The Assyrian homeland or Assyria refers to a geographic and cultural region inhabited since the 25th century BC traditionally by the indigenous Assyrian people; who call it Assyria (Syriac: ܐܬܘܪ) or variations of. Politically, the historically Assyrian populated areas are located within the borders of northern Iraq, southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran and northeastern Syria. The Assyrian homeland is split into different areas based on the religious denomination of the Assyrians living there, with Syriac Orthodox Christians living in Tur Abdin, an area in Southeastern Turkey, Nestorian Assyrians living in the Hakkari Mountains, which straddles the border of northern Iraq and Southern Turkey, as well as the Urmia Plain, an area located on the western bank of Lake Urmia, and Chaldean and Syriac Catholics living in the Nineveh Plains, An area in located in Northern Iraq. Of course, there is some overlap. For example, some Chaldean Catholic populated villages are located in Hakkari, and Some Syriac Orthodox still live in the Nineveh Plains. Assyrian communities established in Syria are largely Syriac Orthodox transplants from Tur Abdin who fled the Assyrian Genocide, or Assyrians from Iraq who came after the Simele Massacre.
- Ancient period
- Early Christian period
- Middle Ages
- Early modern period
- Modern period
However, The area with the greatest concentration of Assyrians on earth is located in Northern Iraq in the Assyrian Triangle, a region which comprises the Nineveh plains, southern Hakkari and the Barwari regions. This is where some Assyrian groups seek to create an independent nation state or autonomous region for Assyria.
The Assyrians are an indigenous Pre-Arab and Pre-Kurdish Christian people, with most following the Assyrian Church of the East and its modern offshoots; the Chaldean Catholic Church and Ancient Church of the East, or the Syriac Orthodox Church, Assyrian Pentecostal Church and Assyrian Evangelical Church. They speak, read and write dialects of Eastern Aramaic which evolved in Assyria from the 8th century BCE onwards, and use the Syriac language, which also evolved in Assyria from the 5th century BCE, for Christian liturgical purposes.
The Assyrian homeland roughly mirrors the boundaries of ancient Assyria proper, and the later Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Roman and Sassanid provinces of Assyria (Athura/Assuristan) that was extant between the 25th century BC and 7th century AD. The region was dissolved as a geo-political entity following the Arab Islamic conquest of Iraq in the late 7th century AD, however what had been Assyria continued to retain a significant indigenous, Mesopotamian Eastern Aramaic speaking Eastern Rite Christian population.
Upper Mesopotamia having had an established structure of dioceses by AD 500 following the introduction of Christianity from the 1st to 3rd centuries AD. After the fall of the Neo Assyrian Empire by 605 BC Assyria remained an entity for over 1200 years under Babylonian, Achamaenid Persian, Seleucid Greek, Parthian, Roman and Sassanid Persian rule. It was only after the Arab-Islamic conquest of the second half of the 7th century AD that Assyria as a named region was dissolved.
Today, Assyrians, also sometimes known by the solely theological terms Chaldean Catholics, Chaldo-Assyrians and Syriac Christians (the names Syrian and Syriac are usually accepted to be originally later derivatives of Assyrian by a majority of scholars today), are believed to form a slight majority in two Ninewa counties, Tel Kaif and Al-Hamdaniya. Since the fall of the Iraqi Baath Party in 2003, and in the face of violence against the indigenous Assyrian Christian community, there has been a growing movement for Assyrian independence.
The Assyrian homeland is located within the borders of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. Many Assyrians live in Syria as well, in the Al Hasakah Governorate in villages along the Khabur river, although they only arrived there after the Assyrian Genocide and Simele massacre of the 1910s and 30s, so it is not a historical region of Assyria.
The Assyrian homeland as a whole is split into different cultural and geographical regions based on the religious denomination of the Assyrians living there, with Syriac Orthodox Christians living in a region known as Tur Abdin, located in Southeastern Turkey, Nestorian Assyrians living in the Hakkari Mountains, which straddles the border of northern Iraq and Southern Turkey, as well as the Urmia Plain, an area located on the western bank of Lake Urmia in Iran, and Chaldean and Syriac Catholics living in the Nineveh Plains, An area located in Northern Iraq. Of course, there is some overlap. For example, some Chaldean Catholic populated villages are located in Hakkari, and Some Syriac Orthodox still live in the Nineveh Plains.
Most Assyrians nowadays live in northern Iraq, with the community in Northern (Turkish) Hakkari being completely decimated, and the ones in Tur Abdin and Urmia Plain are largely depopulated. Therefore, The area with the greatest concentration of Assyrians on earth is located in Northern Iraq in the Assyrian Triangle, a region which comprises the Nineveh plains, southern Hakkari and the Barwari regions. This is where some Assyrian groups seek to create an independent nation state or autonomous region for Assyria.
Assyrian populations are distributed between the Assyrian homeland and the Assyrian diaspora. There are no official statistics, and estimates vary greatly, between less than one million in the Assyrian homeland, and 3.3 million with the diaspora included, mostly due to the uncertainty of the number of Assyrians in Iraq and Syria. Since the 2003 Iraq War, Iraqi Assyrians have been dislocated to Syria in significant but unknown numbers. Since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, Syrian Assyrians have been dislocated to Turkey in significant but unknown numbers. The indigenous Assyrian homeland areas are "part of today's northern Iraq, southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran and northeastern Syria". The Assyrian communities that are still left in the Assyrian homeland are in Syria (400,000), Iraq (300,000), Iran (20,000), and Turkey (15,000–25,100). As of November 1, 2013, the diaspora population accounted for roughly 2.7 million people, the largest Assyrian diaspora communities being found in the United States (110,807–400,000), Jordan (100,000–150,000), Sweden (100,000), and in Germany (100,000).
Other ethnic groups that live in the region are Arabs, Kurds, Shabaks, Armenians, Yazidis, Mandeans, Kawliya/Roma, Circassians and Turkmen, and historically, there was a significant Iraqi Jewish population until the mid-20th century CE.
Assyrians are eastern Aramaic-speaking, descending from pre-Islamic inhabitants of Upper Mesopotamia. The Old Aramaic language was adopted by the population of the Neo-Assyrian Empire from around the 8th century BC, and these eastern dialects remained in wide use throughout Upper Mesopotamia during the Persian and Roman periods, and survived through to the present day. The Syriac language evolved in Achaemenid Assyria during the 5th century BC.
Early Christian period
Syriac Christianity took hold amongst the Assyrians between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD with the founding in Assyria of the Church of the East together with Syriac literature.
The first division between Syriac Christians occurred in the 5th century, when Upper Mesopotamian based Assyrian Christians of the Sassanid Persian Empire were separated from those in The Levant over the Nestorian Schism. This split owed just as much to the politics of the day as it did to theological orthodoxy. Ctesiphon, which was at the time the Sassanid capital, eventually became the capital of the Church of the East.
After the Council of Chalcedon in 451, many Syriac Christians within the Roman Empire rebelled against its decisions. The Patriarchate of Antioch was then divided between a Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian communion. The Chalcedonians were often labelled 'Melkites' (Emperor's Party), while their opponents were labelled as Monophysites (those who believe in the one rather than two natures of Christ) and Jacobites (after Jacob Baradaeus). The Maronite Church found itself caught between the two, but claims to have always remained faithful to the Catholic Church and in communion with the bishop of Rome, the Pope.
Both Syriac Christianity and the Eastern Aramaic language came under pressure following the Arab Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia in the 7th century, and Assyrian Christians throughout the Middle Ages were subjected to Arabizing superstrate influence.
The Assyrians suffered a significant persecution with the religiously motivated large scale massacres conducted by the Muslim Turco-Mongol ruler Tamurlane in the 14th century AD. It was from this time that the ancient city of Assur was abandoned by Assyrians, and Assyrians were reduced to a minority within their ancient homeland.
A Schism occurred in 1552 AD, when a number of Assyrian Christians entered communion with the Roman Catholic Church, which, after initially naming their new followers The Church of Assyria and Mosul, coined the term Chaldean Catholic in 1683 AD, giving rise to the modern Chaldean Catholic Church by 1830 AD. This term is purely theological however, the Assyrian Chaldean Catholics having no historical, ethnic, cultural or geographic link to the ancient inhabitants of Chaldea in south east Mesopotamia, who had disappeared into the native population of Babylonia by the 6th century BC.
Early modern period
Syria and Upper Mesopotamia became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, following the conquests of Suleiman the Magnificent. The Assyrians suffered a series of ethnically and religiously motivate massacres at the hands of the Ottomans and their Kurdish and Arab allies during the 18th and 19th centuries, greatly reducing their numbers.
During World War I the Assyrians suffered the Assyrian Genocide which reduced their numbers by up to two thirds. Subsequent to this, they entered the war on the side of the British and Russians. After World War I, the Assyrian homeland was divided between the British Mandate of Mesopotamia, which would become the Kingdom of Iraq in 1932, and the French Mandate of Syria which would become the Syrian Arab Republic in 1944.
Assyrians faced reprisals under the Hashemite monarchy for co-operating with the British during the years after World War I, and many fled to the West. The Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII, though born into the line of Patriarchs at Qochanis, was educated in Britain. For a time he sought a homeland for the Assyrians in Iraq but was forced to take refuge in Cyprus in 1933, later moving to Chicago, Illinois, and finally settling near San Francisco, California. The present Patriarch of Babylon is based in Chicago, and perhaps less than 1 million of the world's 4.5 million Assyrians remain in Iraq.
The Assyrian Chaldean Catholic (Chaldo-Assyrian) community was less numerous and vociferous at the time of the British Mandate of Mesopotamia, and did not play a major role in the British rule of the country. However, with the exodus of Assyrian Church of the East members, the Chaldean Catholic Church became the largest non-Muslim religious denomination in Iraq, and some Assyrian Catholics later rose to power in the Ba'ath Party government, the most prominent being Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.