The Historical Perspective
Today’s Assyrians are descendants of one of the world’s oldest civilizations, tracing back to the 25th century BC! In the second millennium B.C.E., they were a major regional power in Mesopotamia (the ‘Cradle of Civilization’) and later grew to become one of the world’s earliest empires.
At its peak, the Assyrian empire was known for technological, scientific, and cultural achievements, and its presence stretched from Cyprus to Persia and from the Caucasus Mountains to the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt. The language of the Assyrians was ‘Aramaic’ (the same language that Jesus spoke.) Today, between 500,000 and 850,000 people still speak Aramaic languages, including ‘Syriac,’ a dialect of the Aramaic language that is the official language of three major Assyrian churches.
Despite the magnificent contributions that the Assyrians have made to our culture, today, the Assyrians have been reduced to an ethnic minority group that is predominantly Christian. They have faced persecution for centuries, including the appalling Assyrian genocide that took place during the First World War when the Ottomans killed about 250,000 Assyrians.
While many of the 2-4 million Assyrians today live in their traditional homeland (which includes parts of Syria, northern Iraq, Iran, and Turkey), others have fled to the neighbouring countries to escape persecution from Shiite and Sunni militants. About 100,000 Assyrians currently live in the United States of America.
In 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) captured Mosul, a major city of Iraq, and many of the Assyrians living in Northern Iraq fled from persecution. ISIS had demanded that the Christians living under its control must take down their crosses and pay a tax levied on religious minorities. Those who didn’t pay the tax had to face a choice between exile and death.
The time has come for all of us to recognize what the Assyrian Christians have endured and to stand up on their behalf!
- The 2-4 million and the 100,000 numbers are both cited in the PBS link below:
- While many of the 2-4 million Assyrians today live in their traditional homeland…’
- About 100,000 Assyrians currently live in the United States of America.’