Turkish Assyrians

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Assyrians/Syriacs in Turkey
Türkiye Süryanileri
Tur Abdin.svg
Map of Assyrian settlements in their homeland, Tur Abdin
Total population
28,000 - 50,000 [1] (likely more due to refugees from Syria and Iraq)
Regions with significant populations
Mainly Southeastern Anatolia Region
Turkish, Turoyo dialect of Neo-Aramaic
Majority Syriac Orthodox; minority Syriac Catholic, Chaldean Catholic, Assyrian Pentecostal Church, Assyrian Evangelical Church
Related ethnic groups
Mhallami people

Assyrians/Syriacs in Turkey (Turkish: Türkiye'deki Süryaniler) are an indigenous Semitic ethnic group and minority of Turkey (and also northern Iraq and northeast Syria) with a presence in the region dating to as far back as the 25th century BC, making them the oldest ethnic group in the nation. Some regions of what is now south eastern Turkey were an integral part of Assyria from the 25th century BC to the 7th century AD, including its final capital, Harran.

They are Eastern Aramaic speaking Christians, with most being members of the Assyrian Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox Church, Chaldean Catholic Church, Assyrian Pentecostal Church, Assyrian Evangelical Church, or Ancient Church of the East.

The Assyrians were once a large ethnic minority in the Ottoman Empire, but, following the Assyrian genocide, most were murdered or forced to emigrate to join fellow Assyrians in northern Iraq, northeast Syria, and northwest Iran. Now, they live in small numbers in eastern Turkey and Istanbul.

Ottoman era[edit]

The Ottoman Empire had an elaborate system of administering the non-Muslim "People of the Book." That is, they made allowances for accepted monotheists with a scriptural tradition and distinguished them from people they defined as pagans. (Buddhists and Hindus as well as some African groups were the ones with which they came in contact.) As People of the Book (or dhimmi), Jews, Christians and Mandaeans (in some cases Zoroastrians) received second-class treatment but were tolerated.

In the Ottoman Empire, this religious status became systematized as the "millet" administrative pattern. Each religious minority answered to the government through its chief religious representative. The Christians that the Ottomans conquered gradually but definitively with the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 were already divided into many ethnic groups and denominations, usually organized into a hierarchy of bishops headed by a patriarch.

The Syriac Orthodox under the Ottomans started out under the Armenian patriarchate but petitioned the Sublime Porte for separate status, mainly as western contacts allowed them a voice of their own. Thus the Syriac Orthodox received recognition as a separate community "millet" as did the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syriac Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. The last was the most remote of the Churches in distance from the Porte (in Istanbul).

The interest of Tsarist Russia and the western powers in the fate of the Christians of the Middle East, especially in the Maronites of Lebanon, gradually brought an elevation in culture during the 19th century, while at the same time causing schisms in denominational affiliation.

Those who had converted to Protestantism did not want to pay an annual tribute to the older churches through local bishops who then passed some of it up to the Patriarch who then passed some of it to the Porte in the form of taxes. They wanted to deal directly with the Porte, across ethnic lines (even if through a Muslim administrator), in order to have their own voice and not be subjected to the rule of the Patriarchal system. This general Protestant charter was granted in 1850.[2])

Republic of Turkey[edit]

Demographics of Turkey, "Suryani" are Assyrians

Unlike other persecuted Christian groups like the Greeks and Armenians, The Assyrian community of Turkey managed to sustain its numbers after the Assyrian Genocide- but they had many hardships nevertheless. By the 1980s the Assyrian population of Turkey was at around 70,000 people,[3] although down from the 300,000 or so in total who survived after the genocide. The currently diminished number of 28,000 Assyrians today was caused largely due to Kurdish insurgencies in the 1980s and the bad state of the Middle East as a whole, along with the forever looming issue of Turkish governmental discrimination.[4] By the end of the conflict in the late 1990s, less than 1,000 Assyrians were still in Tur Abdin or Hakkari, with the rest living in Istanbul.

In 2001, the Turkish government invited Assyrians/Syriacs to return to Turkey,[5] but some speculate that the offer was more of a publicity stunt, as a land law passed a short time before caused Assyrians who owned untilled farms or land with forests on them (which a large amount did, as those in diaspora could not till or maintain the properties they owned while living elsewhere) to have the land they owned confiscated by the state and sold to third parties. Another law made it illegal for non Turkish nationals to purchase land in Mardin province, where most Assyrians would have immigrated to.[4] Regardless of those laws a few did come, such as those who still had their citizenship and could buy property and managed to avoid having their land taken- but many more who could have came back could not due to the laws passed.

Some Assyrians who have fled from ISIS have found temporary homes in the city of Midyat. A refugee center is located near Midyat, but due to there being a small Assyrian community in Midyat, many of the Assyrian refugees at the camp went to Midyat hoping for better conditions then what the refugee camp had. To their supine, Many refugees were in fact given help and accommodations by the local Assyrian community there, perhaps wishing that the refugees stay, as the community in Midyat is in need of more members.[6]


The Assyrians are an ethnoreligious group divided into a variety of different Christian churches, and those churches vary dramatically in liturgy and structure, and even dictate identity (see Terms for Syriac Christians). The predominant Christian denomination among Assyrians in Turkey is the Syriac Orthodox Church, with their followers being called Syriacs. The second largest denomination is the Chaldean Catholic Church, which has around 7,000 members who live primarily in Diyarbakir and Istanbul. In fact, Diyarbakir was the city in which the Chaldean Catholic church was first founded when it split from the Assyrian Church of the East in 1552. Prior to the Assyrian Genocide there was also a large community of Nestorians, or followers of the Assyrian Church of the East, and Syriac Catholics. The Nestorians lived in the Hakkari mountains on the southeastern edge of Turkeys border, which is now part of the modern day Sirnak and Hakkari provinces. Additionally, The Patriarch of the Nestorian church had his See based in a village in that region known as Qodshanis after him and his followers settled there in the 1660s, making Turkey the center of their church structure. As for the Syriac Catholics, the Syriac Catholic Church had their see in Mardin during the 1800s after being driven out of Aleppo due to oppression by the Syriac Orthodox Church, and a large community lived in the Southeast in the Tur Abdin region up until being massacred and forced to flee during the Assyrian Genocide to Lebanon, where the See was reestablished. There is still a tiny Syriac Catholic community that lives in Mardin, but other than that most Syriac Catholics now live in Iraq, Syria, or Lebanon. Assyrian Protestant Churches exist in Turkey as well.


  1. ^ http://www.refworld.org/docid/49749c9837.html
  2. ^ John Joseph, Muslim-Christian relations and inter-Christian rivalries in the Middle East: the case of the Jacobites in an age of transition, State Univ of New York Press, 1983, ISBN 0-87395-600-1
  3. ^ "The Assyrians of Turkey are a remnant population of the formerly large Assyrian Jacobite faction. They number about 70,000 souls." http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/assyrians-in-iran#pt3
  4. ^ a b http://www.aina.org/releases/20141202192116.htm
  5. ^ Gusten, Susanne (April 4, 2012). "Hopes to Revive the Christian Area of Turkey". The New York Times. 
  6. ^ http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/12/141229-syriac-christians-refugees-midyat-turkey/

See also[edit]