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;