Assyrians, Jews and Israel

Assyrians have inhabited the Middle East since the beginning of recorded history. Both secular and Christian Assyrians, unlike the Kurds, are steadfast in their pro-Jewish and pro-Israel views,

James Hasso

OpEds One of the Aramaic inscriptions found
One of the Aramaic inscriptions found

There is an Islamic phrase in Arabic, which accurately describes the treatment of Jews and Christians under Muslim rule: “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people” … “In other words,” writes professor Guy Millière, “First Muslims attack Jews; then when the Jews are gone, they attack Christians. It is what we have been seeing throughout the Middle East.”

The phrase also explains how the fates of Jews and Christians – particularly the Assyrians, a persecuted people in the Middle East - are intertwined.

Assyrians have inhabited the Middle East since the beginning of recorded history. They are the descendants of the ancient civilizations of Assyria, Babylon, Sumer, and Mitanni.

For 300 years, Assyrian kings ruled the largest empire the world had yet known. Ancient Assyrian culture contributed tremendously to human civilization—particularly in the fields of science, mathematics, medicine, geography, law, and literature, among others.

Today, however, Assyrians are stateless due to constant persecution, ethnic cleansing and the multiple genocides committed against them principally by Kurds, Iraq, Turkey and the Iranian regime. This has been done in the name of Islam and Arab, Kurdish, and Turkish nationalisms, making the intended destruction of Assyrians both an ethnic and religious one. According to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), every fifty years there has been a massacre of Assyrians.

The Assyrian homeland encompasses northern Iraq, northern Syria, southeastern Turkey, and northwestern Iran. Only northern Iraq and Syria have substantial population centers left while the Assyrians that haven’t been massacred over the centuries are living largely in Western, Middle Eastern, and Russian diaspora.

Assyrian people are predominately Christian and speak Assyrian, a language rooted in Aramaic and similar to Hebrew. The author Ross Perlin explains the massive historic and cultural importance of the Assyrian language:

“Nearly three millennia of continuous records exist for Aramaic; only Chinese, Hebrew, and Greek have an equally long written legacy. For many religions, Aramaic has had sacred or near-sacred status.”


Assyrian and Jewish History

The Assyrian and Jewish nations share a rich history mired in ups and downs. From conflict in the distant past, to the Jewish Assyrian Kingdom of Adiabene, to shared language and roots, to living in the same villages in the Assyrian homeland—the commonalities between the two are substantial, to say the least. Persecution and diaspora is the grimmer area the peoples share.

Professor Hannibal Travis writes in his comprehensive article ‘‘Native Christians Massacred − The Ottoman Genocide of the Assyrians during World War I,” that:

“The Assyrians and other Ottoman Christians, like the Jews, had suffered from centuries of discrimination and official segregation; were charged with being agents of foreign powers and scapegoated for military defeats and looming threats in a rhetoric of ethnic elimination; and were physically and culturally exterminated in large numbers by means of massacres, rapes, expulsions, and attacks on homes and religious institutions carried out by genocidal state apparatuses and local irregular forces.”

Due to the similarities between the two peoples, Assyrians understand the Jewish situation better than most other populations, making it very hard for empathy to not exist from Assyrians for Jews and from Jews for Assyrians - when aware Assyrians are still alive and kicking.

This is all in spite of the groups and governments—Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Kurdish groups—surrounding Assyrians today being overall highly anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, and propagating such stances against them.

An example was demonstrated recently by Selahattin Demirtaş, the Kurdish leader of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey, an affiliate of the internationally recognized terrorist organization known as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and also the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria.

Demirtaş, who is also HDP’s presidential candidate, joined the anti-Israel chorus in Turkey and tweeted: “I curse the boundless barbarism of the government of Israel. I wish mercy from Allah to the massacred sons and daughters of the oppressed Palestinian people and healing to their injured. A powerful voice and a joint stance is required to be able to stop the savagery of the Israeli government immediately.”

In another Twitter post Demirtaş called on everyone in Turkey to organize a huge demonstration in Istanbul to protest and stop Israel’s “savagery.”  

The pro-Kurdish HDP party also presented a proposal to Turkey’s parliament that demands all political, economic and military agreements with Israel, including the one that recognizes Jerusalem as its capital, be cancelled. Ironically, the proposal was rejected by votes of the ruling AKP party and the opposition MHP, the Nationalist Movement Party.

Regardless of such statements and actions, both secular and Christian Assyrians continue their steadfast pro-Jewish and pro-Israel views, being a testament to the cultural elements Assyrians perceive woven between themselves and the Jewish people.

Mar Awa Royel, the first American-born Assyrian bishop in history, for example, has publicly conveyed his desire for friendship between Israel and the Assyrian people.

“Israel has stability, the ear of the world community, and the ability to be a modern state in the Middle East. Israel has withstood the test of time,” he said, according to Bradley Martin, an expert on Jewish history.

“‘We are the most Semitic of the churches,’ Bishop Royel added… When asked what a modern state of Assyria would look like, Royel stated that he would like very much to see a free Assyrian homeland for his people to live in peace within its borders. Friendship between Israel and Assyria would be mutually beneficial, with both countries being strong allies. Whereas Israel would serve as a model for a successful Middle Eastern state for Assyria, Israel would gain a strong ally in an increasingly tumultuous region.”

Back in 2003, Israelis visited Adabashi in southeastern Turkey—a historical part of Assyria now populated by Kurds and Turks after the 1915 Assyrian Genocide—and had the following to say regarding their experiences with local Assyrians and one visiting from Germany—Balan:

“The Assyrians like to compare themselves to the Jews—always persecuted, forever tolerated only barely by the local majority. During World War I, many of them were massacred, along with the Armenians.”

Prior to the Israelis leaving, Balan advised the following:

“Don’t give in to the Palestinians,” he said. “The Land of Israel should not be redivided. I am a devout Christian—and the Bible says that the country should not be divided.”

The Israelis concluded their trip stating:

“Our visit to Adabashi was short. And then we move on to our next stop along the border with Iraq. But even as the world prepares for a possible war, Adabashi lingers in the mind, and it prompts me to make a suggestion for the Jewish tourist looking for new places to visit.

“If the area ever opens up to tourism—as it was until only a few years ago—you should remember that you have friends in Adabashi, and they speak the language of your forefathers.

“Actually, they are family.”