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Assyrian homeland or Assyria refers to a geographic and cultural region inhabited since the 25th century BCE traditionally by the indigenous Assyrian people; who call it Assyria (Syriac: ܐܬܘܪ). It is now largely coterminous with the Kurdish homeland, including parts of what is now primarily northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, northwestern Iran, and southeastern Turkey.
The area of Iraq with the greatest concentration of Assyrians is located in the Nineveh plains region in Northern Iraq where the biblical Assyrian capital of Nineveh was located. This area is known as the "Assyrian Triangle.", this is where some Assyrian people groups seek to create an independent nation state of Assyria.
The Assyrians are a Christian people, with most following the Assyrian Church of the East and its modern offshoots; the Chaldean Catholic Church and Ancient Church of the East, as well as the Syriac Orthodox Church, Assyrian Pentecostal Church and Assyrian Evangelical Church. They speak, read and write dialects of Eastern Aramaic which evolved in Assyria from the 8th century BCE onwards.
They claim direct historical, ethnic and cultural descent from the ancient Assyrians, a claim which has considerable support from modern scholars, historians, archaeologists, geneticists, linguists, theologians and anthropologists (see Assyrian continuity).
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 was extant between the 25th century BCE and 7th century AD. The region was dissolved as a geo-political entity following the Arab Islamic conquest of Iraq in the late 7th Century AD, however what had been Assyria retained a significant indigenous, Mesopotamian Eastern Aramaic speaking Eastern Rite Christian population.
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 by 605 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 sometimes known by the theological terms Chaldean Catholics and Syriac Christians) 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 ancient Assyrian inhabitants of Upper 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 BCE, and these eastern dialects remained in wide use throughout Upper Mesopotamia during the Persian and Roman periods, and survived through to the present day. The Syriac language evolved in Achaemenid Assyria during the 5th century BCE, the terms Syrian and Syriac being originally 8th century BCE Indo-Amatoloan and later Greek etymological derivatives of Assyrian.
Early Christian period
Syriac Christianity took hold amongst the Assyrians between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD with the founding in Assyria of the Church of the East together with Syriac literature, although native ancient Mesopotamian religion was still widely followed until the 4th century AD. A number of small Neo-Assyrian states also arose during this period, namely Assur, Adiabene, Osroene and Hatra.
The first division between Syriac Christians occurred in the 5th century, when Upper Mesopotamian based Assyrian Christians of the Sassanid Persian Empire were separated from those in The Levant 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, eventually 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 Eastern Aramaic language came under pressure following the Arab Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia in the 7th century, and Assyrian Christians throughout the Middle Ages were subjected to Arabizing superstrate influence.
The Assyrians suffered a significant persecution with the religiously motivate large scale massacres conducted by the Muslim Turco-Mongol ruler Tamurlane in the 14th century AD. It was from this time that the ancient city of Assur was abandoned by Assyrians, and Assyrians were reduced to a minority within their ancient homeland.
A Schism occurred in 1552 AD, when a number of Assyrian Christians entered communion with the Roman Catholic Church, which, after initially naming their new followers The Church of Assyria and Mosul, coined the term Chaldean Catholic in 1683 AD, giving rise to the modern Chaldean Catholic Church by 1830 AD. This term is purely theological however, the Assyrian Chaldean Catholics having no historical, ethnic, cultural or geographic link to the ancient inhabitants of Chaldea in south east Mesopotamia, who had disappeared into the native population of Babylonia by the 6th century BCE.
Early modern period
Syria and Upper Mesopotamia became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, following the conquests of Suleiman the Magnificent. The Assyrians suffered a series of ethnically and religiously motivate massacres at the hands of the Ottomans and their Kurdish and Arab allies during the 18th and 19th centuries, greatly reducing their numbers.
During World War I the Assyrians suffered the Assyrian Genocide which reduced their numbers by up to two thirds. Subsequent to this, they entered the war on the side of the British and Russians. 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 (Chaldo-Assyrian) 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 Assyrian Church of the East members, the Chaldean Catholic Church became the largest non-Muslim religious denomination in Iraq, and some Assyrian Catholics later rose to power in the Ba'ath Party government, the most prominent being Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.
- Assyrian continuity
- Assyrian people
- Assyrian Church of the East
- Assyrian genocide
- List of Assyrian settlements
- Al-Jazira, Mesopotamia
- Tur Abdin
- Nineveh plains
- 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.