Assyrian continuity

Assyrian continuity is the claim by modern Assyrians and supporting academics that they are the direct descendants of the Semitic inhabitants who spoke originally Akkadian and later Imperial Aramaic of ancient Mesopotamia: Assyria, Babylonia, and their immediate surroundings.[1][2][3][better source needed] Modern Assyrians are accepted to be an indigenous ethnic minority of modern Iraq, southeastern Turkey, northeastern Syria, and border areas of northwestern Iran, a region that is roughly what was once ancient Assyria.[4][5]

Modern Assyrians celebrating the annual festival of Kha b-Nisan (Akitu) in Nuhadra (Duhok, Iraq)

Assyrians are a modern people who speak, read and write Akkadian-influenced[6][7] Eastern Aramaic dialects, such as Assyrian Neo-Aramaic. Most are Christians,[8] being members of various denominations of Syriac Christianity: the Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church, Syriac Orthodox Church, Syriac Catholic Church, Ancient Church of the East; as well as the Protestant denominations of the Assyrian Pentecostal Church and the Assyrian Evangelical Church.

There has been a contingent of contemporary scholars supporting Assyrian continuity, including Simo Parpola,[9][10][11] Richard N. Frye,[12] Mordechai Nisan, Tom Holland, Robert D. Biggs[13] and H.W.F Saggs.

Evidence for continuity from the Classical Era: Assyria vs SyriaEdit

Evidence of Assyrian continuity is that "Syrian" and "Syriac," the names used in many languages to refer to Syriac Christians, are ultimately derived from "Assyrian." The terms were also in past times used by deniers of continuity as a major reason for their position.

The 21st century discovery of the Çineköy inscription appears to prove the already largely prevailing position that the term "Syria" ultimately derives from the Akkadian term Aššūrāyu (cuneiform script: 𒀸𒋗𒁺𐎹) through apheresis. The Çineköy inscription is a Hieroglyphic Luwian-Phoenician bilingual, uncovered from Çineköy, Adana Province, Turkey (ancient Cilicia), dating to the 8th century BC.[14] This Indo-European corruption of Assyrian was later adopted by the Seleucid Greeks from the late 4th century BC or early 3rd century BC and also then applied (or misapplied) to non-Assyrian peoples from the Levant, causing not only the true Assyrians (Syrians), but also the largely Aramaean, Phoenician and Nabataean peoples of the Levant to be collectively called "Syrians" or "Syriacs" (Latin: Syriaci, Ancient Greek: Συρίακοι) in the Greco-Roman world.

In Classical Greek usage, "Syria" and "Assyria" were used almost interchangeably. Herodotus's distinctions between the two in the 5th century BC were a notable early exception,[15] Randolph Helm emphasises that Herodotus "never" applied the term Syria to Mesopotamia, which he always called "Assyria", and used "Syria" to refer to inhabitants of the coastal Levant.[16] While himself maintaining a distinction, Herodotus also claimed that "those called Syrians by the Hellenes (Greeks) are called Assyrians by the barbarians (non-Greeks).[17][18]

The Greek historian Thucydides reports that during the Peloponnesian wars (c. 410 BC), the Athenians intercepted a Persian who was carrying a message from the Great King to Sparta. The man was taken prisoner, brought to Athens, and the letters he was carrying were translated "from the Assyrian language" which was Imperial Aramaic, an official language first of the former Neo-Assyrian Empire and then a language of diplomacy of the succeeding Achaemenid Persian Empire.

The first century prior to the dawn of Christianity, the geographer Strabo (64 BC–21 AD) writes that whom historians (most likely Greek ones) call Syrian were actually Assyrian;

When those who have written histories about the Syrian empire say that the Medes were overthrown by the Persians and the Syrians by the Medes, they mean by the Syrians no other people than those who built the royal palaces in Ninus (Nineveh); and of these Syrians, Ninus was the man who founded Ninus, in Aturia (Assyria) and his wife, Semiramis, was the woman who succeeded her husband... Now, the city of Ninus was wiped out immediately after the overthrow of the Syrians. It was much greater than Babylon, and was situated in the plain of Aturia.

Although the mention of Ninus as having founded Assyria is inaccurate, as is the claim that Semiramis was his wife, the salient point in Strabo's statement is the recognition that the Greek term Syria historically meant Assyria. It was the Assyrian Empire, not the "Syrian Empire," that was overthrown by the Medes and built palaces in Nineveh,[19] Assyria's capital. However, while this statement provides insight into how "Syrian" was used by the Greeks (supporting the "lost A" theory), claims that Syria and Assyria were considered synonymous to non-Greeks, including Syrians themselves, as alleged by Herodotus, appear on the surface to be contradicted somewhat; in Geographika: "Poseidonius (a celebrated polymath and native of Apamea, Syria) conjectures that the names of these nations also are akin; for, says he, the people whom we call Syrians are by the Syrians themselves called Aramaeans... for the people in Syria are Aramaeans," although he appears to be referring to the inhabitants of the Levant (Syria) rather than those of Assyria (in Mesopotamia).

"Syria" and "Assyria" were not fully distinguished by Greeks until they became better acquainted with the Near East. Under Macedonian rule after Syria's conquest by Alexander the Great, "Syria" was restricted to the land west of the Euphrates. While the Romans mostly corrected their usage as well,[20] they and the Greeks continued to conflate the terms.

Flavius Josephus, Roman Jewish historian writing in the 1st century AD, describes the inhabitants of the state of Osroene as Assyrians.[21] Osroene was a Syriac-speaking state based around Edessa in Upper Mesopotamia,[22] a key center of early Syriac Christianity. He also points out the Greek misapplication of the term "Syrian;" In referring to Aramea in the Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus states that "Aram had the Arameans, which the Greeks called Syrians."[23]

Justinus, the Roman historian wrote in 300 AD: The Assyrians, who are afterwards called Syrians, held their empire thirteen hundred years.[24]

In the 380s AD, the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus during his travels in Upper Mesopotamia with Jovian states that; "Within this circuit is Adiabene, which was formerly called Assyria;" Ammianus Marcellinus also refers to an extant region still called Assyria located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.[25]

Michael the Syrian mentions an 9th-century AD dispute between Jacobite Syrians with Greek scholars, in which the Jacobites claimed Assyrian continuity:[26]

That even if their name is now "Syrian", they are originally "Assyrians" and they have had many honourable kings... Syria is in the west of Euphrates, and its inhabitants who are talking our Aramaic language, and who are so-called "Syrians", are only a part of the "all" (the all meaning Syriac speaking Christians in general), while the other part which was in the east of Euphrates, going to Persia, had many kings from Assyria and Babylon and Urhay [Osroene]... Assyrians, who were called "Syrians" by the Greeks, were also the same Assyrians, I mean "Assyrians" from "Assur" (Ashur) who built the city of Nineveh

What is today the modern Syrian Arab Republic was always distinct from Assyria, and the Levant never held the name "Syria/Assyria" for over two thousand years of written history, only having the name bestowed upon it during the early part of the Seleucid Empire (312–150 BC).

During the Akkadian Empire (2335–2154 BC), Neo-Sumerian Empire (2119–2004 BC), Old Assyrian Empire (1975–1750 BC) and Babylonian Empire the region which is now Syria was called "the Land of the Amurru" and later "Mitanni," referring to the Amorites and the Hurrians who were the most prominent populations. During the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365-1020 BC), and continuing throughout the Neo Assyrian Empire (935-605 BC) and the succeeding Neo-Babylonian Empire (605–539 BC) and Achaemenid Empire (539–323 BC), Syria was known as Aramea and later Eber-Nari.

Evidence for continuity during the Medieval Period and RenaissanceEdit

The 10th-century AD Arab scholar Ibn al-Nadim, while describing the books and scripture of many people, defines the word "ʾāšūriyyūn" (Arabic: آشوريون‎) as "a sect of Jesus" inhabiting northern Mesopotamia.[27]

The earliest recorded Western mention of the Christians of the area is by Jacques de Vitry in 1220/1: he wrote that they "denied that Mary was the Mother of God and claimed that Christ existed in two persons. They consecrated leavened bread and used the 'Chaldean' language".[28]

The language that today is usually called Aramaic was called Chaldean by Jerome (c. 347 — 420) [29] This usage continued down the centuries: it was still the normal terminology in the nineteenth century.[30][31][32] Accordingly, in the earliest recorded Western mentions of the Christians of what is now Iraq and nearby countries the term is used with reference to their language. In 1220/1 Jacques de Vitry wrote that "they denied that Mary was the Mother of God and claimed that Christ existed in two persons. They consecrated leavened bread and used the 'Chaldean' (Syriac) language".[33] In the fifteenth century the term "Chaldeans" was first applied to East Syrians no longer generically in reference to their language but specifically to some living in Cyprus who entered a short-lived union with Rome.[34][35]

Following the schism of 1552, Yohannan Sulaqa went to Rome, claiming to have been elected as patriarch of the Church of the East. He made a profession of faith that was there judged to be orthodox, was admitted into communion with the Catholic Church and was consecrated patriarch by Pope Julius III. He returned to Mesopotamia as "Patriarch of the Chaldeans",[36][37][38] or "patriarch of Mosul",[39][40] or "patriarch of the Eastern Assyrians", as stated by Pietro Strozzi on the second-last unnumbered page before page 1 of his De Dogmatibus Chaldaeorum,[41] of which an English translation is given in Adrian Fortescue's Lesser Eastern Churches.[42]

Herbert Chick's "Chronicle of the Carmelites in Persia", which speaks of the Aramaic-speaking Christians generically as Chaldeans, quotes a letter of Pope Paul V to the Persian Shah Abbas I (1571–1629) on 3 November 1612 asking for leniency towards those "who are called Assyrians or Jacobites and inhabit Isfahan".[43]

In his Sharafnama, Sharaf Khan Al-Bedlissi, a 16th-century AD Kurdish historian, mentions Asuri (Assyrians) as being extant in northern Mesopotamia.[44]

Poutrus Nasri, an Egyptian theologian, claims that the Church of the East had many adherents who espoused an Assyrian identity during the Parthian and Sassanid periods.[45]

Scarcity of Assyrian names in the Christian EraEdit

One of the main arguments against the continuity hypothesis is the scarcity of Assyrian and Mesopotamian (East Semitic) pagan personal names among the Assyrian Christian priests, bishops and other religious figures. This argument has been put forward by John Joseph, Jean Maurice Fiey and David Wilmshurst.

Dominican Syriac scholar J. M. Fiey noted that while Eastern Christian writers wrote extensively about Assyrians and Babylonians, they did not identify with them. Fiey comments,

I have made indices of my Assyrie chretienne, and have had to align some 50 pages of proper names of people; there is not a single writer who has an 'Assyrian' name.' Wilmshurst comments, 'The names of thousands of Assyrian and Chaldean Catholic bishops, priests, deacons and scribes between the third and nineteenth centuries are known, and there is not a Sennacherib or Ashurbanipal among them.[46][47][48]

Defenders of the continuity hypothesis have argued that it is usual and common for peoples to adopt biblical names after undergoing Christianisation, particularly as names such as "Sennacherib" and "Ashurbanipal" have clearly pagan connotations, and thus unlikely to be used by Christian priests, and many were in fact throne names or eponyms.[citation needed] Fred Aprim has claimed that distinct Assyrian names continued in an unbroken line from ancient times to the present, giving examples of Assyrian personal names used as late as 238 AD.[49]

Similarly, Odisho Gewargis explained the general scarcity of autochthonous personal names as a process taking place only after Christianisation, when peoples generally replace native names with biblical names; giving as an example of this the scarcity of traditional English names such as "Wolfstan," "Redwald," "Aethelred," "Offa" and "Wystan" among modern Englishmen, compared to the commonality of non-English biblical names such as "John," "Mark," "David," "Paul," "Thomas," "Daniel," 'Michael," "Matthew," "Benjamin," "Elizabeth," "Mary," "Joanne," "Josephine," "Paula," "Rebecca," "Simone," "Ruth" etc.[Note 1] In response, John Joseph strongly criticises this argument as contradictory with Gewargis's other arguments,

"Contradicting himself, Mr. Gewargis notes that centuries ago, monks and ecclesiastics of the Eastern churches had 'great praise and exaltation for the Assyrians and their kings, their clergy and their judges and obvious downgrading of the prophets, clergy, kings and the elders of Israel. Thus one can say,' he concludes, that Sabhrisho, and monk Yaqqira and patriarch Ishoyabh 'were Assyrians filled with national pride.' We have here an unusual situation: 1. The Church fathers proudly calling themselves 'Aturaye'; 2. The common people, members of the church, for centuries calling themselves 'Suryaye'; 3. And Mr. Gewargis, an Aramaic-language expert who won't tell us the difference between these two Aramaic words, Aturaye and Suryaye."[51]

Many Old English personal names, such as Edward and Audrey, remain popular in England.[52][53]

Early modern opinions favouring continuityEdit

Proponents of continuity such as Stephanie Dalley point out that as late as the 18th and 19th centuries, the region around Mosul was known as "Athura" by the native Christian population, which means "Assyria."[54]

According to Christian missionary Horatio Southgate, "Syrian" and "Assyrian" were self-identifications among Jacobites (Syriac Orthodox) he met in 1841, before the ancient Assyrian sites were rediscovered by archaeologists in 1894:[55]

I began to make inquiries for the Syrians. The people informed me that there were about one hundred families of them in the town of Kharpout, and a village inhabited by them on the plain. I observed that the Armenians did not know them under the name which I used, Syriani; but called them Assouri, which struck me the more at the moment from its resemblance to our English name Assyrians, from whom they claim their origin, being sons, as they say, of Ashur who "out of the land of Shinar went forth, and build Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, and Resin between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city."

English priest Henry Burgess, writing in the early 1850s, states that Upper Mesopotamia was known as Assyria/Athura by the Semitic Christian population of the region.[56]

A number of 19th century Assyriologists such as Austen Henry Layard, the Assyrian archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam and the Anglican missionary and orientalist George Percy Badger supported Assyrian continuity.

E.B. Soane wrote in 1892, "The Mosul people, especially the Christians are very proud of their city and the antiquity of its surroundings; the Christians, regard themselves as direct descendants of the great rulers of Assyria."[57]

Sidney Smith argued in 1926 that poor communities continued to perpetuate some basic Assyrian identity after the fall of the empire through to the present.[Note 2] Efrem Yildiz echoes this view also.

Anglican missionary Rev. W. A. Wigram, in his book The Assyrians and Their Neighbours (1929), writes "The Assyrian stock, still resident in the provinces about the ruins of Nineveh, Mosul, Arbela, and Kirkuk, and seem to have been left to their own customs in the same way."[59]

R. S. Stafford in 1935 describes the Assyrians as descending from the Ancient Assyrians, surviving the various periods of foreign rule intact, and until World War I of having worn items of clothing much like the ancient Assyrians.[60]

Modern viewsEdit

Some academics, including the Assyrian writer John Joseph, largely reject the modern Assyrian claim of descent from the ancient Assyrians of Mesopotamia, and their succeeding the Sumero-Akkadians and the Babylonians as one continuous civilization.[61] He criticises modern Assyrian writers who "eager to establish a link between themselves and the ancient Assyrians, conclude that such a link is confirmed whenever they come across a reference to the word Assyrians during the early Christian period, to them it proves that their Christian ancestors always 'remembered' their Assyrian forefathers. Nationalist writers often refer to Tatian's statement that he was 'born in the land of the Assyrians,' and note that the Acts of Mar Qardagh trace the martyr's ancestry to Ancient Assyrian kings".[62] He claims that while "The name Assyrian was certainly used prior to the nineteenth century . . . [it] was a well known name throughout the centuries and wherever the Bible was held holy, whether in the East or West," due to the Old Testament.[51] However, the terms 'Assyria' and 'Assyrian' were only applied to people living within historical Assyria, and not, for example, to Levantine or Arabian persons or peoples.

Adam H. Becker, Professor of Classics & Religious Studies at New York University, disagrees with Assyrian continuity and writes that the special continuity claims "must be understood as a modern invention worthy of the study of a Benedict Anderson or an Eric Hobsbawm rather than an ancient historian." (Both Anderson and Hobsawm study the origins of invented traditions in nationalism.) Becker describes Assyrians as "East Syrians" in his writings.[63]

David Wilmshurst, a historian of the Church of the East, believes that Assyrian identity only emerged as a consequence of the earlier archaeological discovery of the ruins of Nineveh in 1845.[64] Any continuity, he argues, is insignificant, if it exists at all.

However, these arguments appear to be contradicted by the observations made by Horatio Southgate[65] whilst travelling in northern Mesopotamia in the early 1840s in the period prior to these Assyrian archaeological discoveries show that the Armenians of southeastern Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia were at that period clearly using the term 'Assyrian' in preference to the term 'Syrian' and that the Assyrians in these regions clearly regarded themselves as Assyrians descendant from their ancient namesakes.

Another argument is based on the etymology of "Syria." The noted Iranologist Richard Nelson Frye, who supports ethnic continuity from ancient times to the present, argues that the term 'Syrian' originating from 'Assyrian' supports continuity, particularly when applied to the Semites in northern Mesopotamia and its environs. In a response to John Joseph, Frye writes "I do not understand why Joseph and others ignore the evidence of Armenian, Arab and Persian sources in regard to usage with initial a-, including contemporary practice."[66] The historian Robert Rollinger also uses this line of argumentation to support continuity.[67] Joseph was long skeptical about the initial a-theory, using it as a central plank in his argument against continuity, but has since been forced to accept it following the discovery of the Çineköy inscription.

Prominent Assyriologist H. W. F. Saggs in his book The Might That Was Assyria points out that the Assyrian population was never wiped out, bred out or deported after the fall of its empire, and that after Christianization the Assyrians have continued to keep alive their identity and heritage.[Note 3] However, Saggs disputes an extreme "racial purity"; he points out that even at its mightiest, Assyria deported populations of Jews, Elamites, Aramaeans, Neo-Hittites, Urartians and others into Assyria, and that these peoples became "Assyrianised" and were absorbed into the native population.

Assyriologist J. A. Brinkman argues that there is absolutely no historical evidence or proof to suggest the population of Assyria was wiped out, bred out of existence or removed at any time following the destruction of its empire. He puts the burden of proof upon those arguing against continuity to prove their case with strong evidence.[69][70] Brinkman goes on to mention that the gods of the Assyrian Pantheon were certainly still being worshiped even 900 years after the fall of the Assyrian Empire. He also indicated that Assur and Calah, among other cities, were prosperous and still occupied by Assyrians, which he claims indicates a continuity of Assyrian identity and culture well into the Syriac Christian period.[71]

John Curtis strongly disputes assumptions based on biblical interpretations that Assyria became an uninhabited wasteland after its fall, pointing out its wealth and influence during the various periods of Persian rule.[72] It is known that Achaemenid Assyria flourished, and Assyrians soldiers were a remnant of Achaemenid armies, holding important civic positions, with their agriculture providing a breadbasket for the empire. Imperial Aramaic and Assyrian administrative practices were also retained by the Achaemenid kings. In addition, it is known that a number of important Assyrian cities such as Arbela, Guzana and Harran survived intact, and others, such as Assur and Arrapha, recovered from their previous destruction. For those cities that remained devastated, such as Nineveh and Calah, smaller towns were built nearby, such as Mepsila.[73]

French Assyriologist Georges Roux notes that Assyrian culture and national religion were alive into the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, with the city of Assur possibly being independent for some time in the 3rd century AD, and that the Neo-Assyrian kingdom of Adiabene was a virtual resurrection of Assyria, but emphasises that "the revived settlements [in ancient Assyria] had very little in common architecturally with their earlier precursors."[74] Roux also states that, "After the fall of Assyria, however, its actual name was gradually changed to 'Syria'; thus, in the Babylonian version of Darius I inscriptions, Eber-nari ("across-the-river," i.e. Syria, Palestine and Phoenicia) corresponds to the Persian and Elamite Athura (Assyria); besides, in the Behistun inscription, Izalla, the region of Syria renowned for its wine, is assigned to Athura."

Roux, as well as Saggs, note that a time came when Akkadian inscriptions were meaningless to the inhabitants of Assyria, and ceased to be spoken by the common people.[75][76][77] Critics of Assyrianism take this same line of argumentation in explaining that, even though the Assyrians were not wiped out ethnically, their original culture changed.

The historian W. W. Tarn states also that Assyrians and their culture were still extant well into the Christian period.[78][79]

Patricia Crone and Michael Cook note that Assyrian consciousness did not die out after the fall of its empire, asserting that a major revival of Assyrian consciousness and culture took place between the 2nd century BC and 4th century AD.[80]

Some supporters of Assyrian continuity, though not all, argue that Assyrian culture is continuous from ancient times until today. The Assyriologist Simo Parpola echoes Saggs, Brinkman and Biggs, saying that there is strong evidence that Assyrian identity and culture continued after the fall of the Assyrian Empire.[9] Parpola asserts that traditional Assyrian religion remained strong until the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, surviving among small communities of Assyrians up to at least the 10th century AD in Upper Mesopotamia, and as late as the 18th century AD in Mardin, based on accounts of Carsten Niebuhr.[81] Parpola asserts that the Neo-Assyrian Upper Mesopotamian kingdoms of Adiabene, Assur, Osrhoene, Beth Nuhadra, Beth Garmai and to some degree Hatra which existed between the 1st century BC and 5th century AD in Assyria, were distinctly Assyrian linguistically, as they wrote in the Syriac language, a dialect of Aramaic which began in geographic Assyria.

Similarly, J. B. Segal argues that "Although the Assyrian empire had fallen, the Assyrians continued to retain the Assyrian culture" in Edessa (Urhay) and Upper Mesopotamia, with gods such as Sin, Shamash, Ashur, Hadad and Ishtar of Nineveh being worshipped until Eastern Rite Christianity took hold. He also states that "Within the Abgar dynasty, there were kings named Mannu, the Akkadian name that was found in the Assyrian inscriptions from the assyrian city of Tushan" (southeastern Turkey).[Note 4]

Robert D. Biggs supports genealogical/ethnic continuity without prejudicing cultural continuity, asserting that the modern Assyrians are likely ethnic descendants of ancient Assyrians but became culturally different from them with the advent of Christianity.[13]

British historian Tom Holland in an article in The Daily Telegraph of 2017 clearly links the modern Assyrians to the ancient Assyrians, stating that they are the Christianised ancestors of the ancient Assyrians.[83]

Philip Hitti states that "Syrian" and "Syriac Christian" are simply vague generic terms encompassing a number of different peoples, and that the Semitic Christians of northern Mesopotamia are most appropriately described as "Assyrians."[84]

Kevin B. MacDonald asserts that Assyrians have survived as an ethnic, linguistic, religious and political minority from the fall of the Assyrian Empire through to the present day. He points out that maintaining a language, religion, identity and customs distinct from their neighbours, as well as marrying within the Assyrian community, has aided their survival.[85][86]

Professor Joshua J. Mark supports a continuity, stating in the Ancient History Encyclopedia, "Assyrian history continued on past that point (the fall of its empire); there are still Assyrians living in the regions of Iran, Turkey and Iraq, and elsewhere, in the present day."[87]

Guillermo Carvajal Alvarado, a Latin American historian also supports a continuity from the Bronze Age through to the present time[88]

French film maker Robert Alaux produced a documentary film about the Assyrian Christians in 2004, and states they are descendants of the Ancient Assyrians-Mesopotamians, and were among the very earliest people to convert to Christianity.[89]

Differences between Assyrians and neighbouring peoplesEdit

Silvio Zaorani differentiates between Levantine Aramaean and Mesopotamian Assyrian populations, stating that; "even if 'Syrian' were derived from 'Assyrian', it does not mean that the people and culture of geographical Syria are identical to those of geographical Assyria."[90]

The United Nations organization Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) recognises Assyrians as indigenous people of northern Iraq.[91]

Genetic continuityEdit

A series of modern genetic studies have shown that the modern Assyrians from northern Iraq, southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran and northeastern Syria are in a genetic sense one homogenous people, regardless of which church they belong to (e.g. Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Assyrian Protestant). Their collective genetic profile differs from neighbouring Syrians, Levantine Syriac Christians, Kurds/Iranians, Arabs, Turks, Armenians, Jews, Yezidis, Shabaks, Greeks, Georgians, Circassians, Turcomans, Maronite Christians, Egyptians and Mandaeans.[92][93][94][95][96]

Late 20th century DNA analysis conducted on Assyrian members of the Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church and Syriac Orthodox Church by Cavalli-Sforza, Paolo Menozzi and Alberto Piazza "shows that Assyrians have a distinct genetic profile that distinguishes their population from any other population."[92] 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.[93] Cavalli-Sforza et al. state in addition, "[T]he Assyrians are a fairly homogeneous group of people, believed to originate from the land of old Assyria in northern Iraq," and "they are Christians and are probably bona fide descendants of their namesakes."[94] "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."[92]

A 2008 study on the genetics of "old ethnic groups in Mesopotamia," including 340 subjects from seven ethnic communities (Assyrian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Armenian, Turcoman, Kurdish and Arab peoples of Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait) found that Assyrians were homogeneous with respect to all other ethnic groups sampled in the study, regardless of each Assyrians religious affiliation.[Note 5]

A study by Dr Joel J. Elias found that Assyrians of all denominations were a homogenous group, and genetically distinct from all other Near Eastern ethnicities.[92]

In a 2006 study of the Y chromosome DNA of six regional populations, including, for comparison, Assyrians and Syrians, researchers found that "the Semitic populations (Assyrians and Syrians) are very distinct from each other according to both [comparative] axes. This difference supported also by other methods of comparison points out the weak genetic affinity between the two populations with different historical destinies."[96]

In 2008, Fox News in the United States ran a feature called "Know Your Roots." As part of the feature, Assyrian reporter Nineveh Dinha was tested by Her DNA profile was traced back to the region of Harran in southeastern Anatolia in 1400 BC, which was a part of ancient Assyria.[97]

In a 2011 study focusing on the genetics of Marsh Arabs in Iraq, researchers identified Y chromosome haplotypes shared by Marsh Arabs, Arabic-speaking Iraqis, Mandaeans and Assyrians, "supporting a common local background."[Note 6]

A 2017 study of the various ethnic groups of Iraq appeared to show that Assyrians (along with Mandaeans and Yazidis) have a stronger genetic connection to the population extant during the period of Bronze Age and Iron Age Mesopotamia than their neighbours, the Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Iranians, Armenians and Turcomans.[99]

Linguistic continuityEdit

Map of the modern Assyrian dialects

Among Assyrians, numbers of fluent speakers range from approximately 600,000 to 1,000,000, with the main dialects being Assyrian Neo-Aramaic (250,000 speakers), Chaldean Neo-Aramaic (216,000 speakers) and Surayt/Turoyo (112,000 to 450,000 speakers), together with a number of smaller, closely related dialects with no more than 10,000 speakers between them. Contrary to what their names suggest, these mutually intelligible dialects are not divided upon Church of the East/Chaldean Catholic Church/Syriac Orthodox Church lines.[100][101]

By the 3rd century AD at the very latest, Akkadian was extinct, although some loaned vocabulary and grammatical features still survives in the Eastern Aramaic dialects of the Assyrians to this day.[102]

As linguist Geoffrey Khan points out that a number of vocabulary and grammatical features in the colloquial modern neo-Aramaic dialects spoken by the Assyrians shows similarities with the ancient Akkadian language, whereas significantly, the now near extinct Western Aramaic dialects of the Aramaeans, Phoenicians, Nabataeans, Jews and Levantine Syriacs of Syria and the Levant do not.[103] This indicates that the Assyrian Eastern Aramaic dialects gradually replaced Akkadian among the Assyrian populace, and that they were both influenced by and overlaid the earlier Assyrian Akkadian tongue of the region, unlike Aramaic dialects spoken in the Levant.[104]

There are a number of Akkadian words mostly connected with agriculture that have been preserved in modern Syriac vernaculars. One example is the word miššara 'rice paddy field' which is a direct descendant of the Akkadian mušāru. A number of words in the dialect of Bakhdida (Qaraqosh) shows the same origin, e.g. baxšimə 'storeroom (for grain)' from Akkadian bīt ḫašīmi 'storehouse' and raxiṣa 'pile of straw' from raḫīṣu 'pile of harvest produce.'[105]

Simo Parpola asserts that Eastern Aramaic had become so entrenched in Assyrian identity that the Greeks regarded the Imperial Aramaic of the Achaemenid Empire during the 5th and 4th centuries BC as "the Assyrian Language."[Note 7] During the 3rd century BC composition of the Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek for the Hellenised Jewish community of Alexandria, "Aramaic language" was translated into "Syrian tongue," and "Aramaeans" into "Syrians".[106]

Parpola's assertions are also supported by professor of Semitic languages Alan Millard who states "Those (Aramaic texts) engraved on hard surfaces tend to be formal, but the notes scratched on clay tablets and the few ostraca reveal more cursive forms. From them descended the standard handwriting of the Persian period (called 'Assyrian writing' in Egyptian) and eventually both the square Hebrew script (also known as 'Assyrian writing' in Hebrew), and through Nabataean, the Arabic alphabet."[107]

It is believed that all extant forms of Aramaic stem from Imperial Aramaic, which itself originated in Assyria.[108]

Speaking Aramaic long ago ceased to signify an Aramaean ethnic identity, for the language spread among many previously non-Aramaean and non-Aramaic-speaking peoples in the Near East and Asia Minor from the time of the Neo-Assyrian Empire onwards. Korean orientalist Chul-hyun Bae of Seoul National University states "The Arameans' political power thus came to an end; however, their language survived, ironically achieving a far wider presence that the people among whom it had originated."[109]

Political issuesEdit

The Israeli orientalist Mordechai Nisan also supports the view that Assyrians should be named specifically as such in an ethnic and national sense, are the descendants of their ancient namesakes, and are denied self-expression for political, ethnic and religious reasons.[110]

Dr Arian Ishaya, an historian and anthropologist from UCLA states that the confusion of names applied to the Assyrians, and a denial of Assyrian identity and continuity, is on one hand borne out of 19th and early 20th century imperialistic, condescending and arrogant meddling by westerners, rather than by historical fact, and on the other hand by long held Islamic, Arab, Kurdish, Turkish and Iranian policies, whose purpose is to divide the Assyrian people along false lines and deny their singular identity, with the aim of preventing the Assyrians having any chance of unity, self-expression and potential statehood.[111]

Naum Faiq, a 19th century advocate of Assyrian nationalism from the Syriac Orthodox Church community in Diyarbakır, encouraged Assyrians to unite regardless of tribal and theological differences.[112]

Ashur Yousif, an Assyrian Protestant from the same region of southeastern Turkey as Faiq, also espoused Assyrian unity during the early 20th century, stating that the Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic and Syriac Orthodox were one people, divided purely upon religious lines.[113]

Freydun Atturaya also advocated Assyrian unity and was a staunch supporter of Assyrian identity and nationalism and the formation of an ancestral Assyrian homeland in the wake of the Assyrian genocide.[114]

Farid Nazha, an influential Syrian-born Assyrian nationalist, deeply criticised the leaders of the various churches followed by the Assyrian people, accusing the Syriac Orthodox Church, Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church and Syriac Catholic Church of creating divisions among Assyrians, when their joint ethnic and national identity should be paramount.[115][116]

Assyrian doctor George Habash asserts that the Assyrian people have been denied representation due to a betrayal by Western powers and by policy of deliberately denying their heritage and rights by Muslim Arab, Turkish, Iranian and Kurdish regimes.[117]

Other naming controversiesEdit

Kelly L. Ross notes that the oldest reference to the 'Christians' of Iraq is as "Nestorians," a term used by Cosmas Indicopleustes in 525 AD, though she acknowledges that this is a 'doctrinal' term and not an ethnic one. Hannibal Travis, in contrast, argues that "Assyrian" is the oldest name for this community, a majority opinion among modern scholars.[61] Artur Boháč, Fellow at the Center for Non-Territorial Autonomy at the University of Vienna, echoes Hannibal Travis in arguing that the confusion of later names applied to the Assyrians were introduced by Western theologians and missionaries, and others arose out of doctrinal rather than ethnic divisions.[118][119][120]

Assyrians often reject the label of "Nestorian" even in a theological sense, as the Church of the East predates Nestorianism and is doctrinally distinct. Philip Hitti stated that "Nestorian" is an inaccurate term both chronologically and theologically and has no ethnic meaning.[119]

Chaldean identityEdit

In recent times, a mainly United States-based minority[citation needed] within the Chaldean Catholic Church has begun to espouse a separate 'Chaldean' ethnic identity. They assert that they are a different and separate ethnicity compared to modern Assyrians, and are the direct descendants of the ancient Chaldeans of southern Mesopotamia.[citation needed] As a compromise between the two positions, some have chosen to be referred to by the label 'Chaldo-Assyrian.'[121]

Chaldean Catholics are members of the largest church that traces its origins from the Church of the East.[122] For many centuries, the term "Chaldean" indicated the Aramaic language. It was so used by Jerome,[123] and was still the normal terminology in the nineteenth century.[124][125][126] Only in 1445 did it begin to be used to mean Aramaic speakers who had entered communion with the Catholic Church. This happened at the Council of Florence,[127] which accepted the profession of faith that Timothy, metropolitan of the Chaldeans in Cyprus, made in Aramaic, and which decreed that "nobody shall in future dare to call [...] Chaldeans, Nestorians".[128][129][130]

Previously, when there were as yet no Catholic Aramaic speakers of Mesopotamian origin, the term "Chaldean" was applied with explicit reference to their "Nestorian" religion. Thus Jacques de Vitry wrote of them in 1220/1 that "they denied that Mary was the Mother of God and claimed that Christ existed in two persons. They consecrated leavened bread and used the 'Chaldean' (Syriac) language".[131]

In an interview published in 2003 with Raphael I Bidawid, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church between 1989 and 2003, he commented on the Assyrian name dispute and distinguished between what is the name of a church and an ethnicity:

I personally think that these different names serve to add confusion. The original name of our Church was the 'Church of the East' ... When a portion of the Church of the East became Catholic, the name given was 'Chaldean' based on the Magi kings who came from the land of the Chaldean, to Bethlehem. The name 'Chaldean' does not represent an ethnicity... We have to separate what is ethnicity and what is religion... I myself, my sect is Chaldean, but ethnically, I am Assyrian.[132]

Proponents of a Chaldean continuity or separateness from Assyrians sometimes claim that they are separate because they speak Chaldean Neo-Aramaic rather than Assyrian Neo-Aramaic.[citation needed] However, both of these appellations are only 20th-century labels applied by some modern linguists to regions where one church was seen to be more prevalent than another for convenience, with no historical continuity or ethnic context implied in either. They are also inaccurate; many speakers of Chaldean Neo-Aramaic are in fact members of the Assyrian Church of the East, Assyrian Pentecostal, Evangelical Churches or Syriac Orthodox Church,[133] and equally, many speakers of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic are members of the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syriac Catholic Church or other confessions. This is also true of the Surayt/Turoyo dialect, and minority dialects such as Hértevin, Koy Sanjaq Surat, Bohtan Neo-Aramaic and Senaya. Furthermore, each of these dialects originated in Assyria, evolving from the 8th century BC Imperial Aramaic of the Assyrian Empire and 5th century BC Syriac of Achaemenid Assyria.

See alsoEdit

similar movements:


  1. ^ "If the children of Sennacherib were, for centuries, taught to pray and damn Babylon and Assyria, how does the researcher expect from people who wholeheartedly accepted the Christian faith to name their children Ashur and Esarhaddon?"[50]
  2. ^ "In Achaemenian times there was an Assyrian detachment in the Persian army, but they could only have been a remnant. That remnant persisted through the centuries to the Christian era and beyond, and continued to use in their personal names appellations of their pagan deities. This continuance of an Assyrian tradition is significant for two reasons; the miserable conditions of these late Assyrians is attested to by the excavations at Ashur, and it is clear that they were reduced to extreme poverty by the time of Parthian rule."[58]
  3. ^ "The destruction of the Assyrian Empire did not wipe out its population. They were predominantly peasant farmers, and since Assyria contains some of the best wheat land in the Near East, descendants of the Assyrian peasants would, as opportunity permitted, build new villages over the old cities and carried on with agricultural life, remembering traditions of the former cities. After seven or eight centuries and after various vicissitudes, these people became Christians. These Christians, and the Jewish communities scattered amongst them, not only kept alive the memory of their Assyrian predecessors but also combined them with traditions from the Bible."[68]
  4. ^ "Although the Assyrian empire had fell, the Assyrians retained the Assyrian culture alive. In his book "Edessa: The Blessed City" JB Segal confirms just that. Before Abgar Dynasty in Urhoy received Christianity, Urhoy was a city of Assyrian gods Nabu, Sin, Shamash, Ashur, Bel and Ishtar of Nineveh. Within the Abgar dynasty, there were kings named Mannu, the Akkadian name that was found in the Assyrian inscriptions from the assyrian city of Tushan(southeastern Turkey). This demonstrates that the people of Urhoy and in northern Mesopotamia retained its Assyrian identity and culture long after the Assyrian empire ceased to exist."[82]
  5. ^ "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."[95]
  6. ^ "In the less frequent J1-M267* clade, only marginally affected by events of expansion, Marsh Arabs shared haplotypes with other Iraqi and Assyrian samples, supporting a common local background."[98]
  7. ^ 'The Greek historian Thucydides reports that during the Peloponnesian wars (ca. 410 BC) the Athenians intercepted a Persian who was carrying a message from the Great King to Sparta. The man was taken prisoner, brought to Athens, and the letters he was carrying were translated "from the Assyrian language", which of course was Aramaic…'


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    Herodotus, Herodotus VII.72, VII.72: In the same fashion were equipped the Ligyans, the Matienians, the Mariandynians, and the Syrians (or Cappadocians, as they are called by the Persians).
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  62. ^ The ancestry of the semi-legendary Mar Qardagh is dubious. (Miller/Joseph)
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  112. ^ "Neo-Assyrianism & the End of the Confounded Identity". Zinda. 2006-07-06. "The fact remains that throughout the last seven years and the last 150 years for that matter the name Assyrian has always been attached to our political ambitions in the Middle East. Any time, any one of us from any of our church and tribal groups targets a political goal we present our case as Assyrians, Chaldean-Assyrians, or Syriac-Assyrians – making a connection to our "Assyrian" heritage. This is because our politics have always been Assyrian. Men like Naum Faiq and David Perley emerging from a "Syriac" or "Jacobite" background understood this as well as our Chaldean heroes, General Agha Petros d-Baz and the late Chaldean Patriarch Mar Raphael BiDawid."
  113. ^ "The hindrance before the advancement of the Assyrian people was not so much the attacks from without as it was from within, the doctrinal and sectarian disputes and struggles, like Monophysitism (One nature of Christ) Dyophysitism (Two natures of Christ) is a good example, these caused division, spiritually, and nationally, among the people who quarreled among themselves even to the point of shedding blood. To this very day the Assyrians are still known by various names, such as Nestorians, Jacobites, Chaldeans"
  114. ^ Aprim, Fred. "Dr. Freidoun Atouraya". essay. Zinda Magazine. Retrieved 2000-02-01. "AD (February 1917) Hakim Freidoun Atouraya, Rabbie Benyamin Arsanis and Dr. Baba Bet-Parhad establish the first Assyrian political party, the Assyrian Socialist Party. Two months later, Kakim Atouraya completes his "Urmia Manifesto of the United Free Assyria" which called for self-government in the regions of Urmia, Mosul, Turabdin, Nisibin, Jezira, and Julamaerk."
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