Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Americans

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Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Americans
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Total population
Official 2010 U.S. Census: 110,807[1] Unofficial Estimate: 400,000 [2]
Regions with significant populations
Michigan, Illinois, California, Arizona, New York, New England
American English, Neo-Aramaic: 77,547[1]
Chaldean Catholic Church, Assyrian Church of the East, Ancient Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox Church, Syriac Catholic Church, Assyrian Pentecostal Church,
Related ethnic groups
Assyrian Swede, Assyrian Canadian, Assyrian Australian, Assyrian German, Mandaeans, Mhallami

Assyrian/Chaldo-Assyrian/Syriac Americans are American citizens of non-Arab Assyrian/Mesopotamian descent. The United States constitutes the largest population of Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac people in the diaspora. They are an Eastern Aramaic speaking Christian ethnic group who descend from the ancient Assyrians. Almost all are followers of the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East, the Syriac Orthodox Church (15,700),[3] and the Syriac Catholic Church, the remainder are members of various Assyrian Protestant churches.


(see Names of Syriac Christians)

The Assyrians are historically indigenous to northern Iraq, southeast Turkey, northwest Iran, and northeast Syria, a region encompassing what was ancient Assyria from the 25th century BC through to the 7th century AD. The earliest terms used to describe them were derivatives of the same name; Assurayu, Assyrian, Athurai, Assuri, Ashuriyun, Atorayeh, Athori, Syrani etc.

The Arameans dwelt in The Levant (modern Syria, Lebanon, northern Jordan and south central Turkey) from the late 14th century BC, and this region became known as Aramea, with the coast being known as Phoenicia.

The terminological problem dates from the Seleucid Empire (323-150 BC), which applied the term Syria, (the Greek and Indo-Anatolian form of the name Assurayu/Assyria, which had existed among Indo-Europeans even during the Assyrian Empire) not only to both Assyria and the Assyrians themselves in Northern Mesopotamia (modern northern Iraq, northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey), but also to lands to the west in the Levant, which had never been a part of Assyria, previously known as Aramea, Eber Nari and Phoenicia (modern Syria, Lebanon and northern Jordan).

This caused not only the real Assyrians of the northern half of Mesopotamia, but also the ethnically and geographically distinct Arameans and Phoenicians of the Levant to be collectively called Syrians and Syriacs in the Greco-Roman world. This was to cause a confusion in the Western World which would last until recent times.

In the Near East however, in both the pre-Christian and Christian eras, the two ethnic terms used by both Near Eastern Semites (and the so-called Syriac Christians they would become), and also their neighbors were; Assyrian and Aramean. Syrian was taken to mean Assyrian when applied to the Assyrians of Upper Mesopotamia/Athura/Assuristan, and Aramean when applied to Levantine Syriacs.

Other purely doctrinal and theological terms with no ethnic meaning whatsoever, such as Syriac Christian, Chaldean Catholic, Jacobite and Nestorian, appeared much later, usually as labels imposed from Europe.

The term Syriac (an Indo-European derivative of the earlier term Assyrian) is commonplace, but is often used as a catch all term to describe all Eastern Rite Christians from the Near East, regardless of ethnicity. It is acceptable to Assyrians, as it historically and originally meant only Assyrian.

The terms Chaldean, Chaldean Catholic and Chaldo-Assyrian originated only in the 18th century AD, and are also sometimes used for those Assyrians who split from the Assyrian Church of the East and entered communion with the Roman Catholic Church between the 16th and 18th centuries AD. Rome initially named its new converts The Church of Assyria and Mosul 1n 1553 AD, and only introduced the long extinct name Chaldean to the church in 1683 AD, despite none of its adherents having ever previously used this term to describe themselves. Thus, this is purely is a doctrinal and theological term, rather than an ethnic designation. The Chaldean Catholics are exactly the same people as those continually called Assyrians for four millennia, originating from the same Assyrian Homeland, originally being members of the same Assyrian church, and speaking the same language. There has been no historical, archaeological or written evidence, let alone proof, linking Chaldean Catholics to the immigrant Chaldean tribes who settled in the far south east of Mesopotamia circa 900 BC, and disappeared from the pages of history before 500 BC. Despite this, a minority of Chaldean Catholics in the United States have begun to regard themselves as ethnically Chaldean.

Nestorian too, is simply a theological term applied from Medieval Europe. It was used as a label (doctrinally and theologically somewhat inaccurately) to describe Eastern Rite Christians in general, regardless of denomination, ethnicity and geography, although it was later used specifically to describe Assyrians of the Church of the East and by extension those Assyrians originally part of the Church of the East, such as members of the Chaldean Catholic Church and Ancient Church of the East.


Assyrians have been present in the United States since the late 19th century. The first Assyrians who came to the United States were young men who were sent by Western missionaries to be trained for mission work in their native countries.[4] They traveled in small groups and emigrated from what are present-day Iraq, southeastern Turkey, northeastern Syria and northwestern Iran from 1914-1920 due to the Assyrian Genocide. Following those years, the Assyrian immigration increased dramatically due to other conflicts in the Middle East and still increases due to the Iraq War. The United States is home to the third largest Assyrian community in the world. The 2000 U.S. census counted 82,355 Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs in the country,[5] of whom 42% (34,484) lived in Michigan. The Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac organizations claim that their population in 2010 is around 400,000 [6] The highest concentrations are located in Detroit and Chicago. In 2005, the first Assyrian school in the United States, the Assyrian American Christian School, opened in Tarzana, Los Angeles.

As of 2007 Metro Detroit had around 100,000 Chaldo-Assyrian people. Within California, most Assyrians reside in the cities of San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Turlock. Other regions with prominent communities are the states of Illinois and Arizona.[7]

In Detroit[edit]

Assyrian Chaldean Christians immigration, mainly to Detroit, Michigan began in the early 20th century. The first reported Assyrian who immigrated to the United States was Zia Attala, who was a hotel owner in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[citation needed]

Before the 1970s, Assyrians came to the United States in search of greater economic opportunities. After the 1970s, many Assyrians fled for political freedom, especially after the rise of Saddam Hussein and, after the Gulf War. Some were drawn by the economic opportunities they had seen successfully affect their family members who had already immigrated. Less stringent immigration laws during the 1960s and 1970s facilitated increasing numbers, with the 1970s seeing the highest number of Assyrians coming to the United States. Assyrian immigrants were initially drawn by the potential employment at the Ford Motor Company River Rouge in Detroit. In 1962, the number of Assyrian owned grocery stores was 120, but grew to 278 in 1972. The main cause of this were the 1967 Detroit riots, after which Jewish grocery store owners left the area and left the opportunity open for Assyrians to take over. Often these Jews sold their old stores to Assyrians.[8]

The largest Assyrian-Chaldean diaspora is located in Metropolitan Detroit, where there are an estimated 121,000 members.[9] These cities include, but are not limited to, Detroit, Southfield, Sterling Heights, Oak Park, Troy, West Bloomfield,Commerce, Walled Lake, Rochester Hills, Shelby TWP, Macomb TWP Farmington Hills, Ferndale, Warren, Bloomfield Hills and Ann Arbor. More and more Assyrians-Chaldeans, as they establish themselves financially, quickly move out of Detroit and into the other locations, including San Diego and cities in Arizona.

Mostly all new Assyrian immigrants and low-income senior citizens tend to reside in Detroit, in the 7 Mile Road between Woodward Avenue and John R Street. This area was officially named Chaldean Town in 1999. [10]

There are eight Chaldean Catholic churches in Metropolitan Detroit, located in West Bloomfield, Troy (where there are two), Oak Park, Southfield, Warren, Sterling Heights and Detroit.

Saddam-Detroit connection[edit]

Iraqi president Saddam Hussein donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Chaldean Catholic churches in Detroit and received a key to the city in the 1980s on behalf of mayor Coleman Young, when the Baath regime was an ally of the United States government.[11]

Saddam's bond with Detroit started in 1979, when the Reverend Jacob Yasso of the Sacred Heart Chaldean Church (Aramaic: ܥܕܬܐ ܕܠܒܗ ܕܡܪܢ ܕܟܠܕܝ̈ܐʿēttāʾ d-lebbēh d-māran d-ḵaldāyēʾ) congratulated Saddam on his presidency. In return, Yasso's church received 250,000 dollars. The money reportedly helped build the Chaldean Center of America located on Seven Mile Road next to the Sacred Heart Chaldean Church, which received an earlier Saddam gift of $250,000, the station reported.[12] More Iraqi money reportedly went to other churches around Detroit and around the country.[citation needed]

In California[edit]

After World War II several Assyrian men who had been educated in Iraq by American Jesuits traveled to the United States. They were to teach Arabic to U.S. officers at the Army Language School who were going to be stationed in the Middle East. The men started the San Diego-area Chaldean Catholic community. Yasmeen S. Hanoosh, author of The Politics of Minority Chaldeans Between Iraq and America, wrote that the Chaldo-Assyrians in San Diego "continued to grow in relative isolation from the family-chain-migration based communities in and around Michigan."[13]

Syriac and Syrian distinction[edit]

The U.S. federal government took Syrian to mean Arabs from Syria and not as one of the terms to identify Assyrians. The Syriac Orthodox Church was previously known as the Syrian Orthodox Church until a Holy Synod in 2000 voted to change it to Syriac, thus distinguishing from the Arabs. Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim wrote a letter to the Syriacs in 2000 urging them to register in the census as Syriac with a C, and not Syrian with an N to distinguish the group. He also urged them not to register as the country of origin.[14] On the U.S. census, there is a section for the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriacs, which is listed separately from Syrian, Syrian being a subcategory for Arab. [15]


According to the 2011 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates there are 110,807 Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac people in the United States.[1]

Michigan - 26,378
California - 22,671
Illinois - 34,685


  • Hanoosh, Yasmeen H. The Politics of Minority Chaldeans Between Iraq and America. ProQuest, 2008. ISBN 0549984755, 9780549984757.
  • Henrich, Natalie and Joseph Henrich. Why Humans Cooperate : A Cultural and Evolutionary Explanation: A Cultural and Evolutionary Explanation. Oxford University Press, May 30, 2007. ISBN 0198041179, 9780198041177.


  1. ^ a b c "Selected Population Profile in the United States : 2011 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Alexei Krindatch. "Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas". Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  5. ^ "American FactFinder". Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  6. ^ BetBasoo, Peter. Diaspora: 1918 to present, History of Assyrians, Assyrian International News Agency (AINA).
  7. ^ Henrich and Henrich, p. 81-82.
  8. ^ Chafets, Ze'ev. Devils Night: and Other True Tales of Detroit. New York: Random House, 1990)
  9. ^ "Chaldean Chamber of Commerce | The Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce is a partnership of Chaldean businesses and professionals working together to strengthen members' businesses, increase job opportunities, encourage expansion and promote Chaldean business and culture. The Chamber seeks to service and represent Aramaic-speaking people, including Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syriacs". 2012-05-16. Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  10. ^ Adrian Humphreys (2 September 2011). "U.S. police foil Canada-to-Iraq luxury-car scheme". National Post. Retrieved 4 October 2014. 
  11. ^ "March 31, 2003". Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  12. ^ "Saddam Reportedly Given Key To Detroit Iraq President Funded Local Chaldean Church In 1980." Click on Detroit. March 26, 2003. Retrieved on November 16, 2013.
  13. ^ Hanoosh, p. 195.
  14. ^ "Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim - Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch". Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  15. ^ "American FactFinder". Retrieved 2013-10-20. 

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