Assyrian (Syriac: ܐܫܘܪܝܐ) is the common collective term in the English language for modern Aramaic-speaking peoples of the Near East, regardless of their regional self-identification
They are indigenous to, and have traditionally lived all over what is now Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey. Most Assyrians, also known as Chaldeans, Syriacs, Syrians and Arameans, speak a Neo-Aramaic language whose subdivisions include Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Western Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean and Turoyo.
The Assyrians are a Christian people, with most of them following various Eastern Rite Churches. Divisions exist between the speakers of Northeastern Neo-Aramaic, who mostly belong to the Assyrian Church of the East, Ancient Church of the East and Chaldean Catholic Church and have been historically concentrated in what is now northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, and southeastern Turkey, and speakers of Central Neo-Aramaic, who traditionally belong to the Syriac Orthodox Church and Syriac Catholic Church and have been historically concentrated in what is now southern Turkey, northern Syria and northern Iraq.
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, Germany, Netherlands, and France), North America, New Zealand, Lebanon, Armenia, Georgia, southern Russia, Israel, Azerbaijan and Jordan.
Emigration was triggered by such events as the Assyrian Genocide by the Ottoman Empire during World War I, 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, and Kurdish nationalist policies in northern Iraq.
Most recently, the Iraq War has displaced the regional Assyrian community, as its people have faced ethnic and religious persecution at the hands of Islamic extremists and Arab and Kurdish nationalists. Of the one million or more Iraqis reported by the United Nations to have fled Iraq since the occupation, nearly 40% are Assyrian, although Assyrians comprised around 3% of the pre-war Iraqi population. According to a 2013 report by a Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Popular Council official, it is estimated that only 300,000 Assyrians remain in Iraq.
The Assyrians initially experienced some periods of religious and cultural freedom interspersed with periods of severe religious and ethnic persecution after the Arab Islamic invasion and conquest of the 7th century AD. As heirs to ancient Mesopotamian civilization and culture, they also contributed hugely to the Arab Islamic Civilization during the Umayyads 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.
However, despite this, indigenous Assyrians became second class citizens in a greater Arab Islamic state, and those who resisted Arabisation and conversion to Islam were subject to severe religious, ethnic and cultural discrimination, and had certain restrictions imposed upon them. Assyrians were excluded from specific duties and occupations reserved for Muslims, they did not enjoy the same political rights as Muslims, their word was not equal to that of a Muslim in legal and civil matters, as Christians they were subject to payment of a special tax (jizyah), they were banned from spreading their religion further or building new churches in Muslim ruled lands, but were also expected to adhere to the same laws of property, contract and obligation as the Muslim Arabs.
As non-Islamic proselytising was punishable by death under Sharia law, the Assyrians were forced 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.
From the 7th century AD onwards Mesopotamia saw a steady influx of Arabs, Kurds and other Iranian peoples, and later Turkic peoples, and the indigenous population retaining native Mesopotamian culture, identity, language, religion and customs were steadily marginalised and gradually became a minority in their own homeland.
The 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, and it was from this point that the ancient Assyrian capital of Assur was finally abandoned by Assyrians.
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, Chaldeans, Syriacs or Arameans of today are descendants of the indigenous inhabitants of Mesopotamia, who refused to be converted to Islam or be culturally, linguistically, and ethnically 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 East — the 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.
Mongolian and Turkic rule
After initially coming under Seljuk and Buyid rule, the region eventually came under the control of the Mongol Empire after the fall of Baghdad in 1258. The Mongol khans were sympathetic with Christians and did not harm them. The most prominent among them was probably Isa, a diplomat, astrologer, and head of the Christian affairs in the Yuan Dynasty in East Asia. He spent some time in Persia under the Ilkhans. The 14th century AD massacres of Timur in particular, devastated the Assyrian people. Timur’s 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. Syria’s diocese, he wrote, was “wasted” The region was later controlled by the in Iran-based Turkic confederations of the Aq Qoyunlu and Qara Qoyunlu. Subsequently all Assyrians, like with the rest of the ethnicities living in the former Ak Koyunlu territories, fell in Iranian Safavid hands from 1501 and on.
From Iranian Safavid to confirmed Ottoman rule
Assyrian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan, Armenia
The Ottomans secured their control over Mesopotamia and Syria in the first half of the 17th century following the Ottoman–Safavid War (1623–39) and the resulting Treaty of Zuhab. 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.
A religious schism amongst the Assyrians took place in the mid to late 16th century. Dissent over the hereditary succession within the Assyrian Church of the East grew until 1552, when a group of Assyrian bishops, from the northern regions of Amid and Salmas, elected a priest, Mar Yohannan Sulaqa, as a rival patriarch. To look for a bishop of metropolitan rank to consecrate him patriarch, Sulaqa traveled to the pope in Rome and entered into communion with the Catholic Church. In 1553 he was consecrated bishop and elevated to the rank of patriarch taking the name of Mar Shimun VIII. He was granted the title of “Patriarch of the Chaldeans,” and his church was named the Church of Athura and Mosul.
Assyrian Attack on a Town
Mar Shimun VIII Yohannan Sulaqa returned to northern Mesopotamia in the same year and fixed his seat in Amid. Before being put to death by the partisans of the Assyrian Church of the East patriarch of Alqosh, he ordained five metropolitan bishops thus beginning a new ecclesiastical hierarchy: the patriarchal line known as the Shimun line. The area of influence of this patriarchate soon moved from Amid east, fixing the See, after many places, in the isolated Assyrian village of Qochanis. Although this new church eventually drifted away from Rome by 1600 AD and reentered communion with the Assyrian Church, the archbishop of Amid reinstated relations with Rome in 1672 AD, giving birth to the modern Chaldean Catholic Church.
theme of the lion hunt was very popular in neo assyrian royal art king stabbing lion
In the 1840s many of the Assyrians living in the mountains of Hakkari in the south eastern corner of the Ottoman Empire were massacred by the Kurdish emirs of Hakkari and Bohtan.
Another major massacre of Assyrians (and Armenians) in the Ottoman Empire occurred between 1894 and 1897 AD by Turkish troops and their Kurdish allies 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.
Map of the Assyrian genocide.
World War I and aftermath
The most significant recent persecution against the Assyrian population was the Assyrian genocide which occurred during the First World War. Between 275,000 and 300,000 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 Assyrian population. This led to a large-scale migration of Turkish-based Assyrian people into countries such as Syria, Iran, and Iraq (where they were to suffer further violent assaults at the hands of the Arabs and Kurds), as well as other neighbouring countries in and around the Middle East such as Armenia, Georgia and Russia.
Shortly after the first Russian retreat from Persie, and before the arrival of Mar Shimon’s Army, the Persian Assyriahs began to flee to the protection of the American and the French flags in Urmia. But they were intercepted by the Moslems, who killed hundreds of them and carried their women captives.
In reaction to the Assyrian Genocide and lured by British and Russian promises of an independent nation, the Assyrians led by Agha Petros and Malik Khoshaba of the Bit-Tyari tribe, fought alongside the allies against Ottoman forces in an Assyrian war of independence. Despite being heavily outnumbered and outgunned the Assyrians fought successfully, scoring a number of victories over the Turks and Kurds. This situation continued until their Russian allies left the war, and Armenian resistance broke, leaving the Assyrians surrounded, isolated and cut off from lines of supply.
Assyrian Relief – British Museum.
The majority of Assyrian living in what is today modern Turkey were forced to flee to either Syria or Iraq after the Turkish victory during the Turkish War of Independence.
The Assyrian Levies were founded by the British in 1928, with ancient Assyrian military rankings such as Rab-shakeh, Rab-talia and Tartan, being revived for the first time in millennia for this force. The Assyrians were prized by the British rulers for their fighting qualities, loyalty, bravery and discipline, and were used to help the British put down insurrections among the Arabs and Kurds. During World War II, eleven Assyrian companies saw action in Palestine and another four served in Cyprus. The Parachute Company was attached to the Royal Marine Commando and were involved in fighting in Albania, Italy and Greece. The Assyrian Levies played a major role in subduing the pro-Nazi Iraqi forces at the battle of Habbaniya in 1941.
Assyrian Lioness Hunted
However, this cooperation with the British was viewed with suspicion by some leaders of the newly formed Kingdom of Iraq. The tension reached its peak shortly after the formal declaration of independence when hundreds of Assyrian civilians were massacred during the Simele Massacre by the Iraqi Army in August 1933. The events lead to the expulsion of Shimun XXIII Eshai the Catholicos Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East to the United States where resided until his death in 1975.
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 forcibly “Arabize” the indigenous Assyrians. The giving of traditional Assyrian/Akkadian names and East 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 government refused to recognize Assyrians as an ethnic group, and fostered divisions among the ethnic Assyrians along religious lines (e.g. Assyrian Church of the East vs Chaldean Catholic Church vs Syriac Orthodox Church vs Assyrian Protestant).
In response to Baathist persecution, the Assyrians of the Zowaa movement within the Assyrian Democratic Movement took up armed struggle against the Iraqi government in 1982 under the leadership of Yonadam Kanna, and then joined up with the IKF in early 1990s. Yonadam Kanna in particular was a target of the Saddam Hussein Ba’ath government for many years.
The al-Anfal Campaign of 1986–1989 in Iraq was predominantly aimed at Kurds. However, 2,000 Assyrians were murdered through its gas campaigns; over 31 towns and villages and 25 Assyrian monasteries and churches were razed to the ground; a number of Assyrians were murdered; others were deported to large cities, and their land and homes then being appropriated by Arabs and Kurds.
Since the 2003 Iraq War social unrest and anarchy have resulted in the 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 or to northern Iraq, or has been murdered.
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 Muslims attacking Assyrian Christian communities. Since the start of the Iraq war, at least 46 churches and monasteries have been bombed.
The Syriac Military Council is an Assyrian/Syriac military organisation in Syria. The establishment of the organisation was announced on 8 January 2013. According to the Syriac Military Council the goal of the organisation is to stand up for the national rights of Syriacs and to protect the Syriac people in Syria. It intends to work together with the other communities in Syria to change the current government of Bashar al-Assad. The organisation will fight mostly in the densely populated Syriac areas of the Governorates of Aleppo, Damascus, Al-Hasakah, Latakia and Homs.
Assyrian world population.
Assyrian world population.
Assyrians Melbourne, Australia
Black more than 500,000
Dark Purple 100,000–500,000
Light purpule 50,000–100,000
Lighter purple 10,000–50,000
lightest Purple less than 10,000
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. The historical Assyrian homelands spanned across northern Iraq, north eastern Syria, south eastern Turkey, and north western Iran. There were also long time and significant communities outside the bounds of their homelands in the major cities of the countries they were in such as Aleppo, Baghdad, Antep, Urfa, Amida, and Istanbul. Modern day, There is a significant Assyrian population in Syria, where an estimated 877,000 Assyrians live.
In Tur Abdin, one of the two traditional homelands for Assyrians in Turkey, there are only 3,000 left, and an estimated 25,000 in all of Turkey. The other Homeland, which was largely in what is the modern day Hakkari Province of Turkey, was completely purged in the 1915 Assyrian genocide, which also caused many of the Assyrians/Syriacs in Turkey to flee to other areas of the middle east and unaffected traditional homelands in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. Others left the Middle east entirely and went to the Western world.
Assyrian section of the British Museum
The Assyrian/Syriac people can be divided along geographic, linguistic, and denominational lines, the three main groups being:
• the “Western” or “Jacobite” group, which are from/reside in northeastern Syria(Al-Hasakah Province) and southeastern Turkey(The Tur Abdin region) (Syriac Orthodox Church & Syriac Catholic Church);
• the “Eastern” or “Nestorian” group, which are from/reside in northern Iraq(Dohuk province), northeast Syria(Al-Hasakah Province), southeastern Turkey(Hakkari Province), and northwest Iran (Assyrian Church of the East & Ancient Church of the East);
• the “Chaldean Christian” or “Chaldean Catholic”/Chaldo-Assyrian group, which are from/reside in northern and central Iraq(Ninawa Province and Baghdad), and northwestern Iran (Chaldean Catholic Church)
Note: Assyrian followers of the Chaldean Catholic church make up the majority of the Iraqi Christian population since their conversion to Catholicism from the Assyrian Church of the East in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Due to their Christian faith and ethnicity, the Assyrians have been persecuted since their adoption of Christianity. During the reign of Yazdegerd I, Christians in Persia were viewed with suspicion as potential Roman subversives, resulting in persecutions while at the same time promoting Nestorian Christianity as a buffer between the Churches of Rome and Persia. Persecutions and attempts to impose Zoroastrianism continued during the reign of Yazdegerd II.
During the eras of Mongol rule under Genghis Khan and Timur, there was indiscriminate slaughter of tens of thousands of Assyrians and destruction of the Assyrian population of northwestern Iran and central and northern Iran.
More recent persecutions since the 19th century include the Massacres of Badr Khan, the Massacres of Diyarbakır (1895), the Adana Massacre, the Assyrian Genocide, the Simele Massacre, and the al-Anfal Campaign.
Assyrian Genocide Memorial Unveiled in Yerevan.
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. 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 Södertälje, Chicago, and Detroit.
Assyrian flag (since 1968) ]
Assyrians are divided among several churches They speak, and many can read and write, dialects of Neo-Aramaic.
In certain areas of the Assyrian homeland, identity within a community depends on a person’s village of origin or Christian denomination rather than their ethnic commonality, for instance Chaldean Catholic.
Today, Assyrians and other minority ethnic groups in the Middle East, feel pressure to identify as “Arabs”, “Turks” and “Kurds”. Those Assyrians in Syria, who live outside of the traditionally and historically Assyrian northeastern region of the country, are pressured to identify as Arabs, due to Arab Nationalist policies of the Baathist government.
Neo-Aramaic exhibits remarkably conservative features compared with Imperial Aramaic.
The communities of indigenous pre-Arab Neo-Aramaic-speaking people of Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Iran, Turkey and Lebanon and the surrounding areas advocate different terms for ethnic self-designation.
• “Assyrians”, after the ancient Assyria, advocated by followers of the Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East, some followers of the Chaldean Catholic Church and Assyrian Protestants. (“Eastern Assyrians”), and some communities of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Syriac Catholic Church (“Western Assyrians”). Those identifying with Assyria, and with Mesopotamia in general, tend to be from Iraq, northeastern Syria; southeastern Turkey, Iran, Armenia, Georgia; southern Russia and Azerbaijan. It is likely that those from this region are indeed of Assyrian/Mesopotamian heritage as they are clearly of pre-Arab and pre-Islamic stock. Furthermore, there is no historical evidence or proof to suggest the indigenous Mesopotamians were wiped out; Assyria existed as a specifically named region until the second half of the 7th century AD. Most speak Mesopotamian dialects of Neo-Aramaic. Assyrian nationalism emphatically connects Modern Assyrians to the population of ancient Mesopotamia and the Neo-Assyrian Empire. A historical basis of this sentiment was disputed by a few early historians, but receives strong support from modern Assyriologists like Robert D. Biggs and Giorgi Tsereteli and Iranologists like Richard Nelson Frye. Nineteenth century orientalists such as Austen Henry Layard and Hormuzd Rassam also support this view.
• “Chaldo-Assyrians”, is a term used by the Iraqi government to designate the indigenous Aramaic speaking Christians of Iraq. It intrinsically acknowledges that the terms Assyrian and Chaldean refer to the same ethnic group. Some Assyrians use this term to defuse arguments over naming along denominational lines.
• “Chaldeans”, after ancient Chaldea, advocated by some followers of the Chaldean Catholic Church who are mainly based in the United States. This is mainly a denominational rather than ethnic term, though some Chaldean Catholics espouse a distinct Chaldean ethnic identity. It is likely that these are exactly the same people as the Assyrians, both having the same culture and originating from the same lands.
Alqosh, located in the midst of Assyrian contemporary civilization
• “Syriacs”, advocated by 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 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 Çineköy inscription seems to settle conclusively in favor of Assyria being the origin of the terms Syria and Syriac. For this reason, some Assyrians accept the term Syriac as well as Assyrian. However, Poseidonios (ca. 135 BC – 51 BC), from the Syrian Apamea, was a Greek Stoic philosopher, politician, astronomer, geographer, historian, and teacher who says that the Syrians call themselves Arameans. At the same time historians, geographers and philosophers like Herodotos, Strabo, and Justinus mention that Assyrians were afterwards called Syrians.
Decorations from royal palace at Nineveh.
• “Arameans”, after the ancient Aram-Naharaim, advocated by some followers of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Syriac Catholic Church in western, northwestern, southern and central Syria as well as south central Turkey. The term Aramean is sometimes expanded to “Syriac-Aramean”.
In addition Western Media often makes no mention of any ethnic identity of the Christian people of the region and simply call them Christians, Iraqi Christians, Iranian Christians, Syrian Christians, and Turkish Christians. This label is rejected by Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs since it erroneously implies no difference other than theological with the Muslim Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Iranians and Azeris of the region.
Assyrian child dressed in traditional clothes.
Assyrian culture is largely influenced by Christianity. Main festivals occur during religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas. There are also secular holidays such as Kha b-Nisan (vernal equinox).
People often greet and bid relatives farewell with a kiss on each cheek and by saying “ܫܠܡܐ ܥܠܝܟ” Shlama/Shlomo lokh, which means: “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.
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”.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.
By the 1st century AD, Akkadian was extinct, although some loaned vocabulary still survives in Assyrian Neo-Aramaic to this day.
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. 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. 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 are widely spoken.
Recent archaeological evidence includes a statue from Syria with Akkadian and Aramaic inscriptions. It is the oldest known Aramaic text.
Historical divisions within Syriac Christian Churches in the Middle East.
Main article: Syriac Christianity
Assyrians belong to various Christian denominations such as the Assyrian Church of the East, with an estimated 400,000 members, the Chaldean Catholic Church, with about 900,000 members, and the Syriac Orthodox Church (ʿIdto Suryoyto Triṣaṯ Šuḇḥo), which has between 1,000,000 and 4,000,000 members around the world (only some of whom are Assyrians), the Ancient Church of the East with some 100,000 members, and various Protestant churches, such as the Assyrian Pentecostal Church with 25,000 adherents, and the Assyrian Evangelical Church. While Assyrians are predominantly Christians, a number are 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:
• adherents of the East Syrian Rite also known as Nestorians
o adherents of the Assyrian Church of the East & Ancient Church of the East
o adherents of the West Syrian Rite also known as Jacobites
o adherents of the Syriac Orthodox Church
o adherents of the Syriac Catholic Church
For obvious reasons the Chaldean Catholics who were originally members of the Ancient Church of the East are not Nestorian in theology, a designation which the ACE itself denies.
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.
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 death. 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 zurna and Davul
Main articles: Assyrian/Syriac folk music and Syriac sacral music
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, Habib Mousa, Josef Özer, 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).
Assyrian battle tales as an Assyrian folk singer sings and troup dances
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. 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:
Assyrian people in Northern Iraq. Celebrating the Assyrian new year
Assyrian people in Northern Iraq. Celebrating the Assyrian new year
• Kha b-Nisan ܚܕ ܒܢܝܣܢ, the Assyrian new year, traditionally on April 1, though usually celebrated on January 1. Assyrians usually wear traditional costumes and hold social events including parades and parties, dancing, and listening to poets telling the story of creation.
• Sauma d-Ba’utha ܒܥܘܬܐ ܕܢܝܢܘܝܐ, the Nineveh fast. 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.
April 1st Assyrian New Year Celebration in Toronto.
• Kalu d’Sulaqa, celebration of the legend of Malik Shalita.
• Nusardyl, commemorating the baptism of the Assyrians of Urmia by St. Thomas.
• Sharra d’Mart Maryam, usually on August 15, a festival and feast celebrating St. Mary with games, food, and celebration.
• Other Sharras (special festivals) include: Sharra d’Mart Shmuni, Sharra d’Mar Shimon Bar-Sabbaye, Sharra d’Mar Mari, and Shara d’Mar Zaia, Mar Bishu, Mar Sawa, Mar Sliwa, and Mar Odisho
• Yoma d’Sah’deh (Day of Martyrs), commemorating the thousands massacred in the Simele Massacre and the hundreds of thousands massacred in the Assyrian Genocide.
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 2–3 days; in the Assyrian diaspora they last 1–2 days.
Assyrian women in 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 jewelry. 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.
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.” 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. “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”.
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.”
A 2008 study on the genetics of “old ethnic groups in Mesopotamia,” including 340 subjects from seven ethnic communities (“Assyrian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Armenian, Turkmen, the Arab peoples in Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait”) found that Assyrians were homogeneous with respect to all other ethnic groups sampled in the study, regardless of religious affiliation.
In a 2011 study focusing on the genetics of Marsh Arabs of Iraq, researchers identified Y chromosome haplotypes shared by Marsh Arabs, Iraqis, and Assyrians, “supporting a common local background.”