the fall of Nineveh to Present
William M Warda
Christians of Iraq staff writer
June 14, 05
For almost two thousands years the Old
Testament was the primary source of information about the ancient
Assyrians. Those who read the book of Nahum about the destruction
of Nineveh had come to believe that the ancient Assyrians were
defeated into extinction and Nineveh no longer existed until
Layard unearthed it. However they did not notice that Nahum at
the end wrote: "O king of Assyria, your nobles slumber.
Your people are scattered on the mountain with none to gather
Being scattered on the mountain or becoming
extinct are two different things, in reality Assyrians survived
not only on the mountain also in the cities and the plain. For
example Harran which became the capital of the Assyrians after
the fall of Nineveh was attacked twice but was not seriously
damaged. The same can be said about Arbil, Nissibin and other
smaller or out of the way towns. Harran was a thriving city way
into the Islamic era when it was destroyed by the Mongols in
the 13th century.
The major cities and towns in northern
Iraq still bear their ancient names : Arbil; Assyrian Araba-illu,
Tikrit; Assyrian Tikriti, Kirkuk; Assyrian 'Kirkha d' beit Suluk'
or Arrapha- Nineveh; Assyrian Nineveh, Harran; Assyrian Harranu,
Nissibin; Assyrian Nissibini, Alqoush; Assyrian Alquoushtu, Karmalish,
Assyrian Kar-Mullissi, Mosul; Mespilla. Not even in Persia so
many cities are still known by their ancient names. The cities of southern Mesopotamia are now known by the names that Arabs, after conqering the region in the 7th centry, gave them.
The survival of the Assyrian names for the cities of northern Iraq reveals their continued inhabitation
by the same people as before the fall of Nineveh. If the original inhabitants no longer
existed the new settlers of foreign origin would have called
them by names more compatible with their own culture and language.
The majority inhabitants of the Assyrian cities are now Arabs and Kurds
but the former arrived after the 7th century A.D., and the latter more recently, while their population gradually increased
that of the Assyrians decreased due to persecution, forced conversion and expulsion similar to what has happened to them during the past few years, at times even much worst.
Historical and archaeological evidences attest to the fact that the Christian Assyrians have lived in the hearthland of the ancient Assyria since the fall of Nineveh. For example the city of Kalkhu also known as Nimrud a capital of the Assyrian Empire for over 150 years is situated on the Tigris River south of Mosul, in the Nineveh Plain, 4 miles south-west of the Christian monastery of Mar Bahaman also called Deir Al-Jubb [in Arabic] (The Cistern Monastery), about 32 km southwest of Mosul, . "The monastery is a great fort-like 12th or 13th century building next to the tomb of Mar Behnam a prince who was killed by the Sassanians, perhaps during the 4th century AD. A legend made him a son of an Assyrian king [or governor]."
Churches and Monasteries of Mosul, Iraq, http://www.atlastours.net/iraq/mosul_churches.html Dec.2010
There is no reason to believe that Assyrians
were wiped out during a relatively short period of time. It is a known fact
that nations have survived despite all attempts to destroy them.
Fifty million dead during world war II did not cause the extinction
of any nation. The persecution including wholesale massacres
of the Jews during more than two thousand years of their history
did not wipe them out. The Syriac speaking Christians of Mesopotamia,
(Assyrians) of Iraq, Turkey, and Northwest Iran survived 2000
years of persecutions including repeated massacres by the Sassanian
Persians, Arabs, Mongols, Tatars, Kurds and Turks. Two third
of the Assyrian population was murdered or forced into Islam
between 1914 to 1919 by the combined military forces of the Kurds,
Turks, Persians in an all out attempt to wipe them out but they
prevailed despite their relatively small number and being concentrated
in a small geographic area. The Armenians lost 1.5 million of
their population at that time but they are still here.
As Assyrialogists learn more about the
history of the Christian Assyrians they become more convinced
that they are the descendants of the ancient Assyrians. Robert
D. Biggs, Archaeologist and professor of Assyriology in the University
of Chicago writes: The '[i]mportance of Christianity in northern
Iraq is probably little recognized in Europe or America."
Having visited the early Christian monasteries in the region
he asserts: "I think there is very likelihood that ancient
Assyrians are among the ancestors of the modern Assyrians of
the area." (Robert
D. Biggs, 'My Career in Assyriology and Near Eastern Archaeology',
Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, vol. 19 No. 1, 2005 p.14.)
The third person from the bottom left represents Assyrians among the peoples
of the Turkish Empire in this 1626 map by John Speed
The prominent Assyriology , H.W.F.
Saggs, does not believe that Assyrians were defeated into extinction.
He wrote: "The destruction of the Assyrian empire did not
wipe out its population. They were predominantly peasant farmers,
and since Assyria contains some of the best wheat land in the
Near East, descendants of the Assyrian peasants would, as opportunity
permitted, build new villages over the old cities and carry on
with agricultural life, remembering traditions of the former
cities. After seven or eight centuries and various vicissitudes,
these people became Christians."
(H.W.F. Saggs, "The Might that Was Assyria"
Simo Parpola believes likewise: "Assyria
was a vast and densely populated country, and outside the few
urban centers life went on as usual."
(Simo Parpola, "Assyrians after Assyria",
Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, Vol. XIII No. 2, 1999,
From the Fall of Nineveh to Christianity
The Babylonian king Nabunaid 's (555-539)
mother who died at the ripe age of 104, seventy three yeas after the fall of
Nineveh, in an inscription mentions the surviving relatives and
the officials of the Assyrian kings in Harran whom she accuses
of not performing food offering and libation to the graves of
the monarchs who had done so much for them, but she contends
that she did.
Prichard, Ed., "Ancient Near Eastern Text Relating to Old
Testament", Princeton University Press 1950 p. 312.) If the relatives and the officials of the Assyrian
kings had survived, there is no reason to believe the rest of
the population was wiped out.
In describing the invasion of
Assyria by the Persian king Cyrus Olmstead writes; after defeating
the Medes he marched north into Assyria in 547 B.C.... "Arbela,
for so many centuries overshadowed by Ashur and Nineveh, regained
its prestige as the new capital of Athura. Cyrus crossed the
Tigris below Arbela, and Ashur fell; the gods of Ashur and Nineveh
were saved only through refuge behind the walls of Babylon..." (Olmatead, "History
of the Persian Empire" Chicago University Press 1959 p.
Other historical and archaeological
discoveries attest to the survival of the Assyrians and Assyria
during all centuries. Following are samples of such references which
have been cited verbatim to show the intent of the original
authors also to allow the readers judge their meaning for themselves. It is interesting that such ancient and medieval evidences, and thousands like them, are summarily ignored, because contemporary writers have been unwilling to let go of their preconceived notions, or perhaps they are unaware of these facts.
The mid 19th century translation of
the Persian kings inscriptions attest to the existence of Assyria and
Assyrians as part of their empire.
The Nagshe Rostam inscription by Darius
(512-48) which lists the national types of the Persian Empire
includes the Assyrians. A reference to them reads as: "Iyam
Asuryah", "this is an Assyrian" which is very
similar to the term "Suryah" a name christian Assyrians
have identified themselves by.
Sen, "Old Persian Inscriptions of the Achamenian Emperors,"
University of Calcutta 1941 p. 107)
The Behistun inscription of Darius in
the beginning of his rule lists 23 countries as part of his empire
including: "Persis, Huza (Elam), Babiru (Babylon), Athura
(Assyria)...."(Josef Wiesehofer, Azizeh Azodi Trans.,
"Ancient Persia From 550 BC to 650 AD, I.B. Tauris Publishers,
In another inscription in Susa Darius
writes; "The cedar timber, this -- a mountain named Lebanon
-- from there was brought. The Assyrian people, they brought it
to Babylon; from Babylon the Carians and the Ionians brought
it to Susa. The yakâ-timber was brought from Gandara and
from Carmania." Old Persian
"Proclaims Xerexes, the king: "By
the favor of Ahura Meazda; these are the people/countries of
which I was king of ....Persia, Media, Elam, Armenia, Drangiana,
parhia, Aria, Bactri a, Sogdia, Choresmia, Babylonia, ASSYRIA,
Stagydia, Lydia, Egypt......" (Josef Wiesehofer, Azizeh Azodi Trans., "Ancient
Persia From 550 BC to 650 AD, I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1969.)
In a Trilingual Persepolis inscription
ARTAXERXES II (c. 436 - 358 BC) OR III ( BC.
to 338 BC.). among the twenty throne-bearers of various nationalities
Assyrian representative is identified as; '17. This is the Assyrian'. http://www.avesta.org/op/op.htm
Those who question the identity of the
contemporary Assyrians justify it by saying "they have been
known primarily as Syrians and Surai during most of the christian
Era." They seem not to realize that the region west of Euphrates known to the Assyrians as Abar-nahra or Beyond the River was Called Syria meaning Assyria by the Greeks because it did not have a common national identity and had been part of the Assyrian empire for as long as they remembered. The term Syrian was also used by the Greeks in reference to the Assyrians in Mesopotamia who had never been citizens of Syria.
Recent discoveries indicate that the term Surai or Syrian meaning Assyrian was in use as early as the 8th century BC. A new bilingual inscription in Hieroglyphic Luwian and Phoenician discovered in Turkey at Çineköy, in the vicinity of Adana by Recai Tekoglu and André Lemaire provides incontrovertible evidence that 'Surai' i.e., Syrian meant Assyrian to their ally the Luwians long before Greeks used the term.
In one inscription dedicated to the storm god Baal, Warikas/Urikki, king of Hiyawa/Adana, i.e., Cilicia a contemporary of Tiglath-pileser III (744–727) and Sargon II (721–705).15 refers to "the/an Assyrian king' as "(su+ra/i-wa/i-ni-sa(URBS)) and the whole Assyrian “House” (su+ra/i-wa/i-za-ha(URBS)).."
An eight century Rosetta Stone found near Adana in Luwian again identifies the Assyrians as "SYRIANS [su+ra/i] and in Phoenician ASSYRIANS (“ ªSRYM”)." Simo Parpola also contends that "The word Assurayu, "Assyrian", thus also had a variant Surayu in late Assyrian times. Both terms refer to the same people: Assyrians/Syrians."
ROBERT ROLLINGER, "THE TERMS 'ASSYRIA' AND 'SYRIA' AGAIN," in JNES 65 no. 4 (2006), pp. 283-287.
The fifth century B.C. Herodotus describes
the Assyrian troops as part of the Persian empire's army of king
xerexes (486-465/4): "The Assyrians went to war with helmets
upon their head, made of brass, and plated in strange fashion,
which is not easy to describe. .... These people, whom Greeks
call Syrian, are called Assyrian by the barbarians. Herodotus
Barbarians meant the Persians, the Armenians and other none Greek."
Assyrians and Babylonians together formed the fifth infantry
and were led by Otaspes son of Artchaies. Andrew Robert Burn, Persia and the Greeks, the Defense
of the west 546-478 B.C., Minerva Press 1962 p. 336.
The presence of the Assyrian military in the Persian army is attested to by [a] bronze [conical shaped] Assyrian helmet from the 490 B.C. Battle of Marathon" presently at the Onassis Cultural Center in Greece. (Associated Press Writer, 'Artifacts show rivals Athens and Sparta' Yahoo News, December 5, 2006)
The first century B.C. Strabo attests
to the fact that Syria meant Assyria. He writes:" 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 Syrian no other people than those who built the royal
palaces in Babylon and Ninus; and of these Syrians, Ninus was
the man who founded Ninus [Nineveh], in Aturia..[Assyria]. (H.L. Jones Translation of "Geography
of Strabo", New York 1916, Vol. VIII p.195)
While one has to admit that inhabitants
west of Euphrates were not Assyrians, there is no reason to doubt
the Assyrian identity of those living in the Assyria proper.
According to Strabo the country of the Assyrians at his time
included babylon and Aturia [Assyria]. Later he writes the name
'Syrians' extends from Babylon to the Gulf of Issus [the Mediterranean
Sea]. (Strabo p.193) This was the extent of the Assyrian empire
before its fall.
The third century Roman historian Justinus
also attests to this fact. He wrote: "The Assyrians,
who were afterwards called Syrians, held their empire for thirteen
hundred years." (Marcus
Junianus Justinus Epitome of the Philippic, "History of
Pompeius Trogus", translated by Rev. John Selby Watson.
(London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853)
The above references clearly prove that the term Syrians and Suraye
applied to the inhabitants of Mesopotamia denoted Assyrians who
later became Christians.
Archaeological discoveries also indicate
that the Assyrian community in Ashur "[c]ontinued to worship
it's national god and his consort, on the same spot as their
ancestors had done before the disasters of 612 B.C., although
in a new temple. As late as AD 200-28, they were using such grand
old personal names as Sin/ahe/erba, even Esarhaddon...." (Malcom A.R. Colledge,
"The Parthians", Praegr, New York 1967, p.46.)
Iraqi Department of Antiquities between
1951 and 1955, discovered nine temples in the city of Hatra dedicated
to the Assyrian deities such as Shamash, Sin, Nebo, Nergal and
one to the Assyrian God, "Ashur Bel " The head of the
Ashur Bel's statue found in Hatra is broken, but the remaining
curled square beard is characteristically similar to the
imperial Assyrian kings. (Edward
Bacon, "Digging for History", Archaeological Discoveries
Throughout the World, 1945 to 1959", New York 1960, p. 205.)
Excavations by a team of British archaeologist from Edinburgh
University at the Eski Mosul Dam Basin in 1983 unearthed solid
evidences of Assyrian survival after their defeat. A heavy Assyrian
presence was detected in the area only 40 km to the north-east
of Nineveh.(Associated Press report
reprinted in Nineveh Magazine, Vol 7 No. 3& 4, 1984)
The Christian Era
According to The Teaching of Addaeus
the Apostle "people of the East, in the guise of merchants,
passed over into the territory of the Romans, that they might
see the signs which Addaeus did. And such as became disciples
received from him ordination to the priesthood, and in their
own country of the Assyrians they instructed the people of their
nation, and erected houses of prayer there in secret, by reason
of the danger from those who worshiped fire and paid reverence
to water. "http://www.biblefacts.org/ecf/vol8/anf08-143.htm
The second century Tatian identified
himself as Assyrian. He wrote, "I was born in the land of
His contemporary Lucian of Samostosa, in his "Goddess of
Syria" wrote : "I that write [this] am "Assourious"
Translated by A.M. Harmon, Vol. IV, "The goddess of
Surrye", London 1925 p.339.)
Prepon, the Assyrian, who was a student
of Marcion is said to have introduced a new theological philosophy
based on a work by Bardaisan who claimed that world is managed
by good and evil.
According to Tacitius in the winter
of 50 A.D. the forces of Carenes crossed the river Tigris and
entered Adiabene and "captured the city of Ninos, the most
ancient capital of Assyria" prior to waging war against
the Parthian king Gotarzes on behalf of Meherdates the contender
to the throne. (Cornelius
Tacitius, Edi. Robert Maynard Hutchis"The Annals and The
Histories"; , Copyright Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.
Assyriologist Joan Oates writes: "The
site of Nineveh, a city which survives in modern Mosul, was never
in fact forgotten ..."Joan Oates babylon (P. 143) She further
adds : Nineveh which was considered by them [classical writers
] to have been in ruin after 612 B.C. we know to have been the
site of a considerable city during both the Seleucid and Parthian
periods [330 B.C. -224 AD]." ( Joan Oates, "Babylon", Thames and Hudson,
London 1971 p. 142)
In describing Trajan's 116 AD invasion
o f Mesopotamia Roman Historian Dio Cassius wrote: "And
the Romans crossed over and gained possession of the whole of
Adiabene. This is a district of Assyria in the vicinity of Ninus
[Nineveh] and Arabela and Gaugamela (Goomla) near which places
Alexander conquered Darius, are also in the same country
accordingly , has been called Atyria [Attar] in the language
of the barbarians, the double S being changed to T."(Dio Cassinus, Earnest Cary trans."Dio's
Roman History", Book LXVIII, William Heinemann London 1955
Even during the Sassanian dynasty of
Persia (224-639 A.D.) the southern part of Mesopotamia was known
as Asuristan while central Assyria was renamed Nod-Ardakhshiragan
[Perhaps belonging to Ardakhshir]. It is interesting to note
that while the conquerors of central Assyria Changed its name
first to Adiabene and later to Nodshiragan and then to Iraq,
Christian inhabitants of the region continued to call it Assyria
and identified themselves as Assyrian [Aturaye] side by side
with Syrian [Suraye].
In an inscription; lands ruled by Shapur I, (241-276 A.D.) are
listed as "Fars [Persia], Pahlav [Parthia], Kuzistan, Meshan,
Asuristan [southern Mesopotamia} and Nod-Ardakhshiragan [Assyria
Ruled by Ardashir] ........." (Josef Wiesehofer, Azizeh Azodi Trans., "Ancient
Persia From 550 BC to 650 AD, I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1969.)
The medieval writer Tabari indicates
that Mesopotamia was called Asuristan during the Sassanian period
before Arab conquest of the region: "Ardashir further
advanced from Media described a large curve through Adurbadagan/Atropatene, Nodshiragan/Adiabene to Asuristan/Assyria (Iraq), where he conquered
the capital of the Parthian Empire, Seleucia-Ctesiphon, probably
in 226/227 AD."
That inhabitants of Mesopotamia were
known as Assyrians by the Persians is evident in their religious
book of 'Zand-i Vohuman Yasht' in the Pahlavi language. In one
section it accuses the Greeks (Yunan) who ruled in Asuristan
(330-145 B.C.) were slaying the [Asori] Assyrian people and destroying
The Armenians who have lived side by
side with the Assyrians have always called them Assori, i.e. Assyrian
as have other nationalities. Following is an early century Armenian document "perhaps the earliest original writing in Classical Armenian. This reading is taken from Books V and VI." which describes how an Assyrian bishop was instrumental in inventing the Armenian alphabet in 420 AD.
"..having devoted themselves to a great examination of experiment and investigation, and having endured great labors, they then made an announcement of their own searching to the king of the Armenians, whose name was called Vramshapuh. Then the king told them about a certain man called Daniel by name, an Assyrian bishop of noble origin, who had elsewhere devised letters of the alphabet for the Armenian language. And when this was related to them by the king about the writing from Daniel, they prompted the king to take care according to their needs. And by decree he sent someone, Vahrich by name, to an elderly man whose name they called Habel, who was an acquaintance of the Assyrian bishop Daniel."
(A. Richard Diebold Center for Indo-European Language and Culture (http://www.utexas.edu/cola/centers/lrc/eieol/armol-4-R.html)
"In Edessa the Syrian professor Daniel around AD 404 or 405 co-operated with the Armenian ascetic and scholar Mashtoc` who was sponsored by Sahak the Armenian catholicos (AD 378 – 438) to invent a new script and translate the bible into Armenian for the first time. A life of Mashtoc` was written by his disciple Koriwn. Mashtoc` seems to have been aided in the work of translation by two other disciples of his; Eznik of Kolb and Hovsep."
Armenian historians Koriwn, and T'eodoros K'rt'enawor, (c. AD 600 Ð 675) contended that the first Armenian New Testament was created from Syriac, not Greek but after the Council of Ephesus between AD 433 and 436 a second translation was made from Greek.
According to the 19th century Badger
"In many Syriac [Assyrian] manuscripts, Mosul is styled
as Athur [Assyria] and it is not uncommon practice with ecclesiastical
writers of the present day to use the same phraseology". (Henry Burgess, The Repentance
of Nineveh, Sampson Low: Son and Co., London 1853, p. 36n.) Gesenius writes, "In Syriac
Church literature 'Athur' [Assyria] is the name of Mosul, on
the bank of the Tigris opposite to Nineveh; but it also designates
a metropolitan see, including Mosul, Nineveh and other towns." (Stephanie Dalley, Nineveh
after 612 B.C. , Alt-Orientanlishce Forshchungen #20, 1993, p
While the rest of the world believed
that Nineveh had been destroyed and forgotten and Assyrians no
longer existed Christians of Mesopotamia knew such was not the
case. For the last 2000 years Assyrians of the Church of the
East, the Syrian Orthodox Church, later the Chaldean Church have
observed the fast of Ninevites which is testimony to the survival
of the Assyrians and their belief that they were descendants
of the ancient Assyrians.
Nineveh became an important center of
the Assyrian Christianity. It was presided by a long list of
bishops from 554 to the late ninth century. Later its bishopric
was transferred to Mosul. Mar Emmeh, the Bishop of Nineveh was
elected Patriarch of the Church of the East and served in that
position between A.D. 644 to 647. Ishu-Yahav was the bishop of
Nineveh (627-637) when the byzantine forces under the command
of Herculius defeated the Persians near that city in 627. He
fled to his estate in the mountain during the war fearing that
he might be taken prisoner by the Byzantine. ((William G. Young, "Patriarch, Shah and Caliph",
Christian Study Center, Rawalpindi, Pakistan 1974, p. 87)
In a letter between (650-52) he invited
a certain Shimoun to come and see him in nineveh. ("William young' patriarch, Shah) During his term the country was torn by wars
between the Arab invaders and the Persians. Another famous bishop
of Nineveh was Ishag (Isaac) Ninevaya, who served in that position
for only six months in 660 A.D. Maran-Zakah served as bishop
of Nineveh between 795-798. Other prominent citizens of Nineveh
were Eshu-Bar-Noon, patriarch (820-824), Yohanan Bokht-Eshu Metropolitan
of Nineveh (850 - A.D.), Annush d' Beith Garmee, Patriarch (873-884). (J.M. Fiey, O.P., Assyrie
Chretienne, Imprimerie Catholique, Beyrouth, 159, pp.488-493.)
The Islamic Period
Those who have expressed doubt about
the identity of the Assyrians have done so primarily as a matter
of opinion and confusion of historical facts. While they can
undrestandt the term Indian when applied to the native Americans
has a different meaning than when it refers to the people of
India they seem to be unable to realize that Syrian in reference
to the Christians of Mesopotamia means Assyrian.
This is evident in the writings by writers whose knowledge of
the Christian Assyrian history is limited. Gavin Menzies in his
"1421 The Year China Discovered America" rightly credits
the Church of the East, otherwise known as Nestorian, for having
taken Christianity to China, but he claims that the church thrived
in Syria during the sixth century. (Kevin Menzies, "1421 The Year China Discovered
America", Harper Collins 2003 p.115) In fact the Church of the East was outlawed in the Byzantine
empire including Syria. It prospered in Mesopotamia under the
Persian rule and it was from Assyria that missionaries went to
China, India and Japan, among other places.
Thimithy I (770-823), patriarch of the
Church of the East in a letter to the monks of Mar Marun declares
that Babylonia, Persia and Assyria, all the countries of the
East, such as India and China were under his jurisdiction. (William G. Young, "Patriarch,
Shah and Caliph", Christian Study Center, Rawalpindi, Pakistan
The Tenth Century scholar and bookseller Abu al-Faraj Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Nadim in his catalogue or index titled Fihrist al-Nadim, mentions Assyrians when he wrote about the books and scripts of various people of his time. Al-Nadim defines them as Ashuriyun (Arabic for Assyrian) and writes : “Their master and chief is named Ibn Siqtiri ibn Ashuri [son of Siqtiri son of Ashuri]. They collect revenues and profits. At some things they agree with the Jews but about other things they disagree with them. They appear to be a sect of Jesus”.
When Arab Geographer Al Mas-udi visited
Nineveh in 943 A.D. He described it as a complex of ruins in
the middle of which there are several villages and farms, "
It was to these settlements that god sent Jonah" he wrote. (Brian M. Fagan, Return
to babylon, Little, Brown & Co., Canada p.18.) This statement echoed the sentiments of the
Christian Assyrians. Some of the better known Assyrian villages
of Nineveh at that time were: 'Takshur', mentioned by Bar Awraya,
'Tarrut D' Nineveh ' [Gate of Nineveh], 'Ba Gabbari' [ the Braves],
the birth place of Patriarch Ishu Barnon located between the
walls of Nineveh and Mosul, , mentioned by Yagut in 1220 . 'Bori',
where a beautiful church was built in the 7th century, consecrated
by Mar Yokhanan Metropolitan of Adiabene, and 'Gorba' , a Jacobite
Assyrian village. (J.M.
Fiey, O.P., Assyrie Chretienne, Imprimerie Catholique, Beyrouth,
159, pp.488-493.) Assyrian
towns north of Ninveh at that time which still exist today were,
Algosh, Tel Keep, Baghdeda, Baqofa, Bartella, Karmales, Egra, Zakhoo,
The translator of the "Latin history
of Paulus Orosius", into Arabic about 961-976 AD, more than
a thousand years ago correctly equated the Latin "Assyri"
[Assyrian] with the Arabic word "al-Suryaniyyun" i.e.
the Christians of Mesopotamia, Suraye and Suryoye. (Abdel Rahman Badawi Ed. "Orosius,
Tarikh Al 'Alam", Al Muassasa al Ararabiyya lil Dirasat
wal Nashr, Beirut, First Edition, 1982.)
The Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Michael
the great (1126-99) wrote:
In the first half of the 9th century "the Greeks were offending
the Jacobites by saying: 'Your Syrian sect has no importance
neither honor, and you did never have a kingdom, neither an honorable
king'. the Jacobites answered them by Saying that even if their
name is "Syrian", but they are originally "Assyrians"
and they have had many honorable 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', while the other part which was in the east of Euphrates,
going to Persia, had many kings from Assyria and Babylon and
Urhay. (History of Mikhael
The Great" Chabot Edition (French) P: 750) as quoted by
Addai Scher, Hestorie De La Chaldee Et De "Assyrie")
The 13th century Gewargis Warda Arbillaya
[from Arbil] asserts that the syriac speaking people of Mesopotamia
are Assyrian and Babylonians. On the occasion of the Fast of
the Ninevites he wrote:
"Our lord heed the rogation (Ba-oota): of the Babylonians
and Assyrians [Athouraye]
Now that Church leadership is distressed and confused.
"Our lord heed the request (Ba-oota) of our destitute country,
I glorify your Godliness and ask for your forgiveness. (Odisho Malko Gewargis, trans. Yuel
A Baaba, "We are Assyrians", JAAS, Vol. XVI, Np. 1,
For Gewargis Warda Assyrians were not just the inhabitants of
the Mosul and Nineveh as it is some times claimed. He was from
Arbil and considered the Christians living in northern and southern
Mesopotamia as Assyrians and babylonians. While the name of the
country was changed to Iraq by the Arabs since the 7th century
AD Assyrians continued to refer to it as Assyria.
The Barber geographer Ibn-Battuta, who
traveled to northern Mesopotamia in the 14th century acknowledged
the existence of Nineveh and wrote:"There too is the hill
of Nabi Yunus, (prophet Jonah), (upon whom be peace) and about
a mile from it, the spring called by his name. It is said that
he commanded his followers to purify themselves in it. .... In
it's vicinity is a large village, near which is a ruined site
said to be the site of the city known as Nineveh, the city of
'yunus' . The remains of the encircling walls are still visible,
and the position of the gates that were in it are clearly seen.". (Brian M. Fagan, Return
to Babylon", Kuttke, Brown & Com., Canada, 1979, p.17)
Ibn-Battuta also noted that the Nabi
Yunus mosque of Nineveh was once a Christian church before being
confiscated by the Arabs. This edifice still stands, according
to Wigram it was once the cathedral of the independent patriarch
of Nineveh or See of Nineveh. Moslems believe that the prophet
Jonah is buried at that site but such is not the case.
Assyrian writer Bar Saliba a decade
or two before Ibn-Battuta identified the person buried in the
site as patriarch Hannan Yeshua of the church of the East who
was elected to that office during the caliphate of Abd 'ool-Melek
ibn Merwan, cir. AD 686. He wrote: "Hanan-Yeshua resided
in the convent of the prophet Jonah, which is situated on the
western side of the wall of Nineveh facing the eastern gates
of Mosul, and the river Tigris separates the cities. When he
died, he was buried here, in a coffin made of ebony,.." "George Percy Badger,
"Nestorians and their Rituals", notes to page 87 DD)
The fact that Christians of Mesopotamia
considered Nineveh the capital of Assyria as an important part
of their christianity despite all the hateful Old Testament references
to it and they commemorated a yearly fast called 'The Fast of
the Ninevites' as a tribute to the survival of their forefathers
indicates their strong dedication to their Assyrian identity.
The Vatican documents indicate that
when the Chaldean Church was established by Sulaga in 1553, Pope
Julius III proclaimed him patriarch of "Mosul and Athur"
on Feb. 20, 1553. (Catholic
Encyclopedia, "Chaldean Rite ", 1967, Vol. III,
pp.427-428) Roman documents
originally refer to Sulaga as the elected patriarch of "the
Assyrian Nation". (Xavier
Koodapuzha, "Faith and Communion in the Indian Church of
Saint Thomas Christians, Oriental Institute of Religious Studies,
Kerala, India, p.59)
According to the Chronicle of the Carmelites
Sulaga was proclaimed "Patriarch of the Eastern Assyrians"
but on 19, 4, 1553 he was redefined as the "Patriarch of
the Chaldeans". Perhaps the change of mind was intended
to distinguish between those who joined the Catholic Church verses
those who did not or may be it was a matter of associating these
new Catholics with the Nestorians of Cyprus who were labeled
Chaldeans by Pope Eugene IV on August 7, 1445 after they joined
the Roman Catholic church. (George
V. Yana (Bebla), "Myth vs. Reality" JAAStudies, Vol.
XIV, No. 1, 2000 p. 80)
Edward Odisho quotes Konstantin Tseretely
that "Assyrians who live in the Soviet Union call themselves
and their mother tongue Assyrian, an appellation which occurs
in the 18th century Georgian documents." Tseretely further
writes; "In correspondences between the Georgian King Irakli
II and Mar Shimoun in the years 1769 and 1770 Mar Shimoun refers
to himself as the "Assyrian Catholicos" and the King
identifies Mar Shimoun's people as "Assyrians."
According to another source the Georgian
king Irakli II in 1770's established contacts with the Yezidies
and used the Assyrian Archbishop Ishaya as mediator . Irakli
II sent a letter to the Yezidi leader Choban- Agha in which he
proposed a none-Muslim coalition of the Yezidies, Armenians and
Assyrians against the Ottoman Sultan. (Lamara Pashaeva,
"Yezidi Social Life in the ocmmon wealth of Independent
States" Kurdishmedia.com, Nov. 2004)
In a letter dated May 26, 1784 adressed
to the Russian General Paul S. Potemkin, the Russian Colonel
Stephan D. Burnashev writes "There are 100 villages inhabited
by Assyrians in the domain of the Khan of Urmiye, in addition
, some 20,000 families reside withing the borders of Turkey." (George Bournoutian, "Armenians
and Russia (1626-1796): A Documentary Record", Coasta Mesa,
California: Mazda Publishers. Inc., 2001.)
Even before the archaeologist Austen
Henry had published his book about his ancient Assyrian discoveries
Horatio Southgate in 1843 visited the Syrian Orthodox communities
of Turkey and reported they identified themselves as Assyrians
in the form of "Suryoyo, Othoroyee". He writes:
"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 Assour, (Asshur,) 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..
(Horatio Southgate, "Narrative
of a Visit to the Syrian [Jacobites] Church", 1844 P 80)
The above are examples of hundreds and
even thousands references which attest to the survival of
the Assryians since the fall of Nineveh which prove that they
did not vanish after their defeat. They in fact continued to
live in their ancient homeland and have been there since. Some
however were forced to flee into the mountains north of Mosul,
cities of northwest Persia and southeast Turkey i.e. the Tur-Abedin
area which had been part of Assyria before its fall. In one inscriptions
the Persian king Darius identifies the region as Assyria. Given
such facts and hundreds of others undeniable evidences it is
unconscionable to question their Assyrian heritage.
The names Suraya, Suryoyo they have identified themselves with,
the terms Syrian and Suryani they have been called by are obvious
variations for Asuraya and Assyrian. If the nationality of a
people is based on a common descent, shared language, history,
culture, easily recognizable homeland, and other aspects of nationality
Assyrians clearly fit the description. They have called themselves
Assyrians, they have lived in the homeland of the ancient Assyrians
since before the fall of Nineveh, have identified their country
as Assyria, and have considered the ruins of its ancient capital
as their sacred city during the Christian centuries. No one in
good conscious can deny this.
In many ways today's Assyrian national identity is far more certain
than that of other nations who are a composite of various people.
Unlike others Assyrians after their fall did not have a military
or political powers to force their identity on others. Their
survival for such a long time can be attributed to the fact that
they spoke a different language, and worshiped a different religion
than the nations who conquered their land, also because their
country was relatively isolated.
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See also: Assyria (Persian province)