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|Regions with significant populations|
|† Syriac Christianity|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Mhallami, Mandeans, Jews, Levantines,|
|Regions with significant populations|
|† Syriac Christianity|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Mhallami, Mandeans, Jews, Levantines,|
The Assyrians (Syriac: ܣܘܪܝܝܐ), also known as Aššūrāyu, Āṯūrāyē (ܐܬܘܪܝܐ), Assouri, Ashuriyun, Suraye, Suryoye and sometimes in more recent times; Syriacs, Chaldo-Assyrians and Chaldean Catholics (see names of Syriac Christians), are an ethnic group whose origins lie in ancient northern Mesopotamia. They are a Semitic people who speak, read, and write distinct dialects of Eastern Aramaic exclusive to northern Mesopotamia and its immediate surroundings.
Assyrians trace their ancestry back to the northern region of the Akkadian lands, which would become Assyria between the 24th century BC and 7th century AD. Today that ancient territory is part of several nations: the north of Iraq, part of southeast Turkey, northwest Iran and northeast Syria. The Assyrians are indigenous to these aforementioned regions. They are a Christian people, with most following various Eastern Rite Churches, although a number are non-religious.
Many have migrated to the North America, Caucasus, Australia and Europe during the past century or so. Emigration was triggered by such events as the Assyrian Genocide by the Ottoman Empire during World War I, the Simele massacre in Iraq (1933), the Islamic revolution in Iran (1979), Arab Nationalist Baathist policies in Iraq and Syria, the Al-Anfal Campaign of Saddam Hussein, and to some degree Kurdish nationalist policies in northern Iraq.
Most recently, the Iraq War has displaced the regional Assyrian community. Of the one million or more Iraqis reported by the United Nations to have fled Iraq since the occupation, nearly 40% are Assyrian, although Assyrians comprised around 5–7% of the pre-war Iraqi population.
Assyrians claim that they are the descendants of the peoples that created the great Semitic civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia that absorbed the early Sumerian civilisation, in particular Assyria, but also Akkad, Babylonia and Adiabene. This claim has numerous supporters amongst modern scholars, for example Robert D. Biggs, as well as those that doubt it or think there was only limited or insignificant continuity. World-renowned linguist Geoffrey Khan of the University of Cambridge maintains that there is some evidence of linguistic continuity of Akkadian in the Eastern Aramaic dialects spoken by Assyrians. The genetic evidence suggests that modern Assyrians are a homogenous group with a relatively distinctive genetic profile and that it is a probability that they are descendants of their ancient namesakes.
Other historians supporting the view that Assyrians are the descendants of their namesakes include prominent Assyriologists such as Simo Parpola, Richard N. Frye, H.W.F. Saggs, Robert D. Biggs, Giorgi Tsereteli, George Percy Badger, Eden Naby, J.A. Brinkman and Geoffrey Khan. Nineteenth century orientalists such as Austen Henry Layard, Horatio Southgate and Hormuzd Rassam (himself an Assyrian) also supported this view. Geneticists such as Cavalli-Sforza also clearly endorse this position.
The Assyrian people can trace their ethnic and cultural origins to the indigenous population of pre-Islamic and pre-Arab Mesopotamia, (in particular Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, Babylon, Mari, Eshnunna, Adiabene, Osroene, Hatra and the geo-political province of Assyria under Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Roman and Sassanid rule) since before the time of the Akkadian Empire.
Mesopotamia was originally dominated by the language isolate speaking Sumerians (from at least 3500 BC), and the native East Semitic Semites, later to be collectively known as Akkadians lived alongside them from circa 3000 BC, with evidence of the Akkadian language appearing in the 30th century BC, and Akkadian-ruled city-states first emerging circa 2800 BC.
Cities such as Ashur, Nineveh and Arbela appear to have been established during the 27th and 26th centuries BC, however the region was under Sumerian control, and a number of Sumerian kings list northern Mesopotamia as paying tribute to them.
According to the Assyrian King List the earliest Assyrian king was a 25th-century BC ruler named Tudiya, who was recorded as having traded with the fellow east Semitic speaking kingdom of Ebla in north east Syria. Early Assyrian kings of the 25th and 24th centuries BC appear to have been pastoralist rulers, rather than urban kings based in cities.
From 2335 BC the Akkadian speakers gained domination over the Sumerians under Sargon the Great who founded the world's first empire, the Akkadian Empire, based in the city of Akkad in central Mesopotamia. The Assyrians, like all Akkadians, were incorporated into the empire, with their kings paying tribute to Sargon and his successors. The East Semitic language spoken by the native Semites of Mesopotamia was named after Akkad, although evidence of the language preceeded Akkad by some five centuries or so.
By the mid 22nd century BC the Akkadian Empire had collapsed, and Assyrian kings were once more fully independent, with southern Mesopotamia overrun by Gutians. The Neo-Sumerian Empire based in Ur arose in the late 22nd century BC, and the southern portion of Assyria was conquered, with the north remaining in Assyrian hands. The Assyrians had shrugged off Sumerian domination by the mid 21st Century BC, and it was from circa 2050 BC that Assyrian rulers became fully urbanised, and began to leave written inscriptions regarding their rule in Ashur.
By approximately 2000 BC, the Sumerian race appears to have been wholly absorbed by the Semitic Akkadian population.
Assyria became a strong nation with the Old Assyrian Empire (circa 2035–1750 BC) century BC, founding colonies in Asia Minor and The Levant, and intervening on southern Mesopotamia to protect their fellow Akkadian speakers from incursions by Elamites from the East and Amorites from the West.
In the 20th and 19th centuries BC a new wave of North west Semitic migrants, the Canaanite-speaking Amorites, entered Mesopotamia from the west (modern northern and eastern Syria), and after being prevented from doing so by powerful Assyrian kings such as Ilushuma, Erishum I and Sargon I for a time, eventually usurped the thrones of the Akkadian states of Isin, Eshnunna and Larsa. These Amorites also founded a patchwork of small petty kingdoms, one of these small kingdoms, founded in 1894 BC, included the then minor administrative town of Babylon, although the first four Amorite kings did not deign to call themselves king of Babylon at all, and the fifth only once, due to its then unimportant status.
Eventually, Shamshi-Adad I an Amorite ruler from north eastern Syria, usurped the Assyrian throne in 1809 BC from Erishum II. The Amorite ruler expanded Assyrian imperial power from the late 19th century BC until the mid-18th century BC. However, in the early 18th century BC under Hammurabi, the sixth Amorite ruler of the land in which Babylon lay, Babylon rose from a small town based in a new and weak state into a major city and empire. It is from the mid 18th century only that southern Mesopotamia came to be known as Babylonia, and from the reign of Hammurabi that Babylon became worthy of kingship.
After a protracted struggle, Assyria and its Amorite kings were subjugated by the Babylonian Empire. The Babylonian empire proved short lived however, and began to rapidly collapse after the death of Hammurabi. Amorite rule in Assyria proved equally short lived, the Amorites and Babylonians were completely driven from Assyria and parts of central Mesopotamia by native Assyrian Akkadian speaking kings named Puzur-Sin and Adasi in the mid-18th century BC, and from the far south of Mesopotamia by the Akkadian speaking Sealand Dynasty. However they eventually blended into the population of Babylonia in south-central Mesopotamia, where they maintained rule over a once more small and weak Babylon until 1595 BC, until being overthrown by the Indo-European speaking Hittite Empire after which Babylon was conquered by the language isolate speaking Kassites from the Zagros Mountains of north western Ancient Iran, who were to rule Babylonia for over five centuries.
After further successful appropriations of Amorite-Babylonian territory under Bel-bani (1700–1691 BC) Assyria entered a quiet, peaceful and prosperous period between 1690 and 1440 BC, untroubled by Kassite Babylonia, the Hittite Empire, the Hurri-Mitanni Empire or the Amorites of the Levant. However, after entering an alliance with Egypt against the Hurri-Mitanni empire, Assyria briefly found itself subjugated by the Hurri-Mitanni between circa 1440 and 1393 BC.
Beginning with the reign of Ashur-uballit I (1365–1330 BC), Assyria then once again became a major imperial power from 1365 BC until 1020 BC with the Middle Assyrian Empire, destroying the Hurri-Mitanni empire, annexing most of the Hittite empire, forcing the Egyptians to withdraw from much of the Near East, defeating the Elamites, Urartians, Arameans and Phrygians, and conquering Kassite Babylonia, with Tukulti-Ninurta I (1244–1207 BC) becoming the first native Mesopotamian to sit on the Babylonian throne.
The Bronze age collapse (1200 BC to 900 BC), with its associated mass movements of peoples and destruction or upheaval of long established nations , which affected much of the Near East, Ancient Iran, Asia Minor, the Caucasus, east Meditteranean, Egypt, North Africa and the Balkans, appeared to have little impact upon Assyria, which continued its expansionist policies regardless.
However, after a period of civil war, Assyria went into another quiet period from the late 11th century BC to late 10th century BC.
In the 11th century BC a new influx of West Semitic speaking Semites into East Semitic-speaking Babylonia from the west took place, with the arrival of the Arameans and Suteans, followed in the 10th century by Chaldeans. These migrant Semites originally set up small kingdoms within Babylonia, whose native East Semitic speaking kings were too weak to exercise control. However, they became culturally and politically Akkadianized, and they ethnically intermixed and blended in with the native Akkadian population of southern Mesopotamia.
It was not until the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–608 BC) and the forced deportations of Arameans into Assyria itself that the Assyrians and Babylonians began to speak Aramaic. This was an Akkadian-infused Mesopotamian version of the language of the Aramaean tribes who had been assimilated into the Assyrian Empire and Mesopotamia, introduced as the lingua franca of the Assyrian Empire by Tiglath-pileser III in the mid 8th century BC, and whose descendant dialects survive to this day. Mass relocations of other peoples were enforced by Assyrian kings of the Neo-Assyrian period, and it was during the period of the Neo-Assyrian Empire that many Israelite Jews were deported to Assyria and a fair proportion of these were absorbed into the general population.
The Neo-Assyrian Empire (911 BC–605 BC) saw a massive expansion of Assyrian power: Assyria became the center of the greatest empire the world had yet seen, with Egypt, Babylonia, Chaldea, Persia, Elam, Media, Gutium, Parthia, Mannea, Israel, Judah, Aramea (modern Syria), Phonecia/Canaan, Palestine, Phrygia, Cilicia, Commagene, Cappadocia and much of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), the Neo-Hittite states, Corduene, Cyprus, Urartu, Armenia and parts of the Caucasus, Dilmun, Samaria, Edom, Moab, Ammon and Arabia brought under Assyrian control, Lydia paying tribute, the Nubians, Ethiopians and Kushites defeated and driven from Egypt and the Scythians and Cimmerians subjugated.
However, Assyria became riven by anarchy and a series of crippling civil wars from 626 BC, allowing the migrant wets Semitic Chaldeans who had settled in the far south east of Mesopotamia in the 900's BC to seize the throne of Babylon in 620 BC, with the support of the Babylonians themselves, in the confusion. Other subject peoples, most notably the Medes, Persians, Scythians and Cimmerians also broke away. Eventually, a coalition of their own Babylonian relations, together with other former subject peoples; the Chaldeans, Medes, Persians, Parthians, Scythians and Cimmerians, attacked a civil war weakened Assyria in 616 BC, bringing its downfall by 605 BC.
Following the destruction of the Neo-Assyrian Empire by 605 BC, the population of the Assyria came under the control of their Babylonian relatives until 539 BC. Although initially ruled by yet another foreign dynasty, that of the Chaldeans, the last rulers of Babylonia, Nabonidus and his son and regent, Belshazzar, were from Assyria. After their rule, the Chaldean tribe from the far south east of Mesopotamia who had usurped the throne of Babylon from the Assyrians in 620 BC, disappeared from the pages of history.
From 538 BC, Assyria, (which remained a political and named entity) was under Persian Achaemenid, Macedonian, Seleucid, Parthian Arascid, Roman and Sassanid rule for seven centuries undergoing Christianization during this time.
Assyria flourished during the Achaemenid period (from 539–323 BC) (see Achaemenid Assyria) as Athura, with Assyrian soldiers becoming a major source of manpower for the Achaemenid armies and its farmers providing a breadbasket for the empire. Assyrians are also attested as having many important administrative posts within the empire, and the Mesopotamian Aramaic dialect of the Assyrian Empire and its administrative structure were retained by the Achaemenids. The Persians, having spent 300 years under Assyrian control, saw themselves as successors to the great Assyrian kings, and Achaemenid Art and Architecture bear strong Assyrian influence. Assyria was even strong enough to launch two full scale rebellions against the empire in the late 6th century BC.
The Seleucid empire succeeded that of the Achaemenids in 323 BC, from this point Greek became the official language of the empire at the expense of Mesopotamian Aramaic. The native populace of Assyria were not Hellenised however, as is attested by the survival of native language, culture and religion. The province flourished much as it had under the Achaemenids for the next century, however by the late 3rd century BC Assyria became a battleground between the Seleucid Greeks and the Parthians but remained largely in Greek hands until the reign of Mithridates I (circa 150 BC) when it fell to the Parthians.
During the Seleucid period the term Assyria was altered to read Syria, a Mediterranean form of the original name that had been in use since the 8th or 9th century BC among some western Assyrian colonies. The Seleucid Greeks also included Aramea to the west as part of Syria (read Assyria) as it had been an Assyrian colony for centuries. When they lost control of Assyria proper to the Parthians (which is northern Mesopotamia, north east Syria and part of south east Anatolia), they retained the name but applied it only to Aramea (i.e., The Levant), which they still retained control of. This created a situation where both the actual Assyrians from Assyria, and the ethnically different Arameans to the west, were referred to as Syrians by the Greco-Roman civilisations, causing the later Syrian Vs Assyrian naming controversy.
It was during the Seleucid era that Babylon was finally abandoned and fell into ruin.
Assyria was still named Athura during the Parthian era. The Parthians appeared to have exercised only loose control at times, leading to the virtual resurrection of Assyria with the native kingdom of Adiabene 15 BC to 117AD. Its rulers were converts from Mesopotamian religion to Judaism and later Christianity, and it retained Mesopotamian Aramaic as its spoken tongue.
Adiabene, like the rest of northern Mesopotamia was conquered by Trajan in 117 AD, and the region was pointedly still named Assyria by the Romans. Church of the East Christianity, as well as Gnostic sects such as the Mandeans and Manicheanism took hold between the 1st and 3rd Centuries AD, and Assyria became the birthplace of Syriac Christianity.
The Parthians regained control of the region a few years later, and retained the name Assyria (Athura). Other small kingdoms had also sprung up in the region, namely Osrhoene and Hatra, which were Syriac speaking and at least partly Assyrian. Assyrian identity appears to have remained strong, with the 2nd-century writer and theologian Tatian stating clearly that he is an Assyrian, as does the satirist Lucian in the same period.
The city of Ashur and its surrounds also appears to have been once more independent or largely autonomous during the Parthian period, with temples being dedicated to the national god of the Assyrians (Ashur) into the second half of the 3rd century AD, before it was once again conquered by the invading Sassanids in 256 AD.
The Sassanid Empire recognised the land as Assyria, using the name Assuristan. Assyrians still seem to have retained a distinct identity and a degree of local autonomy in the Sassanid period, during the 4th century the region around Nineveh was governed by a certain local Assyrian king, who was pointedly named Sennacherib II after his ancient ancestor, who established the Mar Behnam monastery in memory of his son.
In 341 AD, the Zoroastrian Shapur II ordered a massacre of Christians in the Persian Empire, most of whom were Assyrians and Armenians. During the persecution, about 1,150 Christians were martyred under Shapur II.
The Sassanids welcomed followers of Nestorian Christianity into their empire in the 5th century AD, following the Nestorian Schism in the rival Byzantine Empire. This led to many Medieval Europeans inaccurately labeling Assyrian people and followers of Eastern Rite Christianity in general as Nestorians, despite the fact that the Assyrian Church of the East was over 400 years older than the Nestorian Church, and doctrinally distinct. There was however some synthesis between the two churches. This term persisted amongst some Europeans into the 20th century, but is now regarded as historically inaccurate and defunct, both in a theological and ethnic sense.
Assyria as an entity remained recognized as such by its inhabitants, Sassanid rulers and neighboring peoples until after the Arab Muslim conquests of the second half of the 7th century AD, after which the Assyrians gradually became both an ethnic minority and a religious minority.
After the Arab Islamic invasion and conquest of the 7th century AD, Assyria as a province was dissolved, but the Assyrians themselves survived, being referred to as Ashuriyun by the Arabs. Assyrians initially experienced some periods of religious and cultural freedom interspersed with periods of severe religious and ethnic persecution. As heirs to ancient Mesopotamian civilisation, they also contributed hugely to the Arab Islamic Civilization during the Umayyads and the Abbasids by translating works of Greek philosophers to Syriac and afterwards to Arabic. They also excelled in philosophy, science and theology (such as Tatian, Bar Daisan, Babai the Great, Nestorius, Toma bar Yacoub etc.) and the personal physicians of the Abbasid Caliphs were often Assyrian Christians such as the long serving Bukhtishu dynasty.
However, non-Islamic proselyting was punishable by death under Sharia law, which led the Assyrians into preaching in Transoxania, Central Asia, India, Mongolia and China where they established numerous churches. The Church of the East was considered to be one of the major Christian powerhouses in the world, alongside Latin Christianity in Europe and the Byzantine Empire.
From the 7th century AD onwards Mesopotamia saw a steady influx of Arabs, Kurds and other Iranian peoples, and later Turkic peoples, and the indigenous population retaining native Mesopotamian culture, identity, language, religion and customs were steadily marginalised and gradually became a minority in their own homeland.
Although Eastern Rite Christianity had become the religion of the vast majority of Assyrians between the 1st and 4th centuries AD, remnants of the ancient Mesopotamian religion followed by their ancestors survived in some regions of what had been Assyria as late as the 10th Century AD.
The process of marginalisation was largely completed by the massacres of indigenous Assyrian Christians and other non-Muslims in Mesopotamia and its surrounds by Tamerlane the Mongol in the 14th century AD, and it was from this point that the ancient Assyrian capital of Ashur was finally abandoned by Assyrians.
However, many Assyrian Christians survived the various massacres and pogroms, and resisted the process of Arabization and Islamification, retaining a distinct Mesopotamian identity, Mesopotamian Aramaic language and written script. The modern Assyrians or Chaldo-Assyrians of today are descendants of the indigenous inhabitants of Mesopotamia, and in particular Assyria, who refused to be converted to Islam or be culturally and linguistically Arabized.
Culturally, ethnically and linguistically distinct from, although both quite influencing on, and quite influenced by, their neighbours in the Middle East—the Arabs, Persians, Kurds, Turks, Jews and Armenians—the Assyrians have endured much hardship throughout their recent history as a result of religious and ethnic persecution.
The region came under the control of the Mongol Empire after the fall of Baghdad in 1258. The Mongol khans were sympathetic with Christians and didn't harm them. The most prominent among them was probably Isa, a diplomat, astrologer, and head of the Christian affairs in the Yuan Dynasty in East Asia. He spent some time in Persia under the Ilkhans. The 14th century AD massacres of Timur in particular, devastated the Assyrian people. Timur's massacres and pillages of all that was Christian drastically reduced their existence. At the end of the reign of Timur, the Assyrian population had almost been eradicated in many places. Toward the end of the thirteenth century, Bar Hebraeus (or Bar-Abraya), the noted Assyrian scholar and hierarch, found "much quietness" in his diocese in Mesopotamia. Syria’s diocese, he wrote, was "wasted."
During the Ottoman period a religious Schism occurred among the Assyrian people. In the mid 16th century AD a number of Assyrians, dissatisfied with the leadership of the Assyrian Church of the East, entered into communion with the Roman Catholic Church. This new church was called The Church of Assyria and Mosul, however in 1683 AD the name was changed by Rome to the Chaldean Catholic Church, despite none of its north Mesopotamian Assyrian adherents having any historic, geographic, ethnic, or cultural links to the long extinct Chaldean tribe of the far south east of Mesopotamia, who had disappeared from the pages of history over 2,100 years previously. It is believed that the term Chaldean Catholic arose due to a Catholic misinterpretation of Ur Kasdim (according to Jewish tradition the birthplace of Abraham in Northern Mesopotamia) as meaning Ur of the Chaldees, in reality the term Kasdim did not mean Chaldean.
The Ottomans further secured their control over Mesopotamia and Syria in the 16th century. Non-Muslims were organised into religion-based millets. Syriac Christians in general, however, were often considered one millet alongside Armenians until the 19th century, when Assyrian followers of the Assyrian Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox Church and Chaldean Catholic Church gained separate millets.
In the 1840s many of the unarmed Assyrian civilians living in the mountains of Hakkari in the south eastern corner of the Ottoman Empire were massacred by the Kurdish emirs of Hakkari and Bohtan with Ottoman army support.
Another major massacre of Assyrians (and Armenians) in the Ottoman Empire occurred between 1894 and 1897 AD by Turkish troops and their Kurdish allies during the rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. The motives for these massacres were an attempt to reassert Pan-Islamism in the Ottoman Empire, resentment at the comparative wealth of the ancient indigenous Christian communities, and a fear that they would attempt to secede from the tottering Ottoman Empire. Assyrians were massacred in Diyarbakir, Hasankeyef, Sivas and other parts of Anatolia, by Sultan Abdul Hamid II. These attacks caused the death of over thousands of Assyrians and the forced "Ottomanisation" of the inhabitants of 245 villages. The Turkish troops looted the remains of the Assyrian settlements and these were later stolen and occupied by Kurds. Unarmed Assyrian women and children were raped, tortured and murdered.
The most significant recent persecution against the Assyrian population was the Assyrian genocide which occurred during the First World War. Between 275,000 and 300,000 Assyrians were estimated to have been slaughtered by the armies of the Ottoman Empire and their Kurdish allies, totalling up to two-thirds of the entire Assyrian population at the time. This led to a large-scale migration of Turkish-based Assyrian people into countries such as Syria, Iran, and Iraq (where they were to suffer further violent assaults at the hands of the Arabs and Kurds), as well as other neighbouring countries in and around the Middle East such as Armenia, Georgia and Russia.
In reaction to the Assyrian Genocide and lured by British and Russian promises of an independent nation, the Assyrians led by Agha Petros and Malik Khoshaba of the Bit-Tyari tribe, fought alongside the allies against Ottoman forces in an Assyrian war of independence. Despite being heavily outnumbered and outgunned the Assyrians fought successfully, scoring a number of victories over the larger forces of the Turks and Kurds. This situation continued until their Russian allies left the war, and Armenian resistance broke, leaving the Assyrians surrounded, isolated and cut off from lines of supply.
The Assyrian Levies were founded by the British in 1928, with ancient Assyrian military rankings such as Rab-shakeh, Rab-talia and Tartan, being revived for the first time in millennia for this force. The Assyrians were prized by the British rulers for their fighting qualities, loyalty, bravery and discipline, and were used to help the British put down insurrections among the Arabs and Kurds, and defend the borders with Turkey and Iran.
During World War II, eleven Assyrian companies saw action in Palestine and another four served in Cyprus. The Parachute Company was attached to the Royal Marine Commando and were involved in fighting in Albania, Italy and Greece. The Assyrian Levies played a major role in defeating the pro-Nazi Arab Iraqi forces at the battle of Habbaniya in 1941.
However, this cooperation with the British was viewed with suspicion by some leaders of the newly formed Kingdom of Iraq. The tension reached its peak shortly after the formal declaration of independence when hundreds of unarmed Assyrian civilians were massacred during the Simele Massacre by the Iraqi Army in August 1933. The events lead to the expulsion of Shimun XXIII Eshai the Catholicos Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East to the United States where he resided until his death in 1975.
After World War II, and during the 1950s and early '60s Assyrians enjoyed a period of peace, prosperity and tolerance. However the Ba'ath Party seized power in Iraq and Syria in 1963, which introduced laws that aimed at suppressing the Assyrian national identity, the Arab Nationalist policies of the Ba'athists included renewed attempts to "Arabize" the indigenous Assyrians. The giving of traditional Assyrian/Akkadian names and Aramaic/Syriac versions of Biblical names was banned, Assyrian schools, political parties, churches and literature were repressed and Assyrians were heavily pressured into identifying as Arab Christians. The Ba'athist regime refused to recognise Assyrians as an ethnic group, and encouraged and incited division among Assyrians themselves on religious grounds (e.g.; Assyrian Church of the East vs Chaldean Catholic).
The al-Anfal Campaign of 1986–1989 in Iraq was predominantly aimed at Kurds, however over 2,000 Assyrians were murdered through its gas campaigns; over 31 towns and villages and 25 Assyrian monasteries and churches were razed to the ground; apart from those Assyrians murdered; others were deported to large cities, and their land, property and homes then being stolen by Arabs and Kurds.
Since the 2003 Iraq War social unrest and anarchy have resulted in the persecution of Assyrians in Iraq, mostly by Islamic extremists,(both Shia and Sunni), and to some degree by Kurdish nationalists. In places such as Dora, a neighborhood in southwestern Baghdad, the majority of its Assyrian population has either fled abroad or to northern Iraq, or has been murdered.
Islamic resentment over the United States' occupation of Iraq, and incidents such as the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons and the Pope Benedict XVI Islam controversy, have resulted in Arab and Kurdish Muslims attacking Assyrian Christian communities. Since the start of the Iraq war, at least 46 churches and monasteries have been bombed.
The Syriac Military Council is a joint Assyrian/Syriac military organisation in Syria. The establishment of the organisation was announced on 8 January 2013. According to the Syriac Military Council the goal of the organisation is to stand up for the national rights of Syriac Christians and to protect the indigenous Christian ethnicities in Syria. It intends to work together with the other communities in Syria to change the current regime of Bashar al-Assad, but is vehemently opposed to Islamist rebel groups. The organisation fights alongside the Kurdish YPG in the densely populated Syriac areas of the Governorates of Aleppo.
Assyrian regions in the north east of Syria have been targeted by Islamist rebels of ISIS and members of the FSA, and as a result, have formed militias to defend their towns, villages and communities.
In August 2014 the Assyrian population of over 200,000 people were forced from their 5,000-year homeland in the Nineveh region under the threat of a growing and violent terrorist organisation, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, IS) has been spray painting the letter 'N' in Arabic on all Assyrian and Armenian Christian homes and giving them three options, convert to Islam, pay a hefty jizya tax or die by the sword. There have been multiple protests around the world including in the United States, Australia, and many parts of Europe, in an attempt to inform people of the brutal Religious and Ethnic cleansing being perpetrated upon unarmed men, women and children by heavily armed Islamic terrorists in Iraq and Syria. Assyrian Christians and Kurdish Yezidi have been targeted directly since July 2014.
The Assyrians are considered to be one of the indigenous people in the Middle East. Their homeland is located in the area around the Tigris and Euphrates in modern northern Iraq. Assyrians are traditionally from Iraq, south eastern Turkey, north western Iran and north eastern Syria. There is a significant Assyrian population in Syria, where an estimated 877,000 Assyrians live.
In Tur Abdin, Turkey, known as a homeland for Assyrians, there are only 3000 left, and an estimated 25,000 in all of Turkey. After the 1915 Assyrian genocide many Assyrians also fled into Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Iraq and into the Western world.
The Assyrian/Syriac people can be divided along geographic, linguistic, and denominational lines, the three main groups being:
Due to their Christian faith and ethnicity, the Assyrians have been persecuted since their adoption of Christianity. During the reign of Yazdegerd I, Christians in Persia were viewed with suspicion as potential Roman subversives, resulting in persecutions while at the same time promoting Nestorian Christianity as a buffer between the Churches of Rome and Persia. Persecutions and attempts to impose Zoroastrianism continued during the reign of Yazdegerd II.
During the era of Turco-Mongol rule under Timur, there was indiscriminate slaughter of tens of thousands of Assyrians and destruction of the Assyrian population of northwestern Iran and central and northern Iran.
More recent persecutions since the 19th century include the Massacres of Badr Khan, the Massacres of Diyarbakır (1895), the Adana Massacre, the Assyrian Genocide, the Simele Massacre, the al-Anfal Campaign, and the Sadad Massacre.
Since the Assyrian Genocide, many Assyrians have fled their homelands for a more safe and comfortable life in the West. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the Assyrian population in the Middle East has decreased dramatically. As of today there are more Assyrians in Europe, North America, and Australia than in their former homeland.
A total of 550,000 Assyrians live in Europe. Large Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac diaspora communities can be found in Germany, Sweden, the USA, and Australia. The largest Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac diaspora communities are those of Södertälje, Chicago, and Detroit.
In certain areas of the Assyrian homeland, identity within a community depends on a person's village of origin (see List of Assyrian villages) or Christian denomination rather than their ethnic commonality, for instance Chaldean Catholic.
Today, Assyrians and other minority ethnic groups in the Middle East, feel pressure to identify as "Arabs", "Turks" and "Kurds". Those Assyrians in Syria who live outside of the traditionally and historically Assyrian northeastern region of the country are sometimes feel socially pressured to identify as Arabs, due to Arab nationalist policies of the Baathist government.
Neo-Aramaic exhibits remarkably conservative features compared with Imperial Aramaic, and the earliest European visitors to northern Mesopotamia in modern times encountered a people called "Assyrians", "Assouri" and "Ashuriyun", and people with ancient Assyrian names such as Sargon, Sennacherib, Ashur and Semiramis. The Assyrians manifested a remarkable degree of linguistic, religious, and cultural continuity from the fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire through to the time of the ancient Greeks, Persians, and Parthians through periods of medieval Byzantine, Arab, Persian, and Ottoman rule.
Assyrian nationalism emphatically connects Modern Assyrians to the population of ancient Mesopotamia and the Neo-Assyrian Empire. A historical basis of this sentiment was disputed by a few early historians, but receives strong support from modern Assyriologists like H.W.F. Saggs, Robert D. Biggs, Giorgi Tsereteli and Simo Parpola, and Iranologists like Richard Nelson Frye. Nineteenth century orientalists such as Austen Henry Layard and Hormuzd Rassam also support this view. This controversy does not appear to exist in parts of the region however, as Armenian, Georgian, Russian, Persian and some Arab records have always referred to Assyrians as Assyrians.
The communities of indigenous pre-Arab Neo-Aramaic-speaking people of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Turkey and Lebanon and the surrounding areas advocate different terms for ethnic self-designation.
In addition Western Media often makes no mention of any ethnic identity of the Christian people of the region and simply call them Christians, Iraqi Christians, Iranian Christians, Syrian Christians, Lebanese Christians, Turkish Christians, etc. This label is rejected by Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs since it erroneously implies no difference other than theological with the Muslim Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Iranians and Azeris of the region.
As early as the 8th century BC Luwian and Cilician subject rulers referred to their Assyrian overlords as Syrian, a western Indo-European bastardisation of the true term Assyrian. This corruption of the name took hold in the Hellenic lands to the west of the old Assyrian Empire, thus during Greek Seleucid rule from 323 BC the name Assyria was altered to Syria, and this term was also applied to Aramea to the west which had been an Assyrian colony. When the Seleucids lost control of Assyria to the Parthians they retained the corrupted term (Syria), applying it to ancient Aramea, while the Parthians called Assyria "Assuristan," a Parthian form of the original name. It is from this period that the Syrian vs Assyrian controversy arises. Today it is accepted by the majority of scholars that the Medieval, Renaissance and Victorian term Syriac when used to describe the indigenous Christians of Mesopotamia and its immediate surrounds in effect means Assyrian.
The modern terminological problem goes back to colonial times, but it became more acute in 1946, when with the independence of Syria, the adjective Syrian referred to an independent state. The controversy isn't restricted to exonyms like English "Assyrian" vs. "Aramaean", but also applies to self-designation in Neo-Aramaic, the minority "Aramaean" faction endorses both Sūryāyē ܣܘܪܝܝܐ and Ārāmayē ܐܪܡܝܐ, while the majority "Assyrian" faction insists on Āṯūrāyē ܐܬܘܪܝܐ but also accepts Sūryāyē.
The question of ethnic identity and self-designation is sometimes connected to the scholarly debate on the etymology of "Syria". The question has a long history of academic controversy, but majority mainstream opinion currently strongly favours that Syria is indeed ultimately derived from the Assyrian term 𒀸𒋗𒁺 𐎹 Aššūrāyu. Meanwhile, some scholars has disclaimed the theory of Syrian being derived from Assyrian as "simply naive", and detracted its importance to the naming conflict.
Rudolf Macuch points out that the Eastern Neo-Aramaic press initially used the term "Syrian" (suryêta) and only much later, with the rise of nationalism, switched to "Assyrian" (atorêta). According to Tsereteli, however, a Georgian equivalent of "Assyrians" appears in ancient Georgian, Armenian and Russian documents. This correlates with the theory of the nations to the East of Mesopotamia knew the group as Assyrians, while to the West, beginning with Greek influence, the group was known as Syrians. Syria being a Greek corruption of Assyria.
The debate appears to have been settled by the discovery of the Çineköy inscription in favour of Syria being derived from Assyria.
The Çineköy inscription is a Hieroglyphic Luwian-Phoenician bilingual, uncovered from Çineköy, Adana Province, Turkey (ancient Cilicia), dating to the 8th century BC. Originally published by Tekoglu and Lemaire (2000), it was more recently the subject of a 2006 paper published in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies, in which the author, Robert Rollinger, lends support to the age-old debate of the name "Syria" being derived from "Assyria" (see Etymology of Syria).
The object on which the inscription is found is a monument belonging to Urikki, vassal king of Hiyawa (i.e. Cilicia), dating to the eighth century BC. In this monumental inscription, Urikki made reference to the relationship between his kingdom and his Assyrian overlords. The Luwian inscription reads "Sura/i" whereas the Phoenician translation reads ’ŠR or "Ashur" which, according to Rollinger (2006), "settles the problem once and for all".
Assyrian culture is largely influenced by Christianity. Main festivals occur during religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas. There are also secular holidays such as Kha b-Nisan (vernal equinox).
People often greet and bid relatives farewell with a kiss on each cheek and by saying "ܫܠܡܐ ܥܠܝܟ" Shlama/Shlomo lokh, which means: "Peace be upon you." Others are greeted with a handshake with the right hand only; according to Middle Eastern customs, the left hand is associated with evil. Similarly, shoes may not be left facing up, one may not have their feet facing anyone directly, whistling at night is thought to waken evil spirits, etc.
There are many Assyrian customs that are common in other Middle Eastern cultures. A parent will often place an eye pendant on their baby to prevent "an evil eye being cast upon it". Spitting on anyone or their belongings is seen as a grave insult.
|ܐ ܒ ܓ ܕ ܗ ܘ|
|ܙ ܚ ܛ ܝ ܟܟ ܠ|
|ܡܡ ܢܢ ܣ ܥ ܦ|
|ܨ ܩ ܪ ܫ ܬ|
The Neo-Aramaic languages are ultimately descended from Old Aramaic, the lingua franca in the later phase of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, displacing the East Semitic Assyrian dialect of Akkadian. Aramaic was the language of commerce, trade and communication and became the vernacular language of Assyria in classical antiquity.
Most Assyrians speak an Eastern Aramaic language whose dialects include Chaldean and Turoyo as well as Assyrian. All are classified as Neo-Aramaic languages and are written using Syriac script, a derivative of the ancient Aramaic script. Assyrians also may speak one or more languages of their country of residence.
To the native speaker, "Syriac" is usually called Soureth or Suret. A wide variety of dialects exist, including Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, and Turoyo. Being stateless, Assyrians also learn the language or languages of their adopted country, usually Arabic, Armenian, Persian or Turkish. In northern Iraq and western Iran, Turkish and Kurdish is widely spoken.
Assyrians were originally Pagans, who were followers of Ashurism, an Assyro-Babylonian religion, which is the Ancient Mesopotamian religion, and some adopted Judaism, Gnosticism and Manicheanism; however most now belong to various Christian denominations such as the Assyrian Church of the East, with an estimated 300,000–400,000 members, the Chaldean Catholic Church, with about 900,000 members, and the Syriac Orthodox Church (ʿIdto Suryoyto Triṣaṯ Šuḇḥo), which has between 1,000,000 and 4,000,000 members around the world (only about 1 million of whom are Assyrians, and 80% these live in Syria), the Ancient Church of the East and various Protestant churches. While Assyrians are predominantly Christians, a number are irreligious. In the 19th century, an extremely small number of Assyrians converted to Sunni Islam and shifted to the use of the Arabic language; those who still keep a distinct identity are called Mhallami.
As of 2011[update] Mar Dinkha IV, resident in Chicago Illinois, was Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Addai II, with headquarters in Baghdad, was Patriarch of the Ancient Church of the East, and Ignatius Zakka I Iwas was Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, with headquarters in Damascus. Mar Emmanuel III Delly, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, was the first Patriarch to be elevated to Cardinal, joining the college of cardinals in November 2007.
Many members of the following churches consider themselves Assyrian. Ethnic identities are often deeply intertwined with religion, a legacy of the Ottoman Millet system. The group is traditionally characterized as adhering to various churches of Syriac Christianity and speaking Neo-Aramaic languages. It is subdivided into:
A small minority of Assyrians of the above denominations accepted the Protestant Reformation in the 20th century, possibly due to British influences, and is now organized in the Assyrian Evangelical Church, the Assyrian Pentecostal Church and other Protestant Assyrian groups. These are always called Assyrians
Baptism and First Communion are celebrated extensively, similar to a Bris or Bar Mitzvah in Jewish communities. After a death, a gathering is held three days after burial to celebrate the ascension to heaven of the dead person, as of Jesus; after seven days another gathering commemorates their death. A close family member wears only black clothes for forty days and nights, or sometimes a year, as a sign of mourning.
The abooba ܐܒܘܒܐ (basic flute) and ṭavla ܛܒ݂ܠܐ (large two-sided drum) became the most common musical instruments for tribal music. Some well known Assyrian/Syriac singers in modern times are Ashur Bet Sargis, Sargon Gabriel, Habib Mousa, Josef Özer, Janan Sawa, Klodia Hanna, Juliana Jendo, and Linda George.
The first International Aramaic Music Festival was held in Lebanon from 1 August until 4 August 2008 for Assyrian people internationally. Assyrians are also involved in western contemporary music, such as Rock/Metal (Melechesh), Rap (Timz) and Techno/Dance (Aril Brikha).
Assyrians have numerous traditional dances which are performed mostly for special occasions such as weddings. Assyrian dance is a blend of both ancient indigenous and general near eastern elements.
Assyrian clothing varies from village to village. Clothing is usually blue, red, green, yellow, and purple; these colors are also used as embroidery on a white piece of clothing. Decoration is lavish in Assyrian costumes, and sometimes involves jewellery. The conical hats of traditional Assyrian dress have changed little over millennia from those worn in ancient Mesopotamia, and until the 19th and early 20th centuries the ancient Mesopotamian tradition of braiding or platting of hair, beards and moustaches was still commonplace.
Assyrian cuisine is similar to other Middle Eastern cuisines. It is rich in grain, meat, potato, cheese, bread and tomato. Typically rice is served with every meal, with a stew poured over it. Tea is a popular drink, and there are several dishes of desserts, snacks, and beverages. Alcoholic drinks such as wine and wheat beer are organically produced and drunk.
Assyrian/Syriac festivals tend to be closely associated with their Christian faith, of which Easter is the most prominent of the celebrations. Assyrian/Syriac members of the Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church and Syriac Catholic Church follow the Gregorian calendar and as a result celebrate Easter on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25 inclusively. While Assyrian/Syriac members of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Ancient Church of the East celebrate Easter on a Sunday between April 4 and May 8 inclusively on the Gregorian calendar (March 22 and April 25 on the Julian calendar). During Lent Assyrian/Syriacs are encouraged to fast for 50 days from meat and any other foods which are animal based.
Assyrians celebrate a number of festivals unique to their culture and traditions as well as religious ones:
Assyrians also practice unique marriage ceremonies. The rituals performed during weddings are derived from many different elements from the past 3,000 years. An Assyrian wedding traditionally lasted a week. Today, weddings in the Assyrian homeland usually last 2–3 days; in the Assyrian diaspora they last 1–2 days.
Late 20th century DNA analysis conducted by Cavalli-Sforza, Paolo Menozzi and Alberto Piazza, "shows that Assyrians have a distinct genetic profile that distinguishes their population from any other population." Genetic analysis of the Assyrians of Persia demonstrated that they were "closed" with little "intermixture" with the Muslim Persian population and that an individual Assyrian's genetic makeup is relatively close to that of the Assyrian population as a whole. Cavalli-Sforza et al. state in addition, "[T]he Assyrians are a fairly homogeneous group of people, believed to originate from the land of old Assyria in northern Iraq", and "they are Christians and are possibly bona fide descendants of their namesakes." "The genetic data are compatible with historical data that religion played a major role in maintaining the Assyrian population's separate identity during the Christian era".
In a 2006 study of the Y chromosome DNA of six regional Armenian populations, including, for comparison, Assyrians and Syrians, researchers found that, "the Semitic populations (Assyrians and Syrians) are very distinct from each other according to both [comparative] axes. This difference supported also by other methods of comparison points out the weak genetic affinity between the two populations with different historical destinies." 
A 2008 study on the genetics of "old ethnic groups in Mesopotamia," including 340 subjects from seven ethnic communities ("Assyrian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Armenian, Turkmen, the Arab peoples in Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait") found that Assyrians were homogeneous with respect to all other ethnic groups sampled in the study, regardless of religious affiliation.
In 2008 Fox News in the United States ran a feature called "Know your Roots. As part of the feature, an Assyrian reporter, Nineveh Dinha was tested by Gene Tree.com. Her DNA profile was traced back to the region of Harran in south eastern Anatolia in 1400 BC, which was a part of ancient Assyria.
In a 2011 study focusing on the genetics of Marsh Arabs of Iraq, researchers identified Y chromosome haplotypes shared by Marsh Arabs, Iraqis, and Assyrians, "supporting a common local background."