Chaldeans in Northern Mesopotamia


As a result of the name conflict between the Eastern Christians, all kinds of theories are being sent out into the world. Theories formed by the selective use of historical information. Such theories form the basis of endless discussions and hinder the unity between the Christian population groups in the Middle East.

One of these theories we want to discuss in this article is the claim that Chaldeans, an ancient Semitic people, lived in the south of Mesopotamia and the modern Chaldean Christians in northern Mesopotamia cannot by definition be Chaldeans. The Christians living in northern Mesopotamia, according to today’s ‘Assyrian nationalists’, are then more logically wise ‘Assyrians’, since Assyria was located in northern Mesopotamia.

In this article we leave open whether Mesopotamian Christians are ethnic Chaldeans, Assyrians or Arameans. We will go deeper into the principle of such a used theory and with what motives such a theory arises.


Geography and migration

First of all, it is absurd to say that it is impossible for someone living in country A to have a connection with country B. People who dare to do so have not taken note of the fact that there is ‘human migration’, also known as population displacement.

If we have to follow such a theory, the third generation of Chaldean, Assyrian or Aramean Christians, who live in the diaspora, cannot possibly have a connection with their homeland.

They will of course say that this is traceable. That is true, but the same story applies to the older peoples. In order to find out, however, one must be open to all historical information and not proceed selectively.

The old Chaldeans settled – according to the historical sources – around 1000 B.C. in the south of Mesopotamia, with the world-famous Babylon as its stronghold. But like many peoples, the Chaldeans emigrated as well.


Below are some separate arguments that show that the false theory in question is based on a negligible assumption.


Deportation in the 8th century B.C.

During the reign of the Assyrian king Sennacherib (705 B.C. – 681 B.C.) there was a battle between Assyrians on the one hand and Elamites, Chaldeans and Arameans on the other. In these battles Sennacherib won decisively and deported 208 000 Chaldeans and Aramaeans to the north, more specifically to Nineveh. This historical information is mentioned in Akkadian on the prism of Sennacherib (versatile clay tablet), which can be viewed in The Oriental Institute of Chicago[1]. This prism is an archaeological find of the British Colonel Taylor in 1830 near Nineveh.


Neo-Babylon empire under Chaldean rule

The Neo-Babylonian Empire existed from 626 B.C. to 539 B.C. and was ruled by a Chaldean Dynasty. This Chaldean Dynasty with the first ruler Nabopolassar, together with the Medes, brought down the Assyrian Empire, from which territory was taken. The Neo-Babylonian Empire stretched from southern Mesopotamia to northern Mesopotamia (Iraq and southeastern Turkey) and included the levant (Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan). The Chaldeans were the last indigenous people to rule Mesopotamia. Of course this would not be possible if they were not present in all of Mesopotamia, including the north.


Christians of the Church of the East (éta ed medenha)

The Church of the East was a powerful Church, to which both modern Chaldean and Assyrian Christians belong. This Church had acquired autonomy in the 5th century AD.

At the Synod of the Church of the East in 424 AD it was decided that the metropolitan of Seleucia-Ctesiphon could be the sole head of the Persian Church (Church of the East) and that therefore there should be no ecclesiastical authorities above him[2]. Dadisho, the metropolitan of Seleucia-Ctesiphon at the time, took the title of ‘Catholicus’ and thus became the ‘Patriarch’.

Seleucia-Ctesiphon was located in the south of Mesopotamia, near historic Babylon. This city was an important centre for the Christians of the Church of the East. From 775 AD, the Patriarchate was moved to Baghdad because of its political relations with the Islamic Caliph.

This fact shows that in the south of Mesopotamia there was a significant presence of the Christians of the Church of the East. It is impossible to say now that the Christians in the south and the Christians in the north were separate peoples, because they were the same people, the same Church and spoke the same language.

Let’s say that all these Christians were Assyrians (descendants of the ancient Assyrians), so how is it possible that they were also present in the south of Mesopotamia? For if we have to follow the relevant theory, Assyrians lived in the north and Chaldeans in the south and the Assyrians could not possibly have lived in the south, while the Christian people we are talking about were also present in the south and even had their centre there.



Migration as a result of persecution of Christians

As we have read in the above paragraph, the Christians of the Eastern Church were spread throughout Mesopotamia from the beginning of Christianity.

This is quite logical because, according to tradition, throughout Mesopotamia, Christianity was evangelized by the apostles Mar Addai and Mar Mari, two of the legendary founders of the Church of the East. Mar Addai is said to have evangelized in northern Mesopotamia and Mar Mari in the south.

Christians in Mesopotamia have often been persecuted because of their faith. They have suffered from all the non-Christian superpowers and are still often targeted by extremist groups today.

As everywhere, a minority that is persecuted succeeds in fleeing and this has also been the case with the Mesopotamian Christians. There have been times when these Christians have fled in all directions. They were always the same people, regardless of their geographical location.

During the reign of the Islamic caliphs, Christianity in the south also came under more pressure and the Church of the East expanded very strongly in the north with additional dioceses[3]. This has been reflected up to and including the 20th century in the considerable presence of the Christians of the Church of the East in the north of Mesopotamia.



We can conclude that the geographical argument of the Assyrian nationalists is based on selective and superficial information and is rather used to convince the Mesopotamian Christians of an ethnic Assyrian identity. A history of 2,600 years has been passed in order to establish direct links with the ancient Assyrians.

However, the above arguments show that one cannot rely on geography alone when tracing the roots of a people.

Moreover, the geographical distance between ancient Babylon and Nineveh is only 700 km. However, when one uses the theory in question, one almost speaks of two separate worlds.

And to reinforce this theory even more, one mentions that Chaldeans originate from Basra, all the way in the south of Iraq. The deeper in the south, the more convincing the theory sounds. Fortunately, Mesopotamia borders on the Persian Gulf in the south, because who knows where else, according to these Assyrian nationalists, the Chaldeans would come from. (read also the article Assyrian Nationalism).

[1] Luckenbill D., The Annals of Sennacherib, The University of Chicago Oriental institute publications Volume II, Chicago, 1924, 196 pages.

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

[3] Wilmshurst, D., The Martyred Church, A History of the Church of the East, East & West Publishing Ltd, Londen, 2011, 522 pages. See chapter III Christians and Muslims.

Chaldeans in Belgium

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 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.

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.


This story is no different in Belgium. The people we know today as Assyrians are largely Chaldeans and Arameans / Syrian Orthodox.

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).

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 Chaldeans in the French speaking areas identify themselves as Chaldeans, both in their mother tongue (Keldayé) and in French (Chaldéens).



Name conflict eastern Christian


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.



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 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



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.



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



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’