The Assyrians Of The Middle East: The History And Culture Of A Minority Christian Community
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And these days, while the Bush administration makes repeated calls for a \"regime change\" in Iraq, the talk in Assyrian households across the world is getting increasingly urgent as a community that has preserved its culture through the centuries braces for another milestone in their long, often tormented history.
At the end of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire engaged in a series of acts of ethnic cleansing, constituting genocide against minority communities living within its borders. These events had and continue to have a profound influence on the history, culture and politics of Christian communities across the Middle East in general and North and East Syria in particular. In 1892, Sultan Abdulhamid II ordered a campaign of mass conscription or murder of Yazidis as part of his campaign to Islamize the Ottoman Empire, which also targeted Armenians and Christians in general. The principal genocide occurred in 1915, conducted by the so-called Young Turks against the Armenian, Greek Christian and Syriac-Assyrian peoples. Around 1.5 million Armenian and over 750,000 Syriac-Assyrian people were killed in this genocide, known to the Assyrians as Sayfo (sword) and to the Armenians as Aghed (catastrophe). Besides pogroms and massacres throughout their traditional homeland, and the forced conversion of millions to Islam, Armenians were lined up and made to walk towards the Syrian desert in convoys tens of thousands strong. Although the expulsions resembled deportations, brutal treatment at the hands of the guards overseeing the marches made clear that their real agenda was the planned elimination of the Armenian population through a process of starvation and exhaustion. Others either survived the death marches or otherwise escaped to neighboring countries. When refugees arrived in Syria, they were distributed all along the border regions of Syria, including in what is now North and East Syria.
Elizabeth Monier is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge. Her research interests include identity, the nation, sectarianism, and minority and communal politics in the modern history and culture of the Arab world.
The web pages presented by the U.S.-Assyrian community are well organized and offer plenty of information about the Assyrian culture and our activities. These pages have been developed by individuals, as well as organizations and links have been established between most of the pages. Beyond presentations on the church organization, our faith, and our history, we also see web pages with a focus on our ethnic background that refer to Assyrians, Arameans, and our language, `Syriac.'
The first type is a well-established "national" church. Egypt, for example, is home to the largest Christian community in the Middle East, and the Egyptian Coptic Church, which has existed for much of the country's history, has the appearance of a national church. For this reason the Copts, despite being a minority, identify strongly with the Egyptian state, even though their actual participation in social and political life is restricted.
The history of the Silk Road under Muslim influence reveals a diverse religious landscape, among different faiths and also within the Muslim community. Sunni, Shia, and Sufi Muslim groups interacted and flourished together. Charismatic Sufi leaders such as Ahmad Yasawi (d. 1166) and Bahauddin Naqshband (1318-89) built communities that nurtured vernacular tradition and languages. The full diversity of Muslim law, theology, culture, arts, and architecture spread across the Silk Road. This multidimensional world of Islam contributed to a broadly based society, bound by common ethical and cultural assumptions but differentiated in its practices and local traditions, that stretched from Afghanistan to Southeast Asia, China, and the Philippines. Some of the greatest scholars of Muslim science and technology lived in the region. The Ismaili Muslims who founded Cairo in the 10th century also spread along the Silk Road and with many other Muslims brought a tradition of philosophical inquiry and scientific knowledge across the Mediterranean to Iran and the Karakoram and the Pamirs (Daftary: 1990). The great Ismaili poet and philosopher, Nasir Khusraw (1004-88), traveled along the Silk Road on a seven-year journey from Balkh across the Middle East, North Africa, and on to his pilgrimage destination, Mecca. His Safarnamah (travelogue) describes in vivid detail his meetings with famous scholars and visits to the region's religious communities and sites. 2b1af7f3a8