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The Assyrian continuity claim deals with the assertion made by the modern Assyrians and supporting academics that they are at root the direct descendants of the Semitic originally Akkadian speaking and later Imperial Aramaic speaking inhabitants of ancient Assyria and its immediate surrounds. The modern Assyrians are accepted to be an indigenous ethnic minority inhabiting northern Iraq, south east Turkey, north east Syria and north west Iran. They are a Semitic-speaking people who speak, read and write Eastern Aramaic dialects, and are Christians, with most being members of the Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church, Assyrian Pentecostal Church, Assyrian Evangelical Church and Ancient Church of the East. Many adherents of the Syriac Orthodox Church are also members, although a significant portion identify as Aramean.
Syriac Christians in the Levant (outside of Assyrian populated north eastern Syria) who were once Western Aramaic speakers but are now almost all Arabic speakers do not generally regard themselves as Assyrians, but more commonly champion an Aramean or Phoenicia heritage in the form of Arameanism, and Phoenicianism (see Terms for Syriac Christians), with some espousing a Greek heritage. They have their own independent arguments for continuity.
There has been a contingent of contemporary Western scholars supporting Assyrian continuity, including Simo Parpola, Richard N. Frye, Mordechai Nisan, Tom Holland, H.W.F Saggs and Robert D. Biggs. Supporters of Assyrian continuity point to the continued existence of Assyria as a name for an entity after its fall, and that Assyrian religion and names persisted up to the Christian period. There s a complete absence of evidence that the population of Assyria was wiped out or destroyed after its fall, the continual documented use of the term "Assyrian" and its derivatives, and that the Indo-European word 'Syrian derives from Assyrian and for centuries meant only Assyrian.
- 1 Arguments for continuity from the Classical Era: Assyria vs Syria
- 2 Arguments for continuity during the medieval period and Renaissance
- 3 Early modern opinions favoring continuity
- 4 See also
- 5 Notes
Arguments for continuity from the Classical Era: Assyria vs Syria
A major argument used by the promoters of Assyrian continuity is that "Syrian", the name used in many languages to refer to the Syriac Christians, is ultimately derived from "Assyrian". The 21st century discovery of the Cinekoy Inscription appears to conclusively prove that the term "Syria" derives from the Assyrian term 𒀸𒋗𒁺 𐎹 Aššūrāyu. The Çineköy inscription is a Hieroglyphic Luwian-Phoenician bilingual, uncovered from Çineköy, Adana Province, Turkey (ancient Cilicia), dating to the 8th century BC. This Indo-European corruption of Assyrian was adopted by the Seleucid Greeks from the late 4th century BC.
In Classical Greek usage, Syria and Assyria were used almost interchangeably. Herodotus's distinctions between the two in the 5th century BCE were a notable early exception, Randolph Helm emphasizes that Herodotus "never" applied the term Syria to Mesopotamia, which he always called "Assyria", and used "Syria" to refer to inhabitants of the coastal Levant. While himself maintaining a distinction, Herodotus also claimed that "those called Syrians by the Hellenes (Greeks) are called Assyrians by the barbarians (non-Greeks).
The first century prior to the dawn of Christianity, the geographer Strabo (64 BC-21 AD) writes that whom historians (most likely Greek ones) call Syrian were actually Assyrian;
When those who have written histories about the Syrian empire say that the Medes were overthrown by the Persians and the Syrians by the Medes, they mean by the Syrians no other people than those who built the royal palaces in Ninus (Nineveh); and of these Syrians, Ninus was the man who founded Ninus, in Aturia (Assyria) and his wife, Semiramis, was the woman who succeeded her husband... Now, the city of Ninus was wiped out immediately after the overthrow of the Syrians. It was much greater than Babylon, and was situated in the plain of Aturia. Although the mention of Ninus as having founded Assyria is inaccurate, as is the claim that Semiramis was his wife, the salient point in Strabo's statement is the recognition that the Greek term Syria historically meant Assyria. It was the Assyrian Empire, not the "Syrian Empire", that was overthrown by the Medes and built palaces in Ninevah. However, while this statement provides insight into how "Syrian" was used by the Greeks (supporting the "lost a" theory), claims that Syria and Assyria were considered synonymous to non-Greeks, including Syrians themselves, as alleged by Herodotus, are cast in doubt considering his remark in Geographika: "Poseidonius (a celebrated polymath and native of Apamea, Syria) conjectures that the names of these nations also are akin; for, says he, the people whom we call Syrians are by the Syrians themselves called Arameans... for the people in Syria are Aramaeans".
"Syria" and "Assyria" were not fully distinguished by Greeks until they became better acquainted with the Near East. Under Macedonian rule after Syria's conquest by Alexander the Great, "Syria" was restricted to the land west of the Euphrates. While the Romans mostly corrected their usage as well they continued to conflate the term in some cases.
Flavius Josephus, Roman Jewish historian writing in the 1st century AD describes the inhabitants of the state of Osroene as Assyrians. Osroene was a Syriac speaking state based around Edessa in Upper Mesopotamia, a key center of early Syriac Christianity. However, in Antiquities of the Jews, he writes that "Aram had the Arameans, which the Greeks called Syrians."
In the 380s AD, the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus during his travels in Upper Mesopotamia with Jovian states that; "Within this circuit is Adiabene, which was formerly called Assyria;" Ammianus Marcellinus also refers to an extant region called Assyria located between the Tigris and Euphrates.
Unlike the Indo-European languages, the native Semitic name for Syria has always been distinct from Assyria. During the Akkadian Empire (2335-2154 BC), Neo-Sumerian Empire (2119-2004 BC) and Old Assyrian Empire (1975–1750 BC) the region which is now Syria was called The Land of the Amurru and Mitanni, referring to the Amorites and the Hurrians. Beginning from the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365-1020 BC), and also in the Neo Assyrian Empire (935-605 BC) and the succeeding Neo-Babylonian Empire (605-539 BC) and Achaemenid Empire, (539-323 BC) Syria was known as Aramea and later Eber Nari.
Arguments for continuity during the medieval period and Renaissance
The 10th-century AD Arab scholar Ibn al-Nadim, while describing the books and scripture of many people defines the word "Ashuriyun" (Arabic for Assyrians) as "a sect of Jesus" inhabiting northern Mesopotamia.
In the mid-16th century AD, Pope Julius III initially named the church of converts from the Assyrian Church to Catholicism as The Church of Athura (Assyria) and Mosul, and its first Patriarch Yohannan Sulaqa as Patriarch of the Eastern Assyrians. This was only later changed to The Chaldean Catholic Church.
During the 16th century AD, according to the "Chronicle of the Carmelites in Persia", Pope Paul V, in a letter to the Persian Shah Abbas I (1571-1629) of 3 November 1612 mentions that the Jacobites endorsed an "Assyrian" identity.
... Those in particular who are called Assyrians or Jacobites and inhabit Isfahan will be compelled to sell their very children in order to pay the heavy tax you have imposed on them, unless You take pity on their misfortune.
Early modern opinions favoring continuity
Proponents of continuity such as Stephanie Dalley point out that as late as the 18th and 19th centuries, the region around Mosul was known as Athura by the native Christian population, which means "Assyria".
According to Christian missionary Horatio Southgate, "Syrian" and "Assyrian" were self-identifications among Jacobites (Syriac Orthodox) he met in 1841, before the Ancient Assyrian sites were rediscovered by archaeologists in 1894: "I began to make inquiries for the Syrians. The people informed me that there were about one hundred families of them in the town of Kharpout, and a village inhabited by them on the plain. I observed that the Armenians did not know them under the name which I used, Syriani; but called them Assouri, which struck me the more at the moment from its resemblance to our English name Assyrians, from whom they claim their origin, being sons, as they say, of Ashur who "out of the land of Shinar went forth, and build Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, and Resin between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city." 
A number of 19th-century Assyriologists such as Austen Henry Layard, the Assyrian archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam and the Anglican missionary and Orientalist George Percy Badger supported Assyrian continuity.
E.B. Soane wrote in 1892, "The Mosul people, especially the Christians are very proud of their city and the antiquity of its surroundings; the Christians, regard themselves as direct descendants of the great rulers of Assyria".
Anglican missionary, Rev. W. A. Wigram, in his book The Assyrians and Their Neighbours (1929), writes, "The Assyrian stock, still resident in the provinces about the ruins of Nineveh, Mosul, Arbela, and Kirkuk, and seem to have been left to their own customs in the same way."
R. S. Stafford in 1935 describes the Assyrians as descending from the Ancient Assyrians, surviving the various periods of foreign rule intact, and until World War I of having worn items of clothing much like the ancient Assyrians.
Some Academics including John Joseph (academic), sociologist Sami Zubaida, and theologian J. F. Coakley. largely refute the modern Assyrian claim of descent from the ancient Assyrians of Mesopotamia,and their succeeding the Sumero-Akkadians and the Babylonians as one continuous civilization.'
John Joseph criticizes modern Assyrian writers who "eager to establish a link between themselves and the ancient Assyrians, conclude that such a link is confirmed whenever they come across a reference to the word Assyrians during the early Christian period, to them it proves that their Christian ancestors always 'remembered' their Assyrian forefathers. Nationalist writers often refer to Tatian's statement that he was 'born in the land of the Assyrians', and note that the Acts of Mar Qardagh trace the martyr's ancestry to Ancient Assyrian kings". He clarifies that while "The name Assyrian was certainly used prior to the nineteenth century", it "was a well known name throughout the centuries and wherever the Bible was held holy, whether in the East or West," thanks to the Old Testament. " While Assyrian documents of stone and clay lay buried under the dust and debris of over two milleniums--written in a language forgotten long before they were deciphered during the 1850s--some of the books of the Old Testament during those same long centuries were carefully copied on parchment, leather or papyrus, and reverently transmitted by hand from one generation to the next".
J. F. Coakley describes modern Arameans as Syrians, their former name for themselves, who began to adopt an Assyrian identity only at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, subsequent to Anglican contact with the Assyrians.
David Wilmshurst, a historian of the Church of the East, agrees that Assyrian identity only emerged as a consequence of the earlier archaeological discovery of the ruins of Nineveh in 1845. Any continuity, he argues, is insignificant, if it exists at all.
A major argument used by modern proponents of continuity is the absence of evidence that the population of Assyria was completely wiped out.
Prominent Assyriologist H. W. F. Saggs in his The Might That Was Assyria points out that the Assyrian population was never wiped out or deported after the fall of its empire, and that after Christianisation the Assyrians have continued to keep alive their identity and heritage.[Note 2] However, Saggs disputes an extreme racial purity, he points out that even at its mightiest, Assyria deported populations of Jews, Elamites, Arameans, Neo-Hittites, Urartians and others into Assyria, and that these peoples became Assyrianised and were absorbed and blended into the native population.
Assyriologist J. A. Brinkman argues that there is absolutely no historical evidence or proof to suggest the population of Assyria was wiped out, bred out of existence or removed at any time following the destruction of its empire. He puts the burden of proof upon those arguing against continuity to prove their case with strong evidence. Brinkman goes on to mention that the gods of the Assyrian Pantheon were certainly still being worshiped even 900 years after the fall of the Assyrian Empire. He also indicated that Assur and Calah, among other cities, were prosperous and still occupied by Assyrians, which he claims indicates a continuity of Assyrian identity and culture well into the Syriac Christian period.
John Curtis strongly disputes assumptions based on biblical interpretations that Assyria became an uninhabited wasteland after its fall, pointing out its wealth and influence during the various periods of Persian rule. It is known that Achaemenid Assyria flourished; and Assyrians soldiers were a remnant of Achaemenid armies, holding important civic positions, with their agriculture providing a breadbasket for the empire. Imperial Aramaic and Assyrian administrative practices were also retained by the Achaemenid kings In addition, it is known that a number of important Assyrian cities such as Arbela, Guzana and Harran survived intact, and others, such as Assur and Arrapha recovered from their previous destruction. For those cities that remained devastated, such as Nineveh and Calah, smaller towns were built nearby, such as Mepsila.
Georges Roux notes that Assyrian culture and national religion were alive into the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, with the city of Ashur possibly being independent for a while in the 3rd century AD, and that the Neo-Assyrian kingdom of Adiabene was a virtual resurrection of Assyria, but emphasizes that "that the revived settlements [in ancient Assyria] had very little in common with their Assyrian or Babylonian precursors". Roux also states that, "After the fall of Assyria, however, its actual name was gradually changed to 'Syria'; thus, in the Babylonian version of Darius I inscriptions, Eber-nari ("across-the-river," i.e. Syria, Palestine and Phoenicia) corresponds to the Persian and Elamite Athura (Assyria); besides, in the Behistun inscription, Izalla, the region of Syria renowned for its wine, is assigned to Athura."
Roux, as well as Saggs, note that a time came when Akkadian inscriptions were meaningless to the inhabitants of Assyria, and ceased to be spoken by the common people. Critics of Assyrianism take this same line of argumentation in explaining that, even though the Assyrians were not completely wiped out, their culture was.
Patricia Crone and Michael Cook note that Assyrian consciousness did not die out after the fall of its empire, asserting that a major revival of Assyrian consciousness and culture took place between the 2nd century BC and 4th century AD.
Another argument is based on the etymology of "Syria". The noted Iranologist Richard Nelson Frye supports ethnic continuity from ancient times to the present, arguing that the term 'Syrian' originating from 'Assyrian' supports continuity, particularly when applied to the Semites in northern Mesopotamia and its surrounds. In a response to John Joseph, Frye writes "I do not understand why Joseph and others ignore the evidence of Armenian, Arab and Persian sources in regard to usage with initial a-, including contemporary practice." Robert Rollinger also uses this line of argumentation to support continuity. Joseph was originally skeptical about the initial a-theory, but has since been forced to accept it following the discovery of the Cinekoy Inscription, while saying it does not affect the veracity of Assyrian continuity claims.
Some continuity-supporters, though not all, argue that Assyrian culture is continuous from ancient times until today. The Assyriologist Simo Parpola echoes Saggs, Brinkman and Biggs, says that there is strong evidence that Assyrian identity and culture continued after the fall of the Assyrian Empire. Parpola asserts that traditional Assyrian religion remained strong until the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, surviving among small communities of Assyrians up to at least the 10th century AD in Upper Mesopotamia, and as late as the 18th century AD in Mardin. Parpola asserts that the Neo-Assyrian Upper Mesopotamian kingdoms of Adiabene, Assur, Osrhoene, Beth Nuhadra, Beth Garmai and to some degree Hatra which existed between the 1st century BC and 5th century AD in Assyria, were distinctly Assyrian linguistically, as they wrote in the Syriac language, a dialect of Aramaic which began in geographic Assyria.
Similarly, J.B Segal argues that "Although the Assyrian empire had fallen, the Assyrians continued to retain the Assyrian culture" in Edessa, Urhay and Upper Mesopotamia, with gods such as Sin, Shamash, Ashur, Hadad and Ishtar of Nineveh being worshipped until Eastern Rite Christianity took hold. He also states that "Within the Abgar dynasty, there were kings named Mannu, the Akkadian name that was found in the Assyrian inscriptions from the assyrian city of Tushan" (southeastern Turkey).[Note 3]
Robert D. Biggs supports genealogical/ethnic continuity without prejudicing cultural continuity, asserting that the modern Assyrians are the ethnic descendants of their ancient ancestors but became culturally different from them with the advent of Christianity."Especially in view of the very early establishment of Christianity in Assyria and its continuity to the present and the continuity of the population, I think there is every likelihood that ancient Assyrians are among the ancestors of modern Assyrians."
Adam H. Becker of New York University[full citation needed] regards the continuity claims as "hogwash" and writes that the special continuity claims "must be understood as a modern invention worthy of the study of a Benedict Anderson or an Eric Hobsbawm rather than an ancient historian." (both study the origins of invented traditions in nationalism) Becker describes Assyrians as a people he calls East Syrians in his writings.
British historian Tom Holland in an article in The Daily Telegraph of 2017 clearly links the modern Assyrians to the ancient Assyrians, stating that they are the Christianized ancestors of the ancient Assyrians.
Differences between Assyrians and neighbouring peoples
Silvio Zaorani differentiates between Levantine Aramean and Mesopotamian Assyrian populations, stating that; "even if "Syrian" were derived from "Assyrian", it does not mean that the people and culture of geographical Syria are identical to those of geographical Assyria."
A series of modern Genetic Studies have shown that the modern Assyrians from Northern Iraq, Southeastern Turkey, Northwestern Iran and Northeastern Syria are in a genetic sense one homogenous people, regardless of which church they belong to (e.g. Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic, Assyrian Protestant). Furthermore, their collective genetic profile differs from neighbouring Syrians, Levantine Syriac Christians, Kurds, Iranians, Arabs, Turks, Armenians, Jews, Yezidis, Shabakis, Greeks, Georgians, Circassians, Turcomans, Maronite Christians, Egyptians and Mandeans.
Late 20th century DNA analysis conducted on Assyrian members of the Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church and Syriac Orthodox Church 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 probably 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".
A 2008 study on the genetics of "old ethnic groups in Mesopotamia," including 340 subjects from seven ethnic communities (Assyrian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Armenian, Turkmen and Arab peoples of Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait) found that Assyrians were homogeneous with respect to all other ethnic groups sampled in the study, regardless of each Assyrians religious affiliation.[Note 4]
In a 2006 study of the Y-chromosome DNA of six regional 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."
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 GeneTree.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, Arabic speaking Iraqis, Mandeans and Assyrians, "supporting a common local background."[Note 5]
Mordechai Nisan, the Israeli Orientalist, also supports the view that Assyrians should be named specifically as such in an ethnic and national sense, are the descendants of their ancient namesakes, and denied self-expression for political, ethnic and religious reasons.
Dr. Arian Ishaya a historian and Anthropologist of UCLA states that the confusion of names applied to the Assyrians, and a denial of Assyrian identity and continuity, is on one hand borne out of 19th and early 20th century imperialistic, condescending and arrogant meddling by westerners, rather than by historical fact, and on the other hand by long held Islamic, Arab, Kurdish, Turkish and Iranian policies, whose purpose is to, divide the Assyrian people along false lines and deny their singular identity, with the aim of preventing the Assyrians having any chance of unity, self-expression and potential statehood.
Naum Elias Yaqub Palakh (better known as Naum Faiq), a 19th-century advocate of Assyrian nationalism from the Syriac Orthodox Church community in Diyarbakir, encouraged Assyrians to unite together regardless of tribal and theological differences
Ashur Yousif, an Assyrian Protestant from the same region of south eastern Turkey as Faiq also espoused Assyrian unity during the early 20th century, stating that the Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic and Syriac Orthodox were one people, divided purely upon religious lines.
Freydun Atturaya (Freydon Bet-Abram Atoraya) also advocated Assyrian unity and was a staunch supporter of Assyrian identity and nationalism and the formation of an ancestral Assyrian homeland in the wake of the Assyrian genocide.
Farid Nazha an influential Syrian born Assyrian nationalist deeply criticised the leaders of the various churches followed by the Assyrian people, accusing the Syriac Orthodox Church, Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church and Syriac Catholic Church of creating divisions among Assyrians, when their joint ethnic and national identity should be paramount.
George Habash, the founder of the Palestinian militant group PFLP asserts that the Assyrian people have been denied representation due to a betrayal by Western powers and by policy of deliberately denying their heritage and rights by Muslim Arab, Turkish, Iranian and Kurdish regimes.
J. A Brinkman theorises that the Aramaic language took over because of its simple alphabet and structure as opposed to the 600-700 syllables of the unwieldy Assyro-Babylonian language.
Roux notes that the Syriac Christians did not just forget to write and read Assyrian, but also to speak it, and "History tells us that a nation which forgets its language forgets its past and soon loses its identity."
As linguist Geoffrey Khan points out that a number of vocabulary and grammatical features in the colloquial modern neo-Aramaic dialects spoken by the Assyrians shows similarities with the ancient Akkadian language,. Whereas significantly, the now near extinct Western Aramaic dialects of the Arameans (Oromoyo), Phoenicians, Nabateans, Jews and Levantine Syriacs of Syria and the Levant do not. This indicates that the Assyrian Eastern Aramaic dialects gradually replaced Akkadian among the Assyrian populace, and that they were both influenced by and overlaid the earlier Assyrian Akkadian tongue of the region, unlike Aramaic dialects spoken in the Levant .
One example is the use of the prefixed article k- or other variants of it such as ki- and či- which does not appear in classical Syriac. Evidence of the existence of an earlier language which differs from Classical Syriac can be found in other medieval texts such as an Arabic medical book that was composed by Ibn Baklarish in Spain. The book lists a number of medical elements in a variety of languages including one designated as al-suryāniyya which would presumably correspond with Syriac. The words listed under it are not Classical Syriac however, but correspond to forms found only in the modern Assyrian dialects spoken to the east of the Tigris.
Another distinguishing grammatical feature of modern Assyrian which differs from Syriac is the inflection of past verbs by a series of suffixes that contain the preposition l-, e.g. grišle 'he pulled' and grišli 'I pulled' compared with the Syriac graš and gerešt respectively. The use of this suffix has been attested to Aramaic documents dating back to the 5th century B.C. This verbal form is originally a passive construction consisting of a passive participle and an agentive phrase. Examples of this passive construction has been later found in Mandaic and Babylonian Talmudic Aramaic and even in Syriac. All these forms of Aramaic are however far more frequently expressed by the active verbal form graš, and the passive types are likely to be reflections of the contemporary spoken vernacular that have infiltrated the standard literary language.
There is also a number of Akkadian words mostly connected with agriculture that have been preserved in modern Syriac vernaculars. One example is the word miššara 'rice paddy field' which is a direct descendant of the Akkadian mušāru. A number of words in the dialect of Bakhdida (Qaraqosh) shows the same origin, e.g. baxšimə 'storeroom (for grain)' from Akkadian bīt ḫašīmi 'storehouse' and raxiṣa 'pile of straw' from raḫīṣu 'pile of harvest produce'.
Some grammatical features that are found in the modern Assyrian dialects are typologically more archaic than the corresponding features in classical Syriac. In the dialect of Qaraqosh, for example, the infinitive of all verbal stems does not have an initial m-, by contrast with Syriac infinitives, which have acquired this prefix by analogy with the participles.
Simo Parpola asserts that Eastern Aramaic had become so entrenched in Assyrian identity that the Greeks regarded the Imperial Aramaic of the Achaemenid Empire during the 5th and 4th centuries BC as The Assyrian Language.[Note 6] However, considering the Greek's misuse of the words "Syrian" and "Assyrian", the Greeks were likely referring to the Arameans. During the 3rd century BC composition of the Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek for the Hellenized Jewish community of Alexandria, "Aramaic language" was translated into "Syrian tongue", and "Arameans" into "Syrians".
Among Assyrians, numbers of fluent speakers range from approximately 600,000 to 1,000,000, with the main dialects being Assyrian Neo-Aramaic (250,000 speakers), Chaldean Neo-Aramaic (216,000 speakers) and Surayt/Turoyo (112,000 to 450,000 speakers), together with a number of smaller closely related dialects with no more than 10,000 speakers between them. Contrary to what their names suggest, these mutually intelligible dialects are not divided upon Assyrian Church of the East/Chaldean Catholic church/Syriac Orthodox church lines.
Scarcity of Assyrian names in the Christian Era
One of the main arguments against the continuity hypothesis is the scarcity of Assyrian and Mesopotamian (East Semitic) pagan personal names among the Assyrian Christian priests, bishops and other religious figures. This argument has been put forward by John Joseph, Jean Maurice Fiey and David Wilmshurst.
Dominican Syriac scholar J.-M. Fiey noted that while Eastern Christian writers wrote extensively about Assyrians and Babylonians, they did not identify with them. Fiey comments, 'I have made indices of my Assyrie chretienne, and have had to align some 50 pages of proper names of people; there is not a single writer who has an 'Assyrian' name.' Wilmshurst comments, 'The names of thousands of Assyrian and Chaldean Catholic bishops, priests, deacons and scribes between the third and nineteenth centuries are known, and there is not a Sennacherib or Ashurbanipal among them.'
Defenders of the continuity hypothesis have argued that it is usual and common for peoples to adopt Biblical names after undergoing Christianisation, particularly as names such as Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal have clear pagan connotations, and thus unlikely to be used by Christian priests, and many were in fact throne names or eponyms. Fred Aprim has claimed that distinct Assyrian names continued in an unbroken line from ancient times to the present, giving examples of Assyrian personal names used as late as late as 238 AD.[dubious ] Simo Parpola argues that Assyrian names remained common into the 4th century AD, only reducing significantly with the adoption of Christianity, this position is supported by Richard Nelson Frye also.
Similarly, Odisho Gewargis explained the general scarcity of autochthonous personal names as a process taking place only after Christianization, when peoples generally replace native names with Biblical Names; giving as an example of this the scarcity of traditional English names such as Wolfstan, Redwald, Aethelred, Offa and Wystan among modern Englishmen, compared to the commonality of non English biblical names such as John, Mark, David, Paul, Thomas, Daniel, Michael, Matthew, Benjamin, Elizabeth, Mary, Joanne, Josephine, Paula, Rebecca, Simone, Ruth etc.[Note 7] In response Jon Joseph strongly criticizes this argument as contradictory with Gewargis's other arguments, "Contradicting himself, Mr. Gewargis notes that centuries ago, monks and ecclesiastics of the Eastern churches had 'great praise and exaltation for the Assyrians and their kings, their clergy and their judges and obvious downgrading of the prophets, clergy, kings and the elders of Israel. Thus one can say,' he concludes, that Sabhrisho, and monk Yaqqira and patriarch Ishoyabh 'were Assyrians filled with national pride.' We have here an unusual situation: 1.The Church fathers proudly calling themselves 'Aturaye'; 2. The common people, members of the church, for centuries calling themselves 'Suryaye'; 3. And Mr. Gewargis, an Aramaic-language expert who won't tell us the difference between these two Aramaic words, Aturaye and Suryaye." Many Old English personal names, such as Edward and Audrey, remain popular in England.
Other naming controversies
Kelly L. Ross notes that the oldest reference to the Christians of Iraq is as "Nestorians", a term used by Cosmas Indicopleustes in 525 AD, though this is a doctrinal term and not an ethnic one. The term "Chaldean" was used in the 10th century by Liutprand of Cremona (945 AD), and the use of the term "Assyrian" "may only date from the 1840's, after the rediscovery of the ruins of the ancient Assyrian cities."
Hannibal Travis, in contrast, argues that "Assyrian" is the oldest name for this community, a minority opinion among modern scholars. Artur Boháč ehoes Hannibal Travis in arguing that the confusion of later names applied to the Assyrians were introduced by Western theologians and missionaries, and others arose out of doctrinal rather than ethnic divisions.
In recent times, a small and mainly United States-based minority within the Chaldean Catholic Church have begun to espouse a separate Chaldean ethnic identity. They assert that they are a different and separate race to the modern Assyrians, and are the direct descendants of the Chaldeans of southeast Mesopotamia. This is only a minority viewpoint among Chaldean Catholics.
Chaldean Catholics were former members of the Church of the East, who entered into communion with the Roman Catholic Church between the 16th and 18th centuries, after failing to gain acceptance into the Syriac Orthodox Church. Most Chaldo-Assyrian communities consider the term Chaldean to be purely doctrinal, the name of a church only, with no implication or meaning in an ethnic, cultural or historical sense. Assyrian nationalism began shortly after the Assyrian Genocide in World War I, with Assyrian groups seeking a state of their own in the Assyrian homeland. Meanwhile, Chaldean nationalism is largely non-existent, and if a Chaldean state were established it would not reasonably be in historic Chaldea.
The Chaldean Catholic Church was pointedly originally named the Church of Assyria and Mosul and its first leader Patriarch of the Eastern Assyrians circa 1550 AD, and was changed to distinguish its members from the Assyrian Church of the East in 1683 AD, with the modern Chaldean Catholic Church only coming into being in 1830 AD. Its founders and members were all from the Assyrian Homeland in northern Mesopotamia (what was Assyria), rather than the far south east of Mesopotamia where the Ancient Chaldeans migrated to in the 9th century BC, and where they also disappeared from history in the 6th century BC, and no link has been provided linking these people to the Chaldea or Chaldeans of old.
In an interview with Raphael I Bidawid, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church between 1989 and 2003, published in 2003, he commented on the Assyrian name dispute and distinguished between what is merely the name of a church and an actual ethnicity:
- "I personally think that these different names serve to add confusion. The original name of our Church was the 'Church of the East' ... When a portion of the Church of the East became Catholic, the name given was 'Chaldean' based on the Magi kings who came from the land of the Chaldean, to Bethlehem. The name 'Chaldean' does not represent an ethnicity... We have to separate what is ethnicity and what is religion... I myself, my sect is Chaldean, but ethnically, I am Assyrian."
Proponents of a Chaldean continuity or separateness from Assyrians sometimes claim that they are separate because they speak Chaldean Neo Aramaic rather than Assyrian Neo Aramaic. However, both of these appellations are only 20th century labels applied by modern linguists to regions where one church was seen to be more prevalent than another for convenience, with no historical continuity or ethnic context implied in either. They are also wholly inaccurate; many speakers of Chaldean Neo Aramaic are in fact members of the Assyrian Church of the East, Assyrian Pentecostal, Evangelical Churches or Syriac Orthodox Church, and equally, many speakers of Assyrian Neo Aramaic are members of the Chaldean Catholic Church or Syriac Orthodox Church. This is also true of the Surayt/Turoyo dialect, and minority dialects such as Hértevin, Koy Sanjaq Surat, Bohtan Neo-Aramaic and Senaya. Furthermore, each of these dialects originated in Assyria, evolving from the 8th century BC Imperial Aramaic of the Assyrian Empire and 5th century BC Syriac of Achaemenid Assyria, and there is no evidence of them originating in south east Mesopotamia, where very different dialects such as Mandaic were prevalent.
The term Chaldeans has been misapplied to other peoples with no link to ancient Chaldea, having been previously officially used by the Council of Florence in 1445 as a new name for a group of Greek Christians of Cyprus who entered in Full Communion with the Catholic Church. Rome followed to use the term Chaldeans to indicate the members of the Church of the East in Communion with Rome, mainly not to use the terms Assyrian, Syrian and Nestorian that had connotations to theologically unacceptable doctrines. Rome had also previously misapplied the name to Chaldia, a people and region in Anatolia.
- "In Achaemenian times there was an Assyrian detachment in the Persian army, but they could only have been a remnant. That remnant persisted through the centuries to the Christian era and beyond, and continued to use in their personal names appellations of their pagan deities. This continuance of an Assyrian tradition is significant for two reasons; the miserable conditions of these late Assyrians is attested to by the excavations at Ashur, and it is clear that they were reduced to extreme poverty by the time of Parthian rule."
- "The destruction of the Assyrian Empire did not wipe out its population. They were predominantly peasant farmers, and since Assyria contains some of the best wheat land in the Near East, descendants of the Assyrian peasants would, as opportunity permitted, build new villages over the old cities and carried on with agricultural life, remembering traditions of the former cities. After seven or eight centuries and after various vicissitudes, these people became Christians. These Christians, and the Jewish communities scattered amongst them, not only kept alive the memory of their Assyrian predecessors but also combined them with traditions from the Bible."
- "Although the Assyrian empire had fell, the Assyrians retained the Assyrian culture alive. In his book "Edessa: The Blessed City" JB Segal confirms just that. Before Abgar Dynasty in Urhoy received Christianity, Urhoy was a city of Assyrian gods Nabu, Sin, Shamash, Ashur, Bel and Ishtar of Nineveh. Within the Abgar dynasty, there were kings named Mannu, the Akkadian name that was found in the Assyrian inscriptions from the assyrian city of Tushan(southeastern Turkey). This demonstrates that the people of Urhoy and in northern Mesopotamia retained its Assyrian identity and culture long after the Assyrian empire ceased to exist."
- "The relationship probability was lowest between Assyrians and other communities. Endogamy was found to be high for this population through determination of the heterogeneity coefficient (+0,6867), Our study supports earlier findings indicating the relatively closed nature of the Assyrian community as a whole, which as a result of their religious and cultural traditions, have had little intermixture with other populations."
- "In the less frequent J1-M267* clade, only marginally affected by events of expansion, Marsh Arabs shared haplotypes with other Iraqi and Assyrian samples, supporting a common local background."
- 'The Greek historian Thucydides reports that during the Peloponnesian wars (ca. 410 BC) the Athenians intercepted a Persian who was carrying a message from the Great King to Sparta. The man was taken prisoner, brought to Athens, and the letters he was carrying were translated "from the Assyrian language", which of course was Aramaic…'
- "If the children of Sennacherib were, for centuries, taught to pray and damn Babylon and Assyria, how does the researcher expect from people who wholeheartedly accepted the Christian faith to name their children Ashur and Esarhaddon?"
- Assyrians After Assyria, Parpola
- Frye, R. N. (October 1992). "Assyria and Syria: Synonyms" (PDF). Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 51 (4): 281–285. doi:10.1086/373570.
- Especially in view of the very early establishment of Christianity in Assyria and its continuity to the present and the continuity of the population, I think there is every likelihood that ancient Assyrians are among the ancestors of modern Assyrians Biggs p.10
- Tekoglu, R. & Lemaire, A. (2000). La bilingue royale louvito-phénicienne de Çineköy. Comptes rendus de l'Académie des inscriptions, et belleslettres, année 2000, 960–1006.
- The legacy of Mesopotamia, Stephanie Dalley, p94
- John Joseph (2000). The Modern Assyrians of the Middle East: A History of Their Encounter with Western Christian Missions, Archaeologists, and Colonial Powers. p. 21.
- (Pipes 1992), s:History of Herodotus/Book 7
Herodotus. "Herodotus VII.63".
VII.63: The Assyrians went to war with helmets upon their heads made of brass, and plaited in a strange fashion which is not easy to describe. They carried shields, lances, and daggers very like the Egyptian; but in addition they had wooden clubs knotted with iron, and linen corselets. This people, whom the Hellenes call Syrians, are called Assyrians by the barbarians. The Chaldeans served in their ranks, and they had for commander Otaspes, the son of Artachaeus.
Herodotus. "Herodotus VII.72".
VII.72: In the same fashion were equipped the Ligyans, the Matienians, the Mariandynians, and the Syrians (or Cappadocians, as they are called by the Persians).
- Cite error: The named reference
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- Joseph, Assyria and Syria: Synonyms?, p. 38
- The Ancient Name of Edessa," Amir Harrak, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 51, No. 3 (July 1992): 209-214 
- Antiquities of the Jews, translated by William Whiston
- The Origins of Syrian Nationhood: Histories, Pioneers and Identity Adel Beshara
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- [Horatio Southgate, Narrative of a Visit to the Syrian [Jacobite] Church of Mesopotamia (1844)]
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- Rev. W.A. Wigram (1929). The Assyrians and Their Neighbours. London.
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- Refugee Camps and the Spatialization of Assyrian Nationalism in Iraq The rising European missionary presence in the Hakkari region coincided with a number of archeological excavations of the ancient ruins of Nineveh and Babylon,and especially with the discovery of the Nimrud palace of Ashur-nasirpalii in 1848. Missionaries drew on these recent discoveries of pre-Islamic Assyrian greatness to promote the idea of this branch of eastern Christians as direct descendants of this ancient empire.... As historical sociologist Sami Zubaida notes,this "constructed Assyrian identity could then draw on two sources of favourable associations: ancient national ancestry and a Christianity which forged linked with the dominant European powers." It was during the late nineteenth century that western missionaries began to popularize the word Assyrian previously only one of a number of possible designations for these Christians and not the most prominent,as a mode of identifying the present-day community with the ancient empires. Originally, this idea may have been suggested by local assistants to the excavations like the Assyrian activist Hormuzd Rassam; certainly it buttressed community ambitions for local autonomy, as well as romantic missionary imaginings of an untouched "original" Christian community.
- The Political Dictionary of the Modern Middle East claims exactly this, describing the modern Assyrians as Remnants of the people of ancient Mesopotamia, succeeding the Sumero-Akkadians and the Babylonians as one continuous civilization. Korbani, Agnes G. (1995). The Political Dictionary of the Modern Middle East, Lanham, Md.: University Press of America.
- Tatian did not only not claim to be Assyrian, but he was born West of the Euphrates, in Syria. The ancestry of the semi-legendary Mar Qardagh is dubious. (Miller/Joseph)
- "We are Assyrians" A Response by John Joseph, commentary on the eponymous article in the Journal of Assyrian academic Studies (JAAS) (Vol. XVI, No.1, pp. 177-95), Written in Syriac by Odisho Malko Gewargis of Baghdad, Iraq, translated to English by Youel A. Baaba.
- The Church of the East and the Church of England: A History of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Assyrian Mission. J. F. Coakley. p.366.
- Wilmshurst 2011, pp. 413–416
- Saggs, p. 290
- Jump up ^ From a lecture by J. A. Brinkman: "There is no reason to believe that there would be no racial or cultural continuity in Assyria, since there is no evidence that the population of Assyria was removed."
- Efram Yildiz's "The Assyrians" Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, 13.1, pp. 22, ref 24 (PDF).
- Curtis, John (November 2003). "The Achaemenid Period in Northern Iraq" (PDF). L'archéologie de l'empire achéménide. Paris, France.
- Printed in Nabu Magazine, Vol. 3, Issue 1 (1997).
- George Roux. Iraq.
- Ancient Iraq (1992 edition), pp.411-412, 419-420, 423-424; H.W.F. Saggs, The Might that Was Assyria, pp. 125 seq.; Toynbee, A Study of History (1954), viii, pp. 440-442
- Crone & Cook 1977, p. 55
- Frye, Reply to John Joseph, p. 70.
- Rollinger, Robert (2006). "The terms 'Assyria' and 'Syria' again". "Assyriology". Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 65(4). pp. 284–287.
- Edessa: The Blessed City. JB Segal
- Biggs p 10
- "Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom The School of Nisibis and the Development of Scholastic Culture in Late Antique Mesopotamia". upenn.edu. University of Pennsylvania.
- Adam H. Becker. "The Ancient Near East in the Late Antique Near East: Syriac Christian Appropriation of the Biblical East" in Gregg Gardner, Kevin Lee Osterloh (eds.) Antiquity in Antiquity: Jewish and Christian pasts in the Greco-Roman world, p. 396, 2008, Mohr Siebeck, ISBN 978-3-16-149411-6.
- Silvio Zaorani (Turin, 1993) under the chapter entitled "The Modern Assyrians - Name and Nation", pp. 106-107
- Unrepresented Nations and People Organization (UNPO). Assyrians the Indigenous People of Iraq 
- Joel J. Elias (20 July 2000). "The Genetics of Modern Assyrians and their Relationship to Other People of the Middle East".
- M.T. Akbari, Sunder S. Papiha, D.F. Roberts, and Daryoush D. Farhud. "Genetic Differentiation among Iranian Christian Communities". American Journal of Human Genetics 38 (1986): 84–98.
- Cavalli-Sforza et al. (1994), p. 243
- Mohammad Medhi Banoei; Morteza Hashemzadeh Chaleshtori; Mohammad Hossein Sanati; Parvin Shariati (2008). "Variation of DAT1 VNTR alleles and genotypes among old ethnic groups in Mesopotamia to the Oxus region". Human Biology. 80 (1): 73–81. doi:10.3378/1534-6617(2008)80[73:vodvaa]2.0.co;2. PMID 18505046.
- Levon Yepiskoposian; Ashot Harutyunian & Armine Khudoyan (2006). "Genetic testing of language replacement hypothesis in southwest Asia" (PDF). Iran and the Caucasus. 10 (2): 191–208. doi:10.1163/157338406780345899.
- Video on YouTube
- Nadia Al-Zahery; Maria Pala; Vincenza Battaglia; Viola Grugni; Mohammed A. Hamod; Baharak Hooshiar Kashani; Anna Olivieri; Antonio Torroni; Augusta S. Santachiara-Benerecetti; Ornella Semino (2011). "In search of the genetic footprints of Sumerians: a survey of Y-chromosome and mtDNA variation in the Marsh Arabs of Iraq". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 11: 288. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-288. PMC . PMID 21970613.
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- "Neo-Assyrianism & the End of the Confounded Identity". Zinda. 2006-07-06. "The fact remains that throughout the last seven years and the last 150 years for that matter the name Assyrian has always been attached to our political ambitions in the Middle East. Any time, any one of us from any of our church and tribal groups targets a political goal we present our case as Assyrians, Chaldean-Assyrians, or Syriac-Assyrians – making a connection to our "Assyrian" heritage. This is because our politics have always been Assyrian. Men like Naum Faiq and David Perley emerging from a "Syriac" or "Jacobite" background understood this as well as our Chaldean heroes, General Agha Petros d-Baz and the late Chaldean Patriarch Mar Raphael BiDawid."
- "The hindrance before the advancement of the Assyrian people was not so much the attacks from without as it was from within, the doctrinal and sectarian disputes and struggles, like Monophysitism (One nature of Christ) Dyophysitism (Two natures of Christ) is a good example, these caused division, spiritually, and nationally, among the people who quarreled among themselves even to the point of shedding blood. To this very day the Assyrians are still known by various names, such as Nestorians, Jacobites, Chaldeans"
- Aprim, Fred. "Dr. Freidoun Atouraya". essay. Zinda Magazine. Retrieved 2000-02-01. "AD (February 1917) Hakim Freidoun Atouraya, Rabbie Benyamin Arsanis and Dr. Baba Bet-Parhad establish the first Assyrian political party, the Assyrian Socialist Party. Two months later, Kakim Atouraya completes his "Urmia Manifesto of the United Free Assyria" which called for self-government in the regions of Urmia, Mosul, Turabdin, Nisibin, Jezira, and Julamaerk."
- Farid Nazha tog vid där Naum Faiq slutade, Hujada.com
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- "Based on interviews with community informants, this paper explores socialization for ingroup identity and endogamy among Assyrians in the United States.
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- Note on the Modern Assyrians
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- Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Northeastern Neo-Aramaic". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
- Council of Florence, Bull of union with the Chaldeans and the Maronites of Cyprus Session 14, 7 August 1445 
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