|Re: THE TRAGEDY OF THE ASSYRIANS-1933|
- Saturday, September 25 2004, 20:47:43 (CEST)|
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This great empire fell in 606 B.C., when the Medes and the Persians swept westward and blotted out all traces of the great capital, destroying it so utterly that when Xenophon and his Ten Thousand passed that way less than three hundred year later, they did not even know that they had passed one of the most famous sites of antiquity.
But though the Assyrian Empire was thus destroyed, there is no reason to think that the Assyrian people disappeared. Rulers and princes would, have of course, be killed or taken into captivity, and the fighting-men would be slaughtered in large numbers, but the women and the young children would survive, and even with the admixture of races that normally follow a successful invasion, the Assyrian stock must have remained very largely unchanged, in the way that the common people do remain through conquest after conquest. They were indeed to become accustomed to a series of conquests and invasions, as their part of the world has been one of the great cockpits of history. The Greeks swept eastwards under Alexander, driving out the Medes and Persians. When the Hellenic grip relaxed after Alexander’s death, the Parthian and the Persians in succession surged westwards, but still the common people would have maintained their stock fairly pure and probably invigorated rather than otherwise by such admixtures as had taken place.
With the development of Roman political power in the last century B.C., continual wars were fought between the East and West, the boundary line moving backwards and forwards according to the varied fortunes of the wars; wars which in the end so exhausted both sides that they fell an easy prey to the fresh forces of Islam. The clash between the Roman and the Orient was much more fundamental than the conquests of the Eastern peoples which had preceded it-the Hellenic influence brought by Alexander and his generals was too fleeting to count-for it was a clash of ideas and civilizations as well as a clash of arms, but throughout all these wars the tillers of the soil remained unchanged. They suffered, of course, and at times were even actively oppressed, but there was no persecutions such as would destroy them or even alter their characteristics.
In many cases the conquerors were bound to make use of their conquered enemies, who often rose to high, though not dominant positions in the State. All this time, too, it should be remembered the country of the Two Rivers remained one of the richest lands in the world. It was indeed a garden from Samarra, fifty mile north of Baghdad, to the Persian Gulf, though the tradition that a squirrel could then journey from Samarra to the ocean without ever having to come to the ground must have been more fanciful than accurate. A remarkable irrigation system had gradually been evolved, the trace of which can even now be seen in the arid and treeless plains of Iraq. The fighting race which one after the other conquered the country were content to leave the peasantry alone. From them they too tribute, and from them they obtained their supplies of food.
And so it was following the advent of Islam. The Arabs did not any more than their predecessors; destroy the people of the country. They granted to those who did not accept Islam a protected though inferior status, and it is clear that from the fall of Nineveh, six centuries before Christ, to the time of the coming of the Mongols and the Tartars, eighteen centuries later, the people of Northern Iraq must have changed but little (1). Students of genetics will realize the proponent force which would have partly caused and partly been the effect of this long breeding of generations true to type.
(1)The seventh and eighth centuries were the peak of Christian missionary activity still farther east in Central Asia and China, and the impulse came from the Church of the East of which the Patriarch had his residence in Baghdad.
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