Chaldeans in Belgium

A little bit of history

 

Whether they identify themselves as Chaldeans, Assyrians or Arameans, one thing they all have in common, namely their liturgical and linguistic heritage. They are Christians from the Middle East (South-East Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran) who have been the victims of persecution and oppression for the sake of their faith since the beginning of Christianity. After so many centuries this has ensured that they have fled their homeland on a large scale since the 20th century and have found a new home all over the world

In their homeland they were Christians belonging to the so-called Syrian (Syriac) Churches, but once in the diaspora they have more than ever experienced the necessity to bring their ethnic identity alongside their religious and ecclesiastical identity. This was because people wanted to profile themselves as a nation. There was a need to represent themselves worldwide, so that despite the diaspora one could still remain connected.

 

Chaldeans do not have a separation from Church and state because they had a Church as a minority, but no state. Their ecclesiastical leaders who defended their interests and guarded their rights.

Their search for their ethnic roots, however, led to much discussion in the 20th century, where there has been much speculation about who their real forefathers were. Ethnic links have been sought with the ancient Mesopotamian peoples such as the Chaldeans, Aramaeans and Assyrians.

This is not because they differed only religiously from the great powers under which they lived, but because they could not associate themselves with the language. They speak a language that was proper to them and had no connection with the languages ​​of the great powers (Persians, Arabs, Ottomans, Turks), but rather with those of the ancient Mesopotamian peoples.

They are indeed the continuations of these Mesopotamian peoples, but it is impossible to prove scientifically today whether they are pure descendants of only one of these peoples. This has created a great deal of debate and disagreement on the world stage and has in fact become a political-ethnic-religious twist over which no consensus has been reached.

From a purely theoretical point of view we can say that Chaldeans belong to the Chaldean Catholic Church that has gone into union with the Church of Rome, while retaining its own rite. Assyrians belong largely to the Assyrian Church of the East and partly also to the Old Church of the East and some Protestant church communities. Arameans belong to the Syrian Orthodox and Syrian-Catholic Church.

In addition to these Churches, there are some other branches that belong to the Syrian Churches, such as the Maronite Church, the Melkite Church etc.

However, at the beginning of the 20th century there were nationalists who wanted to put one name on all these groups, namely the Assyrian name. A name that came back into use after archaeological excavations in northern Iraq, where spectacular cases of the ancient Assyrian Empire were discovered (mid 19th century).

This name was propagated on a large scale and has been accepted by many of these Christians and was mainly used by the Chaldean Nestorians (Christians of the Church of the East who had not become Catholics). Later the non-Catholic branch of the Church of the East took over the name Assyrian. The Chaldean name, officially restored to use since the 15th century, lost its national character and was only used for the Catholic Christians of the Chaldean Church.

The Aramaic name has been used mainly by the Christians of the Syrian Orthodox Church in response to Assyrian nationalism, but also has great historical reasons.

They are indeed ethnic names / identities of the ancient Mesopotamian peoples. Today all three denominations exist side by side and unfortunately none of the three can serve to appoint all these groups. Simply because they are not accepted by each other.

 

 

Situation Mechelen, Brussels and Antwerp

General

This story is no different in Mechelen and surroundings. The people we know today as Assyrians are largely Chaldeans and Arameans / Syrian Orthodox. In Belgium there are hardly any Assyrians who belong to the Assyrian Church.

In practice, however, they identify themselves as Assyrians for the sake of familiarity with the term or because of the belief that they are ethnic Assyrians of the ancient Assyrian Empire (Assyrian nationalism 20th century). To give you an idea of ​​the appeal of Assyrian nationalism, many Chaldeans identify themselves in their mother tongue as ‘Keldayé’ (= Chaldeans), but in Dutch as Assyrians.

The theory is often used that ‘Chaldean’ is a religious movement and one is Assyrian on ethnic level. A theory that is not founded and is also part of the Assyrian propaganda. ‘Chaldean’ is not a religion, but as mentioned above also the identity of an ancient people from Mesopotamia. This term was used as a national label for the Christian minority group in Mesopotamia that formed the Church of the East.

Historical reasons were the basis for the official re-use of this ethnic identity.

 

Ecclesiastical

 In Mechelen there are today two Chaldean Catholic parishes. They celebrate their Masses in the St. Peter and Paul Church and in the St. Libertus Church. The Chaldean parish of St. Peter’s and Paul’s Church mainly consists of Catholic Christians from the village of Hessana (Turkey) and this parish is led by priest Suleyman Oz. The Chaldean Parish of St. Libertus includes Catholic Christians from the villages of Herbul, Geznakh and Bespin (Turkey) and this parish is led by priest Idris Emlek.

 

It is disputed from the Chaldean Church that there are two Chaldean parishes in Mechelen and even more that these are divided over the former Christian villages, which in itself is not encouraging. Before 2005 this was not the case and there was only one Chaldean parish in the St. Peter and Paul Church, led by Mgr. Antun Göral. This included all the Catholic Christians from Herbul, Hessana, Geznakh and Bespin.

In 2005 the Chaldean Church brought priest Suleyman Oz from Marseille to Mechelen to lead the Chaldean parish there. In this way, however, an additional Chaldean parish was founded alongside the Chaldean Saint Peter and Paul parish, which was not originally intended. In fact, this is the first division that has been created within the Chaldean community in Mechelen. Priest Suleyman Oz, a priest from the village of Hessana, led from this period the Chaldean parish in the Saint Catherine Church, which mainly includes the Christians from Hessana.

 

The Chaldeans from Herbul, Geznakh and Bespin continued their parish, led by priest Antun Göral, who also led the Chaldean parishes in Brussels (mainly Chaldeans from the village of Bespin / Turkey) and in Antwerp (mainly Chaldeans from Geznakh / Turkey) . In Mechelen, a Chaldean community house was founded under supervision of priest Antun Göral in 2005, namely the ‘Association of the Chaldean Church’ (Nekkerspoelstraat). This is known as the community house of the villagers from Herbul, Geznakh and Bespin who live in Mechelen.

In 2010, a Chaldean priest was ordained from the village of Herbul, Idris Emlek. He continued the parish of St. Peter and Paul in cooperation with Priest Antun Göral. This parish has been moved to the Sint-Libertus Church due to renovation works of the Saint Peter and Paul Church. Priest Idris Emlek has been appointed for the city of Mechelen, despite the fact that Suleyman Oz was appointed since 2005. After the renovation works in the St. Peter and Paul church, the parish of Suleyman Oz moved from the Saint Catherine Church to the Saint Peter and Paul Church.

 

Because of old age and health reasons, from 2012 onwards, replacement has been started for the priest Antun Göral for the parishes Brussels and Antwerp. In 2012, a new priest was appointed for the city of Antwerp, namely Paulus Sati. He continued the parish in Antwerp.

For the Chaldean parish in Brussels, priest Musa Yaramis was appointed again. He was already ordained as a priest for Belgium previously, but because of personal reasons he had been inactive for several years.

From 2012 there are four separate Chaldean parishes in Belgium, each led by another priest. In Mechelen,  there have remained two parishes. The reason that both priests stayed in Mechelen was the disagreement between the Christians from Herbul and Hessana. In this way the Mechelen parishes remained divided in terms of the village from which they originated. Priest Antun Göral eventually died in November 2013.

 

Apart from Chaldean Christians from Turkey (Herbul, Geznakh, Bespin and Hessana), there are also many Chaldean and Aramean Christians from Iraq and Syria who also belong to the various Chaldean, Syrian Orthodox and Syrian-Catholic parishes in Belgium.

Outside the two Chaldean parishes in Mechelen, a third parish has been established in Mechelen for several years, namely the Assyrian Christian community Beth-El. This parish does not belong directly to a Church, but has its own autonomy and vision. The name Assyrian is chosen here because of the fame of the term and the conviction and not because it belongs to the Assyrian Church of the East. This parish has its own church, which also serves as a community house (Hertstraat). The people who belong to this parish are mainly Christians from Hessana.

Apart from the abovementioned parishes in Mechelen, there is also a significant proportion of Christians from Hessana who are Protestant.

 

Community houses

 

Besides the Chaldean community house of the St. Libertus parish and the Assyrian community house of Beth-El (House of God) there are two other: Beth Hessana and Flemish-Assyrian House.

Beth Hessana focuses on the broader community with respect for the Assyrian, Chaldean and Aramean identities. Their main activity is food distribution for the poor.

Vlaams-Assyrisch Huis (Generaal de Ceuninckstraat) is an initiative of nine Christians from Hessana, based on a clan system of the village of Hessana.

 

Associations

 

Above we talked about the community houses, which each time an association is linked to. There are other associations active in Belgium, which are separate from the existing community houses.

ACOM is an association that has existed since 1994. This association was founded under the name ATOR (neo-Aramaic for Assyria). Since this association was meant for the whole community in Mechelen (villagers from Hessana, Herbul etc.), villagers from Herbul have been trying to change the name to ACOM (Assyrian-Chaldean Organization Mechelen).

This has ensured that the Assyrian-minded persons (villagers from Hessana) have stepped out of this association and the association has become a dormant non-profit organization that has still worked on the administrative level. Since 2015 the association has become active again and because of the exclusion of the Chaldean name it has changed its name to ‘Active Chaldean Organization Mechelen’.

‘Chaldean League Belgium’ is an international overarching Chaldean organization founded on the initiative of the Chaldean Church led by the patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako. The head office is located in Iraq and in all countries with large Chaldean communities there is a branch (in some countries there are several branches) of the Chaldean League.

 

Confusion about the names

 

As mentioned earlier, there is no Assyrian parish belonging to the Assyrian Church of the East in Belgium. Yet this name has also been used for the Chaldeans and the Aramaeans, as a result of Assyrian nationalism. Assyrian nationalism has been propagated mainly in Mechelen in Belgium.

This propaganda has often been conducted by persons with political interests, with a lack of respect for the existing vulnerable identities.

The Assyrian name is propagated in the Dutch-speaking areas (Antwerp-Mechelen) in such a way that it is widely known in these cities. However, the contradiction of this name is great, because Chaldeans identify themselves in the mother tongue as Chaldean (Keldaya) and not as Assyrian (Atoraya)

The remarkable thing is that the Chaldean community in Brussels identifies itself as Chaldean, both in its mother tongue and in French (Chaldéen).

 

Many villagers from Hessana, however, have also started to identify themselves as Assyrian (Atoraya) in their mother tongue, although they never did this in Turkey. The name ‘Chaldean’ was never really popular in Hessana, because this was mainly linked to the Catholic Church and in this village there were both Catholics and Protestants (influence of the Protestant missionaries in the 18th century). There has even been a period where there were three priests in the village: a Syrian Orthodox, a Chaldean and a Protestant priest.

The Assyrian propaganda has also influenced the villagers from Herbul and Geznakh in recent years in such a way that here too people have started to identify themselves in their native language as Assyrians (atoraye) with the conviction of the false theory mentioned above, which makes a distinction on religious and ethnic level.

All this makes the already vulnerable identity of the Chaldeans even more vulnerable and that it threatens to lose its value. The future of Chaldean identity, however, lies in the hands of the Chaldeans themselves. It is therefore up to them to attach the right value to their identity and to keep it, with respect for the other identities.

Name conflict eastern Christian

Introduction

Since the end of the 19th century, Christians from ancient Mesopotamia, such as Chaldeans, Arameans, Assyrians etc., are confronted with name conflicts that have persisted to this day.

These name conflicts have always been the result of schisms and the disputes within this framework have evolved from a religious historical background to an ethnically-historical background in the 20th century.

It is important to know that it is difficult to prove that a people of today have a pure direct link with a historical people of more than 2000 years ago and especially when in the past different names have been used for the people of today.

To be able to prove such a connection, one invokes historical sources. Some written sources, however, are not always based on neutrality and feed people with beliefs that do not match the truth.

This ensures that historical sources often contradict each other and that disputes arise in this way. This is no different in the context of the name conflict between the Eastern Christians from Mesopotamia.

The fact is that a dispute always has two versions, namely the version of one party and the version of the counterparty.

And although there is no complete consensus among historians in this story, it is recommended to view all versions, because each version has a background. When one knows this background, one can also understand the motives and place the story in the right context.

The message here is that one should view this name conflict from a neutral and uncluttered position in its entire context and not merely rely on one source, which may not have a neutral character.

In this article we focus on the names Assyrians and Chaldeans.

 

Religious names

 

Since Christianity arose, the Christians from the Mesopotamian land lived under the rule of other non-Christian superpowers, such as the Persians, the Arabs and the Ottomans.

 

When there are populations among these superpowers who differ from language, culture or religion, we speak of ethnic minority groups, whether or not numerically.

A logical consequence is that these population groups are named according to what they differ in. In the case of the Mesopotamian Christians this was their faith and language, because since Christianity they have been labeled as Syrian-speaking Christians (Syrians <-> Suraye), where Syrian succeeds in the liturgical language of the Churches to which these Christians belong and not, as many would start to think logically, in the contemporary country of Syria.

This distinction was made by the relevant superpowers without attaching importance to the ethnic-historical origin of this Christian population.

From that point, several religious names have arisen as a result of schisms within Christianity. As a result, the ethnic identity of this population group has, as it were, disappeared from the history books.

Ethnic names

If we judge that the Mesopotamian Christians were known as Nestorians, Jacobites, Syrians, etc. since Christianity, and so labelled, then we can explain the religious background, but not the ethnic background of this population.

The fact that Mesopotamian Christians have not bothered themselves about their ethnic identity in the centuries after Christ has much to do with their conversion to Christianity and subsequent developments.

However, each person has, in addition to a religious identity, also an ethnic identity, so there is the right question ‘who are we?’. A question to which we have received many answers in the 20th century, perhaps even too much in the sense that it has become an endless debate.

The ethnic names Chaldeans, Aramaeans and Assyrians today have a religious background, but are also inextricably linked to a historical background.

The urge of Christians from Mesopotamia to give their identity back an ethnic touch often has to do with their diaspora.

More than ever, people tend to profile themselves as an ethnic nation to be able to represent themselves worldwide.

One also realizes that one does not descend from the superpowers under which they have lived for more than two thousand years and have therefore started looking for their historical roots.

Their search today, however, has led to a debate about which no consensus has been reached worldwide. A debate that has been largely influenced by the ‘Assyrian nationalism’ of the 20th century[1].

 

Nestorians and Jacobites

 

Nestorians (Nestornayé)

The Christians of the Church of the East, known at the time as the Nestorians, have never really been Nestorian[2].

Nestorius was a 5th-century patriarch of Constantinople and was expelled and banished because of his Christological views.

The Church of the East has, since the 5th century, largely followed the Christological conceptions of Theodore of Mopsuestia, better known as the doctrine of dyophysitism. The views of Nestorius were associated with this doctrine and the Christians of the Church of the East were therefore labeled as Nestorians. A “heretical” name that they did not have difficulties with.

Thus the name Nestorian has evolved from a religious nickname to a denomination of a Christian population. This name therefore has no ethnic background.

 

Jacobites (Jakobayé)

Just like the name Nestorian, the name Jacobite is a religious name that has no ethnic background.

The Jacobite Christians were Christians who followed the teachings of Jacobus Baradaeus, metropolitan of Edessa and great defender of myaphystism.

This name too is a result of Christological differences within the church. The Jacobites are known today as the Syrian Orthodox and Syrian-Catholic Christians.

 

Chaldeans (Keldayé)

It is often said that the name Chaldeans is a religious name for the Christians of the Church of the East who have united themselves with the Church of Rome in the 15th century.

In view of what has already been written in this article, it can be concluded that this statement cannot be correct.

The Chaldeans, who had formed themselves with Rome at the time, became Catholic, while retaining their own rite, namely the rite of the Church of the East.

If being Chaldean was a religious movement, the union with the Church of Rome would never have existed.

What has actually happened in this union with Rome is that the Chaldeans have accepted the councils which at the time formed the Christological stumbling block between the Church of Rome and the Church of the East.

So it cannot be said that the Chaldeans in the 15th century in this connection with Rome became Chaldean religiously.

Nor it can be said that the Chaldeans have converted to a certain ‘Chaldean stream’, for Chaldean refers to the identity of the Chaldeans from Mesopotamia and not to a 15th-century religious movement, as one dares to claim.

A simple fact that can clarify this, is the fact that if Chaldeans are synonymous with Catholic Christians, then there would already be Catholic Christians before Christ, which is impossible.

A fact is that the union with Rome in the 15th century has indeed brought a splitting of the Church of the East with it. From that period on, on the one hand, the ‘Nestorian’ or better formulated the ‘non-Catholic’ branch of the Church of the East and on the other hand the Catholic Church of the East.

Important to know here is that the Nestorian Christians were labelled as Chaldean Nestorians and Catholic converts as Chaldean Catholics. This only confirms that the name Chaldean was a national identity of the Christians of the Church of the East and not a religious identity.

Historical reasons were the basis of the choice to officially include the name Chaldeans in the history books.

The headquarters of the Church of the East were originally located near the former Babylonia, in Seleucia-Ctesiphon. There was a considerable Christian population in this area.

 

Chaldeans, however, had no longer controlled a country since 539 BC. and the great powers such as Persians, Arabs and Ottomans had always suppressed nationalist feelings of minority groups, so the name ‘Chaldeans’ is not further included in the history books. Together with other peoples who had converted to Christianity, they were now labelled as Christians, a minority group among the superpowers. As a result, the ethnic character of Chaldean identity has largely merged into a religious (Christian) character.

Chaldeans were also linked to “magic” or more specifically “witchcraft”, because they were very busy with astrology. This association has given the name Chaldeans a negative background.

However, it could not be established that the ‘neo-Aramaic-speaking’ Christians of Mesopotamia could not have a relationship with the ancient Mesopotamian peoples, as they spoke a language that could be directly linked to their Mesopotamian ancestors.

Chaldeans therefore have no affinity with the superpowers (Persians, Arabs, Ottomans) under which they have lived for more than two thousand years and were logically associated with the Chaldeans from ancient Mesopotamia.

 

Assyrians (Atorayé)

 

Often one hears that the Eastern Christians are ethnic Assyrians and merely Chaldeans of faith. The truth is much disgraced when we threaten to believe this statement. This statement is a result of 20th-century Assyrian nationalism and needs to be slightly nuanced.

The modern use of the name Assyrians has a geographical and archaeological background instead of an ethnic background like many would think.

The re-use of the name Assyrians is the result of archaeological discoveries in the 19th century. In 1840 archaeological excavations were carried out in the area of ​​Mosul-Nineveh Plains in Iraq[3]. Spectacular discoveries were made here and the name Assyrians in that area became very attractive.

The Christians of Mosul-Nineveh also knew from the Bible that they lived in the area that was once Assyria and this area was therefore called ‘Ator’ for geographical reasons, neo-Aramaic translation of Assyria. The Arabs, however, called this Al-Mawsil[4].

The Chaldean Nestorians of the Church of the East, who were not converted to Catholicism, were firmly convinced during this period that they were Assyrian.

The British played a very important role here[5], not only with the archaeological excavations they had done, but also with the mission of the Anglican Church to the ‘Nestorian’ Christians. They called their mission ‘mission to the Assyrian Christians’, because the denomination Nestorians, unlike Assyrians, was not known to Westerners and Nestorian had a negative background.

Gradually the term Assyrians was used by the “Nestorian” Christians of the Church of the East. From the twentieth century onwards this term was propagated by nationalistic Chaldean Nestorians in such a way that it gained a great reputation.

The Church of the East of the Assyrians arose in 1976 after a split of the Nestorian Church of the East. This split was the result of a religious twist. From then on there was the ‘Old Church of the East’ on the one hand and the ‘Church of the East of the Assyrians’ on the other.

 

Assyro-Chaldeans

The name Assyro-Chaldeans is a collective term for Assyrians and Chaldeans and is nowadays mainly used to name the Chaldean community in Paris.

Assyro-Chaldeans thus effectively refers to the two divided population groups and is not a representation of another third group, which many would think.

This term, however, feeds for many the erroneous theory that ‘Assyro’ stands for ethnicity and ‘Chaldeans’ for religion.

This erroneous theory is also part of the 20th-century Assyrian propaganda and does not rely on historical or religious sources.

It is, moreover, quite a non-logical sounding theory, because then the Christians belonging to the Assyrian Church of the East should be appointed as the Assyro-Assyrians, which is not the case.

Despite the fact that one wants wants to use a unified denomination, it is rarely aware that the name Assyro-Chaldeans excludes other Eastern Christian populations, such as the Aramean (Syriac Orthodox and Syrian-Catholic), Melkite, Maronite etc.

These Eastern Christian populations also share the same historical background to a large extent and have the right to be included in a collective term for the Mesopotamian Christians.

 

[1] Frahm, E., A companion to Assyria, chapter 32: Assyrian Christians (by Butts Michael Aaron), John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Yale University, New Haven, US , 2017.

[2] Wilmshurst, D., The Martyred Church, A History of the Church of the East, East & West Publishing Ltd, Londen, 2011, 522 pages.

[3] Layard, A.H., Nineveh and its remains, The gripping journals of the man who discovered the buried Assyrian cities, Skyhorse Publishing, New York, 2013, 528 pages (originally published by John Murray (Londen) in 1849).

[4] Jozeph, J., The Modern Assyrians in the Middle East, Encounters with Western Christian Missions, Archaeologists, and Colonial Powers, Brill, Leiden, Boston, Keulen, 2000, 291 pages.

[5] Wigram, W.A., The Assyrians and their Neighbours, G.Bell & Sons, Londen, 1929, 247 pages.

Suraye does not mean Ashuraye

Introduction

 

The theory that the neo-Aramaic term ‘Suraye’ comes from the Akkadian term ‘Ashuraye’ and is therefore synonymous, is a common theory to convince that Christians in the Middle East, often known as ‘Suraye’ (Syriac), are the ethnic descendants from the ancient Assyrians.

We deliberately describe this as a ‘theory’, because this has in fact never been proven, because it simply cannot be proven.

It is also very strange which means are used to make this theory “acceptable”. People go so far that history, as it is known and adopted today, is turned over to be rewritten with such new theories. This is often accompanied by a lack of respect for national identities and historical facts.

 

Origin name ‘Suraya’ for the Christians of the Middle East

The origin of this name can be found in ecclesiastical-geographical areas.

‘Suraye’ or ‘Syrians’ is a term used to refer to Middle Eastern Christians who belong to the Syrian-Liturgical Churches, where ‘Syrian’ succeeds on the geographical ‘Syria’. These Christians also use this term very often as a reference to Christians in general.

This does not mean that all the ‘Suraye’ originate from the geographical country ‘Syria’, because the Christians from Beth Nahrain (= Mesopotamia) are also called ‘Suraye’, because regardless of their ethnicity they also form part of the Syrian liturgical heritage.

In fact, these ‘Suraye’ belong to the original mother church of Antioch[1], from which the Syrian liturgy originated.

Antioch was a patriarchy and capital of the Roman province of ‘Syria’. All the churches from this Roman province of Syria belonged to this patriarchy. The Church of the East, whose headquarters were in southern Mesopotamia, also belonged to this patriarchy during the first 5 centuries after Christ.

Because Antioch, as a patriarchy, was geographically in the area of ​​Syria, this church and its liturgy was called Syriac and all the Christians who belonged to it were Syrians (Suraye). The language names ‘Suryoyo’ and ‘Sureth’ are also derived from this.

When Christians use the term Suraye, they do not refer to the inhabitants of the country or area of ​​Syria, but rather to Christians belonging to the Syrian-Liturgical Churches and often also to Christians in general.

This fact already shows that the neo-Aramaic name ‘Suraye’ has grown from a religious background and therefore impossible to relate to an ethnic name.Today this term is rarely used in Western languages ​​to name these Christians as a group, because this causes confusion with modern-day Syrians (inhabitants of Syria). Because of this confusion, the term Syriac is also used for these Christians, so that they can be distinguished from the inhabitants of the country of Syria. These Christians themselves usually use the terms Suraye, Suryaye or Suryoyo in their mother tongue.

Moreover, this theory contradicts the current term ‘Atoraye’. ‘Atoraye’ is the neo-Aramaic term for ‘Assyrians’ and has had a geographical meaning before Christianity. Atoraye is derived from Ator and meant nothing more than an inhabitant of Ator. Geographically, this has always been agreed with the city of Mosul (northern Iraq). Where the Arabs called it Al-Mawsil, the Suraye called this ‘Ator’, because it was located near ancient Assyria (this was known from the Bible). If we are to believe this theory of corruption, one should rather speak of ‘Toraye’ than of ‘Suraye’, which is clearly not the case.

 

History geographically Syria and Assyria

If ‘Suraye’ is derived or is even more synonymous with ‘Ashuraye’, the geographical ‘Syria’ would be equal to the geographical ‘Assyria’. Let that be just the absurdity of this theory, because with this theory we conclude that the country Syria never existed in ancient times and this was referring to ‘Assyria’, because the “A” would have disappeared from the 7th century BC

The fact is that it is impossible to adopt this theory, because throughout history there is both Syria and Assyria at the same time, each having its own roots in terms of name. This false theory contradicts not only every historical atlas, but also the famous work The Historians of Herodotus[2], known as the “father of history”.

The 20th-century Assyrian nationalists have wrongly referred to Herodotus as if he had made no distinction between the terms ‘Syrians’ and ‘Assyrians’. However, research shows that Herodotus consciously and consistently used these two terms separately[3].

Geographically, these areas also do not match. There has been a period when the area of ​​Syria fell under the power of the Assyrian Empire, but that was also the case with other great powers such as the Babylonian Empire, the Persian Empire, the Roman Empire, etc

The country Syria still exists today as Syria and does not include the ancient ‘Assyria’, which is in present-day northern Iraq.

Moreover, it is remarkable that this theory has not been written by any historian until the end of the 19th century and hence there are no historical books or atlases today that can confirm this.

It is from the 20th century that this theory has been used, not coincidentally the century of modern Assyrian nationalism[4].

 

The lost “A” theory

We have already read in this article why Christians from the Middle East call themselves’ Suraye ‘and that geographical Syria is not equal to the geographically ancient’ Assyria.

Why this false theory was used is also clear, now there is the question of how one has come to the idea of ​​using this theory.

Since Suraye was a well-known term among Christians from the Middle East and only an ‘A’ had to be used to obtain the term Ashuraye, it was very attractive for the Assyrian nationalists of the 20th century to create a theory for this. This theory came down to the fact that the ancient Assyrians would no longer pronounce the first letter “A” of their name and it would be pronounced as Syrians. This would also explain that all Christians who call themselves ‘Suraye’ are in fact descendants of the old ‘Ashuraye’.

One could not invent a better theory than this to convince these people of an ethnic link with the ancient Assyrians.

Did the old Assyrians really let the ‘A’ fall away in their pronunciation? In fact, this has never been proven and this theory rests on personal convictions and unfounded arguments from a handful of writers. It is remarkable that these are all writers whose works date back to the 20th century. The argumentation that these writers use is not entirely truthful and often shows that people are selective in the use of sources. Therefore, argumentation is refuted by other academics[5].

 

Linguistic arguments

The lost “A” theory is tried to be reinforced by linguistic arguments as described below. The ancient Assyrians in the 7th century would have had the habit of omitting toneless vowels and even entire syllables in the beginning of a word. This would explain that the term ‘Assyrian’ already had a shorter version in the 7th century, namely ‘Syrian’[6]. In other words, even in the period that the Assyrian Empire was in power, one would only speak of Syrians and no longer of Assyrians. In written Aramaic texts, the first letter “A” would be provided with a sign above it, so that this letter would not be pronounced, as a result this is read as Shuraya[7]. The omission of the first vowel in a word would even be a widespread phenomenon in many languages[8].

 

Many questions, few answers

 

The lost “A” theory brings with it many questions, which are difficult to find answers to.

It is remarkable how one can claim that a never-so-powerful nation like the Assyrians would omit the first letter of their name for a trifled reason.

We can make many reservations. Why did they drop the first letter of their name after so many centuries? Was it suddenly too difficult to pronounce the letter A? Why did other words beginning with the letter A not leave this letter away or why only the letter A in this case?

This phenomenon is called ‘corruption of a word’, a phenomenon in which a word has changed form a lot in the course of time. This usually starts unconsciously in the spoken language and expands to the written language. When verbalizing words one forgets the original meaning and also the form of the word.

How is it possible that one should allow such an important name to be corrupted? ‘Assyrian’ is in fact derived from the god Assur, who was worshiped by the Assyrians. To allow the name of the central god to be corrupted seems rather implausible and unlikely.

Suppose now that the name Assyrian has been corrupted to the name Syrian. How is it that the term ‘Syrian’ was only used for the western part of the Tigris (see current Syria on the map) and not for the eastern part, while here the center of the former Assyria (Assur) was located?

In fact, did the ‘Suraye’ (Syrian Christians) of today suddenly realise that they have forgotten to use the letter “A” for more than 2500 years and have lived in ignorance all the while that they are actually “Ashuraye” (Assyrians)? Were these ancestors ignorant for 25 centuries and would these handful writers of the 20th and 21st centuries know better?

If all this time the term ‘Suraye’ is used, why should we change this back to ‘Ashuraye’ today, because after all the Assyrians themselves omitted the first letter? These writers also often use the argument that the Greeks, who already came into contact with the Middle East in the 7th century BC, used the term Syria knowing that this was the abbreviation of the term ‘Assyria’. Yet it is remarkable that the Greeks used both the terms Syria and Assyria and even separately.

 

Resume

If we look at everything from the right context we notice that this theory is a linguistic theory. In other words, a theory that is based on a change in spelling and pronunciation.

We can conclude that this linguistic theory was brought to life in the 20th century to show an ethnic affinity with an ancient people, namely the Assyrians.

This theory is also used only for the Syrian Christians (Suraye) and not for the current Syrians (inhabitants of Syria). This alone is evidence that one works selectively and has other motives when using this theory. Even if the term Syria is derived from Assyria, this does not mean that all these inhabitants are descendants of the ancient Assyrians, because if there were only ethnic Assyrians living in Mesopotamia and its environs, then the Assyrian Empire would never have perished.

 

 

[1] Wilmshurst, D., The Martyred Church, A History of the Church of the East, East & West Publishing Ltd, Londen, 2011, 522 pages. (see chapter I and II)

[2] Herodotus, Historiën, Translation Dr. Onno Damsté, Uniboek-Het Spectrum, 1987, 571 pages.

[3] Helm, R., Herodotus Histories VII.63 and the Geographical Connotations of the Toponym “Assyria’ in the Archaemenid Period”, paper presented at thee 190th assembly of the American Oriental Society, in San Francisco, April 1980.

[4] Jozeph, J., The Modern Assyrians in the Middle East, Encounters with Western Christian Missions, Archaeologists, and Colonial Powers, Brill, Leiden, Boston, Keulen, 2000, 291 pages. (see chapter I).

[5] Joseph, J., Assyria and Syria:Synonyms?, Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, 1997;

[6] Parpola, S., National and Ethnic Identity in the Neo-Assyrian empire and Assyrian Identity in Post-Empire Times, Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, 2004;

[7] Yildiz, E., The Assyrians: A Historical and Current Reality, Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, 1999;

[8] Frye R.N., Assyria and Syria: Synonyms , Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 1992;

Assyrian nationalism

Introduction

 

Assyrian nationalism[1] is a phenomenon that started in the second half of the 19th century and has seen a great advance during the 20th century.

This nationalist movement has been the result of an aspiration for a national consciousness for the Christians in the Middle East. However, the re-use of the name Assyrians has caused much discussion and confusion within the Christian communities in Mesopotamia.

The issues that led to the re-use of this historical name must be considered in their context, taking into account the historical circumstances during this period.

Historical background re-use Assyrian name

 

From the 15th century AD for the Christians of the Church of the East (Eta d’Mèdenha) the national name Chaldeans was officially taken back into use. A national name linked to the geographical location of the Church of the East (south Mesopotamia) and to the Mesopotamian ancestors of these Christians.

It is remarkable that they were all called Chaldeans and to make a distinction the Christians who were Catholics were called Chaldeans or Chaldean Catholics and those who did not convert to Catholicism were called Chaldean Nestorians[2].

Important to know is that the Chaldean Nestorians also identified themselves as Chaldeans. There was no mention of the name Assyrians.

However, this changed with the archaeological excavations of mid-19th century in Mosul-Nineveh. The Briton Austin Henry Layard had a large share in these excavations with the discovery of spectacular things from the time of the Assyrian Empire. The name Assyrians was thus brought back to life. Austin Henry Layard speaks in his book “Nineveh and its remains” [3] exclusively about Chaldeans and Chaldean Nestorians, with which he referred to the Christians of the Church of the East, including the non-Catholic group. Also the 19th century explorer William Francis Ainsworth has come into contact with the Christians of the Church of the East and he uses in his book exclusively the name Chaldeans to refer to these Christians[4].

These sources alone show that there was no mention of the term Assyrians and that the archaeological mission of Henry Layard was the actual beginning of Assyrian nationalism.

The missions of the Church of England[5] also had a major influence on the re-use of this historical name. They called their missions to the Chaldean Nestorian ‘mission to the Assyrian Christians’, where Assyrian refers to the geographical position (former Assyria).

Initially this name was used for the Christians in the Mosul-Nineveh area, but thanks to the influence and propaganda of the Church of England[6], the Chaldean Nestorians adopted the name ‘Assyrian’ and the name ‘Chaldean’ gradually lost its national character and one continued to use this name only for the Chaldean Catholics.

Aim for national consciousness

The consequence of the re-use of the name Assyrians, however, has led to a nationalist campaign in which ‘Assyrian’ Christians have striven to use the name Assyrians as a collective term for all the Eastern Christians belonging to the Syrian-liturgical Churches. The Assyrian Christians became, as it were, Christian Assyrians. They did this to convince all these Christians of an Assyrian identity, in which they wanted to prove the ethnic link with the Assyrians of the ancient Assyrian Empire. Substantially many Mesopotamian Christians (mainly the Chaldean Nestorians) have therefore become convinced of this false theory.

This Assyrian nationalism has been accompanied by an aggressive propaganda in which historical sources have been manipulated and historical facts have been invented[7].

All sorts of theories were sent into the world to reinforce this propaganda like the widely used theory that tells us that the name ‘Suraye’ originally comes from ‘Ashuraye’, where the ‘A’ would not have been pronounced for more than 2500 years.

The Assyrian nationalists also claim that Chaldeans or Arameans are ethnic Assyrians and merely Chaldean or Aramaic in religious matters.

Also the archaeological discoveries in Nineveh (Iraq) of Austen Henry Layard would in itself prove that all the Mesopotamian Christians are ethnic Assyrians.

Apart from the fact that these theories are false and result from manipulated history, we can also conclude that these false theories are created with a great lack of respect for historical events and popular identities.

The consequences of this Assyrian nationalism are still felt today in the 21st century in the form of a name conflict and the resulting discussions have driven people and communities from Eastern Christianity apart.

 

 

 

[1] Frahm, E., A companion to Assyria, chapter 32: Assyrian Christians (by Butts Michael Aaron), John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Yale University, New Haven, US , 2017.

[2] Jozeph, J., The Modern Assyrians in the Middle East, Encounters with Western Christian Missions, Archaeologists, and Colonial Powers, Brill, Leiden, Boston, Keulen, 2000, 291 pages.

[3] Layard, A.H., Nineveh and its remains, The gripping journals of the man who discovered the buried Assyrian cities, Skyhorse Publishing, New York, 2013, 528 pages (originally published by John Murray (Londen) in 1849).

[4] Ainsworth, W.F., Travels and researchers in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Chaldea and Armenia, John W. Parker, West Strand, Londen, 1842, 364 pages.

[5] Coakley, J.F., The Church of the East and the Church of England, A History of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Assyrian Mission, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1992, 432 pages.

[6] Wigram, W.A., The Assyrians and their Neighbours, G.Bell & Sons, Londen, 1929, 247 pages.

[7] Wilmshurst, D., The Martyred Church, A History of the Church of the East, East & West Publishing Ltd, Londen, 2011, 522 pages. See pages 413-416 ‘The Assyrian Identity’