Assyrians in Iran

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Assyrians in Iran
Assyrians producing butter in Persia
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Tehran, Urmia, Salmas
Persian, Neo-Aramaic
Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church, Protestant

Assyrians in Iran (Persian: آشوریان در ایران‎), or Iranian Assyrians, are an ethnoreligious and linguistic minority in present-day Iran. The Assyrians of Iran speak Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, a neo-Aramaic language descended from Classical Syriac and elements of Akkadian, and are Eastern Rite Christians belonging mostly to the Assyrian Church of the East and, to a lesser extent, to the Chaldean Catholic Church.[3] They share a common identity, rooted in shared linguistic and religious traditions, with Assyrians in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, as well as with the Assyrian diaspora.[3]

The Assyrian community in Iran numbered approximately 200,000 prior to the Islamic Revolution of 1979.[citation needed] However, after the revolution many Assyrians left the country, primarily for the United States; the 1996 Iranian census counted only 32,000 Assyrians.[4] Current estimates of the Assyrian population in Iran range from 32,000 (as of 2005)[5] to 50,000 (as of 2007).[6] The Iranian capital, Tehran, is home to the majority of Iranian Assyrians; however, approximately 15,000 Assyrians reside in northern Iran, in Urmia and various Assyrian villages in the surrounding area.[3]

The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, ratified in 1979, recognizes Assyrians as a religious minority and reserves for them one seat in the Islamic Consultative Assembly, the Iranian parliament.[7] As of 2004, the seat was occupied by Yonathan Betkolia, who was elected in 2000 and reelected in the 2004 legislative election.[citation needed]

Today, scholars estimate that there are only around 5,000 Assyrians left in the historically Assyrian city of Urmia.[8]


Assyrians from Sena, Persia, around Lake Urmia

There were about 200,000 Assyrians in Iran at the time of the 1976 census.[9] Many emigrated after the revolution in 1979, but at least 50,000 were estimated to be still in Iran in 1987.

However, Assyrians have a long history in Iran. During the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–608 BC), much of western Iran (including Medes, Persia, Elam and Gutium) was subject to Assyria. After the fall of the Assyrian Empire, Assyria was ruled by Persia from 539 BC. Assyrians have existed in northwestern Iran for over 2,600 years [10]The home of the Assyrians in Iran has traditionally been along the western shore of Lake Urmia from the Salmas area to the Urmia plain.[9]

In 1900, Assyrians numbered over 76,000 in northwestern Iran, constituting over a quarter of the Azerbaijan province's population and were the largest non-Muslim majority in Urmia. Of the 300 villages around Urmia, 60 were exclusively Assyrians and 60 were mixed villages with Assyrian, Armenian, and Azeri communities. Nevertheless, there were over 115 documented Assyrian villages to the west of Lake Urmia prior to 1918. [11]

During the Assyrian Genocide, which took place in World War I, the Ottoman Army and Kurdish tribes along the Iranian-Turkish border carried out massacres and deportations on the Assyrians both in the mountains and on the rich plains, resulting in the death of 300,000 Assyrians.[12] In 1914 alone, they attacked dozens of villages and drove off all the inhabitants of the district of Gawar. The Assyrians defended themselves and for a time successfully repelled further attacks under the leadership of Agha Petros, seizing control of much of the Urmia region and defeating Ottoman forces and their Kurdish and Azeri allies. However lack of ammunition and supplies, due mainly to the withdrawal of Russia from the war, and the collapse of allied Armenian forces led to their downfall. Massively outnumbered, surrounded, undersupplied and cut off, the Assyrians suffered terrible massacres.

By the summer of 1918 almost all surviving Assyrians had fled to Tehran or refugee camps in Iraq, such as Baqubah. Local Kurds and Azeris took the opportunity of the last phases of World War I to rob Assyrian homes, carry off young women, and leave those remaining destitute. The critical murder that sowed panic in the Assyrian community came when Kurdish militias, under Agha Ismail Simko, assassinated the Patriarch, Mar Benyamin Shimon XXI, on March 3, 1918, under the pretext of inviting him to negotiations.[9]

Religious communities[edit]


  • Holy Mary (Mart Maryam) Church - Urmia - 1st century
  • St. Cyriacus (Mar Kuryakus) Church - Urmia - 18th century
  • Holy Mary (Mart Maryam) Church - Urmia - CharBakhsh - 5th century
  • Holy Gabriel (Mar Gabriel) Church - Urmia - Ordushahi - 19th century
  • St. Shalita (Mar Shalita) Church - Urmia - Shirabad - 19th century
  • St. Joseph (Mar Yozep) Church - Urmia - Shirabad - 1897
  • St. Sarkis (Mar Sargiz) Church - 5 km SW of Urmia - Seir - 5th century
  • Holy Zion (Mar Sehyon) Church - 8 km E of Urmia - Golpashan
  • St. George (Mar Gevargiz) Church - 8 km E of Urmia - Golpashan - 1905
  • Holy Mary (Mart Maryam) Church - 8 km E of Urmia - Golpashan
  • Sts. Peter-Paul (Mar Petros-Paulos) Church - 10 km E of Urmia - 8th century - believed to be built by Bukhtishu
  • Holy Mary (Mart Maryam) Church - 32 km E of Urmia - Mavana
  • St. Daniel (Mar Danial) Church - 25 km N of Urmia - Nazlu River - 5th century - destroyed in World War I, rebuilt
  • St. John (Mar Yokhanah) Church - 45 km N of Urmia - Jamalabad - 5th century
  • St. John (Mar Yokhanah) Church - 24 km N of Urmia - Adeh - 1901
  • St. Sabrisho (Mar Sabrisho) Church - 30 km N of Urmia - Mushiabad - 1880
  • St. George (Mar Gevargiz) Church - 35 km N of Urmia - Sopurghan - 1830
  • St. John (Mar Yokhanah) Church - 40 km N of Urmia - Gavilan - 5th century
  • St. John (Mar Yokhanah) Church - 40 km N of Urmia - Gavilan - 19th century
  • St. Thomas (Mar Toma) Church - 30 km W of Urmia - Balulan - 7th century
  • St. Cyriacus (Mar Kuryakus) Church - Salmas - Kohneshahr - 12th century
  • St. James (Mar Yakob) Church - Salmas - Kohneshahr - 19th century
  • St. Khinah (Mar Khinah) Church - Salmas - Sarna
  • Holy Mary (Mart Maryam) Church - Salmas - Savera
  • Vank - 2 km S of Salmas - Khosrowabad - 5th century - The Holy Cross of Jerusalem was kept here for a while.
  • St. Sarkis (Mar Sargiz) Church - 2 km S of Salmas - Khosrowabad - 1869
  • St. George (Mar Gevargiz) Church - 2 km S of Salmas - Khosrowabad - 1845
  • Church - 12 km SW of Salmas - Akhtekhaneh - 1890
  • St. Sarkis (Mar Sargiz) Church - 2 km S of Salmas - Khosrowabad - 1869
  • Holy Mary (Mart Maryam) Church - Sehna
  • St. George (Mar Gevargiz) Church - Tehran (Bagh-e-Shah) - 1962
  • Holy Mary (Mart Maryam) Church - Tehran (Sarbaz St.) - 1978
  • St. Joseph (Mar Yozep) Church - Tehran (Forsat St.) - 1950
  • Holy Virgin Church - Tehran (Appadana St.)
  • Chaldean Catholic Chapel - Eslamshahr Catholic Cemetery - 1967
  • St. Thomas (Mar Toma) Church - Tehran (Amirabad) - 1967
  • Assyrian Brotherhood Church - Tehran (ShahrAra St.)

Famous Assyrians from Iran[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c Hooglund (2008), pp. 100–101.
  4. ^ Hooglund (2008), pp. 100–101, 295.
  5. ^ Hooglund (2008), p. 295.
  6. ^ BetBasoo, Peter (1 April 2007). "Brief History of Assyrians". Assyrian International News Agency. Archived from the original on 13 October 2013. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  7. ^ Hooglund (2008), pp. 128–129.
  8. ^ [2].Evidence in Stone and Wood: The Assyrian/Syriac History and Heritage of the Urmia Region in Iran
  9. ^ a b c Iran A Country Study By Federal Research Division - Page 128
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ David Gaunt, "The Assyrian Genocide of 1915", Assyrian Genocide Research Center, 2009



  • Eden Naby, “The Assyrians of Iran: Reunification of a ‘Millat,’ 1906-1914” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 8. (1977) pp. 237–249
  • Eden Naby, “The Iranian Frontier Nationalities: The Kurds, the Assyrians, the Baluch and the Turkmens,”Soviet Asian Ethnic Frontiers, McCagg and Silver (New York, Pergamon Press, 1979).
  • Eden Naby, “Christian Assyrian Architecture of Iran,” News – Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions (Spring 1998) vol. 5, no. 2, p. 7, 10.
  • Eden Naby, "Ishtar: Documenting the Crisis in the Assyrian Iranian Community," MERIA 10/4 (2006)