Assyrians in Syria are people of Assyrian descent living in Syria. They constituted 2.0% of the pre-Civil War population of Syria of 23 million and 15-20% of the total number of Christians. Assyrian Christians are either Catholic, Church of the East or Syriac Orthodox. Pre-war scholarly estimates placed the total number of Assyrians belonging to the Assyrian Church of the East living in Syria at around 30,000, with between 15,000 and 20,000 (i.e., 2/3, at most) of them living along the section of the Khabur river between Tal Tamer in the northwest portion of the river to the dam southeast of the city. They are distinct from the Syrian Christians of western, southern and central Syria, being Eastern Aramaic speakers rather than Arabic (and formerly Western Aramaic) speakers, and being of Mesopotamian/Assyrian rather than Levantine/Aramean origin, and are an ancient pre-Arab indigenous people.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Spoken; Mainly Surayt/Turoyo, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and varieties of Syrian Arabic. |
Written; Mainly Classical Syriac and Modern Standard Arabic
|Mostly adherents of the Syriac Orthodox Church with smaller percentages followers of the Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church and Syriac Catholic Church|
They live primarily in Al-Hasakah Governorate, with a significant presence in the provincial capital and the cities of Qamishli, Malikiyah, Ras al-Ayn, and Qahtaniyah, as well as in Tell Tamer and nearby villages, although some have migrated to Damascus and other western cities. The Assyrians in the Khabur valley, belong mostly to the Assyrian Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox Church and some to the Chaldean Catholic Church.
In 2018 Professor John Shoup said that the Assyrian population in Syria formed 4% of the country's total population, making them the fourth largest ethnic group in the country.
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During the Old Assyrian Empire (2000-1750 BC), Middle Assyrian Empire (1365-1020 BC) and Neo Assyrian Empire (911-599 BC) much of, and often the entirety of the modern country of Syria, was under Assyrian rule, with the north eastern part of the land becoming an integral part of Assyria proper during the 2nd millennium BC. Thus the presence of originally Akkadian-speaking and later Eastern Aramaic-speaking Assyrians in the northeastern part of the modern country dates back over 4000 years, where they originally lived alongside a diverse set of other peoples such as Hittites, Hurrians and Amorites throughout the ages. Traces of the long era of Assyrian settlement can be seen at numerous archaeological sites across the region. Important Assyrian cities in the region in ancient times included; Til-Barsip, Carchemish, Guzana, Shubat-Enlil and Dur-Katlimmu.
The north east of Syria was a part of Achaemenid Assyria (Athura) between 546 and 332 BC, then to Seleucid Syria (312-150 BC), when the name Syria which was originally a 9th-century BC Indo-European corruption of Assyria and had hitherto referred only to Assyria itself, also became applied to a region long known as Aramea/Eber Nari - in other words what is today modern Syria. During the Parthian Empire (150 BC-224 AD) and early Sassanid Empire (224 -650 AD) (when the land was renamed Assuristan) a number of Neo-Assyrian kingdoms arose, and parts of north east Syria became a part of the Neo-Assyrian state of Osroene until the mid 3rd century AD. Christianity became established amongst the Assyrians as early as the 1st century AD, and the region of Athura became the birthplace of Eastern Rite Christianity and Syriac literature, with the Assyrian Church of the East and Syriac Orthodox Church being founded in the region.
After the Arab Islamic Conquest of the mid 7th century AD, Assyria/Athura/Assuristan was dissolved as a geo-political entity, and the region gradually saw an influx of Muslim Arabic, Turkic and Iranic peoples. However, settlement in the northeastern areas often proved unsustainable in the long-term, leading to numerous episodes of population exodus. In addition to experiencing such destabilising factors such as climate shifts and over-cultivation of land, the area was also vulnerable to attack from nomadic peoples. Following the Mongol and Timurid invasions and subsequent massacre of Assyrians, it was left with only a scant permanent population. In the centuries that followed, a number of nomadic and semi-nomadic Arabic- and Kurdish-speaking tribes wandered the area with their livestock into the 20th century, when most of them were forced to settle by governmental policies.
When Turkey conducted ethnic cleasing against its Christian populations, Kurds were responsible for most of the atrocities against Assyrians. At the onset of the 20th century, Kurds cooperated with Ottoman authorities in the massacres against Armenian and Assyrian Christians in Upper Mesopotamia. Many Assyrians from Hakkari settled in Syria after they were displaced and driven out by Ottoman Turks in the early 20th century. During the 1930s and 1940s, many Assyrians resettled in northeastern Syrian villages, such as Tel Tamer, Al-Qahtaniyah, Al Darbasiyah, Al-Malikiyah, Qamishli and a few other small towns in Al-Hasakah Governorate.
Most of the current population of Assyrians in Hasakah dates back to the French Mandate of Syria, when refugees from the now-Turkish areas north of present-day Syria (such as Tur Abdin) were settled together with displaced Armenians who had survived the Assyrian Genocide and Armenian Genocide in the area by the authorities as part of an effort to promote economic development. Given preferential treatment on the basis of their Christian religion by the French, they soon formed most of the new urban elite in the region. An additional influx of Eastern Assyrians began to resettle along the Khabur River in 1933 after the massacres of Assyrians in newly-independent Iraq (see Simele massacre) forced the flight. These were refugees twice over—originally from the highlands of Hakkari, they had initially sought refuge amongst other Assyrians in Iraq in the face of the Assyrian genocide before the attacks.
In 1936, religious and political leaders—mainly from the Assyrian and Armenian Christian and Kurdish communities, with a few Arab groups as well—pressured the French authorities to give autonomous status to the Syrian Al-Jazira province (nowadays the Al Hasakah) for its mixed-ethnic population, like in the Sanjak of Alexandretta, the Alawite State, or Jabal al-Druze. The push for autonomy was marked by civil strife and inter-communal violence in the province, and angry hostility on the part of the mainly Arab nationalists pushing for outright independence for Syria. Long having viewed the settlement of Assyrians and Armenians in the country as the product of French colonialism, they were further incensed by the arrival of additional Assyrian refugees on the Khabur, and mobilized support from many Arab tribes and some Kurdish groups to counter the autonomists. The French forcibly cracked down on both sides as they grew increasingly violent, and the movement for autonomy soon failed. Later on, in 1957, the Assyrian Democratic Organization was set up in Syria by center-left intellectuals.
Though officially and incorrectly designated as Arabs by the Syrian Arab Nationalist Baathist government, the Assyrians are a distinct pre-Arab ethnic group with a history in the region dating perhaps as far back as the 25th century BC. They are a Syriac speaking community that traditionally belong to the Ancient Church of the East, Assyrian Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox Church and the Chaldean Catholic Church. The modern Assyrians are native to "northern Iraq, southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran and northeastern Syria".
First settled by Assyrians fleeing the Assyrian Genocide and then the Simele Massacre, there are over 30 Assyrian villages on the Khabur river in Syria. According to a 1994 report they are: Tell Tawil, Tell Um Rafa, Tell Um Keff, Tell Kefdji, Tell Djemaa, Tell Tamer, Tell Nasri, Upper Tell Chamran, Lower Tell Chamran, Tell Chamran, Tell Hafian, Tell Talaa, Tell Maghas, Tell Massas, Abu Tine, Tel Goran, Fouedate, Dimchij, Kabar Chamie, Tell Balouet(Dezn) , Tell Baz, Upper Tell Rouman, Lower Tell Rouman, El-Kharita, Tell Chame, Tell Wardiat, El-Makhada, Taal, Tell Sakra, El-Breij, Arbouche, and Tell Hormiz. About 9,000 ethnic Assyrians moved from northern Iraq to join already extant Assyrian populations in northeastern Syria following the Simele massacre of 1933. They settled in the Jazirah near Tall Tamir on the upper Khabur River. The French established this Assyrian settlement with the assistance of the League of Nations, and in 1942 it became an integral part of Syria. The Assyrian settlement on the Khabur valley consists of about 20 villages, primarily agricultural. They have faced severe economic pressures over the years, despite owning their own irrigated lands, and some of them immigrated to the US, where there exists a large community.
Persecution by ISILEdit
The Syrian Civil War initially put much strain on Assyrians in Syria. As of November 2014, due to occupation by the ISIL, only 23 Assyrian and Armenian families remain in the city of Raqqa. Christian bibles and holy books reportedly been burned by ISIL militants. On 23 February 2015, ISIL abducted 150 Assyrians from villages near Tell Tamer in the Khabur valley. According to US diplomat Alberto M. Fernandez, of the 232 of the Assyrians kidnapped in the ISIL attack on the Assyrian Christian farming villages on the banks of the Khabur River in Northeast Syria, 51 were children and 84 women. "Most of them remain in captivity with one account claiming that ISIL is demanding $22 million (or roughly $100,000 per person) for their release." On 8 October, ISIL released a video showing three of the Assyrian men kidnapped in Khabur being executed. It was reported that 202 of the 253 kidnapped Assyrians were still in captivity, each one with a demanded ransom of $100,000.
Assyrians in the Democratic Federation of Northern SyriaEdit
The decrease of political repression after government withdrawal and the inclusion of Assyrian political and military movements in the de facto autonomous Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS) has led to a blossom in Assyrian life in northeastern Syria. The secular Assyrian Syriac Union Party (SUP), committed to the secular leftist "Dawronoye" ideology, is a part of the governing Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM) coalition. The Sutoro is an Assyrian police force, working in concert with the general Asayish police force with the mission to police ethnic Assyrian areas and neighbourhoods.
While Syriac-Aramaic was an official language of the Jazira Region from the outset, in August 2016, the Ourhi Centre in the city of Qamishli was started by the Assyrian community, to educate teachers in order to make Syriac-Aramaic an additional language to be taught in public schools, which then started with the 2016/17 academic year. With that academic year, states the DFNS Education Committee, "three curriculums have replaced the old one, to include teaching in three languages: Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac."
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Syria has several other ethnic groups, the Kurds... they make up an estimated 9 percent...Turkomen comprise around 4-5 percent. of the total population. The rest of the ethnic mix of Syria is made of Assyrians (about 4 percent), Armenians (about 2 percent), and Circassians (about 1 percent).
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