Author:Daniel Wolk (University of Chicago)
Paper short abstract:
After massive displacements from their homelands in the Middle East, Assyrians have intutitively modified their core concepts revolving around the "house". With more dispersal of household members from each other, Assyrians have reduced the role of the "house" as a model for their social relations.
Paper long abstract:
Prior to the violent upheavals of World War I that displaced Assyrian Christians from their homelands in Iran and the Ottoman Empire, the concept of "house" (bayta) modeled the prototypical form of sociality, anchored to households, clans, tribes and more. It was so integral to their everyday experience that "house" in the abstract, "house-ism" (baytayuta), functioned as the grammatical term in their Neo-Aramaic language designating the adjectival form that associated a person with a place (a Salmasnāyāfrom the town of Salmas), or with another person (a Paṭrosnāyā under the leader, Paṭros). It thus served as the native gloss on "identity" or "belonging". "House" intuitively constituted a pillar of their habitus, if we broaden Bourdieu's concept of habitus (in accordance with Husserl's intentions) to include life experience sedimented into custom, passively synthesized into beliefs, and embedded in language. I track profound changes, otherwise unnoticeable, in how Assyrians (especially in Chicago) conduct their social relations, under the pressure of extreme dislocations. As they kept moving and reassembling their households in different regions and countries, they differentiated the concrete baytā, in the sense of a physical dwelling, from the baytūtā, the collectivity of persons, likely dispersed. As opportunities to maintain extended households diminished, Assyrians placed more importance on related social forms, such as the family (čilpat), the nation (ʾumtā), and diaspora (galūtā). Lately, as their very existence in the Middle East has come under threat of annihilation, Assyrians' desires to rescue Syriac Christianity have intensifed at the expense of more "house"-like aspirations of nationhood.
Temporalities, migration and home: comparative perspectives