“Before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, an estimated 1.4 million Chaldeans and Assyrians inhabited Iraq. In the decade that followed, hundreds of thousands of these Iraqi Christians either sought permanent refuge abroad or were internally displaced. During this turmoil, more than 60 churches were bombed, a Chaldean Catholic Archbishop was kidnapped and murdered, and an Iraqi Christian population of 1.4 million dwindled to fewer than 500,000—a result of the insurgency, subsequent unrest, and radically anti-Christian sentiment that ensued.” John Paul Kuriakuz
When I attended Stanford in the 1990s, explaining my ethnic background to fellow students was a challenge. I am Chaldean. Or as my more scripted response became: “We are ethnic Assyrians from northern Iraq who belong to the Chaldean Rite of the Catholic Church.”
I would explain how Chaldeans are members of the Eastern Catholic Church, while Assyrians are members of the Assyrian Church of the East, independent of the Roman Catholic Church. Both, however, share a common ethnic heritage distinct and apart from their Arab neighbors in Iraq. We speak a colloquial form of Aramaic, the same language spoken in the Mideast at the time of Christ.
Having heard of ancient Assyrian civilization at some point, many responded with: “They still exist?” Feeling a bit like a museum artifact, my answer at the time was a simple: “Yeah, we exist.” Today, as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham continues its rampage through northern Syria and Iraq, I would add: “for now.” Continue reading