“The Assyrians of Syria: History and Prospets” by Mardean Isaac

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“The Assyrians of Syria: History and Prospects”
by Mardean Isaac* mardean.isaac@cantab.net
for Syria Comment, 21 December 2015

This article will explore the situation of Assyrians in Syria.

  1. The first section deals with the origins of Assyrians in Syria, the Assyrian identity, and the condition of Assyrians under the Assad regime.
  2. The second section deals with the impact of the Syrian uprising and civil war on Assyrians, Assyrian security forces, and the politics of Assyrians under the Kurdish self-administration in Hassakah.

Origins of Assyrians in Syria

There was a strong ancient Assyrian presence across Syria, and the most significant historical churches to which Assyrians belong today – especially the Syriac Orthodox Church[1], but also the Assyrian Church of the East[2] and later the Chaldean Catholic Church[3] – navigated a presence across Syria under the various empires that ruled over the region. However, while the deep ethnic origin of Syrian Christians (and all Syrians) is comprised of pre-Arab layers, including Assyrian, these contemporary communities[4] do not today possess a distinct ethnic identity, unlike the Assyrian populations that will form the focus of this article.

Contemporary Assyrian populations are defined by a set of distinct cultural and linguistic traits. They speak the modern Assyrian language, which has two major dialects, as well as retaining usage of classical Syriac – the ecclesiastical lingua franca of the Syriac churches – of which they are the progenitors and stewards. In modern Assyrian, a language partly rooted in Akkadian and Aramaic, but much of whose morphology and lexical features have been self-generated over the centuries, Assyrians refer to themselves largely by the emic terms ‘Suraya/Sur(y)oyo[5]’*2, a variant of the term for ancient Assyrians, ‘Ashuraya/Asoraya.’ The term ‘Athoroyo/Atoraya’ is also deployed.

The major modern Assyrian presence in Syria dates back to the aftermath of the Assyrian Genocide (1914-23).  This was a Genocide distinct to that of the Armenians, although the perpetrators – Turkish nationalists and their Kurdish conscripts – extirpated both peoples in the same period and for the same reason: to rid the emergent Republic of Turkey of its Christian populations. A portion of the fleeing Armenian population also settled in Syria.

Western Assyrians[6] fleeing massacres in the historic Assyrian strongholds of Mardin, Diyarbakir, Midyat, Tur Abdin, and elsewhere, ended up in the province of Jazira, where they established the city of Qamishli (then known as Beth Zalin, ‘the house of reed’ in Assyrian) as well as villages such as those in Qabre Hewore (Al-Qahtaniyah).

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Eastern Assyrians took a more winding route to Syria. Having fled massacres in their ancestral territories in south-east Turkey, mainly in the Hakkari region, they became dispersed across the region. A decade of itinerant uncertainty regarding their fate ended with the Simele Massacre of 1933 – the foundational event of the nascent state of Iraq – after which thousands of remaining Assyrians fled into Jazira and founded villages along the Khabur river. The Khabur villages [2] 2remained a kind of living museum of Hakkari life. The villages were settled by tribe, and their names continue to colloquially bare the titles of the Assyrian tribes that inhabit them in parallel to their official Arab titles.

Assyrians continued to call these settlements “camps” even after they were developed into villages. The recent deracination of Khabur has tragically shown that they were prudent to carry a sense of their transience in their own mouths.

Both western and eastern Assyrian populations retain cultural traits – including festivals, dances, and other folk phenomena – distinct to them.

With the establishment of the Syrian state, some Assyrians also moved to Aleppo (which also hosted some Assyrians fleeing the genocide) and Damascus, as well as more obscure areas such as al-Thawrah.

Assyrians under the Assad regime

One has to first submit questions regarding the Assyrian relationship with the Syrian Government and Assad regime into the general understanding that, in times of peace – even enforced by tyranny – most people are not motivated by political ideology or agenda, but rather respond to their economic, familial, and communal needs. Assyrians in Syria were no exception. It is necessary to assert this platitude since many reports have depicted Assyrians as ‘pro-regime’, tapping into political fault-lines that are observed by analysts more than ordinary people.

Many Assyrians do not perceive the Ba’ath party or the Assad family as synonymous with the Syrian state, despite the stranglehold over political affairs in Syria that the regime possessed until the uprising and subsequent events. This reflected a fundamental attachment to the unitary Syrian state and its institutions which transcended their occupancy by the Ba’ath party and the Assad family. (However, the regime was certainly perceived[7] as a safeguard against the two fundamental fears that Assyrians possess: Islamism and Kurdish nationalism.) This ethos could be described as characteristic of Assyrian populations in all the modern states in which they have resided. The broad tendency of Arab Christian political involvement, whether with the Ba’ath, SSNP, PLO or otherwise, has been ‘greaterist’, whereas Assyrian nationalism is essentially autonomist or separatist in its orientation. However, the armed Assyrian struggle ended with the Assyrian Genocide, the Simele massacre (1933), and only resumed in a lower level form in the resistance to Saddam, entering another decline in the early 90s. In the absence of a viable plan for Assyrian separatism, Assyrian social and political organisation has focused on maintaining the Assyrian presence and, at their most radical political margin (and at considerable cost) reforming the Iraqi and Syrian states, both in general terms and with a specific view to the Assyrian ethnicity and the place of Assyrians in the state.[8]

In the case of Syria, these efforts were largely led by the Assyrian Democratic Organisation (ADO). Established in 1957, mainly by western Assyrians, the party sought democratic reform of the Syrian state as well as to secure recognition of the Assyrian identity and a more meaningful place for Assyrians within the country. ADO members who spoke out against the regime were harassed, arrested or tortured, for example, in response to publicly raising concerns over state neglect of Khabur. Gabriel Moushe, the leader of the political branch of the ADO, was arrested on December 19th, 2013, and remains in regime detention. In the final sections of this piece I will discuss the current place of the ADO in Syria.

The Assyrian Democratic Party, a small party that splintered from the ADO, was established in 1978 by Adam Homeh. In the 1990s, the ADP attempted to provide a pro-regime alternative to the ADO by, for example supporting rival Assyrian candidates for the Syrian parliament that were less oppositional to the government. It was also overtly sectarian, electing eastern Assyrians as the only ‘true’ Assyrians, and exhibiting suspicion of the dominance of the ADO by western Assyrians.

The Dawronoye were established in the mid 1990s, and will be discussed in greater detail in the final sections of this article.

The Assyrian identity and the Syrian state

The Assyrian identity is not recognised by the Syrian government.[9] Despite this, the celebration of Akitu – the ancient Assyrian new year – went ahead largely unhindered by government interference, beyond the inevitable presence of Assad family iconography and mukhabarat. Originally an event held in private, the ADO spearheaded the expansion of Akitu into the public sphere. This process was accelerated by the emboldening of the party after the release of its leadership from government imprisonment in the mid 80s. The event gained in participation and prestige over time. These spectacular and vivid images of Akitu in Hassakah from 2002 show how meaningful the celebration is to Assyrians. A mass wedding here accompanies the festival.

Assyrian cultural and linguistic matters in Syria

An hour of instruction a week in the Assyrian language was permitted by the government, but only in Churches. The Assyrian Church of the East favors the spoken Assyrian language, a position that reflects the independent and autocephalous nature of the Church. Their championing of modern Assyrian also has its roots in the transmission of 19th century European Protestant principles, which drew an association between ecclesiastical independence and using vernacular language as a means of bringing the church closer to its adherents. The Syriac Orthodox Church teaches in Classical Syriac[10], exhibiting indifference and even hostility to spoken Assyrian. Small magazines reporting on church affairs in Syriac were permitted to circulate.

The curriculum appended ‘Arab’ to the names of ancient empires of the Middle East (‘Arab Assyrian’, ‘Arab Babylonian’), claiming that the populations of these civilizations originated in the Gulf, and that after the Islamic invasion, the region became homogeneously Arab. Merely challenging this dogma was an act of intellectual and, by extension, political rebellion. The one reference to Assyrians in the curriculum, which was removed under Bashar, addressed the Simele Massacre of Iraq – but negatively so, implying the Assyrians were fifth columns and traitors to the Arab state of Iraq and that their massacre was justified and necessary. The only specific government mention of the Assyrian name, therefore, was pejorative: Assyrians were acknowledged insofar as their declared ethnic separatism was associated with troublesome and treacherous behaviour which threatened the unity of the Arab state.

A small newsletter in Assyrian (and bearing the identity) was briefly distributed in the late 80s and early 90s. It was tolerated since it belonged to Assyrian parties in northern Iraq who were in opposition to the regime of Saddam Hussein, a nemesis mutual to the Syrian government. Beyond that, magazines by the Assyrian opposition were distributed secretly: handwritten or photocopied in small numbers.

Origins of locally derived Assyrian security in Syria

The Syrian Arab Army began to withdraw from the remoter areas of Hassakah province in 2012 in order to buttress areas already under their control in western Syria, confining their military and security presence in Jazira to the cities of Hassakah and Qamishli. This began to expose Assyrians to the possibility of Islamist incursion, vindicated by some early incidents, as well as opening lines of fissure between Arab and Kurdish elements in the region. In late 2012 and early 2013, Assyrian men from Khabur began to quietly meet with a view to organising a local defence force to patrol and protect the villages. Their desire was to remain independent of all political parties, as well as to declare a stance of neutrality in relation to the regime, the YPG and even Islamist forces.

These planners witnessed an original flurry of registration by young men, which reached into the hundreds. They also hoped that enlistment in local security forces would help stem the rising tide of unemployment as well as Assyrian emigration out of Syria. But across 2013, emigration continued unabated, depleting the potential ranks of the guard force (‘Nattoreh’).

There were always discussions among the Assyrians of Hassakah as to whether stockpiling arms was a good idea. A consensus was never reached that it was. Once state security unravelled, the lack of readiness among Assyrians to direct their own fate was sorely exposed. Kurds, on the other hand, have been preparing for the collapse of Arab states since before the inception of those states.

The security situation in Khabur and the future of the Khabur villages

On February 23rd, in the early hours of the morning, ISIS attacked the villages along the Khabur. The whole population of the villages, which by then had dwindled to around 3000, fled to Qamishli and Hassakah. In the course of the incursion, ISIS captured 253 villagers, mainly from Tel Shamiran, Tel Hirmiz and Tel Jazira villages, and in many cases, entire families. 130 Assyrians remain in captivity. ISIS has released the other 123 captives, mainly elderly and infirm individuals, in batches across several months. It is unclear whether their release is the product of ransom payments, negotiations, or both – or whether for ISIS, elderly and sick captives are simply not worth the trouble of maintaining in captivity. Three male Assyrian captives were executed on the morning of September 23rd, on the festival day of eid al-Adha, and footage of the execution was released two weeks later.

The causes and dynamics behind the attack continue to haunt Assyrians contemplating their fate in Syria. Some villagers blame the YPG, and the MFS (Syriac Military Council), an Assyrian militia allied with the Kurdish force, for inciting ISIS through their position of open hostility towards the group — a step that Khabur Assyrians felt would unnecessarily imperil them. There is of course no way of knowing what the consequences of accepting YPG protection along the Khabur River – moving the frontier of the control of Kurdish self-administration along and beyond the villages – would have been. Nor of how committed, and at what cost to the Assyrian population, the YPG’s protection would have been. Accommodations had been made for ‘co-existence’ with ISIS in the weeks prior to the invasion, including taking down crosses from churches. Some MFS soldiers, emboldened by the strength of the YPG, had brashly and publicly restored the crosses on some churches in Khabur, alongside other belligerent gestures such as the kidnapping of ISIS militants.[11]

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It is, however, impossible to imagine that any sustainable arrangement could have prevented ISIS from entering the villages, as they did, unprovoked by any Assyrian conduct, in the Nineveh Plains of Iraq in August 2014. There is something in the psychology of the desire for neutrality in the midst of war that reflects the deep-seated sense of paralysis among the Khabur community, whose parochialism was sustained by state auspices and then badly exposed by their withdrawal.

Blame is also apportioned by some Assyrians to the ADO and other political parties for refusing to facilitate the arming of the Khabur Guards. The ADO does not support the contribution of Assyrians to the armed opposition – let alone in implicit defense of the regime or the PYD project to which they are explicitly opposed and critical, respectively. This position does not square with the stated desire of the Khabur Guards to remain independent of politics; it should be understood as a feeling of betrayal by fellow Assyrians who, as one interviewee put it to me, “used to talk a good game about the tyranny of the regime and democracy, but abandoned us and left Syria as soon as things got difficult.”

The Khabur villages are now free of ISIS, yet exist in a state of ruination

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8 and are still heavily mined and booby-trapped. Following the expulsion of ISIS, several bodies belonging to the overwhelmed Assyrian military resistance to the incursion were discovered. There have been a few incidents of Khabur Guardsmen dying or incurring injury while patrolling the mined wasteland of the River.

ISIS, as well as the YPG and the MFS, have extensively looted the Khabur villages.

Assassination of David Jindo

On the evening of Tuesday, April 21st, David Jindo[12] and Elias Nasser, two leaders of the Khabur guards, were abducted from their homes, blindfolded, beaten and tortured, shot at, and left for dead.[13] As their assailants fled the scene, somewhere close to the village of Jumayla, Elias Nasser crawled to a main road where he was picked up by a passing car and taken to hospital in Qamishli.

Over the coming days, two pro-ISIS Twitter feeds claimed the attack.

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I spoke to a PYD supporter who perceived the hand of the regime at work, dividing Assyrians and Kurds in Hassakah to stop what he saw as a joint project of ethnic renewal after decades of Ba’ath homogeneity. “The regime wants Assyrians to remain slaves to the church and forget their nationality,” he wrote. “The YPG trusted Jindo because he seemed like a man of his word. Why don’t people see that the PKK sacrificed a lot for Assyrians?”

As he lay in hospital in Qamishli, Elias was unable to speak owing to bullet wounds in his face and chest. But as friends went to visit him, he wrote down information conveying his certainty that his assailants were members of the YPG.

That YPG fighters were responsible for the attack came as a surprise to casual observers in the Assyrian Diaspora, who assumed, with the emergence of ISIS, that lines of combat in Syria had become morally delineated. But it was no surprise to the Khabur Guards. In the weeks prior to the assassination, a few of their leading members had been called to a meeting with YPG fighters. They customarily all left their guns and phones at the entrance. Their host brandished an AK-47 once they were seated, making it clear their options were to accept the existence of and fight for Rojava (western Kurdistan), leave Syria, or face death.

Like all the peoples of the Middle East, Assyrians have very long memories. The murder of David Jindo resonates deeply in the Assyrian imagination. There is a long and iconic list of Assyrian leaders murdered by Kurdish nationalists: Patriarch Mar Shimun, Franso Hariri, Margaret George (one of the first female Peshmerga), Francis Shabo, and so on. That many of these figures were killed in spite of their attempts to engage with, or even work under, Kurds only enhances the deeply embedded popular perception among Assyrians of an inexorable Kurdish tendency towards treachery.

The trial of the killers of David Jindo will be discussed in subsequent sections.

Assyrian security and politics under the Kurdish self-administration

The Dawronoye (“revolutionaries”) movement is arguably the most quixotic and amorphous of Assyrian political groups. The group was established as a network bridging the Assyrian Diaspora and communities in southern Turkey. Inspired by the PKK’s resilience in the face of Turkish state oppression, they operated under the auspices of the Kurdish militants, settling into a minor role as a military force in northern Iraq in the late 1990s.

In 2005, the group established the Syriac Union Party, which began to organize in Syria. With the regime-sanctioned rise of the PYD and the declaration of the autonomous Cantons in November 2013, including ‘Rojava’ in Hassakah, the Dawronoye movement finally found a true foothold in the region. The SUP called upon an expanding network of patronage and advocacy in Europe, a television channel based in Sweden, Suroyo TV, along with a branch in Lebanon, and civil society organizations in Syria under PYD auspices to attempt to entrench and expand their activities. In January 2013, the group announced the creation of the MFS (Syriac Military Council), their military wing in Gozarto[14]. More recently, the MFS established a female division, the Bethnahrain[15] Women Protection Forces, a clear parallel to the YPJ.

In their unveiling ceremonies, both the MFS and the HSNB lashed out against the Assad regime. The MFS noted the ‘murder machine’ of the regime killing ‘the Syrian people’, endorsed the ‘legitimacy of the Syrian people’s revolution’ in its desire to ‘bring down the Ba’ath regime’, but also emphasised a broader desire to oppose anyone who wished to further marginalise the Syriac people. The HSNB decried the dictatorship and chauvinism of the Assad regime. In a recent article on the group, HSNB fighters – again echoing the ethos of the PKK – said that their taking up of arms would help dispel “the idea that the Syriac woman is good for nothing except housekeeping and make-up.”

The SUP has been persecuted by the regime. Several members have been detained: most notably their Vice President Sait Cosar, who was arrested in 2013, and whose fate remains unknown. (His son, Johan Cosar, later relocated to Syria from Switzerland to train the MFS.) The SUP, however, is not part of the opposition, and neither the MFS nor the HSNB have fought regime forces. This is unsurprising given that the regime partly facilitated the rise of the PYD in Hassakah and has not entered into open conflict with the YPG. In exchange for a degree of autonomy and the license to control the direction of it, the PYD put down revolts by Arabs and Kurds[16] seeking to overthrow Bashar and used the YPG as an outsource point for security aligned with regime interests: fighting opposition forces and acting as a thorn in the side of Turkey.

Many ordinary MFS soldiers are motivated by an apolitical sense that they are protecting their own in a time of flux, and have been empowered instinctively by the ethnic and communal solidarity that the MFS offers as opposed to the SAA or the YPG proper. This situation itself finds a parallel with the YPG itself, many of whose rank and file soldiers do not share the lofty and complex ideological principles espoused by the PYD’s leadership, but rather see themselves as fighting for an independent and ultimately unified Kurdistan, in contradiction to the PYD’s proclaimed distance from ethnic separatism, belief in a unified Syria, and even disavowal of belief the nation-state per se. However, Assyrians have no greater political and land aim in Syria, unlike Kurds.

The feeling of fundamental repression, especially to the extent of wanting to overthrow the regime, is rare among Assyrians, and is commoner among Kurds, who were largely denied even rights of citizenship and title and marriage deed under Ba’athism. In that sense, it is clear that the PYD – regime alliance is a political one rather than one made durable by a shared belief in Syrian unity or ideology. The anti-regime ideological stance preferred by the MFS leadership is another incarnation of the Dawronoye attempt to ground and direct their vaguely revolutionary and anti-authoritarian ethos. But their direct motivation in openly declaring this stance is less explicit. It is prospectively useful for garnering international support for their armed struggle and the ambitions of the SUP, and certainly provides a globally understandable frame of legitimacy for their endeavour, in light of the unpopularity of the regime on the world stage.

Local tensions exist between the Khabur Guards and the MFS. However, even Elias Nasser, in his first interview following the attempt on his life, made it clear that he did not want these tensions to blossom into full ethnic ‘fitna’ between Assyrians and Kurds. Intriguingly, Dawronoye attempts to provide stewardship of the Assyrian community entire extends to commemoration of David Jindo – killed by their YPG allies – as a martyr, alongside MFS fighters who died fighting Islamists, as can be seen in this MFS martyr monument in Qamishli.

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This is clearly part of an attempt by the pro-PYD MFS to try to encompass the concerns of the entire Assyrian community.

The original ruling of the killers of David Jindo saw two men receive two years each, with no punishment handed to the two other individuals involved. A re-trial in July saw the sentences extended to 20 years for two of the killers, and four years and one year respectively for the other two men. Suroyo TV broadcasted footage of the trial. In the news clip, the Kurdish judge, wearing traditional clothing and presiding over a court room with a photo of Abdullah Ocalan above its entrance, speaks of the dynamics of the ruling. He points to “open meetings” that took place with Assyrian, Arab and Kurdish representatives in which the opinions of individuals and “left wing” parties were noted, and claims that these discussions led to the revised decision regarding the sentence. He asserts that the sentence will help guarantee the brotherhood and unity of all the peoples of Rojava. There is no discussion of the actual procedures and principles of the ruling: the processing of evidence, establishment of proof, and so on.

In their press release in response to the first ruling, the Bethnahrain National Council (MUB), the overseeing political body of the Dawronoye, decried the murder of David Jindo as an “unpardonable act, not only against our people, but also against Kurds and all oppressed peoples.” The statement also emphasised that the involvement of “some elements in the Kurdish Freedom Movement in the incident saddened and disappointed [the MUB] deeply, as well as our people.” (The final two clauses constitute another interesting attempt to shade their political solidarity with the Kurdish movement across the whole community of Assyrians.) The SUP claimed credit for influencing the subsequent expansion of the sentence, hinting at the political nature of the decision.

Issues of security receive disproportionate coverage in the international press and hold a powerful symbolic, imagistic, and political value. The Assyrian Diaspora imbues security forces in Iraq and Syria with the hopes of their entire destiny, which is deeply unrealistic given their small size. Similarly, the PYD has made very skillful usage of the MFS in their propaganda, frequently mentioning their Christian allies to show that the YPG is not the only force fighting for Rojava. The Russian intervention, backed by the PYD, stepped up the need for American intervention in some form in response. This was seized upon by the PYD, who put together the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’, an entity thoroughly dominated by the YPG but also containing small numbers of Arab fighters as well as the MFS. Their flag bears writing in Arabic, Kurdish and Assyrian, and the map of Syria emblazoned on it – in a mischievous gesture of antagonism towards Turkey – contains Hatay Province. The YPG, therefore, has not only gained from Russian bombing of opposition targets, but has attracted American support (including specialised training) in the form of the SDF.

The current status of Assyrian security forces independent of the YPG

In May, a security force dubbed the Gozarto Protection Forces (GPF) was established. Notably, the GPF bears the same logo as the Nineveh Plains Protection Units (NPU), an Assyrian security force in northern Iraq, despite the lack of common political party patronage. The GPF and the Sootoro[17], its local security unit division, immediately took part in the defence of Hassakah in May and June. The NPU seeks sanction under the Hashd al-Shabi (Popular Mobilization Law), attempting to utilize the broad anti-ISIS mandate to assist in the liberation and subsequent defence of in the Nineveh Plains following the Peshmerga withdrawal and subsequent ISIS incursion into the region in the summer of 2014.

Despite the discrepancies between the overall state of Iraq and Syria, there are parallels between the NPU and GPF. Both forces seek to operate independently from Kurdish nationalist control seek sanction and support from central governments.

In November, the GPF was flown by Russian planes to assist in the defence of Sadad, a Syriac Orthodox Town north-east of Damascus that was overrun by Jabhat al-Nusra in October, 2013. The deployment of the GPF, originally a local force, to assist the SAA close to its heartland, shows signs of a potentially broader engagement with the regime, as well as reflecting the manpower problem in the SAA. The GPF received a raucous reception upon their return to Qamishli from Sadad.

The local security forces of the Guardians of Khabur and the Guardians of Tel-Tamar recently announced their merger.

Assyrians under the Kurdish self-administration: Beyond security and military matters

Social relations between Kurds and Assyrians in Hassakah have always been poor. I have never spoken to an Assyrian who has told me that their family had an intimate bond with a Kurdish (or an Arab) family, even to the extent that they would have had dinner at one another’s homes, for example. Even though Kurdish and Assyrian political parties exchanged delegations during Akitu and Nowruz celebrations, popular interest by one ethnic group in the other’s celebrations were almost non-existent. Inter-marriage is utterly taboo: both communities are endogamous. The elopement of Assyrian women with Kurdish men has often ended up with the murder of the woman by her Assyrian siblings, and occasionally both the woman and the man. Assyrian men who have attempted to marry Kurdish women have faced a similar fate at the hands of the Kurdish family, especially if they do not convert to Islam. The state treated incidents where only the ‘offending party’ was murdered as an honor crime, usually sentenced to six months, whereas if the other party was also killed it was treated as murder per se and sentenced appropriately.

Beyond questions of security, there are a series of issues that have arisen regarding the relationship of the Kurdish self-administration to Assyrians.

— Assyrian property, including the villages of the Khabur, was threatened by a law proposed in September in the self-administration parliament of Amuda on Emigrant Properties which stated that all abandoned properties – many of which were emptied due to the flight of Assyrians following the unrest in Hassakah generally and the emergence of ISIS specifically – were liable to confiscation. Following overwhelming objections by Assyrians and others, the law was overturned. The issue of land is deeply significant to Assyrians as well as Kurds in relation to the regime. Land ownership rights were a key cause of the security Assyrians broadly ‘enjoyed’ under the Syrian state, especially in light of the persecutions that robbed them of their previous homeland. They perceived their extensive and legally enshrined ownership of property and the state stability concomitant to it as a guarantor against external or partisan encroachments. The lack of land rights was a profound cause of anger and mistrust by Kurds towards the Syrian state, one dimension of the ‘de-naturalisation’ policies and broader ideological and racial humiliation, antagonism and repression of Kurds by the Ba’ath party.

With the consolidation of PYD authority over Assyrian territories and communities, these divergent positions between Assyrians and Kurds in relation to land have clashed and come to the fore, and are compounded and inflected by questions over the direction of Kurdish nationalist interests. Assyrians in Syria are aware of the extraordinary scale of Kurdish confiscation and forced annexation of Assyrian land in northern Iraq, as well as carrying memories of the same phenomenon in Turkey.

— Ongoing anxieties over the issue of conscription and military service have led to the emigration of Assyrians from Hassakah. Proven completion of SAA service will not necessarily act as a safeguard against conscription into the YPG (either proper or in the form of the MFS) or into six-month terms of duty in the HXP (Self-Defense Units). A report compiled in May by three Assyrians – Sawa Oshanne Ide, Erkin Metin, and Simon Poli, a member of the HDP – quotes members of the ADO describing harassment and arrest of Assyrians in Derik to this effect.

— The educational policies of the PYD led self-administration in the Jazira region have raised alarm among Assyrian and other Christian organizations. The ideological orientation of the curriculum has shifted from a broadly more palatable — to the broadly temperamentally and culturally conservative Assyrian community of Hassakah — combination of church-led and Ba’ath pedagogy to one perceived as being steeped in radical PKK/PYD ideology, especially in the subjects of History and Sociology. Many public schools in Qamishli have closed in response to these developments. Hundreds of Kurdish children, whose families sought to avoid enrolling their children in schools that would teach the PYD curriculum, were turned away from private Syriac schools.

Sixteen Assyrian organisations – largely ecclesiastical in orientation but also including the ADO – signed a statement on November 1st decrying various PYD policies, including the enforcement of new curricula. Negotiations are ongoing regarding the implementation of the new curriculum between the education administration of Rojava, the regime, and private schools.

More fundamentally, it is very rare indeed to come across an Assyrian, aside from those who are direct participants in Rojava, who is comfortable with Kurdish rule, or one who perceives Rojava as anything other than a project of ethnocracy and ethno-national partition. Mistrust of Kurdish nationalism is very deep in the community, expressed in Assyrian proverbs such as “do not put a Kurd in your pocket, he will not turn to gold,” and “have dinner with the Kurd, but sleep at the Arab’s house.” Any encroachment is liable to trigger fear and mistrust. The changes taking place in Gozarto, taking place against a backdrop of far more alien and ghoulish transformations across the country, have overwhelmed the Assyrian community. It is not uncommon to encounter more detailed and up to date knowledge of developments among analysts in Diaspora than Assyrians on the ground. The stability of the Syrian state, which insulated the Assyrian community while allowing it to be overseen by an entity whose perceived order, legitimacy and continuity afforded Assyrians a sense – however tempered by authoritarianism – of civic identity and national belonging, is gone.

“We can never trust them,” an Assyrian man who fled Khabur last year told me. “Arabs can be bought off, but nothing will satisfy a Kurd except a country.”

The future of Assyrians in Syria

Assyrian migration out of the Middle East is constant. A 2003 population of around one million Assyrians in Iraq has dwindled to around 400,000 today. There were 150,000 Assyrians in Iran on the eve of the Islamic Revolution in 1979; today, only a few thousand remain. The Assyrian population of Turkey is around 20,000. Assyrians have been leaving Syria steadily from the 1980s, and the uprising and the emergence of ISIS have only accelerated this process. Around 50,000 Assyrians remain in Gozarto. Small numbers of Assyrians also remain in Damascus and Aleppo.

As conditions in the Middle East have become more unstable and extreme, the reality and experience of the Assyrian Diaspora and homeland populations diverges further. Fewer Assyrians return to visit their families and communities. Even though the capacity of Diaspora Assyrians to engage with and support Assyrians in the homeland populations in an organized manner is increasing, the possibility for viable independent Assyrian projects declines constantly along with demographics.

I have observed a transformation in the attitudes and memories of Assyrians who grew up in an atmosphere of opposition to the regime and who now live abroad. Even more fundamentally than a shift in political stance in favour of the regime, which is relatively rare, the extent of the carnage that has befallen Syria has eroded recollections of what it was they had a problem with in relation to the government in the first place. It was almost as if the stability of the regime served as a pivot or fulcrum for their opposition stances – which usually revolved around a disdain for nepotism and corruption, a desire to promote the Assyrian ethnic identity and culture more officially, a yearning for freedom of speech and a freer media, and anger at government neglect of Assyrian areas in favour of Arab ones – which now appear remote and quaint in light of the collapse of the state and the country. Their eyes glaze over in baffled fear when contemplating the future of Syria.

The intellectual and moral stability provided by the ADO has also arguably entered into decline. The party has no firm place in Syrian political affairs today. Having thrown its lot in with the opposition, which has since transformed unrecognisably, the ADO – a member of the Syrian National Council – continues to refuse the legitimacy of the regime without being able to claim a meaningful position among the forces seeking its demise.

The psychological effect of the Khabur kidnappings, especially since so many remain captive, has been devastating. Some trepid return has taken place to the Khabur villages, which is more than can be said for the Nineveh Plains. The recent ISIS suicide bomb attack in the once majority Assyrian city of Tel Tamar, in which four Assyrians died, is a reminder of the constant threat of terrorism, against which Assyrians have no reliable recourse.

Today’s events in the Middle East echo those of a century ago. The overarching structures of political and social organisation – now of the Arab state, then of the Ottoman Empire – are giving way to turmoil, ethnic cleansing, and uncertainty. After the dividing and redrawing of borders was complete, the polities that emerged attempted to yoke together various ethnicities and sects, and Assyrians secured a diminished place within them. There is little reason to believe that the forms of organization that will emerge from the chaos in the region today will feature even the aim of co-existence, let alone the attainment thereof. In the absence of a plan for an independent Assyrian national endeavour, the Assyrian people face an existential threat in their ancestral homelands.

Hundreds of thousands of Assyrians died in the process of dissolving the Ottoman Empire and creating new states from it. The sheer scale of murder, along with the abysmal humanitarian conditions that ensued, is at least being largely spared the Assyrians of today. Also novel, however, is the phenomenon of emigration to western countries, which now contain far more Assyrians than exist in the Middle East. There is mercy here, at least for those privileged Assyrians who manage to find a secure path abroad. Along with their departure will go the Assyrian culture, language, and entire living heritage, permanently confining the Assyrian people to the annals of history.

*Mardean Isaac is a writer of fiction, journalism and essays. He has written and spoken widely on the Middle East & holds an MA in English Literature from Cambridge University and an MSt in Syriac Studies from Oxford University.

Footnotes

[1] In 2000, the Syrian Orthodox Church changed its name to the Syriac Orthodox Church.

[2] The Church of the East added the title ‘Assyrian’ to its name in 1976.

[3] The Chaldean Catholic Church is an offshoot of the Assyrian Church of the East, established in 1552 when Yuhannan Sulaqa, a Church of the East bishop, entered communion with Rome following internal disputes with his peers. The Assyrian population of Iraq is predominantly Catholic, owing to conversions that mainly took place against the backdrop of the travails of the 19th century, but the Chaldean Catholic denomination is a minority among the Assyrians of Syria.

[4] Meaning the ‘Arab Christian’ populations of western Syria, mainly belonging to Melkite, Greek Orthodox, and Syriac Orthodox confessions.

[5] The western dialect of Assyrian reads the ‘A’ vowel as an ‘O’.

[6] Some western Assyrians, who are largely Syriac Orthodox, refer to themselves by their denominational title ‘Syriac’, an ethnically neutral translation of ‘Sur(y)oyo’. The Arabic version of this title is ‘Syrani’; ‘Süryaniler’ in Turkish. Western Syrian adherents of the Syriac Orthodox Church largely describe themselves as ‘Syrani’ as a title of religious belonging, while referring to themselves as ethnic Arabs.
[7] In using the past tense in reference to the regime and the Syrian government in relation to Hassakah, I am not passing a definitive judgment on its future as a whole. Too many variables are at play, both within Syria and regionally, for such an assessment, and a broad discussion of the fate of the country is beyond the scope of this article. However, the prospect of the regime restoring the status quo antebellum, in particular in Hassakah, is remote. In using the past tense, therefore, I acknowledge that the norms I describe in this section are either threatened or no longer apply as they once did, and that an era of relatively stable political and social organisation has come to a likely definitive end, especially in relation to the particular matters I discuss herein.

[8] An old joke that reflects the ideological distance between the Arabist Syrian state and the Assyrian community goes like this: An Assyrian is recruited into the SAA. He is told that his first mission will be alongside the PLO in Tel Aviv. He asks the general, “Tel Aviv… Is that east or west of Tel Tamar [a village along the Khabur River]?”

[9] One instance of a slight reconfiguration in the policy of the state towards affairs related to the Assyrian and Syriac people, rather than churches, can be observed as follows. The Syriac Orthodox Church, which had hitherto never publically addressed the events of the Assyrian Genocide that led to the establishment of the western Assyrian presence in Syria, publically screened a documentary on the Assyrian Genocide in Damascus in August. This facilitation of this public commemoration by the Syrian state reflected the emergence of Turkey, the instigators of the Genocide of Assyrians, Greek and Armenians a century ago, as a foe of the regime in the civil war.

Some contemporary regime aligned media outlets refer to Assyrians as such.

[10] Classical Syriac is understood almost exclusively by scholars and church figures, and is spoken only by monks – in the Mor Gabriel Monastery in Turkey, for example, and erudite hobbyists.

[11] The first MFS martyr, Tamer “Athro” Bahde, died in clashes with ISIS in this period.

[12] David Jindo was a deacon in the Assyrian Church of the East.

[13] The assailants also stole guns and money from Elias Nasser and David Jindo’s property.

[14] The term ‘Jazira’ province is derived from ‘Gozarto’, the Assyrian word meaning ‘Island’.

[15] The term ‘Beth-Nahrain’ – ‘between the rivers [Tigris and Euphrates]’, a Syriac translation of the Greek word ‘Mesopotamia’, is itself controversial among Assyrians. One of the most significant premises of Assyrian nationalism is a land claim. In using the ethnically neutral yet historically resonant term ‘Beth Nahrain’, parties such as the SUP and the Beth-Nahrain Democratic Party, a KRG aligned party in northern Iraq, attempt to create a vision of a homeland that is deeper than and apart from contemporary nation-states without tying it directly to an Assyrian nationalist endeavour. This narrative goes:  We belong to ‘Beth-Nahrain’ – others now partake in it but we were its earliest inhabitants – whereas ‘Assyria’ only belongs to Assyrians.

[16] The PYD does not have a monopoly on political support among the Kurds of Hassakah, but has been able to assert itself over its rivals due to the overwhelming strength of the YPG.

[17] The MFS also has a local security unit called ‘Sutoro’ [sic].

Comments (42)


1. Ghufran said:

The nice post illustrates the diversity of Syria which has come under a serious threat after 2011 and the wave of Islamism that has been sweeping the Middle East since 1979 when iranians
toppled the Shah and allowed the Mullahs in. Christians in Syria do not
get enough credit for their contribution
to Syrian civil life after 1916 when syria
managed to break from the ottoman oppressive and brutal occupation.
Even today you can still sense
the effect of Christians early interaction
with Europe when you compare their
areas to those of conservative Muslims. Islam did not do much for Syria since the 16th century because it was hijacked by the ottomans then the Wahhabis and Muslim Brotherhood.

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December 21st, 2015, 12:30 am

 

2. omen said:

secular Hafez aided Khomeini with material & logistic support in the days leading up to the coup, Ghufran. elder Assad sowed the seed of Syria’s destruction.

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December 21st, 2015, 5:48 am

 

3. omen said:

Should I post images of how Christian Shabiha treat their fellow Syrians? Piles of corpses burnt to a crisp. Christian shabiha whose very existence cnn is unwilling to achnowledge. It would get in the way of their isis jihadist all muslims are bad fearmongering. Then contrast that with yet more piles of Christians Bashar tortured and starved to death. not even loyalists are safe from this psycho regime.

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December 21st, 2015, 6:04 am

 

4. Ghufran said:

Christians in Syria like most Syrians were not in love with the regime but
they are now overwhelmingly against
the Rebels and this position is shared
by many Sunnis and most non Sunni Muslims (considered kuffar or infidels by Rebels and their supporters ).
Those who are saying otherwise are lying to you.

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December 21st, 2015, 8:20 am

 

5. Ghufran said:

Qintar was convicted by an Israeli court
not an independent court. Trusting Israel to deliver justice to Arabs is like
trusting a pedophile to babysit children.
The man was convicted by Israel and spent more than 3 decades in prison
then Israel decided to kill him again after realizing that he is working against
its interest in the occupied Golan.
Defending or justifying israel’s action
in Syria was supposed to be the job
of zionists not Syrians.

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December 21st, 2015, 8:28 am

 

6. ALAN said:

GHUFRAN: by the way
Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces Moshe Smilansky (Ya’alon) – Ukrainian origin – said: / The blood on hands of Kontar And it does not have any regret at his death / BUT :
Israeli missile have killed not only Kuntar alone, but also has claimed the lives of many innocent Syrians.
Is not it painful to Mr. Yaalon that the loss of one of his children, or all three By guided missiles could come out of Syria? He is well aware that Iskander missiles could tamping his throne
Mr Moshe Smilansky!
Enough bullying
stop the stone age Logic

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December 21st, 2015, 2:17 pm

 

7. Ghufran said:

Sounds familiar ?
Turkish troops have killed 115 Kurdish rebels since 15 December, a state-run news agency has reported. Most of the casualties were centred in the Şırnak Province towns of Cizre and Silopi, both under 24-hour curfew, with 98 rebels killed, the Anadolu Agency reported. Other casualties occurred in the provinces of Mardin and Diyarbakır.
Turkey’s government says militants linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) have placed explosive devices, dug trenches and set up barricades in these areas. Turkey has vowed to press ahead with the operations until the region is clear of rebels.
On Monday, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the operations would continue and vowed that the “terrorist organisation” along with its supporters “will be buried in the trenches they have dug”.
يا أمة ضحكت من جهلها الامم

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December 21st, 2015, 6:31 pm

 

8. Raman said:

In reply to above comment about the Shabiha being Christians, it seems to be a lie.

Shabiha (North Levantine Arabic: شبيحة šabbīḥa , pronounced [ʃabˈbiːħa]; also romanized Shabeeha or Shabbiha ; loosely translated “spirits”, “ghosts”, “shadows”, or “apparitions”) are mostly Alawite groups of armed militia in support of the Ba’ath Party government of Syria, led by the Al-Assad family.

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December 21st, 2015, 7:22 pm

 

9. Observer said:

Crocodile tears for the innocents killed with Kuntar but near a million dead and maimed for life do not deserve a mention that is because they have been dehumanized and therefore it becomes ever so easy to commit all of the atrocities against them.

I listened to Nasrallah speech: Merry Christmas first, then a lamentation and condemnation of the deaths of ………… Nigerian Shia on the hans of the Nigerian Military………. then a glorification of Kuntar……… and then the retaliation promise. They will retaliate but in his speech there was no fiery rhetoric and he was clearly embarrassed and subdued.

Palestine painted in the Iranian flag next to him however has raised some eyebrows.

Go for it Nasrallah and retaliate massively please with all of your 100 000 rockets on Israel; please please retaliate and go and liberate Palestine and get out of our hair

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December 22nd, 2015, 7:45 am

 

10. ALAN said:

The smell of treason emanating from the US-Israeli-Gulf-Turkish-Kurdish blocks the noses on the division of Iraq то three and Syria to five – bunch of thimble players!
Could be Syria ٍShortly, armed by hi-tech, 5 mach supersonic, nano charges capabilities to the teeth?
All that show-lineup multiplied by zero…

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December 22nd, 2015, 1:38 pm

 

11. Observer said:

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December 22nd, 2015, 4:58 pm

 

12. ALAN said:

8. OBSERVER
/Crocodile tears for the innocents killed with Kuntar/
Did you mandate yourself to answer on behaf of Israeli DF Chief of Staff?

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December 25th, 2015, 1:17 pm

 

13. Oromoyo said:

Assyrian Answer

first I am bit disappointed at Joshua Landis because his articles are of high quality, but this one should not have been in this blog, this is not a balanced article but propaganda

I can barely call this text and article but a pure political propaganda written by this Assyrian guy. Its like tell a lie 1000 times, at the end it will become truth. Why is this guy not mentioning the Aramean identity and how the Assyrians movement have failed miserable politically, socially and military.

Let me start to say it is academically proven the today’s “Assyrian” have no connection to the Assyrian civilization. its absolute ridiculous to have direct blood lineage to a defeated assimilated civilization 3000 years back, but a civilization that got assimilated into their Aramean surrounding. Everything started with the English missionaries inventing “the Assyrian” term and the rest of the story if well known.

Does this author know his “Assyrian Ancestors” and his family tree 300 years back?? how about 3000 years back? absolutely absolutely crazy

Today’s “Assyrian’s” do not speak Assyrian but Aramaic, Syriac Aramaic, their write in Syriac Aramaic alphabet, everything about them is Aramaic, still they try to push their insane cooked up story of Assyrian Identity on some poor uneducated people in the area

Firstly, there was a period where the Syriac Arameans and Chaldrean were showing brotherly feeling to these Assyrian organizations since they were speaking Syriac Aramaic, claiming to be our Christians brothers and they wanted to work for the best of the Syriac Aramaic speaking community

Slowly but surely these Assyrian organization dirty tricks got exposed, especially after the second gulf war, and how they trying to pushing their “Assyrian” identity story on all Christians through the Paul Bermer administration and how this got exposed and they got rejected and failed miserably. These “Assyrian” organizations have no weight any longer what so ever, just pure propaganda and lies, therefore they are trying to recruit people from outside the “Assyrian Church of East” and trying their luck with the Chaldean and Syriac Aramean community

this is a non-ending story, but to keep it short. theSyriac Orthodox Church is an Aramaic church and its follower are Arameans. You can read a the book “The Hidden Pearl”, (ISBN: 1931956995), it was commissioned by the Partriach of the Syriac Orthodox church, details the Syriac community Aramaic history. You can also consult the website of , World Council of Arameans [Syriacs], to read more about this “Assyrian” ideology

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December 27th, 2015, 5:15 pm

 

14. oromoyo said:

A good piece of information about the terminology:

Süryani does not mean “Assyrian”, but “Syrian; Syriac” or “Aramean; Aramaic”
http://www.wca-ngo.org/heritage/288-fact-sheet-sueryani-means-syrian-syriac-or-aramean-aramaic

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December 27th, 2015, 5:17 pm

 

15. Raman Mikhael said:

The contemporary Aramaean identity is basically non-existent in the English-speaking world. Do a simple search in Google News for “Aramaean” and the only articles you’ll get are about ancient Aramaeans.

The above article does speak about “Syriac”. It was Assyrians in the U.S. who fought to include that term in the U.S. 2000 Census, along with Assyrian and Chaldean. The Assyrian name is by far the most common in the English-speaking world. Chaldean is also very common. Syriac being the most obscure as far as an ethnic label, which makes sense since Syriac refers to the language (Surit/th). The only reason it’s used is to separate us from Arab Syrians, which we are not.

Syriac speakers have all called themselves “Suraye” since before Christianity, or a variant of “Suraya” like “Suryaya/Suryoyo”. It’s already proven that “Suraya/e” comes from “Asuraya/e” (http://aina.org/articles/ttaasa.pdf).

The Aramaeans and their Aramaic language were absorbed into the neo-Assyrian Empire, which is hardly disputable if one reads the history of the neo-Assyrian Empire. The neo-Assyrian state adopted the Aramaic language and alphabet for its simplicity and wide-spread use. Which is why it’s sometimes referred to as the lingua franca, before Arabic. That was one of the accomplishments of the neo-Assyrian Empire. But we Assyrians retained our Assyrian name in the form of “Suraya/e (Suryoyo/e)” and we still do today. Also see” THE TERMS ‘ASSYRIA’ AND ‘SYRIA’ AGAIN” by ROBERT ROLLINGER @ http://aina.org/articles/ttaasa.pdf

Excerpt: “the inscription of Çineköy provides incontrovertible proof that the Luwians used to pronounce “Assyria” without the initial aleph.26 Since a second Luwian inscription presents the toponym in the form “a-sú+ra/i(REGIO)-wa/i-na-ti(URBS),”27 it is evident that “Sura/i” and “Asura/i” are simply variant versions of one and the same name”.

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January 9th, 2016, 1:50 pm

 

16. Oromoyo said:

We do not use “Google” as a source to establish our identity our academic standards are bit higher, yes i can congratulate you on your “News Agency” Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) which is selling pure political propaganda to uneducated westerns “journalist” and other copy/paste “news sites”, and thank to your AINA “news”, suddenly your “Assyrian” name is all overall Google. So if Google Rank is your “Academic” link to the 3000 years missing link, be my guest, but it does not work for me.

Here is what your own “Assyrian” groups says about AINA

“Use evidence for your claims. AINA is not a reliable news source. AINA constantly posts inconsistent articles and is usually full of click bait to gain international attention for our cause. If you do use content from AINA, take some time to confirm the information is genuine and that the right terminology is used to recall events.”
https://www.reddit.com/r/Assyria/comments/3pra6y/we_need_subreddit_guidelines/

or best example how Syriacs and EVEN Armenians were labelled as “Assyrians”
https://stopassyrianizationnow.wordpress.com/2016/01/01/the-assyrian-graveyard-diggers-are-busy-in-kamishli/

A good collection of sources for me is for example: ” The Hidden Pearl: The Aramaic Heritage”, commissioned by the Syriac Orthodox Church and supervised by top Academics of the world: professor Sebastian P. Brock, Madeleine Petit, Ewa Balicka-Witakowska, Witold Witakowsk and a few more. It establish and reconfirm our Aramean history once for all. Any time you “doubt” your Assyrian identify, open these books and you might change your mind

http://www.gorgiaspress.com/bookshop/p-151-the-hidden-pearl-the-aramaic-heritagebredited-by-sebastian-p-brock-madeleine-petit-ewa-balicka-witakowska-witold-witakowski.aspx

There are numerous numerous more document, if you want to have an “academic” discussion,no problem, we got our experts too, no problem, but lets establish a few fact about “Assyrians” or East Syriac or East Arameans better named:

– Your current language is Syriac Aramaic. No “Assyrian”, No “Neo Assyrian Aramaic”, or other playing with English words.
– The writing of then Assyrian empire was Cuneiform which is not used by today’s “Cuneiform”
– Your “Assyrian” Church was called the “East Syrian”Nestorian” church” later rebranded as “Assyrian Church” church for political purposes
– The “Assyrian” name is new and resurfaced around 200 years ago and you fail to provide any credible Academic proof, except 1 finish academic somewhere

at the end of the day, the “Assyrians” do not have any serious Middle East representation any longer, Even the “Assyrian” church headquarter moved to USA, otherwise would not need to apply the “Assyrian” label on everyone, You try to label the Arameans, Chaldreans as Assyrians, you lack the manpower. best example is this article written, you guys want to show your significance….but the reality you left Middle East for Australia, USA and Sweden and took the “fight” to the Internet, Facebook and Forums.

Now, if you want to go ahead with the suicide project and “reestablish” your Assyrian Empire, no problem, do not drag others into it

by the way, did you miss that even the heads of Chaldean Catholic Church; Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly of the Chaldean Church and patraich Louis Raphael I Sako
have also re-confirmed our Aramean identity?

Interview with Patriach Emmanuel
http://www.ankawa.com/forum/index.php/topic,233591.msg3421260.html#msg3421260
وبالنسبة الى مطالب شعبنا فنحن في الكنيسة لا نطالب بشيء إلا ما يريده ويقرره شعبنا من الحقوق، لكن أؤكد أننا الكلدان الآشوريين السريان شعب واحد يسمى بالشعب الآرامي.

interview with Patriach Louis Raphael I Sako
http://saint-adday.com/permalink/7370.html
2-الاراميون من الكلدان والسريان والاشوريين. وهذه تسمية علميّة لها جذور جغرافية ولغويّة!

To SyriaComment.com contributors, I hope you got an idea about “Assyrian” identity

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January 10th, 2016, 9:11 am

 

17. Raman Mikhael said:

Google News is a simple but accurate way to judge what English-speaking journalists are calling our people today, Assyrians or Aramaeans. AINA is hardly the only one writing about Assyrians (and not Aramaeans). Do the search yourself.

Assyrians do in fact have some representation in the Middle East. I wonder why you seem to take joy in the lack of representation, since our representation is your representation. The Iraqi parliament still has an Assyrian “Nestorian” representative. Iran also has a “Nestorian” representative. Many Assyrians have been martyred recently in Syria fighting or simply living out their lives. They were also kidnapped by ISIS, etc.

Your assumption that the only ones calling themselves Assyrians are from the “Nestorian” church is false. Mostly “Syriacs” started the modern Assyrian nationalist movement. As I mentioned, below article puts an end to the question of whether “Suraya” comes from “Asuraya”. Any other explanation of the root of “Suraya” has to disprove Rollinger’s paper below. As you should know, besides “Nestorians”, Chaldeans and “Jacobites” also use this self-identifying label (Suraya/Suryoyo) in their own language (Surit/th).

The patriarchs of our churches flip-flopping on our Assyrian heritage is hardly new or proof since we know that all our churches are mainly interested in survival and sometimes change their stance with the governments of their day and what will be most amiable. There are also quotes on the web from the non-“Nestorian” churches attesting to our Assyrian heritage. Adding Assyrian to the Church of the East’s name is well known but proves nothing. All our churches protect their positions and independence from the others. They are not much interested in relinquishing their “chairs” in favor of unification.

I don’t deny that Aramaeans are a part of our blood, but thanks to the ancient Assyrians, we are still here as a distinct people. Aramaeans, being nomadic tribes, could have hardly survived without Assyria adopting them, as a parent adopts a child. It was Assyria that was the super-power of its day, not Aramaea. The survival of Assyrian art, architecture, recordings on tablets, etc. cannot simply be denied.

Anyone attempting to erase the ancient Assyrians from our roots has ulterior motives. No one is talking about raising the Assyrian Empire, how ridiculous. We are talking about the agenda to erase and deny credit to the ancient Assyrians. They gave us our name “Suraya” which is now proven. They gave us our language “Syriac” since the neo-Assyrian Empire adopted Aramaic as the language of the State and helped make it the lingua franca of the Near East.

THE TERMS “ASSYRIA” AND “SYRIA” AGAIN
ROBERT ROLLINGER, Leopold-Franzens-Universität, Innsbruck.
Excerpt: “the inscription of Çineköy provides incontrovertible proof that the Luwians used to pronounce “Assyria” without the initial aleph.26 Since a second Luwian inscription presents the toponym in the form “a-sú+ra/i(REGIO)-wa/i-na-ti(URBS),”27 it is evident that “Sura/i” and “Asura/i” are simply variant versions of one and the same name”.

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January 10th, 2016, 4:37 pm

 

18. oromoyo said:

let us not start how Your Yonadam Kanna reached the parliament, what he promised us under the “Syriac-Chaldean-Assyran” formula and what he did later….let us spare us the shame.

You want to know how popular this guy is, just Google “‏يونادم كنا لا يمثلنا” or check this link:
http://www.ankawa.com/forum/index.php/topic,789229.msg7414118.html#msg7414118

this is the achievement…. http://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2015/11/11/jailing-of-christian-minister-alarms-iraq-minorities

you Yonadam is not different other Iraqi leaders

You say our church leaders flip-flops, call it what you want when they do not agree with you. end of the day we are Arameans, born Arameans and will die Arameans.

It does not matter how you flip flop, you want to be “Assyrian” be my guest, but do not try to use brute force, and propaganda (as this blog post) to sell you “Assyrian” case and Good Luck with your Assyrian Empire…Ninveh and Tal Tamar is waiting for you guys, The kurds should not be asked to protect these areas

Shlome….

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January 10th, 2016, 4:58 pm

 

19. Raman Mikhael said:

We weren’t discussing the reputation, good or bad, of the Assyrian representative in the Iraqi Parliament. The fact is he is an Assyrian representative in the Iraqi Parliament. So is Yonathan Betkolia, the Assyrian in the Iranian Parliament. Let’s not forget the Assyrian martyrs sacrificing themselves in Syria and Iraq today, abandoned by the West, again. I also don’t see where I used “brute force” anywhere in our discussion. “Suraya” is the authentic and indigenous self-identification. So let’s not exclude that name from our discussion. Its obvious origins also can’t be ignored. Aramaeans became an integral part of the neo-Assyrian Empire. But I personally grew up calling myself “Suraya” as did my ancestors. So I don’t see why I have to now call myself “Aramaya” because someone else said so. It was others who called us Nestorian, Chaldean, and Jacobite. We agreed we shouldn’t use “brute force” here. Tawdi.

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January 10th, 2016, 9:33 pm

 

20. Gabi Aho said:

the purpose of this article is labelling everyone Assyrian, the term is called Assyrianization https://stopassyrianizationnow.wordpress.com

it no different to Arabization against non Arabs or Turkification against non Turks.

Assyrianization targets Syriac and Chaldean Aramean people because its hard to sell this ideology to non-Muslims since “Assyrians” or East Syriac Nestorians which is the correct term are Christians. Also this ideology is usually contained to Beth Bahrain, the land between Tigris and Euphrates and absolutely rejected by vast vast majority, so the idea is come in from the back doors,.e.g. English speaking Media and Website. If you noticed they would rephase themselves in English vs. in Arabic or in Syriac Aramaic.

you might ask why they had representation in Iraq, simple answer money. they have almost no representation in Syria or Turkey

the most bizarre and straightforward example is to see the example of Assyrianization is a stamp issued by Kurdistan Government, it become a big joke and a good laugh among the Syriac-Chaldean community. it is interesting reading and expose this ideology in straight forward way

https://stopassyrianizationnow.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/lost-in-translation-unfortunately-not/

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January 20th, 2016, 9:25 am

 

21. Raman Mikhael said:

You can call yourself whatever you want. We Assyrians do not force our indigenous identity upon anyone. We point it out in history and how we use it in our own Syriac language. You said “East Syriac Nestorians which is the correct term”. How is Nestorian the correct name for Assyrians when the name comes from an Archbishop born in the 4th century A.D. We surely existed before Nestorious was born don’t you think? Nevermind the fact that it was a negative name slapped upon the Church of the East to signify excommunication or exile. It’s not just the Nestorians who call/ed themselves Suraya/e, also the Chaldeans do to this day. The Syriac Orthodox/Catholics also call themselves Suryoyo/e to this day. See here (http://ninevehnews.com/article.php?id=15) for the “incontrovertible proof” of the roots of Suraya/e. Below are just some recent videos Syriacs and Chaldeans identifying with Assyrians or calling themselves Suraye. Who is forcing these people?

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January 31st, 2016, 11:59 am

 

22. Oromoyo said:

I think everyone have their interpretation, you, East Syriacs or “Assyrians” as you like to be called have your version and we Arameans have ours.

I can guarantee that you guys are getting nowhere because of your methods and your history reading, no beth nahrain, Assyria or whatever you want to called it, today its called Kurdistan.

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January 31st, 2016, 7:48 pm

 

23. Raman Mikhael said:

As I said, it’s not just East Syriacs who call themselves Assyrians. There are quite a few West Syriacs who call themselves Assyrians, and some Chaldeans as well. Just check the recent videos and pictures from Syria and you’ll see quite a few Assyrian flags. The militia in northern Iraq is fighting under the Assyrian name/flag.

It’s not my reading of history, it’s the reading of many scholars, including Simo Parpola. You keep avoiding the fact that Suraya has already been proven to be rooted in Asuraya. Suryoyo is simply a variant of Suraya. All of the East Syriacs, including Chaldeans, never called themselves Aramaeans (Aramaye). Same goes for West Syriacs who call/ed themselves Suryoye.

The neo-Assyrian Empire eventually absorbed the Aramaean tribes continuously attacking Assyria. History tells us the neo-Assyrian Empire spread Aramaic as the Lingua Franca of the Near East. The Aramaean tribes did not conquer Assyria. Those who did were not interested in converting Assyrians, only in destroying them. So our Syriac language continued as some of the Assyrian people did and continued their desire for knowledge as Christians. The thirst for knowledge of the ancient Assyrians was no different than the one of the Christian Syriacs. Dr. Parpola and other Assyriologists have even shown the move towards Monotheism of the ancient Assyrians. The ancient Jews wrote their Talmud in Babylon, the sister kingdom to Assyria, who both carried the mantle of the Sumerians.

Again, not sure why you seem to feel joy at the death of Assyria and Assyrians. Is your community doing better in the homeland? Our demise is your demise. We East Syriacs can hold our head up high as we did the lion’s share of the fighting during the Seyfo (Genocide). It was Assyrian semi-independent tribes (Tyari, Jeelu, Baz, Diz, and Tkhuma) who no less than heroically and ferociously battled the overwhelming Turks and Kurds and often defeated them in battle after battle. The brave men of Tur-Abdin and Mardin also fought to defend themselves and their families. Today, the East Assyrians are mainly in the Diaspora. So it is mostly the brave West Assyrians who like their forefathers are bravely battling the ISIS Satanists. From what I’ve seen, there are some East Assyrians among their ranks as well.

So unlike you, I don’t enjoy seeing our people forced to flee and our lands stolen from us. I fully support the West Syriacs who are following in the footsteps of their warrior ancestors and taking up arms against ISIS and sometimes even Kurds.

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January 31st, 2016, 8:26 pm

 

24. oromoyo said:

what more to say….

“So unlike you, I don’t enjoy seeing our people forced to flee and our lands stolen from us. I fully support the West Syriacs who are following in the footsteps of their warrior ancestors and taking up arms against ISIS and sometimes even Kurds.”

in which part of my sentences did you identify my enjoyment? you zealous beliefs and destructive thinking have blinded you people…. one doomed failed political agenda based on your version of history.

its better to submit your “Assyrian anthropology” findings to some academic journal so you get some professional feedback….good luck with your failed “Assyrian” project

just remember one thing…no one can force something on us which we do not believe in…neither Arabs, Turks, Kurds or latest additions “Assyrians” East Syriacs

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February 1st, 2016, 8:15 pm

 

25. Raman Mikhael said:

You do enjoy the demise of Assyrians or you wouldn’t keep repeating how Assyrians have no representation in the homeland or how Assyria is Kurdistan, etc. You love to see that. Except the reasons for that is because we were driven out by all the Muslims around us, i.e. Arabs, Turks, Kurds, Iranians, with the full culpability of the British. Driven out by murder, rape, etc. So congratulations with your love for rape and murder.

Your English is also sorely lacking since I posted the opinions of Assyriologists and historians. You on the other hand rely on your clergyman for evidence.

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February 1st, 2016, 9:16 pm

 

26. oromoyo said:

“Driven out by murder, rape, etc. So congratulations with your love for rape and murder.”

I think you are a very good example of the typical “Assyrian” activist, twisting and bending words and inventing stuff I never said. only a sick person would accuse other people from his own community with these accusations, but I am not surprised, I seen worst from your camp.

You cannot even agree with your Doronoye inventions, heard that things have been so good between you lately, personally I have zero interest in sharing any land or political goals with people sharing your goals or mindset.

driven by classic “Assyrian” hatred, you move on attacking my “English” as if you an English language authority, a sign of weakness and political bankruptcy.

As said, if you and your “Assyrian” buddies believe that you found the 3000 year missing link between the defeated Assyrian Empire and today’s East Syriac Arameans, or “Assyrian” as you prefer to be called, go an publish your findings to the academic world. I know and you know, you stuff does not hold much of substance, only political driven nonsense, you are Aramean and you speak Aramaic and your history is Aramean wether you like it or not.

regarding academic credentials, Even Turkey have academics tailored for its needs and up to today denies that Seyfo genocide have ever occurred. you want to proof your point, you need to step up your game, I like Syria Comment blog, but this is not an academic forum for your so called “Assyrian findings”

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February 2nd, 2016, 3:51 am

 

27. Raman Mikhael said:

I can see you obviously prefer to play down in the filth. You’re not interested in what Assyriologists and historians have to say about the subject, like Simo Parpola, Robert Rollinger, Richard Frye, etc. All PhD’s and experts on the subject, unlike you. So you’re a pure propagandist with a losing cause supported by our people’s enemies. You show not even a hint of the thirst for knowledge and truth, and in that sense you are certainly not worthy of being an Assyrian.

My language is called neo-Syriac (Surit/th), not Aramaic, and I’m not a descendant of the Aramaean nomadic tribes who robbed from Assyria. I’m a proud Assyrian, from my warrior and intelligent Assyrian ancestors. Why would I want to be like you, lacking in comprehension and blind to facts.

People can read your comments above and clearly see that you are a man full of hate. You are a master of hurling insults and hate-filled speech at your target. Apparently your only target is us Assyrians. Believe me your words have no effect on me. You’re miserably failing to convince a single of our people of a phony “Aramaean” identity and so you’re left with your hate and your insults, which you throw out freely. I’m glad you’re not Assyrian because every Assyrian I know has some redeeming quality, you on the other hand, have none.

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February 2nd, 2016, 9:54 am

 

28. oromoyo said:

what are your Assyriologists saying? suddenly you start believing you own inventions and stories…. there is no connection between today’s East Syriac Arameans “Assyrians” and your beloved but defeated Assyrian empire

you want to know your history….why don’t you start with the collection of books and videos ‘The Hidden Pearl: The Aramaic Heritage’ produced by top academics of the world in this field? you can check the extensive list of academics involved in this project here: http://sor.cua.edu/Pub/BrockHPearl/

then you can read our church books and move on reading the histories of Arameans. anyway I guess the readers have already realized you are beyond reason, once you start calling your East Syriac Aramaic language for “neo-Syriac (Surit/th)” excluding the Aramaic word

regarding Arameans, I am very proud for belonging to the Arameans who crushed the barbarian blood-thirsty evil and satanic Assyrian empire.

I guess if you plan to start an Assyria v2.0 , you better skip your Starbucks cappuccino in Chicago or wherever you are…. and drag yourself over to Middle East and start building your empire, perfect timing since Middle East is being reshaped. looking at the history of your tired and defunct political parties, you have already been written off in Middle East and desperately trying to recruit the few remaning Syriac illiterates in some remote places in Syria for your defeated cause.

I think this desperate blog post, labelling all Arameans as “Assyrians” is best demonstration for the absolute desperation. its like a drowning person who cannot swim but splashing around in the water desperately

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February 2nd, 2016, 7:58 pm

 

29. Raman Mikhael said:

I’m not interested in projects about the Trinity, the nature of Christ, and other theological philosophy. I’m interested in history. Rollinger has analyzed and proven that our own indigenous name Suraya comes from Asuraya. East Syriacs, including Chaldeans, call their language Surit/th, not “Aramayith”. Surith, you should know, translates to Syriac. I’m not excluding anything, that’s what we call our language. So you don’t know what you’re talking about, again.

If you think Aramaean nomadic tribes with inferior weapons and no knowledge of tactical warfare, crushed the neo-Assyrian Empire, you’re delusional. The fact that you call the mighty ancient Assyrian Empire “Satanic” proves your hate-filled agenda against Assyrians. This is how those who wish to erase Assyria operate. You are no different than others who hold childish or insane grudges against the Assyrians of 2600+ years ago. You’re wasting your energy, Assyria will never be erased from history, not by Jews, Arabs, Muslims, nor Aramaeaens.

Even in the Bible, which your clerics should believe in, Assyria is the rod of God’s anger. The men of Nineveh are with God, and will one day pass judgement against “this generation”, according to Jesus. Assyria and Egypt are blessed

.

Go read Parpola, Rollinger, Saggs, Frye, Olmstead and others and see what they have to say about the ancient Assyrians, our indigenous Suraya name, etc. Assyrians did not vanish into thin air, just because one or two of their cities were destroyed. More and more evidence will support this fact and you and your clergymen cannot stop it (https://youtu.be/1Hkcz1bg5DY). You cannot simply bury history with hate, lies and propaganda.

You’re not in the Middle East reshaping anything are you? You’re not in Syria fighting alongside your people are you? So why do you challenge others to do so?

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February 2nd, 2016, 9:03 pm

 

30. Raman Mikhael said:

Destroyed Iraqi Holy Sites Find New Life Online

http://www.livescience.com/51577-destroyed-iraq-sites-documented-photos.html

“You have to know how to read it and when you do it creates a picture of the mind, a geometrical design that is a cross superimposing a cross… to read it fluently it creates a star pattern,” Clarke said. This star pattern was popular among the Assyrian Christian community, said [Amir] Harrak, and may go back to ancient times.

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February 2nd, 2016, 9:46 pm

 

31. Raman Mikhael said:

New theory argues there was a Hanging Garden – but not in Babylon

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/24f5f9de-d378-11e2-95d4-00144feab7de.html

A new book claims the ancient world did boast an incredible garden built by the Assyrian kings at Nineveh.

In her new book, Dr. Stephanie Dalley believes that the garden was built by the great Assyrian king Sennacherib. She believes it was at that time and for that purpose, that the so-called Archimedes Screw was invented.

https://youtu.be/F6vVxbAJAog

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February 2nd, 2016, 9:57 pm

 

32. Raman Mikhael said:

First novel written in Aramaic about an Assyrian chancellor of King Sennacherib.

http://www.newsweek.com/x-rays-reveal-secrets-egyptian-scrolls-papyrus-416719

Among the manuscripts was a section of The Ahiqar, a proverb-loaded narrative about a betrayed chancellor of the Assyrian King Sennacherib. The 2,500-year-old text was written in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, and one of the 15 that Lepper, a curator at the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection in Berlin, knows herself. “Literary studies people claim this is the first novel ever to be written,” she says. But for Lepper what is most interesting about this first copy of The Ahiqar is where it came from: Elephantine Island, a narrow patch of land less than a square mile large in the middle of the Nile River, opposite Aswan in southern Egypt.

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February 2nd, 2016, 10:07 pm

 
 

34. Raman Mikhael said:

http://www.assyrians.n.nu/9

Assyrian Continuity

The anti-Assyrians so called Aramaeans claim that it was the British missionaries who gave the name “Assyrian” to our people after 1840. They also state that this term only refers to the geography, rather than to the ethnicity.

This article will show you many quotes that will reveal the continuity of ancient Assyrians to modern day Assyrians and thus it will expose these unfounded and false claims made by anti-Assyrians.

Continue reading: http://www.assyrians.n.nu/9

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February 2nd, 2016, 10:29 pm

 

35. oromoyo said:

I been in this too long time to know to be able to recognize your history inventions, the right way would be to publish books and articles in academic world (already explained to you multiple times), Request for Comments (RFA) rather than a collection of “Assyrian” political websites spread here and there for red necks and hille billys to consume.

it seems you have not done you readings but you are just a flag waver full of desperation most probably somewhere outside Middle East on the verge of explosion.

Do we, Arameans, dislike the Assyrians and Assyrian Empire? yes, these barbarians were defeated and finished long time ago,

Do we, Arameans, dislike the East Syriacs Arameans, “new invention Assyrians”, well….you can play your theatres and cry here and there….I can see not even one ray of light for your dream empire. the matter of fact is that you live in Kurdistan, because Kurds allows you and not by your own power or force. Everyone are watching you and its just a matter of time because the kurdish politicians will get tired and kick the remaining few of you out….and you WILL then pull the “Christian” card and beg our church leaders crying for mercy and intervention, seen this before multiple times.

even your creation, Doronoye, have turned against you, what more can we say….they must have seen enough to decide to split from you….and dump you

whereas for Arameans, our history is rich enough to understand our geography is not limited to Aram Naharaim, aka Kurdistan (today)

by the way, have your “Assyriologists” also proved that your language is not called Syriac Aramaic?

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February 3rd, 2016, 3:38 am

 

36. Raman Mikhael said:

I know it’s hard for you to admit it, but what I posted is mostly from non-Assyrian authors and scholars. Your hate for Assyrians blinds you but it doesn’t change the fact that you have lost the identity battle. There are plenty of Assyrians and Chaldeans all over the world. I don’t hear even the Syriacs (Jacobites) calling themselves Aramaeans today. When they don’t identify with Assyrian, they use Syriac, not Aramaean.

Your ancestors were a mediocre tribal people constantly attacking and plundering the property of Assyrians and others. They accomplished nothing, invented nothing. The accomplishments of Syriac Christians are rooted in Assyria, as evidenced by the name Syrian, which has been proven to come from Asuraya (Assyrian). The great Syriac Christian centers are all in what was once Assyria at one time or another in history. The Assyrian Kings established forts throughout northern Mesopotamia. So Nisibin, Edessa, Adiabene, Harran, etc. are all linked to Assyria.

Even today you are trying to steal the work and accomplishments of others. No one called themselves “Oromoye” in history and so it must be a made-up identity. Where are the legitimate historical references for your identity? I’ve seen none. Your theiving ancestors would not have even been mentioned in history if it wasn’t for Assyrians. You should be kissing the feet of the ancient Assyrians. You can still do it, just visit any one of the great Museums and you can beg forgiveness from the Assyrian Kings on the walls and kiss their feet. For the men of Nineveh will be there, in heaven, to pass judgement upon you. Read below, you owe us Assyrians your existence.

http://www.britannica.com/topic/Aramaean

The Aramaeans are also mentioned often in Assyrian records as freebooters. The first mention of the Aramaeans occurs in inscriptions of the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser I (1115–1077).

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February 3rd, 2016, 10:14 am

 

37. oromoyo said:

I see you have raised the academic level of your discussion style two gears higher. why do not you enlighten us with your “Assyrian” achievements. You and your political parties have achieved nothing…… nada and will not achieve nothing because you crazy beliefs are beyond rational thinking.

Anyway, I think that by this stage, the audience have got a quick insight of your pathetic ideas. why do not you have tell us how you are going to re-establish Assyria? Isis are finishing off the last remnants of your dream Assyrian empire

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February 3rd, 2016, 3:10 pm

 

38. Raman Mikhael said:

My discussion has been levels above yours the whole time. You’re just the most pathetic excuse for an advocate I’ve ever had the displeasure of communicating with. Then again, you are the poster-child of a descendant of the unaccomplished “freebooter” Aramaean tribes.

Assyrians, from all of our churches, have accomplished more, with the cards they were dealt, than you can dream of.

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February 3rd, 2016, 3:27 pm

 

39. oromoyo said:

the displeasure i mutual but I seen more extreme cases than you. anyway, good luck with your Assyrian project eventhough you did not explain how you are going to achieve your goals..

“Assyrians, from all of our churches, have accomplished more, with the cards they were dealt, than you can dream of.”

is very vague….give me something concrete that you are aware off…..you just write propaganda and invent more stories.

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February 3rd, 2016, 3:59 pm

 

40. Raman Mikhael said:

Assyrian youth rise up and create art from brutality and persecution.

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February 23rd, 2016, 10:47 pm

 

41. dutchnational said:

I have read this acrimonious debate with interest and mounting amazement.

You are one people with one language, one religion though with several churches, one history though you differ about the early origins, some 2.500 years ago.

You have suffered the same fate of persecution, ethnic cleansing. There are only remnants of you in Iraq, Syria, Turkey. Israel is trying to revive your language and identity within itself.

It seems to me now is the time to unite. Not religiously, that is up to individuals and clrics.

But unite politically. You are small now and even then bickering amongst yourselves. Support your militia and get them to unite.

Forget the wrongs of the kurds 100 years ago, or rather, not forget, forgive. They want to work with you, at the least the PYD does and want rights for you. They need your support so you can get something for that support. Rebuild Tel Tamer as a syriac majority city, preserve your identity.

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May 21st, 2016, 1:34 am

 

42. ALAN said:

41. DUTCHNATIONAL
You have to take a cold shower and realize that Ashor is larger than apprenticed on your hand.

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May 21st, 2016, 6:11 am

 

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