The Turlock Arts Commission voted unanimously on Thursday evening to approve a recommendation that the City of Turlock accept a donated bronze statue of Queen Shamiram, the first female Assyrian ruler of the Neo Assyrian Empire (668 BC – c. 627 BC).
The donation comes from chef, author, radio and television personality Narsai David, a previous Turlock resident.
In his youth, David moved to Turlock with his parents, who were originally immigrants to the United States from Iran and Turkey during World War I.
“On a personal level, I was so intrigued when we came to Turlock and all the Assyrians that were here,” stated David. “I was curious as to how did Turlock become the place where all the Assyrians are.”
“Assyrian immigration began in Chicago, that’s where all the jobs were. Once they had enough money to buy land, they wanted land that reminded them of home,” he continued. “And so Assyrian migration to Turlock got going.”
One of the artists associated with the statue, who is reported as living in Turlock, also helped work on the sculpture of King Ashurbanipal that is located on the sidewalk of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, facing the San Francisco library.
The model for the bronze statue in Turlock portrays Queen Shamiram, also known as Semiramis, standing with a lioness curled around her feet. The sculpture itself would be approximately 9 feet tall, and be set on a base of no more than 3 or 4 feet max. The sculpture will also showcase a plaque that would tell the history and importance of Queen Shamiram in Assyrian cuneiform, Aramaic, and English.
California State University, Stanislaus received a bust of Queen Shamiram that is on display in the school’s library.
“There are lots of Assyrians here. My parents live here, I graduated from Turlock joint high school many years ago, and I have a warm place in my heart for Turlock,” stated David. He also stated that when he graduated high school, the population in Turlock was only approximately 7,000 people.
The statue, which was originally proposed to be placed at California State University, Stanislaus, was highly supported by those in attendance at the Arts Commission meeting and by the Art Commission members.
“Assyrians have been in Turlock since the early 1900s. We have a church here that is 75 years old, and our civic club that is 65 years old on Golden State,” stated Ashur Yonan, the former President of the Assyrian American Civic Club in Turlock. “There is more than 10,000 Assyrians in Turlock only. It is an art and we want to show that Assyrians have art and culture.”
Another gentleman in attendance, Charles Givargis, stated that the statue did not just represent Assyrian culture and history, but also female empowerment.
“We know how the women in the Middle East were treated, so to see a female who can demand on her own as a ruler, it is an inspiration for all those women who have been marginalized not only in the Middle East, but also in America,” stated Givargis. “It is an inspiration for all young ladies.”
Although many requested for the Arts Commission to recommend that the sculpture be placed at the University, Commission Chair Lynn Gaiser-Sarraille stated that the City of Turlock did not have the authority to decide what is built on the campus.
“The Arts Commission and the City of Turlock have partnered with the University in many ways, so I would be happy to work with them to see if that is a possibility,” stated Sarraille.
The Turlock Parks and Recreation Commission and city staff will also be working with the Arts Commission and the creators of the statue to determine other location possibilities as well, should CSUS reject the proposal.
“This statue really brings together three key things,” stated Arts Commission member Llewellyn Boyle. “Power for women, representation of Assyrians in our community, and the history of our city.”
The commission voted unanimously to recommend the sculpture to the City Council, who will make the ultimate decision on whether the City of Turlock will accept the donation. Public forums will also be held in the near future regarding where the statue would be placed within the City, should the University say no to placing it on campus grounds.
“On behalf of the young people in Turlock, the University would be a great location,” stated Turlock resident and UC Berkeley graduate Bianca Davoodian. “It is a place where everyone can learn, it is more diverse, and it would add to the things that people go there to see.”
“It’s one of those things that is a wonderful thing for your community,” stated Arts Commission member Angele Henry. “And for the women in our community, and the history of our community.”