The Christian Arameans of Mesopotamia
A forgotten and homeless people with a glorious history
(Orthodox, Catholic, Maronite, Melkite, and Nestorians (‘Chaldeans’, ‘Assyrians’) )
The Aramean people of Mesopotamia (=Aram-Naharaim in Hebrew, meaning “ Aram of the two rivers”), the original inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent, who have been present for thousands of years in the region of Aram-Naharaim and have made a great contribution to the world civilisations, especially through their language - the Syriac (Aramaic)- also spoken by Jesus Christ, which is still in use by various Aramean denominations throughout the world, are a people with a glorious history, but they are now in danger of being forgotten, as well as frequently being misrepresented. The Arameans of Aram-Naharaim were the best scientists of their times. They studied theological as well as profane lecture, for example, the antique medicine was in the hands of the Arameans of Mesopotamia, however they also studied physics, philosophy and astronomy. Through the Arameans the Greek knowledge was translated to Arabic and most probably later passed on to the West.
See for Aram-Naharaim; Aram-Nahrin; Beth- Aramaya; Paddan- Aram enz..: http://www.aramnahrin.org/English/Aramnaharaim.htm
The Italian film producer Giacomo Pezalli was so impressed by the history of one of the oldest existing Semitic people in the world that he decided to make a film about this people entitled” The Hidden Pearl: The Aramaic Heritage of the Syrian Orthodox Church”. The script for the film is written, among others, by the British professor in Hebrew and Aramaic, Sebastian P. Brock, who is a professor at Oxford University. This marvellous multimedia project can serve as a source of information for those who are interested in the culture, religion and history of one of the oldest Semitic people of the middle-east, who have been living in this part of the world for thousands of years.
A multimedia project which covers roughly three thousands years history, culture and religion of the Aramean people of Mesopotamia
The project was initiated for a important part by late Mgr. J.Y. Cicek. The project consists of three videotapes accompanied with three illustrated books.
The area where the Aramean people come from was known as “Mesopotamia” and has been divided into the modern countries Iraq, Syria, and Turkey since the 20th century.
In the ancient times the cradle of the Aramean forefathers were called,, Aramnahrin" (or: Aram-Nahrin) in Aramaic. In Hebrew it was called,, Aram-Naharaim" which we encounter in the old testament. When the old testament was translated into Greek, the term Aram-Naharaim was translated by Mesopotamia; which many get familiarized with during their education.
The northern part of Aram-Naharaim was called Paddan-Aram, meaning the land of Aram where Biblical figures like Abraham and Jacob have lived and walked, which is roughly speaking situated in south-eastern Turkey. A part of Paddan-Aram is today called Tur Abdin in the Aramaic (Syriac) language, which means “the mountains of the servants of the Lord”, because of the overwhelming presence of monasteries and churches.
Because of overwhelming presence of Arameans in this part of the world, in the era of early Christianity, it was called Beth-Aramaya, meaning (in Aramaic) the house of the Arameans.
After the coming of Jesus Christ, the Arameans of Aram-Naharaim accepted the teachings of Christ and established, together with the apostles of Jesus Christ and the converted Jews, the Syrian Church of Antioch, the second Patriarchy after Jerusalem, where, for the first time, the followers of Jesus Christ were called “Christians” (Acts 11:26). This church was the mother of all the Churches – and the first Church established outside Israel – whose Patriarch currently resides in Damascus, Syria
The Semitic Arameans underwent a change of name after they had embraced Christianity and were then called “Syrians”, in order to be distinguished from the Arameans, who were not converted. However, to avoid confusion between the present-day Syrian Arabs and our people, the Syrian Church of Antioch adapted the term “Syriac” two years ago in a Patriarchal Synod. Regarding the synonymy Aramean/Syrian for one and the same people, please find here below the testimonies of the brilliant scholars of the (West and East) Syrian Church of Antioch (Compare this for example with England- Great Britain, Turks – Ottomans, Iran- Persia, in essence the identification of the same people, but with two different names)
In East-Syriac we say: Suryaye and West-Syriac dialect of Aramaic we say: Suryoye. The English translation is: Syriac /Syrian. .
It is a people with a rich heritage, divided in various Christian denominations with different appellations, which have always lived in the Middle-East. Any attempt to identify them by another name than Aramean can therefore be interpreted as an attempt to re-write our history and neglect the recorded testimonies of our forefathers. Furthermore, this contradicts the historical facts and the general knowledge expressed by the modern scholars regarding the identity of our people.
The scientists we just have quoted, as well as many others, are the brilliant scholars of the Syrian church of Antioch. When these brilliant scientists of the Church of Antioch provided the world of their time with an excellent scientific knowledge, wisdom and theology, the Western countries were not yet formed into their present-day configurations. The science which then was explored and later transferred to the West, was still in its infancy in the West. It is a mystery why these and many other scholars of our Church are just ignored when it comes to the identity of our people.
In the Middle East they can be found in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. In the very beginning of Christianity our people were geographically divided into West-Arameans and East-Arameans. Roughly speaking, the East-Arameans were those living in Persia and the West-Arameans were those living in the Roman Empire . Over the course of time, our people split into various Christian denominations.
The East-Arameans are those belonging to the East-Syrian Church, and are also known as the “Nestorian” Church (since 5th century):
The West-Arameans are those belonging to the West-Syriac Church
the Christian faith, our people have always tried to live in peace and
brotherhood with other peoples in the region, treating them with respect as
equals and obeying the laws of the countries which we inhabited.
The reality of our history is sad in that our neighbours in Aram-Naharaim were not mature enough to understand things like love, tolerance, dignity and living with one another like equals on the basis of respect for each other’s beliefs. The result of this intolerance has been that the Aramean people have suffered genocides, pogroms, torture, ethnic cleansing and been the victims of robbery carried out by the various fanatical peoples and regimes of the middle-east, which has been happening for hundreds of years and still continues today in order to exterminate our people from the face of the earth. The climax of torture and terror against the Arameans of Mesopotamia was reached in 1915-18, when – although exact numbers are unknown-, approximately 600.000 of them were brutally slaughtered, whose innocent blood is still crying for justice, with the result that the Aramean people of Mesopotamia were dramatically weakened. More about this genocide (http://www.aramnahrin.org/English/ArameanGenocide.htm)
--------Few quotes about the Aramean Genocide-----
On 20th of
April (1915), at
in the evening, Kurds of different tribes attacked the
village of Ka’biye. ………….They brought the prisoners to the road in the direction
of Igil, to the top of a hill, from where one could see the Euphrates:
there they were undressed, killed and thrown down
into the Euphrates…………And in the first night watch, they set the
bodies of the poor martyrs (killed Christians) on
fire to warm themselves up till the next morning………..Because in
the village there were only women and children left, the Kurds came back and
took every women they wished to take…. (page 89)……………………. the men were set apart
from the women, and before the eyes of everybody they aimed the pistols on them
and shot them dead, and the dead bodies of the victims fell down like sheep on
the ground. After this, the Kurdish groups appeared like wild animals,
armed with deadly weapons such as axes, hooks, swords,
daggers, sticks and sickles. Oh, what bitter, sadness it is,
which cannot be solaced, to see how
the babies at the breast of their mothers were snatched
and their blood was mixed with milk, how the mothers were raped
before the eyes of everybody, and that there was nobody who could prevent or put
a stop to that. (Page
Mid-1915 the reckless Kurds rampaged there: they attacked the houses of the Christians and started to torture and kill them. ………………………….They threw them in jail and starved them; after that, they collected the priests and the eldest people and interrogated them about hiden weapons; while at the same time they tortured them severely; the tyrant Ahmed Kegge cut the head off a Syriac priest with his sword and threw it in alleys in the city before the feet of the Muslim mob, who played with his head like a football.
After this the Christian houses were attacked, all the women and children, boys and girls were rounded up, divided into three groups and carried away to be slaughtered: one after the other, barefoot, naked, hungry and thirsty. To persecute them further they had to walk on a very rough road after they had been undressed. They raped the women and dishonored the girls prior to killing them all.
Many of those criminals selected out the young, immature, good-looking girls they wished to have and took with them to their homes in order to satisfy their base (sexual) desires (page 119)
With this attempt- which has caused deep wounds that our people have never forgotten- to exterminate one of the oldest Semitic peoples still in existence, the discrimination and killings didn’t stop, on the contrary, they continued, unnoticed by the outside world, in a more refined, cunningly and silent way, with the result that many of our people, the (indigenous) Arameans of Aram-Naharaim, were forced to flee to the west and have left behind the sacred land of their forefathers which has been for thousand of years inhabited by them. For example, 30 years ago there were approximately 40.000 people living in Tur Abdin (= ‘the mountains of the Servants of the Lord’ in Aramaic, because of the overwhelming presence of monasteries and churches) in South East of Turkey, while nowadays the number of Arameans living in Tur Abdin is decreased to less than 2000.
According to the Syrian Orthodox Priest Dale Johnson, the Syrian
was victims of 38 distinct cases of slaughter and genocide. For this reason, the
Church of Antioch is sometimes called “the
Church of Martyrs”.
This terror and discrimination over centuries has forced our people to leave the
land of their forefathers, which they had inhabited for thousands of years, and
many have fled to the West.
In spite of
persecutions and pogroms during centuries, in spite of the attempts of those who
acted as ‘our brothers’ to split us in several groups, in spite of the
attempts of those who tried to falsify our history, in spite of Arabization,
Turkification and the Kurdification, the Aramean people managed miraculously to
survive, although considerably weakened. One of the reasons this peaceful people
could survive was because of incredible flexibility able to adjust to every
situation they were faced with. Also very important was the work of the monks in
the monasteries who kept not only the faith, the culture and history of this
ancient people alive, but also recorded, under difficult circumstances,
sometimes risking their lives, the persecutions, pogroms and genocides committed
against the defenceless Aramean people who were at the mercy of people and
regimes whose dictionary lacks words like peace, brotherhood and respect.
1.3 The Western missionaries and the creation of the mythical identities
-------Aramean Spiritual Genocide-------
Sadly enough, it should be noted that not only the (extremist) groups and regimes in the Middle-East have persecuted us - attempting to change our history in order to vanquish us to the past, but also missionaries from the West, on whom we thought we could rely and find support and understanding, have severely damaged our people by creating division and causing untold sorrow in the name of ‘faith’. The Aramean (Syriac) Christians do believe fairly in love and brotherhood towards other Christians. This has been the reason that we welcomed the Western Missionaries in the 16th and 19th centuries as our equals in faith of truth and justice. Unfortunately this turned out to be a miscalculation!
The Western missionaries came to the Middle East in the name of “Jesus” and they were supposed to preach love, unity, support and protect their fellow weak Aramean Christian brothers and sisters against fanatical people of the Middle East. However, instead of doing their duty as true Christians, they weakened, created hatred and split our people in several sects with the result that our people became vulnerable to the fanatical groups of the Middle East, whose dictionary lacks words like love and brotherhood. This “divide and rule” politics in the name of “Jesus” has caused not only pretty damage to our people, but also to the Christian faith in general!
Although the name of our people and its history is very well documented (see above) by the great scholars of the Syrian Church of Antioch (and others), the Roman Catholic Church and (amongst others) the Anglican missionaries felt it necessary to stick mythical names onto our people, with the result that we are regularly misrepresented in some media by people who have no authority whatsoever to act on behalf of our people. Therefore, please allow me to say a word or two about the behavior of the Western missionaries carried out in the middle-east in the 16th and late 19th century.
In 1552 the Syrian “Nestorian” Church of the East were split into two groups due to the activities of the missionaries of the Roman Catholic Church. The part of the Church united with the Catholic Church in 1552 got the name “Chaldeans” and with that the Chaldean Church (of Babylon) was born.
In the late 19th century, we see the same process happening, now carried out by the Anglican missionaries, with the remaining part of the East-Syriac “Nestorians” of Hakkaria (bordering Turkey- Iraq) and Urmia (Iran), who were wrongfully identified as “Assyrians”- purely geographical and only applied to the “Nestorians”. The east-Aramean Nestorians prefer since then to call themselves “Assyrians” and try, by all means possible, to force this term onto other Aramean (Syriac) denominations by spreading plenty of biased information regarding the origin of our people and our language.
This painful and mythical descriptions in reference to our people, invented by outsiders, who were unaware of the Hidden Pearl- which was, till the present day, buried beneath the persecutions and ethnic cleansing of past centuries, is definitely not in agreement with the historical facts recorded by the great historians of the Church of Antioch who enlightened the world of their time, not only with the theological knowledge but also with the profane science. For this reason, each time our people, without their consent, are identified by another name than Aramean (Syriac), we are reminded of the painful activities of the Western missionaries in the Middle East who have been a cause of strife and division. Therefore it is truly regretful to observe that nowadays there are still some people who try by all means possible to keep the mythical identity (invented by the outsiders) alive by spreading misinformation regarding the origin of our people, the Arameans thereby distorting our rich history and the Syriac (Aramaic) language.
1.4 The consequence for the Western Church
Taking a look at the divide and rule politics, carried out in de name of ,,Jesus’’ imposed onto the indigenous Aramean people of Mesopotamia; this cannot be justified from the Biblical- Christians point of view. On the contrary, this kind of ,,evangelism” is resolutely rejected by the holy Bible. The created hatred, division and hostility among our people can be justified in no way. Here below, this will be shortly explained.
Whatever your religious or ethnic backgrounds are, as native Christians Arameans of Aram-Naharaim we would like to bring to your attention the words of the Apostle Paul when he says,, My ambition has always been to proclaim the Good News in places where Christ has not been heard of, so as not to build on a foundation laid by someone else “(Romans 15:20
If you believe (as a Western), as we believe, in the same God and the same Bible, then please consider the following questions:
Regarding the activities of the Western missionaries, professor John Joseph tells us,, ,, In 1905 a congregation left the Russian Church to join the United Lutheran Church of America, which maintained a few Nestorian priests under supervision of the American missionary. Other western- supported congregations began to proliferate early in the twentieth century. A Sweedish- American “Augustuna Synode” employed a Nestorian priest who conducted two day-schools. The Evangelican Association for Advancement of the Nestorian Church, founded at Berlin in 1906, employed a Nestorian priest who had Lutheran training in Germany. For about 10 years a German Orient Mission maintained an orphanage outside Urmiyah for Nestorian refugees from mountains. The English Plymouth Brethren employed a few priests in a mission of their own. Other smaller missions were connected with the American Dunkards, the Holiness Methodists, the American Southern Baptists and Northern Baptists, and the English Congregationalists. There was perhaps no missionary field in the world where there were so many rival “Christian” forces at work as were found in urmiya at the beginning of this century; all struggling to get predominance among these few people.
What is the consequence of this “divide and rule politics in the name of Jesus”, for the western Church in general, if we consider their mission activities in relation to the commandment of the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob made in Exodus 34:7,, I keep my promise for thousands of generations'V' and forgive evil and sin; but I will not fail to punish children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for the sins of their parents."?
=====More about this issue: http://www.aramnahrin.org/English/iraqichristians.htm=====
The history of the Aramean people of Mesopotamia is a history of persecutions, torture, ethnic cleansing and genocides. Our people became victim of Arabization, Turkification and Kurdification. Sadly enough, today there are attempts made by some individuals to “Assyrianize” our people – following the line of the missionaries- by spreading plenty of biased information regarding the rich history of our people.