Losing Jesus' Language
The Assyrians are the major Christian group in Iraq, where they participated, with some hindrances, in last week's election. A native Assyrian herself, cultural historian Dr. Eden Naby has a great concern for the survival of her community, which has suffered from persecution throughout the 20th century. She has published extensively on the Assyrians, as well as the Afghans, Turkmens, Uighurs and Kurds, and has conducted NEH seminars for teachers at Harvard University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East. She is currently editing a book about the Assyrian diaspora worldwide and preparing a monograph on Assyrians in the Middle East.
CT Online Assistant Editor Rob Moll spoke and e-mailed with Dr. Naby about the Assyrians and their struggle to maintain their heritage.
ROB MOLL: Assyrians have been in Iraq for a long time. Could you tell us about their history in the region?
EDEN NABY: Iraq is a recent term. Assyrians were in the region long before the British, the Ottomans, the Arabs, and the Kurds. For Assyrians, the term Mesopotamia makes better sense since that Greek word—meaning "land between the rivers"—expresses where they have lived historically, between the Tigris and the Euphrates. The combination of an increasingly minority ethnicity and language plus the problem of being Christian under Muslim rule has driven Assyrians into the hinterlands of Iraq—the natural refuge areas of the marginalized (either deserts or mountains). The Assyrians went into the mountains, although significant numbers remained on the Nineveh plains where churches date to the 4th and 5th centuries or earlier.
When Iraq was cobbled together through conquest and negotiations ...