Assyrian Government Network

Assyrian American League: Position Paper

Posted: Thursday, July 15, 2004 at 11:45 AM CT


AAL Position Paper
TABLE OF CONTENTS

Executive Summary
  1. Background and Distribution of Assyrians in the Middle East
  2. Assyrians in Ancient Mesopotamia
  3. Assyrian Identity in the Age of Universalist Religions
  4. Names: Assyrian/Chaldean/Syrian/Syrian Catholic/Syriac Maronite
  5. American Missionaries Among the Assyrians
  6. The Smallest Ally of the West
  7. Witness to Genocide
  8. Diaspora in Middle East and Worldwide (map)
  9. The Struggle for Survival: Return and Resolve
  10. Assyrians under the Baathist regime
  11. The Assyrian Political Position

Chronology of Assyrians in Mesopotamia

Further Readings

 

Executive Summary

Who are the Assyrians?

  • Assyrians are the indigenous people of Iraq and the Christian descendants of the Assyrian Empire. Due to sporadic periods of persecution as Christians and as a distinct ethnic group, today they also live in Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East.
  • Assyrians retain their own distinct Semitic culture, based on their long Christian tradition and their own language, Assyrian Aramaic, one of the three living Aramaic languages.
  • Assyrian concentrations in Northern Iraq, near the base of the ancient capital of Nineveh (Mosul] and the Northern No-Fly Zone have been adversely affected by pressure to convert to Islam and to adopt Arab or Kurdish identity.
  • In the United States Assyrians are concentrated in California, Illinois, Michigan, and New Jersey. They number about 400,000.
  • Under the Baathist regime in Iraq, Assyrians were forcibly deported, from villages and towns where they had resided for centuries, in order to diffuse their resistance to Baghdad.
  •  Assyrians today form the third largest ethnic group in Iraq, but they are NOT recognized as a distinct ethnic group under the Baghdad constitution, which recognizes only Kurds and Arabs.
  • Today Assyrians have to struggle for recognition within Northern Iraq where they have token representation in the governing body as a result of the strained working relationship between the Assyrian Democratic Movement (Zowaa) and the Kurdish Democratic Party.

What do Assyrians want?

  • That the supported opposition groups, including the Iraqi National Congress (INC), operate in a democratic manner and not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion or ethnicity.
  • That the homes and lands illegally taken from the Assyrians be returned to the former owners and inhabitants. Those whose homes and lands were destroyed or expropriated receive just compensation. That villages depopulated be rebuilt, and their inhabitants be returned or compensated.
  • That the current ruling groups in Northern Iraq take immediate steps to bring to justice the murderers of Assyrian landowners whose families are coerced into selling land to Kurds (non-Assyrians),
  • That a stop be put to the false accusations against Assyrian landowners and activists that lead to their imprisonment and torture.
  • That Assyrians not be labeled" Christian Kurds" to NGOs and the press and coerced to so identify themselves under threat of punishment.
  • That steps be taken to curtail rape and murder of Assyrian women as a means of driving their families from the region.
  • That extreme Islamist groups operating among Kurds be prevented from attacking and killing Christians in northern Iraq.
  • That steps be implemented to assure that Assyrian and other Iraqi women are heard directly in the political process to build an equitable Iraqi society. And that when Assyrian women are included, they not be deliberately misidentified as "Kurdish Christians" or "Arab Christians.

What Can the United States do to Help?

  • The United States can insist that the future government of Iraq is democratic and secular, thus making a future Iraq safe for Christians and minority ethnic groups.
  • The United States can curtail financial support to the Iraqi Opposition groups until they eliminate the present discrimination against Assyrian Christians and treat all parties engaged in the opposition to Saddam Hussein equally.
  • The United States and her allies can supervise the formation of a consultative opposition body for Iraq. The United States can engage in the training of personnel for this endeavor, as our great country has done so many times in so many other places and countries.
  • The United States can see to it that the provisions of the Iraq Liberation Act (ILA), as passed by Congress, are implemented, and that the Assyrian Democratic Movement, recognized by President George Bush as a legitimate Iraqi opposition party, receive funds and training through the act.
     

BACKGROUND AND DISTRIBUTION OF ASSYRIANS IN THE MIDDLE EAST

The Assyrians are the indigenous people of Iraq and the descendants of the Assyrian Empire. Assyrians speak a distinct Semitic language related to, but different from, Arabic and Hebrew. In the late ancient and early medieval period, Aramaic, the general family of languages to which the language of the modern Assyrians belongs, was used broadly as the lingua franca in those parts of the eastern Roman Empire where Greek was not in common use. At the time when Jesus lived, Jews and others in the area spoke an Aramaic dialect while they retained Hebrew for liturgical purposes. Present day Assyrians recite or chant the Lord's Prayer in a language very close to that in which Jesus would have instructed his disciples in this paramount Christian prayer.

There are approximately 400,000 Assyrians in the United States, and nearly four million around the world. Assyrians began immigrating to the United States and the West following the series of persecutions to which Kurdish tribesmen subjected them at the instigation of Ottoman regional rulers. The largest departure from the homeland occurred when the emerging Turkish state attempted to destroy all Christian communities and pursued and caused the death and loss of three quarters of the Assyrian population of the Middle East by 1923.

In the United States, Assyrian Christians represent the majority (90%) of American Iraqis; Arabs and Kurds represent the remainder. They should thus be consulted and have their needs considered in the process of formulating US policy regarding Iraq.

The name Assyrian harkens back to the beginnings of urban, literate civilization. In military, literary, musical, and visual arts, as well as in the molding of a multi-ethnic empire, the Assyrian contribution has been enormous. Today too, when allowed a level playing field, Assyrians excel in many fields, including medicine, sports and engineering, the arts and science. Trade and commerce have strengthened Assyrian economies from the ancient to the present especially since other avenues of employment were closed to them as a minority within Islamic law. Religious tolerance has also been a hallmark of Assyrian culture, even as an Empire.

Other ancient civilizations, such as the Israelis, Armenians, and Georgians, survived the vicissitudes of several millennia to emerge once more on the world stage as nation states, but the Assyrians continue to struggle. Their geographical location, their Christian denominations, and the patterns of constant betrayal by allies, especially the British in World War I, have left the Assyrians with about an equal population in and out of the Middle East. The Assyrians are increasingly targeted as Christians by fanatical Islamic fundamentalism abetted by chauvinistic states.

In their own language, Assyrians call themselves and their language suryaya or suryoyo. On the spoken level, the language is distinguished by an eastern (suryaya) and western (suryoyo) dialect although many sub-groups of dialects also exist today, remainders of the rich dialect diversity of Assyrian rural life. Suryaya/suryoyo, in English, becomes Syriac/Syrian or Assyrian, which, as Herodotus explained 2500 years ago, is the same word. An initial A in ancient Greek and Aramaic is silent. On the eve of World War I Assyrians lived largely in a swath of land stretching from Aleppo eastward into the uplands of the Taurus range and on into the northwestern Zagros, and down into the plains of northwestern Iran. These four locations embody distinct socio-cultural patterns.

Assyrian Connections with Western Civilization

Assyrians began to adopt Christianity gradually over the course of the first millennium. Strong evidence points to the interest of the ruler of Edessa in learning from Jesus directly within his lifetime. Imbued with a strong missionary zeal, Assyrians brought Christianity to the Armenians (303 AD) and later to the Georgians. Missionary efforts took Christianity into Iran/Persia, Afghanistan, Central Asia and to China. Wherever they went, they established hospitals as well as churches and libraries.

By the fourteenth century, when Islam had become the ruling state sponsored religion from North Africa to the borders of China, indigenous Christianity had fallen into the status of a persecuted religion of minorities. Several Syriac-based churches in the Mediterranean area, to survive under the pressures of a changing cultural milieu, shifted from Syriac to Arabic. The Assyrians maintained their language although their deliberate dispersal by current states of the Middle East is rapidly weakening language retention.

On the eve of World War I, the Assyrians on the Urmia/Salmas plain had advanced economically, culturally and educationally thanks to the nurturing presence of American missionaries who helped to establish schools for boys and girls, hospitals, and printing.

From Church to Ethnic Identity

For many years prior to the 19th century, the Assyrians hardly knew much about other Assyrians of the Middle East . Their transnational ethnic identity, like the identity of others since the advent of universalist religions (religions not tied to one ethnic group), had been submerged into a religious one. They divided institutionally along church communities, each hierarchically organized, and each headed by a Patriarch. While in some parts of the Middle East, one or the other of the Churches predominated, In Iraq all four ancient Syriac traditions are represented. By the 20th century, these Churches were as follows:

  • The Assyrian Church of the East (pejoratively called Nestorian, "Assyrian" added to the official name in 1976)
  • The Chaldean Church (16th century Uniate - Catholic - off-shoot of the above)
  • The Assyrian or Syriac Orthodox Church (pejoratively called Jacobite)
  • The Syriac Catholic Church (17th century Uniate off-shoot of the above)
  • The Maronite church is an early Uniate off-shoot of the Assyrian/Syriac Orthodox Church. It joined other Assyrians in the US census in 2000.

As Assyrians became better educated, urbanized, and traveled beyond their own regions, they began to coalesce under a single, non-church, secular identity. The unearthing of the spectacular remains of the Assyrian Empire provided for increased interest in their own past. The Biblical stigma attached to the ancient Assyrians, however, continues to haunt the religious establishment.

During the Ottoman period and in Islamic socio-political systems prior to that, the Assyrian communities were administered through their Patriarchs as "dhimmies," i.e., barely tolerated religious minorities. This assured that they were always treated as second class citizens, like Jews who were also tolerated as "people of the book." While this system did not protect the Assyrians from periodic physical attack, forced conversion to Islam, and economic and social deprivation, it did allow them to maintain a religious structure which has jealously guarded its position as the only institution allowed under Islamic regimes. Much of the dissention that occasionally ripples through the Assyrian community results from the ambitions of church leaders who insist on pushing the church identity above the secular one. This dissention, in turn, allows the denial by Middle Eastern States, especially in Iraq, of Assyrian identity over the Church identity.

ASSYRIANS IN ANCIENT MESOPOTAMIA  

The Assyrians of today are the cultural, and to a large extent, physical heirs (in terms of geography and ethno-linguistic stock) of the ancient Assyrian Empire. That Empire was a multi-cultural one, larger than any that had previously existed. It included not only the Assyrians who used the Akkadian language, the ruling culture of the Empire, but also the Arameans who probably arrived from the Syrian desert to settle in cities that are today in Iraq, Palestine, and Syria. The Assyrian expansion of empire brought them into contact with many cultures from whom they borrowed to create a brilliant civilization in the land between the two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates.

After the fall of the Empire, and until their conversion to Christianity (beginning in the first century AD) the Assyrians existed in small kingdoms like Osrhoene (inclusive of Edessa and Harran, now in Turkey) and Adiabene (capital at Arbil, now in Iraq), the plains of Nineveh (near Mosul) and mountain regions that fell between the subsequent warring empires of West and East, including the Persian and Ottoman. As the Assyrians adopted Christianity, they spread the Syriac language to many other ethnic groups whom they accepted into the community no matter what their ethnic origin. This is the pattern observable in the spread of Buddhism and Islam: ethnic identity becomes buried in religious identity throughout the Near East. It is only in terms of language, heritage, and territory that new ethno-cultural identities re-emerge.

Contributions to Civilization

For two millennia, the name Assyrian appeared in western history in association with the history of the Hebrews as it is reported in the Old Testament of the Bible. In concert with many other empires mentioned - the Egyptians, the Persians - the history of the Hebrews in the Biblical period is replete with the struggles of this small monotheistic community to maintain itself in the face of expanding world civilizations. One of the first world civilizations thus described is that of the Assyrians which flourished in Mesopotamia (Greek for Beth Nahrain - land between the two rivers). Most of that land falls into the country today called Iraq, although parts are also in southeast Turkey northeast Syria, and Northwest Iran.

Greek sources, such as Herodotus (5th c. BC "father of history"), speak of the Assyrians, writing about them at a time when the subsequent great empire, that of the Persians, had already incorporated much of Assyrian civilization into its own. Herodotus noted that the term "Syria" and "Assyria" were used interchangeably in his time: the first, he explained, was the Greek term for the second. Other western sources that recorded Assyrian history included Ctesias (4th c. BC) and Strabo (first c. AD), all of whom discuss Assyrian statecraft, military, and cultural achievements, including the exploits of that most famous of Assyrian queens, Semiramis, the Greek name for the modern Assyrian name Shamiram. Because many of these "pagan" sources of history did not make an impact in Europe until the Renaissance, knowledge about Assyrians has popularly been colored by how they are portrayed in the Bible by the Hebrews whom the Assyrians conquered. This account has to be balanced by Greco-Roman accounts just as Roman history is not whole if studied only from the perspective of the New Testament part of the Bible.

Whatever daily life in the Assyrian empire may have been, we know that Assyrians governed a multi-ethnic state, collected taxes (presented as tribute in eastern empires through to 19th century China), and graced their palaces with impressive reliefs. In fact, they have depicted on their palace walls considerable information about their activities, including the conduct of war. One palace presents a war scene as a diorama, an 8th century BC equivalent of the war movie. Thousands of clay tablets, especially from the library of Ashurbanipal (r. 668-625 B.C.) reveal information about music and musical instruments, religious practices, trade, and daily life, including a recipe for barley beer.

The Alphabet Revolution

Of all the contributions made by the Assyrian Empire to world civilization, perhaps the greatest is the promotion of the revolutionary system of writing that allowed the expansion of literacy across many languages. That revolution was the use of an alphabet system.

The Assyrian Empire kept administrative annals, preserved epics (such as the Epic of Gilgamesh), recorded praise to their god Ashur, and mundane things such as sales slips, all in cuneiform. This system of writing had come to them from the Sumerians. Pax Assyriaca allowed for expansion of trade and culture, and with the latter came the alphabet system developed by the Aramean tribes from Syria. This system, superior to cuneiform ideograms, came to be used in the Assyrian Empire for commerce and from then on it spread eastward as the main form of writing until the emergence of Arabic, considered a holy language with the coming of Islam.

Inventions, art and culture

The administration of a large kingdom for over a century called for a communication system as well as a means of keeping the multi-ethnic people within the Empire. To provide for communication from the center to the provinces, the Assyrians set up a rudimentary postal system which was copied by the Persians, then described by Herodotus. That description is used as the motto of the United States Postal Service.

In the conquered provinces, the Assyrians catered to the ethnic groups that came under their rule by allowing local monarchs to govern as their representatives. The ethnic tolerance that the Assyrians displayed in this aspect of governance probably speaks to their lack of racial bias. Lack of racial bias may be seen in the multi-ethnic wives that the Assyrian kings married, and extends to queens who were of Aramean origin. The wife of Sargon II was the Aramean princess Atalia.

In art and culture, the Assyrians served as both preservers of ancient culture and innovators. The high art of the Assyrian court influenced both provincial art, especially that of the small Aramean and Urartian kingdoms, but also the high art of the later Persian Empire. From the winged guardian bull to the winged disc, Persepolis copies Assyrian art in both content and style. Records from the Achaemenids found at Susa tell of the carrying off, or employment, in modern terms, of artisans and craftsmen, artists and stonecutters, from various parts of the old Assyrian empire.

Religious tolerance was a hallmark of Assyrian civilization. They adopted many foreign deities, but there is no evidence of any attempts at conversion of conquered people. People were not persecuted on the basis of religion. Ashur, the local god of Nineveh, represented on inscriptions and on wall reliefs was expected to be worshipped in Nineveh. But when the Assyrians entered Jerusalem they did not force or expect its inhabitants to worship Ashur. That sort of religious compulsion came later with the adoption of universalist religions such as Islam.

ASSYRIAN IDENTITY IN THE AGE OF UNIVERSALIST RELIGIONS

The Assyrians today constitute a major group of the indigenous Christians still living in the Middle East. They are the only Syriac speakers in the world, aside from Iraqi Jews, who for the most part have left Iraq for the security of Israel, who had lived among the Assyrians in Northern Iraq. The speakers of the other living Aramaic language are the Mandeans of Iraq and Iran, followers of John the Baptist. After the events of 1915, many Assyrians live in Diaspora. There is real concern about whether they can survive in Diaspora alone without a nurturing, cohesive base in the Middle East.

The Christian heritage of the Assyrians is hard to unravel from the community's identity even though that identity encompasses a long pre-Christian past as well. In part, this knitting in of Christian medieval history plays such a crucial role due to the position accorded to the four major churches within the Islamic administrative apparatus. During the Ottoman period and before, the state dealt with its "dhimmies" through the church hierarchies, not secular ones, as had earlier Islamic states. In today's Middle East, the reintroduction of a pattern of breaking ethnic ties by strengthening state ties with the church hierarchies is apparent from Iran to Lebanon.

Acceptance of Christianity

The Assyrian claim to being the first Christian church is based on the story of the conversion of King Abgar of Edessa. Another tradition has it that Christianity came to the Assyrians through several of the group of seventy early Christians who spread out to preach the Word after Pentecost. In this tradition, Mar Addai is the missionary sent to the Assyrians. A third manner of conversion comes through St Thomas and it is this name that is given to the members of the Assyrian Church of the East located on the western coast of India, in the state of Kerala, and along the Malabar coast. All these histories are true in some fashion as the conversion of Assyrians to Christianity is a long process. Likewise, their diminished numbers speak to the adoption of Islam, especially after the full rigidity of Islamic law came into effect after the 10th century and Islam became strengthened further as the state religion, especially after the decline of the Middle East from the 14th century onward.

Missionaries on the Silk Road

Both by land and by sea, the Assyrian Church of the East behaved as the missionarizing church par excellence even though this sect has never been backed by state power in all its history. Persuasion, rather than coercion, was its method. It also brought with it literacy, medical knowledge (Greek, still practiced in now Islamic communities in Kashgar, China), and a willingness to put into writing local languages for the purpose of passing on the Christian message. Thus we find in China sutras that carry the Christian message from texts now lost in the original Syriac. By the time these missionaries arrived in China, there were already a string of monasteries, churches and bishoprics stretching from Baghdad to Marv (Turkmenistan), Herat (Afghanistan), Tashkent, Samarkand and Urgut (Uzbekistan), Pishpek (Kyrgysztan), Tumshuk, Kucha, Yarkand, Kashgar, Hami (Xinjiang), and places in between.

Suppression of Christianity in China follows Chinese encounters with Islam in the 8th century, after which they suppress all "western" religions.

The other route, the sea route, has yielded more lasting results. The Kerala Christians, now existing in all four forms of Syriac Christianity, the two mother churches (diophysite and monophysite) as well as their respective Uniate off-shoots, came into being as a result of missionary efforts conducted by sea, probably from ports on the Arabian Sea.

Religious Schisms and Christology

The schisms of the early Christian church became entwined in the politics of the day as much as in reaching compromises with the diverse existing religious traditions of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern region. Placed as they were geographically in the midst of the political contest between Rome with the Persian empire, the Assyrians saw armies pass through their lands frequently. Only with the coming of Islam, and the decline of the Byzantine empire did the near constant warfare in their region subside for a short while. The arrival of the Crusaders, then that of the Turks from the opposite direction, again led to conflict for political power.

The Christological dispute between the monophysites and diophysites centers on the nature of Christ and the place of the Virgin Mary. Monophysites hold that Christ had one nature - that expressed in the Trinity - a divine nature. The diophysites, arguing that the divine Christ could not have been crucified, assert that Christ has one nature but two personae, divine and human. The second point of dispute grows from the first: with regard to the Virgin Mary, the monophysites regard her as the "Mother of God" while the diophysites maintain that she was human and could not be the mother of the divine.

In 1999, through the offices of Pro Oriente (Vienna), an ongoing ecumenical dialogue led to the coming together of the Roman Church with the Church of the East along a formula that recognizes the diophysite doctrinal position of both as being roughly the same. Thus, on a christological level there has been a rapprochement. Since a similar rapprochement has not occurred between Rome and the national Orthodox churches (Greek, Russian, Ukrainian among others), and none with the monophysite churches at all, the contemporary Assyrian community remains divided along church lines. However, in much of the community a shared heritage, the Genocide, and concern regarding the persecution of Assyrians have brought about a relatively unified secular identity. This extends to intermarriage between members of the various communities.

NAMES: ASSYRIAN/CHALDEAN/SYRIAN/SYRIAC/SYRIAC CATHOLIC/SYRIAC ORTHODOX/SYRIAC MARONITE/NESTORIAN/JACOBITE

All of the names listed at the head of this section have been subsumed, at one time or another, and by some or most people in the community, under the heading Assyrian. The reason for this has been that the term Assyrian has been used as a secular designation for people speaking either of the two main dialects of the living Syriac-based language, no matter to which confessional community they belonged. The dispersion of this community after the Genocide has become the main source for the crisis in identity: coming under the severe scrutiny of nation-forming states such as Iraq or Turkey, or the confessional quagmire of Lebanese politics, people who had awakened to secular identity during the rise of nationalism in the 19th century found themselves being identified within a church structure only, whether they were religious or not. Because the church structures recognized by the emergent Middle Eastern states were only the traditional four churches - Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church, Syriac Orthodox Church, and the Syriac Catholic Church - the Protestant elements had no particular standing. The position of Baghdad in this matter is particularly fraught with clear attempts to divide the once secularly united community.

When new states were being shaped from the Ottoman Empire following WWI, the British tried to bolster their argument for the inclusion of the Mosul area into the future Iraq. Part of this argument hinged on the presence of Assyrians in this area near their ancestral homeland around Nineveh. In Mosul and its environs lived members of all four churches, especially those belonging to the Catholic churches. On the eve of World War I, the Catholic churches, together with the Syriac Orthodox Church, opted to forgo seeking special minority rights, as did the members of the Assyrian Church of the East. The encouragement of friction among the four churches grew through the 1970s. Baghdad's attempts to draw the Assyrian Church of the East into renouncing special minority rights failed in 1972 when Assyrians in the north continued to side with the Kurds in the fight for ethnic rights in Iraq. While Baghdad made some further moves to create a facade of accommodation with Catholic and Syriac Orthodox church leadership, by the 1980s, the result had been the further Arabization of these church communities as well as their slow exodus from Iraq. Today, the attacks on Christians appear not to discriminate between the church communities, either in the northern no fly zone or in Baghdad. The Chaldean community, in particular, which for much of the latter 20th century played the Arab card, finds its Patriarchal See of Baghdad beset by physical attack on its clergy and unable to appeal successfully to those members of the community, such as Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz (Chaldean from Bartelli), for aid.

That the pressure on Assyrians to drop secular ethnic identity in favor of the politically benign sectarian identity, controlled through the churches, has succeeded to a large extent, may be seen in the change of names that is prevalent in the Diaspora. The Syriac Orthodox Church, whose members in Diaspora as early as 1898 called their community "Assyrian," has been slowly induced to drop the name Assyrian. In West Jerusalem although the name of the quarter where St. Mark's church and monastery are located was and is called "Assyrian" for centuries, the church changed its name to "Syrian" during the 1950s. Early publications by members of the Chaldean and Syriac Orthodox Church regularly used "Assyrian" in their titles. However, the pressure from Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries to identify with the church names has taken its toll on the unified name of the community. In Iran where the census always included "Assyrian" the breakdown now lists "Assyrian" and "Chaldean" separately. In Iraq, the census of 1977 completely eliminated the identity "Assyrian" while keeping the church names. This happened at the same time that the Iraqi Security Services identified "Assyrians" as those to prevent from taking their wealth out of the country. Interestingly, Chaldeans who seek asylum in the United States identify themselves as Assyrians who would face severe reprisal and death, should they return. This and other attempts to erase the secular name Assyrian may be seen in the Iraqi documents captured after the Gulf War.

The Census of 2000 united the community as Assyrians accepted a “slashed” compromise, and was even complemented by the participation of the Maronites. The latter have gone so far as adding the name "Syriac" to their name in a heavily publicized move to retrieve their early identity as a Syriac-speaking community which is now all but completely Arabic in culture. Confusion about names prevails and the damage done to the unity of the secular name is slow to dissipate despite the unity of the Assyrian political parties, which draw their membership from all the church communities.

AMERICAN MISSIONARIES AMONG THE ASSYRIANS

In the firm belief that strengthened native Christian churches in the Middle East would help in the conversion of Muslims, two Protestant American churches sent missions to the Assyrians. The first to explore the possibility was the Congregational Church (1829), through its American Board Commission for Foreign Missions out of Boston, Massachusetts, and the second the Episcopal church (1835) through its mission outreach centered in New York. The two separated their geographical and church focus in order not to interfere with each other but the area of Mosul soon became the intersection at which American as well as other missionary interests mingled and competed.

The success of the two missions may be measured in Mosul by the pressure to have the sultan recognize all Protestants as a separate "millet," or religious community which would no longer be subject to Patriarchal tax collection or the registering of births, deaths and marriages (1850). Relations of the American and British missionaries with the native Christian churches did not improve. The Syriac Orthodox church, in particular, remained outside the influence of Western churches and stayed rigidly hierarchical and politically accommodating to local Muslim rule.

The Church of the East, on the other hand, came under the leverage of the Church of England which continued to have a strong influence on the Patriarchal family through the period of WWII. The influence of the Russian Orthodox Church diminished after 1917.

The American, British, and French Catholic mission presence among Assyrians had five beneficial results:

  • it elevated the educational level of Assyrians in towns and satellite villages to a higher level than that of most of their Muslim neighbors
  • it offered Assyrians the knowledge and ability to benefit from and practice Western medicine, thus creating a profession at which they excelled throughout the Middle East
  • it allowed access to Western languages and travel otherwise unavailable
  • it saved parts of Assyrian culture related to medieval Christianity to which many missionary scholars devoted their lives and for which they trained native scholars, especially in the Uniate communities
  • it helped to raise the status of women through education, creating five generations of educated Assyrian women before WWI in Muslim settings where few women were literate

The missionary presence led directly to Assyrian alignments during WWI with the Allies when faced with Ottoman alliance with Germany. Because the Allies could not and would not honor their commitment to the Assyrians to establish a homeland, the Assyrians became the greatest losers of WWI. For this reason, the Assyrians tend to overlook the benefits of the missionary presence and remember mainly the horror of Genocide which their western Allies ignored at the Paris Peace Conference and at the League of Nations.

The effects of the near century of American missionary presence extends even now into the cultural advances of the Assyrians, especially women, and especially those whose origins are from Urmia and transplanted into Iraq or in the United States.

THE SMALLEST ALLY OF THE WEST

Because of their Christian faith, their material advancements, and their closeness to the Americans, the British, the French and the Russians, the Assyrians saw their natural alliance in World War I with the Allies. For years subjected to brutality and persecution by local Ottoman rulers, Kurds, and Persians, the Assyrians looked to "Christian" powers for protection. When War broke out, their sense of nationalism ran high.

The Assyrians, like the Armenians, regarded themselves as the indigenous inhabitants of parts of the eastern Ottoman Empire. On the eve of WWI, the Armenians had acquired recognition and protection from Russia in the former Yerivan velayat, but the Assyrians had no similar legal recognition to territory. Their main base, in the Hakkari mountains, where the See of the Patriarch was located (Qochanis, now in Turkey), and Tur Abdin where the See of the Syriac Patriachate was located (Mardin, now in Turkey) held the main populations. Mosul had gradually become the base for the Uniate churches. Geographic proximity allowed increased contact among Assyrians during the late 19th century, with the Assyrians in northwest Iran particularly, as economic prosperity and education increased.

Living in semi-independent enclaves, Assyrian towns and villages of the Hakkari and Tur Abdin were responsible for any dealings with the government through their Patriarchs. This included the payment of taxes.

In the Hakkari, where tribal maliks served as advisors to the Patriarch, in 1910 the Ottoman government tried to extend its presence and more tightly control the Assyrian tribes. This infringement on the traditional relationship led the Patriarch to seek Russian help. By the end of 1911 Russia had advanced into Iranian Azerbaijan. Until Turkey joined with Germany, Russia and Britain remained cool to Assyrian calls for arms while the Turks courted the Patriarch with vague promises. Prior to war, Assyrian villages began to be attacked by irregulars: Urmian villages by local Turks and the Irano-Turkish foothill villages by Kurds. In the meanwhile in 1914 Ottoman authorities held hostage the Patriarch's brother, a student in Istanbul, and executed him in Mosul in 1915. In light of these events, at an extraordinary meeting of the tribal leaders and the Patriarch, on June 10, 1915 Assyrians decided to join the Allies. The massacre of Assyrian villagers began in earnest led by Ottoman armies and aided by Kurds. Events from Kharput south to the towns and villages of Tur Abdin followed a similar pattern as Ottomans and Kurds depopulated the region of Christians.

The Assyrian goal was to achieve a homeland in Hakkari and on the Nineveh plain (Mosul) for which they fought well as they retreated with families to Urmia.

Germans, Russians and the British promised either the return of the Hakkari or a homeland. For this reason, and because of the history of persecution, and the Genocide undertaken in 1915, "The Year of the Sword," Assyrians became the Smallest Ally of the West in World War I.

The Russian Revolution eliminated Russian aid in 1917. All this time, the Assyrians were fighting to keep Ottoman troops out of Azerbaijan so that Russian and British troops would have access to the Baku oil fields. Despite promises to step in with arms and men to fill the gap left by the Russians, the British saw their advantage in moving the Assyrians to the future Mandate of Mesopotamia.

The Iranian government, wishing to be rid of Assyrians in Urmia, hatched a plan to either disarm or be rid of the Assyrians who controlled that town. When the Patriarch would not agree to disarming, Simko, a Kurdish chief was prevailed upon to assassinate him. This he did on March 16, 1918 at a dinner party to which he had invited the Patriarch. Assyrians continued to fight Ottoman armies under General Agha Potros Elia d-Baz but began leaving Urmia to meet British trucks bringing men and ammunition. When no help came, the Christians began to flee Urmia southward toward expected British help. Urmia became a Muslim town with the exception of widows and orphans sheltered by American and French missionaries, many of whom also lost their lives in the massacres that ensued.

A combined Assyrian delegation to the League of Nations throughout the 1920s prevailed upon the League of Nations to repay this debt to the Assyrians. They enumerated Assyrian losses in pound sterling. Neither the Assyrians nor the Armenians have retrieved any of their losses.

WITNESS TO GENOCIDE

Knowledge about the fate of Assyrians during the period after the 14th century is sketchy until western travelers begin discovering the regions in which they live. From the first accounts it is clear that the community lived in enclaves subject to constant harassment from their neighbors. The most egregious kind of outrage committed against Christians was the abduction of young females, some as young as thirteen. They entered Muslim households as wives or maid/concubines never to be seen by their families again. In societies such as that of Ottomans and Kurds of the pre-modern era, where brides cost money, a Christian girl's abduction was a cheap way to acquire a mother to produce progeny. Abductions and worse are documented during the Genocide. Abductions continue today in Iraq. The life of an Assyrian is so cheaply valued that a family has little recourse in case of abduction unless it wishes to bring further harm to itself. The cheapness that the lives of Christians were held is apparent in the Genocide where learned Bishop, female college graduate, and a poor illiterate farmer were equally likely to be hacked to death.

Witnessing to Genocide has not been easy for the victims. Shame and humiliation, lack of opportunity, lack of interested audience, and the lack of material proof have hampered efforts to make this precursor to the Holocaust against the Jews better understood. Unlike the Jews, the Assyrians have had no state apparatus to organize and disseminate information whereas the perpetrators of the murder, pillage and massacre are able to marshall institutional support for denial. This is true not just in Turkey, but also in Iran, and in Iraq with regard to the massacre at Semele, and presently in northern Iraq as well where the rise of Islamic extremism adds further danger to the already existing Kurdish lawlessness.

Among the most eloquent witnesses to the Genocide of the Assyrians have been westerners living amongst them. Of these, American missionaries provide some of the best eyewitness accounts as they engaged in the rescue of the remnants of the community. They used mission funds to buy back girls held in rape camps, bought food for the starving at exorbitant rates, often food that had been pillaged from the homes of the starving, and wrote the letters to the Pope telling of the killing of Catholic priests and nuns as well as the letters to family members in Diaspora informing them of the disappearance of many and the needs of the few who remained alive.

The Assyrians, both from Tur Abdin and the Hakkari, lost about three quarters of their numbers. Most villages were abandoned and are now occupied by Kurds and Turks. Governments that formed in the region from Iran to Iraq to Turkey refused to allow the Assyrians to return. Assyrians have not been settled in proximity to each other since the Genocide, except in the Jazira, briefly between 1919 and 1921, when the French allowed the Assyrian Protectorate to form under Malik Kambar, a chief of the Jelu tribe. When the British would not cooperate in moving all Assyrian refugees there, the plan failed. The presence of a large number of Assyrians in the Khabour region of Syria since the 1920s reflects the establishment of this post-Genocide community. The organization of Assyrian political parties also stems from this corner of Syria and spreads into the Diaspora with immigration, then into Iraq into clandestine cells which became the Assyrian Democratic Movement.

DIASPORA IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND WORLDWIDE

The draining of Assyrians, as well as other Christians, from the Middle East began slowly at the beginning of the 20th century in the aftermath of the massacres of 1895-6 in Ottoman areas. Prior to this, Assyrian travel within the Middle East had been for purposes of trade, education, or pilgrimage to holy sites, especially to Jerusalem. Travel outside the Middle East began as a trickle, to Russia or the Caucasus, at first, then to the United States. Before 1895-96, several Assyrian men had come to the US to train as doctors and return, a handful had come to help translate the Bible into Syriac or to attend seminary to train as missionaries, and a few hundred or so had come as laborers to earn enough money to return and buy agricultural land. By contrast, after this 19th century massacre, there were enough Assyrians in New Jersey by 1898 to establish the Assyrian Orphanage and School, a charitable institution dedicated to the welfare of Assyrians orphaned by massacre. Fear of further massacres, especially aimed at educated classes in Mardin and Diyarbeker, drove others from their homes to communities along the East Coast, the industrial belt, especially Chicago, and to the Central Valley of California. The flow did not turn into a flood of immigrants however, until the remnants of Genocide began to flee.

From the Kharput area, many came to New England or went to Bethlehem and Jerusalem. From Urmia and Hakkari, they came to Chicago or were taken to the Baquba and Mandan refugee camps in Mesopotamia. Some went to Russia but many there ended up in Stalin's Gulag or before firing squads in the purges of intellectuals during the 1930s and 1940s. Many who settled in Iraq during the 1920s fled to Syria in the 1930s. After the coming of the Baathist regime, and especially after 1975, more fled Iraq and found their way to Sweden, Germany, Holland, and France. The Diaspora continues. In the 1980s, Australia became a place of refuge for Assyrians from Iraq. Those who fled to Turkey from Iraq and were forcibly repatriated were killed. Some managed to flee to Syria, and from there to Lebanon. Their status as recent refugees in the Middle East is in limbo, without the opportunity to work or become educated. The Assyrians in northern Iraq come under pressure from Kurds of several persuasions and are powerless to counter abuses without the help of the Assyrians in Diaspora or the international community.

World War I for the Assyrians meant the loss of their ancient homeland, the churches, monasteries and cemeteries. It also meant human losses. Some estimates show that had the Assyrian population of the Middle East not suffered Genocide and Diaspora, it would today number approximately 20 million. Instead, assimilation in Diaspora, added to the other problems, leaves Assyrians with a worldwide population of about 4 million. Without progress and enlightenment in the Middle East, assimilation and absorption will take a further toll. The homeless Assyrians are already in danger of losing their language in Diaspora and in much of the Middle East. Without peace, the chances of their survival into another two generations is doubtful. It is for this reason that the Assyrian Diaspora in the United States is putting its resources into securing Assyrian rights in the land between the two rivers.

THE STRUGGLE FOR SURVIVAL: RETURN AND RESOLVE

Racked with guilt for living a good life in the West while fellow Assyrians went jobless and homeless in the Middle East, the Assyrian community in the United States had all but resigned itself to helping Assyrians leave the Middle East. After the Iranian Revolution, three quarters of the Assyrians of Iran immigrated, many going to either the US or to Australia. Family reunification visas provided a simple solution for many. Conditions in Iraq continued to be difficult due to the Iran-Iraq war, which saw many Assyrians killed or taken prisoner in Iran where the Assyrian community ministered to them Assyrians had begun to depart Iraq after the 1975 accords between Baghdad and Tehran that brought a collapse to the Kurdish rebellion in which many Assyrians fought as Pesh Merga (Kurdish phrase for "those who face death"). Because hope for ethnic rights evaporated, Assyrians who did not want to submit to the Baathist Arabization policy began to look for means to leave. Iraqi security examined ways to stop their departure, at least with any of their wealth.

In the aftermath of the Gulf War, departure by any means became the aim of even those Catholics, Chaldean and Syriac Catholic alike, who had remained less tied to the aspirations for either homeland or ethnic rights. Thus Chaldean refugees fled to Canada and Mexico, in the hope of entering the US. Chaldean bishoprics have doubled, reflecting a growing number of churches and refugee parishioners. A similar phenomenon is observable in Syriac Orthodox communities in the US and Canada which include especially Assyrians from Mosul.

While the trend to leave Iraq continues, the attitude of the Assyrian American community has undergone a major shift since the Gulf War. By general agreement, the Assyrian American has taken a stand to support keeping Assyrians in Beth Nahrain or(Mesopotamia). To back such sacrifice on the part of Assyrians who remain, the community has launched action on two fronts:

  • financial support for economic, medical and educational development in the no- fly zone
  • political action to rally Assyrian and international support for Assyrians to gain human and ethnic rights in a Future Iraq

The first front has become the domain of the Assyrian Aid Society (Berkeley, CA) which has initiated the Athra Project (Homeland Project) to bring Assyrian language education, to improve agriculture through irrigation and crops, and to help develop better housing in villages. The second front has been slower to develop but is now launched through the establishment of the Assyrian American League. Assyrians have supported both endeavors financially and morally. It is hoped that more can be done on the medical front as hope and knowledge increase, and more attention to Assyrian needs is displayed in decision-making circles.

ASSYRIANS UNDER THE ARAB BAATHIST REGIME

The Baathist Party came to power in Iraq through a military coup on July 17,1968, under the leadership of General Ahmad Hassan Al-Bakr and his nephew, Saddam Hussein , both men of the town of Tikrit. This town had a long and distinguished history as an Assyrian Christian center. This heritage no longer remains: indeed it ended during the sixteenth century when the last Christians were induced to convert to Islam, although the history of conversion goes back to the 12th century. Because the Christian history of Tikrit is well known, and the origins of its inhabitants are from Assyrian areas, many Assyrians consider the Tikritis related in customs. But the unspoken hopes for sympathy toward Assyrians, during the initial period of relative ethnic goodwill expressed by the Baathist regime came as prelude to darker days.

One of the first conciliatory moves toward Assyrians that the Baathists made was to persuade the Patriarch to return for a visit to a country from which he had been banned and stripped of citizenship in 1933. While well received, the Patriarch refused the offer to make his See in Baghdad once more and returned to the United States. In need of a credible Assyrian leader through whom Baghdad could deal with the Assyrians, now in full collusion with the Kurdish Democratic Party in rebellion against Baghdad, the following year, in 1972, it turned to a hero of 1933, Malik Yacu d-Malik Ismael who was living in Canada. This leader too refused to incite the Assyrians against the Kurds. The Baathists acknowledged cultural rights for what they labeled "Syriac-speaking" people in which they included "Assyrians, Syrians and Chaldeans." The Baathists refused to extend the term proposed by Assyrians worldwide, and thus have steadfastly refused to recognize Assyrians as the third ethnic minority in Iraq. Instead they referred to Malik Yaqu as head of a religious sect, which he never was. He died under unexplained circumstances in Iraq. From this period forward, the Baathists have begun a heavily enforced policy of Arabization against the Assyrians. The cultural rights too turned out to be mere paper propaganda after the end of the Kurdish rebellion in 1975.

It should be noted too, that after the offer of cultural rights in Iraq, in Syria the Assyrians began to agitate for cultural rights from that Baathist regime too, but to no avail. Baghdad wanted the Assyrians as buffers against the Kurds. Syria had other needs for Assyrians.

Step by step, the Baathist regime has attempted to diminish the position of Assyrians since 1975. The attempt to divide Assyrians from Chaldeans, the Uniate offshoot of the Church of the East, has succeeded to some extent, especially in the Diaspora. While many of the most active members of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ZOWAA) come from the Chaldean and Church of the East communities, nonetheless, the Chaldean Patriarch remains in Baghdad and plays an increasingly ineffectual role in heading the Chaldean Church in Diaspora where his call for Assyrian national identity are drowned out by American Chaldean bishops who see their advantage in promoting a separate Chaldean ethnic identity. It is apparent that in Iraq itself, Chaldeans are less susceptible to the divisions fostered by the Baathists who may see less need to placate a population under their thumb.

A second step by the Baathists has been to drop the designation "Assyrian" from national censuses, as of 1977. The promoting of an undercounting of Assyrians in Iraq feeds discouragement among Assyrians and diminishes their importance in the view of backers. Part of the reduction of Assyrian numbers has been achieved by coercive measures used to have Assyrians register as Arabs under threat of loss of ration cards and ability to buy or sell property.

A third method used to discourage Assyrian identity is the prohibition on the giving of Assyrian names, a practice also occasionally used in Syria, and widespread in Turkey. Enforced study of the Koran while denying Christian spiritual study, the lack of Assyrian language study, and most of all the random crime against Assyrians all have come about under the Baathist regime. As a result, two generations of Assyrians growing up under these conditions have limited knowledge of their own language and heritage. For this reason, the involvement of the Assyrian Diaspora in developments in Northern Iraq is aimed at education. The Assyrian community has become alarmed, since the creation of a Kurdish dominated no-fly zone in the north, to see Kurdish attitude toward Assyrians begin to reflect similarities to that of the Baathists: depopulation of Assyrian villages, denial of identity as Assyrians by use of the term "Christian Kurds," and creation of artificial cleavages in the Assyrian community, by emphasizing political entities that do not exist in reality, in order to point to disarray among Assyrians.

THE ASSYRIAN POLITICAL POSITION

The struggle for survival has led Assyrians to take united political action. Due to their being scattered in the Middle East among six countries, Assyrians have developed several political parties. The significant one in Iraq is ZOWAA. Zowaa demokrataya d-aturayi (Assyrian Democratic Movement) came into existence on April 12, 1972 clandestinely through the combined efforts of Diaspora Assyrians and the Assyrians of Iraq and resulted directly from activities related to the travel of Malik Yaqu that same year. In 1981 Baghdad hanged at least three important members of Zowaa. In 1982, those Zowaa members (especially those in the military) who had not been captured and killed by Baghdad fled north or maintained clandestine activity in Baghdad. By 1991, even those who had chosen to stay, had to take shelter in the north.

Zowaa receives support from various Assyrian Diaspora organizations and solicits individual membership. Currently it holds positions in the government with the KDP and maintains contacts worldwide in the Assyrian community. The highest Assyrian office holder in northern Iraq, Francis Shabo, a vice president, was assassinated under still to be explained circumstances in the north. Under pressure from the Kurdish government in the northern no-fly zone, and due to lack of funds, no separate Assyrian military presence is maintained. Military activities are merged with Kurds. Because of its strong presence on the ground in the northern no-fly zone, the Assyrian Aid Society directs its development projects mainly through Zowaa personnel.

The goals of the Assyrian community in Diaspora, while expressed through different organizations at different historical periods, nonetheless coalesce around the same basic theme: securing Assyrian rights. During the 1970s when some activity was apparent on this issue as Baghdad came in search of Assyrians to use against Kurds, it approached the Patriarch Mar Eshai Shummon, then living in San Francisco. The Patriarchal family of the Assyrian Church of the East, more than any of the other three Patriarchs, had served as the de facto leader of the community, a position held de jure under Ottoman rule. One day after his departure from Baghdad, the government declared him "the Supreme Head of the Assyrian People in Iraq." After Mar Eshai Shummon (1975), the political presence of the church diminished in proportion to the growth of secular organizations.

The Assyrian American League (www.AssyrianAmericanLeague.org) was formed to become the interface between the Assyrian American community and the US Government. It has no religious affiliation but includes all sects, with a special focus on an activist constituency. Assyrian intellectuals and business leaders are counted among the backbone of this robust organization. Its mission is to secure Assyrian rights by educating international decision makers. It has built a stable professional presence in Washington, DC and Chicago and plans to expand to other important Assyrian American population centers.

A stalwart, though non-political organization has been the Assyrian American National Federation, which functions effectively in social, educational and cultural affairs and in keeping the Assyrian American community functioning since 1933. Initially secular and Protestant, reflecting the Assyrian Diaspora in America, because it functions according to a democratically based constitution, its leadership changes in keeping with the changes in the community. The Assyrian American National Federation was formed by agreement among Protestants, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Chaldean and Church of the East members. This has always remained its composition although the proportions have changed due to the heavy emigration of Assyrians from Iraq since the 1970s. The annual general conventions of the Assyrian American National Federation help to bring together physically many sectors among Assyrians in the United States and offers an opportunity to assess the political climate as well.

Support for a formal recognition of the Assyrian presence in Iraq and a chance to achieve a solid goal in a Future Iraq enjoys the support of all sectors of the Assyrian Diaspora. Organizations in Sweden, Germany, Holland, France and Australia may be mobilized to support action that has the welfare of the Assyrians as part of its goal. The nucleus of cooperation among the active political parties will help to mobilize other Assyrian Diaspora communities.

The Assyrian American League (AAL) seeks to work toward the creation of a democratic, secular Iraq which is at peace with itself and with its neighbors. The AAL seeks to help to build an Iraq where all Iraqis, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, political persuasion, or language are afforded equal rights under the law.

CHRONOLOGY OF ASSYRIANS IN MESOPOTAMIA

ANCIENT

4750 BC, Earliest habitation levels at Nineveh, later capital of Assyria

4th millennium Civilization, cuneiform writing, agriculture and urban culture begin in Mesopotamia (the land between the two rivers - Beth Nahrain)

3rd millennium Sargon of Akkad - first unifying commander begins process of displacing Sumerian power. Assyrian trade grows.

8th c BC. Expansion into Urartu, Babylon, under Sargon II

668-625 Ashurbanipal subdues Egypt but civil war with Babylon drains empire. First library organized at Nineveh

612 Capture of Nineveh, capital of Assyria, by combined Mede and Babylonian force

605 Harran-based remnants of Assyrian elites fail in attempt to restore Assyrian political power

7th c. BC-7th c. AD Assyria becomes a province of other empires. Roman Assyria extends into northwest Iran under Heraclius

1st - 7th c. Small Assyrian kingdoms like Osrohene (Edessa capital), Adiabene (Arbil capital) & centers in Harran and Nisibis

CHRISTIAN ERA - Assyrians gradually adopt Christianity which, together with language, serve as their chief ethnic characteristics.

1St c. King Abgar of Edessa, Osrohene accepts Christianity

431 Council of Ephesus declares Nestorius, the Syriac Patriarch of Byzantium, a heretic due to diophysite stand.

451 Council of Chalcedon declares an understanding of the trinity according to monophysite doctrine for western Christianity thus leading to the dyophysite (nestorian)/monophysite (Jacobite) doctrinal split in the Syriac speaking churches

635 Missionaries from the Church of the East arrive in Chang-an (Xian), the Tang Empire capital. Syriac alphabet and language influence spreads into Central Asia. Mongolian alphabet is developed and is Syriac in origin.

656 Muslim Arab conquest of Mesopotamia

751 Arab Muslim armies battle Chinese in Talas, presently in Kyrgysztan, causing reaction against religions from the West

785 Xian-fu monument chronicles Christian arrival in China

8th-10th c. Syriac scholars at Abbasid court in Baghdad. In Harran and northern mountains, old pagan religion and language continues in secrecy

1187 Maronite Church begins its long history of Union with Rome in break from Jacobite doctrine

1275 Mongols in Iran(Il Khanids) convert to Islam and the Syriac churches decline under religious/political pressure from ascendant Islam

14th c Tamerlane's invasions cripple Assyrian Christianity in Iran Caucasus and Mesopotamia & drive it into mountain valleys

PRE-MODERN AND MODERN PERIODS

1552 Roman Catholic influence spreads on plains of Nineveh

"Chaldean" name given to Uniate off-shoot of Church of the East

1646 Uniate branch of Jacobite church forms with base in Mardin

1828 Treaty of Turkmanchai concludes war between Iran and Tsarist Russia. Whole Assyrian villages move north into Russian territory

1834 American Rev. Justin Perkins arrives in Urmia to begin work among Assyrians

1842 Archbishop of Canterbury's mission to the Church of the East in Hakkari

1847 Bedir Khan's Kurds massacre Assyrians in Hakkari, especially Tiyari

1849 First newspaper in Iran, the Assyrian language Zahrira d-Bahra

1895-6 The massacre of Assyrians in Ottoman towns and villages

1898 Russian mission arrives in Urmia

1911 Russian troops enter northwest Iran

1914 British forces land in Basra in Allied move of WWI to protect British oil pipelines in Iran from Ottoman/German capture

Bashkala massacre of 50 Gawarnai Assyrians by Muslim mob (30 Oct)

Fatwa for Jihad declared in Istanbul (Nov. 4)

1915 The Year of the Sword/Sypa/Sayfo. Order from the Committee on Union and Progress to rid southwest Turkey of Christians. (April)

Ottoman Assyrians flee to Russia, east to Iran, west toward Aleppo and Jerusalem in wake of genocide. Assyrian Patriarch flees to Iran.

Local Muslims attack and kill Bishop Mar Dinkha and 60 men in Golpashan, Urmia

Hormiz, brother of Patriarch Mar Benyamin, taken hostage for the neutrality of the Patriach in the War and killed.

1917 Russian revolution spells gradual dissolution of Russian forces in Iran.

1918 Enver Pasha's troops enter Iran as all Assyrians combine forces to beat them back. They win battles but lose war against combined local Muslim & Turkish troops

Patriarch of the Church of the East is murdered by the Kurds

Pillage of Assyrian villages in Iran and the attempt to cleanse the area of Christians begins as Turkish troops march to Tabriz.

Instead of allowing Assyrians to return to their homes in 1918 after Turkey's defeat, British truck Assyrians to Iraq.

1919 Treaty of Sevres to end WWI between Allies and Turkey

League of Nations is formed

British use Assyrian refugees to enforce occupation of Mesopotamia.

Assyrians denied representation at Paris Peace Conference due to British

Under French protection, the Assyrian Protectorate in Jazirah (Khabour area of Syria) is formed by Malik Kambar d-Malik Warda of Jelu

1920 Treaty of Sevres is signed by Turkey (June 10) with provisions for Kurds, Arabs, Armenians but not Assyrians

Formation of Iraq as British mandate

Assyrian families who return to Hakkari drafted as British Levies again to guard Mosul from Turks.

1921 Patriarchal family refuses French-backed offer to move to Jazira, Syria

British guide Assyrians to Kirkuk oil fields, employ Assyrian men in Levies to control Arab population

Kurdish Iraqi revolt under Sheikh Mahmud

Assyrian Levies are raised from Mandan refugee camp

1923 Dropping previously official name "Mesopotamia"

Treaty of Lausanne leaves Mosul issue for League of Nations to settle

1924 League of Nations assigns most of oil rich Mosul velayat to Iraq

1925 Kurdish uprising against Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

1926 Turkey agrees to Mosul award after initial protest

1927 British agree to support Iraqi admission to League of Nations in 1932

1932 Assyrian Levies resign en masse in view of homeland denial

Patriarch at Geneva to state Assyrian case before the Permanent Mandates Commission. He is not allowed by Baghdad to return.

Iraq admitted into the League of Nations on condition of guarantees for the protection of minorities, etc.

1933 Jihad declared against Assyrians by Baghdad

August 7 The massacre of Assyrian Christians at Semele under orders from General Bakr Sidqi, a Kurd, and lauded by Iraqi king.

1935 League of Nations decides to settle Assyrians in Ghab region of Syria

1940 Britain musters able bodied Assyrians into Levies upon start of WWII

1941 Habbaniya Assyrians give Allies first victory in WWII

1942 Assyrian area of Jazira incorporated into Syria

1946 Patriarch protests to United Nations the lack of protection in Iran

1958 End of Iraq monarchy, beginning of republic and renewed promise of minority rights for Assyrians

1968 Baathist military coup led by Hassan al-Bakr and Saddam Hussein

1970 Depopulation, deportation, and arabization of Assyrians follows continued revolt against Baghdad

Reversal of policy toward Assyrians leads to invitation for a Patriarchal visit to Baghdad in move to recruit Assyrians against Kurds

1972 Baghdad offers Assyrians limited cultural rights but without the name "Assyrian" but rather "Syriac speaking."

Assyrians petition for autonomous region in Province of Dohuk (Nohadra) when Baghdad grants Kurds option of autonomy in Arbil and Sulaimaniya

1975 Understanding reached by Tehran and Baghdad over Shatt al-Arab brings collapse of Kurdish rebellion

1976-77 Over 200 Assyrian villages are razed in northern Iraq by the government

1977 Name Assyrian omitted from the Iraqi census in move to erase history

1978 Special secret instructions issued to prevent departure of Assyrians

1979 Churches destroyed in deliberate move to erase Assyrian heritage

In attempt to divide Assyrians, Baghdad disperses $10 million to Chaldean churches

1981 Gradual deterioration of Assyrian schools, church and cultural efforts

1982 Iran-Iraq war sees many Assyrian men drafted who die in front lines

1985 Members of Assyrian political parties are hunted, executed, or disappear

1988-89 Archeological excavations unearth tombs of three royal Assyrian women, including the mummy of Atalia, queen of Sargon II

1991 Gulf War to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi invasion

In northern no-fly zone, Kurds begin policies intended to displace Assyrian villagers. 52 Assyrian villages seized by Kurds

Murder of Francis Shabo, an Assyrian vice president in KDP

Kurds begin to identify Assyrians as "Christian Kurds"

1992 Elections held for Parliament of North Iraq but war lordism prevails

1993 Policy of intimidation against Assyrians in North Iraq

Islamic Movement of Kurdistan assassination squad targets Assyrians

Abduction of Assyrian girls by Kurds part of terrorizing policy

1995-7 Growth of Islamic extremists and terrorizing of Assyrians

1996 Attempt to Kurdify school curricula in northern Iraq harms Assyrians

Violence against Christian religious structures on the increase

1997 In Baghdad Assyrians targeted for rape, abduction and murder

Violence against Assyrians in North and in Baghdad goes unpunished
 

2000 Successful assassination of Franzo Hariri, KDP affiliated Assyrian, by Islamic extremists in Kurdistan

2001 Continued imprisonment, torture, and murders of Assyrian landowners,

Murder of priest in Baghdad

2002 Murder of Sister Cecelia, a Chaldean nun, in Baghdad (August).

"Accidental" auto death of retired Bishop and nun (Sept)

Distribution of threatening leaflets into Christian homes in Baghdad in anticipation of war

FURTHER READINGS

Websites:

AINA.ORG

AssyrianAmericanLeague.org

ZINDAMAGAZINE.COM

BETHSURYOYO.COM

Baaba, Youel A. AN ASSYRIAN ODYSSEY COVERING THE JOURNEY OF KASHA YACOUB YAURE AND HIS WIFE MOURASSA FROM URMIA TO THE COURT OF QUEEN VICTORIA (1879-1881) AND THE EXODUS OF ASSYRIANS FROM THEIR ANCESTRAL HOME (1918), (Youel A. Baaba Library, Alamo, Ca, 2000) 175 pages with many illustrations.

Davis, Davis. ed., GENOCIDES AGAINST THE ASSYRIANS (1999) 168 pages. An indispensable collection of original documents. Washington DC, 20026.

Gilliana, Shlimon Z. ASSYRIANS IN THE WILDERNESS (Memoirs) (Chicago, Ashurbanipal Library, 2000) 110 pages with insert maps. A remembrance of life in Hakkari's Jelu tribal section and the town of Mar Zaya. With photographs and section on Assyrian homeland.

Halo, Thea. NOT EVEN MY NAME: From a Death March in Turkey to a New Home in America, A Young Girl's True Story of Genocide and Survival (New York, Picador, USA, 2000) 321 pages.

Kakovitch, Ivan. MOUNT SEMELE (Alexandria, VA, Mandrill, 2002) 360 pages. A novel based on a Hakkari family history that takes the story through the first four decades of the 20th century and runs the geographical gamut of Assyrian displacement.

Naby, Eden and Hopper Michael, eds. The ASSYRIAN EXPERIENCE: SOURCES FOR THE STUDY OF THE 19TH AND 20TH CENTURIES (from the holdings of the Harvard University Libraries - with a selected bibliography). Illustrated - 176 pages. 1999. Catalogue of exhibit at Harvard University with good selected bibliography.

Porterfield, Amanda. MARY LYON AND THE MOUNT HOLYOKE MISSIONARIES (New York, Oxford University Press, 1997) 179 pages. In this volume, Porterfield devotes Chapter 4 to "The Centrality of Women in the Revitalization of Nestorian Christianity and its Conflicts with Islam." Her materials come from letters exchanged between Fiske and others at Mount Holyoke College, as well as records of missionaries.

Sanders, J.C.J. ASSYRIAN-CHALDEAN CHRISTIANS IN EASTERN TURKEY AND IRAN: THEIR LAST HOMELAND RE-CHARTED. Illustrated with two foldout maps. 93 pages. 1999. Translated from Dutch.

Wilmshurst, D. THE ECCLESIASTICAL ORGANIZATION OF THE CHURCH OF THE EAST - 1318- 1913. (Leuven, Peeters, 2000) 855 pages. In this study the author assembles and discusses the available evidence for the ecclesiastical organization of the Church of the East in the Middle East.

Yoel-Campbell, Elizabeth. YESTERDAY'S CHILDREN: GROWING UP IN PERSIA, Printed in Traralgan, Victoria, Australia, 1999. ISBN 0 646 35434 5. 112 pages. A memoir of growing up Assyrian in Maragha with an American educated physician father from Ottoman areas, and a missionary educated mother from Urmia on the eve of WWI.

Yonan, Gabriele. THE ASSYRIAN GENOCIDE: A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY. Trans. By Nancy A. Chapple. Markus Wiener Publishers, 2002. 480 pages, illustrated. ISBN 1-55876-262-0 This translation of Dr. Yonan's German book breaks new ground in documentation.





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