The Assyrian Kingdom Edessa, became the first to accept Christianity and converted in masses to the new religion of Christianity. Assyrians endured many massacres since the fall of the Assyrian Empire and their subsequent conversion to Christianity. In particular, the massacres under Bedr Khan in the 1800s resulted in the death of thousands of Assyrians and their forced conversion to Islam. Toward the waning of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, Assyrians were also victims of the genocide perpetuated against the Empire’s Christian populations along with Greeks and Armenians. The Assyrian Genocide, known in Assyrian as Syfo, or year of the sword beginning in 1915, would result in the dispersion of Assyrians from their ancestral lands and would result in the loss of two-thirds of their population, an estimated 450,000 people living within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire.
Following the unfulfilled promise of an Assyrian autonomous area under the British Mandate and their protection by the newly formed state of Iraq, the first act of the independent state was the massacre of Assyrians in the region of Simele in 1933 by the Iraqi army under the command of General Bakr Sadki, a Kurdish general. The massacre resulted in the deaths of 3000-6000 Assyrians, many of whom were women and children. Assyrians became victims of cultural genocide following the rise of the Ba’th regime in Iraq, and under the command of Saddam Hussein. Under this period, Assyrians were forced to identify as ethnically Arab or Kurdish in the census, were prohibited from teaching their native language, Aramaic, and were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands and villages in northern Iraq, only to be settled in cities throughout the country. They were also victims of the Anfal Campaign along with the Kurds in 1988.
Assyrians became optimistic of new hopes for a democratic Iraq following the 2003 U.S. led invasion. The reality, however, has been a stark contrast from the promises of a safe and secure Iraq. Since the invasion, Sixty-six Assyrian churches have been targeted by al-Qaida and other fundamental, militant Islamic groups throughout Iraq. This has resulted in an estimated 2000 losses of life, a major setback for an already numerical minority. The Assyrian population has dwindled from an estimated over one million to roughly 200,000, many of whom are internally displaced people throughout the country. Those remaining have sought refuge in neighboring countries in hopes of a more promising future in Western countries.
In conclusion, Assyrians have endured both physical and non-physical threats to their existence in the Middle East, and in the past few years, they are facing an existential threat to their existence in their ancestral lands. We encourage individuals, governments and non-governmental organizations to ensure that necessary measures are taken to secure and protect the last remnants of this indigenous community.