Who are the Assyrians? In essence, the modern-day Assyrians are a Semitic people, direct descendants of the ancient Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations. Their roots extend back over 6760 years, encompassing the legacy of the Akkadians and Sumerians. As indigenous and native inhabitants of Iraq, they distinguish themselves from other ethnic groups in the region, such as Arabs, Persians, and Kurds. Notably, Assyrians practice Christianity and communicate in their unique language, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic.
The heart of the Assyrian empire thrived in the northern part of ancient Mesopotamia, comprising present-day northern Iraq, southeastern Turkey, northeastern Syria, and northwestern Iran. Babylon, its sister city-state, occupied the southern expanse of Mesopotamia, including present-day southern Iraq and Kuwait. These peoples, akin to the relationship between Israel and Judea, were blood-related, frequently intermarrying. Assur served as their main capital, where they made substantial contributions to science, astronomy, and warfare. King Ashurpanipal, a prominent Assyrian monarch, notably erected the world's first known library. The field of Assyriology has emerged to comprehensively study and educate about the ancient Assyrians and their empire, recognizing their profound impact on history.
The Assyrian empire held sway over the region for nearly 500 years, reaching its pinnacle with territorial control extending from Egypt in the west to present-day Iran in the east. Its official demise occurred in 612 B.C.; however, the Assyrian people and ethnicity endured beyond this fall. They continued to play significant roles in subsequent empires that governed the region, including the Persian, Roman, Islamic, and, more recently, the Ottoman Empire. This enduring legacy underscores the lasting impact of the Assyrians on the historical tapestry of the Middle East.
Books: 'Crimson Field' || 'Nineveh and its Remains' || 'From Nineveh to New York' || 'Assyrian Post-Nineveh Identity...' || 'The Ancient Assyrians' || 'Land of Marvels' ||
Assyrians of today speak Assyrian (Neo-Aramaic), which is a neo-Aramaic dialect. This is also referred to as 'Syriac', a modern dialect of the Aramaic language. In fact, Syriac is often the term used for the literary and liturgical form of the Assyrian language. Prior to adopting the Aramaic language around 1000 BC-the lingua franca of the region at the time-the Assyrian empire used the Akkadian language, an extinct Semitic language. They also used cuneiform script as a way of scribing and documenting things.
The Assyrians of today are predominantly Christians, with their Christian identity tracing back to the time of Christ. Over the centuries, they have embraced various Christian denominations, reflecting the rich tapestry of their religious heritage.
Among the diverse churches followed by Assyrians, a significant majority adheres to the 'Assyrian Church of the East.' This ancient church holds a special place as one of the original Christian churches, dating back to the time of the apostles who spread Christianity in the first century A.D. Alongside the Assyrian Church of the East, Assyrians are also affiliated with several other Christian denominations, adding to the religious diversity within the community. Notable among these denominations are the 'Chaldean Catholic Church,' the 'Ancient Assyrian Church of the East,' 'Syriac Orthodox,' 'Syriac Catholic,' 'Jacobites,' and various others.
It's fascinating to observe the array of religious expressions within the Assyrian community, each church carrying its unique traditions and practices. This religious diversity reflects the historical journey of Assyrians and their adaptation to different Christian doctrines over time.
It's worth noting that prior to the advent of Christianity, the Assyrian religion in the empire was 'Ashurism.' This ancient faith was named after the Assyrian god 'Ashur,' whom the Assyrians worshipped as a deity. The transition from Ashurism to Christianity represents a significant transformation in the religious landscape of the Assyrian people, marking the enduring evolution of their spiritual identity.
The Assyrians have undergone significant changes and endured various challenges over the past 200 years, shaping their present-day identity. One notable aspect is the unfortunate history of genocides committed against them by different regional groups, including the Ottoman Turks, Kurds, and Islamic terrorists. Despite facing setbacks, Assyrians have demonstrated a resilient sense of nationalism and political activism.
Presently, Assyrians find themselves without a state, with the majority residing in their ancestral homelands. However, a substantial number has migrated to the West, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe. In Iraq, where their numbers once exceeded 1.25 million before 1990, Assyrians now face a decreased population due to the impact of war, insurgency, and marginalization by various groups. The ongoing challenges have prompted many Assyrians to seek better opportunities and security in Western countries.
The 'Nineveh Plain' in Iraq holds a significant Assyrian Christian majority, with many living in towns and villages surrounding the ancient Assyrian empire's base. Assyrians also reside in the province of Dohuk, under the control of the Kurdistan regional government. Despite political struggles in Iraq, efforts have been made to grant Assyrians more administrative and political control in the 'Nineveh Plain' region.
The emergence of ISIS in 2014 significantly disrupted the Assyrian population in Iraq. The invasion of Mosul and the 'Nineveh Plain' forced over one hundred thousand Assyrians to leave, facing harsh choices imposed by ISIS. Although stability has since been restored with the defeat of ISIS, some Assyrians have returned, contributing to the region's liberation through groups like the 'Nineveh Plain Protection Units,' 'Nineveh Plain Forces,' and 'Dwekh Nawsha' defense units.
In Syria, the Khabour region, consisting of 35 Assyrian villages and towns, faced a similar fate with an ISIS invasion in February 2015. This resulted in numerous Assyrian casualties, captured individuals, and a valiant but ultimately overwhelmed resistance by Assyrian/Syriac military groups. The situation remains complex and underscores the ongoing challenges faced by the Assyrian community in the region.
In recent decades, there has been a growing fascination with the concept of "Assyrian Continuity." This notion seeks to establish, even through scientific means such as DNA testing, the connection between contemporary Assyrians and their ancient counterparts. The endeavor involves a meticulous exploration into the historical roots, cultural nuances, and genetic threads that binds present-day Assyrians to their rich ancient heritage. This multifaceted approach aims to unravel the tapestry of time, shedding light on the enduring legacy that transcends millennia.
Books: 'Assyrians : the continuous saga' || Assyrian Cook Book || 'Assyrians in Chicago' 'Assyrians of Eastern Massachusetts' || 'Yesterday Children: Growing up Assyrian in Persia' || 'Assyrians: from Badr Khan to Saddam Hussien'
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