Historically, few peoples have suffered persecution as have the Assyrians. They have been slaughtered, exterminated, and forcefully displaced from their native land. The world watched in silence as they suffered these massacres and failed to come to their aid. In some cases they were complicit in the atrocities.
When Arabs and Islam swept through the Middle East in 630 A.D., they encountered 600 years of Assyrian Christian civilization, with a rich heritage, a highly developed culture, and advanced learning institutions. It is this civilization which became the foundation of the Arab civilization.
But this great Assyrian Christian civilization would come to an end in 1300 A.D. The tax which the Arabs levied on Christians, simply for just being Christian (called the jizya), forced many Assyrians to convert to Islam to avoid the tax. This constituted an assault on the Assyrian community so that by the time Timurlane the Mongol delivered the death blow to the region in 1300 A.D., by violently destroying most cities in the Middle East, the Assyrian Christian community had dwindled to its core in Assyria. It was a blow form which would never recover. The Assyrian language, which had been the predominant language of the Middle East until 900 A.D., was completely replaced by Arabic (except amongst the Assyrians).
The Assyrian missionary enterprise, which had been so successful throughout the Asian continent, came to an abrupt end with the coming of Timurlane the Mongol. The four Assyrian communities, over time, begin defining themselves in terms of their church affiliation.
The western Assyrians, all of whom belonging to the Syrian Orthodox Church began identifying themselves as “Jacobites”. The remaining communities belonged to the Assyrian Church of the East. After the division of the Church of the East in 1550 A.D., the Chaldean Church of Babylon, a Roman Catholic Uniate (Eastern Catholic churches which were previously Eastern Orthodox churches), was created, and members of this church began to call themselves Chaldean. By the end of the nineteenth century, these three communities no longer saw themselves as one and the same.
In the twentieth century, Assyrians have suffered genocide, been pushed out of their ancestral lands, and are struggling for survival. The Assyrian nation today stands at a crossroad. One third of is in a diaspora, while the remaining two-thirds lives perilously in its native lands.
It cannot be denied that while the Iraqi people are undergoing a great deal of suffering, it is evident that Assyrians are being targeted more than others. They are being subjected to persecution, massacres and genocide in Nineveh and other Assyrian cities and villages since the beginning of the last century.
During World War I, for instance, Turks and Kurds massacred about two-thirds of the Assyrians living in the area. Next came the ethnic cleansing of 1933 at the hands of the Iraqi army and the Kurds. Later, in the 1960s & 1970s, the ethnic Assyrian community was targeted by a Kurdish campaign led by the Kurdish leader Mullah Mustafa, also known as “Mustafa Barzani”, whose rebellion against the successive Iraqi governments resulted in the displacement of thousands of Assyrians.
This campaign was followed by the Massacre of “Surya” in September 1969 at the hands of the Iraqi army, led by Lieutenant “Abdul Karim Algehiche”, which claimed the lives of dozens and led to the destruction of the ancient Assyrian towns and archeological monasteries at the hands of Saddam Hussain’s army.
“The horrific killings of the Assyrian Genocide occurred many decades ago, but tragically, today the Assyrian community in Iraq faces very familiar dangers,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, from Illinois’s ninth congressional district, said in a statement. “I have heard from many of my constituents deeply concerned about their family members and friends who are being targeted because of their Christian faith. They are living in daily danger or surviving in refugee camps, and we must act to protect them.”
Mark Arabo, national spokesman for Iraqi Christians and Chaldean-American businessman, said in a statement, that the “evil” being carried out by ISIS militants now includes shocking beheadings of children. “They are systematically beheading children, and mothers and fathers. The world hasn’t seen an evil like this for a generation. There’s actually a park in Mosul that they’ve actually beheaded children and put their heads on a stick,” Arabo told CNN.
Though some support for the Assyrians people have been forthcoming, the suffering of the Assyrian people seems to have been eclipsed by other international issues and the evacuation and looting of the “Christian” houses and the burning of churches was limited to the people of Mosul (which was called Nineveh, before Muslims renamed the city) and its tribal leaders who have long called for an “Iraq of equality”, as they perceive it as “Sunni” Muslims. The same goes to Basra which was abandoned by all the Assyrians after its leaders called for equality through a “Shiite” perspective during the Hussain regime.
The concept of “rejection of the other” controls the minds of Iraqis, from the layman to the politician to the intellectual and the media person despite the boasting of the intellectuals and politicians about the notion that the strength of the Iraqi society lies in its mosaic composition. Yet the Assyrians are the first victims of this ideology and will definitely not be the last. However, this mind-set has had a negative impact on Assyrian’s presence and demographic structure for many years, especially with the presence of Assyrians on the land of Assyria (Iraq) becoming threatened.
The Assyrian Christian community is one of the least recognized Christian groups that is suffering persecution at the hands of jihadists. What becomes of the Assyrians, whose history is one plagued with constant persecution, is dependent on a world that, through apathy, has ignored their cries for help?
Without our encouragement and prayer, a 2,100 year-old culture will soon be lost to history.
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