Chaldean Catholics from Mardin, 19th century.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Diaspora||Several hundred thousand|
|United States||235,000 (2014)|
|Australia||9,005 (by ancestry, 2011 Census)
35,000 (according to The Hierarchy of the Catholic Church)
|Syriac Christianity (in union with Rome), Chaldean Catholic Church|
(Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic), Arabic
Chaldean Christians // (ܟܠܕܝ̈ܐ), also known as Chaldean Catholics, Assyrian Catholics, or Chaldo-Assyrians, are an Assyrian subgroup. Chaldeans are adherents of the Chaldean Catholic Church, originally called The Church of Assyria and Mosul, which was that part of the Assyrian Church of the East which entered communion with the Catholic Church between the 16th and 18th centuries.
In addition to their ancient presence in northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey, (a region roughly corresponding with ancient Assyria) Chaldo-Assyrian communities are found in the United States, Sweden, Germany, France, Canada, Lebanon, Jordan and Australia.
The terms Chaldean and Chaldo-Assyrian are sometimes used to describe a group of Syriac Christians who broke from the Church of the East in what is known as the Schism of 1552 and entered communion with the Roman Catholic Church, after at first failing to gain acceptance within the Syriac Orthodox Church. Rome initially named this new church structure The Church of Assyria and Mosul in 1553, and only some 128 years later, in 1681, was this changed to The Chaldean Catholic Church, despite none of its adherents having hitherto used the name "Chaldean" to describe themselves or their church, instead calling themselves Syrian. The Church of Athura and Mosul later returned to the doctrines of the Church of the East and split from the Catholic church, while still keeping its independence from the Church that they split from in 1552. However, when the original line they broke from joined the Chaldean Catholic Church in 1830, the Church of Athura and Mosul became the modern day Assyrian Church of the East.
Similarly, Chaldean Catholics should not be confused with the Saint Thomas Christians of India (also called the Chaldean Syrian Church), who are also sometimes known as "Chaldean Christians" or Assyrian Christians, nor with the people of Chaldia on the Black Sea.
It is believed that the term Chaldean Catholic arose due to a Catholic Latin misinterpretation and misreading of the Hebrew Ur Kasdim (according to long held Jewish tradition, the birthplace of Abraham in Northern Mesopotamia) as meaning Ur of the Chaldees. The Hebrew Kasdim does not in fact mean or refer to the Chaldeans, and Ur Kasdim is generally believed by many to have been somewhere in Assyria, north eastern Syria or south eastern Anatolia.
The 18th century Roman Catholic Church then applied this misinterpreted name to their new diocese in northern Mesopotamia, a region whose indigenous inhabitants had always previously been referred to ethnically as Suroye, Syrians, and by the denominational terms Syriac Christians, Jacobites and Nestorians.
Thus the term Chaldean Catholic is historically, usually and properly taken purely as a denominational, doctrinal and theological term which only arose in the late 17th century AD and became fully established in the 19th century AD, and not as an ethnic, historical or geographical identity or designation.
- “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 in the 17th Century, the name given was ‘Chaldean’ based on the Magi kings who were believed by some to have come from what once had been the land of the Chaldean, to Bethlehem. The name ‘Chaldean’ does not represent an ethnicity, just a church… We have to separate what is ethnicity and what is religion… I myself, my sect is Chaldean, but ethnically, I am Assyrian.”
In an interview with the Assyrian Star in the September–October 1974 issue, he was quoted as saying:
- “Before I became a priest I was an Assyrian, before I became a bishop I was an Assyrian, I am an Assyrian today, tomorrow, forever, and I am proud of it.”
Brief history of Chaldean Catholics in the Middle East
The Assyrians of all denominations suffered a number of religiously and ethnically motivated massacres throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, culminating in the large scale Hamidian massacres of unarmed men, women and children by Muslim Turks and Kurds in the late 19th century at the hands of the Ottoman Empire and its associated (largely Kurdish and Arab) militias, which further greatly reduced numbers, particularly in southeastern Turkey.
A further catastrophic series of events occurred during World War I in the form of the religiously and ethnically motivated Assyrian Genocide at the hands of the Ottomans and their Kurdish and Arab allies from 1915 to 1918. Some sources claim the highest number of Assyrians killed during the period was 750,000, while a 1922 Assyrian assessment set it at 275,000. The Assyrian Genocide ran largely in conjunction to the similarly motivated Armenian Genocide and Greek Genocide.
In reaction against Turkish cruelty, Assyrians took up arms, and an Assyrian war of independence was fought during World War I. For a time, the Assyrians fought successfully against overwhelming numbers, scoring a number of victories over the Ottomans and Kurds, and also hostile Arab and Iranian groups; then their Russian allies left the war following the Russian Revolution, and Armenian resistance broke. The Assyrians were left cut off, surrounded, and without supplies, forcing those in Asia Minor and Northwest Iran to fight their way, with civilians in tow, to the safety of British lines and their fellow Assyrians in northern Iraq. The sizeable Assyrian presence in south eastern Anatolia which had endured for over four millennia was thus reduced to no more than 15,000 by the end of World War I, and those few who were left were deported in 1924. However, further west in the Mardin Province of Turkey, a Syriac-Assyrian community still exists in the Tur Abdin region, as some of them avoided both deportation and genocide due to a deal between them and the Turks.
In 1963, the Ba'ath Party took power by force in Iraq. The Baathists, though secular, were Arab nationalists, and set about attempting to Arabize the many non-Arab peoples of Iraq, including the Assyrians. Other non-Arab ethnic groups targeted for forced Arabization included Kurds, Armenians, Turcomans, Mandeans, Yezidi, Shabaki, Kawliya, Persians and Circassians. This policy included refusing to acknowledge the Assyrians as an ethnic group, banning the publication of written material in Eastern Aramaic, and banning its teaching in schools, banning parents giving Assyrian names to their children, banning Assyrian political parties, taking control of Assyrian churches, attempting to create divisions amongst Assyrians on denominational lines (e.g. Assyrian Church of the East vs Chaldean Catholic Church vs Syriac Orthodox vs Assyrian Protestant), forced relocations of Assyrians from their traditional homelands to major cities, together with an attempt to Arabize the ancient pre-Arab heritage of Mesopotamian civilisation. In response to Baathist persecution, the Assyrians of the Zowaa movement within the Assyrian Democratic Movement took up armed struggle against the Iraqi regime in 1982 under the leadership of Yonadam Kanna, and then joined up with the IKF in early 1990s. Yonadam Kanna in particular was a target of the Ba'ath regime for many years.
The policies of the Baathists have also long been mirrored in Turkey, whose nationalist governments have refused to acknowledge the Assyrians as an ethnic group since the 1920s, and have attempted to Turkify the Assyrians by calling them "Semitic Turks" and forcing them to adopt Turkish names and language. In Baathist Syria too, the Assyrian (and Syriac-Aramean) Christians faced pressure to identify as "Arab Christians", while in Iran, Assyrians continued to enjoy full cultural, religious and ethnic rights- but due to Iran being cut off from most areas due to sanctions and being a generally repressive country regardless of specific ethnic freedoms, many Assyrians immigrated after the Islamic revolution of 1979.
In recent years, particularly since 2014, the Assyrians of all denominations in northern Iraq and north east Syria have become the target of unprovoked Islamic terrorism. As a result, Assyrians have taken up arms, alongside other groups (such as the Kurds, Turcomans and Armenians) in response to unprovoked attacks by Al Qaeda, ISIL, Nusra Front, and other Wahhabi terrorist Islamic fundamentalist groups. In 2014 Islamic terrorists of ISIS attacked Assyrian towns and villages in the Assyrian homelands of northern Iraq and north east Syria, together with cities such as Mosul, Kirkuk and Hasakeh which have large Assyrian populations. There have been reports of a litany of religiously motivated atrocities committed by ISIS terrorists since, including; beheadings, crucifixions, child murders, rape of women and girls, torture, forced conversions, ethnic cleansing, robbery, kidnappings, theft of homes, and extortion in the form of illegal taxes levied upon non Muslims. Assyrians forced from their homes in cities such as Mosul have had their houses and possessions stolen, and given over to ISIS terrorists or Sunni Arabs.
In addition, the Assyrians have suffered seeing their ancient indigenous heritage desecrated, in the form of Bronze Age and Iron Age monuments and archaeological sites, as well as numerous Assyrian churches and monasteries, being systematically vandalised and destroyed by ISIS. These include the ruins of Nineveh, Kalhu (Nimrud, Assur, Dur-Sharrukin and Hatra.
Assyrians in both northern Iraq and north east Syria have responded by forming armed Assyrian militias to defend their territories, and despite being heavily outnumbered and outgunned have had success in driving ISIS from Assyrian towns and villages, and defending others from attack. Armed Assyrian militias have also joined forces with other peoples persecuted by ISIS and Sunni Muslim extremists, including; the Kurds, Turcoman, Yezidis, Syriac-Aramean Christians, Shabaks, Armenian Christians, Kawilya, Mandeans, Circassians and Shia Muslim Arabs and Iranians.
The 1896 census of the Chaldean Catholics counted 233 parishes and 177 churches or chapels, mainly in northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey. The Chaldean Catholic clergy numbered 248 priests; they were assisted by the monks of the Congregation of St. Hormizd, who numbered about one hundred. There were about 52 Assyrian Chaldean schools (not counting those conducted by Latin nuns and missionaries). At Mosul there was a patriarchal seminary, distinct from the Chaldean seminary directed by the Dominicans. The total number of Assyrian Chaldean Christians is nearly 1.4 million, 78,000 of whom are in the Diocese of Mosul.
The current patriarch considers Baghdad as the principal city of his see. His title of "Patriarch of Babylon" results from the identification of Baghdad with ancient Babylon (however Baghdad is 55 miles north of the ancient city of Babylon and corresponds to northern Babylonia). However, the Chaldean patriarch resides habitually at Mosul in the north, and reserves for himself the direct administration of this diocese and that of Baghdad.
There are five archbishops (resident respectively at Basra, Diyarbakır, Kirkuk, Salmas and Urmia) and seven bishops. Eight patriarchal vicars govern the small Assyrian Chaldean communities dispersed throughout Turkey and Iran. The Chaldean clergy, especially the monks of Rabban Hormizd Monastery, have established some missionary stations in the mountain districts dominated by The Assyrian Church of the East. Three dioceses are in Iran, the others in Turkey.
The liturgical language of the Chaldean Catholic Church is Syriac, a Neo-Aramaic dialect originating in 5th century BC Achaemenid Assyria (Athura) during the Achaemenid Empire. The liturgy of the Chaldean Church is written in the Syriac alphabet.
The literary revival in the early 20th century was mostly due to the Lazarist Pere Bedjan, an ethnic Assyrian Chaldean Catholic from north western Iran. He popularized the ancient chronicles, the lives of Assyrian saints and martyrs, and even works of the ancient Assyrian doctors among Assyrians of all denominations, including Chaldean Catholics, Syriac Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East and Assyrian Protestants.
In March 2008, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul was kidnapped, and found dead two weeks later. Pope Benedict XVI condemned his death. Sunni and Shia leaders also expressed their condemnation.
Chaldean Catholics today number approximately 550,000 of Iraq's estimated 800,000-1,000,000 Assyrian Christians, with smaller numbers found among the Assyrian Christian communities of northeast Syria, southeast Turkey, northwest Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Armenia. Perhaps the best known Iraqi Chaldean Catholic is former Iraqi deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz (real name Michael Youhanna).
Hundreds of thousands of Assyrian Christians of all denominations have left Iraq since the ousting of Saddam Hussein in 2003. At least 20,000 of them have fled through Lebanon to seek resettlement in Europe and the US.
As political changes sweep through many Arab nations, the ethnic Assyrian minorities in northeast Syria, northwest Iran and southeast Turkey have also expressed concern.
Due to the fact that Chaldeans are a Religious group, church censuses can be utilized to determine how many Chaldeans there are.
|Diocese||No. of Villages||No. of Churches||No. of Priests||No. of Families||Diocese||No. of Villages||No. of Churches||No. of Priests||No. of Families|
Paulin Martin's statistical survey in 1867, after the creation of the dioceses of ʿAqra, Zakho, Basra and Sehna by Joseph Audo, recorded a total church membership of 70,268, more than three times higher than Badger's estimate. Most of the population figures in these statistics have been rounded up to the nearest thousand, and they may also have been exaggerated slightly, but the membership of the Chaldean church at this period was certainly closer to 70,000 than to Badger's 20,000.
|Diocese||No. of Villages||No. of Priests||No. of Believers||Diocese||No. of Villages||No. of Churches||No. of Believers|
A statistical survey of the Chaldean church made in 1896 by J. B. Chabot included, for the first time, details of several patriarchal vicariates established in the second half of the 19th century for the small Chaldean communities in Adana, Aleppo, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Edessa, Kermanshah and Teheran; for the mission stations established in the 1890s in several towns and villages in the Qudshanis patriarchate; and for the newly created Chaldean diocese of Urmi. According to Chabot, there were mission stations in the town of Serai d’Mahmideh in Taimar and in the Hakkari villages of Mar Behıshoʿ, Sat, Zarne and 'Salamakka' (Ragula d'Salabakkan).
|Diocese||No. of Villages||No. of Priests||No. of Believers||Diocese||No. of Villages||No. of Churches||No. of Believers|
The last pre-war survey of the Chaldean church was made in 1913 by the Chaldean priest Joseph Tfinkdji, after a period of steady growth since 1896. The Chaldean church on the eve of the First World War consisted of the patriarchal archdiocese of Mosul and Baghdad, four other archdioceses (Amid, Kirkuk, Seert and Urmi), and eight dioceses (ʿAqra, ʿAmadiya, Gazarta, Mardin, Salmas, Sehna, Zakho and the newly created diocese of Van). Five more patriarchal vicariates had been established since 1896 (Ahwaz, Constantinople, Basra, Ashshar and Deir al-Zor), giving a total of twelve vicariates.
Tfinkdji's grand total of 101,610 Catholics in 199 villages is slightly exaggerated, as his figures included 2,310 nominal Catholics in twenty-one 'newly converted' or 'semi-Nestorian' villages in the dioceses of Amid, Seert and ʿAqra, but it is clear that the Chaldean church had grown significantly since 1896. With around 100,000 believers in 1913, the membership of the Chaldean church was only slightly smaller than that of the Qudshanis patriarchate (probably 120,000 East Syrians at most, including the population of the nominally Russian Orthodox villages in the Urmi district). Its congregations were concentrated in far fewer villages than those of the Qudshanis patriarchate, and with 296 priests, a ratio of roughly three priests for every thousand believers, it was rather more effectively served by its clergy. Only about a dozen Chaldean villages, mainly in the Seert and ʿAqra districts, did not have their own priests in 1913.
|Diocese||No. of Villages||No. of Churches||No. of Priests||No. of Believers||Diocese||No. of Villages||No. of Churches||No. of Priests||No. of Believers|
Tfinkdji's statistics also highlight the effect on the Chaldean church of the educational reforms of the patriarch Joseph VI Audo. The Chaldean church on the eve of the First World War was becoming less dependent on the monastery of Rabban Hormizd and the College of the Propaganda for the education of its bishops. Seventeen Chaldean bishops were consecrated between 1879 and 1913, of whom only one (Stephen Yohannan Qaynaya) was entirely educated in the monastery of Rabban Hormizd. Six bishops were educated at the College of the Propaganda (Joseph Gabriel Adamo, Thomas Audo, Jeremy Timothy Maqdasi, Isaac Khudabakhash, Theodore Msayeh and Peter ʿAziz), and the future patriarch Joseph Emmanuel Thomas was trained in the seminary of Ghazir near Beirut. Of the other nine bishops, two (Addaï Scher and Francis David) were trained in the Syro-Chaldean seminary in Mosul, and seven (Philip Yaʿqob Abraham, Yaʿqob Yohannan Sahhar, Eliya Joseph Khayyat, Shlemun Sabbagh, Yaʿqob Awgin Manna, Hormizd Stephen Jibri and Israel Audo) in the patriarchal seminary in Mosul.
Predominantly Chaldean Catholic towns in northern Iraq
- Alqosh (ܐܠܩܘܫ)
- Ankawa (ܥܢܟܒ݂ܐ)
- Araden (ܐܪܕܢ)
- Baqofah (ܒܝܬ ܩܘܦ̮ܐ)
- Batnaya (ܒܛܢܝܐ)
- Karamles (ܟܪܡܠܫ)
- Tel Isqof (ܬܠܐ ܙܩܝܦ̮ܐ)
- Tel Keppe (ܬܠ ܟܦܐ)
- Assyrian people
- Syriac Orthodox Christians
- Assyrian continuity
- List of Assyrians
- Names of Syriac Christians
- Ancient Church of the East
- Assyrian Church of the East
- Syriac Orthodox Church
- Assyrian Pentecostal Church
- Assyrian Evangelical Church
- Assyrian genocide
- Chaldean town
- Achaemenid Assyria
- Upper Mesopotamia
- East Syrian Rite
- Emmanuel III Delly
- List of Assyrian settlements
- Etymology of Syria
- Syriac language
- Assyrian diaspora
- Semitic people
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- “A difficulty now arose; the new converts styled themselves 'Sooraye' and 'Nestornaye' . The Romanists could not call them 'Catholic Syrians' or 'Syrian Catholics' for this appellation they had already given to their proselytes from the Jacobites, who also called themselves 'Syrians'. They could not term them 'Catholic Nestorians,' as Mr. Justin Perkins, the independent American missionary does, for this would involve a contradiction. What more natural, then, than that they should have applied to them the title of 'Chaldeans' to which they had some claims of nationality, in virtue of their Assyrian Descent.” - Asshur and the Land of Nimrod” by Hormuzd Rassam
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