||This article needs attention from an expert in Assyria. (June 2011)|
|3.3 million – 4.2 million (1994)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Related ethnic groups|
The Assyrian people, most commonly known as Assyrians and other later names, such as Ashuriyun, Atorayeh and Syriacs (see names of Syriac Christians), are a distinct ethnic group whose origins lie in ancient Mesopotamia. They are Semitic people, who speak and write distinct dialects of Eastern Aramaic exclusive to Mesopotamia and its immediate surroundings.
Assyrians trace their ancestry back to the Sumero-Akkadian civilisation that emerged in Mesopotamia circa 4000–3500 BC, and in particular to the northern region of the Akkadian lands, which would become known as Assyria by the 24th century BC. The Assyrian nation existed as an independent state, and often a powerful empire, from the 24th century BC until the end of the 7th century BC. Assyria remained a Geo-political entity after its fall, and was ruled as an occupied province under the rule of various empires from the late 7th century BC until the mid-7th century AD when it was dissolved, and the Assyrian people have gradually become a minority in their homelands since that time.
Today that ancient territory is part of several nations; the north of Iraq, part of southeast Turkey and northeast Syria. They are indigenous to, and have traditionally lived all over what is now Iraq, northeast Syria, northwest Iran, and southeastern Turkey. They are a Christian people, with most following various Eastern Rite Churches, although many are non-religious.
Many have migrated to the Caucasus, North America, Australia and Europe during the past century or so. Diaspora and refugee communities are based in Europe (particularly Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, and France), North America, New Zealand, Lebanon, Armenia, Georgia, southern Russia, Israel, Azerbaijan and Jordan.
Emigration was triggered by such events as the Assyrian Genocide by the Turkish Ottoman Empire during First World War, the Simele massacre in Iraq (1933), the Islamic revolution in Iran (1979), Arab Nationalist Baathist policies in Iraq and Syria, the Al-Anfal Campaign of Saddam Hussein, and to some degree Kurdish nationalist policies in northern Iraq.
The major sub-ethnic division is religious, between the Eastern group ("Assyrian Church of the East", "Ancient Church of the East" and "Chaldean Catholic") indigenous to northern Iraq, northwest Iran, northeast Syria and southeast Turkey, and a Western one ("Syrian Orthodox", and Syrian Catholic") found mainly in south central Turkey and Syria, this latter group, being culturally and ethnically the same as the other Assyrian groups, often prefer the designation Aramean.
Most recently, the Iraq War has displaced the regional Assyrian community, as its people have faced ethnic and religious persecution at the hands of Islamic extremists and Arab and Kurdish nationalists. Of the one million or more Iraqis reported by the United Nations to have fled Iraq since the American occupation, nearly forty percent (40%) are Assyrian, although Assyrians comprised around 3% of the pre-war Iraqi population.
Assyrians claim that they are the descendants of the peoples that created the great Semitic civilisations of ancient Mesopotamia that absorbed the early Sumerian civilisation, in particular Assyria, Akkad, Babylonia and Adiabene. This claim has numerous supporters amongst modern scholars, for example Robert D. Biggs, as well as those that doubt it or think there was only limited or insignificant continuity. Certainly, there is strong evidence of linguistic continuity. The genetic evidence suggests that modern Assyrians are a homogenous group with a relatively distinctive genetic profile and that it is a probability that they are descendants of their ancient namesakes.
Other historians supporting the view that Assyrians are the descendants of their namesakes include prominent Assyriologists such as Simo Parpola, Richard N. Frye, H.W.F. Saggs, Robert D. Biggs, Giorgi Tsereteli, George Percy Badger, Eden Naby, J.A. Brinkman and Geoffrey Khan. Nineteenth century orientalists such as Austen Henry Layard, Horatio Southgate and Hormuzd Rassam (himself an Assyrian) also supported this view. Geneticists such as Cavalli-Sforza also clearly endorse this position.
The Assyrian people can trace their ethnic and cultural origins to the indigenous population of pre-Islamic and pre-Arab Mesopotamia, (in particular Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, Assyria, Babylon, Mari, Eshnunna, Adiabene, Osroene, Hatra and the geo-political province of Assyria under Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Roman and Sassanid rule) since before the time of the Akkadian Empire.
Mesopotamia was originally dominated by the Sumerians (from at least 3500 BC) and the native Semites, later to be collectively known as Akkadians lived alongside them. Akkadian ruled city states first appear circa 2800 BC. In the 24th century BC the Akkadians gained domination over the Sumerians under Sargon the Great who founded the worlds first empire. By the 21st century BC the Akkadian Empire had collapsed, and the Akkadians split into essentially two nations; Assyria and some time later, Babylonia, although Babylonia was ruled by non native dynasties for most of its history. According to the Assyrian King List the earliest Assyrian king was a 24th century BC ruler named Tudiya. Assyria became a strong nation in the 21st and 20th century BC, founding colonies in Asia Minor. In the 19th century BC a new wave of Semites, the Amorites entered Mesopotamia from the west, usurping the thrones of the Akkadian states of Assyria, Isin and Larsa, and founded Babylon as an independent City State The Amorite rulers turned Assyria into a short lived imperial power from the late 19th century BC until the mid 18th century BC, However, after its fall to Babylon they were driven from Assyria by a king named Adasi in the late 18th Century BC, but eventually blended into the population of Babylonia in the south, where they maintained rule until 1595 BC. By approximately 1800 BC, the Sumerian race appears to have been wholly absorbed by the Semitic Akkadian population. According to the story told in the Book of Genesis, it is around this time that the Semitic tribal leader Abraham travelled out of Mesopotamia and became the father of his people, the Hebrews.
Assyria and later Babylon, became major powers. There were further influxes of peoples such as Hurrians, Kassites and Mitanni, the Kassites ruled Babylon for over 500 years, and the Mitanni dominated Assyria for a brief period. The Kassites, like the Amorites before them, seem to have disappeared into the general population in Babylonia, while the Mitanni and Hurrians were overthrown and driven out of Assyria. Assyria then once again became a major imperial power from 1365 BC until 1076 BC, rivalling Egypt.
In the 12th century BC a new influx of Semites from the west took place, with the arrival of the Arameans. The Arameans originally set up small kingdoms within southern Mesopotamia, but were eventually brought under control and incorporated into Assyria and Babylonia where they were culturally and politically Akkadianized, and they ethnically intermixed and blended in with the native Akkadian population.
It was not until the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-608 BC) and the influx and interbreeding with Aramean tribes that the Assyrians and Babylonians began to speak Aramaic, an Akkadian infused Mesopotamian version of the language of the Aramaean tribes who had been assimilated into the Assyrian empire and Mesopotamia in the 9th century BC, and whose descendant dialects survive to this day. Mass relocations were enforced by Assyrian kings of the Neo-Assyrian period. During the period of the Neo-Assyrian Empire many Israelite Jews were deported to Assyria and a fair proportion of these were absorbed into the general population.
The Neo-Assyrian Empire (911 BC - 608 BC) saw a massive expansion of Assyrian power, Assyria became the center of the greatest empire the world had yet seen, with Babylon, Chaldea, Persia, Elam, Media, Gutium, Israel, Judah, Aramea (modern Syria), Phonecia/Canaan, Palestine, Mannea, much of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), the Neo-Hittite states, Corduene, Egypt, Cyprus, parts of the Caucasus, Dilmun, Samaria, Edom, Nabatea and Arabia brought under Assyrian control, the empire of Urartu defeated and conquered in the Caucasus, the Nubians, Ethiopians and Kushites defeated and driven from Egypt and the Phrygians paying tribute to Assyria.
After the fall of Nineveh
Following the destruction of the Neo-Assyrian Empire by 608 BC, the population of the Assyria came under the control of their Babylonian relatives until 539 BC. Ironically Nabonidus, the last king of Babylonia was himself from Assyria.
From 538 BC, Assyria, (which remained a political and named entity) was under Persian Achaemenid, Macedonian, Seleucid, Parthian Arascid, Roman and Sassanid rule for seven centuries undergoing Christianization during this time.
Assyria flourished during the Achaemenid period (from 539-323 BC) (see Achaemenid Assyria) as Athura, becoming a major source of manpower for the Achaemenid armies and a breadbasket for the empire. Assyrians are also attested as having important administrative posts within the empire, and the Mesopotamian Aramaic dialect of the Assyrian Empire was retained by the Achaemenids as the 'lingua franca' of their empire. Although Assyrian cities such as Kalhu and Nineveh remained in ruins, others such as Ashur, Arbela, Guzana, Arrapkha and Harran flourished during this period.
The Seleucid empire succeeded that of the Achaemenids in 323 BC, from this point Greek became the official language of the empire at the expense of Mesopotamian Aramaic. The native populace of Assyria were not Hellenised however, as is attested by the survival of native language, culture and religion. The province flourished much as it had under the Achaemenids for the next century, however by the late 3rd century BC Assyria became a battleground between the Seleucid Greeks and the Parthians but remained largely in Greek hands until the reign of Mithridates I when it fell to the Parthians. During the Seleucid period the term Assyria was altered to read Syria, a Mediterranean form of the original name that had been in use since the 8th or 9th century BC among some western Assyrian colonies. The Seleucid Greeks also named Aramea to the west Syria (read Assyria) as it had been an Assyrian colony for centuries. When they lost control of Assyria proper (which is northern Mesopotamia, north east Syria and part of south east Anatolia), they retained the name but applied it only to Aramea (i.e. The Levant). This created a situation where both Assyrians and Arameans to the west were referred to as Syrians by the Greco-Roman civilisations, causing the later Syrian Vs Assyrian naming controversy.
It was renamed Assuristan during the Parthian era. The Parthians appeared to have exercised only loose control at times, leading to the virtual resurrection of Assyria with the native kingdom of Adiabene 15 BC to 117AD. Its rulers were converts from Mesopotamian religion to Judaism and later Christianity, and it retained Mesopotamian Aramaic as its spoken tongue.
Adiabene, like the rest of northern Mesopotamia was conquered by Trajan in 117 AD, and the region was pointedly named Assyria by the Romans. Christianity, as well as Gnostic sects such as the Mandeans and Manicheanism took hold between the 1st and 3rd Centuries AD.
The Parthians regained control of the region a few years later, and retained the name Assyria (Assuristan). Other small kingdoms had also sprung up in the region, namely Osrhoene and Hatra, which were Syriac speaking and at least partly Assyrian. Assyrian identity appears to have remained strong, with the 2nd century writer and theologian Tatian stating clearly that he is an Assyrian, as does the satirist Lucian in the same period. The city of Ashur itself also appears to have been independent or largely autonomous, with temples being dedicated to the national god of the Assyrians (Ashur) into the second half of the 3rd Century AD, before it was once again destroyed by the invading Sassanids in 256 AD.
The Sassanids recognised the land as Assyria, retaining the name Assuristan. Assyrians still seem to have retained a distinct identity and a degree of local autonomy in the Sassanid period, during the 4th century the region around Nineveh was governed by a certain local Assyrian king, who was pointedly named Sennacherib after his ancient ancestor, who established the Mar Behnam monastery in memory of his son. In 341 AD, the Zoroastrian Shapur II ordered the massacre of all Christians in the Persian Empire, most of whom were Assyrians. During the persecution, about 1,150 Christians were martyred under Shapur II. Assyria remained recognised as such by its inhabitants, Sassanid rulers and neighbouring peoples until after the Arab Islamic conquest of the second half of the 7th century AD.
These Assyrians became Christian in the first to third centuries. They were divided by the Nestorian Schism in the fifth century, and from the eighth century, they became both an ethnic minority and a religious minority following the Arab Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia.
After the Arab Islamic invasion and conquest of the 7th century AD, Assyria as a province was dissolved, but the Assyrians themselves survived, being referred to as Ashuriyun by the Arabs. Assyrians initially experienced some periods of religious and cultural freedom interspersed with periods of severe religious and ethnic persecution. As heirs to ancient Mesopotamian civilisation, they also contributed hugely to the Arab Islamic Civilization during the Ummayads and the Abbasids by translating works of Greek philosophers to Syriac and afterwards to Arabic. They also excelled in philosophy, science and theology ( such as Tatian, Bar Daisan, Babai the Great, Nestorius, Toma bar Yacoub etc.) and the personal physicians of the Abbasid Caliphs were often Assyrian Christians such as the long serving Bukhtishu dynasty. However, non-Islamic proselyting was punishable by death under Sharia law, which led the Assyrians into preaching in Transoxania, Central Asia, India, Mongolia and China where they established numerous churches. The Church of the East was considered to be one of the major Christian powerhouses in the world, alongside Latin Christianity in Europe and the Byzantine Empire.
From the 7th century AD onwards Mesopotamia saw a steady influx of Arabs, Kurds and other Iranic people, and later Turkic peoples, and the indigenous population retaining native Mesopotamian culture, identity, language, religion and customs were steadily marginalised and gradually became a minority in their own homeland.
Although Eastern Rite Christianity had become the religion of the vast majority of Assyrians between the 1st and 4th centuries AD, remnants of the ancient Mesopotamian Religion followed by their ancestors survived in some regions of what had been Assyria as late as the 10th Century AD.
The process of marginalisation was largely completed by the massacres of indigenous Assyrian Christians and other non-Muslims in Mesopotamia and its surrounds by Tamerlane the Mongol in the 14th century AD, and it was from this point that the ancient Assyrian capital of Ashur was finally abandoned by Assyrians.
However, many Assyrian Christians survived the various massacres and pogroms, and resisted the process of Arabization and Islamification, retaining a distinct Mesopotamian identity, Mesopotamian Aramaic language and written script. The modern Assyrians or Chaldo-Assyrians of today are descendants of the indigenous inhabitants of Mesopotamia, and in particular Assyria, who refused to be converted to Islam or be culturally and linguistically Arabized.
Culturally, ethnically and linguistically distinct from, although both quite influencing on, and quite influenced by, their neighbours in the Middle East—the Arabs, Persians, Kurds, Turks, Jews and Armenians — the Assyrians have endured much hardship throughout their recent history as a result of religious and ethnic persecution.
Mongol and Turkic rule
The region came under the control of the Mongol Empire after the fall of Baghdad in 1258. The Mongol khans were sympathetic with Christians and didn't harm them. The most prominent among them was probably Isa Kelemechi, a diplomat, astrologer, and head of the Christian affairs in the Yuan Dynasty in China. He spent some time in Persia under the Ilkhans. The 14th century AD massacres of Timur in particular, devastated the Assyrian people. Timur’s massacres and pillages of all that was Christian drastically reduced their existence. At the end of the reign of Timur, the Assyrian population had almost been eradicated in many places. Toward the end of the thirteenth century, Bar Hebraeus (or Bar-Abraya), the noted Assyrian scholar and hierarch, found “much quietness” in his diocese in Mesopotamia. Syria’s diocese, he wrote, was “wasted.”
The Ottomans secured their control over Mesopotamia and Syria in the 16th century. Non-Muslims were organised into millets. Syriac Christians, however, were often considered one millet alongside Armenians until the 19th century, when Nestorian, Syriac Orthodox and Chaldeans gained that right as well.
Another major massacre of Assyrians (and Armenians) in the Ottoman Empire occurred between 1894 and 1897 AD by Turkish troops and their Kurdish allies during the rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. The motives for these massacres were an attempt to reassert Pan-Islamism in the Ottoman Empire, resentment at the comparative wealth of the ancient indigenous Christian communities, and a fear that they would attempt to secede from the tottering Ottoman Empire. Assyrians were massacred in Diyarbakir, Hasankeyef, Sivas and other parts of Anatolia, by Sultan Abdul Hamid II. These attacks caused the death of over thousands of Assyrians and the forced "Ottomanisation" of the inhabitants of 245 villages. The Turkish troops looted the remains of the Assyrian settlements and these were later stolen and occupied by Kurds. Unarmed Assyrian women and children were raped, tortured and murdered.
World War I and aftermath
The most significant recent persecution against the Assyrian population was the Assyrian genocide which occurred during the First World War. Between 250,000 and 300,000 Assyrians were estimated to have been slaughtered by the armies of the Ottoman Empire and their Kurdish allies, totalling up to two-thirds of the entire Assyrian population. This led to a large-scale migration of Turkish-based Assyrian people into countries such as Syria, Iran, and Iraq (where they were to suffer further violent assaults at the hands of the Arabs and Kurds), as well as other neighbouring countries in and around the Middle East such as Armenia, Georgia and Russia.
In reaction to the Assyrian Genocide and lured by British and Russian promises of an independent nation, the Assyrians led by Agha Petros and Malik Khoshaba of the Bit-Tyari tribe, fought alongside the allies against Ottoman forces in an Assyrian war of independence. Despite being heavily outnumbered and outgunned the Assyrians fought successfully, scoring a number of victories over the Turks and Kurds. This situation continued until their Russian allies left the war, and Armenian resistance broke, leaving the Assyrians surrounded, isolated and cut off from lines of supply.
The majority of Assyrian living in what is today modern Turkey were forced to flee to either Syria or Iraq after the Turkish victory during the Turkish War of Independence.
The Assyrian Levies were founded by the British in 1928, with ancient Assyrian military rankings such as Rab-shakeh, Rab-talia and Tartan, being revived for the first time in millennia for this force. The Assyrians were prized by the British rulers for their fighting qualities, loyalty, bravery and discipline, and were used to help the British put down insurrections among the Arabs and Kurds. During World War II, eleven Assyrian companies saw action in Palestine and another four served in Cyprus. The Parachute Company was attached to the Royal Marine Commando and were involved in fighting in Albania, Italy and Greece. The Assyrian Levies played a major role in subduing the pro-Nazi Iraqi forces at the battle of Habbaniya in 1941.
However, this cooperation with the British was viewed with suspicion by some leaders of the newly formed Kingdom of Iraq. The tension reached its peak shortly after the formal declaration of independence when hundreds of Assyrian civilians were massacred during the Simele Massacre by the Iraqi Army in August 1933. The events lead to the expulsion of Shimun XXIII Eshai the Catholicos Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East to the United States where he still resides.
The Ba'ath Party seized power in Iraq and Syria in 1963, which introduced laws that aimed at suppressing the Assyrian national identity, the Arab Nationalist policies of the Ba'athists included renewed attempts to "Arabize" the indigenous Assyrians. The giving of traditional Assyrian/Akkadian names and Aramaic/Syriac versions of Biblical names was banned, Assyrian schools, political parties, churches and literature were repressed and Assyrians were heavily pressured into identifying as Arab Christians. The Ba'athist regime refused to recognise Assyrians as an ethnic group.
The al-Anfal Campaign of 1986-1989 in Iraq was predominantly aimed at Kurds, however it saw many Assyrian towns and villages razed to the ground, a number of Assyrians were murdered, others were deported to large cities, their land and homes then being appropriated by Arabs and Kurds.
Since the 2003 Iraq War, social unrest and anarchy have resulted in the unprovoked persecution of Assyrians in Iraq, mostly by Islamic extremists,(both Shia and Sunni), and to some degree by Kurdish Nationalists. In places such as Dora, a neighborhood in southwestern Baghdad, the majority of its Assyrian population has either fled abroad or to northern Iraq, or has been murdered.
Islamic resentment over the United States' occupation of Iraq, and incidents such as the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons and the Pope Benedict XVI Islam controversy, have resulted in Muslims attacking Assyrian Christian communities. Since the start of the Iraq war, at least 46 churches and monasteries have been bombed.
The Assyrians are considered to be one of the indigenous people in the Middle East. Their homeland was thought to be located in the area around the Tigris and Euphrates. Assyrians are traditionally from Iraq, south eastern Turkey, north western Iran and north eastern Syria. There is a significant Assyrian population in Syria, where an estimated 877,000 Assyrians live. Though it must be pointed out that Syriac Christians from western, central and southern Syria are not generally regarded as Assyrians but rather as Arameans. The true Assyrians of Syria reside mainly in northeastern and eastern Syria, particularly in the Al-Hasakah region. In Tur Abdin, known as a homeland for Assyrians, there are only 3,000 left, and an estimated 25,000 in all of Turkey. After the 1915 Assyrian genocide many Assyrians/Syriacs also fled into Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Iraq and into the Western world.
The Assyrian/Syriac people can be divided along geographic, linguistic, and denominational lines, the three main groups being:
- the "Western" or "Jacobite" group of Syria, and central eastern Anatolia (Syriac Orthodox Church & Syriac Catholic Church);
- the "Eastern" group of Iraq, northeast Syria south eastern Turkey, northwest Iran and Armenia (Assyrian Church of the East & Ancient Church of the East);
- the "Chaldean Christian" or "Chaldean Catholic"/Chaldo-Assyrian group of northern and central Iraq, northern Iran, and eastern Anatolia (Chaldean Catholic Church); Assyrian followers of the Chaldean Catholic church make up the majority of Iraqi Christian population since the conversion to Catholicism from the Assyrian Church of the East in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Since the Assyrian Genocide, many Assyrians have fled their homelands for a more safe and comfortable life in the West. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the Assyrian population in the Middle East has decreased dramatically. As of today there are more Assyrians in Europe, North America, and Australia than in their former homeland.
A total of 550,000 Assyrians live in Europe. Large Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac diaspora communities can be found in Germany, Sweden, the USA, and Australia. The largest Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac diaspora communities are those of Södertälje, Chicago, and Detroit.
In certain areas of the Assyrian homeland, identity within a community depends on a person's village of origin (see List of Assyrian villages) or Christian denomination rather than their ethnic commonality, for instance Chaldean Catholic.
Today, Assyrians and other minority ethnic groups in the Middle East, feel pressure to identify as "Arabs", "Turks" and "Kurds". Those Assyrians in Syria, who live outside of the traditionally and historically Assyrian northeastern region of the country, are pressured to identify as Arabs, due to Arab Nationalist policies of the Baathist government.
Neo-Aramaic exhibits remarkably conservative features compared with Imperial Aramaic, and the earliest European visitors to northern Mesopotamia in modern times encountered a people called "Assyrians", "Assouri" and "Ashuriyun", and people with ancient Assyrian names such as Sargon, Sennacherib, Ashur and Semiramis . The Assyrians manifested a remarkable degree of linguistic, religious, and cultural continuity from the fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire through to the time of the ancient Greeks, Persians, and Parthians through periods of medieval Byzantine, Arab, Persian, and Ottoman rule.
Assyrian nationalism emphatically connects Modern Assyrians to the population of ancient Mesopotamia and the Neo-Assyrian Empire. A historical basis of this sentiment was disputed by a few early historians, but receives strong support from modern Assyriologists like H.W.F. Saggs, Robert D. Biggs, Giorgi Tsereteli and Simo Parpola, and Iranologists like Richard Nelson Frye. Nineteenth century orientalists such as Austen Henry Layard and Hormuzd Rassam also support this view. This controversy does not appear to exist in parts of the region however, as Armenian, Georgian, Russian, Persian and some Arab records have always referred to Assyrians as Assyrians.
The communities of indigenous pre-Arab Neo-Aramaic-speaking people of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Turkey and Lebanon and the surrounding areas advocate different terms for ethnic self-designation. It may be the case that the "Assyrian/Chaldo-Assyrian/Eastern Syriac" group and the "Aramean"/"Western Syriac" and "Phoenician" groups are merely closely related and not exactly the same people.
- "Assyrians", after the ancient Assyria, advocated by followers of the Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East, most followers of the Chaldean Catholic Church and Assyrian Protestants. ("Eastern Assyrians"), and some communities of the Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic ("Western Assyrians"). Those identifying with Assyria, and with Mesopotamia in general, tend to be from Iraq, northeastern Syria; southeastern Turkey, Iran, Armenia, Georgia; southern Russia and Azerbaijan. It is likely that those from this region are indeed of Assyrian/Mesopotamian heritage as they are clearly of pre-Arab and pre-Islamic stock. Furthermore, there is no historical evidence or proof to suggest the indigenous Mesopotamians were wiped out; Assyria existed as a specifically named region until the second half of the 7th century AD. Most speak Mesopotamian dialects of neo Aramaic.
- "Chaldo-Assyrians", is a term used by the Iraqi government to designate the indigenous Aramaic speaking Christians of Iraq. It intrinsically acknowledges that the terms Assyrian and Chaldean refer to the same ethnic group. Some Assyrians use this term to defuse arguments over naming along denominational lines.
- "Chaldeans", after ancient Chaldea, advocated by a minority of followers of the Chaldean Catholic Church who are mainly based in the United States. This is mainly a denominational rather than ethnic term, though some Chaldean Catholics espouse a distinct Chaldean ethnic identity. It is likely that these are exactly the same people as the Assyrians, both having the same culture and originating from the same lands.
- "Syriacs", advocated by some followers of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Syriac Catholic Church and to a much lesser degree Maronite Church. Those self identifying as Syriacs tend to be from western, northwestern, southern and central Syria as well as south central Turkey. The term Syriac is the subject of some controversy, as it is generally accepted by most scholars that it is a Luwian and Greek corruption of Assyrian. The discovery of the Çineköy inscription seems to settle conclusively in favour of Assyria being the origin of the terms Syria and Syriac. For this reason, some Assyrians accept the term Syriac as well as Assyrian as it is taken to mean the same thing. It is likely that Syriacs from these regions are in fact Arameans rather than Assyrians, as geographically they are not from Mesopotamia or the immediate areas surrounding it. Only a minority of those identifying as Syriacs now speak Aramaic, and most are now Arabic speaking.
Other groups of "Syriac Christians" are geographically, linguistically and ethnically separate from the "Assyrian/Chaldo-Assyrian/Syriac" people. These include:
- "Arameans" advocated by a number of indigenous Christians in western, northwestern, southern and central Syria as well as south central Turkey. They reject the term Syriac because of its probable Assyrian origin and because they are not geographically from Assyria or Mesopotamia in general, but rather are pre-Arab inhabitants of lands that encompass the traditional Aramean homeland, which is in effect most of modern Syria. Few of those identifying as Aramean now speak Aramaic, and most are now Arabic speaking.
- "Phoenicians" Many Maronite identify with a Phoenician origin however and do not see themselves as Syriac or Aramean. These tend to be from Lebanon and the Mediterranean coast of Syria, an area roughly corresponding to ancient Phoenicia. They are of pre-Arab and pre-Islamic origin, and thus identify with the ancient pre-Arab and pre-Islamic population of that region.
In addition Western Media often makes no mention of any ethnic identity of the Christian people of the region and simply call them Christians or Iraqi Christians, Iranian Christians, Syrian Christians, Turkish Christians, etc. This label is rejected by Assyrian/Syriac Christians as well as Aramean, Phoenician and Coptic Christians, as it wrongly implies no difference other than theological with the Muslim Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Iranians and Azeris of the region.
Assyrian vs Syrian naming controversy
As early as the 8th century BC Luwian and Cilician subject rulers referred to their Assyrian overlords as Syrian, a western Indo-European bastardisation of the true term Assyrian. This corruption of the name took hold in the Hellenic lands to the west of the old Assyrian Empire, thus during Greek Seleucid rule from 323 BC the name Assyria was altered to Syria, and this term was also applied to Aramea to the west which had been an Assyrian colony. When the Seleucids lost control of Assyria to the Parthians they retained the corrupted term (Syria), applying it to ancient Aramea, while the Parthians called Assyria Assuristan, a Parthian form of the original name. It is from this period that the Syrian vs Assyrian controversy arises. Today it is accepted by the majority of scholars that the Medieval, Renaissance and Victorian term Syriac when used to describe the indigenous Christians of Mesopotamia and its immediate surrounds in effect means Assyrian.
The modern terminological problem goes back to colonial times, but it became more acute in 1946, when with the independence of Syria, the adjective Syrian referred to an independent state. The controversy isn't restricted to exonyms like English "Assyrian" vs. "Aramaean", but also applies to self-designation in Neo-Aramaic, the minority "Aramaean" faction endorses both Sūryāyē ܣܘܪܝܝܐ and Ārāmayē ܐܪܡܝܐ, while the majority "Assyrian" faction insists on Āṯūrāyē ܐܬܘܪܝܐ but also accepts Sūryāyē.
The question of ethnic identity and self-designation is sometimes connected to the scholarly debate on the etymology of "Syria". The question has a long history of academic controversy, but majority mainstream opinion currently strongly favours that Syria is indeed ultimately derived from the Assyrian term 𒀸𒋗𒁺 𐎹 Aššūrāyu. Meanwhile, some scholars has disclaimed the theory of Syrian being derived from Assyrian as "simply naive", and detracted its importance to the naming conflict.
Rudolf Macuch points out that the Eastern Neo-Aramaic press initially used the term "Syrian" (suryêta) and only much later, with the rise of nationalism, switched to "Assyrian" (atorêta). According to Tsereteli, however, a Georgian equivalent of "Assyrians" appears in ancient Georgian, Armenian and Russian documents. This correlates with the theory of the nations to the East of Mesopotamia knew the group as Assyrians, while to the West, beginning with Greek influence, the group was known as Syrians. Syria being a Greek corruption of Assyria.
The debate appears to have been settled by the discovery of the Çineköy inscription in favour of Syria being derived from Assyria.
The Çineköy inscription is a Hieroglyphic Luwian-Phoenician bilingual, uncovered from Çineköy, Adana Province, Turkey (ancient Cilicia), dating to the 8th century BC. Originally published by Tekoglu and Lemaire (2000), it was more recently the subject of a 2006 paper published in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies, in which the author, Robert Rollinger, lends support to the age-old debate of the name "Syria" being derived from "Assyria" (see Etymology of Syria).
The object on which the inscription is found is a monument belonging to Urikki, vassal king of Hiyawa (i.e. Cilicia), dating to the eighth century BC. In this monumental inscription, Urikki made reference to the relationship between his kingdom and his Assyrian overlords. The Luwian inscription reads "Sura/i" whereas the Phoenician translation reads ’ŠR or "Ashur" which, according to Rollinger (2006), "settles the problem once and for all".
Assyrian culture is largely influenced by Christianity. Main festivals occur during religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas. There are also secular holidays such as Kha b-Nisan (vernal equinox).
People often greet and bid relatives farewell with a kiss on each cheek and by saying "ܫܠܡܐ ܥܠܝܟ" Shlama/Shlomo lokh, which means: "Peace be upon you." Others are greeted with a handshake with the right hand only; according to Middle Eastern customs, the left hand is associated with evil. Similarly, shoes may not be left facing up, one may not have their feet facing anyone directly, whistling at night is thought to waken evil spirits, etc.
There are many Assyrian customs that are common in other Middle Eastern cultures. A parent will often place an eye pendant on their baby to prevent "an evil eye being cast upon it". Spitting on anyone or their belongings is seen as a grave insult.
|ܐ ܒ ܓ ܕ ܗ ܘ|
|ܙ ܚ ܛ ܝ ܟܟ ܠ|
|ܡܡ ܢܢ ܣ ܥ ܦ|
|ܨ ܩ ܪ ܫ ܬ|
The Neo-Aramaic languages are ultimately descended from Old Aramaic, the lingua franca in the later phase of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, displacing the East Semitic Assyrian dialect of Akkadian. Aramaic was the language of commerce, trade and communication and became the vernacular language of Assyria in classical antiquity.
Most Assyrians speak an Eastern Aramaic language whose dialects include Chaldean and Turoyo as well as Assyrian. All are classified as Neo-Aramaic languages and are written using Syriac script, a derivative of the ancient Aramaic script. Assyrians also may speak one or more languages of their country of residence.
To the native speaker, "Syriac" is usually called Soureth or Suret. A wide variety of dialects exist, including Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, and Turoyo. Being stateless, Assyrians also learn the language or languages of their adopted country, usually Arabic, Armenian, Persian or Turkish. In northern Iraq and western Iran, Turkish and Kurdish is widely spoken.
Assyrians were originally Pagans, who were followers of Ashurism, an Assyro-Babylonian religion, which is the Ancient Mesopotamian religion, and some adopted Judaism, Gnosticism and Manicheanism; however most now belong to various Christian denominations such as the Assyrian Church of the East, with an estimated 300,000–400,000 members, the Chaldean Catholic Church, with about 900,000 members, and the Syriac Orthodox Church (ʿIdto Suryoyto Triṣaṯ Šuḇḥo), which has between 1,000,000 and 4,000,000 members around the world (only some of whom are Assyrians), the Ancient Church of the East and various Protestant churches. While Assyrians are predominantly Christians, a number are irreligious.
As of 2011[update] Mar Dinkha IV, resident in Chicago Illinois, was Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Addai II, with headquarters in Baghdad, was Patriarch of the Ancient Church of the East, and Ignatius Zakka I Iwas was Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, with headquarters in Damascus. Mar Emmanuel III Delly, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, was the first Patriarch to be elevated to Cardinal, joining the college of cardinals in November 2007.
Many members of the following churches consider themselves Assyrian. Ethnic identities are often deeply intertwined with religion, a legacy of the Ottoman Millet system. The group is traditionally characterized as adhering to various churches of Syriac Christianity and speaking neo-Aramaic languages. It is subdivided into:
- adherents of the East Syrian Rite, always called Assyrians but in the past sometimes erroneously called Nestorians
- adherents of the West Syrian Rite, called Syriacs, and formerly also Jacobites.
A small minority of Assyrians of the above denominations accepted the Protestant Reformation in the 20th century, possibly due to British influences, and is now organized in the Assyrian Evangelical Church, the Assyrian Pentecostal Church and other Protestant Assyrian groups. These are always called Assyrians
Baptism and First Communion are celebrated extensively, similar to a Bris or Bar Mitzvah in Jewish communities. After a death, a gathering is held three days after burial to celebrate the ascension to heaven of the dead person, as of Jesus; after seven days another gathering commemorates their death. A close family member wears only black clothes for forty days and nights, or sometimes a year, as a sign of mourning.
The abooba ܐܒܘܒܐ (basic flute) and ṭavla ܛܒ݂ܠܐ (large two-sided drum) became the most common musical instruments for tribal music. Some well known Assyrian/Syriac singers in modern times are Ashur Bet Sargis, Sargon Gabriel, Michael Dayan, Habib Mousa, Josef Özer, Janan Sawa, Klodia Hanna, Juliana Jendo, and Linda George.
The first International Aramaic Music Festival was held in Lebanon from 1 August until 4 August 2008 for Assyrian people internationally. Assyrians are also involved in western contemporary music, such as Rock/Metal (Melechesh), Rap (Timz) and Techno/Dance (Aril Brikha).
Assyrians have numerous traditional dances which are performed mostly for special occasions such as weddings. Assyrian dance is a blend of both ancient indigenous and general near eastern elements.
Assyrian/Syriac festivals tend to be closely associated with their Christian faith, of which Easter is the most prominent of the celebrations. Assyrian/Syriac members of the Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church and Syriac Catholic Church follow the Gregorian calendar and as a result celebrate Easter on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25 inclusively. While Assyrian/Syriac members of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Ancient Church of the East celebrate Easter on a Sunday between April 4 and May 8 inclusively on the Gregorian calendar (March 22 and April 25 on the Julian calendar). During Lent Assyrian/Syriacs are encouraged to fast for 50 days from meat and any other foods which are animal based.
Assyrians celebrate a number of festivals unique to their culture and traditions as well as religious ones:
- Kha b-Nisan ܚܕ ܒܢܝܣܢ, the Assyrian new year, traditionally on April 1, though usually celebrated on Jaunuary 1. Assyrians usually wear traditional costumes and hold social events including parades and parties, dancing, and listening to poets telling the story of creation.
- Sauma d-Ba'utha ܒܥܘܬܐ ܕܢܝܢܘܝܐ, the Nineveh fast. It is a three-day period of fasting and prayer.
- Somikka, the Assyrian version of Halloween, traditionally meant to scare children into fasting during Lent.
- Kalu d'Sulaqa, celebration of the legend of Malik Shalita.
Assyrians also practice unique marriage ceremonies. The rituals performed during weddings are derived from many different elements from the past 3,000 years. An Assyrian wedding traditionally lasted a week. Today, weddings in the Assyrian homeland usually last 2–3 days; in the Assyrian diaspora they last 1–2 days.
Assyrian clothing varies from village to village. Clothing is usually blue, red, green, yellow, and purple; these colors are also used as embroidery on a white piece of clothing. Decoration is lavish in Assyrian costumes, and sometimes involves jewellery. The conical hats of traditional Assyrian dress have changed little over millennia from those worn in ancient Mesopotamia, and until the 19th and early 20th centuries the ancient Mesopotamian tradition of braiding or platting of hair, beards and moustaches was still commonplace.
Assyrian cuisine is similar to other Middle Eastern cuisines. It is rich in grain, meat, potato, cheese, bread and tomato. Typically rice is served with every meal, with a stew poured over it. Tea is a popular drink, and there are several dishes of desserts, snacks, and beverages. Alcoholic drinks such as wine and wheat beer are organically produced and drunk.
Late 20th century DNA analysis conducted by Cavalli-Sforza, Paolo Menozzi and Alberto Piazza, "shows that Assyrians have a distinct genetic profile that distinguishes their population from any other population." Genetic analysis of the Assyrians of Persia demonstrated that they were "closed" with little "intermixture" with the Muslim Persian population and that an individual Assyrian's genetic makeup is relatively close to that of the Assyrian population as a whole. Cavalli-Sforza et al. state in addition, "[T]he Assyrians are a fairly homogeneous group of people, believed to originate from the land of old Assyria in northern Iraq", and "they are Christians and are possibly bona fide descendants of their namesakes." "The genetic data are compatible with historical data that religion played a major role in maintaining the Assyrian population's separate identity during the Christian era".
In a 2006 study of the Y chromosome DNA of six regional Armenian populations, including, for comparison, Assyrians and Syrians, researchers found that, "the Semitic populations (Assyrians and Syrians) are very distinct from each other according to both [comparative] axes. This difference supported also by other methods of comparison points out the weak genetic affinity between the two populations with different historical destinies." 
A 2008 study on the genetics of "old ethnic groups in Mesopotamia," including 340 subjects from seven ethnic communities ("Assyrian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Armenian, Turkmen, the Arab peoples in Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait") found that Assyrians were homogeneous with respect to all other ethnic groups sampled in the study, regardless of religious affiliation.
In 2008 Fox News in the United States ran a feature called "Know your Roots. As part of the feature, an Assyrian reporter, Nineveh Dinha was tested by Gene Tree.com. Her DNA profile was traced back to the region of Harran in south eastern Anatolia in 1400 BC, which was a part of ancient Assyria.
In a 2011 study focusing on the genetics of Marsh Arabs of Iraq, researchers identified Y chromosome haplotypes shared by Marsh Arabs, Iraqis, and Assyrians, "supporting a common local background." 
- also transliterated Sūrōyē / Sūryōyē / Ōṯūrōyē; all of ā, ō and word-final ē transliterate Aramaic Ālaph ܐ. Nicholas Awde, Nineb Limassu, Nicholas Al-Jeloo, Modern Aramaic Dictionary & Phrasebook: (Assyrian/Syriac) (2007), ISBN 9780781810876, p. 4; see also Names of Syriac Christians.
- , UNPO estimates
- SIL Ethnologue estimate for the "ethnic population" associated with Assyrian Neo-Aramaic. 
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- , SIL Ethnologue "Assyrian Neo-Aramaic 15,000 in Iran (1994). Ethnic population: 80,000 (1994)" See also Christianity in Iran.
- , SIL Ethnologue "Turoyo [tru] 3,000 in Turkey (1994 Hezy Mutzafi). Ethnic population: 50,000 to 70,000 (1994). Hértevin [hrt] 1,000 (1999 H. Mutzafi). Originally Siirt Province. They have left their villages, most emigrating to the West, but some may still be in Turkey." See also Christianity in Turkey.
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