Assyrian Education Network

Maintenance and Transformation of Ethnic Identity: the Assyrian case
Assyrians After Assyria Conference

Posted: Friday, August 25, 2000 at 02:52 PM CT


In this paper I will address the question of the Assyrian ethnic identity from a historical perspective. We will briefly examine the replacement of the Ottoman Empire with the Turkish republic as well as analyse the many consequences this had for ethnic minorities and their identity. Secondly I will focus on the resettlement of Assyrians from Mesopotamia in different western countries following the First World War in order to discuss what options and challenges these new societies offer the Assyrians in regard to their ethnic identity.

The existence of a multicultural society is one of the most essential and challen­ging social issues today.The existence of ethnic variation of ethnic identities entails practical as well as theoretical problems and challen­ges. It is therefore of both practical and theoretical importance to study and come to an understanding of these central issues.

Nowadays a lot of attention is put on ethnicity and the question of diversity in most given societies. These questions have (although with some exception) been largely ignored in the early days of social science.The main standpoint and assumption was that the issue of ethnicity would be outdated by the 21st century. During the last decades however, issues of ethnic identity have been given close attention. As a matter of fact the intellectual and political scene has changed profoundly. Today some of the most influential and knowledgeable scholars are discussing issues such as ethnic diversity, different ethnic identities, cultures and forms of life, as well as the existence of and the degree of recognition and misrecognition of different ethnic identities.

This interest in ethnic diversity is also being expressed in international politics. The European Corporation (EC) and Security Meeting drafted in 1991 a declaration about national minorities and established a council for them in 1993. The United Nations (UN) discussed the individual’s right to belong to a national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minority and more importantly announced a declaration in 1998 on the rights of indigenous peoples. In1992 the EC announced the rights of minorities to their own language. The most recent example of international focus on ethnic issues is the dissolving of the ex Soviet Union and the partitioning of former Yugoslavia.

There are approximately 300 million people in the world today who belong to or identify as an indigenous group. These indigenous groups can be characterised as the following:

  1. the people are descendants of those who lived in the territory before they were invaded, moved away, or in other ways were occupied by foreign people;
  2. these descendants are today not the politically dominant group; and
  3. there are cultural differences between the indigenous people and the dominant people.

The indigenous people are also sometimes referred to as “Fourth World” nations. It is common knowledge that imperial powers draw frontiers crossing these people’s traditional and historical lands and settlements. The problem for these indigenous people are not only historical since they still today are not guaranteed the right to self-determination, a right which is expressed in the UN ‘s declaration on the right of indigenous people:

“All indigenous nations and peoples have the right to self-determination, by virtue of which they have the right to whatever degree of autonomy or self-government they choose. This includes the right to freely determine their political status, freely pursue their own economic, social, religious and cultural development, and determine their membership and/or citizenship, without external interference”

Many indigenous people who have survived persecution, massacres and genocide by the state ruling their ancestral homeland have fled their country and migrated, usually as a last solution to an unbearable life situation in both collective and individual terms.

Assyrians are one of the indigenous peoples of Middle East, and are the descendants from ancient Mesopotamian society. They have had minority status for centuries under different empires, and under the rule of different states. The Assyrian people have long suffered because of their different religious and cultural identity. They have been deprived of their land and been victim to several massacres over the centuries. The dispersion of Assyrians throughout the Middle East has led to a fragmentation of Assyrian national identity, and has resulted in diver­gent cul­tural and linguistic practices. Nevertheless, having a shared religion, language and minority status has given rise to similar living condi­tions among Assyrians in different Middle Eastern countries, which has brought about an increased solidarity within the Assyrian community. The most outstanding characteristic of this ethnic identity has been Christian reli­gious practices and, since the 3rd Century, the Syriac language. Assyrians have also assimilated many cultural features from surrounding peoples.

Because of their status as a stateless people, Assyrians have been forced to develop and maintain unique social and cultural institutions in the countries in which they live in order to maintain a distinct group identity. They have main­tained this distinct identity often in the face of strong pressure to be assimi­lated into the surrounding populations and their cultures, and have survived as an ethnic community thanks to a strong ethnic consciousness and strategies for boundary maintenance. This resistance to assimilation has also been explained by their territorial concentration in some regions in Middle East (Mesopota­mia), and perhaps even more so by the Christian religious practices which dis­tin­­­guish them from their Muslim neighbours. At the same time, the millet system in the Ottoman empire, in which different ethnic and religious communi­ties handled their own cultural, social and religious concerns, offered conditions for the Assyrian community to maintain its ethnic distinctiveness.

The region in which the Assyrians have lived has historically constituted a vital part of their ethnic identity. Their minority position, statelessness and the geographical fragmentation of different countries in the Middle East - Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq - and later dispersion throughout the world has resulted in the Assyrian community’s transformation into a multi­ethnic minority group. This means that even within the community there exist the Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, and Persian languages, as well as several variants and dialects of Syriac, a language unique to Assyrians. In addition to taking on the languages of their exile countries, Assyrian communities and their churches have also developed different traditions and habits. This differentiation has resulted in different definitions and conceptions of ethnic origin, belonging, and identity within the community.

During the last decades of the Ottoman Empire, which saw the spread of Western ideas about nationalism, ideological and political structures were profoundly changed. Between 1870 and 1920, several radical changes occurred. Strong modernisation efforts later resulted in a process of nationalisation, which was accentuated after the fall of the empire. During the first two decades of this century, nationalist groups sought to homogenise the newborn nation of Turkey. This perspective was linked with a policy against minorities that either ignored the existence of ethnic minorities or sought to assimilate, marginalise, or even exterminate them. This warfare or genocide against minorities is sometimes also called ethnocide. Ethnocide refers to the extermination of a mino­rity culture. Assyrians were among the victims of political and ideol­o­gical changes, several collective excesses, and genocide. As a consequence of these tur­bulent events, the effects of geno­cide, dispersion, starvation, disease and flight drastically reduced the Assyrian population.Following these events, the first intercontinental modern migration of Assyrians took place. Since the First World War, they have immigrated to different parts of the western and non- western world.

The State, Nation and Ethnicity: One Perspective on the Assyrian Genocide

A vital part of the attention on ethnic identity is the problematisation of the state, the nation and ethnicity and the process of nation building. A minority constitutes a certain category of any given population which is distinguished and distinguishes itself from others by certain racial and social/cultural features. The minority group is usually discriminated by the dominant group(s). Generally minorities are in a weak position and remain relatively powerless. Ethnic minorities may emerge in three different ways: 1) indigenous and later colonised; 2) the border of a state is redrawn and not following ethnic lines, or 3) through migration from one country to another.

In the race to create “one nation, one race, one people, one language” the minorities were the losers if they were not assimilated or exterminated as they migrated. The process of nation building has in the past centuries been seen as an inevitable process where the stronger and more powerful nations were winners and the smaller subordinated to them. The latter had either to join the stronger group on their conditions or try to fight for recognition and the power to express their own national identity. When the national borders were adjusted after the First World War around 30 million people in Europe constituted an ethnic minority position. The issue of integrating them in the national state became a chief question, but the problem remained unsolved. In the peace agreement the allies tried to ensure the minorities were given opportunities to maintain their own identity and culture. The allied states promised to guarantee these rights. Unfortunately however,these ideas were never realised and Woodrow Wilson’s declaration about the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples was never allowed to be practised by the dominant political groups.

The new nation states differed in many ways from earlier types of states. The idea of one nation and one state was new and the nation state can be described as the state having control over the social space, the monopoly of the means of violence. All this entailed homogenisation of the society and nationalism. In order to achieve these objectives the state had to develop and expand its state apparatuses and attempt to create a civic ‘religion’ ie. patriotism. The state sought homogeneity and integration and could therefore not tolerate diversity ie other loyalties than those directed to the state. Therefore all of the ethnic diversity, which for instance under the millet system of the Ottoman Empire was tolerated, was now seen as an enemy and threat to the integrity of the state.

Although the creation of the nation state was a progress in human history it was at the same time devastating for people not belonging to the dominant ruling groups. The multinational state was build on diversity and tolerance while the modern nation state was build on homogeneity and all minorities became enemies of the state. This clearly shows the human costs of nation building, as Smith expresses it:

“The persecution of ‘indigestible’ minorities in the drive for greater national homogeneity, justification of terror, ethnocide and genocide on a scale inconceivable in earlier stages” (Smith 1991: 176)

The big consequences of the efforts to create a nation state with an undivided ethnic homogenous territory was mass deportation or ethnocide of minorities. The aggressive form of nationalism showed this “murderish reducio ad absurdum” (Hobsbawm 1994:174). These were some of the costs to be paid for in the modernisation of the state.

The reformers of the Turkish republic “decided that their survival (which in their minds was synonymous with survival of the state and the nation) was contingent upon defining a homogenous and unified community as the basis to their rule and legitimacy” (Kasaba 1997: 27). The new Turkish republic didn’t and still doesn’t recognise any ethnic minority with the exception of certain religious minorities. Its politics of assimilation have been built only to recognise the existence of the Turkish ethnicity, language and history. The minister of Justice Bozkort said to the Milliyet newspaper in 1930 “Turkey is the land of Turks. These who do not have true Turkish descendency have only one right in this country, the right to be a servant or a slave” (Deniz 1999: 180). The new aggressive nationalism was serious and consequential and resulted in deportation and massacres of Christians in the Ottoman Empire and later in the newly formed Turkish republic. The Young Turks sought to “promote a new identity of Turkishness tout court” (Mardin 1997:118).

The genocide and countless massacres the Assyrian people have been victim to during the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century have had huge impacts on the existence of Assyrian identity and national consciousness. Firstly the genocide decreased the number of the Assyrian population, targeted ecclesiastical, intellectual and political leaders, seriously weakened the Assyrian community, culture and existence in Mesopotamia. Secondly the genocide has contributed to strengthening an Assyrian sense of solidarity and communality between different communities within the Assyrian nation. The persecutions suffered have pointed clearly and dramatically to the common fate and the same weak position regardless of geographical settlement and church belonging. Above all the genocide has contributed to the creation of a collective memory and trauma, which is transmitted to the younger generations. The genocide created and caused a feeling of victimisation, a ‘stigmatised’ identity and fear, not only among those who personally experienced the genocide but also younger generations. This is proven by the reactivated trauma that emerged following the antichristian movement in the Cyprus crisis. Thirdly the genocide has played a crucial role in causing intercontinental migration and thus started the modern Assyrian diaspora.

Maintenance and transformation of Assyrian ethnic identity in a historical and social perspective

Maintenance and transformation of ethnic identity takes place in and is enabled by certain historical, socio-economic, political and cultural conditions. The actions and identity of ethnic groups are responses to processes of modernisation. Three “waves” of modernisation influencing the Assyrian community and identity are discernible:

  1. modernisation of the original homelands during the 19th and 20th century,
  2. transformation and the final dissolution of the Ottoman empire where new state was constituted and collective identities were transformed, and
  3. the migration to western countries in many ways intensified and deepened the initial transformation of identity.

The relation between ethnicity and modernisation is decisive to consider in order to understand the Assyrian ethnic identity. All the profound technical, social and political changes, and the final dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the millet system contributed to the rise of a new form of understanding and new expressions of collective identities in the light of nationalistic ideas about identity, new principles for states as common will and self-determination.

The First and Second Wave of Transformation of Ethnic Identity

The politics of identity, identity-schemes, ethnic relations and material conditions in the millet system in the Ottoman Empire differed qualitatively from those developed in the modern nation state. Although the former’s deep-rooted identity schemes continue and were used by different communities. Nonetheless the process of nationalisation, collective consciousness and identity took place and the hegemony of the previous religious based identities in the millet system to a more nationalistic based identity with its difficulties and tensions started to take place.

As a consequence of the transformation of collective identities, changing rela­­tions between religion, nation and ethnicity, and the contact with Westerners, Christianity could no longer work as a sufficient scheme for identity among intellectuals. Their search after historical roots led them to identify with the ancient Mesopotamian culture. They were influenced by and adopted natio­nalistic ideas about collective identity. Reconsideration of history influenced them, in particular the historical fragments of knowledge about the pre-Christian era acquired during their education in monasteries and through excursions of the old Babylon, Nineveh. Western missionaries also influenced them. They were not only influenced by external ideas, Western ideas about nationality and ideas about the transformation of collec­tive identities among neighbouring peoples, but also by their own teachers who were men of the church.

These intellectuals reacted very strongly against what they perceived as a divi­sion of their people into different churches. An important part of their work was to unify the different churches (communions) into one collective identity, and to abolish the schisms and antagonisms that had grown between churches as a con­se­quence of religious excommunication. These thinkers also reacted strongly to the vulnerable situation of their community and the threats of exter­mination through recurring massacres and assimilation.

Political and military activities were more organised during the First World War among Nestorian Assyrians. During these decades Nestorians and others such as Syrian-Orthodox, Syrian-Catholics, and Chaldeans made several appeals about autonomy to the United Nations. The second phase in the transformation of collective identity involving the Syrian Orthodox group was similar to the transformation of the collective identities among neighbouring peoples, which saw the emergence of new independent states. Increased pan-Arabism and natio­nal­ism and other events (especially the genocide that took place between 1915-1918) also influenced community thinkers and their ideas in the first phase. The Assyrian Democratic Organisation (ADO) was founded in Syria in order to deal with the community’s cultural and ethnic rights. The organisation soon spread to and became estab­lished in Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.

The emergence of nationalist thinking among intellectuals during the two phases was a response to the hardships that the community endured. In the first phase it was massacres and denial of ethnic existence and the historical descent of the community, also important was the turbulence caused by the process of nation building on the territory of the former Ottoman Empire. During the second phase, it was increased Arab nationalism and pressure to assi­milate. A more overt political and national consciousness among individuals and networks was vigorously expanding in connection with the migration to other parts of the world and regions in the Middle East.

National consciousness emerged among the intellectuals in the Assyrian community about a century ago, and they have been working in parts of their own community and around the world ever since.They have sought to spread these ideas and consciousness to the whole Assyrian community and to gain recog­ni­tion from the world community, in particular the neighbouring peoples and states of the Middle East. Their ideas have met with resistance from both within and outside the Assyrian community. But the ideas about national unification could only be delayed by a number of important conditions such as the geographical isolation of the community, the subservience towards state authorities and the past leadership of the church (with their self-interest not to allow their people be in­fluenced by contemporary changes such as the trans­formation of collective identity from reli­gion to nation). Finally, and probably most import­antly, the relatively small size of the community and its powerlessness explains why the community was unable to accomplish the task of ethnic trans­formation, and achieve the independence that many of their neighbours did.

Despite the successful suppression of national consciousness in the Assyrian community by external forces and internal church leaders this consciousness has continued to grow in depth and extension and over time has became more and more overtly expressed. An increasing number of individuals have identified themselves since the 19th century as a nation and thereby reject the reli­gious based identity ascribed to them from their environment and their church leaders.

The Third Wave: the migration to and exile in western countries

Less hasty am I than the wind, yet I must go

We wanderers, ever seeking the lonlier way,

Begin no day where we have ended another day;

And no sunrise finds us where sunset left us.

Even while the earth sleeps we travel.

We are the seeds of the tenacious plant,

And it is our ripeness and our fullness

Of heart that we are given to the wind and are scattered.

(Khalil Gibran, The Prophet)

Because of their status as a stateless people Assyrians have been forced to develop and maintain unique social and cultural institutions in their new homelands in order to maintain a distinct ethnic identity. They have maintained this distinct identity often in the face of strong and severe pressure to be assimilated in the surrounding populations. In other cases their culture and identity have survived as an ethnic community thanks to a strong ethnic consciousness and strategies for boundary maintenance. This resistance can be explained by territorial concentration, Christian religious practices, distinguished language, sense of common origin and not least persecution which has strengthened common feelings of identity and solidarity. Equally important is the millet system in which different ethnic/religious communities handled their own cultural, social and religious concerns and thus offered conditions for Assyrians to maintain their distinctiveness.

The migration from Mesopotamia to western countries has entailed a complete change of the external living conditions. This has led to dramatic socio-economic, cultural and political changes of which Assyrian history did not prepare them. The migration has in a profound way brought them into a new way of life, as they have suddenly en masse found themselves in the turbulence of modernisation.

Even if minority status in host countries is not a new experience, the migration to western countries has nonetheless transformed the community from an indigenous to an immigrant minority. As a consequence of immigration Assyrians have diverged from the specific collective form they had in their ancestral homelands and have been forced to recreate a new collective form of life in the new countries. The pre-migratory social order is transplanted to the new locale and transformed to the context of the new living conditions. As an immigrant group Assyrians must adapt to the social reality using the resources available to them and always in relation to the existing options and existing limitations.

The old social order primary based on kinship, authority, religion and the local society tend to be undermined in the new societies. The traditional social order becomes in many ways inadequate in the modern societies with Democratic principles, individualism and secularisation.

Dramatic changes have taken place with regard to Assyrian ethnicity, solidarity and community. Put simply the structures and constitutions of the new societies offer potential to the Assyrian community to maintain and transform their ethnic culture and solidarity,as well as giving them the ambition to gain recognition from the international community.

At the same time as economic, political and democratic freedoms and options enable an articulation of ethnic culture and identity, they provide options to education and knowledge. Threats of assimilation come through the exten­sive cultural transmission of various media, schools and the general wel­fare policy in modern society. As the Assyrian community is incorporated into the larger society physically, politically, and in many ways socially, with the level of professionalism and specialisation of schools and other state agencies res­pons­ible for many spheres of social life, the traditional institution for child rearing and education, among others, in the Assyrian community are under­mined. In the agrarian structure of the original society, there were many mecha­nisms for maintenance of ethnic culture, such as permanent settlement, geo­grap­hical and physical segregation, the hegemonic position of the church and religion, strict application of endogamy, few contacts with the majority society, closeness to and many-sided bonds within the ethnic group, extended and strong family and kinship solidarity and the use of a unique language.

The Assyrian community is now faced with entirely different conditions in maintaining its distinct ethnic culture in western countries. The Assyrian community is to a much larger extent involved in the majority society, and no longer constitutes a segment out­side of media, culture, welfare or education.The community in gene­ral, and the children in particular, are drawn into the cultural and value system in the majority society, and thus run a greater risk of being assimilated. The threats from the modern society are not overt, concrete or physical, but rather diffuse and latent. From this perspective the threats to Assyrian identity are greater in western societies than in the original society. One explanation for why the threats are not obvious and easy to identify is that an Assyrian indivi­dual or family is not immediately affec­ted or threatened. The threats are, above all, general and subtely affect the way of life of the community as whole.

Deepened transformation of identity in western countries Deepened transformation of ethnic identity and culture take place in western countries. The initial process of changes of identity from the end of 19th century is deepened, accentuated and reaches a third phase in these countries where the changes from ethno-religious based to ethno-national based identity takes a qualitative step. It takes on a more embracing character and is developed into a popular movement.

The label Assyrian was intended to be an overarching and inclusive identity label which included the different church communities, and transcended local and regional localities and affections. The label expressed a vision rather than an existing reality, since this inclusive term was unfamiliar for many in the community. The different church communities (Syrian-Orthodox, Syrian-Catholic, Church of the East and Chaldean Catholic) included were in some vital sense hetero­geneous with partially different backgrounds. The label was put forth to unify the common features and conditions of these communities, and minimise their differences.

This attempt at unification and recognition from the dominant community was an unsystematic but bold and radical program. An important explanation of this is the historical context. A national consciousness, which was never recognised or emphasised in the original society, was stimulated. A hunger for articulation and orientation towards other principles for collective identity had over a long time been carried among some segments in the community in the original society, and in Sweden (to give but one example) this could find expression.

The transformation of the collective identity and ethnic culture, the ques­tioning of the clergy and their loss of authority, the emergence of a new elite, and conflicts between elites are all an expression of a fundamental transforma­tion of the conditions of life, experiences and social consciousness of the commun­ity. They indicate fundamental changes, showing that old struc­tures and hierarchies are obsolete and old concepts and social defini­tions have to a great degree lost their efficiency and clarity and meaning in relation to changed experiences and social consciousness. From such crises come the grounds for a new conceptual universe.

The transformation of ethnic identity and culture has to be considered in relation to the emergence of a secular leadership, corresponding to the emergence of new living conditions, social needs and problems in the new society. Since a rapidly emergent new elite established a strong authority by means of their social and linguistic resources, they acquired a powerful position in negotiating and challenging old institutions and elites. The rise of a secular elite as well as secular self-understanding is tied to a notion about national awakening. The articulation of this notion is influenced by and a product of a specific social and political context. Intellec­tuals and artists play an important role in expressing the character and meaning of the ethnic/ national identity. The fact that folk­lore can be used to express the transformed identity explains the signi­ficance of expressive experts in the transformation, mediating and inter­pretation of collective identity.

Secular leadership was the first to understand and realise the need to modify and reconstruct common notions of ethnic identity and to organise the community on new social and ethnic principles. One of the main goals was to change the central role that Christianity had played in the Assyrian identity in favour of an identity that is more secularly oriented, and to attach and attribute a more central role and importance to ancient history and cultural heritage. In the process of transformation, the drive for recognition and transeclesiastical/ communal identity has been central. Issues about belonging and recognition to a large extent have taken place outside of the scope of organisational authority of the church.

Different notions and beliefs about descent, appropriate labels for identity, and social definitions and interpretations of history were at an early stage in conflict with each other. These differences expressed the long and complex history of the Assyrian community and the need to reinterpret this. In this century, one notes the fundamental changes during the last decades of the Ottoman empire, the transformation of the collective identities by neighbouring peoples, and the new living conditions which migration to western countries brought about. But these differing and sometimes contradictory definitions of reality are also dependent on divergent interests, rival wills, and definitions between gener­a­tions, clans and particularly between secular and religious elites.

The conflicts express the difficulties of hand­ling the complex history the group possesses, and how this should be appro­priately inter­preted, governed, and restructured in a new time and world with new conditions and new schemes for identities and belonging.

The divisions and conflicts obstruct the efforts to create a national union between the church communities, and between different fractions within each church. Notions of a national community are still unfamiliar for many in the community. Many are still left in the universe of the clan, family and not least denomination. They do not recognise themselves in the scheme of nations; they are not accustomed to orienting themselves in its landscape, and do not find them­selves at home in its socio-cultural space. The major problem for the Assyrian national move­ment is exactly how to achieve union and community beyond the four church communities.

Despite the qualitative differences between the constitutions of the ethno­-political structures in the original and present-day society, and the different options and restrictions these entail for each generation’s options to articulate ethnic identity, there is nonetheless a strong feeling in the younger generation that the host countries and in particular some categories such as decision- makers and scholars, deny the community its national identity and do not recognise the legitimate or appropriate utilisation of the label Assyrian. Despite markedly different freedoms and rights in western countries as compared with the original society, the younger generation feels itself questioned and attacked from media and scholars alike, with the legitimacy in identifying with the national concept of Assyrian still being questioned.

Concluding remarks: Modernisation and Recognition

Increased modernisation influences the possibilities of ethnic groups and social organisations in different ways, it can led to assimilation of ethnic groups but it can equally entail increased ethnic consciousness. As a matter of fact the modernisation process is one of the key explanations to increased ethnic consciousness. Different ethnic groups/ movements shape and reshape step by step the contours of their ethnic identity and the importance and meaning of its different components as result of increased integration of processes of modernisation.

The expansion of the nation state and its deeper control and penetration of territories belonging to indigenous ethnic groups bring them into conflict and struggle over resources. It further drags them into urbanisation, industrialisation and they encounter other groups which can tend to lead to increased ethnic conflicts. This more usually entails an increased ethnic consciousness and indicates that ethnic identity becomes more important when it is perceived as threatened.

The identity of these groups going through these changes can rise in its level of importance as well as provide a resource for security and feelings of continuity and meaning. The fear of loosing the group identity is a forceful weapon against states pursuing an assimilatory policy. Examples of other successful ethno-national movements together with the fear of being dominated by other cultures have helped inspire ethnic and national liberation movements. Increased degrees of contact with ideas about nationality, democracy and universal values can also contribute to increased ethnic consciousness.

Thus modernisation does not only provide threats against ethnic groups but equally as many possibilities which can be utilised in order for ethnic groups to revitalise and maintain their ethnicity through increased reading and writing skills, increased possibilities of communication, expression of identity and culture. The possibility of circulating ethnic literature (such as newspapers) and other forms of communication do increase ethnic consciousness and feelings of belonging. An ‘imagined community’ between individuals not knowing each other or who have ever met each other personally can be shaped by literature and symbols widely produced and spread. These changes lead for instance to increased reflections and awareness of culture that can be objectified and more consciously communicated.

This conference illustrates this given account of modernisation and ethnic awareness as well as the political and cultural options that host countries offer their citizens. This comes down to the spread and deepened belief in the message of universalism, equality and ideas about democracy. These ideas and norms and their spread together with aroused feelings of internationalism through globalisation, support people who have been treated unjustly, unequally, suffered persecution, deportation and genocide. They help to condemn and delegitimise majority groups and states breaking human rights – in this case the rights of indigenous people. They help to render attention to the maltreatment of minorities and to recognise the history of ethnic groups, their existence and identity, like the Assyrian case. These values and beliefs make it much more difficult to deny and unrecognise smaller and weaker people and their right to a fair and equitable existence.


Deniz, F (1999):The Odyssé of a Minority. Maintenance and transformation of ethnic identity in response to processes of modernisation - the Assyrian case. Written in Swedish with an English summary.Ph.D dissertation, Uppsala University, Department of Sociology, Sweden

Hobsbawm, E J (1994): Nations and Nationalism

Kasaba, R (1997): “Kemalist Certainties and Modern Ambiguities” in Bozdogan

Kasaba, R. (Eds): Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey, University of Washington Press, Seattle and London

Mardin, S. (1997): “The Ottoman Empire” in Barkley, K & von Hagen, M (Eds) After Empire: Multiethnic Societies and Nation Building - the Soviet and the Russian, Ottoman, and Habsburg Empires, Westview Press, Oxford

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