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.