Intellectual Domination and the Assyrians
Posted: Monday, April 09, 2001 11:15 AM UT
The contemporary Assyrians were first introduced to the West through the writings of missionaries or diplomats who were stationed in the regions where the Assyrians lived. The main task of the missionaries was to provide the Assyrians with spiritual "guidance". But many of them only provided spiritual domination, which resulted in the alienation of the Assyrians from their national church and the traditions of heir forefathers.
The early missionaries refused to put any value in the Assyrian beliefs and traditions. They looked down upon Assyrian rituals, their Shahra festivities, their observance of the Saints days, and so on. To them all these were nothing but "dead forms", "superstitions" , and "satanic." They insisted that the Assyrians must refrain from fasting, burning incense, kissing the cross and celebrating the Saints days. They advised the clergy to add lengthy sermons to the church service after the Western model.
Their criticism of the Assyrian forms of worship reveal their own arrogance, puritanical rigidity, and intolerance for things which were not western. Missionary Stoddard proudly demonstrated how they tormented the Assyrians: "We strip off all their righteousness, tear away all their hope, arraign them as condemned criminals at the bar of an offended God. "
Of course the effect of such pressure could only be to blame the Assyrians - particularly the youth - and alienate them from the ways of their forefathers - to lose respect for themselves as a people particularly in a place like the Middle East, where religion was an important element of nationhood.
The 20th Century social scientists replaced the missionaries or the diplomats of the previous century as the "experts" on the Assyrians. But although the experts have changed, the Orientalist bias is still there, and reappears in a new guise. Examine recent manuscripts and publications on the Assyrians. You will notice that it has become almost fashionable for most dissertations, books, or articles to start with the question: "Are contemporary Assyrians really Assyrian?"
The question is then followed by a painstaking paring of the racial and cultural traits of the Assyrians of today with the remnants of the past archaeological relics to establish whether historical continuity between the two exists or not! What these scholars and some of their readers do not seem to realize is that to question the legitimacy of the name of today's Assyrians is not a "scientific" act; it is a political one, because this is the type of question that the colonial powers raise to deny the territorial and cultural rights of several dominated peoples. . . Their very name is denied so as to deny their peoplehood. . . the Assyrians are merely "Syriac-speaking christians" form the point of view of the Iraqi Arab government.
In view of these facts it is evident that scholars, by posing the very question of identity, are providing the ruling powers with a weapon to use against their minorities. What other purpose can an utterly unscientific question serve? Why is the question unscientific? Because there has been a tremendous amount of cultural and racial admixture among human societies through the centuries. Cultural and racial continuity is impossible to be established for any national group.
Moreover, during the 20th Century old nations have been dismantled and new ones created without any regard to cultural and historical realities - as a glance on the map of Europe readily shows. In Europe after World War I people who shared the same language and culture were torn apart to constitute different "nations" and people with diverse linguistic and racial characteristics were forcefully sandwiched together to form one nation. And since the arrangement suited the superpowers, no questions are asked about the legitimacy of these nations on cultural or historical ground and yet the Assyrians are on the millstone for those very reasons!
The Assyrians call themselves Assyrian for a very simple and convincing reason: they are age old inhabitants of ancient Assyria. That is their homeland. They have churches there that date as far back as 3rd and 4th Centuries A. D. That is sufficient and says it all. There is no need to engage in the inconclusive argument of racial and cultural purity. Palestinians say they are Palestinian because their forefathers inhabited Palestine, and the French say that France is their homeland because they have lived there for many centuries. One claim is as valid as the other. What makes the French claim more respectable and that of the Palestinians questionable, is not science, it is politics - pure and simple.
Therefore the question of whether the contemporary Assyrians are Assyrians, should never be asked. When a scholar makes that a topic of research, he is playing a political game in the guise of science. There is no excuse for the academics to remain naive any longer. The scholars have no choice but to decide what they want to do with their profession: put it in the service of the people or use it to promote the interest of the ruling powers. Whatever choice they make, they can be sure that they can no longer fool the people.