Nineveh On Line                                                                                      Book Review
Survival of the Assyrians from the Fall of Nineveh to Present

 William Warda

After reading Mr. Frederick Aprim’s newly published book “Assyrians; The Continuous Saga” I was compelled to write this commentary.

At times western writers with limited knowledge about the history of Syriac speaking inhabitants of Mesopotamia have vigorously questioned their descendance from the ancient Assyrians. Though they have not said so some have imply that the ancient Assyrians were defeated into extinction by the Chaldeans and the Medes in 612 B.C. and the name Assyrian was forgotten until Layard discovered their ancient ruins in mid 19th century. These claims betray lack of a well rounded historical knowledge and can be traced to the influence of the Old testament and its portrayal of the ancient Assyrians as the enemies of God therefore destroyed by him. Such long held prejudices and assumptions are difficult to undo especially when they are believed as a matter of faith.

Up to the recent centuries the most popular image in the west representing the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians was the picture of the half ruined mythical Tower of Babel destroyed by God when allegedly mankind rose to challenge his authority. Poets such as Byron wrote poetry about: 'Assyrian coming down like the wolf on the fold, And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold'. The artists were busy painting pictures showing how the angels of God killed 85,000 Assyrians overnight when King Sennacherib in 701 B.C. dared to attack Jerusalem. As one writer put it ‘Over the centuries, Assyrians have suffered from a "bad press."’ often portrayed as Barbarians who deserved to be destroyed.

But as more ancient records are examined we come to realize that most of what people learned in the past about the Assyrians was biased and exaggerated. The Assyrialogist Dr. Saggs, Professor of Semitic Languages, and author of many works, in his ‘The Might that was Assyria’ writes: 'I actually like the Assyrians, warts and all: I make no apology for this. Though the Assyrians, like the people of every other nation ancient and modern, were sometimes less than kind to their fellow humans, I feel no compulsion to be continually advertising my own right mindedness by offering judgment upon their every action or attitude in terms of current liberal orthodoxy....Assyrians have been maligned. Certainly they could be rough and tough to maintain order, but they were defenders of civilization, not barbarian destroyers.'

It was primarily the Old Testament influence which had convinced even the well educated that Assyrians had long ceased to exist. Confronted with the Christian Assyrians who claimed to be the descendant of the ancient nation some went out of their way to deny such a kinship. It became a common refrain to assert that “Nestorians, Jacobites never called themselves by that name” and that 'the name Assyrian was given to them in mid 19th century by the Anglican missionaries.' While such claims fooled the unsuspecting readers for those who were willing to do further research it became obvious that they were contrary to the facts. If such was the case then one should not find any references to the Assyrians as an existing people between 612 B.C. until mid 19th century AD.

Was Tatian in the 2nd Century A.D. an Anglican missionary when he identified himself as Assyrian? Were the early Syriac documents describing the beginning of Christianity in Assyria and among the Assyrians forged by the Anglican missionaries? Was the Fast of the Ninevites observed since the early Christianity by the Syriac Speaking Christians of Mesopotamia an Anglican conspiracy? Why did Syriac speaking Christians who lived in Nineveh and even further away considered it an important aspect of their identity while the rest of the world believed that it was destroyed in 612 B.C. and never resettled? The evidences supporting the kinship of the contemporary Assyrians including members of the Chaldean Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church to the ancient Assyrians is so overwhelming that no amount of misinterpretation or semantic gymnastics can brush it aside.

Frederick Aprim has systematically gathered impressive amount of information attesting to the continuous survival of the Assyrians from the fall of Nineveh to the present. His book “Assyrians: The continuing Saga” contains one documented reference after another showing that Assyrians lived in the land of their forefathers and were recognized as Assyrians during all centuries. The turns and twists of history have changed the demography of their homeland and has made it difficult to imagine that before the Arab conquest the dominant culture of Iraq and part of Turkey was Assyrian. The Assyrian legacy in the two regions before and during the early centuries of the Arab Conquest remains buried under an Arab and Islamic veneer superimposed over it, but with little digging it becomes obvious. The Nabi Yunus mosque of Nineveh was once a Christian Assyrian church before being confiscated by the Arabs. Some Islamic sources contend that the name of the city of Karbela may have been Goorb-al-ala [meaning near God]. A Conclusion which is further strengthened by the presences of a town of 'Ninwa' in its vicinity which is mentioned together with Karbela in elegies to Al-Hussein before the region became Islamized.

Somewhere about the end of his book Frederick aptly includes a quote by Dr. Arian Ishaya who exposes the political games played by some who consider it a sport to question the identity of the contemporary Assyrians. She writes:

“Assyrians call themselves Assyrian for a very simple and convincing reason: they are age-old inhabitants of ancient Assyria. That is their homeland. They have churches there that date as far back as third and fourth centuries AD. That is sufficient and says it all. There is no need to engage in the inconclusive argument of racial and cultural purity. Palestinians say they are Palestinian because their forefathers inhabited Palestine and the French say France is their homeland because they have lived there for many centuries. One claim is as valid as the other. What makes the French claim more respectable and that of the Palestinians questionable, is not science, it is politics-pure and simple.”

Throughout his book over and over again Frederick has proved the presence of the Assyrians in the land of their ancient forefathers. They identified their homeland as Attur or Ashur, referred to themselves as Assuraye, Atturaye, Atturoye, Suryaye and Suryoye which are varied forms of Assyrian.

Every Assyrian needs to read this book and have it in his/her home for the youngsters to read and learn about their historic roots. Unless books like this are bought and read the time and money spent on researching, writing and publishing them is wasted, consequently no one will dare to do it again. Since most of our organizations have as their goal the advancement of our culture and heritage it is their duty and moral responsibility to take active interest in distributing books written by and about Assyrians.


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