The Chaldean Assyrian Syriac people of Iraq: an ethnic identity problem

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Author: Shak Hanish
Date: Spring 2008
From: Digest of Middle East Studies(Vol. 17, Issue 1)
Publisher: Policy Studies Organization
Document Type: Essay
Length: 6,192 words
Lexile Measure: 1330L

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In Iraq today, there are people who are called by different names, such as Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syriacs, Chaldo-Assyrians, etc. They all speak the same language, the Syriac language (A modern dialect of Aramaic). There are heated debates and doubts about the actual identity of these people. Some writers think that these are all one group of people; others suppose that they are multiple groups of people with different identities, such as the Chaldeans, the Assyrians, and the Syriacs. Some of these groups claim that their current names are the only genuine names; that all other names or identities are a "distraction" of theirs. As such, they discard other names or identities.

The Syriac speaking people of Iraq constitute about 3% of Iraq's population. There are over 2% Chaldeans, followed by the Syriacs and the Assyrians. (1) There are 5% Chaldean members represented in the Kurdistan regional parliament; four members from the group were elected to the current Iraqi Parliament. In the Kurdish regional government, three of its ministers are from these groups, along with two of its ministers, who are in the central Iraqi government.

In this paper, I will attempt to trace the roots of these groups, explicate their relationships, present their various arguments, and propose my own opinion and conclusion on the issue.

Historical Overview

Modern Iraq corresponds to Mesopotamia (the land between the two rivers--the Tigris and the Euphrates). Civilization emerged in southern Mesopotamia, particularly in Sumer. Cuneiform (Edge) writing appeared in Mesopotamia about 3500 B.C. There were important city-states in the region, such as Uruk, Eridu, Lagash, Agade, Akkad, Ur (the birthplace of the prophet, Abraham), Babylon, and Nineveh.

In Lower Mesopotamia, many warring Sumerian city-states fought to control the rivers' valley. Sumer was conquered by Sargon I, king of the Semitic city of Akkad around 2334 B.C. He erected the world's first empire. In the final stage of Sumerian history, the king of Ur established hegemony over much of Mesopotamia. (2)

By 2000 B.C., the Amorites, a Semitic people from the west of Euphrates destroyed Ur's dynasty rule. They established cities on the two rivers, and made Babylon their capital. During King Hammurabi's rule (1792-1750 B.C.), Babylon controlled most of Mesopotamia, from Sumer in the south to Assyria in the north. Afterward, Babylon was conquered and destroyed by the Hitties. By the 12th Century B.C., the Hitties were destroyed and no great military power appeared untill the 9th Century B.C.

Assyrians were under the rule of the Sumerians and Akkadians. They attempted to establish an autonomy, and eventually created their own empire. During this period, Ashur city, named after the sun-god of the Assyrians, flourished. The Assyrians were Semitic speakers who occupied Babylon for a brief period in the 13th Century B.C. King Ashurnasirpal, Tiglatch-Pilese III, Sennacherib, and Ashurbanipal were among the Assyrian kings. They expanded their empire to the Mediterranean Sea, occupying Phoenician cities, such as Damascus and Palestine. King Sennacherib built Nineveh on the Tigris River, as a new capital, destroyed Babylon (where...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A240186433