The Assyrians in Iraq

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. Their common roots are visibly present in their culture and language, which is Aramaic, also known as »the language of Jesus«.

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Alkosh, an Assyrian Christian town in northern Iraq is located 50 kilometres north of Mosul. Almost all of the people fled the town after ISIL occupation of Mosul in 2014.

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’

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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.

The refugee camp in Ankawa where many have fled from their homes in the Nineveh plain. The flow of refugees continues unabated despite the liberation of Nineveh and Mosul as the people have long realized that even this won’t bring lasting peace.

Assyrian requests for autonomy in Nineveh plains have been rejected. Their demands for equal rights inside Kurdistan likewise. Genocide against Assyrians is perpetrated through a war of extermination and displacement and through policies of harassment and discrimination.In Turkey there are only a couple of thousands of Assyrians/Syriacs living today after hundred years after genocide. Situation in Iraq and Syria is heading in the same direction.