Assyrians — a historical summary
Assyrians of today are the indigenous
descendants of the ancient Assyrian people, one of the earliest
civilizations emerging in the Middle East, and have a history
spanning over 6760 years. Assyrians are not Arabian or Arabs, we are
not Kurdish, our religion is not Islam. The Assyrians are
Christian, with our own unique language, culture and heritage.
Although the Assyrian empire ended in 612 B.C., history is replete
recorded details of the continuous presence of the Assyrian
people till the present time.
The Assyrian kingdom, being one of the base roots of Mesopotamia,
encouraged urbanization, building of permanent dwellings, and
cities. They also developed agriculture and improved methods of
irrigation using systems of canals and aqueducts. They enhanced
their language that served as a unifying force in writing, trade and
business transaction. They encouraged trade, established and
developed safe routes, protecting citizens and property by written
law. They excelled in administration, documented their
performance and royal achievements, depicting their culture in
different art forms. They built libraries and archived their
recorded deeds for prosperity. They accumulated wealth and
knowledge; raised armies in disciplined formation of infantry,
cavalry and war-chariot troops with logistics; and built a strong
kingdom, an unique civilization and the first world empire.
The heartland of Assyria lays in present day northern Iraq,
northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey, and northwestern Iran.
The remains of the ancient capital of Assyria, Nineveh, is next to
Mosul in northern Iraq.
Prior to the Assyrian
which occurred before, during and after World War I, the major
Assyrian communities still inhabited the areas of Harran, Edessa,
Tur Abdin, and Hakkari in southeastern Turkey, Jazira in
northeastern Syria, Urmia in northwestern Iran, and Mosul in
northern Iraq as they had for thousands of years.
The world’s 4 million Assyrians are currently dispersed with
members of the Diaspora comprising nearly one-third of the
population. Most of the Assyrians in the Diaspora live in
North America, Europe and Australia with nearly 460,000 residing in
the United States of America. The remaining Assyrians reside
primarily in Iraq and Syria, with smaller populations in Turkey,
Iran, Lebanon, and Jordan.
The Assyrians are not to be confused with Syrians even though
some Syrian citizens are Assyrian. Although the name of Syria
is directly derived from Assyria and Syria was an integral part of
Assyrian civilization, most of the people of Syria currently
maintain a separate Arab identity. Moreover, the Assyrians are
not Arabs but rather have maintained a continuous and distinct
identity, language, culture, and religion that predates the
of the Near East. In addition, unlike the Arabs who did not
enter the region until the seventh century A.D., the Assyrians are
the indigenous people of Mesopotamia. Until today, the
Assyrians speak a
the actual language spoken by Jesus Christ. As a Semitic
language is related to Hebrew and Arabic but predates both. In
addition, whereas most Arabs are Muslim, Assyrians are essentially
The Assyrians were among the first to accept Christianity in the
first century A.D. through the Apostle St. Thomas. Despite the
subsequent Islamic conquest of the region in the seventh century
A.D., the Church of
the East flourished and its adherents at one time numbered in
the tens of millions. Assyrian missionary zeal was unmatched
and led to the
first Christian missions to China, Japan, and the Philippines.
The Church of the East stele in
China bears testament to a thriving Assyrian Christian Church as
early as in the seventh century A.D. Early on, the Assyrian Church
divided into two ancient branches, the Syrian Orthodox Church and
the Church of the East. Over time, divisions within these
Assyrian Churches led to the establishment of the Chaldean Church
(Uniate Catholic), Syrian Catholic Church, and Maronite Church.
Persistent persecution under Islamic occupation led to the migration
of still greater numbers of Assyrian Christians into the Christian
autonomous areas of Mount Lebanon as well. With the arrival of
Western Protestant and Catholic missionaries into Mesopotamia,
especially since the nineteenth century, several smaller
congregations of Assyrian Protestants arose as well. A direct
consequence of Assyrian adherence to the Christian faith and their
missionary enterprise has been persecution, massacres, and ethnic
cleansing by various waves of non-Christian neighbors which
ultimately led to a decimation of the Assyrian Christian population.
Most recently and tragically, Great Britain invited the Assyrians as
an ally in World War I. The autonomous Assyrians were drawn
into the conflict following successive massacres against the
civilian population by forces of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, Kurds,
Arabs and Persians. Although many geopolitical and economic
factors were involved in provoking the attacks against the
Assyrians, a jihad or holy war was declared and served as the
rallying cry and vehicle for marauding Turks, Kurds, and Persians.
Although the Muslim holy war against the Armenians is perhaps better
known, over three-fourths, or
750,000 Assyrian Christians were also killed between 1843-1945
during the Assyrian Holocaust.
The conflict and subsequent
Holocaust led to the decimation and dispersal of the Assyrians.
Those Assyrians who survived the Holocaust were driven out of their
ancestral homeland in Turkish Mesopotamia primarily toward the area
of Mosul Vilayet in Iraq, Jazira in Syria, and the Urmi plains of
Iran where large Assyrian populations already lived. The
massacres of 1915 followed the Assyrians to these areas as well,
prompting an exodus of many more Assyrians to other countries and
continents. The Assyrian Holocaust of 1915 is the turning
point in the modern history of the Assyrian Christians precisely
because it is the single event that led to the dispersal of the
surviving community into small, weak, and destitute communities.
Most Assyrians in the Diaspora today can trace their emigration
from the Middle East to the Assyrian Holocaust of 1915. Many,
who fled from their original homes into other Middle Eastern
countries subsequently, just one generation later, once more
emigrated to the West. Thus, many Assyrian families in the
West today have experienced transfer to a new country for three
successive generations beginning, for instance, from Turkey to Iraq
and then to the United States.
World War I, after the Assyrians sided with the victorious Allies, Great Britain had promised
the Assyrians autonomy,
independence, and a homeland.
question was addressed during postwar deliberations at the
League of Nations. However, with the termination of the
British Mandate in Iraq, the unresolved status of the Assyrians was
relinquished to the newly formed Iraqi government with promises of
certain minority guarantees specifically concerning freedom of
religious, cultural, and linguistic expression. The Assyrians
Smallest Ally"] lost two-thirds of their population during the World Wars.
Simele Genocide (Syriac:
ܦܪܡܬܐ ܕܣܡܠܐ: Premta d-Simele) was the first of many massacres
committed by the Iraqi government during
systematic genocide of Assyrians of Northern Iraq in August
1933. The term is used to describe not only the massacre of Simele,
but also the killing spree that continued among 63 Assyrian villages
in the Dohuk and Mosul districts that led to the deaths of an
estimated 3,000 innocent Assyrians. Today, most of these
villages continue to be illegally occupied by Arabs and Kurds.
Currently, the Assyrians are religiously and ethnically
persecuted in the Middle East due to Islamic fundamentalism,
Arabization and Kurdification
policies, leading to land expropriations and
forced emigration to the West.