Iraqi Assyrians
Total population
300,000,[1] 490,000[2][a]
Regions with significant populations
Baghdad; Dohuk and Nineveh Governorates;
Habbaniya (pre-1990s)
Assyrian and Arabic
Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church, Ancient Church of the East, with smaller percentages being Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox Church, Assyrian Pentecostal Church, and Assyrian Evangelical Church

Iraqi Assyrians are an ethnoreligious and linguistic minority in present-day Iraq. Assyrians in Iraq are those Assyrians still residing in the country of Iraq. They are (along with the Mandeans) an indigenous people of Iraq, and have direct cultural and genetic lineage from the ancient Mesopotamians, in particular from the Akkadian peoples (Assyrians and Babylonians) who emerged in the region c.3000 BC, and the Aramean tribes who intermingled with them from the 9th century BC onwards.

Assyrians are a Semitic people who speak a modern-day Eastern Dialect of ancient Aramaic that has existed in Iraq since 1200 BC, of which retains even older Akkadian influences (the language which they originally spoke). They are a Christian people, and follow a collection of ethnic-based Eastern Christian denominations which first appeared in the region in the 1st century AD. The Assyrians of Iraq adhere to the Chaldean Catholic Church, Syriac Catholic Church, Assyrian Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox Church and Ancient Church of the East, in addition to other recently formed Assyrian Protestant churches including the Assyrian Pentecostal Church and Assyrian Evangelical Church.

According to the CIA, the Christians of Iraq or other religions (excluding Islam), make up 3%-5% of the Iraqi population.[3] The last Iraqi census, in 1987, counted 1.4 million Christians, including the Assyrian community (4-5%), although many left the country during the 1990s when economic sanctions were imposed on the country.[4] Other indigenous Assyrian communities can be found just outside Iraq's borders in "southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran and northeastern Syria".[5]

Ancient History

The Assyrians have a 5000-year presence in the region, by far the oldest and longest recorded history of any of the peoples of Iraq; The Akkadian-speaking Semites, from whom they are a part, having entered and settled Mesopotamia c. 3000 BC. Assyria itself existed as an independent state (and often imperial power) in what is today northern Iraq, north eastern Syria, south eastern Turkey and the north western fringe of Iran from the 25th century BC to the beginning of the 6th century BC.

The Assyrians were an integral part of the Akkadian Empire (2335-2154 BC) which united the Akkadian-speaking peoples under one rule, and after its dissolution Assyria rose to prominence with the Old Assyrian Empire (c.2025-1750 BC), Middle Assyrian Empire (1365-1020 BC) and Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-605 BC), the latter two of these empires made Assyria the most powerful nation in the world at the time. At its height the Assyrians ruled a vast empire from their homeland in what is oday northern Iraq, north east Syria and south east Turkey, an empire stretching from the Caucasus Mountains in the north to Egypt, Libya and the Arabian peninsula in the south, and from Cyprus and Antioch in the west to western Iran and the Caspian Sea in the east.

After the Assyrian empire fell between 612 and 599 BC, Assyria endured mostly as an occupied but named geo-political entity as; Athura, Achaemenid Assyria, Asuristan, Assyria, although during the Parthian Empire and early Sassanid Empire (c.160 BC- 260 AD) there was an Assyrian revival, and a number of independent Assyrian states arose in northern Iraq and north east Syria, including; Adiabene, Osroene, Beth Nuhadra, Beth Garmai, ancient Assur itself, and to some degree Hatra.

The Assyrians formulated the influential Syriac literature and Syriac script in the 5th century BC, and began to convert from Mesopotamian Religion to Christianity from the 1st to 4th centuries AD, with the Assyrian Church of the East and its much later offshoot, the Chaldean Catholic Church being founded in the region, as too to some extent was the Syriac Orthodox Church.

Assyria was dissolved as an entity in the mid 7th century AD, following the Arab Islamic Conquest, and the Assyrians, as Christians, suffered discrimination; they were banned from spreading their religion upon pain of death, were taxed a Jiziyah for not being Muslim, and found their word was not equal to a Muslim in legal matters. The Assyrians suffered a series of severe religiously motivated massacres under Muslim Turco-Mongol rule in the 13th and 14th centuries AD, greatly reducing their numbers. A further series of religiously motivated massacres were undertaken under the Ottoman Empire in the 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, culminating in the Assyrian Genocide of World War I which saw up to two thirds of the Assyrian population massacred.

The new arrival of Muslim Kurds went along with persecutionss of Assyrians. In the 1840s the Kurdish chieftain Badr-Khan Beg and his tribe massacred tens of thousands of Assyrians. In 1918, Simko Agha Shekaki, regarded as a national hero among Kurds, killed the Assyrian Mar Benjamin Shimun, the Patriarch of the Church of the East. [6]After 1933, Assyrians had to flee from Iraq to Syria due to the massacres by the Iraqi army, led by Kurdish general Bakr Sidqi.[7]

Scholars have said that Kurds also fought against Christians because they feared that Armenians or their European allies could take control of the area. Both Arabs and Kurds thought of the Assyrians as foreigners and as allies of colonial Britain. Kurdish tribes were plundering Armenian and other Christian villages and "took possession of land". [8][9]

Persecution of Assyrians has a long and bitter history. In 1895 in Diyarbakır Kurdish and Turkish militia began attacking Christians, plundering Assyrian villages. In 1915 Kurds and Turks plundered villages, about 7000 Assyriasn were killed. In 1915 Turkish troops "with Kurdish detachments" committed mass slaughters of Assyrians in Iran. In the Assyrian village of Haftvan almost 1000 people were beheaded and 5000 Assyrian women were taken to Kurdish harems.[10]

In 1894, Paul Cambon described the creation of Kurdish Hamidies regiments as „the official organisation for pillage at the expense of Armenian Christians“. In these places "the system of persecutions and extorsions became intolerable to populations who had become accustomed to their slavery". According to Cambon, the Porte refused reforms and persisted in „maintaining a veritable regime of terror, arrests, assasinations and rape.“.[11] In 1925 the Muslim Kurds "rose in revolt against the „atheist government of Ankara“ and demanded autonomy , the restoration of religious laws and of the sultanate".[12] In 1932 Iraqi forces commanded by Kurdish general Bakr Sidki killed 600 Assyrians at Simel, near Mosul. Kurds committed the slaughter "in which 65 Nestorian villages in northern Iraq were plundered and burned down, priests were tortured and Christians were forced to renounce their religion while others in Dohuk were deported and about a 100 were shot". While today Armenians "concentrate their resentment against the Turks", in reality "Kurds and Arabs had participated in the genocide and the enslavement and conversion of Armenian women and children".[13] In 1843 Nestorians in the Tauris region refused to pay Kurds the jizya, and "by way of reprisal 4350 Nestroians were slaughtered, about 400 women and children were reduced to slavery and all their houses and churches destroyed".[14] Historians have noted that in "Kurdistan Jews, Nestorians and Armenians were subject to tallage and corvees at whim of authorities, and this period witnessed massacres of Christians in Kurdistan in the mid-19th century".[15]

Historians have noted that "Bedirhan Bey the Ruler "called the Kurdish Muslims to fight a sacred war against Christian Syriac, Nestorian, Chaldean and Armenian people and ordered to massacre and annihilate them". Kurdish writers have recounted that “the Kurdish troops attacked the Assyrians and started slaughters. Consequently, a few Assyrians were killed, their villages were destroyed and set into fire... For the second time, in 1846, the Assyrians residing at the Thuma region have been massacred....” British writer William Eagleton said that “in 1843 and 1846, Bedirhan started a massacre and booting campaign against the Christian Assyrians (Nestorians) he was anxious about whose getting stronger and independent through becoming able to rule themselves. It was intolerable for Bedirhan to see the Assyrians living on his own territories getting stronger. Thus he killed ten thousand Assyrians. Even though Bedirhan was a feudal tribal leader, he was expressing the aspirations of Kurdish nationalism.” Kurdish and Arab attacks on Assyrians continued, culminating in the August 1933 Simele Massacres. About 3000 Assyrians were killed in that single month alone.[16]

Beginning in August 1933 Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish militia killed thousands of Assyrias in Simele (Iraq). The massacre had a big influence on Raphael Lemkin, the jurist who coined the word "genocide.[17] The Simmele Massacre is also commemorated yearly with the official Assyrian Martyrs Day on August 7. The massacre was carried out by the Iraqi Army, led by Kurdish General Bakir Sidqi, and Kurdish and Arab irregulars. There were about 3,000 victims of the massacre.[18] Turks, with the cooperation of Kurdish groups, conducted systematic murder against the Christian population. Beginning in the first half of the 19th century, the Turks allied with Kurdish tribes. After the Kurds weregranted an emirate in Syriac Cizre in 1842, the Kurds launched brutal assaults againt Christians under the command of Kurdish emir Bedr Khan, who murdered thousands of Assyrians in the region of Tur Abdin and Hakkari. Christian areas were subjected to the migration of Kurdish tribes. Many massacres were carried out against Christians in 1895 in Diyarbakir, Urfa, Mardin, Nusaybin, Meyafarkin, Tur Abdin and Viranshahr. Assyrians were eradicated from Tur Abdin, Mardin, Diyarbakir and Hakkari in Turkey and Urmia in Iran. The Syriac city of Mardin was captured by Turks and given over to Kurds who expelled its original population. [19] Only a few of the Christians of the Nineveh Plain remain after after the repeated attacks by Arab and Kurdish fighters. Historically Christian cities like Erbil, Zakho, Dohuk, Kirkuk, and Mosul have been Kurdicized and Islamized. Suryanis emigrated from Syria after the Amuda massacre of August 1937. The massacre was carried out by Kurdish general Saeed Agha and emptied the city of its Suryani population. Malikiya, Darbasiya and Amuda have since become completely Kurdish. Also the historically Christian city of Nusaybin has become Kurdish. Christians fled to Qamishly which became a Christian city until the immigration of Kurds beginning in 1926. [20]

Kurdish-Christian Armenian relations were bitter at the turn of the 19th century and land conflicts were a major problem. Many Christians and Europeans regarded the Kurds as barbarians and a major threat, the French consul at Erzurum describing them as a blood-thirsty savage population which is used to plundering and a nomadic life. Kurds also played a major part in the Ottoman army, also through the Hamidiye.[21] The Kurdish chieftain Bedr Khan during his rise to power massacred about 10,000 Assyrians in 1842. Nestorian tribes were massacred by Kurds in 1843. In 1915 Kurds massacred more than 27,000 Assyrians in Urmia region alone and destroyed more than 100 villages Assyrian villages in March 1915 alone.[22] In 1916 Kurds and Turks massacred Assyrians in Bohtan region.[23] Both Kurdish and Turkish nationalists deny the fact that Assyrians were the original inhabitants of south-eastern Turkey and northern Iraq.[24] The Assyrian population was so small in the aftermath of the genocide that the region called Assyria in ancient times came to be known as "Kurdistan".[25] The Kurds and Turks cynically resisted Assyrian and Armenian efforts to attain statehood after World War II.[26] While the Kurdish population doubled from two million in 1970 to four million in 2002, the Christian population decreased.[27]

British Mandate

In 1918, Britain resettled 20,000 Assyrian people from Turkey in Iraqi refugee camps in Baquba and Mandan after the Ottoman Empire instigated the Assyrian Genocide and a subsequent British and Russian-inspired Assyrian rebellion (see Assyrian struggle for independence), which although having success initially, floundered when the Russians withdrew from the war, leaving the Assyrian forces cut off and vastly outnumbered without supplies and armaments. From there, due to their higher level of education, many gravitated toward Kirkuk with its own long established Assyrian community, and to Habbaniya, (as well as to other areas in the north with age old existing indigenous Assyrian populations) where they were indispensable in the administration of the oil and military projects.

As a result, approximately three-fourths of the Assyrians who had sided with the British during World War I found themselves living in by now Kurdish dominated areas of Iraq, where their ancestors had existed for over four thousand years. Thousands of Assyrian men had seen service in the Iraqi Levies (Assyrian Levies), a force under British officers separate from the regular Iraqi army. Excellent, disciplined and loyal soldiers, they were used by the British to help put down Arab and Kurdish insurrections against the British, and to help patrol the Turkish and Iranian borders of British Mesopotamia. Pro-British, they had been apprehensive of Iraqi independence. Most of those thus resettled by the British have gone into exile, although by the end of the twentieth century, almost all of those who remain were born in Iraq.

Assyrians living in northern Iraq today are those whose ancient ancestry lies in the north originally, an area roughly corresponding with Ancient Assyria. Many of these, however, in places like Berwari, have been displaced by Kurds and Arabs since the genocides of World War I. This process has continued throughout the twentieth century: as Kurds and Arabs have expanded in population, Assyrians have come under attack as in 1933 (Simele Massacre), and as a result have fled from Iraq. (Stafford, Tragedy of the Assyrians, 1935)

Unlike the Kurds, some Assyrians scarcely expected a nation-state of their own after World War I (despite promises by the British and Russians), but they did demand restitution from Turkey for the huge material and population losses they had suffered, especially in northwest Iran, a neutral party in World War I invaded by Turkish forces. Their pressure for some temporal authority in the north of Iraq under the Assyrian patriarch, the Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII, was flatly refused by British and Iraqis alike.

Independent Kingdom of Iraq

In 1933, the Iraqi government held the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, the Mar Shamun, under house arrest. When he left Iraq to appeal to the British with regard to how the Assyrians were being mistreated in Iraq contrary to the agreement at Iraq's independence to refrain from discrimination against minorities, he was stripped of his citizenship and refused reentry.

During July 1933, about 800 armed Assyrians headed for the Syrian border, where they were turned back by the French. While King Faisal had briefly left the country for medical reasons, the Minister of Interior, Hikmat Sulayman, adopted a policy aimed at a final solution of the "Assyrian problem". This policy was implemented by a Kurd, General Bakr Sidqi. After engaging in several unsuccessful clashes with armed Assyrian tribesmen, on 11 August 1933, Sidqi permitted his men to attack and kill about 3,000 unarmed Assyrian civilian villagers, including women, children and the elderly, at the Assyrian villages of Sumail (Simele) district, and later at Suryia. Having scapegoated the Assyrians as dangerous national traitors, this massacre of unarmed civilians became a symbol of national pride, and enhanced Sidqi's prestige. The British, though represented by a powerful military presence as provided by the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930, failed to intervene or allow the well disciplined Assyrian Levies under their command to do so, and indeed helped white-wash the event at the League of Nations.

The Assyrian repression marked the entrance of the military into Iraqi politics, a pattern that has periodically re-emerged since 1958, and offered an excuse for enlarging conscription. The hugely popular Assyrian massacre, an indication of the latent anti-Christian atmosphere among the Muslim Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen population, also set the stage for the increased prominence of Bakr Sidqi. In October 1936, Bakr Sidqi staged the first military coup in the modern Arab world.

Assyrians continued to serve the British in Iraq (who maintained a military presence until 1954), despite earlier betrayals. Assyrian levies played an important role in putting down the pro Nazi Iraqi movement in World War II, and served the British in the Mediterranean and North African campaigns during the war.

The World Directory of Minorities states that there are over 300,000 Assyrian followers of the Chaldean Catholic rite in Iraq and that they live mainly in Baghdad. Until the 1950s, Chaldean Catholics were mostly settled in Mosul — in 1932, 70 percent of Assyrian Christians of all denominations lived there, but by 1957, only 47 percent remained, as they migrated southward due in part to ethnic and religious violence and regional and political tensions. It was estimated that about half of Iraq's Assyrian Christian's lived in Baghdad by 1979, accounting for 14 percent of that city's population

This period also marks the intensification of denominational antagonism among Assyrians in Iraq as some church institutions began to distance themselves from the members of the Assyrian Church of the East who were seen as magnets for Muslim antagonism.

Republic of Iraq

Recognition of the Syriac language by the Ba'thist regime

In the early 1970s, the Ba'ath regime tried to change the suppression of Assyrians in Iraq through different laws that were passed. On 20 February 1972, the government passed the law to recognize the cultural rights of Assyrians by allowing Aramaic be taught schools in which the majority of pupils spoke that language in addition to Arabic. Aramaic was also to be taught at intermediate and secondary schools in which the majority of students spoke that language in addition to Arabic, but it never happened. Special Assyrian programms were to be broadcast on public radio and television and three Syriac-language magazines were planned to be published in the capital. An Association of Syriac-Speaking Authors and Writers had also been established.[28]

The bill turned out to be a failure. The radio stations created as the result of this decree were closed after a few months. While the two magazines were allowed to be published, only 10 percent of their material was in Aramaic. No school was allowed to teach in Aramaic either.[29]


Assyrian villages in northern Iraq.

In modern times, Assyrians, for whom no reliable census figures exist in Iraq (as they do not for Kurds, Turkmen, Armenians, Yazidi, Shabaks or Mandeans), have been doubly mistreated; first by their Kurdish neighbours who outnumber them greatly, then by Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime. Assyrians were deprived of their ethnic, cultural and national rights while at the same time the Ba'athist regime tried to co-opt their history. In northern Iraq today, a similar pattern was claimed to have emerging as Kurdistan Regional Government attempt to allegedly rewrite the history of the region to give it a Kurdish flavor and diminish its historic and far older Assyrian heritage. As in Ba'athist Iraq, there is a strong tendency in Iraq today to recognize only two ethnic groups: Arab or Kurd.

Post-Saddam Iraq

After Saddam Hussein's fall in 2003, the Assyrian Democratic Movement was one of the smaller political parties that emerged in the social chaos of the occupation. Its officials say that while members of the Assyrian Democratic Movement also took part in the liberation of the key oil cities of Kirkuk and Mosul in the north, the Assyrians were not invited to join the steering committee that was charged with defining Iraq's future. The ethnic make-up of the Iraq Interim Governing Council briefly (September 2003 - June 2004) guiding Iraq after the invasion included a single Assyrian Christian, Younadem Kana, a leader of the Assyrian Democratic Movement and an opponent of Saddam Hussein since 1979.

Assyrians in post-Saddam Iraq have faced high rate of persecution by Fundamentalist Islamist since the beginning of the Iraq war. By early August 2004 this persecution included church bombings, and fundamentalist groups' enforcement of Muslim codes of behavior upon Christians, e.g., banning alcohol, forcing women to wear hijab.[30] The violence against the community has led to the exodus of perhaps as much as half of the community. While Assyrians only made just over 5% of the total Iraqi population before the war, according to the United Nations, Assyrians are over-represented among the Iraqi refugees (as much as 13%) who are stranded in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.[31][32][33]

A large number of Assyrians have found refuge in Christian villages in Nineveh plains and the Kurdish Autonomous Region.[34][35] This led some Assyrians and Iraqi and foreign politicians to call for a Christian autonomous region in those areas.[36]

In 2008 the Assyrians formed their own militia, the Qaraqosh Protection Committee[37] to protect Assyrian towns, villages and regions in the north. In 2008 the Assyrian Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Mosul was assasinated reportedely by Kurds. Rahho was a defender of Assyrian self-administration. Ancient Assyirian objects and buildings have been labeled by Kurdish authorities as Kurdish. Also many names of places and towns have been changed to Kurdish names. Observers have also reported that Kurdish forces often used to practice their shooting on important Assyrian cultural heritage sites.[38]>> An example of Kurdification is the attack on the Assyrian town Rabatki in2013 by General Aref al-Zebari and his brother Habib al-Hares Zabari, reportedly by Kurdish peshmerga soldiers. It has been reported that many Assyrian girls are forced into prostitution by Kurdish criminal organizations, and the families of these girls have also been threatened.[39]

Assyrians have criticized the kurdification of the school curricula, and have complained about the confiscation and occupation of Assyrian lands, and "that the Kurds invent new and impossible laws when the legitimate owners ask for their lands".[40] Assyrians have criticized that while Kurds are very well funded, the Assyrian Christians receive almost no funding for their schools. Assyrians have also said that Kurds have modified and falsified school textbooks (kurdification) and changed traditional Christian names to Kurdish names. In textbooks it was even claimed that some biblical figures were Kurdish.[41] It was reported that the man accused of killing the Christian politician Francis Yousif Shabo in 1993 is "allowed to walk around freely" in Kurdistan. The impunity for those who attacked or killed Assyrians in the Kurdistan region was criticized.[42] Assyrian Christian David Jindo was one of many murdered Christian politicians. Other prominent Assyrian leaders who were killed by Kurdish nationalists include Patriarch Mar Shimun, Franso Hariri, Margaret George (one of the first female Peshmerga) and Francis Shabo. Many of these figures were killed "in spite of their attempts to engage with, or work under, Kurds".[43][44] [45]

Kurdish security forces were criticized for human rights abuses against minorities, abuses "ranged from threats and intimidation to detention in undisclosed locations without due process." In 2015, Kurds arrested and detained political activist Kamal Said Kadir, for having written articles on the Internet critical of the KDP. He was sentenced to a 30 years prison sentence. Party membership in Kurdish parties is necessary to obtain "employment and educational opportunities" in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurdish parties also control "the pursuit of formal education and the granting of academic positions". In 2015 Kurdish security forces in Bartalah reportedly broke up a peaceful demonstration by Shabak people, thereby assaulting several demonstrators. The US State department reported on allegations that the KRG discriminated against Christian minorities. Christians living in areas north of Mosul said that the KRG seized their property without compensation and that the KRG began building Kurdish settlements on their land. Assyrian Christians also said that the "KDP-dominated judiciary routinely discriminated against non-Muslims and legal judgments in their favor were not enforced". The Kurdish political parties "encouragd and supported resettlement of Kurds in Kirkuk outside the framework of the IPCC". However Arabs remained "in antagonistic and extremely poor conditions, facing pressure from Kurdish authorities to leave the province". In 2015 elections, many of the mostly Christian residents in the Ninewah Plain were unable to vote, "polling places did not open, ballot boxes were not delivered, and incidents of voter fraud and intimidation occurred". Kurdish militia refused to "allow ballot boxes to pass to predominantly Christian villages". The KRG also reportedly "pressured NGOs into hiring only Kurds and dismissing non-Kurds on security grounds". The US State department report said that "Kurdish authorities abused and discriminated against minorities in the North, including Turcomen, Arabs, Christians, and Shabak", and that Kurdish authorities "denied services to some villages, arrested minorities without due process and took them to undisclosed locations for detention, and pressured minority schools to teach in the Kurdish language". Christian minorities in Kirkuk also "charged that Kurdish security forces targeted Arabs and Turcomen".[46]

According to U.S. Army Lt. Col. Sargis Sangari "the region in northern Syria that the Kurds want to declare their own includes all Christian Assyrian villages in the country". YPG militia “conducted a surprise attack on Assyrian checkpoints in the Al-Wusta district of Qamishli, which is a predominantly Assyrian area,” in early 2016.[47] In April 2015 David Jendo was killed, he was leader of the Assyrian Khabour guards. YPG members were sentenced to 12 and 20 years in prison for the crime.[48] Qamilshi has been designated as the Kurdish capital in Syria, but Assyrians believe the town was founded by their ancestors.[49] A report "‘We had nowhere else to go’: Forced displacement and demolitions in northern Syria" by Amnesty International documented many cases of forced displacement and home demolitions amounting to war crimes carried out by the Autonomous Administration led by the Syrian Kurdish PYD party. The report also documented cases of "deliberate displacement of thousands of civilians and the razing of entire villages in areas under the control of the PYD.[50] The Aramean politician Johny Messo stated that the last attack by the YPG "on an Aramean Christian self-defense unit in Qamishli had killed one Aramean. Messo also criticized that Syria’s minorities "were not allowed to participate as an independent voice in the Geneva peace talks". He said that "there are thousands of Aramean Christians living in northern Syria, and the PYD is trying to intimidate and threaten them".[51] Assyrians lack many democratic rights compared to Kurds, with all important decisions being taken by Kurdish politicians of the PYD. [52]

The US State governement reported that in 1999 that Assyrian Christina Helena Aloun Sawa was murdered, and Assyrians allgeged that "the murder resembles a well-established pattern of complicity by Kurdish authorities in attacks against Assyrian Christians in the north". The murder was investigated by a commission appointed by the KDP but nobody was tried in court as yet. [53][54] The US State government also reported that in Kurdish controlled areas Assyrian schools and classes Syriac were not permitted or prevented in some cases.[55] [56] There were also incidents of mob violence by Kurdistan Workers party (KWP) against Christians in northern Iraq.[57][58] Christian Assyrians were also targeted in a series of bombings in Erbil in 1998 to 1999, and Assyrian groups have criticized the KRG for the lack of investigation.[59][60] Assyrian groups in 1999 also complained about a "well-established pattern of complicity by Kurdish authorities in attacks against Assyrian Christians in the north".[61] According to the US Department of State the KDP blockaded Assyrian villages in 1999 and "later entered the villages and beat villagers". However, after invervention by the the International Committee of the Red Cross the KDP left the villages again. [62]

Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons

The publication of satirical cartoons of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on September 30, 2005 led to an increase in violence against the Assyrian community. In the beginning, the cartoons did not get much attention at the time of its original publish, but when the Egyptian media picked up on the publication in late December 2005, violence and protests erupted around the world.

On January 29 six churches in the Iraqi cities of Baghdad and Kirkuk were targeted by car bombs, killing 13-year-old worshipper Fadi Raad Elias. No militants claimed to be retaliating for the pictures, nor is this the first time Iraqi churches have been bombed; but the bishop of the church stated "The church blasts were a reaction to the cartoons published in European papers. But Christians are not responsible for what is published in Europe."[63] Many Assyrians in Iraq now feel like "Westerners should not give wild statements [as] everyone can attack us [in response]" and "Today I'm afraid to walk the streets, because I'm Christian."[63]

Also on January 29, a Muslim Cleric in the Iraqi city of Mosul issued a fatwa stating, "Expel the (Assyrian) Crusaders and infidels from the streets, schools, and institutions because they have offended the person of the prophet."[64] It has been reported that Muslim students beat up a Christian student at Mosul University in response to the fatwa on the same day.[64]

On February 6, leaflets were distributed in Ramadi, Iraq by the militant group "The Military Wing for the Army of Justice" demanding Christians to "halt their religious rituals in churches and other worship places because they insulted Islam and Muslims."[65][66]

Pope Benedict XVI Islam controversy

The Pope Benedict XVI Islam controversy arose from a lecture delivered on 12 September 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI at the University of Regensburg in Germany. Many Islamic politicians and religious leaders registered protest against what they said was an insulting mischaracterization of Islam,[67][68] contained in the quotation by the Pope of the following passage:

Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.[68]

After the Pope's comments were known throughout the Arab world, several churches were bombed by insurgent groups. A previously unknown Baghdad-based group, Kataab Ashbal Al-Islam Al-Salafi (Islamic Salafist Boy Scout Battalions)[Note 1] threatened to kill all Christians in Iraq if the Pope does not apologize to Muhammad within three days.[69] Christian Leaders in Iraq have asked their parishioners not to leave their homes, after two Assyrians were stabbed and killed in Baghdad.[70]

There have been reports of writing in Assyrian church doors stating "If the Pope does not apologise, we will bomb all churches, kill more Christians and steal their property and money." [71]

The Iraqi militia Jaish al-Mujahedin (Holy Warriors' Army) announced its intention to "destroy their cross in the heart of Rome… and to hit the Vatican."[72]

Despite the Pope's comments dying down in the media, attacks on Assyrian Christians continued and on October 9, Islamic extremist group kidnapped priest Paulos Iskander in Mosul. Iskander's church as well as several other churches placed 30 large posters around the city to distance themselves from the Pope's words.[73] The relatives of the Christian priest who was beheaded 3 days later in Mosul, have said that his Muslim captors had demanded his church condemn the pope's recent comments about Islam and pay a $350,000 ransom.[74]

Massacres and harassment since 2003

Massacres, ethnic cleansing, and harassment has increased since 2003, according to a 73-page report by the Assyrian International News Agency, released in Summer 2007.[75][76] [77]

On January 6, 2008 (Epiphany day,) five Assyrian Churches, one Armenian Church, and a monastery in Mosul and Baghdad were coordinately attacked with multiple car bombs.[78][79] Iraqi vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi expressed his "closeness to Christians", whom he called "brothers" in the face of this "attack that changed their joy to sadness and anxiety".[80] Two days later, on January 8, two more Churches were bombed in the city of Kirkuk; the Chaldean Cathedral of Kirkuk and the ACOE Maar Afram Church, wounding three bystandards.[81] Since the start of the Iraq war, there have been at least 46 Churches and Monasteries bombed.[82]

Threats on population

Leaders of Iraq's Christian community estimate that over two-thirds of the country's Christian population may have fled the country or been internally displaced since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. While exact numbers are unknown, reports suggest that whole neighborhoods of Christians have cleared out in the cities of Baghdad and Al-Basrah, and that both Sunni and Shiite insurgent groups and militias have threatened Christians. [83]

The gravity of the situation prompted Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to ask Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi to take steps to protect the Christian community. Sunni imams in Baghdad have made similar statements to their congregations in Friday Prayer sermons.

Religious official targets

Including those mentioned already, many other Assyrian religious officials have been targeted since 2003. Chaldean Catholic priest Ragheed Aziz Ganni was murdered together with subdeacons Basman Yousef Dawid, Wahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed after the Sunday evening Eucharist at Mosul's Holy Spirit Chaldean Church. Paulos Faraj Rahho, Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, was found in a shallow grave in the northern city two weeks after he was kidnapped. Youssef Adel, an Syriac Orthodox priest with Saint Peter's Church in Baghdad's Karadda neighbourhood, was killed by gunmen while travelling on a car on April 5, 2008.[84] On April 11, President Bush was interviewed by Cliff Kincaid of the EWTN Global Catholic Network; after being informed about the detoriating situation of the Assyirians, President Bush was quoted as saying "This is a Muslim government that has failed to protect the Christians. In fact, it discriminates against them....It’s time to order U.S. troops to protect Christian churches and believers."[85]

Growth of Assyrian Security Forces

In October 2008, National Public Radio reported that a new phenomenon was spreading through the Assyrian Christian towns and villages of northern Iraq: Christian security forces, organized through their local churches, began manning checkpoints and working with the Iraqi police. Father Daoud Suleiman from the Assyrian town of Bartella testified that without the Christian militias, Bartella and other villages would be in much worse shape than they are now. A mysterious, media-shy, and wealthy Assyrian Sarkis Aghajan Mamendo was a key player in this apparently straightforward story of a small beleaguered minority learning to stand up for itself once more. He is the finance minister for the Kurdish regional government, and he is a member of the Kurdish Democratic Party believed to be close to Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. New churches are going up across the north, paid for, everyone says, by Sarkis. New schools, more than 300 new apartments for displaced Christian families from the south, an Assyrian cultural center in Bartella — the list goes on.[86]

2009-2010 Violence

Attacks against the community began again in December 2009 in Mosul and picked in February 2010. During this three-month period, over 20 Christians were assassinated and many churches of Mosul were targeted. The attacks led to 4,300 Assyrians flying Mosul to the Nineveh plains where there is an Assyrian majority population.[87] A report by the United Nations tracked the refugees and reported people fleeing to the following Assyrian towns and villages:

Arrival of displaced people
Bakhdida 1,668 Nimrud 210
Tel Esqof 558 Ankawa 138
Alqosh 504 Karamlesh 132
Bashiqa 396 Dohuk 102
Batnaya 378 Tel Keppe 96

The deadliest attack against Assyrians since the war began was the 2010 Baghdad church attack which occurred on October 31, 2010. The attack left at least 58 worshipers dead, including 2 priests. More than 100 had been taken hostage by an operation al-Qaeda-linked Sunni insurgent group the Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for.


A 1950 CIA report on Iraq showed that Assyrians comprised 4.9% of the Iraqi population during the 1940s.[88]

Total population Chaldean Catholic Syriac Catholic Syriac Orthodox Nestorian
165,000 98,000 25,000 12,000 30,000

The report goes on and states 20% of the Assyrians live in Baghdad and 60% in Mosul.

The Iraqi Minorities Council and the Minority Rights Group International estimated that Iraq's pre-war Assyrian population was 800,000.[89]

According to statistics gathered by the Catholic Church when doing censuses of Chaldean Catholic diocese in Iraq in 2012 and 2013, Chaldo-Assyrians in Iraq numbered 230,071 people.[90]

Notable Iraqi Assyrians

See also


  1. Ashbāl has been mistranslated in the media as Boy Scout. The Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic defines shibl (plural ashbāl اشبال) as meaning "lion cub; a capable young man, brave youth, young athlete." Compare with Ashbal Saddam (Saddam's Lion Cubs).


  1. Christian Official: The Number of Christians in Iraq Has Dropped to Three-Hundred Thousand
  2. "Guide: Christians in the Middle East". BBC News. 11 October 2011.
  3. CIA Factbook: "Arab 75%-80%, Kurdish 15%-20%, Turkoman, Chaldean, Assyrian, or other 5% [...] Christian or other 3%"
  4. "IRIN Middle East | IRAQ: Christians live in fear of death squads | Iraq | Other". 2006-10-19. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  5. Reforging a Forgotten History: Iraq and the Assyrians in the Twentieth Century By Sargon Donabed
  6. HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT ON ASSYRIANS IN IRAQ 2013, by Assyria Council of Europe and the Assyria Foundation
  7. HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT ON ASSYRIANS IN IRAQ 2013, by Assyria Council of Europe and the Assyria Foundation
  8. Klein, J. (2016). Margins of empire. S.l.: Stanford University Press., and!etd.send_file?accession=akron1464911392&disposition=inline """"THE SIMELE MASSACRE AS A CAUSE OF IRAQI NATIONALISM: HOW AN ASSYRIAN GENOCIDE CREATED IRAQI MARTIAL NATIONALISM """"
  9. Eric Davis, Memories of State (Los Angeles: University of California Press 2005): 62; Records of Iraq, v.7 , Consul Mon ypenny to Mr. Ogilvie- Forbes, 21 Aug. 1933, 580. Cited!etd.send_file?accession=akron1464911392&disposition=inline """"THE SIMELE MASSACRE AS A CAUSE OF IRAQI NATIONALISM: HOW AN ASSYRIAN GENOCIDE CREATED IRAQI MARTIAL NATIONALISM """"
  10. The Armenian Genocide: Cultural and Ethical Legacies Richard G. Hovannisian (2011).
  11. Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide by Bat Yeʼor. 116-18
  12. Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide by Bat Yeʼor. 40
  13. Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide by Bat Yeʼor. 188
  14. Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide by Bat Yeʼor. see in hommaire de hell, voyage en turquie 2:22-24, where it is recounted
  15. Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide by Bat Yeʼor
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  23. Reforging a Forgotten History: Iraq and the Assyrians in the Twentieth Century, Sargon Donabed Edinburgh University Press, 2015
  24. Forgotten Genocides: Oblivion, Denial, and Memory herausgegeben, Rene Lemarchand. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011 Chapter 7.
  25. Forgotten Genocides: Oblivion, Denial, and Memory herausgegeben, Rene Lemarchand. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011 Chapter 7.
  26. Forgotten Genocides: Oblivion, Denial, and Memory herausgegeben, Rene Lemarchand. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011 Chapter 7.
  27. Forgotten Genocides: Oblivion, Denial, and Memory herausgegeben, Rene Lemarchand. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011 Chapter 7.
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  32. (PDF);_ylu=X3oDMTByMDhrMzdqBHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDNQRjb2xvA2FjMgR2dGlkAw--/SIG=12dpb27io/EXP=1247948212/**http%3a// Retrieved October 31, 2013. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  33. (PDF);_ylu=X3oDMTBybnZlZnRlBHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDMQRjb2xvA2FjMgR2dGlkAw--/SIG=12cuifo46/EXP=1247949139/**http%3a// Retrieved October 31, 2013. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  34. "Worthy Christian News » Iraqi Christians speed exodus to Kurdistan". 2011-02-08. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  35. Rizan, Ahmed. "Displaced Mosul Christians celebrate Easter in Nineveh Plain". Retrieved 5 June 2011.
  36. Timmerman, Kenneth (1 March 2011). "TIMMERMAN: Iraqi Christians to Congress: Please help". The Washington Times. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
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  38. HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT ON ASSYRIANS IN IRAQ 2013, by Assyria Council of Europe and the Assyria Foundation
  39. HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT ON ASSYRIANS IN IRAQ 2013, by Assyria Council of Europe and the Assyria Foundation
  46. Iraq report, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor 2005. March 8, 2006
  63. 1 2 "Iraq Christians on edge as cartoon row escalates". Reuters UK. 2006-02-03.
  64. 1 2 تفجيرات الكنائس العراقية على علاقة برسومات الدنمارك (in Arabic). 2006-01-29.
  65. - صوت العراق Archived March 1, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
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  68. 1 2 "Article:''Pope sorry for offending Muslims'', last accessed September 17, 2006". BBC News. 2006-09-17. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
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  72. "Vatikan verschärft Sicherheitsvorkehrungen", Der Spiegel, 16 September 2006 (German)
  73. "Growing violence against Christians in Iraq". October 26, 2006.
  74. "2006 Iraq priest killed over pope speech". 12 October. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  75. "Incipient Genocide" (PDF).
  76. Bandow, Doug (July 2, 2007). "Thrown to the Lions".
  77. Lattimer, Mark (2006-10-06). "In 20 years, there will be no more Christians in Iraq". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2010-04-25.
  78. عاجل سلسلة تفجيرات تطال كنائس في بغداد والموصل
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  80. "AKI - Adnkronos international Iraq: Vice-president condemns church attacks". 2003-04-07. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
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  82. "Church Bombings in Iraq Since 2004". Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  83. "Population 'under attack', Radio Free Europe". Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  84. Christian priest shot dead in Baghdad, AFP
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  86. NPR Reports on Iraqi Christians forming Security Forces
  87. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 15, 2012. Retrieved October 31, 2013.
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