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For the ancient Mesopotamian kingdom, see Assyria.
Assyrians are the indigenous Nestorian Christians in northern Iraq, who read and write Aramaic, a Semitic language, which is used in their religious observances. The Assyrians claim descent from the Assyrian nation that conquered ancient Syria, Israel and Mesopotamia in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE.
In Iraq, a few churches dating back to the fifth century still dot the northern countryside. In 1915 the Assyrian Christians tried to throw off Ottoman Turkish rule but were butchered, along with another Christian tribe, the Armenians. Thousands fled into exile. The Assyrian diaspora includes a community in Chicago that numbers as much as 80,000, more than in any other American city. In 1918. Britain resettled 20,000 more Assyrians in northern Iraq around Zakhu and Dahuk, after Turkey violently quelled a British-inspired Assyrian rebellion. As a result, approximately three-fourths of the Assyrians who had sided with the British during World War I found themselves living in Kurdish areas of Iraq, a dangerous situation. Thousands of Assyrian men had seen service in the 'Iraqi Levies', a force under British officers separate from the regular Iraqi army. Pro-British, they had been apprehensive of Iraqi independence.
Unlike the Kurds, the Assyrians scarcely expected a nation-state of their own after World war I, but their pressure for some temporal authority in the north of Iraq for the Assyrian patriarch, the Mar Shamun, was flatly refused by British and Iraqis alike. The Assyrians refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the Baghdad government under the British mandate.
In 1933, the Iraqi government held the patriarch under house arrest. During July about 800 armed Assyrians headed for the Syrian border, where they were turned back. King Faisal was briefly outside the country for reasons of health. In his absence, 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, who, after engaging in several clashes with the Assyrians, permitted his men to kill about 300 Assyrians, including women and children, at the Assyrian village of Simel (Sumayyil).
The Assyrian clash marked the entrance into Iraqi politics of the military, offered an excuse for enlarging conscription, and the hugely popular Assyrian massacre 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
In modern times, the group, which today numbers about 1.25 to 1.5 million, has been doubly mistreated; first by by their Kurdish landlords, then by Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime, which forbade them to teach Aramaic. Assyrians were deprived of their cultural and national rights. There were only two nationalities in Saddam Hussein's Iraq: Arab and Kurdish.The Assyrians were not identified in Iraqi censuses.
After Saddam's fall, the Assyrian Democratic Party was one of the smaller emergent political parties in the social chaos of the occupation. Though members of ADM, its officials make pains to note, 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.
Assyrians are not Arabs racially, ethnically, or culturally. Historically, they have contributed to the rise of the Arabic civilization during the Abbasid period and many scientists and scholars were in fact Assyrian (or Syriac). They have their own rich history which is distinct from the Arabs (in fact, the Assyrians were the first manufactureres of a sophisticated civilization in ancient times and prior to the Islamic expansion they made several breakthroughs in the fields of astronomy, philosophy and medicine) and were builders of the first known world-empire in antiquity under Sargon I that encompassed the western borders of modern-day Iran, all of Syria and Mesopotamia (Iraq), Palestine, southeast Anatolia, the Armenian highlands, Egypt and Sudan.