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Assyrian flag (since 1968)[62]
Chaldean flag (since 1997)[63]
Syriac flag[64]

Assyrian people

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Assyrians)
Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac people
Sūrāyē / Sūryāyē / Āṯūrāyē [1]
Assyrian info.jpg
Ashurnasirpal II  Abgar V of Edessa  Ephrem the Syrian  Pope Constantine  Naum Faiq  Agha Putrus  Freydun Atturaya  Alphonse Mingana  Ammo Baba  Rosie Malek Yonan  Andre Agassi  Kennedy Bakirciogl
Total population
3.3 million[2] - 4.2 million (1994)[3]
Regions with significant populations
Middle East    
  Iraq 911,987 - 600,000 - 800,000 [4][5][6]
  Syria 877,000 - 1,139,000 [7][8]
  Iran 74,000 80,000 [9][10]
  Turkey 24,000 70,000 [9][11]
  Lebanon 100,000 [12]
  Sweden 100,000 - 120,000 [13][14]
  United States 100,000 - 490,000 [15][9]
  Jordan 100,000 - 150,000 [16][17]
  Germany 90,000 [18]
  Australia 24,505 - 60,000 [19][20]
  Canada 38,000 [21]
  Russia 70,000 [22]
  Netherlands 20,000 [22]
  France 20,000 [22]
  Belgium 15,000 [22]
  Switzerland 10,000 [22]
  Denmark 10,000 [22]
  Italy 3,000 [22]
Syriac, Neo-Aramaic
(also various Neo-Aramaic dialects)
Arabic, Persian, Turkish
Related ethnic groups
Other Semitic peoples

The Assyrian people[23] (originally and most commonly known as Assyrians and other later variants of the name, such as; Syriacs, Atorayeh, Ashuriyun, Assouri, Syriac Christians, Suroye/Suryoye,[24] Chaldo-Assyrians, (see names of Syriac Christians)) are a distinct ethnic group whose origins lie in ancient Mesopotamia. They are Eastern Aramaic speaking Semites who trace their ancestry back to the Sumero-Akkadian civilisation that emerged in Mesopotamia circa 3500 BC, and in particular to the northern region of the Akkadian lands, which would become known as Assyria by the 23rd Century BC. The Assyrian nation existed as an independent state, and often a powerful empire, from the 23rd century BC until the end of the 7th century BC. Today that ancient territory is part of several nations; Assyria was ruled as an occupied province under the rule of various empires from the late 7th century BC until the mid 7th century AD when it was dissolved, and the Assyrian people have gradually become a minority in their homelands since that time. They are indigenous to, and have traditionally lived all over Iraq, north east Syria, north west Iran, and the Southeastern Anatolia region of Turkey.[25]

Many have migrated to the Caucasus, North America, Australia and Europe during the past century or so. Diaspora and refugee communities are based in Europe (particularly Sweden, Great Britain, Denmark, Germany and France), North America, Australia, New Zealand, Lebanon, Armenia, Georgia,[26] southern Russia, Israel, Azerbaijan and Jordan.

Emigration was triggered by such events as the Assyrian genocide in the wake of the First World War during the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, the Simele massacre in Iraq (1933), the Islamic revolution in Iran (1979), Arab Nationalist Baathist policies in Iraq and Syria, the Al-Anfal Campaign of Saddam Hussein.[27] and to some degree Kurdish nationalist policies in northern Iraq.

The major sub-ethnic division is between an Eastern group ("Assyrian Church of the East" Assyrian "Chaldean Christians", "Syriac Orthodox", and "Ancient Church of the East") indigenous to Iraq, northwest Iran, northeast Syria and southeast Turkey, and a Western one ("Syrian Jacobites").

Most recently the Iraq War has displaced the regional Assyrian community, as its people have faced ethnic and religious persecution at the hands of both Sunni and Shia Islamic extremists and Arab and Kurdish nationalists. Of the one million or more Iraqis reported by the United Nations to have fled, nearly forty percent (40%) are Assyrian, although Assyrians comprise only 3% - 5% of the Iraqi population.[28][29][30]




This article is part of the series on the

History of the
Assyrian people

medieval icon depicting Ephrem the Syrian.
Ephrem the Syrian

Early history
Old Assyrian period (20th - 15th c. BC)
Aramaeans (14th - 9th c. BC)
Neo-Assyrian Empire (911 - 612 BC)
Achaemenid Assyria (539 - 330 BC)
Classical Antiquity
Seleucid Empire (312 - 63 BC)
Osroene (132 BC - 244 AD)
Syrian Wars (66 BC - 217 AD)
Roman Syria (64 BC - 637 AD)
Adiabene (15 - 116 AD)
Roman Assyria (116 - 118)
Christianization (1st to 3rd c.)
Nestorian Schism (5th c.)
Asuristan (226 - 651)
ByzantineSassanid Wars (502 - 628)
Middle Ages
Muslim conquest of Syria (630s)
Abassid rule (750-1256)
Emirs of Mosul (905-1383)
Principality of Antioch (1098-1268)
Turco-Mongol rule (1256-1370)
Modern History
Ottoman Empire (1534-1917)
Rise of nationalism (19th c.)
Assyrian Genocide (1914-1920)
Independence movement (since 1919)
Simele massacre (1933)
Post-Saddam Iraq (since 2003)
See also
History of Syria
History of Iraq
Assyrian diaspora

The Assyrian people can trace their ethnic and cultural origins to the indigenous population of pre-Islamic and pre-Arab Mesopotamia (in particular Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, Assyria, Babylon, Mari, Eshnunna, Adiabene, Osroene, Hatra and the province of Assyria under Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Roman and Sassanid rule, since before the time of the Akkadian Empire.

Mesopotamia was originally dominated by the Sumerians (from 3500 BC) and the native Semites, later to be collectively known as Akkadians lived alongside them. Akkadian ruled city states first appear circa 2800 BC. In the 24th century BC the Akkadians gained domination over the Sumerians under Sargon the Great who founded the worlds first empire. By the 21st century BC the Akkadian Empire had collapsed, and the Akkadians split into essentially two nations; Assyria and some time later, Babylonia, although Babylonia was ruled by non native dynasties for most of its history. According to the Assyrian King List the earliest Assyrian king was a 23rd century BC ruler named Tudiya. Assyria became a strong nation in the 21st and 20th century BC, founding colonies in Asia Minor. In the 19th century BC a new wave of Semites, the Amorites entered Mesopotamia from the west, usurping the thrones of the Akkadian states of Assyria, Isin and Larsa, and founded Babylon as an independent City State The Amorite rulers turned Assyria into a short lived imperial power from the late 19th century BC until the mid 18th century BC, However, after its fall to Babylon they were driven from Assyria by a king named Adasi in the late 18th Century BC, but eventually blended into the population of Babylonia in the south. By approximately 1800 BC, the Sumerian race appears to have been wholly absorbed by the Semitic Akkadian population. According to the story told in the Book of Genesis, it is around this time that the tribal leader Abraham travelled out of Mesopotamia and became the father of his people, the Hebrews.

Assyria and later Babylon, became major powers. There were further influxes of peoples such as Hurrians, Kassites and Mitanni, the Kassites ruled Babylon for over 500 years, and the Mitanni dominated Assyria for a brief period. The Kassites, like the Amorites before them, seem to have disappeared into the general population in Babylonia, while the Mitanni and Hurrians were overthrown and driven out of Assyria. Assyria then once again became a major imperial power from 1365 BC until 1076 BC, rivalling Egypt.

In the 12th century BC a new influx of Semites from the west took place, with the arrival of the Arameans. The Arameans originally set up small kingdoms within Mesopotamia, but were eventually brought under control and incorporated into Assyria and Babylonia where they were culturally and politically Akkadianized, and they ethnically intermixed and blended in with the native Akkadian population.

It was not until the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-608 BC) and the influx and interbreeding with Aramean tribes that the Assyrians and Babylonians began to speak Aramaic, the language of the Aramaean tribes who had been assimilated into the Assyrian empire and Mesopotamia in the 9th century BC.[31] Mass relocations were enforced by Assyrian kings of the Neo-Assyrian period.[32] During the period of the Neo-Assyrian Empire many Israelite Jews were deported to Assyria and a fair proportion of these were absorbed into the general population.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire (911 BC - 608 BC) saw a massive expansion of Assyrian power, Assyria became the center of the greatest empire the world had yet seen, with Babylon, Chaldea, Persia, Elam, Media, Gutium, Israel, Judah, Aramea (modern Syria), Phonecia/Canaan, Palestine, Mannea, much of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), the Neo-Hittite states, Corduene, Egypt, Cyprus, parts of the Caucasus, Dilmun, Samaria, Edom, Nabatea and Arabia brought under Assyrian control, the empire of Urartu defeated and conquered in the Caucasus, the Nubians, Ethiopians and Kushites defeated and driven from Egypt and the Phrygians paying tribute to Assyria.

After the fall of Nineveh

Following the distruction of the Neo-Assyrian Empire by 608 BC, the population of the Assyria came under the control of their Babylonian relatives until 539 BC. Ironically Nabonidus, the last king of Babylonia was himself from Assyria. From that time, Assyria as a political and named entity was under Persian Achaemenid, Macedonian, Seleucid, Parthian Arascid, Roman and Sassanid rule for seven centuries undergoing Christianization during this time. Assyria flourished during the Achaemenid period (from 539-323 BC), becoming a major source of manpower for the Achaemenid armies and a breadbasket for the empire, belieing the Biblical assertion that Assyria was both depopulated and devastated.[33][34] Assyrians are also attested as having important administrative posts within the empire.

The Seleucid empire succeeded that of the Achaemenids in 323 BC, from this point Greek became the official language of the empire at the expense of Mesopotamian Aramaic. The general populace of Assyria were not Hellenised however, as is attested by the survival of native language and religion. The province flourished much as it had under the Achaemenids for the next century, however by the late 3rd century BC Assyria became a battleground between the Seleucid Greeks and the Parthians but remained largely in Greek hands until the reign of Mithridates I when it fell to the Parthians. During the Seleucid period the term Assyria was altered to read Syria, a Mediterranean form of the original name that had been in use since the 8th or 9th century BC among some western Assyrian colonies. The Seleucid Greeks also named Aramea to the west Syria (read Assyria) as it had been an Assyrian colony for centuries. When they lost control of Assyria proper (which is northern Mesopotamia, north east Syria and part of south east Anatolia), they retained the name but applied it only to Aramea (i.e. The Levant). This created a situation where both Assyrians and Arameans to the west were referred to as Syrians by the Greco-Roman civilisations, causing the later Syrian Vs Assyrian naming controversy. It was renamed Assuristan during the Parthian era. The Parthians appeared to have exercised only loose control at times, leading to the virtual resurrection of Assyria with the native kingdom of Adiabene 15 BC to 117AD.[35] Its rulers were converts from Mesopotamian religion to Judaism and later Christianity, and it retained Mesopotamian Aramaic as its spoken tongue.[35]

Adiabene, like the rest of northern Mesopotamia was conquered by Trajan in 117 AD, and the region was named Assyria by the Romans. Christianity, as well as Gnostic sects such as the Sabians and Manicheanism took hold between the 1st and 3rd Centuries AD. The Parthians regained control of the region a few years later, and retained the name Assyria (Assuristan). Other small kingdoms had also sprung up in the region, namely Osrhoene and Hatra, which were Aramaic/Syriac speaking and at least partly Assyrian. Assyrian identity appears to have remained strong, with the 2nd century writer and theologian Tatian stating clearly that he is an Assyrian, as does the satirist Lucian in the same period. Assur itself also appears to have been independent or largely autonomous, with temples being dedicated to the national god of the Assyrians (Ashur) into the second half of the 3rd Century AD, before it was once again destroyed by the invading Sassanids in 256 AD. The Sassanids recognised the land as Assyria, retaining the name Assuristan. Assyrians still seem to have retained a distinct identity and a degree of local autonomy in the Sassanid period, during the 4th century the region around Nineveh was governed by a certain local Assyrian king, who was pointedly named Sennacherib, who established the Mar Behnam monastery in memory of his son.[36] In 341 AD, the Zoroastrian Shapur II ordered the massacre of all Christians in the Persian Empire, most of whom were Assyrians. During the persecution, about 1,150 Christians were martyred under Shapur II.[37] Assyria remained recognised as such by its inhabitants, Sassanid rulers and neighbouring peoples until after the Arab Islamic conquest of the second half of the 7th century AD.

These Assyrians became Christian in the first to third centuries.[38] They were divided by the Nestorian Schism in the fifth century, and from the eighth century, they became both an ethnic minority and a religious minority following the Arab Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia.

Arab conquest

After the Arab Islamic invasion and conquest of the 7th century AD, Assyria as a province was dissolved, but they continued to be referred to as Ashuriyun by the Arabs. Assyrians initially experienced some periods of religious and cultural freedom interspersed with periods of severe religious and ethnic persecution. As heirs to ancient Mesopotamian civilisation, they also contributed hugely to the Arab Islamic Civilization during the Ummayads and the Abbasids by translating works of Greek philosophers to Syriac and afterwards to Arabic. They also excelled in philosophy, science and theology ( such as Tatian, Bar Daisan, Babai the Great, Nestorius, Toma bar Yacoub etc.) and the personal physicians of the Abbasid Caliphs were often Assyrian Christians such as the long serving Bukhtishu dynasty.[39] However, non-Islamic proselyting was punishable by death under Sharia law, which led the Assyrians into preaching in Transoxania, Central Asia, India, Mongolia and China where they established numerous churches. The Church of the East was considered to be one of the major Christian powerhouses in the world, alongside Latin Christianity in Europe and the Byzantine Empire.[40]

From the 7th century AD onwards Mesopotamia saw a steady influx of Arabs, Kurds and other Iranic people,[41] and later Turkic peoples, and those retaining native Mesopotamian culture, identity, language, religion and customs were steadily marginalised and gradually became a minority in their own homeland.[42] This process of marginalisation was largely completed by the massacres of indigenous Assyrian Christians and other non-Muslims in Mesopotamia and its surrounds by Tamerlane the Mongol in the 14th century AD.[43] However, many Assyrian Christians survived the various massacres and pogroms, and resisted the process of Arabization and Islamification, retaining a distinct Mesopotamian identity, Mesopotamian Aramaic language and written script. The modern Assyrians or Chaldo-Assyrians of today are descendants of the indigenous inhabitants of Mesopotamia, and in particular Assyria, who refused to be converted to Islam or be Arabized.

Celebration at a Syriac Orthodox monastery in Mosul, Ottoman Syria, early 20th century.

Culturally, ethnically and linguistically distinct from, although both quite influencing on, and quite influenced by, their neighbours in the Middle Eastthe Arabs, Persians, Kurds, Turks, Jews and Armenians the Assyrians have endured much hardship throughout their recent history as a result of religious and ethnic persecution.[44][45]

Mongol and Turkic rule

The region came under the control of the Mongol Empire after the fall of Baghdad in 1258. The Mongol khans were sympathetic with Christians and didn't harm them. The most prominent among them was probably Isa Kelemechi, a diplomat, astrologer, and head of the Christian affairs in the Yuan Dynasty in China. He spent some time in Persia under the Ilkhans. The 14th century AD massacres of Timur in particular, devastated the Assyrian people. Timurs massacres and pillages of all that was Christian drastically reduced their existence. At the end of the reign of Timur, the Assyrian population had almost been eradicated in many places. Toward the end of the thirteenth century, Bar Hebraeus (or Bar-Abraya), the noted Assyrian scholar and hierarch, found much quietness in his diocese in Mesopotamia. Syrias diocese, he wrote, was wasted.

The region was later controlled by Turkic tribes such as the Aq Qoyunlu and Qara Qoyunlu. Seljuq and Arab emirate sought to extend their rule over the region as well.

Ottoman rule

The Ottomans secured their control over Mesopotamia and Syria in the 16th century. Non-Muslims were organised into millets. Syriac Christians, however, were often considered one millet alongside Armenians until the 19th century, when Nestorian, Syriac Orthodox and Chaldeans gained that right as well.[46]

Hakkari massacre

In 1842 Assyrians living in the mountains of Hakkari in south east Anatolia faced a massive unprovoked attack from Ottoman forces and Kurdish irregulars, which resulted in the death of tens of thousands of unarmed Christian Assyrians.[47]

Hamidian massacres

A major massacre of Assyrians (and Armenians) in the Ottoman Empire occurred between 1894 and 1897 AD by Turkish troops and their Kurdish henchmen during the rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. The motives for these massacres were an attempt to reassert Pan-Islamism in the Ottoman Empire, resentment at the comparative wealth of the ancient indigenous Christian communities, and a fear that they would attempt to secede from the tottering Ottoman Empire. Assyrians were massacred in Diyarbakir, Hasankeyef, Sivas and other parts of Anatolia, by Sultan Abdul Hamid II. These attacks caused the death of over thousands of Assyrians and the forced "Ottomanisation" of the inhabitants of 245 villages. The Turkish troops looted the remains of the Assyrian settlements and these were later stolen and occupied by Kurds. Unarmed Assyrian women and children were raped, tortured and murdered.[47]

Assyrian genocide

The most significant recent persecution against the Assyrian population was the Assyrian genocide, which occurred at the onset of the First World War (1914-1918 AD). Between 500,000 and 750,000 Assyrians were estimated to have been slaughtered by the armies of the Ottoman Empire and their Kurdish allies, totalling up to two-thirds of the entire population. This led to a large-scale resettlement of Turkish based Assyrian people in countries such as Syria, Iran and Iraq (where they suffered further violent assaults at the hands of the Arabs), as well as other neighbouring countries in and around the Middle East such as Armenia, Republic of Georgia and Russia.[48][49][50][51]

Modern history

Simele massacre

The Simele Massacre was the first of many massacres committed by the Iraqi Government during the systematic targeting of Assyrians of Northern Iraq in August 1933. The term is used to describe not only the massacre of Simele, but also the killing spree that continued among 63 Assyrian villages in the Dohuk and Mosul districts that led to the deaths of an estimated 3,000 or more civilian Assyrians.

Arab Ba'athist persecution

The Ba'ath Party seized power in Iraq and Syria in 1963, which introduced laws that aimed at suppressing the Assyrian national identity, the Arab Nationalist policies of the Ba'athists included renewed attempts to "Arabize" the Assyrians. The giving of traditional Assyrian/Akkadian names and Aramaic/Syriac versions of Biblical names was banned, Assyrian schools, political parties, churches and literature were repressed and Assyrians were heavily pressured into identifying as Arab Christians. The Ba'athist regime refused to recognise Assyrians as an ethnic group.[52]

The al-Anfal Campaign of 1986-1989 in Iraq was predominantly aimed at Kurds, however it saw many Assyrian towns and villages razed to the ground, a number of Assyrians were murdered, others were deported to large cities, their land and homes then being appropriated by Arabs and Kurds.[53]

Kurdish persecution

After the established of the Kurdish Regional Government after 1991, the Kurdish Parliament passed a few laws permitting Kurdish settlers to seize lands owned by Assyrians. Assyrians, together with other ethnic minorities in northern Iraq, have since suffered a great degree of discrimination and pressure from Kurdish Nationalists, this includes the officially sanctioned theft of Assyrian land, political intimidation against Assyrian political parties, ethnic and religious discrimination and a number of kidnappings and murders. [52][54][55]

Iraq War & Islamist attacks

Since the Iraq War started in 2003, social unrest and anarchy have resulted in unprovoked persecution of Assyrians in Iraq, mostly by Islamic extremists,(both Shia and Sunni), and to some degree by Kurdish Nationalists. In places such as Dora, a neighborhood in southwestern Baghdad, the majority of its Assyrian population has either fled abroad, to northern Iraq or been murdered.[56]

Islamic resentment over the United States occupation of Iraq, and incidents such as the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons and the Pope Benedict XVI Islam controversy, have resulted in their attacking the Assyrian Christian communities. Since the start of the Iraq war, at least 46 churches and monasteries have been bombed.[57]

However, the new Iraqi government now officially recognises Assyrians ethnic and cultural identity, listing them as Chaldo-Assyrians (Ironically something the "Western Media" often refuses to do). The idea of an Assyrian homeland has not been rejected, and the ban on the giving of Assyrian names, teaching the Assyrian language and on Assyrian schools has been lifted. Assyrians have formed armed militias in an around Assyrian towns, villages and districts.

Many of the Assyrians who have suffered violent attacks in predominantly Arab Muslim cities such as Baghdad, Nasiriyah and Basra have moved north to their traditional homeland and are now congregating there, boosting numbers (A number of the ethnically and linguistically related Mandeans are doing the same). There has also been some small scale resettlement over the border in south east Turkey.


Assyrian world popualtion.

  more than 500,000
  100,000 - 500,000
  50,000 - 100,000
  10,000 - 50,000


The Assyrians are considered to be one of the indigenous people in the Middle East. Their homeland was thought to be located in the area around the Tigris and Euphrates. Assyrians are traditionally from Iraq, south eastern Turkey, north western Iran and north eastern Syria. There is a significant Assyrian population in Syria, where an estimated 877,000 Assyrians live.[58] Though it must be pointed out that Syriac Christians from western, central and southern Syria are not generally regarded as Assyrians but rather as Arameans. The true Assyrians of Syria reside mainly in northeastern and eastern Syria, particularly in the Al-Hasakah region. In Tur Abdin, known as a homeland for Assyrians, there are only 3,000 left,[59] and an estimated 25,000 in all of Turkey.[60] After the 1915 Assyrian genocide many Assyrians/Syriacs also fled into Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Iraq and into the Western world.

The Assyrian/Syriac people can be divided along geographic, linguistic, and denominational lines, the three main groups being:


Since the Assyrian Genocide, many Assyrians have fled their homelands for a more safe and comfortable life in the West. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the Assyrian population in the Middle East has decreased dramatically. As of today there are more Assyrians in Europe, North America, and Australia than in their former homeland.

A total of 550,000 Assyrians live in Europe.[61] Large Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac diaspora communities can be found in Germany, Sweden, the USA, and Australia. The largest Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac diaspora communities are those of Sdertlje, Chicago, and Detroit.


Assyrian flag (since 1968)[62]


Chaldean flag (since 1997)[63]


Assyrians are divided among several churches (see below). They speak, and many can read and write, dialects of Neo-Aramaic.[65]

In certain areas of the Assyrian homeland, identity within a community depends on a person's village of origin (see List of Assyrian villages) or Christian denomination rather than their ethnic commonality, for instance Chaldean Catholic.[66]

Today, Assyrians and other minority ethnic groups in the Middle East, feel pressure to identify as "Arabs",[67][68] "Turks" and "Kurds".[69] Assyrians in Syria who live outside of the traditionally and historically Assyrian northeastern region of the country are disappearing as an ethnic group, due to assimilation.[citation needed]

Neo-Aramaic exhibits remarkably conservative features compared with Imperial Aramaic,[70] and the earliest European visitors to northern Mesopotamia in modern times encountered a people called "Assyrians" and men with ancient Assyrian names such as Sargon and Sennacherib.[71][72][73] The Assyrians manifested a remarkable degree of linguistic, religious, and cultural continuity from the fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire through to the time of the ancient Greeks, Persians, and Parthians through periods of medieval Byzantine, Arab, Persian, and Ottoman rule.[74]

Assyrian nationalism emphatically connects Modern Assyrians to the population of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. A historical basis of this sentiment has been disputed by a few early historians,[75] but receives support from modern Assyriologists like H.W.F. Saggs, Robert D. Biggs, Giorgi Tsereteli and Simo Parpola,[76][77][78] and Iranologists like Richard Nelson Frye.[79][80] Nineteenth century orientalists such as Austen Henry Layard and Hormuzd Rassam also support this view. This controversy does not appear to exist in parts of the region however, as Armenian, Georgian, Russian, Persian and some Arab records have always referred to Assyrians as Assyrians.


The various communities of indigenous Pre Arab Neo-Aramaic-speaking people of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Turkey and Lebanon and the surrounding areas advocate different terms for ethnic self-designation. It may be the case that the "Assyrian/Chaldo-Assyrian/Eastern Syriac" group and the "Aramean"/"Western Syriac" and "Phoenician" groups are merely closely related and not in fact exactly the same people.

  • "Chaldo-Assyrians", is a term used by the Iraqi government to designate the indigenous Aramaic speaking Christians of Iraq. It intrinsically acknowledges that both the term Assyrian and Chaldean refer to the same ethnic group. Some Assyrians also use this term in order to defuse arguments over naming along denominational lines.
  • "Chaldeans", after ancient Chaldea, advocated by a minority of followers of the Chaldean Catholic Church who are mainly based in the United States. This is mainly a denominational rather than ethnic term, though a few Chaldean Catholics espouse a distinct Chaldean ethnic identity. However it is likely that these are exactly the same people as the Assyrians, both having the same culture and originating from the same lands.
  • "Syriacs", advocated by some followers of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Syriac Catholic Church and to a much lesser degree Maronite Church. Those self identifying as Syriacs tend to be from western, northwestern,southern and central Syria as well as south central Turkey. The term Syriac is the subject of some controversy, as it is generally accepted by most scholars that it is a Luwian and Greek corruption of Assyrian. The discovery of the ineky inscription seems to settle conclusively in favour of Assyria being the origin of the terms Syria and Syriac. For this reason, some Assyrians also accept the term Syriac as well as Assyrian as it is taken to mean the same thing. It is likely that Syriacs from these regions are in fact Arameans rather than Assyrians, as geographically they are not from Mesopotamia or the immediate areas surrounding it. Only a minority of those identifying as Syriacs now speak Aramaic, and most are now Arabic speaking.

Other groups of "Syriac Christians" are geographically, linguistically and ethnically separate from the "Assyrian/Chaldo-Assyrian/Syriac" people. There include;

  • "Arameans" advocated by a number of indigenous Christians in western, northwestern,southern and central Syria as well as south central Turkey. They reject the term Syriac because of its probable Assyrian origin, and because they are not in fact geographically from Assyria or Mesopotamia in general, but rather are pre Arab inhabitants of lands that encompass the traditional Aramean homeland, which is in effect most of modern Syria. Few of those identifying as Aramean now speak Aramaic, and most are now Arabic speaking.
  • "Phoenicians" Many Maronites identify with a Phoenician origin however and do not see themselves as Syriac or Aramean. These tend to be from Lebanon and the Mediterranean coast of Syria, an area roughly corresponding to ancient Phoenicia. They are of pre Arab and pre Islamic origin, and thus identify with the ancient pre Arab and pre Islamic population of that region.

In addition Western Media often makes no mention whatsoever of any ethnic identity of the Christian people of the region, and simply call them Christians or Iraqi Christians, Iranian Christians, Syrian Christians, Turkish Christians etc. This label is rejected by all Assyrian/Syriac Christians as well as Aramean, Phoenician and Coptic Christians, as it wrongly implies no difference other than theological with the Muslim Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Iranians and Azeris of the region.

Assyrian vs Syrian naming controversy

As early as the 8th century BC Luwian and Cilician subject rulers referred to their Assyrian overlords as Syrian, a western Indo-European bastardisation of the true term Assyrian. This corruption of the name took hold in the Hellenic lands to the west of the old Assyrian Empire, thus during Greek Seleucid rule from 323 BC the name Assyria was altered to Syria, and this term was also applied to Aramea to the west which had been an Assyrian colony. When the Seleucids lost control of Assyria to the Parthians they retained the corrupted term (Syria), applying it to ancient Aramea, while the Parthians called Assyria Assuristan, a Parthian form of the original name. It is from this period that the Syrian vs Assyrian controversy arises. Today it is accepted by the majority of scholars that the Medieval, Renaissance and Victorian term Syriac when used to describe the indigenous Christians of Mesopotamia and its immediate surrounds in effect means Assyrian.[82]

The modern terminological problem goes back to colonial times, but it became more acute in 1946, when with the independence of Syria, the adjective Syrian referred to an independent state. The controversy isn't restricted to exonyms like English "Assyrian" vs. "Aramaean", but also applies to self-designation in Neo-Aramaic, the minority "Aramaean" faction endorses both Sūryāyē ܣܘܪܝܝܐ and Ārāmayē ܐܪܡܝܐ, while the majority "Assyrian" faction insists on Āṯūrāyē ܐܬܘܪܝܐ but also accepts Sūryāyē ܣܘܪܝܝܐ.

Alqosh, located in the midst of Assyrian contemporary civilization.

The question of ethnic identity and self-designation is sometimes connected to the scholarly debate on the etymology of "Syria". The question has a long history of academic controversy, but majority mainstream opinion currently strongly favours that Syria is indeed ultimately derived from the Assyrian term 𒀸𒋗𒁺 𐎹 Aūrāyu.[80][83][84] Meanwhile, some scholars has disclaimed the theory of Syrian being derived from Assyrian as "simply naive", and detracted its importance to the naming conflict.[85]

Rudolf Macuch points out that the Eastern Neo-Aramaic press initially used the term "Syrian" (suryta) and only much later, with the rise of nationalism, switched to "Assyrian" (atorta).[86] According to Tsereteli, however, a Georgian equivalent of "Assyrians" appears in ancient Georgian, Armenian and Russian documents.[87] This correlates with the theory of the nations to the East of Mesopotamia knew the group as Assyrians, while to the West, beginning with Greek influence, the group was known as Syrians. Syria being a Greek corruption of Assyria.

The debate appears to have been settled by the discovery of the ineky inscription in favour of Syria being derived from Assyria.

The ineky inscription is a Hieroglyphic Luwian-Phoenician bilingual, uncovered from ineky, Adana Province, Turkey (ancient Cilicia), dating to the 8th century BC. Originally published by Tekoglu and Lemaire (2000),[88] it was more recently the subject of a 2006 paper published in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies, in which the author, Robert Rollinger, lends support to the age-old debate of the name "Syria" being derived from "Assyria" (see Etymology of Syria).

The object on which the inscription is found is a monument belonging to Urikki, vassal king of Hiyawa (i.e. Cilicia), dating to the eighth century BC. In this monumental inscription, Urikki made reference to the relationship between his kingdom and his Assyrian overlords. The Luwian inscription reads "Sura/i" whereas the Phoenician translation reads R or "Ashur" which, according to Rollinger (2006), "settles the problem once and for all".[89]


Assyrian child dressed in traditional clothes.

Assyrian culture is largely influenced by religion.[90] The language is tied to the church as well for it uses the Syriac language in liturgy.[clarification needed] Festivals occur during religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas. There are also secular holidays such as Kha b-Nisan (vernal equinox).[91]

People often greet and bid relatives farewell with a kiss on each cheek and by saying "Peace be upon you." Others are greeted with a handshake with the right hand only; according to Middle Eastern customs, the left hand is associated with evil. Similarly, shoes may not be left facing up, one may not have their feet facing anyone directly, whistling at night is thought to waken evil spirits, etc.[92]

There are many Assyrian customs that are common in other Middle Eastern cultures. A parent will often place an eye pendant on their baby to prevent "an evil eye being cast upon it".[93] Spitting on anyone or their belongings is seen as a grave insult.


ܐ    ܒ    ܓ    ܕ    ܗ    ܘ
ܙ    ܚ    ܛ    ܝ    ܟܟ    ܠ
ܡܡ    ܢܢ    ܣ    ܥ    ܦ
ܨ    ܩ    ܪ    ܫ    ܬ

The Neo-Aramaic languages are ultimately descended from Old Aramaic, the lingua franca in the later phase of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, displacing the East Semitic Assyrian dialect of Akkadian. Aramaic was the language of commerce, trade and communication and became the vernacular language of Assyria in classical antiquity.[94][95][96]

By the 1st century AD, Akkadian was extinct, although some loaned vocabulary still survives in Assyrian Neo-Aramaic to this day.[97][98]

Most Assyrians speak an Eastern Aramaic language whose dialects include Chaldean and Turoyo as well as Assyrian.[99] All are classified as Neo-Aramaic languages and are written using Syriac script, a derivative of the ancient Aramaic script. Assyrians also may speak one or more languages of their country of residence.

To the native speaker, "Syriac" is usually called Soureth or Suret. A wide variety of dialects exist, including Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, and Turoyo. Being stateless, Assyrians also learn the language or languages of their adopted country, usually Arabic, Armenian, Persian or Turkish. In northern Iraq and western Iran, Turkish and Kurdish is widely spoken.

Recent archaeological evidence includes a statue from Syria with Assyrian and Aramaic inscriptions.[100] It is the oldest known Aramaic text.


Assyrians were originally Pagans, who where followers of Ashurism, an Assyro-Babylonian religion, which is the Ancient Mesopotamian religion, and some adopted Judaism, Gnosticism and Manicheanism; however most now belong to various Christian denominations such as the Church of the East, with an estimated 300,000400,000 members,[101] the Chaldean Catholic Church, with about 900,000 members,[102] and the Syriac Orthodox Church (ʿIdto Suryoyto Triṣaṯ uḇḥo), which has between 1,000,000 and 4,000,000 members around the world (only some of whom are Assyrians),[103] and various Protestant churches. While Assyrians are predominantly Christians, a number are generally irreligious.

As of 2011 Mar Dinkha IV, resident in Chicago Illinois, was Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Addai II, with headquarters in Baghdad, was Patriarch of the Ancient Church of the East, and Ignatius Zakka I Iwas was Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, with headquarters in Damascus. Mar Emmanuel III Delly, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, was the first Patriarch to be elevated to Cardinal, joining the college of cardinals in November 2007.

Many members of the following churches consider themselves Assyrian. Ethnic identities are often deeply intertwined with religion, a legacy of the Ottoman Millet system. The group is traditionally characterized as adhering to various churches of Syriac Christianity and speaking neo-Aramaic languages. It is subdivided into:

A small minority of Assyrians of the above denominations accepted the Protestant Reformation in the 20th century, possibly due to British influences, and is now organized in the Assyrian Evangelical Church, the Assyrian Pentecostal Church and other Protestant Assyrian groups. These are always called Assyrians

Baptism and First Communion are celebrated extensively, similar to a Bris or Bar Mitzvah in Jewish communities. After a death, a gathering is held three days after burial to celebrate the ascension to heaven of the dead person, as of Jesus; after seven days another gathering commemorates their passing. A close family member wears only black clothes for forty days and nights, or sometimes a year, as a sign of mourning.


Assyrian/Syriacs playing Zoorna and Dahola

The abooba ܐܒܘܒܐ (basic flute) and ṭavla ܛܒ݂ܠܐ (large two-sided drum) became the most common musical instruments for tribal music. Some well known Assyrian/Syriac singers in modern times are Ashur Bet Sargis, Sargon Gabriel, Michael Dayan, Habib Mousa, Josef zer, Janan Sawa, Klodia Hanna, Juliana Jendo, and Linda George.

The first International Aramaic Music Festival was held in Lebanon from 1 August until 4 August 2008 for Assyrian people internationally. Assyrians are also involved in western contemporary music, such as Rock/Metal (Melechesh), Rap (Timz) and Techno/Dance (Aril Brikha).


Assyrians have numerous traditional dances which are performed mostly for special occasions such as weddings. Assyrian dance is a blend of both ancient indigenous and general near eastern elements.


Assyrian/Syriac festivals tend to be closely associated with their Christian faith, of which Easter is the most prominent of the celebrations. Assyrian/Syriac members of the Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church and Syriac Catholic Church follow the Gregorian calendar and as a result celebrate Easter on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25 inclusively.[104] While Assyrian/Syriac members of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Ancient Church of the East celebrate Easter on a Sunday between April 4 and May 8 inclusively on the Gregorian calendar (March 22 and April 25 on the Julian calendar). During Lent Assyrian/Syriacs are encouraged to fast for 50 days from meat and any other foods which are animal based.

Assyrians celebrate a number of festivals unique to their culture and traditions as well as religious ones:

  • Kha b-Nisan, the Assyrian new year, traditionally on April 1, though usually celebrated on Jaunuary 1. Assyrians usually wear traditional costumes and hold social events including parades and parties, dancing, and listening to poets telling the story of creation.
  • Som Baoutha, the Nineveh fest. It is a three-day period of fasting and prayer.
  • Somikka, the Assyrian version of Halloween, traditionally meant to scare children into fasting during Lent.

Assyrians also practice unique marriage ceremonies. The rituals performed during weddings are derived from many different elements from the past 3,000 years. An Assyrian wedding traditionally lasted a week. Today, weddings in the Assyrian homeland usually last 23 days; in the Assyrian diaspora they last 12 days.

Traditional clothing

Assyrian clothing varies from village to village. Clothing is usually blue, red, green, yellow, and purple; these colors are also used as embroidery on a white piece of clothing. Decoration is lavish in Assyrian costumes, and sometimes involves jewellery. The conical hats of traditional Assyrian dress have changed little over millennia from those worn in ancient Mesopotamia, and until the 19th and early 20th centuries the ancient Mesopotamian tradition of braiding or platting of hair, beards and moustaches was still commonplace.


Assyrian cuisine is similar to other Middle Eastern cuisines. It is rich in grain, meat, potato, cheese, bread and tomato. Typically rice is served with every meal, with a stew poured over it. Tea is a popular drink, and there are several dishes of desserts, snacks, and beverages. Alcoholic drinks such as wine and wheat beer are organically produced and drunk.


Distinctively Akkadian language names are attested into the Sassanid period (224 AD to 651 AD), before they were generally but not wholly replaced by Christian names. Biblical names in English/Arabic/Syriac variants are a Syriac tradition. Names such as Daniyyel/Daniel, Dawid, Gabriel, Michael/Mikhail, Gorges/Gewargis (George), Yaqo/Yako (Jacob), Yausep/Yosef (Joseph), Toma (Thomas), Peṭros (Peter), Yoḥannan/Ewan/Yonan/Younan, Yaunan (John/Jonathan), Iliya, Eshu/Esho (Jesus), Ishai (Jesse) and Meriam (Mary) are of clear religious origin, although many are of Aramaic origin.

Children are often given Biblical names, and, by Assyrian/Syriac patriots and traditionalists, Assyrian, Aramean and Akkadian names are given such as Ashur, Aram, Sinharib/Senacherib, Sargon, Shammiram, Ninus, Nimrod, Abgar, Aram, Afrem, and Aryu, etc... Akkadian last names are still common, such as; Ashur, Shamash, Akkad, Hadad, Dayan, Obelit etc.

French and English names are also given: Jean, Pierre, James. Names of Turkish and Arab origin are also prominent, for instance, Assyrians in south-eastern Turkey (Tur Abdin, Midyat) have predominantly Turkish surnames as a result of the Turkish law that forbids Assyrians to give their children Assyrian names.

Tribal and Clan names are often still used, normally with the Akkadian prefix Bit or neo-Aramaic prefix Bet (meaning house of, or people of), such as Bit Kasri, Bit Tiyari, Bit Eshtazin, Bit Bazi, Bit Shamasha etc.

Physical Appearance

Assyrians are of Caucasoid appearance, more specifically of a Near Eastern/Mediterranean type. In general, they tend to be olive skinned, with black or dark brown hair and dark eyes. Aquiline noses are common among many Assyrians. However, a number of Assyrians also have fair hair, fairer or browner skin and lighter eyes.


Late 20th century DNA analysis conducted by Cavalli-Sforza, Paolo Menozzi and Alberto Piazza, "shows that Assyrians have a distinct genetic profile that distinguishes their population from any other population."[105] 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.[106] 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 possibly bona fide descendants of their namesakes."[107] "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".[105] 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 religious affiliation.[108] In a 2006 study of the Y chromosome DNA of six regional Armenian 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." [109] It must be pointed out that genetic studies purporting to either prove or disprove any modern population's ancient ancestry are the subject of a degree of controversy, and it is notoriously difficult to conclusively prove either way with DNA studies.[citation needed]

See also






  1. ^ also transliterated Sūrōyē / Sūryōyē / Ōṯūrōyē; all of ā, ō and word-final ē transliterate Aramaic Ālaph ܐ. Nicholas Awde, Nineb Limassu, Nicholas Al-Jeloo, Modern Aramaic Dictionary & Phrasebook: (Assyrian/Syriac) (2007), ISBN 9780781810876, p. 4; see also Names of Syriac Christians.
  2. ^ [1], UNPO estimates
  3. ^ SIL Ethnologue estimate for the "ethnic population" associated with Assyrian Neo-Aramaic. [2]
  4. ^ [3], CIA World Factbook
  5. ^ Christians in Iraq total estimated to be some 500,000 after the Iraq war
  6. ^ Iraqi Christians' long history, BBC
  7. ^ [4]
  8. ^ Assyrians Face Escalating Abuses in "New Iraq", Lisa Sderlindh, Inter Press Service 1,139,000 including some 300,000 Assyrian refugees from Iraq
  9. ^ a b c name="Population" _moz_dirty="" Population,
  10. ^ [5], SIL Ethnologue "Assyrian Neo-Aramaic 15,000 in Iran (1994). Ethnic population: 80,000 (1994)" See also Christianity in Iran.
  11. ^ [6], SIL Ethnologue "Turoyo [tru] 3,000 in Turkey (1994 Hezy Mutzafi). Ethnic population: 50,000 to 70,000 (1994). Hrtevin [hrt] 1,000 (1999 H. Mutzafi). Originally Siirt Province. They have left their villages, most emigrating to the West, but some may still be in Turkey." See also Christianity in Turkey.
  12. ^ Brief History of Assyrians,
  13. ^ Demographics of Sweden, Swedish Language Council "Sweden has also one of the largest exile communities of Assyrian and Syriac Christians (also known as Chaldeans) with a population of around 100,000."
  14. ^ Brief History of Assyrians,
  15. ^ American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau
  16. ^ Thrown to the Lions, Doug Bandow, The America Spectator
  17. ^ Jordan Should Legally Recognize Displaced Iraqis As Refugees, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians Flee Iraq to Neighboring Jordan, ASSIST News Service
  18. ^ 70,000 Syriac Christians according to REMID (of which 55,000 Syriac Orthodox).
  19. ^ Ancestry (full classification list) Australian Bureau of Statistics
  20. ^ [7][8] More than two thirds of Iraqis in Australia (80,000) are Christians
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b c d e f g Brief History of Assyrians,
  23. ^ so identified in the United States Census
  24. ^ an anglicization of the Aramaic name, also as Suraye/Suryaye; e.g. in Al-Ali et al., New Approaches to Migration? (Routledge 2002, p. 20) used synonymously with "Syriac Christians".
  25. ^ *MacDonald, Kevin (2004-07-29). Socialization for Ingroup Identity among Assyrians in the United States. Paper presented at a symposium on socialization for ingroup identity at the meetings of the International Society for Human Ethology, Ghent, Belgium. "Based on interviews with community informants, this paper explores socialization for ingroup identity and endogamy among Assyrians in the United States. The Assyrians descent from the population of ancient Assyria (founded in the 23rd century BC), and have lived as a linguistic, political, religious, and ethnic minority in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey since the fall of the Assyrian Empire in 608 B.C. Practices that maintain ethnic and cultural continuity in the Near East, the United States and elsewhere include language and residential patterns, ethnically based Christian churches characterized by unique holidays and rites, and culturally specific practices related to life-cycle events and food preparation. The interviews probe parental attitudes and practices related to ethnic identity and encouragement of endogamy. Results are being analyzed.".
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  76. ^ Saggs, The Might That Was Assyria, pp. 290, 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 carry on with agricultural life, remembering traditions of the former cities. After seven or eight centuries and various vicissitudes, these people became Christians.
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  106. ^ 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): 8498
  107. ^ Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Paolo Menozzi, Alberto Piazza, The History and Geography of Human Genes, p. 243 [11]
  108. ^ Banoei et al., Human Biology. February 2008, v. 80, no, I, pp. 73-81., "Variation of DAT1 VNTR alleles and genotypes among old ethnic groups in Mesopotamia to the Oxus region""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."
  109. ^ Yepiskoposian et al., Iran and the Caucasus, Volume 10, Number 2, 2006 , pp. 191-208(18), "Genetic Testing of Language Replacement Hypothesis in Southwest Asia"

Further reading

External links


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