The Assyrians are the remnants of the people of ancient Mesopotamia, succeeding the ancient Assyrians as one continuous civilization. The Assyrians are indigenous to Mesopotamia (the land between the two rivers of Tigris and Euphrates). Geographically, ancient Assyria today falls mainly in the region of northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, northwestern Iran and southeastern Turkey. The heartland of Assyria is the region of its ancient four capitals: Ashur, Dur Sharukin (Khorsabad), Nimrod (Biblical Kalah), and finally Nineveh situated on the east side of the Tigris River, across from Mosul, in northern Iraq.
Race and Ethnicity
The Assyrians are a Semitic people. They are ethnically distinct from Arabs, Turks, Persians, Kurds, and Jews. Assyrians of today have often been mistaken for Syrians, i.e., the citizens of modern Syria. The reason for this confusion seems to be that the Westerners, in general, have heard about the country name Syria, but have been, including some historians, under the impression that the people of ancient Assyria disappeared after the fall of the Assyrian Empire in 612 B.C. We know that the fall of an empire does not mean the disappearance of its entire population. Are today's Italians not connected to the ancient Romans because the Roman Empire fell? Are today's Jews not connected to ancient Israelites since the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70?
The Assyrian language spoken today is a mixture of the ancient Assyrian Akkadian and Aramaic, the language of Christ, which Assyrians adopted around 750 B.C. Ancient Assyrians used Cuneiform script for writing and continued to use it until the 3rd Century of the Christian era. The alphabet used today is Aramaic, derived originally from the Phoenician, and is written from right to left.
Assyrians are predominantly Christians; they adopted Christianity at the hands of the Apostles themselves. Christianity and the Church played a duel role in the Assyrians’ lives: First, it gave the Assyrians a new legacy and through the Church saved their language to this present day. Second, it played a dangerous role at the expense of the Assyrian national aspirations. Some Assyrians even today recognize themselves according to their ecclesiastical designations. Assyrians are erroneously called Nestorians (members of the Assyrian Church of the East), Chaldeans (members of the Chaldean Catholic Church), and Jacobites (members of the Syriac Orthodox Church). The Vatican gave the Biblical name Chaldean to those Nestorians who in 1552 converted to Catholicism in order to distinguish between the two groups. There is no connection whatsoever between the Modern Chaldeans, who existed always in northern Mesopotamia, and the ancient Chaldeans of Babylon (southern Mesopotamia). In fact, the Vatican insulted the Assyrians by giving the converts this name since the Bible clearly shows that the name Chaldean meant nothing but magician, astrologer, and soothsayer (Read Daniel, Chapters 2, 4 and 5). Other Assyrians belong to the Syrian Catholic, Presbyterian, Evangelical, and other denominations.
The Assyrian Christians played a vital role in spreading Christianity across Persia, India, China, and Japan in the early centuries of Christianity. The Nestorian Assyrian Monument found in Xian, China, erected in AD 781, is a living example. The Greek scholarships were transmitted from the Assyrian school of Edessa (Urhai) to the Assyrian school of Nisibin, a city in which the first University in the world was established in AD 358. These Greek scholarships, including medical, philosophical, astronomical, and mathematical works, were translated first from Greek to Syriac and then from Syriac to Arabic between the 8th and 10th centuries. The Arabs transferred this science to Egypt and ultimately to Spain, through Morocco, and back to the Europeans, who used it in their renaissance as they emerged from the Dark Ages.
Ancient Mesopotamians contributed greatly to world civilization. For example, the Mesopotamian and Assyrian mythology gave much to Christianity. A study of the Assyrian prophecy corpus, first published in 1875 by George Smith, shows parallels between the Biblical prophecies and events and the ancient Assyrian prophecies.
For example, in a scene reminiscent of Jesus’ Last Supper, Oracle 3.3 of the Corpus describes a scene in which Ishtar, the Assyrian goddess, invites the gods, her fathers, and brothers, to a covenant meal, and says to them: “You will go to your cities and districts, eat bread and forget this covenant. But when you drink from this water, you will remember me and keep this covenant, which I have made on behalf of King Esarhaddon.”
Moses lived in late 13th and early 12th century B.C. His story is mentioned in Exodus Chapter 2. It is said that Moses was left in a basket by the shore of the Nile River, found by a Pharaoh’s daughter, and raised as royalty through his real mother. This story has almost exact similarities with an earlier story of King Sargon I, which took place between 2371 B.C. and 2316 B.C.
The Babylonians and Assyrians knew the institution of Sabbath and it was kept on the seventh, fourteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-eighths days of the lunar month. On these days, flesh cooked on fire was not eaten, the clothing of the body was not changed, white garments were not put on, the king was not to ride his chariot, and medicine of the body was not applied. Assyrians defined Sabbath as "a day of rest for the heart", while the Akkadian equivalent is explained to mean "a day of completion of labor."
Assyrians have began mass migration and alarming exodus from their ancestral homelands in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey in early 20th century and have scattered around the world, looking for better lives, escaping persecutions, massacres and genocide. They did this on waves that began after the genocide of WWI at the hands of the Kurds and Turks. The waves of exodus continued due to the followings: The Simele massacre of 1933 in Iraq, Kurdish armed revolt of 1961 in Iraq and that in Turkey, Ba'ath seizure of power in Iraq in 1968, the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, Iraq-Iran Gulf War (1980-1988), including Anfal operations of 1988, The Gulf War of 1991, the embargo on Iraq, and lastly but not least, the Gulf War of 2003. The Assyrians have faced increased religious, ethnic, and cultural persecutions at the hands of the Turks, Kurds and Pan Arabs. Today, Arabization, Kurdification, and Turkization process continues in Iraq and Turkey against the Assyrians.
The Assyrians' population is estimated at 2,500,000 to 3,000,000 worldwide. Their massive migration and exodus took them to many countries around the globe. Today, it is estimated that their population is broken down as follows: Iraq (1,000,000) / Syria (500,000) / Turkey (10,000) / Iran (15,000) / Lebanon (40,000) / Jordan (100,000, mainly refugees) / USA (300,000) / The Netherlands (20,000) / Denmark (5,000) / Great Britain (8,000) / Greece (5,000) / Russia (25,000) / Belgium (5,000) / Sweden (50,000) / France (10,000), New Zealand (5,000) / Australia (30,000) / Germany (50,000) / Canada (30,000) and many more are in Georgia, Armenia, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Brazil and other countries.
The fall of Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime in 2003 brought hopes for democracy, equality, justice, and pluralism. However, these hopes were soon dissipated.
Concerning the Iraqi new constitution, the Islamists and extremists are determined to make Islam the official religion of Iraq and the Shari'aa (Islamic Law) as THE source and not A source for legislation and civil law. This means that non-Moslems will be considered as second-class citizens. Women who make 55 to 58% of the Iraqi population would lose hope for equality and other legal matters related to inheritance, right for divorce, custody, etc.
With the arrival of the Western Armies to Iraq, religious persecution of Assyrian Christians of Iraq has ignited. It is estimated that some 200,000 Assyrian Christians have fled Iraq to neighboring Syria and Jordan because Islamists see the Christians of Iraq as collaborators with the American infidels as they call them. More than 30 churches were bombed and burned in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk between 2004 and 2006.
During the January 30, 2005 “so-called” democratic elections, the Assyrians were systematically disenfranchised.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which was responsible for the Out-of-Country voting process, was bias in the way it selected the polling stations in the U.S. Meanwhile, in Iraq, the elections were manipulated and forged and nothing was done to rectify the situation. Over 100,000 Assyrians did not have the opportunity to vote in the Nineveh Plain Assyrian regions in Northern Iraq, because ballot boxes were not delivered to their areas in a timely manner or when ballot boxes did arrive, election officials did not report to their polling centers.
Christian female students are warned to wear Islamic veils upon entering university campuses. Many students have stopped attending classes altogether. Assyrian liquor stores and hair salons are targets of bombings and vandalisms. Christian children are kidnapped for after a large ransoms. Christian women are kidnapped and killed if they did not wear the traditional Islamic veil.
In north of Baghdad, a young 14 years Assyrian was literally slaughtered, his head and limbs were cut off. Another 14 years young boy was crucified in Basra.
Assyrian Christians living in Mosul and other Assyrian neighborhoods in Baghdad are threatened to either leave or be killed.
Christian religious figures are not immune from the Islamists. Priests no longer wear their clerical robes in public. Fr. Polous Iskandar was kidnapped, and beheaded. His remains were dumped in one of Mosul streets. Father George of Mosul's St. Mary's Assyrian Church of the East was forced to leave his parish and escape after threats on his life were made if he did not pay the recommended 'donation' to the 'Islamic fighters'.
I have been compiling pages upon pages of evidence illustrating the murders of Assyrians in Iraq for the last four years. The list includes all the churches that have been attacked and bombed in this period.
On June 30, 2006, author Rosie Malek-Yonan, made that list part of her testimony on Capitol Hill before a Congressional Committee of the 109th Congress on religious freedom regarding the massacre and persecution of the Assyrians in Iraq by Islamists and Kurds. If you are interested to read that list, please see the Article Section on my site as the list is broken down by year.
More problems in Northern Iraq
U.S. funding in northern Iraq are not being directed by the Assyrian representatives, but by Kurdish authorities. The longest standing Assyrian group, such as the Assyrian Democratic Movement, is being sidestepped.
The controlling Kurdish authorities overseeing the reconstruction projects are playing the Churches against political and civic institutions. By renovating some churches and building others to show Assyrian support, their efforts are countered by Kurdish appointment of hand-picked Christian members to cabinet positions in the Kurdish regional government in Northern Iraq, who are in essence loyal supporters of Kurdish organizations and work for the Kurdish interest.
Kurdish militia have seized Assyrian villages and replaced abandoned Assyrian homes with Kurdish families brought back from other regions of Iraq, and according to some reports, from outside Iraq as well. Assyrian regions in northern Iraq have been and continue to be penetrated by Kurds.
Kurds continue to interfere in Assyrian affairs. The Iraqi constitution and Northern Iraq’s Kurdish regional constitution divides the same-speaking Christians into three distinct groups as Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Syriacs contrary to what was instituted in the 2003 American supervised Transitional Administration Law, which was supposed to be the foundation for the constitution.
Even at this very moment, Kurds continue to marginalize the Assyrians. For example, during the Wednesday, November 8, 2006 trial session of Saddam Hussein, one witness, who was a Kurd, testified that all the destroyed villages during the Anfal operation of 1988 were not Kurdish. Speaking in Kurdish, he admitted that certain villages that were destroyed were predominantly Christian while others were occupied by, quote: "fala wa musilman," end quote, meaning, Christians and Muslims. The official certified translator, who was under oath and just happen to be a Kurd too, translated the words of the witness, as "some of the villages were predominantly Christian while others were inhabited by Christians and Kurds." As if that was not enough, the witness's personal attorney who was a Kurd as well, claimed that all those Christians in question were Kurds. Ironically, Saddam Hussein turned in his statement and stressed that the Christian Assyrians are the descendents of those who built Iraq and that they are the history of Iraq so why are the Kurds Kurdifying them forcefully and why not let them be free to express who they are.