Honoring the Legacy of Dr. David Barsum Perley: One of the 20th Century’s most influential Assyrians



David Barsum Perley was born in Kharpoot, Turkey in 1901. He was the son of the late Vartar and Barsum, and the fifth of their six children. His family was known for being active within the Assyrian community in Kharpoot. Perley studied for nearly two years in the High School of the Euphrates College.


On May 1, 1914, at the start of the Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian Genocide, Ottoman-Turkish authorities arrested Perley's father along with a number of leading Assyrian intellectuals, including the venerable Professor Ashur Yousuf, without cause and without warrants. Those arrested were imprisoned and tortured until July 1, 1914, at which point they were tied together in chains and deported, never to be seen or heard from again.


Perley was forced to flee from his home alongside other Assyrians fearful of the fate that awaited them. Perley and his companions traveled through the Dersin Mountains into Russia. Two years later, he reunited with his family residing in Massachusetts.


David Perley's foremost ambition was the continuance of his education. After resettling in the United States, he graduated from the American International College (1922), Boston University College of Liberal Arts (1926), Boston University School of Law (1928), New York University Postgraduate Law (1933). Over the course of his career, he was admitted to the Bar Association in the following states: Massachusetts (1933), New Jersey (1935 and 1940), Illinois (1947), and New York (1967).


Perley established his own law practice, opening an office located at 64 Hamilton Street in Paterson, New Jersey. He married a woman named Rose Kazanchy, and the couple was blessed with one child named Penna.


Following the tragic August 1933 massacres of Assyrians in Simele, Iraq, Assyrians in America were moved to establish a national Assyrian organization. Among them was Dr. David B. Perley, who was one of the cofounders of the Assyrian National Federation (which later adopted the name Assyrian American National Federation), created directly in response to the Simele Massacre. The organization aimed to advance the Assyrian national cause and advocate for the protection and the rights of Assyrians in the various countries which comprise their homeland. Perley held various executive roles within the Assyrian National Federation over the years, including President, Vice President, Secretary, and Legal Advisor.


Perley was a prolific writer and wrote extensively on the Assyrian Question and national struggle until his death. An edition of The Assyrian Star published on September 9, 1967, featured Perley’s article “The Assyrian Nationhood: The Echocing of Ten Thousand Years” where he wrote:


"One's being an Assyrian is a synthesis of heritage, religion and culture, and emotional consciousness that transcends all diversities, theological, demographic, and otherwise. Those who honor truth for its own sake will have no difficulty in the comprehension of my meaning, and they will surely remember the lapsed Assyrians in a sunny Assyrian day. The Assyrians have but one nationhood, and the distinction is very clear. When a person is of Assyrian blood, he retains his birthright, self-esteem, and the heritage of his fathers. It is for this very reason that he may be called a Jacobite-Assyrian, Nestorian-Assyrian, Assyrian-Presbyterian, or Chaldean-Christian. Calling someone a Jacobite-Assyrian should be no more amazing than calling someone else an Irish-Catholic. It is a mere matter of hyphenated description, not a hyphenation or division. A hyphen does not divide; it unites. The use of the term Nestorian-Assyrian is the simplest way of designating a Nestorian, who comes from, or who has, an Assyrian background. The term Assyrian is ONE SINGLE UNITY. The approach of this oneness of all Assyrians regardless of their religious adherence, is through the avenue of blood, and through the majesty of common memories. Religion is a faith acquired and is changeable. Nationality is one's flesh and blood; it is his total nature. Even death cannot undo it."

Perley exhibited tremendous passion for his Assyrian people, enormous ambition, great resourcefulness, and courage. He was an extraordinary Assyrian. His devotion to the Assyrian cause was an inspiration to Assyrians worldwide. He died in 1979, but his legacy lives in the hearts of those touched by his words and his works.


It is not enough to speak of the late Dr. David B. Perley’s contributions to the Assyrian nation, for the more we speak about him, the more there is to say. FREDRICK A. APRIM

© 2018 The Assyrian Star, Official Publication of the Assyrian American National Federation