Assyrian people

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Assyrians celebrating Assyrian New Year (Akitu) in Nohadra (Duhok), Iraq

Assyrians, also known as Syriacs, Arameans and Chaldeans, are an ethnic group whose origins remain in what is today northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, southeastern Turkey and more recently northeastern Syria. They claim descent from ancient Assyria, a civilization that once existed in northern Mesopotamia from 2600 BC.

History[change | change source]

The Assyrians became Christian in the first to third centuries in Roman Syria and Roman Assyria. Along with the Arameans, Armenians, Greeks, and Nabataeans, they were among the first people to practice Christianity.[1] During the Muslim conquest in the 6th century, Assyrians became second-class citizens, and those who fought back Arabization and conversion to Islam were affected by strong religious, ethnic and cultural discrimination. They also did not enjoy the same political rights as Muslims.[2]

Map of Asōristān (226–637 AD)

From the 7th century AD onwards Mesopotamia saw the arrival of Arabs, Kurds and other Iranian peoples, and later Turkic peoples. Assyrians were set apart, and then slowly became a minority in their own homeland. But they did remain in large numbers in Upper Mesopotamia as late as the 14th century, and the city of Assur was still in use by Assyrians during the Islamic period until the mid-14th century when the Muslim Turco-Mongol ruler Timur carried a mass murder against Assyrians in the name of Islam, and that is when the Assyrian population was greatly lessened in their homeland.[3]

The Assyrians suffered a number of religiously and culturally driven slaughters throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, such as from Kurdish Emirs and the Ottomans. The notable event was the Assyrian genocide, done by the Ottoman Turks, which happened during the First World War.[4][5]

Most recently, the 2003 invasion of Iraq by United States and its allies, and the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, have forced out much of the remaining Assyrian community from their homeland because of ethnic and religious persecution at the hands of Islamic terrorists.[6]

Culture[change | change source]

Language[change | change source]

Assyrians speak modern Aramaic languages, though many would speak Arabic and Farsi, depending on what country they came from. Those in the diaspora speak the national language of that country, which typically will be English, German, Swedish, Dutch and French. Assyrians remaining in Iraqi Kurdistan may speak or understand Kurdish.[7]

Religion[change | change source]

Assyrian Church of the East, Beirut
Assyrian cuisine

Assyrians belong to many Christian denominations, such as the Syriac Orthodox Church, which has over 1 million members around the world, the Chaldean Catholic Church, with about 600,000 members,[8] the Assyrian Church of the East, with an estimated 400,000 members,[9] and the Ancient Church of the East, with some 100,000 members. A small amount of Assyrians accepted the Protestant Reformation. While there are some atheist Assyrians, they still associate with some denomination.[10]

Music[change | change source]

Assyrian music is a mixture of traditional folk music and western modern music genres, namely pop and soft rock, but also electronic dance music. Instruments traditionally used by Assyrians include the zurna and davula, but they also include guitars, pianos, violins, synthesizers (keyboards and electronic drums), and other instruments.

Dance[change | change source]

Assyrians have many traditional dances which are done mostly for special occasions such as weddings. Assyrian dance is a mix of both native and general Near Eastern elements. Assyrian folk dances are mainly made up of circle dances that are performed in a line, which may be straight, curved, or both. The most common form of Assyrian folk dance is khigga, which is commonly danced as the bride and groom are welcomed into the wedding reception.

Food[change | change source]

Assyrian food is similar to other Middle Eastern cuisines, and is rich in grains, meat, potato, cheese, bread, tomatoes, barley, meat, herbs, spices, as well as herbs, fermented dairy products, and pickles. Rice is given with every meal, with a stew put over it. Tea is a popular drink.

Identity[change | change source]

Assyrian flag (since 1968)[11]

Historically, the region of Assyria was a melting pot of many peoples that included Sumerians, Urartians, Hurrians, Babylonians, Akkadians, Amorites, Arameans, Jews, and the Hittites. Assyrians today are likely a mix of these ancient groups because the ancients generally mixed with their neighbors.[12]

The Assyrian identity was not based on an ethnic background at that time. In fact, Assyrians did not become an ethnic group until they became Christian in the 1st century AD. Only when Assyrians converted to Christianity, they became more closer with each other due to their religion.[13]

Today, some Assyrians call themselves Aramean, Syriac or Chaldean for religious, geographic and tribal reasons.[14][15] Assyrians and other minority ethnic groups in the Middle East, feel pressure to call themselves "Arabs",[16][17] "Turks" and "Kurds".[18]

Homeland[change | change source]

The Assyrian homeland in what is now northern Iraq
Assyrian world population.
  more than 500,000
  100,000 - 500,000
  50,000 - 100,000
  10,000 - 50,000
  less than 10,000

The Assyrian homeland includes the old cities of Nineveh (Mosul), Nuhadra (Dohuk), Arrapha/Beth Garmai (Kirkuk), Al Qosh, Tesqopa and Arbela (Erbil) in Iraq, Urmia in Iran, and Hakkari (a large region which comprises the modern towns of Yüksekova, Hakkâri, Çukurca, Şemdinli and Uludere), Edessa/Urhoy (Urfa), Harran, Amida (Diyarbakır) and Tur Abdin (Midyat and Kafro) in Turkey, among others.[19]

Subgroups[change | change source]

There are three main Assyrian subgroups: Eastern, Western, Chaldean.

  • The Eastern subgroup historically lived in Hakkari in the northern Zagros Mountains, the Simele and Sapna valleys in Dohuk, and parts of the Nineveh and Urmia Plains. They speak Northeastern Neo-Aramaic dialects and are religiously diverse.[20] and Protestantism.[21]
  • The Chaldean group is a subgroup of the Eastern one. The group is often likened with the followers of the Chaldean Catholic Church,[22] however not all Chaldean Catholics identify as Chaldean.[23][24] They are traditionally speakers of Northeastern Neo-Aramaic dialects, however there are some Turoyo speakers. In Iraq, Chaldean Catholics live in the western Nineveh Plains villages of Alqosh, Batnaya, Tel Keppe and Tesqopa, as well as the Nahla valley and Aqra.[25]
  • The Western subgroup, historically lived in Tur Abdin.[26][27] They mainly speak the Central Neo-Aramaic language, Turoyo.[28] Most are part of the West Syriac Rite churches,[20] such as the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch and the Syriac Catholic Church. Outside of the original Assyrian village in Tur Abdin, there were also big populations in the towns of Diyarbakır, Urfa, Harput, and Adiyaman.

Diaspora[change | change source]

Many Assyrians have gone to the Caucasus, North America, Australia and Northern Europe during the past century. Thousands more live in Assyrian diaspora communities in Canada, the former Soviet Union, New Zealand, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.[29][30]

Outside of the homeland, most Assyrians live in Sweden (100,000),[31] Germany (100,000),[32] the United States (80,000),[33] and in Australia (70,000).[34]

Script[change | change source]

Assyrian alphabet (Estrangela)

Assyrians mostly use the Syriac script, which is written from right to left. It is one of the Semitic abjads directly coming from the Aramaic alphabet and shares similarities with the Phoenician, Hebrew and the Arabic alphabets.[35] For easiness, many Assyrian people would also use the Latin alphabet, especially in social media.

The oldest sort of the alphabet is the ʾEsṭrangēlā script.[36] Even though ʾEsṭrangēlā is no longer used as the main script for writing Syriac, it has been reused again since the 10th century, and it has been added to the Unicode Standard in September, 1999.

The East Syriac dialect is usually written in the Maḏnḥāyā type of the alphabet, which is known as a "modern", simpler type.

The West Syriac dialect is normally written in the Serṭā form of the alphabet. Most of the letters come from ʾEsṭrangēlā, but are made easy.[37]

Genetics[change | change source]

Late-20th-century DNA investigation done by Cavalli-Sforza, Paolo Menozzi and Alberto Piazza shows that Assyrians have a distinct genetic profile that separate their population from any other population.[38] Genetic study of the Assyrians of Persia showed that they were "closed" with little mixture with the Muslim Persian population and that an single Assyrian's genetic makeup is comparatively close to that of the Assyrian population as a whole.[39][40] The genetic information goes well with history that religion played a big role in keeping the Assyrian population's separate identity during the Christian era.[38]

In a 2006 study of the Y chromosome DNA of six regional Armenian populations, including Assyrians and Syrians, researchers found that the Semitic people (Assyrians and Syrians) are very unalike from each other.[41] A 2008 study on the genetics of "old ethnic groups in Mesopotamia", including 340 people from seven ethnic communities such as Assyrian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Armenian, Turkmen, the Arab peoples in Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait, found that Assyrians were the most ethnically alike compared to all other ethnic groups sampled in the study.[42]

A 2011 study from the Armenian National Academy of Sciences showed that Assyrians are genetically far from Arabs and are more close to other populations of the Near East and the South Caucasus.[43] It was also shown that Assyrians are closely related to the people of Syunik and Karabakh in eastern Armenia, and are genetically far from all Arabic groups (which belong to a different bunch distant from Assyrians).[44]

In a 2017 study focusing on the genetics of Northern Iraqi groups, it was found that Iraqi Assyrians and Iraqi Yazidis were closer together, but away from the other Northern Iraqi populations, and largely in between the West Asian and Southeastern European populations. According to the study, modern Assyrians and Yazidis from northern Iraq may have a stronger relationship with the original genetic stock of the Mesopotamian people.[45]

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. Etheredge, Laura (2011). Iraq. Rosen Publishing. p. 72. ISBN 9781615303045.
  2. Bennett, Clinton (2005). Muslims and Modernity: An Introduction to the Issues and Debates. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 162, 163. ISBN 0-8264-5481-X. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
  3. "History of Ashur". Assur.de. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  4. Wigram, William Ainger (1920). Our Smallest Ally; Wigram, W[illiam] A[inger]; A Brief Account of the Assyrian Nation in the Great War. Introd. by General H.H. Austin. Soc. for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
  5. Naayem, Shall This Nation Die?, p. 281
  6. "Bathification of Iraqi Society" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 May 2008. Retrieved 2022-02-10.
  7. "Aramaic language". Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  8. J. Martin Bailey, Betty Jane Bailey, Who Are the Christians in the Middle East? p. 163: "more than two thirds" out of "nearly a million" Christians in Iraq.
  9. "Adherents.com". Adherents.com. Archived from the original on October 1, 2003. Retrieved 2013-09-18.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  10. Boháč, Artur (2010). "Assyrian Ethnic Identity in a Globalizing World" (PDF). In Mácha, Přemysl; Kopeček, Vincenc (eds.). Beyond Globalisation: Exploring the Limits of Globalisation in the Regional Context. Ostrava: University of Ostrava. p. 71. ISBN 978-80-7368-717-5. Although there are some atheists among Assyrians, they are usually associated with specific communities based on the adherence to a concrete religious sect.
  11. "Assyria". Crwflags.com. Archived from the original on 12 October 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-16.
  12. William F. Ainsworth, Travels and Researches in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Chaldea and Armenia (London 1842), vol. II, p. 272, cited in John Joseph, The Modern Assyrians of the Middle East (BRILL 2000), pp. 2 and 4
  13. Certrez, Donabed, and Makko (2012). The Assyrian Heritage: Threads of Continuity and Influence. Uppsala University. pp. 288–289. ISBN 978-91-554-8303-6.
  14. Hays, Jeffrey. "ASSYRIAN CHRISTIANS, CHALDEANS AND JACOBITES | Facts and Details". factsanddetails.com. Retrieved 2022-10-04.
  15. Hanish, Shak (2008-03-22). "The Chaldean Assyrian Syriac people of Iraq: an ethnic identity problem". Digest of Middle East Studies. 17 (1): 32–48. doi:10.1111/j.1949-3606.2008.tb00145.x.
  16. Jonathan Eric Lewis (June 2003). "Iraqi Assyrians: Barometer of Pluralism". Middle East Forum. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  17. "Arab American Institute Still Deliberately Claiming Assyrians Are Arabs". Aina.org. Retrieved 2008-11-16.
  18. "In Court, Saddam Criticizes Kurdish Treatment of Assyrians". Aina.org. Retrieved 2008-11-16.
  19. Wigram, W.A., "The Ashiret Highlands of Hakkari (Mesopotamia)," Royal Central Asian Society Journal, 1916, Vol. III, pg. 40. – The Assyrians and their Neighbors (London, 1929)
  20. 20.0 20.1 Minahan 2002, p. 209
  21. Vander Werff, Lyle L. (1977). Christian mission to Muslims: the record : Anglican and Reformed approaches in India and the Near East, 1800–1938. The William Carey Library series on Islamic studies. William Carey Library. pp. 366. ISBN 978-0-87808-320-6.
  22. "Who are the Chaldean Christians?". BBC News. March 13, 2008. Retrieved March 26, 2010.
  23. Nisan 2002, p. x.
  24. Travis 2010, p. 238.
  25. FACTBOX: Christians in Turkey
  26. The Middle East, abstracts and index, Part 1. Library Information and Research Service. Northumberland Press, 2002. Page 491.
  27. Central Asia and the Caucasus: transnationalism and diaspora. Touraj Atabaki, Sanjyot Mehendale. Routledge, 2005. Page 228.
  28. "Šlomo Surayt". textbook.surayt.com. Retrieved 2022-08-12.
  29. "Falling for ISIS Propaganda About Christians". www.aina.org.
  30. Eden Naby. "Documenting The Crisis In The Assyrian Iranian Community".
  31. 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."
  32. "Erzdiözese". Archived from the original on 5 March 2015. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  33. Data Access and Dissemination Systems (DADS). "American FactFinder – Results". Archived from the original on 12 February 2020. Retrieved 18 February 2015.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  34. "CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN AUSTRALIA, 2016". Australian Bureau of Statistics. 27 June 2017. Archived from the original on 9 July 2017. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  35. "Syriac alphabet". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  36. Hatch, William (1946). An album of dated Syriac manuscripts. Boston: The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, reprinted in 2002 by Gorgias Press. p. 24. ISBN 1-931956-53-7.
  37. Nestle, Eberhard (1888). Syrische Grammatik mit Litteratur, Chrestomathie und Glossar. Berlin: H. Reuther's Verlagsbuchhandlung. [translated to English as Syriac grammar with bibliography, chrestomathy and glossary, by R. S. Kennedy. London: Williams & Norgate 1889. p. 5].
  38. 38.0 38.1 "Dr. Joel J. Elias, Emeritus, University of California, The Genetics of Modern Assyrians and their Relationship to Other People of the Middle East". Archived from the original on August 16, 2000.
  39. Akbari M.T.; Papiha Sunder S.; Roberts D.F.; Farhud Daryoush D. (1986). "Genetic Differentiation among Iranian Christian Communities". American Journal of Human Genetics. 38 (1): 84–98. PMC 1684716. PMID 3456196.
  40. Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi Luca; Menozzi, Paolo; Piazza, Alberto (1994). The History and Geography of Human Genes. p. 243. ISBN 978-0691087504.
  41. "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"" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-10-17. Retrieved 2021-05-10.
  42. Banoei, M. M.; Chaleshtori, M. H.; Sanati, M. H.; Shariati, P; Houshmand, M; Majidizadeh, T; Soltani, N. J.; Golalipour, M (Feb 2008). "Variation of DAT1 VNTR alleles and genotypes among old ethnic groups in Mesopotamia to the Oxus region". Hum Biol. 80 (1): 73–81. doi:10.3378/1534-6617(2008)80[73:VODVAA]2.0.CO;2. PMID 18505046. S2CID 10417591. 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.
  43. Cinnioğlu C., King R., Kivisild T., et al. Excavating Y-chromosome haplotype strata in Anatolia. Hum. Genet., 114, 127-148, 2004.
  44. Quintana-Murci L., Krausz C., Zerjal T., et al. Y-chromosome lineages trace diffusion of people and languages in Southwestern Asia. Am. J. Hum. Genet., 68, 537-542, 2001.
  45. Dogan, Serkan (3 November 2017). "A glimpse at the intricate mosaic of ethnicities from Mesopotamia: Paternal lineages of the northern Iraqi Arabs, Kurds, Syriacs, Turkmens and Yazidis". PLOS ONE. 12 (11): e0187408. Bibcode:2017PLoSO..1287408D. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0187408. PMC 5669434. PMID 29099847.