Assyrians from the fall of Nineveh to Present
Posted: Thursday, February 02, 2012 at 06:20 PM UTC
For almost two thousands years the Old Testament was the primary source of information about the ancient Assyrians. Those who read the book of Nahum about the destruction of Nineveh had come to believe that the ancient Assyrians were defeated into extinction and Nineveh no longer existed until Layard unearthed it. However they did not notice that Nahum at the end wrote:
Being scattered on the mountain or becoming extinct are two different things, in reality Assyrians survived not only on the mountain also in the cities and the plain. For example Harran which became the capital of the Assyrians after the fall of Nineveh was attacked twice but was not seriously damaged. The same can be said about Arbil, Nissibin and other smaller or out of the way towns. Harran was a thriving city way into the Islamic era when it was destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century.
The major cities and towns in northern Iraq still bear their ancient names : Arbil; Assyrian Araba-illu, Tikrit; Assyrian Tikriti, Kirkuk; Assyrian 'Kirkha d' beit Suluk' or Arrapha- Nineveh; Assyrian Nineveh, Harran; Assyrian Harranu, Nissibin; Assyrian Nissibini, Alqoush; Assyrian Alquoushtu, Karmalish, Assyrian Kar-Mullissi, Mosul; Mespilla. Not even in Persia so many cities are still known by their ancient names. The cities of southern Mesopotamia are now known by the names that Arabs, after conqering the region in the 7th centry, gave them.
The survival of the Assyrian names for the cities of northern Iraq reveals their continued inhabitation by the same people as before the fall of Nineveh. If the original inhabitants no longer existed the new settlers of foreign origin would have called them by names more compatible with their own culture and language. The majority inhabitants of the Assyrian cities are now Arabs and Kurds but the former arrived after the 7th century A.D., and the latter more recently, while their population gradually increased that of the Assyrians decreased due to persecution, forced conversion and expulsion similar to what has happened to them during the past few years, at times even much worst.
Historical and archaeological evidences attest to the fact that the Christian Assyrians have lived in the hearthland of the ancient Assyria since the fall of Nineveh. For example the city of Kalkhu also known as Nimrud a capital of the Assyrian Empire for over 150 years is situated on the Tigris River south of Mosul, in the Nineveh Plain, 4 miles south-west of the Christian monastery of Mar Bahaman also called Deir Al-Jubb [in Arabic] (The Cistern Monastery), about 32 km southwest of Mosul,
There is no reason to believe that Assyrians were wiped out during a relatively short period of time. It is a known fact that nations have survived despite all attempts to destroy them. Fifty million dead during World War II did not cause the extinction of any nation. The persecution including wholesale massacres of the Jews during more than two thousand years of their history did not wipe them out. The Syriac speaking Christians of Mesopotamia, (Assyrians) of Iraq, Turkey, and Northwest Iran survived 2000 years of persecutions including repeated massacres by the Sassanian Persians, Arabs, Mongols, Tatars, Kurds and Turks. Two third of the Assyrian population was murdered or forced into Islam between 1914 to 1919 by the combined military forces of the Kurds, Turks, Persians in an all out attempt to wipe them out but they prevailed despite their relatively small number and being concentrated in a small geographic area. The Armenians lost 1.5 million of their population at that time but they are still here.
As Assyriologists learn more about the history of the Christian Assyrians they become more convinced that they are the descendants of the ancient Assyrians. Robert D. Biggs, Archaeologist and professor of Assyriology in the University of Chicago writes:
Having visited the early Christian monasteries in the region he asserts:
The prominent Assyriologist, H.W.F. Saggs, does not believe that Assyrians were defeated into extinction. He wrote:
Simo Parpola believes likewise:
From the Fall of Nineveh to Christianity
The Babylonian king Nabunaid's (555-539) mother who died at the ripe age of 104, seventy three years after the fall of Nineveh, in an inscription mentions the surviving relatives and the officials of the Assyrian kings in Harran whom she accuses of not performing food offering and libation to the graves of the monarchs who had done so much for them, but she contends that she did.
In describing the invasion of Assyria by the Persian king Cyrus Olmstead writes; after defeating the Medes he marched north into Assyria in 547 B.C...
Other historical and archaeological discoveries attest to the survival of the Assyrians and Assyria during all centuries. Following are samples of such references which have been cited verbatim to show the intent of the original authors also to allow the readers judge their meaning for themselves. It is interesting that such ancient and medieval evidences, and thousands like them, are summarily ignored, because contemporary writers have been unwilling to let go of their preconceived notions, or perhaps they are unaware of these facts.
The mid 19th century translation of the Persian kings inscriptions attest to the existence of Assyria and Assyrians as part of their empire.
The Nagshe Rostam inscription by Darius (512-48) which lists the national types of the Persian Empire includes the Assyrians. A reference to them reads as:
which is very similar to the term "Suryah" a name christian Assyrians have identified themselves by.
The Behistun inscription of Darius in the beginning of his rule lists 23 countries as part of his empire including: "Persis, Huza (Elam), Babiru (Babylon), Athura (Assyria)...."(Josef Wiesehofer, Azizeh Azodi Trans., "Ancient Persia From 550 BC to 650 AD, I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1969.)
In another inscription in Susa Darius writes;
Proclaims Xerexes, the king:
In a Trilingual Persepolis inscription ARTAXERXES II (c. 436 - 358 BC) OR III ( BC. to 338 BC.). among the twenty throne-bearers of various nationalities Assyrian representative is identified as:
Those who question the identity of the contemporary Assyrians justify it by saying "they have been known primarily as Syrians and Surai during most of the christian Era." They seem not to realize that the region west of Euphrates known to the Assyrians as Abar-nahra or Beyond the River was Called Syria meaning Assyria by the Greeks because it did not have a common national identity and had been part of the Assyrian empire for as long as they remembered. The term Syrian was also used by the Greeks in reference to the Assyrians in Mesopotamia who had never been citizens of Syria.
Recent discoveries indicate that the term Surai or Syrian meaning Assyrian was in use as early as the 8th century BC. A new bilingual inscription in Hieroglyphic Luwian and Phoenician discovered in Turkey at Çineköy, in the vicinity of Adana by Recai Tekoglu and André Lemaire provides incontrovertible evidence that 'Surai' i.e., Syrian meant Assyrian to their ally the Luwians long before Greeks used the term.
In one inscription dedicated to the storm god Baal, Warikas/Urikki, king of Hiyawa/Adana, i.e., Cilicia a contemporary of Tiglath-pileser III (744–727) and Sargon II (721–705).15 refers to "the/an Assyrian king' as "(su+ra/i-wa/i-ni-sa(URBS)) and the whole Assyrian “House” (su+ra/i-wa/i-za-ha(URBS)).."
An eight century Rosetta Stone found near Adana in Luwian again identifies the Assyrians as "SYRIANS [su+ra/i] and in Phoenician ASSYRIANS (“ ªSRYM”)."
Simo Parpola also contends that "The word Assurayu, "Assyrian", thus also had a variant Surayu in late Assyrian times. Both terms refer to the same people: Assyrians/Syrians."
ROBERT ROLLINGER, "THE TERMS 'ASSYRIA' AND 'SYRIA' AGAIN," in JNES 65 no. 4 (2006), pp. 283-287.
The fifth century B.C. Herodotus describes the Assyrian troops as part of the Persian empire's army of king xerexes (486-465/4):
Herodotus Barbarians meant the Persians, the Armenians and other none Greek. Assyrians and Babylonians together formed the fifth infantry and were led by Otaspes son of Artchaies.
The presence of the Assyrian military in the Persian army is attested to by [a] bronze [conical shaped] Assyrian helmet from the 490 B.C. Battle of Marathon presently at the Onassis Cultural Center in Greece. (Associated Press Writer, 'Artifacts show rivals Athens and Sparta' Yahoo News, December 5, 2006)
The first century B.C. Strabo attests to the fact that Syria meant Assyria. He writes:
While one has to admit that inhabitants west of Euphrates were not Assyrians, there is no reason to doubt the Assyrian identity of those living in the Assyria proper. According to Strabo the country of the Assyrians at his time included babylon and Aturia [Assyria]. Later he writes the name 'Syrians' extends from Babylon to the Gulf of Issus [the Mediterranean Sea]. (Strabo p.193) This was the extent of the Assyrian empire before its fall.
The third century Roman historian Justinus also attests to this fact. He wrote:
The above references clearly prove that the term Syrians and Suraye applied to the inhabitants of Mesopotamia denoted Assyrians who later became Christians.
Archaeological discoveries also indicate that the Assyrian community in Ashur "[c]ontinued to worship it's national god and his consort, on the same spot as their ancestors had done before the disasters of 612 B.C., although in a new temple. As late as AD 200-28, they were using such grand old personal names as Sin/ahe/erba, even Esarhaddon...." (Malcom A.R. Colledge, "The Parthians", Praegr, New York 1967, p.46.)
Iraqi Department of Antiquities between 1951 and 1955, discovered nine temples in the city of Hatra dedicated to the Assyrian deities such as Shamash, Sin, Nebo, Nergal and one to the Assyrian God, "Ashur Bel" The head of the Ashur Bel's statue found in Hatra is broken, but the remaining curled square beard is characteristically similar to the imperial Assyrian kings. (Edward Bacon, "Digging for History", Archaeological Discoveries Throughout the World, 1945 to 1959", New York 1960, p. 205.)
Excavations by a team of British archaeologist from Edinburgh University at the Eski Mosul Dam Basin in 1983 unearthed solid evidences of Assyrian survival after their defeat. A heavy Assyrian presence was detected in the area only 40 km to the north-east of Nineveh.(Associated Press report reprinted in Nineveh Magazine, Vol 7 No. 3& 4, 1984)
The Christian Era
According to The Teaching of Addaeus the Apostle "people of the East, in the guise of merchants, passed over into the territory of the Romans, that they might see the signs which Addaeus did. And such as became disciples received from him ordination to the priesthood, and in their own country of the Assyrians they instructed the people of their nation, and erected houses of prayer there in secret, by reason of the danger from those who worshiped fire and paid reverence to water.
The second century Tatian identified himself as Assyrian. He wrote,
His contemporary Lucian of Samostosa, in his "Goddess of Syria" wrote:
Prepon, the Assyrian, who was a student of Marcion is said to have introduced a new theological philosophy based on a work by Bardaisan who claimed that world is managed by good and evil.
According to Tacitius in the winter of 50 A.D. the forces of Carenes crossed the river Tigris and entered Adiabene and "captured the city of Ninos, the most ancient capital of Assyria" prior to waging war against the Parthian king Gotarzes on behalf of Meherdates the contender to the throne. (Cornelius Tacitius, Edi. Robert Maynard Hutchis"The Annals and The Histories"; , Copyright Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. 1952 p.112.)
The Assyriologist Joan Oates writes:
In describing Trajan's 116 AD invasion o f Mesopotamia Roman Historian Dio Cassius wrote:
Even during the Sassanian dynasty of Persia (224-639 A.D.) the southern part of Mesopotamia was known as Asuristan while central Assyria was renamed Nod-Ardakhshiragan [Perhaps belonging to Ardakhshir]. It is interesting to note that while the conquerors of central Assyria changed its name first to Adiabene and later to Nodshiragan and then to Iraq, Christian inhabitants of the region continued to call it Assyria and identified themselves as Assyrian [Aturaye] side by side with Syrian [Suraye].
In an inscription; lands ruled by Shapur I, (241-276 A.D.) are listed as "Fars [Persia], Pahlav [Parthia], Kuzistan, Meshan, Asuristan [southern Mesopotamia} and Nod-Ardakhshiragan [Assyria Ruled by Ardashir] ........." (Josef Wiesehofer, Azizeh Azodi Trans., "Ancient Persia From 550 BC to 650 AD, I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1969.)
The medieval writer Tabari indicates that Mesopotamia was called Asuristan during the Sassanian period before Arab conquest of the region:
That inhabitants of Mesopotamia were known as Assyrians by the Persians is evident in their religious book of 'Zand-i Vohuman Yasht' in the Pahlavi language. In one section it accuses the Greeks (Yunan) who ruled in Asuristan (330-145 B.C.) were slaying the [Asori] Assyrian people and destroying their abode.
The Armenians who have lived side by side with the Assyrians have always called them Assori, i.e. Assyrian as have other nationalities. Following is an early century Armenian document "perhaps the earliest original writing in Classical Armenian. This reading is taken from Books V and VI." which describes how an Assyrian bishop was instrumental in inventing the Armenian alphabet in 420 AD.
Armenian historians Koriwn, and T'eodoros K'rt'enawor, (c. AD 600 Ð 675) contended that the first Armenian New Testament was created from Syriac, not Greek but after the Council of Ephesus between AD 433 and 436 a second translation was made from Greek.
According to the 19th century Badger:
While the rest of the world believed that Nineveh had been destroyed and forgotten and Assyrians no longer existed Christians of Mesopotamia knew such was not the case. For the last 2000 years Assyrians of the Church of the East, the Syrian Orthodox Church, later the Chaldean Church have observed the fast of Ninevites which is testimony to the survival of the Assyrians and their belief that they were descendants of the ancient Assyrians.
Nineveh became an important center of the Assyrian Christianity. It was presided by a long list of bishops from 554 to the late ninth century. Later its bishopric was transferred to Mosul. Mar Emmeh, the Bishop of Nineveh was elected Patriarch of the Church of the East and served in that position between A.D. 644 to 647. Ishu-Yahav was the bishop of Nineveh (627-637) when the byzantine forces under the command of Herculius defeated the Persians near that city in 627. He fled to his estate in the mountain during the war fearing that he might be taken prisoner by the Byzantine. (William G. Young, "Patriarch, Shah and Caliph", Christian Study Center, Rawalpindi, Pakistan 1974, p. 87)
In a letter between (650-52) he invited a certain Shimoun to come and see him in nineveh. ("William young' patriarch, Shah) During his term the country was torn by wars between the Arab invaders and the Persians. Another famous bishop of Nineveh was Ishag (Isaac) Ninevaya, who served in that position for only six months in 660 A.D. Maran-Zakah served as bishop of Nineveh between 795-798. Other prominent citizens of Nineveh were Eshu-Bar-Noon, patriarch (820-824), Yohanan Bokht-Eshu Metropolitan of Nineveh (850 - A.D.), Annush d' Beith Garmee, Patriarch (873-884). (J.M. Fiey, O.P., Assyrie Chretienne, Imprimerie Catholique, Beyrouth, 159, pp.488-493.)
The Islamic Period
Those who have expressed doubt about the identity of the Assyrians have done so primarily as a matter of opinion and confusion of historical facts. While they can undrestandt the term Indian when applied to the native Americans has a different meaning than when it refers to the people of India they seem to be unable to realize that Syrian in reference to the Christians of Mesopotamia means Assyrian.
Thimithy I (770-823), patriarch of the Church of the East in a letter to the monks of Mar Marun declares that Babylonia, Persia and Assyria, all the countries of the East, such as India and China were under his jurisdiction. (William G. Young, "Patriarch, Shah and Caliph", Christian Study Center, Rawalpindi, Pakistan 1974, p.152)
The Tenth Century scholar and bookseller Abu al-Faraj Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Nadim in his catalogue or index titled Fihrist al-Nadim, mentions Assyrians when he wrote about the books and scripts of various people of his time. Al-Nadim defines them as Ashuriyun (Arabic for Assyrian) and writes:
When Arab Geographer Al Mas-udi visited Nineveh in 943 A.D. He described it as a complex of ruins in the middle of which there are several villages and farms, " It was to these settlements that god sent Jonah" he wrote. (Brian M. Fagan, Return to babylon, Little, Brown & Co., Canada p.18.) This statement echoed the sentiments of the Christian Assyrians. Some of the better known Assyrian villages of Nineveh at that time were: 'Takshur', mentioned by Bar Awraya, 'Tarrut D' Nineveh ' [Gate of Nineveh], 'Ba Gabbari' [ the Braves], the birth place of Patriarch Ishu Barnon located between the walls of Nineveh and Mosul, , mentioned by Yagut in 1220 . 'Bori', where a beautiful church was built in the 7th century, consecrated by Mar Yokhanan Metropolitan of Adiabene, and 'Gorba' , a Jacobite Assyrian village. (J.M. Fiey, O.P., Assyrie Chretienne, Imprimerie Catholique, Beyrouth, 159, pp.488-493.) Assyrian towns north of Ninveh at that time which still exist today were, Algosh, Tel Keep, Baghdeda, Baqofa, Bartella, Karmales, Egra, Zakhoo, Amedia.
The translator of the "Latin history of Paulus Orosius", into Arabic about 961-976 AD, more than a thousand years ago correctly equated the Latin "Assyri" [Assyrian] with the Arabic word "al-Suryaniyyun" i.e. the Christians of Mesopotamia, Suraye and Suryoye. (Abdel Rahman Badawi Ed. "Orosius, Tarikh Al 'Alam", Al Muassasa al Ararabiyya lil Dirasat wal Nashr, Beirut, First Edition, 1982.)
The Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Michael the great (1126-99) wrote:
The 13th century Gewargis Warda Arbillaya [from Arbil] asserts that the syriac speaking people of Mesopotamia are Assyrian and Babylonians. On the occasion of the Fast of the Ninevites he wrote:
For Gewargis Warda Assyrians were not just the inhabitants of the Mosul and Nineveh as it is some times claimed. He was from Arbil and considered the Christians living in northern and southern Mesopotamia as Assyrians and babylonians. While the name of the country was changed to Iraq by the Arabs since the 7th century AD Assyrians continued to refer to it as Assyria.
The Barber geographer Ibn-Battuta, who traveled to northern Mesopotamia in the 14th century acknowledged the existence of Nineveh and wrote:
Ibn-Battuta also noted that the Nabi Yunus mosque of Nineveh was once a Christian church before being confiscated by the Arabs. This edifice still stands, according to Wigram it was once the cathedral of the independent patriarch of Nineveh or See of Nineveh. Moslems believe that the prophet Jonah is buried at that site but such is not the case.
Assyrian writer Bar Saliba a decade or two before Ibn-Battuta identified the person buried in the site as patriarch Hannan Yeshua of the church of the East who was elected to that office during the caliphate of Abd 'ool-Melek ibn Merwan, cir. AD 686. He wrote:
The fact that Christians of Mesopotamia considered Nineveh the capital of Assyria as an important part of their christianity despite all the hateful Old Testament references to it and they commemorated a yearly fast called 'The Fast of the Ninevites' as a tribute to the survival of their forefathers indicates their strong dedication to their Assyrian identity.
The Vatican documents indicate that when the Chaldean Church was established by Sulaga in 1553, Pope Julius III proclaimed him patriarch of "Mosul and Athur" on Feb. 20, 1553. (Catholic Encyclopedia, "Chaldean Rite ", 1967, Vol. III, pp.427-428) Roman documents originally refer to Sulaga as the elected patriarch of "the Assyrian Nation". (Xavier Koodapuzha, "Faith and Communion in the Indian Church of Saint Thomas Christians, Oriental Institute of Religious Studies, Kerala, India, p.59)
According to the Chronicle of the Carmelites Sulaga was proclaimed "Patriarch of the Eastern Assyrians" but on 19, 4, 1553 he was redefined as the "Patriarch of the Chaldeans". Perhaps the change of mind was intended to distinguish between those who joined the Catholic Church verses those who did not or may be it was a matter of associating these new Catholics with the Nestorians of Cyprus who were labeled Chaldeans by Pope Eugene IV on August 7, 1445 after they joined the Roman Catholic church. (George V. Yana (Bebla), "Myth vs. Reality" JAAStudies, Vol. XIV, No. 1, 2000 p. 80)
Edward Odisho quotes Konstantin Tseretely that "Assyrians who live in the Soviet Union call themselves and their mother tongue Assyrian, an appellation which occurs in the 18th century Georgian documents." Tseretely further writes; "In correspondences between the Georgian King Irakli II and Mar Shimoun in the years 1769 and 1770 Mar Shimoun refers to himself as the "Assyrian Catholicos" and the King identifies Mar Shimoun's people as "Assyrians."
According to another source the Georgian king Irakli II in 1770's established contacts with the Yezidies and used the Assyrian Archbishop Ishaya as mediator . Irakli II sent a letter to the Yezidi leader Choban- Agha in which he proposed a none-Muslim coalition of the Yezidies, Armenians and Assyrians against the Ottoman Sultan. (Lamara Pashaeva, "Yezidi Social Life in the ocmmon wealth of Independent States" Kurdishmedia.com, Nov. 2004)
In a letter dated May 26, 1784 adressed to the Russian General Paul S. Potemkin, the Russian Colonel Stephan D. Burnashev writes:
Even before the archaeologist Austen Henry had published his book about his ancient Assyrian discoveries, Horatio Southgate in 1843 visited the Syrian Orthodox communities of Turkey and reported they identified themselves as Assyrians in the form of "Suryoyo, Othoroyee". He writes:
The above are examples of hundreds and even thousands references which attest to the survival of the Assryians since the fall of Nineveh which prove that they did not vanish after their defeat. They in fact continued to live in their ancient homeland and have been there since. Some however were forced to flee into the mountains north of Mosul, cities of northwest Persia and southeast Turkey i.e. the Tur-Abedin area which had been part of Assyria before its fall. In one inscriptions the Persian king Darius identifies the region as Assyria. Given such facts and hundreds of others undeniable evidences it is unconscionable to question their Assyrian heritage.
The names Suraya, Suryoyo they have identified themselves with, the terms Syrian and Suryani they have been called by are obvious variations for Asuraya and Assyrian. If the nationality of a people is based on a common descent, shared language, history, culture, easily recognizable homeland, and other aspects of nationality Assyrians clearly fit the description. They have called themselves Assyrians, they have lived in the homeland of the ancient Assyrians since before the fall of Nineveh, have identified their country as Assyria, and have considered the ruins of its ancient capital as their sacred city during the Christian centuries. No one in good conscious can deny this.
In many ways today's Assyrian national identity is far more certain than that of other nations who are a composite of various people. Unlike others Assyrians after their fall did not have a military or political powers to force their identity on others. Their survival for such a long time can be attributed to the fact that they spoke a different language, and worshiped a different religion than the nations who conquered their land, also because their country was relatively isolated.
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