and expressions. Despite the repetitiveness, it is very good to have all the texts collected in one volume. It is especially useful to researchers, who will get an overall picture of Perley's thinking and its development, since everything is gathered and presented in chronological order. An ordinary reader can of course skip some pieces and concentrate on the rest. There is much to learn from and be inspired by. I do not want to use Perley's big words and say that this book should be in every Assyrian home, but I will say that those who take the time to examine the contents will be richly rewarded.
Tomas Beth-Avdalla should be commended for highlighting this Assyrian patriot and for having given us the opportunity to become more closely acquainted with Perley's thinking.
David B. Perley: A Collection of Writings on Assyrians. Edited by Tomas Beth-Avdalla. Foreword by Sargon George Donabed, Ph.D. Nineveh Press 2016. 732 pp.
The book can be ordered from here.
Translated from Swedish by Tomas Isik.