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Assyrian Festival returns to Turlock
Assyrian festival
The Assyrian culture will be highlighted at annual festival set for Sept. 16-17 at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds (Photo contributed).

The local Assyrian community will celebrate its rich traditions at the ninth annual Assyrian Festival on Sept. 16-17 at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds. 

Admission and parking are free.

“We really want to showcase the culture, food and dancing of the Assyrian people,” said festival co-chair Sweeny Youmaran. “But this festival is for the entire community, not just Assyrians. We want to be able to open up the festival to entire community and welcome them with open arms, and invite them to take part in all we have to offer.”

The festival will guarantee an authentic cultural experience for each guest with homemade food from the local Assyrian community, which will be made using family recipes that have been passed down for generations.  

Beef shawarma sandwiches (similar to a gyro), kabobs (chicken or ground beef served with vegetables and rice), and dolma (grape leaves stuffed with vegetables).

“Dolma are very popular among Greek and Assyrian people,” said Youmaran. “Sometimes they can be stuffed with ground beef, but for the festival we wanted to provide a veggie option for those that don’t eat meat.

“And we’ll be grilling the kabobs right there at the fairgrounds. We’ll be serving them fresh and hot.”

The festival will be open from noon to 10 p.m. both days with the opening ceremony starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The opening ceremony will include flag salutes, traditional clothing displays — including a demonstration of what the king and queen of Assyria would’ve worn centuries ago — and a dance troupe.

Festival organizers have also extended invitations to the mayors of Turlock, Ceres and Modesto, as well as those cities’ city councils, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors, Assemblymember Juan Alanis, R-Modesto, state Sen. Marie Alvarado-Gil, D-Jackson, Rep. John Duarte, R-Hughson, and Rep. Tom McClintock, R-El Dorado Hills.

The event is hosted by the Mar Addai (Turlock), Mar Gewargis (Ceres), and Mar Zaia (Modesto) parishes of the Assyrian Church of the East.

“When we started the festival in 2015, the goal was to educate our community members in our culture and our traditions,” said festival co-chair Ralph Khoshabah, “This year we want to get back to those roots.” 

Khoshabah said that the festival is also looking for local sponsors who will be able to assist in sustaining the Assyrian Festival while also promoting their business.  For sponsorship information, contact Youmaran at 209-485-6497 or  

“Keeping the momentum for the Assyrian Festival for the next few years is a goal that we are all working on as a committee,” said Khoshabah. 

The 2023 Assyrian Festival will feature a Kids’ Zone, which will include games, educational projects and treats for kids, as well as live Assyrian cultural music, with the Assyrian dance groups will performing daily at 5 p.m.  

“This event always takes place at the fairgrounds,” said Youmaran. “With three parishes hosting, it has the necessary parking and indoor and outdoor options most suitable for this festival.

“The Assyrian people are a very close-knit community,” said Youmaran. “If you’ve ever attended an Assyrian wedding, there are usually 300 to 400 people in attendance. Bridal showers have 50 or 60 or 70 women. Birthday parties have 25 or 30 kids. You can just imagine what this festival will do.

“This year has been one of our best responses since prior to COVID, with sponsorships and vendors. We have people coming from Arizona and Chicago to set up booths. We’ve had a very good response from the community and are expecting a good turnout.”

Assyrians are an indigenous ethnic group originating from Mesopotamia, in modern day Iraq. 

Stanislaus County is home to one of the largest Assyrian populations in California.