I was not surprised to read an article dated May/03/2005, by Mr. Thomas Keyes where he said that the Assyrians were “nearly annihilated by Persians and Medes”, and that the language they use today is “quite a different of the old Assyrian”.
Many sophisms and confusing theories have been caused by the demographic and political changes through the history of the Middle East, especially before the historians discovered the remains of the ancient Assyrian Empire, thus many historians assured that the Assyrian people didn’t disappear and one of them is George Maspero, “Ancient History of the Peoples of the East”, 1903 - Maspero is mentioning that the Assyrians came back to Assyria following the fall of Babylon to the Persians, they re-built the Temple of the God Ashur, and were the only ones who worshipped him, and those rituals were also practiced during the 2nd century B.C (P: 167, 170,177). Those who fled Assyria after the fall of Nineveh have returned back after Cyrus liberated them, and they continued living from commerce and agriculture (P: 676)
Another historian: George Roux, saying about the Assyrians after the fall of their Empire: “We don’t have a lot of information about that era, but it’s well known that Assyrian levies were fighting in the Persian army and they helped Persia against Egypt” (1)
Other important discoveries proved that the Assyrians kept their customs long time after the fall of Nineveh, for example the Greek King Antioch I (280-262 B.C) is saying that he would be proud to be the highest priest of the Easagila (Mardukh temple), which means that the Assyrian God was still worshipped (2) .
What we have today are inscriptions and old sayings that assure the continuity of the Assyrians and this is approved by their Assyrian pride despite the religious domination on the Middle Eastern mentality during the past centuries, and below, we’ll find some examples (only some of them) which prove the continuity of the Assyrian identity.
- 5th century B.C: Herodotus, a Greek historian and traveler who lived in Assyria after the fall of Babylon to the Persians, he was born in Halicarnassus (Greece) at 490 B.C is describing the Assyrian Battalions that served in the Persian army saying: “The Assyrians were equipped with bronze helmets made in a complicated barbarian way which is hard to describe, shields, spears, daggers, wooden clubs studded with iron, and linen corselets”(3)
- 2nd century B.C: The Greek historian Arian in his book “The life of the Great Alexander” (“Anabasis” -Xenophon also wrote a book under the same title). He says that during the time of Alexander and exactly in 325 B.C, 10.000 Assyrian workers built water conduits during 3 months.
- 1st century A.D: Titian of Adiabine: He died in 130 B.C, the first who introduced the trinity ideology to the New Testament explanation, and was rejected by the church, later his students Clement of Alexandria and Oregon of Alexandria proposed the idea again and was also rejected by Pope Dionysius (3rd century BC) who asked them about their doctrine, and they answered that they adopted it from their teacher, Tatian the “Assyrian” (4)
- 2nd century A.D: The Assyrian Theologist and philosopher Bar-Daisan who was born in Urhey (Edessa) in 154 B.C wrote a poem calling his compatriots by saying:
Look for the key,
Raise the falling people,
And don’t walk before you know the distance
O Assyrians, have mercy on Assyrians …
- 4th century A.D: “Athur” Kingdom (“Athur” from the Persian “Athura” which meant “Ashur” – A.G) was a governorate under the ruling of the Persians, its King was Sin-Harib(Sennacherib) (In old Assyrian, “Sin-Kharu” meant “The chosen by the moon”, and this was the name of the Assyrian king in the 9th century B.C – A.G). Sin-Harib B.C is the father of St.Behnam and St.Sarah. (5)
- 6th century A.D: The Jacobite bishop, John of Ephesus (505-585 B.C) says about the capture of the “Dara” city (between Nessibis & Mardin - Ashur) by the King Anastasius in 556 B.C: “…And thus he spoiled the city of a vast and incalculable prey, and took the people captive, and emptied it of its inhabitants, and left in it a garrison of his own, and returned to his land with an immense 385 booty of the silver and gold taken from the inhabitants, and the churches, and every where else. Its capture, and deliverance into the hands of the ASSYRIANS, took place seventy-two years, more or less, after the time of it’s first being founded by king Anastasius” (6)
- 10th century A.D: The Assyriologue Simo Parpula (Helsinki) is saying: “Classical sources attest to the continuity of Assyrian cults in other Syrian cities until late antiquity; in Harran, the cults of Sin, Nikkal, Bel, Nabu, Tammuz and other Assyrian gods persisted until the 10th century AD and are still referred to in Islamic sources. Typically Assyrian priests with their distinctive long conical hats and tunics are depicted on several Graeco-Roman monuments from Northern Syria and East Anatolia”.
- 16th century A.D: The Kurdish historian Sharaf Khan Al-Bedlissi says in his book “Sharafnameh”: “During the time of Hassan Beg Aq-Qwinlo (the 15th century) there were Christians in Zur district (Hakkari – Ashur) who were known as “Asuri” (7)
- 19th century A.D: Horatio Southgate (1830s) talking about the Syrian Orthodox Church followers in northern Assyria (south-east of today’s Turkey), he says: “The people informed me that there were about one hundred families of them in the town of Kharpout, and a village inhabited by them on the plain. I observed that the Armenians did not know them under the name which I used, SYRIANI; but called them ASSOURI, which struck me the more at the moment from its resemblance to our English name ASSYRIANS, from whom they claim their origin, being sons of Assour”(8) And the Assyrian historian Hermis Abouna mentions this by Southgate: “I was wondering how the Syrians are distributed in a big surface far from other Christians in Mesopotamia and Syria, but later I knew that they are only a continuity for the same race in the eastern regions (He means Nestorians of Hakkari – A.G), and their Armenian Neighbors never called them “Syrians”, but “Assyrians” (“ASORI” - Ashur) (9)
As for the language used today by the Assyrians, it’s not different than the old one as Mr. Keyes suggested, and there are thousands of Acadian words used today and here are some examples: http://christiansofiraq.com/dict./assyria1.html
The Language used today by the Assyrians is erroneously called “Aramaic” because the real Aramaic is indeed still used in many villages in the west of Syria, while the so-called Aramaic used by Assyrians is a mix of the Acadian (Old Assyrian) with the real Aramaic (which is already a mix of Canaanite and Acadian), so it’s not that fair to call the Neo-Assyrian as “Aramaic” or to say that Neo-Assyrian has no ties to Acadian.
Whereas the historical belonging depends on the language, traditions, and geographic locations, thus we as Assyrians are practicing our Assyrianism continuously and we are proud of our Assyrian origin, and be sure, Mr.Keyes, that the people who say that they are Assyrians, they know what they are talking about.
- “Ancient Iraq”, P: 370, the Arabic Edition.
- “The Missing Era is the Assyrian History” – Zayya Kanon , Arabic edition, P: 46.
- “The Histories”, Book VII, P: 396 – Penguin Classics edition, translated from Greek by Prof. Aubrey De Selincourt, 1996.
- Clement of Alexandria, Strom. III 12.81
- “The Guide to The Land of Civilizations”, [Arabic], 1962, Taha Baqer & Fouad Safar, P: 33.
- “Ecclesiastical History”, by John Bishop of Ephesus, Book III Part VI – In English by Jessie Payne Margoliouth.
- “Sharafnameh”, translated by Jamil Rozbeyati, Al-Najah Publishing house, Baghdad – 1953
- Horatio Southgate, “Narrative of a Visit to the Syrian Church”, 1844 P: 80
- “Assyrians after the fall of Nineveh”, Vol.V, P: 60
About the author:
Ashur Giwargis is an Assyrian researcher who writes about the history of the Assyrians and their contemporary political situation, he has many articles in Arab and Assyrian newspapers.