Posted by panchmaster from ? (220.127.116.11) on Monday, October 21, 2002 at 1:01PM :
I enjoyed your article on the Assyrian people of Iraq. I am an Assyrian, born in Iraq, who has lived in the United States since 1958. I am the sculptor of a public monument in San Francisco of the great Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, the first Assyrian public statuary anywhere in over 2500.
I write to point out that you received only part of the story. The Assyrian people and their descendants can be found not only in Iraq, but in Syria, Iran, Jordan and Turkey. The area called the Cradle of Civilization, the "land Between The Rivers" which we refer to as BetNahrain and the West calls Mesopotamia, is today the scene of great suffering. It was the area where much of early Church history took place and later with the Muslim conquests in 700 AD became the center of the Classical Islamic world which rose to great heights under the Abbasid ruler Haroun Al Rashid. The Muslims of Arabia did not have the refined culture they beacme famous for. They were heavily influenced by the great Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian civilizations. It could be said that they were conquered by us, rather than the other way around. At a time when Europe was plunged in darkness and ignorance, Baghdad was the greatest city for art, culture and science the world had then known. This sophistication travelled with the Muslims to Spain where it later enriched and informed European civilization and through them our own here in the New World.
Christianity and Islam were both recent arrivals to a region steeped in a religious history all it's own dating back to pre-history, with the Assyrians believing in their god Ashur and a host of lesser dieties no more numerous than the Christian god, his holy spirit, son, mother and various saints and idols. The Assyrian Empire ended in 612 BC, but the Assyrian people, the Chaldeans and Babylonians as well, survived under various succeeding governments and occupying forces. The belief in Ashur gradually gave way to Christianity first, and then to Islam. Islam, contrary to what you may hear was no more a religion of forced conversion than was Christianity, and no Assyrian was forced into Islam any more or less than millions of Native North and South Americans and Africans were forced into Christianity.
The conversion of the Roman Epire to Christianity and the continued war between the Persians and now Christian Romans, was the beginning of harder days for what would increasingly become the Christian minority among the Assyrian people. The Crusades didn't help any, and neither did Western meddling at the dawn of the First World War. Today Christianity in Iraq and the Middle East is burdened with this perception that its followers are more likely to favor their co-religionists who are foreign, and powerful, over their own neighbors and countrymen and women who are Muslim.
The people you spoke to are Christian Assyrians. Their views are tainted by a belief that only Christians can be Assyrians...that the Muslims of Iraq and elsewhere are "Arabs"...even though they bear no resemblance to the actual Arabs of Saudi Arabia, and Christianity is no more indigenous to Iraq than Islam. Being a minority and remaining insular, the Christians you spoke with have not enjoyed the best treatment in Iraq...but many others have found life in Iraq, before the recent crisis quite enjoyable and secure.
There is an understandable resentment among the Christian Assyrians towards their fellow Assyrians of the Muslim faith. This should hardly be surprising as brother has fought brother all through history. In their eagerness to punish Islam for becomming the dominant majority the Christian Assyrians have cast their lot against Saddam Hussein and in favor of any attacks on their homeland which they hope might improve their status as a Christian minority. I am afraid this will have the opposite effect, as we have seen ourselves abandoned by the West before, most notably after the First World War when a promise from our British allies for a country of our own did not materialize.
I am neither Christian nor Muslim. What scares me is that we seem to be heading towards a revival of religious wars...the most destructive kind, for while people may compromise on their kings and presidents, there is no compromise with one's god. Abdul Aziz, the founder of the Saudi family that rules Arabia today once said that in political conflicts one may compromise, but in religious wars, you have to kill everybody.
The Muslim Assyrians who dominate in Iraq see their Assyrian heritage as one glorious part of a great tradition that embraces the ancient past, as well as the more recent Christian and Muslim history. Tremendous strides in human development, social design, moral and legal development took place within the narrow confines bounded by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It is sad to see that region torn by war and religious intolerance. It is for this reason that I write to you, to tell you that the Assyrian people are divided now between two competing religions...and the ones who spoke with you represent only one fraction of the entire story.
Thank you for your interest in this largely well kept secret. One word of caution, as you might be hearing from others on this. It is not true that I ate my first three children raw. They were nicely cooked.
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