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Assyrian homeland refers to a geographic and cultural region inhabited traditionally by the Assyrian people; who call it Assyria (Syriac: ܐܬܘܪ). It is largely coterminous with the Kurdish homeland, including parts of what is now northeast Syria, northern Iraq, northwestern Iran and southeastern Turkey.
The area of Iraq with the greatest concentration of Assyrians is located in the Ninawa-Mosul region in Northern Iraq where the biblical Assyrian capital of Nineveh was located. This area is known as the "Assyrian Triangle."
The Assyrian homeland mirrors the boundaries of ancient Assyria proper, and the later Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Roman and Sassanid provinces of Assyria (Athura/Assuristan) that retained a significant indigenous, Mesopotamian Aramaic speaking Christian population following the Islamic conquest of Iraq in the late 7th Century AD. Upper Mesopotamia having had an established structure of dioceses by AD 500 following the introduction of Christianity from the 1st to 3rd centuries AD. After the fall of the Neo Assyrian Empire in 608 BC Assyria remained an entity for over 1200 years under Babylonian, Achamaenid Persian, Seleucid Greek, Parthian, Roman and Sassanid Persian rule. It was only after the Arab-Islamic conquest of the second half of the 7th Century AD that Assyria as a named region was dissolved.
Today, Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) are believed to form a slight majority in two Ninewa counties, Tel Kaif and Al-Hamdaniya. Since the fall of the Iraqi Baath Party in 2003, and in the face of violence against the indigenous Assyrian Christian community, there has been a growing movement for Assyrian independence.
The Assyrian homeland includes Upper Mesopotamia between Syria and Northern Iraq, including Iraq's Ninawa, Dohuk and Arbil provinces, and it historically also extends to Iranian Azerbaijan and Turkey's Southeastern Anatolia Region.
Assyrian populations are distributed between the Assyrian homeland and the Assyrian diaspora. There are no official statistics, and estimates vary greatly, between less than one and more than four million, mostly due to the uncertainty of the number of Assyrians in Iraq. Since the 2003 Iraq war, Iraqi Assyrians have been dislocated to Syria in significant but unknown numbers. The diaspora population accounts for roughly 300,000 people, the largest diaspora community in the Near East being in Jordan, and the largest oversea communities found in the United States and in Sweden.
Assyrians are eastern Aramaic-speaking, descending from the pre-Islamic inhabitants of Mesopotamia, and in particular ancient Assyria. The Old Aramaic language was adopted by the population of the Neo-Assyrian Empire from around the 8th century BC, and these eastern dialects remained in wide use throughout Mesopotamia during the Persian and Roman periods, and survived through to the present day.
Early Christian period
The first division between Syriac Christians occurred in the 5th century, when Christians of the Sassanid Persian Empire were separated from those in the west over the Nestorian Schism. This split owed just as much to the politics of the day as it did to theological orthodoxy. Ctesiphon, which was at the time the Sassanid capital, became the capital of the Church of the East.
After the Council of Chalcedon in 451, many Syriac Christians within the Roman Empire rebelled against its decisions. The Patriarchate of Antioch was then divided between a Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian communion. The Chalcedonians were often labelled 'Melkites' (Emperor's Party), while their opponents were labelled as Monophysites (those who believe in the one rather than two natures of Christ) and Jacobites (after Jacob Baradaeus). The Maronite Church found itself caught between the two, but claims to have always remained faithful to the Catholic Church and in communion with the bishop of Rome, the Pope.
Both Syriac Christianity and the Aramaic language came under pressure following the Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia in the 7th century, and Syriac Christians throughout the Middle Ages were subjected to Arabizing superstrate influence.
Early modern period
After World War I, the Assyrian homeland was divided between the British Mandate of Mesopotamia, which would become the Kingdom of Iraq in 1932, and the French Mandate of Syria which would become the Syrian Arab Republic in 1944.
Assyrians faced reprisals under the Hashemite monarchy for co-operating with the British during the years after World War I, and many fled to the West. The Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII, though born into the line of Patriarchs at Qochanis, was educated in Britain. For a time he sought a homeland for the Assyrians in Iraq but was forced to take refuge in Cyprus in 1933, later moving to Chicago, Illinois, and finally settling near San Francisco, California. The present Patriarch of Babylon is based in Chicago, and perhaps less than 1 million of the world's 4.5 million Assyrians remain in Iraq.
The Assyrian Chaldean Catholic community was less numerous and vociferous at the time of the British Mandate of Mesopotamia, and did not play a major role in the British rule of the country. However with the exodus of Church of the East members, the Chaldean Catholic Church became the largest non-Muslim group in Iraq, and some later rose to power in the Ba'ath Party government, the most prominent being Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.
- Minorities in the Middle East: a history of struggle and self-expression By Mordechai Nisan
- The Origins of War: From the Stone Age to Alexander the Great By Arther Ferrill - Page 70
- Massacres, Resistance, Protectors: Muslim-Christian Relations in Eastern Anatolia during World War I By David Gaunt - p. 9, map p. 10.