Assur Assyrians in Syria

Introduction

This study comes in the context of more exchange of culture and introduction of components of the Syrian society. It is a chance for those components to get to know each other by giving the chance to each component to introduce itself. This exchange of knowledge about these components will certainly narrow the gap in reciprocal perceptions of these components. Such gap is due to a long and complicated progression of history that built up high barriers between different components of the Syrian society. Such a long period of alienation produced stereotypes and inconceivable patterns of thought and judgement by each component towards other ones.      

In the same context, it is important to say that before we investigate this issue about Assur Assyrians, we do need to know that there is no specific depiction of the superego that lies behind each identity, especially when we talk about identities that are deeply rooted in history. Historians and anthropologists are still unable to give one compatible depiction and reliable narration of these identities based on scientific approach. Therefore, when we define our own identities, we will be closer to narrations that are incorporated in the unconscious of any ethnic group and its self-awareness or the general features of that awareness.

We also need to be aware of the fact that different manifestations and expressions of these identities are never stable due to the different values and conceptions dominant at each stage of history. Identifying groups as per religion or nationality is one pattern of definitions. 

Historical introduction

Assyrians, with all their names like Chaldeans, Syriac or Aramaic, are considered to be the most ancient people who settled in the Orient, specifically in Mesopotamia and Levant. This is proved by many monuments discovered in many countries of the region. Assyrians are proud to have been an extension of Akkadians, Assur Babylonians and Aramaic peoples who established archaic civilizations in these areas and different organized states which used to have their own constitutions, laws and regulations for 3000 years before Christ. Having maintained their cultural and social heritage, Assyrians are the best to connect any people’s past with its present. This linkage is just like a life cord that connects Syria to its ancient history.

Following the collapse of their capital city, Babel, Assyrians remained in their geographical areas where their culture and Aramaic and Assyrian languages survived for centuries although they were not in power. This adherence to the past interprets their absence from a historical era that formulated the current country. Many narratives about their history, existence, role and relations with other components have been contradictory. This could be the reason for their belief in Christianity with all its human values that are not bound to one specific nation, and that it equally looks at all human beings. Assyrians found out that Christianity was accordant with their Mesopotamian metaphysics. Many of the concepts and narratives of Christianity about creation and related myths were at the core of archaic myths of Mesopotamian deep-rooted heritages.       

Assyrians were the first to believe in Christianity, and they also contributed a lot to spreading it as far as the border with China and India. Some three million Christians who follow the Orthodox Assyrian Church in Damascus are still there in those distant places. They built many churches and worship houses in Mesopotamia and Levant in addition to construction of many cultural and civic centers like schools in Nesebeen, Al Raha and Kenisreen.

During the Christian era, the name “Assyrians” was given to all citizens of “Assyria” which refers to Syria and Assur and even to all followers of Christianity because Christianity was carried to all these peoples by Assyrians. This name removed all other former names of the new Assyrian Christians. Thus, the name was the result of a comprehensive cultural and historical process of this civilization in Mesopotamia and Levant.  

Assyrians were exposed to a devastating disaster following the split of the Church and the invasion of Persians and Byzantines. Th split of the church was a pretext for oppressing Assyrians. Afterwards, many splits in the churches produced man Christian sects.

Today, Assyrians are divided into many sects:

  • Assyrian Orthodox Church
  • Assyrian Catholic Church
  • Chaldean Church of Babel
  • The Old Oriental Church
  • The Assur Oriental Church
  • Assyrian Maronite Church
  • Assyrian Royal Church (Roman, Orthodox and Catholic)
  • Followers of the Anglican Church

Due to political, geographical and doctrinal factors, some of these churches were exposed to many changes of identity, languages and affiliation. Romans were most affected by these changes. Other churches remained unchanged through clinging to their identity, culture and language. The steadfastness of these churches led to the creation of a new national awareness which later crystalized on the public level and secular elites who were affiliated with these churches., and helped in establishing societies, national parties and organizations. These organizations and civil societies have been committed to democratic struggle for social and cultural rights. Assyrians have been keen on maintaining their cultural and social peculiarity within the integrity of countries they live in.    

With the advent of Arab and Muslim armies to the Assyrians’ areas, Assyrians played a great role in stabilizing the Islamic successive states and they contributed a lot to the Omayyad and Abbasid Caliphates. They participated in administration, state institutions, translation of Creek sciences and philosophies. Sarjun Ibn Mansour at the Omayyad Caliphate. Bakhtyshu and Haneen families at the time of Abbasid played a great role as well.  

In general, Assur Assyrians enjoyed some kind of stability and peace under the rule of the Islamic state, yet they somewhat suffered as they were considered Non-Muslims. Islamic taxes were a heavy burden on their shoulders. They were exposed to some kind of discrimination that didn’t mount up to oppression at the time of some Muslim Caliphs. It was not a systematic oppression according to many historical sources. However, within one century time, some of them were forced to convert to Islam and abandon their culture, language and traditions. This conversion to Islam was remarkably spotted in big cities where complicated interests forced them to do so, contrary to rural areas where the authority of state was less. This explains how and why rural Assyrians didn’t convert to Islam and maintained their religion, culture and language for centuries to come. This issue still needs more comparative research and investigation of sources and narratives related to it. Their status got worse with the Mongol invasion and later under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

At the end of the Ottoman rule and beginning of the First World War (1915-1919), Assyrians were exposed to one of the worst genocides by the Turkish authorities together with massacres against Armenians and other Christians living within the control of the Ottoman Empire. About half a million of Assyrians were killed. Hundreds of Thousands were displaced to Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and South and North America. these sufferings changed the demographic features of the area and formed a wound-bound memories, fears and suspicion towards the other components.  

Different names for one identity

Defections within churches with political and theological perspectives started during early centuries of Christianity, and they caused most of the agonies of Assyrians and divided them into many sects. Divided Assyrians seemed to belong to different peoples because of the domination of religious identity which replaced the original identity of Assyrians. The suspicious role of Catholic and Protestant missionaries played a role in altering the cultural identity of Assyrians and establishing new Western spiritual references leading to the creation of a new cultural identity. This split in identity was deepened by the policies of the Ottoman authorities which advocated the “Milet” system which refer to different components of the society. For all these reasons, different names of Assyrians have appeared and these names are related to the name of the church each Assyrian is affiliated with. Therefore, Assur people are publicly known per the Oriental Church or the Assur Oriental Church, and the same applies to Chaldeans and other Assyrians.

Assyrians and the name of Syria:

No one ever knows who exactly gave the name “Syria” to this geographical area. However, many historians like Herodotus, “father of History” said that the Greek were the first to name Syria beginning of the fourth century BC. They called it Assyria after Assur. But as the Greek doesn’t have “SH” sound, they pronounced it as Assyria and those who lived in Syria were naturally named Assyrians. By virtue of this name in the Aramaic language which was used by all people in the Aramaic Empire, the word “Surrodo” or “Suria” were used in each area according to the dialect of that area. This is how the word “Assyrian” entered the Arabic language. The linguistic derivation from Assur and Assyrian were frequently used by historians like Herodotus, Homerus, Theodor Nuldukah and father of the Assyrian Church and the pioneers of the Assur and Assyrians renaissance. In Armenian Language, it is “Assur” for Assur Assyrians. The word Athuri is no more than an Assyrian pronunciation of the word “Assuri”. This is the name used by Iraqis to refer to Assyrians.  

Although there are other narratives which mention that the word “Syria” is derived from Babelian origin. It was the name of district located to the north of Euphrates that was named “Surri”. Some other narratives attribute the name to Sur in Lebanon. However, the assumption that the origin of “Syria”, Assyrian, Assur or Assurs and Assyrians for the people of Syria are all the same. For this reason, many of the Syrian cultural and political elites put the Assur name as a synonym for Assyrians. They used to use each name according to the context, but they used to mean the same. Using these different names didn’t cause any negligence of the history of this people starting from Akkadians, Babelians, Assur, Arameans, Assyrians and Chaldeans. No national or ethnic connotations were given to any of these names. We need to keep in mind that name given by the Church, especially the Assyrian one refers to other peoples like Persians, Arabs and others.   

N.B.

There is a dispute in the Assyrians community over the origin of Assyrians as to whether they are Assur or Arameans. Those who prefer the Aramean origin argue that Arameans were called Assyrians after they believed in Christianity. Anyway, they think that all these names refer to the same people. Some other researchers say that Assur people today are from Aramean origin, but they forgot that Arameans disappeared long time ago.   

The currently circulated Chaldean name goes back to the middle of the 15th century when Nestorianists [1]of Cyprus who believed in the Oriental Nestorian Church declared their allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church and their acceptance of its theologist theories. On August 7th 1445, the Pope Eugene IV declared his innocence of those new advocates of that Roman Catholic Church and ordered his followers to stop considering those converting Christian as Nestorians he wanted them to be called Chaldean instead.     

In general, the most trustful name of any people is the name which is circulated by people in their native language. Followers of all these churches introduce themselves as Assyrians, Surio in the Western dialect and Suraia in the Eastern dialect. These two words mean literally “Syrian” in Arabic.

Assur Assyrians in Syria

Assur Assyrians, wherever they live and whatever nationalities they have, are passionately connected to each other as they have the same name i.e. Assyrians. They all consider Syria as the homeland of their fathers and grandfathers. In fact, the existence of Assur Assyrians goes back for thousands of years. There are hundreds of archeological sites in the Syrian Al Jazeera and throughout the country. These sites refer to the archaic existence of this people and the Assur civilization in the area. Many museums in Syria and worldwide have got treasures and icons of this civilization. Therefore, Assur Assyrians consider themselves as an integral part of the Syrian society, the Assyrian cultural, linguistic and metaphysical heritage is still vivid in present. This can be seen in public music and songs as well as some vocabularies that are still used by all Syrians. The meaning of names of villages and towns can’t be understood without understanding the Assyrian language. Palmyra, for example, means “the miracle” in Assyrian language.  

Assur Assyrians live in many Syrian cities like Damascus, Aleppo and Homs and their countryside. The Syrian Eastern area is one of their strongholds to which they once emigrated from their original homeland which is now part of the Turkish territories and cities like Mardin, Urfa, Dyar Baker, villages of Tour Ebdeen and Nesebeen and hundreds of other villages. That was because of the massacres they were exposed to. Up till today, you can hear names of people in Kamishly, Hasakah, Amouda, Malkyah, Ras Al Ein and Al Kahtanyah as Dyar Bakerly, Mardinly or Urfally, Azkhiny, temruzy or the like. This is a reference to people’s original homeland from which they emigrated once upon a time. These typical names can be less frequently heard in cities like Damascus, Aleppo or Homs, Zahleh in Lebanon or even in Jerusalem. Most of these Assyrians are affiliated with Assyrian Orthodox Church.   

Most of the people living in the Khabur River valley are followers of the Oriental Church and the Eastern Church of the Chaldean and Assur. These tow ethnicities are usually called Assur by the public. They all came either from Iraq or Turkey following the massacres that were committed by the Iraqi military together with some mercenaries of the tribes on August 7th 1933. This massacre was committed in a town named “Semsily”. As a result of that massacre, they were displaced to Syria. The French Mandate hosted them in camps on the banks of Khabur River. The displaced Assur changed the valley into a green oasis within few years. They planted many fruit trees, especially grapes. The area is still named “Camps” and some of the villages’ names were derived from their original towns or tribes in Iraq.

Despite their short life, Assur villages witnessed a remarkable prosperity. It was one of the most prosperous stages of Assur contemporary history in though, culture, language and social life. Assur Assyrians played a great role in constructing many towns and cities in the Syrian “Al Jazeera”, eastern part of Syria. Al Kameshly, Al Malekyah, A’amouda, Derbasyah were established by them. They also re-constructed Ras Al Ein and Al Hasakah. They did so in collaboration with their neighbors including Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, Jews, Muslims, Yazidi and other components. They contributed to the economic renaissance in Al Jazeera in farming, industry, commerce and other fields. They Also built schools, clubs and charity organizations. All these achievements helped in creating an educated generation that was aware of the interests, needs and circumstances of its country.   

On the national level, Assur had a key role in the national struggle for independence and anticipation of the French plans to split Al Jazeera from Syria in 1937. They also had a greater role in stabilizing the grounds for national ruling system after independence through their involvement in national parties and participation in public activities like elections. During that period, they did their best to reinforce their stability and get deeply rooted in the area depending on their vitality and abilities with the most respect to other social components of the country.

Assyrian language is the mother tongue for most Assur Assyrians in Al- Jazeera area. The Assyrian dialect is very common in Kameshly, Kahtanyah, Hasakah, Ras Al Ein, Durbasyah and Malaykiah, especially with followers of the Assyrian Catholic Church. Oriental Assyrian Language is dominant in villages of Al Khabur Valley, especially with Oriental Assur and Chaldean. Some people of Ma’alullah, near Damascus, Jeba’deen and Bakha’a are still speaking Assyrian language which is very similar to the dialect of Oriental Assyrians.

Despite the difficulty in communication between speakers of Eastern Assyrian and speakers of Western Assyrians due to the integration of many Arab words, all Assyrians can speak formal Assyrian Language which is called Kathoponoio. According to many sources, it is the language of Uri Kingdom which is a city now, named Ura in Turkey. It is usually written with capital letters.    

There are many Nationalistic parties and civil societies joined by Assyrians. All these parties and civil societies follow a peaceful approach and call for the recognition of Assur Assyrians as an integral part of the Syrian society. They also call for recognition of their culture and language as national heritage, but within the sovereignty of Syria. The have always called for the establishment of a secular democratic society in which all Syrians are equal regardless of their ethnicity or religion. Such society, for them is a society that is governed by citizenship values. However, these societies and parties are not licensed. Assyrian Democracy Organization, Assyrian Union Party and the Assur Democratic Party have all got connections with Assyrians all over the World.

Emigration, demographic bleeding

Assyrians form between one quarter to one third of the population of Al Hasaka Province in the east of Syria. They are more than 60% in the main cities of the province. This percentage was true until end of the1970s, but beginning of the 1980s, emigration levels started to remarkably increase. This emigration started in the 1960s following the nationalization of properties, schools, industrial projects and the closure of some Assyrian civil societies like Al Rafedain Club. The bullying security services and their interference in all aspects of life of people have reached intolerable degree including arrest and torture of politicians and activists. The economic situation was another reason for emigration of Assyrians. With the beginning of the 21st century, level of emigration decreased as some aspects of stability and encouragement of projects characterized that period. Projects were started in collaboration with some Syrians living abroad. But what happened during the last eight years in Syria pushed more Assyrians to flee the country especially those who lived in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Rakkah and Deir Ezzour.     

Social Relationships

What recognizes Al Haskah Province is that it is a cosmopolitan province and it is known for the integration of and cooperation between its different components, between the city and its countryside. All components work together as partners, not competitors. The agricultural prosperity helped in creating good social relationships that went beyond ethnic and religious identities. It was an unprecedented case of social harmony which was always clear on all levels. But any observer could have noticed that since the beginning of the 1990s, the social and economic coherence started to diminish as a result of many factors. Religious and ethnic concerns and suspicions started to appear due to many subjective and objective reasons. The most important factor was the oppressive practices of Assad’s regime which spared no effort to exploit any fragility of the society to increasingly suppress people and create barriers between the different components of the society. The society was under the effects of religiously fanatic satellite channels which provoked sectarianism and religious extremism. These extremist trends had not been spotted in the society before. With these new practices, social components tended to become more introvert and cantons started to appear. The political awareness of and the political relations among the elites were still good, but unable to affect the public and keep it away from these new trends.

The political scene

The social structure of Assur Assyrians has been characterized with diversity of affiliations and political stances just like any other component of the Syrian society. Since the beginning of Syria as a modern state, Assyrians were involved in political parties, whether before or after independence. After Al Ba’ath Party came to power, the situation continued like before. Some of the Assyrians were communists, some were nationalistic or part of Al Ba’ath Party. They have been known for their loyalty, selflessness and commitment. Their experience is not that different from their peers in other provinces of Syria with all its components. They failed in penetrating to the core of society and affect it for many subjective and objective reasons just like what happened in many other parts of Syria.   

Some might express their dissatisfaction with the initiation of parties on sectarian, nationalistic or religious basis. The question is:

Why did religion-oriented parties appear?

The answer to this question entails the need to go back to historical background to understand the nature of and reasons for this Assur nationalistic tendency and its origin. This nationalistic tendency is not different from that of other peoples in the region like Kurds, Arabs and other components of the Syrian society under the Ottoman rule.  

Relapse of the national awareness

Just like all peoples under the rule of Ottoman Empire, Assur Assyrians were under the effects of nationalism, enlightenment and renaissance that prevailed in Europe middle of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. The growth of nationalist thought was based on a cultural and linguistic renaissance that reinforced a feeling of unity and common affiliation. This was also prompted by the policies of Turkish Government, known as “Itihad and Taraky” Government which oppressed Assyrians during the World I. Assyrians were persecuted because of their ethnicity and religion. Despite all these discrimination against them, Assyrians clung to the cultural and civic values shared by with other components. This coherence has been always a grace and a pride for Assyrians as they expressed their aspiration for liberation from the Ottoman rule like all other peoples in the region.  

These conditions pushed Assyrians to establish social and cultural societies which issued many newspapers and magazines. These magazines and newspapers, which were established by pioneers of the renaissance, called for reform and renaissance and worked in Dyar Baker, Kharbout and Urmia. This trend was aborted by oppression of the Turkish Government as half a million persons were killed, and hundreds of thousands were deported from their towns and villages. A big demographic change was spotted in Assyrians’ areas.

Then Sykes Picot Agreement came to divide the region and Assyrians were divided into different countries like Turkey, Iran and Syria. Assyrians, just like other components in the region, allied with the Western countries against the Ottoman Empire to get rid of the Ottoman occupation and ask for autonomy. But this aspiration for independence was confronted by the British disloyalty to their commitments. Consequently, ambitions of independence and right to self-determination were all aborted. The worst was coming when the Iraqi Government committed a massacre against Assyrians in Sesmely August 1933. Many observers and historians consider this massacre as the start date of Chauvinism and exclusion that paved the way for establishing a deformed state in Iraq from which Iraqis are still suffering up till today.    

Establishment of the first political party by Assur Assyrians

Assur Assyrians lived in Al Jazeera in a state of stability that helped them forget their agonies throughout history. In the 1950s, they reached a high level of development in political, social, cultural and economic fields. This acclimatization helped the area enjoy a period of prosperity and stability. Their links to the local communities increased and enhanced interaction between partners of the homeland. This didn’t last for long as the new Naseri and Ba’athi doctrines invaded the country. These two new trends represented one-side thought and ideology of exclusion that destroyed the co-existence between different cultures. In stead of benefiting from the social and cultural diversity of society, Al Ba’ath and similar ideologies were keen on stripping Non-Arabs from their identities and melting them in the Arabic crucible. Additionally, successive governments repeatedly failed in achieving the democratic change and the maintenance of social justice and equality for all citizens. This led to the increase of nationalistic tendencies with many other Non- Arabs in the Arab World. Assyrians, especially the young, to establish a new political movement for Assyrians which can respond to their ambitions, they established the Assyrians Democracy Organization on the 15th of June 1957. It was the first political party in the history of Assyrians which was established by enthusiastic students. It was not a coincidence that this party was formed just after one month from the establishment of a Kurdish party in Syria. Although there was no coordination between the two parties, it was a trend motivated by objective conditions that prevailed the country at that time.   

Ever since its establishment, the Assyrians Democracy Organization emphasized the integration of their sub-national struggle with the national struggle for democracy. They repeatedly emphasized that Assyrians would never enjoy freedom and dignity without having a national democratic political system. Throughout their struggle, members of the Assyrians Democracy Organization faced many challenges. One of these challenges was related to its national thesis which call for the integrity of all Syrians as one coherent people regardless of any other ethnic or religious identity. This thesis constituted a revolution and intellectual upheaval that shook a sectarian reality that existed for centuries. ADO was a threat to the traditional social and religious references of Assyrians. The new Assyrians democratic trend was a threat to the social and religious role of the church which used to represent Assyrians for centuries. It was not easy to deal with these subjective challenges by ADO. As for objective challenges, they were not different from those of other traditional opposition parties, especially the banned ones. Challenges were not very identical as the ruling regime addressed each opposition party with a different discourse and a different accusation of affiliation with backwardness and Zionism. Communist, Arabic nationalistic and Syrian nationalistic parties, whether against or pro-governments, correlated with the ruling regimes in terms of accusation to the ADO which was considered as a populist, introvert and nostalgic party. The sub-nationalistic movements culminated in the 1980s through cultural and sub-nationalistic proselytization which prompted remarkable changes in the national and sub-national awareness and the cultural level of the young generations. For these parties, Aleppo University and Damascus University were the best environments for these parties to mobilize and attract more followers.

Mid of the 1080s, members of the Assyrians Democracy Organization were exposed to arrest. At the beginning, 22 leaders were arrested and brutally tortured. Some of them are still in jail, and some others lost their health as a result of torture despite the short time they spent in jail. This campaign against ADO was very shocking and most of its members were scared. It was a ready-made charge by security authorities to attack any person who is not acceptable for these security branches. In 1990, ADO gained some momentum and one of its members was member of the People’s Assembly. They got it out of their promotion efforts with the public. Despite all types of oppression and convictions, ADO expanded its activities and gained more self-confidence and courage. It strengthened its social relations and political links with national forces. It became ready to participate in any Syrian political or cultural activity which flourished after Bashar Assad took over in 2000. They joined what was called “Damascus Spring” which was a political reform movement. The Damascus Declaration was a result of long struggle through clubs, and human right defense committees and committees which were concerned with resurrection of civil societies until they ended up with the “Declaration of Damascus”.             

 With the start of the Syrian Revolution, ADO didn’t hesitate to get involved in the public mobility demanding freedom and dignity. This organization was an active player in establishing the National Council and later the Coalition of Syrian Opposition. Some Assyrians are now members of the Constitutional Commission.

Assyrians and the Syrian Revolution

The main attitude of public towards Syrian Assyrians is based on the assumption that the establishment of a state of laws, citizenship and respect of Human rights is the main ambition of those people. To be more accurate, we can describe the attitude of Some Assyrians in favor of Assad’s regime is not a true representation of the attitude of Assyrians although the majority of them didn’t stand with the Syrian Revolution. Anyway, some of them had a good attitude towards and ambition of democratic change in Syria.

In Kameshly and Amouda, the first demonstrations started on the first of April 2011, but the firs organized mass demonstration was on the 8th of April 2011. It was attended by a large number of people of different spectra of the population of these cities. Yet, it was not that big participation compared with the demonstrations of the Kurds. Later, demonstrations prevailed in all cities of the Province with large public participation.

How did the average Assyrians deal with the Revolution?

Assyrians were mostly not happy with the Revolution for many reasons including the fear of security chaos and the violence that might start. This was a bad reminder of what happened to their fathers and grandfathers in Iraq in 1933 when they were the top losers. However, they didn’t explicitly manifest their concerns during the first days. It is worth mentioning that the Assyrian Church issued a statement in which it demanded Assad’s Regime to make reforms. It was the first time the Church demands political reforms in addition to their usual demand for economic reforms. During the first few months of the Revolution, the main Assyrian Church succeeded in rejecting the Regime’s demand for pro-Assad demonstrations to be organized by the Church. Because of this rejection of the regime’s instructions, the Bishop of Assyrians in Al Jazeera and Euphrates area was exposed to threat and blackmail, so he had no other choice than to leave the country after he criticized the brutal practices of Assad’s regime. The Bishop explicitly accused Assad’s Regime of kidnapping and threatening the civilians. He was attacked by the regime for his letters to Arabs and Kurds to reinforce the national unity of Syrians in the Eastern area of the country. It was not acceptable for the regime not to support it just like most religious figures.

An Assyrian Bishop in Aleppo has been kidnapped since 2013. He and Bishop of the Roman Church had very clear and direct attitudes towards Assad’s regime. Both Bishops were very active in the Arab and foreign media. They criticized the regime in a rational manner. The good relations between the bishop of Assyrians in Aleppo with some of the rebels’ factions was probably the reason for his disappearance which was mostly likely plotted by Assad’s Regime.  

The media of Assad was actively present to talk about an alleged conspiracy against the country and that the alternative to Assad would be the terrorists. So, the regime depended on some mercenaries to promote these falsehoods and the fear of the other among different components of the Syrian society.

This continued for about 4 months in Al Hasakah and Kameshly. Afterwards. Assad’s police and security forces gathered in their headquarters and closed their eyes on the spread of arms and armed groups in these two cities. This was a chance for more demonstrations to start in big cities, and more Assyrians joined these demonstrations including members of the Assyrian Democracy Organization and the Assyrian Union Party who believed in the objective of the Syrian Revolution. Despite the relapse of Assad’s forces, many activists were exposed to arrest especially the staff of the Assyrian Union Party in Al Hasakah and Kameshly.  

When most Kurdish parties were still hesitant to participate in any of the opposition entities, the Assyrians Union Party participated in establishing the National Council of the opposition. This choice of AUP was not an easy one for social and political reasons as most of its leaders were living in Al Hasakah and Kameshly which were under control of Assad’s security and military forces.

The Syrian Revolution was exposed to a devastating strike when fears and antagonism increased because of the spread of kidnapping and asking for ransoms. More than 65 persons were kidnapped for ransom, and end of 2012 some military factions of the opposition entered the city of Ras Al Ein and some other Assyrian villages in the Khabur Valley. These factions made many mistakes and did some activities that had got nothing to do with the objectives of the Revolution. The Islamic flags and names of these factions including Al Nusra have all increased concerns of people about the future of the area. These practices constituted a deviation from the Revolution course. People were increasingly convinced that the Revolution turned into an Islamic movement. These new facts on the ground offered the regime a golden chance to prove its fabrications. Therefore, so many hesitant people decided to work against the Revolution as they were convinced that Assad’s regime is far better than an Islamic substitute.

Armament of the Revolution

In 2013 Assyrian civil commission formed the civil peace commission with the participation of the Church and political parties in addition to some other societies and civil entities. The purpose was to protect the residential areas in big cities and private and public properties. It also aimed at controlling the armed men who became very common in the streets for sentry purposes. Some of the armed groups were affiliated with the regime. A Protection Office was initiated. The protection (Sutoro in Assyrian) Office worked as a police forces without raising any flag, either for the regime or for the opposition. Immediately, Assad’s security and intelligence forces penetrated these sentry groups and dismantled them. Some of the protection staff gave up and some other joined the regime’s militias as a better choice. Those who refused to join the National Defense Militias were almost advocates of the Assyrian Union Party. they maintained the name “Sutoro”. They later joined the Autonomous Administration (Assayesh) and People Protection Units which are controlled by PYD. They worked with them under the name of “Assyrian Military Council”    

Dramatic changes in the area were coming. The Islamic State in Iraq and Sham ISIS emerged and constituted a real threat to the province of Al Hasakah. ISIS was very close to the province and controlled most parts of it. This was accompanied with the escalation of sectarian propaganda in the media. There was a fear of the domination of Islamic extremist entities, and the Syrian opposition failed in promoting a convincing conduct and moderate discourse. All these changes pushed most of the public to take an adversary attitude towards the Revolution.  

Since 2912, Assad’s Regime handed over some villages and towns to Kurdish Democratic Party PYD which in turn suppressed demonstrations. PYD imposed its slogans and flags in preparation for the establishment of their Autonomous Administration, and then Rouge Ava Project. Finally, they established Syrian Democratic Forces. However, Assyrians didn’t approve the project of Syrian Democratic Forces, and only the Assyrian Union Party was accordant with SGFs.

Simultaneously, beginning of 2013, the initiative of the Assyrian Union Party failed in holding a national conference for the province for the sake of forming the national commission in Al Jazeera, AUP called all Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians. Many deliberations and meeting were held for consultations for the sake of making a consensus on a national document and a political vision that goes with the objectives of the Syrian Revolution on the one hand and help the province avoid getting involved in the ongoing fight. The discussions focused on conviction of any internal fight between factions of the Syrian Free Army and the and the People Protection Units as these internal conflicts will only serve Assad’s Regime. This project had little chance to succeed.

Churches and civil societies of Assyrians contributed to the formation of Civil Protection Commission in the province which enrolled members of all social, political and religious components. This commission was intended to avail protection of public facilities and private properties. But this initiative was aborted by the PYD insistence on sole administration of PYD.

End of 2013 and beginning of 2014, the Autonomous Administration was formed by PYD. Only Assyrian Union Party agreed to join the project. In 2016 the Assyrian Democracy Organization joined the project and became part of the Syrian Federal Democratic Council for North of Syria.

On February 23rd 2015. Islamic State in Iraq and Sham ISIS invaded villages in the Khabur Valley and occupied many villages, destroyed many churches and temples, kidnapped about 235 innocent civilians. The area was later taken over by Kurdish Units. This valley is now under the control of Syrian Democratic Forces. Inhabitants of these villages have fled either to larger cities or left Syria to America, Europe and Australia. Residential areas in Al Hasakah and Kameshly were exposed to terrorist attacks with explosive charges which killed many civilians.

Until the end of 2013, not so many Assyrians decided to emigrate with the hope of return of stability, but when violence increased and there was no spark of hope, more Assyrians decided to leave Syria. Nowadays, only 30000 are still living in Al Hasakah Province although there were 150000 Assyrians living in the province in 2011.

What I have so far mentioned about Al Hasakah applies to many other areas where Assyrians are living in other provinces in Syria.

Attitudes of the political parties of the Assur Assyrians

Assur Assyrians Democracy Organization is the most important party and its members belong to many components who got involved in the demonstrations since the very beginning of the Revolution. Members of ADO were arrested by the regime security forces. They were exposed to a deformation campaigns in Aleppo and Al Hasakah. They were committed to their political course in the struggle for democratic change. ADO was the first to refuse the armament of the Revolution. Their activities have not been limited activities inside Syria. They also activated their offices in Europe and America to support the demands of Syrians for democracy and freedom in the international forums.      

Assyrian Union Party is also an active player and right from the beginning of the Revolution, the party opposed the Regime and took part in the demonstrations and political activities. This party is historically close to PKK. It is now a part of the Autonomous Administration and the Federal Democratic Council for the North of Syria. They are part of the Assyrian Military Council which works with Syrian Democratic Forces. As for Sutoro Forces, they are local polices forces for purposes of sentry. This party gained more momentum during the Revolution.

As for the Assyrian Democracy Party, its limited to followers of Assur Church in Al Khabour Valley. It is closer to the inland opposition although it has recently joined the council of Syrian Democratic Forces.   

The Church

The attitude of the Church can be divided into two stages. The peaceful stage of the Revolution in spring and summer of 2011 when they demanded political and economic reforms to be made by the regime to respond to the demands of the demonstrators. Then they changed their attitude and opposed the Revolution due to its deviation from the peaceful track. They became afraid of the alternative to Assad’s Regime which might be a religious state in Syria. Likewise, it is not easy to understand the support of some of the politicians and Church Bishops without understanding the historical connection between the Church and ruling regimes. Churches have always been inclined to work according to the policies and interests of ruling regimes. They are more or less formal institutions rather than free religious ones. They have been unable to deviate from this course least they will lose recognition by the ruling regimes. For all these reasons, churches tend to go along with the formal policies of the government and tend not to abandon their spiritual and non-political role with all its limitations.    

Conclusion

Assur Assyrians are very proud to be dealt with as per their nationalistic identity rather than their religious identity although they are very proud of their Christianity which is, for them, part of their culture and civic character. They feel proud of being part of this country which has the same name like theirs. They have the right that the constitution of their country should refer to them as one of the components of the Syrian society. This, if happened, will make them an active part of the society, and they will support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria. They have high potentialities and economic and scientific capabilities. Their social and political relations will grant Syria an army of informal ambassadors who can best serve the interests of Syria and contribute to its prosperity and the welfare of its people.   

Assyrians are looking forward to establishing a democratic state ruled by law and institutions with respect to citizenship values that ensure equal rights for all citizens and ethnic groups. A state that respects human rights as mentioned in the international charters, a state of services rather than a state of the nation, a state as being a legal product and a common space for all its citizens away from any narrow nationalistic or ideological affiliation. They want a state for all Syrians in a country to which all of them feel their belonging. Their sense of affiliation with the state depend on its representation in the educational, media, legislative institutions, a state that is respectfully represented by its formal officials. Citizens need to feel they are part of their country with a state that respects all religions and ideologies, a state that stands at the same distance from all its subjects, a state that activate civil societies. Religion, ideology and culture are the features of individuals rather that of the state.

There is no point in talking about a self-reconciled Syrian national identity unless it derives its essence from the ethnic, religious and cultural diversity of the Syrian society and from the historical and civic heritage of Syria. Additionally, the recognition of rights and freedom manifestations should be based on International charters that preserve human rights and all that is related to these rights. These rights are not dependent on the number of a certain ethnicity or religious group, or a group that speaks a different language. The opposite to this is the domination state, not the state of rights and duties. This doesn’t mean that it is a state of shares of components because this will make recapitulate the under-nationalistic structure of the society.

Resurrection of the Assyrian language, teaching it as one of the Syrian languages that stores a prominent culture and heritage of long ages is an issue that doesn’t interest only the Assyrians, rather it should be the interest of all Syrians.

Assyrians are working hard with other Syrians to establish a state that makes no chance for the duality of majority and minorities as guidance for identity. They, like most Syrians, want political majority and political minority according to the values, concept and essence of democracy.


[1]Nestorianism is a Christian theological doctrine that upholds several distinctive teachings in the fields of Christology and Mariology. It opposes the concept of hypostatic union and emphasizes that the two natures (human and divine) of Jesus Christ were joined by will rather than personhood.


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