Assyrians in Syria

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Assyrians/Syriacs in Syria
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Syriac-Aramaic and Arabic
Mostly adherents of the Syriac Orthodox Church with smaller percentages followers of the Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church and Syriac Catholic Church

Assyrians make up around 2% of Syria's population. They live primarily in Al-Hasakah Governorate, with a significant presence in the provincial capital and the cities of Qamishli, Malikiyah, Ras al-Ayn, and Qahtaniyah, as well as in Tell Tamer and nearby villages.[2][3]

Ancient settlement[edit]

During the Neo Assyrian Empire (911-608 BC) the entirety of the modern country of Syria was under Assyrian rule, and the presence of Aramaic-speaking peoples in the northeastern part of the modern country dated back even earlier, where they lived alongside a diverse set of other peoples throughout the ages. Traces of this former era of Assyrian settlement can be seen at numerous archaeological sites across the region.

However, settlement in the northeastern areas often proved unsustainable in the long-term, leading to numerous episodes of population exodus. In addition to experiencing such destabilising factors such as climate shifts and over-cultivation of land, the area was also vulnerable to attack from nomadic peoples. Following the Mongol and Timurid invasions, it was left virtually devoid of any permanent population. In the centuries that followed, a number of nomadic and semi-nomadic Arabic- and Kurdish-speaking tribes wandered the area with their livestock into the 20th century, when most of them were forced to settle by governmental policies.

Modern settlement[edit]

The current population of Assyrians in Hasakah dates back to the French Mandate of Syria, when refugees from the now-Turkish areas north of present-day Syria (such as Tur Abdin) were settled together with displaced Armenians who had survived the Armenian Genocide in the area by the authorities as part of an effort to promote economic development. Given preferential treatment on the basis of their Christian religion by the French, they soon formed most of the new urban elite in the region. An additional influx of Eastern Assyrians began to settle along the Khabur River in 1933 after the massacres of Assyrians in newly-independent Iraq (see Simele massacre) forced the flight. These were refugees twice over—originally from the highlands of Hakkari, they had initially sought refuge Iraq in the face of the Assyrian genocide before the attacks.[4]

In 1936, religious and political leaders—mainly from the Christian and Kurdish communities, with a few Arab groups as well—pressured the French authorities to give autonomous status to the Syrian Al-Jazira province (nowadays the Al Hasakah) for its mixed-ethnic population, like in the Sanjak of Alexandretta, the Alawite State, or Jabal al-Druze. The push for autonomy was marked by civil strife and inter-communal violence in the province, and angry hostility on the part of the mainly Arab nationalists pushing for outright independence for Syria. Long having viewed the settlement of Assyrians and Armenians in the country as the product of French colonialism, they were further incensed by the arrival of additional Assyrian refugees on the Khabur, and mobilized support from many Arab tribes and some Kurdish groups to counter the autonomists. The French forcibly cracked down both sides as they grew increasingly violent, and the movement for autonomy soon failed.

Later on, in 1957, the Assyrian Democratic Organization was set up in Syria by center-left intellectuals.[5]

Though officially considered Arabs by the Syrian government, Assyrians/Syriacs are a distinct ethnic group. They are Syriac-Aramaic speaking Semites and are traditionally followers of either the Syriac Orthodox Church, Syriac Catholic Church, Ancient Church of the East, Assyrian Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church. They are native to Iraq, north eastern Syria, north western Iran and south eastern Turkey.

Assyrian villages on the Khabur[edit]

First settled by Assyrians fleeing the Simele Massacre and then the Assyrian Genocide, there are over 30 Assyrian villages on the Khabur river in Syria. According to a 1994 report they are: Tell Tawil, Tell Um Rafa, Tell Um Keff, Tell Kefdji, Tell Djemaa, Tell Tamer, Tell Nasri, Upper Tell Chamran, Lower Tell Chamran, Tell Chamran, Tell Hafian, Tell Talaa, Tell Maghas, Tell Massas, Abu Tine, Tel Goran, Fouedate, Dimchij, Kabar Chamie, Tell Balouet, Tell Baz, Upper Tell Rouman, Lower Tell Rouman, El-Kharita, Tell Chame, Tell Wardiat, El-Makhada, Taal, Tell Sakra, El-Breij, Arbouche, and Tell Hormiz.[6]

Persecution by ISIS[edit]

As of November 2014, only 23 Assyrian and Armenian families remain in the city of Ar-Raqqah. Christian bibles and holy books reportedly been burned by ISIS militants. [7][8][9]

See also[edit]