This is the story about one of the oldest nations in the world, commonly known as Assyrians. Ancient Assyrian empire stretched over different regions under its many rulers, but in modern times one can find main Assyrian communities in South-East Turkey, North-Western Iraq and North-Eastern Syria. All three territories are now war zones, cut through and apart by battle lines.
Assyrian historical and cultural legacy is a heritage belonging to all humanity. What was preserved until modern times has been in great part destroyed in recent years and the Assyrian christians are disappearing from their ancient homeland. Countless archaeological treasures, the jewels of the cradle of civilizations, have been lost forever. There are still some remaining, among them the oldest monasteries in the world (Mar Mattai and Rabban Hormizd in Iraq), but they are under constant threat.
Before the start of the Second Gulf War there were 1.5 million christians living in Iraq. (zemljevid!). Due to war, numerous terrorist and other violent attacks and senseless destruction of their towns and their historical and religious monuments vast majority have decided to leave Iraq for good. They have joined countless others who try to seek refuge in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
On April 2, 2017 Assyrians celebrated their New year, called Akitu, as they enter into the year 6767 of their calendar. They are one of the first people to accept Christianity. Even though outsiders refer to them as Assyrian christians, it is important to point out that community is divided into three main branches of Eastern Christianity: Eastern Assyrian Church, Syriac/Syrian Orthodox Church and finally Chaldean Church, leading many of Assyrians to identify themselves as either Assyrians, Syriacs or Chaldeans. However, their common roots are visibly present in their culture and language, which is Aramaic, also known as »the language of Jesus«.
Assyrian christians have suffered countless atrocities, perpetrated by a variety of armies from the legions of Byzantine emperor Julian ‘The apostate’ to the Persians, Mongols, Arabs, Turks and Kurds. They endured perhaps the worst suffering in 1915. In the light of the genocide against Armenians (death toll around 1.5 million) it is far less known that also around 300.000 Assyrians (some estimates are higher and go over half a million) were killed by the Ottoman Turks and Kurds. The Assyrians refer to their genocide with one word: ‘Seyfo‘. It’s Aramaic and it stands for ‘The sword’.
Thousands upon thousands of people fled south, to the lands that are now Iraq and Syria only to suffer yet another genocide one hundred years later. And the way things are going, this one may be the last.
In Iraq there were roughly 1.5 million Assyrians in 2003. Today there are about 280.000. Soon after the beginning of US-led invasion, fall of Sadam Hussein’s regime and rise of sectarian violence christian communities started being targeted by criminal gangs and terrorist groups. Assyrians fled from homes in Southern and central parts of Iraq to the Northern, Kurdistan region en masse. But the worst was yet to come in the summer of 2014 when Isis (Isil, IS, Daesh) occupied vast territories in the north including the Nineveh province, the heartland of Assyrians in Iraq. Many were killed, others given an ultimatum: ‘Convert, leave or die.’ With no end of bloodshed in sight, majority of Assyrians decided to leave their homes, many even the country for good.