The Identity of the People Described
in the Writings of Gabriele Yonan
Johny Messo (2004)
1. Yonan & three of her books reconsidered
“The Assyrian-Suryoyo people are the most ancient people in the
These were the opening remarks of a “report compiled” by Gabriele
Yonan, “which was distributed to all members of the EU Parliament”
Who is Gabriele Yonan and who are, in fact, these ‘Assyrian-Suryoyo
people’ whom she normally calls ‘Assyrians’ in her publications?
Gabriele Yonan is a scholar who utilizes her academic position for
‘Assyrian’ political affairs;
from my viewpoint, though, not quite objectively. She is of German
origin, but used to be married to a ‘Nestorian’.
Since 1978, Yonan has made herself popular by publishing Assyrer
heute: Kultur, Sprache, Nationalbewegung der aramäisch sprechenden
Christen im Nahen Osten [Assyrians Today: Culture, Language,
National movement of the Aramaic-speaking Christians in the Near East].
Then, in 1985, Ein vergessener Holocaust: Die Vernichtung der
christlichen Assyrer in der Türkei [A Forgotten Holocaust: The
Extermination of the Christian Assyrians in Turkey] was published,
followed by Journalismus bei den Assyrern: Ein Überblick von seinen
Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart [Journalism by the Assyrians: A Survey
from its Beginning until the Present] in 1989. Hereinafter cited as
Assyrer, Holocaust and Journalismus respectively.
is not my intention to offer the reader a critical review here of any of
Yonan’s contributions. Neither do I hope to leave the impression that I
decry her valued books. Rather, the present purpose is to scrutinize
Yonan’s reliability regarding the identity of the people she has
portrayed in her mentioned books and whom she commonly terms
those who are lacking contextual knowledge, we may recall the early 20th
century born ideology known as ‘assyrianism’. This nationalistic,
political idea has divided the Syriacs
or Arameans (both terms represent the same people) this past century.
The Syriac-Orthodox community is but one of the few Syriac communities
who have suffered under the pressure of secular minded ‘Assyrianists’
the past decades. Especially its clergymen, who both officially and
practically took an official stance against assyrianism and its
followers from around the 1950s until the present day, have time and
again been pressured by many Assyrianists.
Nation der Assyrer,” introduces Yonan her
Assyrer-readers, “führt ihre Existenz auf die altorientalischen
Völkerschaften der Assyrer, Chaldäer und Aramäer zurück” (12).
This very same sentence was repeated twice in
the first pages of her following books to describe both the nationhood
as well as the ethnic descent of the people she is narrating about.
Striking is that she does not refer to any historical fact(s) that can
validate her opening words, whereas in all other issues she attempts to
provide facts to substantiate her expressions. Furthermore, she
interprets the nature of the people being described in her writings in
terms of ‘nationhood’ (cf. esp. Assyrer, 9f.). Hence “die
heute existierende Assyrische Nation,” she explains on p.12 of
Assyrer, is essentially subdivided into “vier SYRISCHEN KIRCHEN –
Nestorianer, Jakobiten, Chaldäer, Syrisch-Katholische.” In this
context it is worth mentioning that she does not refer to, among others,
the Maronites; whilst Assyrianists usually consider these Christian
Arameans from Lebanon, too, as members of their imagined ‘Assyrian
Yonan obviously felt the need to highlight that the Syriac churches do
not only belong to the ‘Assyrian nation’; compare her exemplified view
on the ‘socio-political notion’ (Assyrer, 9) of a ‘nation’. She
also indicates that there exists a direct link between the Assyrians of
antiquity and the Syriac Christians (Assyrer, 12).
This becomes especially clear from her Holocaust, which appears
to be replete with ideas not alien to assyrianism; in fact, all three of
her publications reveal her enthusiastic promotion of the ‘Assyrian
In this book, one repeatedly finds expressions such as “die syrischen
Christen (Assyrer)” (25), “nestorianischen Assyrern” (115),
“die Chaldäer (ostsyrische Nestorianer im Union mit Rom)” (290),
“katholischen syrer (Assyrer),” “assyrischen Jakobiten” and
“Syrer (Assyrer)” (291). Yonan seems even bold enough to add to
quotations from autonomous sources, which she integrated in her book;
e.g., when she has J. Lepsius († 1926) saying, “Es sind auch
christliche Völker, Armenier und Syrer (Assyrer), die…”
(256). Even references to the Syriacs in statistics from documents seem
not to be safe for her anymore; e.g., another document taken from J.
Lepsius (1916) is being rewritten to “Syrer (Assyrer)”
(267). This, it has to be said, is definitely not the appreciative
attitude the objective scholar has to earn.
Being a member of a political nation is one thing and the membership of
a religious or an ethno-cultural community is quite another. Needless to
say, a nation does not necessarily need to consist of a group that
shares a common ethnic background only. A nation can also exist of
various peoples with different ethnic, cultural, linguistic and
religious backgrounds (e.g., the U.S.A.). However, people usually unite
into a ‘nation’ after they recognize their common shared history,
culture, ethnicity and language. “(N)ationalists, wrote Smith,
“have a vital role to play in the construction of nations,” but
“to succeed in their task they must meet certain criteria. Their
interpretations must be consonant not only with the ideological
demands of nationalism, but also with the scientific evidence,
popular resonance and patterning of particular ethnohistories.”
It is indeed inappropriate, and even incorrect, when ‘das Nationalgefühl’
will overrule objective research or take precedence over historical
Strictly speaking, the Syriac people are still in the nation-building
process. In political terms, the Syro-Arameans do not even form a
‘nation’ (yet). And as a matter of fact, an ‘Assyrian nation’ does not
exist either. Not in practice, that is, only in the imagination.
Frankly, it is a ‘virtual Assyria’ (‘Utopian Assyria’) that exists in
the minds of many and which is still being proclaimed by Assyrianists
today. In truth, this idea has only resulted in confusion and division
and it keeps endangering the future existence of the people who were
known for centuries as ‘Suryoye’ and ‘Sur(y)aye’ (both tr.
Syriacs) in their native Aramaic vernaculars.
us turn to the question of the name for the language of the Arameans. I
do not know of any serious expert in Aramaic Studies who considers
(classical) Syriac/ kthobo(no)yo/ lishana ‘attiqa, or
any of the dialects spoken by the Syro-Aramean communities, as a direct
offshoot of the ancient Assyrian tongue. There are scholars, however,
who have adopted the term ‘Assyrian’ simply to refer to particular
Aramaic dialects of the East-Arameans (primarily those of the
‘Nestorians’). In Assyrer (e.g., p. 21), Yonan acknowledges that
all the spoken dialects by the Syriac communities are variants of the
Aramaic language; nonetheless, she brands the modern Aramaic speech of
the East-Syriacs as “aturaya” (tr., Assyrian) on p.21.
Journalismus, she reveals a tendency to admit to her sympathetic
feelings. In this volume, it looks as if she has found a scholar (K.
p. VII) who has opened her eyes for a rationalistic justification to
call the modern Aramaic dialects ‘Assyrian’. Yonan writes: “Die
modernen Assyrer bezeichnen heute ihre Schrift- und Umgangssprache als
Assyrisch, eine sozio-linguistische Analogiebildung zu ihrer
Volksbezeichnung, die ihnen niemand das Recht hat abzusprechen” (1).
Here it actually becomes cloudy for the reader. For whereas in 1978 she
restricted the use of ‘Assyrian/Aturaya’ to the idiom of the East-Arameans,
it suddenly seems justifiable that from 1989 onwards all those
who prefer to call themselves ‘Assyrians’ can call both their written
and spoken language ‘Assyrian’. Whether this is in agreement with the
historical truth or not (in Holocaust, p. 8, she reaffirms it is
not), is not a matter of debate; at least not to Yonan, that is. This
practice of calling the Aramaic language/dialects ‘Assyrian’ is defended
by her, because she sees it as a ‘socio-linguistic analogous
construction’ to their national name. In other words,
after alleging that the Syriacs are ‘Assyrians’ (itself an unconvincing
assertion), she declares that ‘Assyrians’ can identify their
language/dialects as ‘Assyrian’ too. Moreover, ‘no one’ has the right to
take this away from them, Yonan argues.
There are many objections to such reasoning. The foremost demur is
perhaps the given fact that not all the people whom she labels as
‘Assyrians’ do consider themselves ‘Assyrians’, let alone calling
themselves or their language thus; the present writer is only one
example out of many. What is more, historical injustice is done to the
Still, Assyrianists have readily welcomed this kind of rationalization
by hushing their own conscience. They even go so far as to invent new
names, such as ‘Assyriac’, for the Aramaic idiom originating from the
Edessan milieu, thereby crossing all boundaries of the historical truth.
Are there, in fact, any limits at all on what Assyrianists would allow
as ‘Assyrian’? (Cf. below.)
2. Yonan & the names ‘Aramean’ and ‘Syriac’
Assyrer, Yonan clearly voiced the view of (modern) assyrianism in
which the term ‘Syriac/Suryoyo’ generally finds no place as an ethnic
appellation, but rather (derogatively) as a religious name. On p.
173, Yonan republished a short article of hers that appeared in the
Berliner Sonntagsblat 11-12-1977. Already a year before the
publication of Assyrer, she stated in this German newspaper:
“Von dem Sprachnamen hat sich auch eine ihrer Volksbezeichnungen
abgeleitet, SYRER war nach der Annahme des Christentums ein Synonym für
Christ.” In Assyrer (12) this is yet
even much clearer articulated by her: “Die hier entstandene Kirche,
deren Zentrum Antiochia war, wurde bereits vor ihrer Trennung und
Aufspaltung von der byzantinischen Staatskirche als SYRISCHE KIRCHE
bezeichnet, den SYRER war Synonym für Christ geworden, während ARAMÄER
nun vorchristliches Heidentum bezeichnete.
Über eine ethnische Zugehörigkeit sagt der Begriff
SYRER in diesem Zusammenhang nichts aus, vielmehr ist er eine
There are crucial errors embedded in these few lines, which at first
sight do not seem harmful. Keep in mind that upon these historical
errors Yonan has founded her convictions.
A) It is true, under influence of Jewish usage the appellation
‘Aramean’ came to mean ‘heathen, pagan’ in the early centuries B.C. as
well as A.D.; this does not mean, however, that the Arameans ceased to
exist before or yet even after the Christian era, on the contrary. This
usage was about to be assumed by the early Christian converts, Jews
and non-Jews alike; it was even inherited by the Ethiopians. Thus it
is not all surprising that the newly converted Christian Arameans could
no longer carry their native name in an environment in which it had
received an unfavorable impression.
Consequently, the Arameans themselves adopted the originally Greek
term ‘Syrians’ with which the Greek-speaking world already designated
them since approximately the fourth/third centuries B.C.
Not only the name of the people, but everything else formerly known as
‘Aramean’ (e.g., the name of their language and culture) was about to be
renamed and identified with ‘Syrian’ (for ‘Syriac’, see n.5).
B) When the multitudes of Christian
Arameans finally adopted the appellation ‘Syriacs’ as a
self-designation, this newly acquired name soon obtained the connotation
of ‘Christians’. But it was not synonymous to ‘Christians’, in that both
words were interchangeable.
The term ‘Suryoye/Syriacs’ rather marks a true ethno-cultural
identity. Yet, in the case of the Syriac community from India this might
be an exception;
perhaps here we could accept that it has a ‘cultural geographical
designation’ (cf. C, below). It is also noteworthy that the former pagan
identity, history, culture and language of the converted Arameans, who
finally became to be known as ‘Syriacs’, had been Christianized
by the Arameans, or Syriacs, themselves. It also must be remembered that
the Christian Arameans were always very much aware of their Aramean
descent. And from time to time they still called themselves and their
language ‘Aramean’, until at least the age of the renowned polymath Bar
‘Ebroyo (†1286). This statement applies equally to the early scholars of
the Syriac-Orthodox church as well as those of the ‘Assyrian Church of
the East’ (see n.4): “The Suryane of Nestorian Iraq,” as
two scholars observed, “quite frequently speak of
themselves and their language as Aramean.”
C) As soon as Yonan reduced the meaning of
‘Syriacs’ to ‘Christians’, another misleading theory pops out. ‘Syriacs’
is mistakenly depicted as a kind of ‘collective term’ (in her words:
“eine kulturgeographische Bezeichnung,” Assyrer, p.12) to
symbolize the descent of various Mesopotamian ethnicities, particularly
of Assyrians, Chaldeans and Arameans (Assyrer, p.1). Thus she
renounces what Th. Nöldeke,
the great German expert in Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic Studies, evinced a
few decades before the idea of assyrianism was even yet to be
born. His profound researches regarding the terms ‘Syria’ and ‘Assyria’
demonstrate that the Arameans underwent a ‘Namenswechsel’, a
transformation of their name (not their identity, a sociological
notion which constantly evolves and adapts itself through time; this is
also how the Christianization of the pre-Christian Aramean identity has
to be viewed). Certainly, the Arameans collectively adopted the term
‘Syriacs’ in the post-Christianization era after they had chosen
to accept this nomenclature to identify their people and their language
Another group of Assyrianists, though, admitting that ‘Syriac’ does
denote an ethno-cultural identity, claims that there is no difference in
meaning between these two appellations. These Assyrianists trace the
origin of the name ‘Syria’ back to the word ‘Assyria’ and readily regard
‘Syria’ as an abridged form of ‘Assyria’; this hypothesis remains yet to
be proven (cf. below). After having overlooked the etymological,
chronological and geographical settings of both terms in history, they
eagerly assert that ‘Syriacs’ is an evolution of ‘their’ old Assyrian
3. Yonan & Assyrianists
Citing missionary G.P. Badger in 1842 (who published The Nestorians
and their Rituals, 2 vols. in London, 1852) that the East-Syriacs
(i.e. ‘Nestorians’ and Chaldeans; cf. n.4) were “die einzigen
überlebenden Reste von Assyrien und Babylon,” Yonan further
explains: “Die westsyrischen Jakobiten dagegen werden von einigen
Forschern dieser Zeit als ‘Aramäer’ angesehen [sic].
Als allgemeine Bezeichnung kann als
gesichert angesehen werden, daß
die Namen ‘Christen’ (mshihaye) oder
dessen Synonym ‘Syrer’ (Suraye,
suriani) innerhalb aller Syrischer Kirchen verbreitet waren”
(19-20). As previously stated,
the term ‘Syriac’, the ‘common name’ of the Syriac church communities,
is not synonymous to ‘Christian’ (at least not with respect to the Syro-Mesopotamian
Syriacs). Further, it is worth accentuating that Yonan writes that there
were researchers in the 19th century who considered the West-Syriacs
as Arameans. She continues: “Der Name
‘Assyrer’ wurde also von außen herangetragen” (sic) (20).
A bitter statement for Assyrianists, indeed. It is
even more explicitly stated by Yonan that the name ‘Assyrian’ was
given by Westerners first to the ‘Nestorians’ on p. 154, where we
read: “Der nunmehr zur Nationalbezeichnung gewordene Name ‘Assyrer’,
war ja zuerst den nestorianischen Christen von Missionaren,
Archäologen und Reisenden gegeben worden.” If truth be told,
this statement is widely accepted in academia.
Assyrianists, however, reject the fact that the name ‘Assyrians’ was
reinvented in the 19th century by Westerners. They also
repeatedly deny that the term was originally applied to the ‘Nestorian’
community and that only since the late 19th and early 20th
century on this label was adopted by a handful of individuals from the
other Syriac communities; the latter is true, but due to infection of
Furthermore, many ardent Assyrianists even fiercely reject their Aramean
heritage. This is ironical, because their very own forefathers, the ones
who were not affected by assyrianism, “quite frequently” (see 2B,
above) boasted of their Aramean identity in the
pre-19th century era.
matter of fact, many Syriac teachers still educate their students with
the notion that in the books of their ancestors, their genealogy is
traced back to Aram, the son of Shem, and that they were previously
known as Arameans. Note, for instance, the statement of Mor Michael
(†1199), one of the greatest Syriac-Orthodox historians ever. One of the
appendixes to his impressive chronicle he introduced as follows: “[… t]he
kingdoms which have been established in Antiquity by our race, (that of)
the Aramaeans, namely the descendants of Aram, who were called Syrians
to their irredentist views, ‘Assyrian’ jingoists habitually consider all
the regions in (northern) Mesopotamia, including Tur ‘Abdin, as the
original heartland of ancient Assyria. It naturally speaks for itself
that this is a blatant distortion of
historical facts. For the “central Assyrian homeland…was a
very small country. It was no bigger than…Wales, or Palestine [sic]…Basically
Assyria was the land along the middle Tigris. Its northern limit was
just north of Mosul”;
we are not interested here in the evolution of the city of ‘Ashshur’
into a country ‘Assyria’ that finally annexed foreign lands to become a
large ‘Assyrian’ empire. Although Yonan does not mention anything
explicit concerning the core land of Assyria, from the context one may
nevertheless understand that even Tur-‘Abdin and its so-called
“syrisch-orthodoxen Assyrer” (Assyrer, 13) originally did
belong to the central homeland of Assyria.
4 Rudolf Macuch: a Great Scholar, her “verehrter
Lehrer” (Journalismus, p. IV).
Yonan described herself proudly as a student of the great scholar Rudolf
Macuch (1919-1993) to whom she
dedicated her Journalism in 1985. In her other book, Holocaust
(1989), Macuch himself even wrote a preface. Macuch was indeed one
of the leading authorities of the past century in Hebrew, Aramaic and
Arabic Studies. He mastered many languages, among which the dialect of
the East-Syriacs. In my opinion, Yonan simply used the status of Macuch
in order to give her books more credibility. As great as this scholar
was, yet the pupil does not share the contrasting convictions of her
master on the historical identity of the Syriac people.
long-life researches of Macuch have not only led him to conclude that
the appellation ‘Assyrian’ in reference to the Syriacs is a modern
invented one; along with other scholars,
Macuch, too, did use the term sometimes for the sake of convenience with
respect to the ‘Nestorians’. To Macuch, the Syriacs unequivocally trace
their lineal origins back to the ancient Arameans. About six years
before his death, he wrote
that the names ‘Chaldeans’ and ‘Assyrians’ displayed an “artificial
nature” (817). “The development of the modern concept of
‘Assyrians’ among these people themselves,” Macuch continued,
“began with Botta’s excavation of the palace of Sargon II in Khorsabad
(1843), followed by Layard’s discovery of Nineveh. This research opened
the eyes, not only of the West, but also of the ethnically nameless
Aramean population in these regions which had been satisfied to
identify themselves by religious denominations” (818). Regarding the
frequently mentioned linguistic theory of Assyrianists, viz. that the
term ‘Sur(y)aye/Syriacs’ purportedly derives from ‘Aturaye/Assyrians’,
this expert in Semitic linguistics remarked: “This simple
philological equation is doubtful” (818). “This misleading term
[sc. ‘Assyrian’],” Macuch concluded, “is also applied
to the literature” (822). And even to the (spoken) Aramaic language
in general, including both the modern dialects and ‘(Classical) Syriac’,
as we have shown above. Moreover, just recently we could read in the
media that many Assyrianists even dared to call the reconstructed
Aramaic used in “The Passion of the Christ” movie ‘Assyrian’.
few scholars can claim to have put so much efforts in researching the
modern writings of the present-day ‘Assyrians’ as Macuch did. His book
Geschichte der spät- und neusyrischen Literatur [History of
the Late and Modern Syriac Literature] (Berlin, New York:
Walter de Gruyter, 1976)
remains hitherto a true gold mine for scholars, students and laymen
alike. Already in this book we can hear Macuch admonishing his readers
that just as ‘Phoenicians’ would be an inappropriate name for the modern
Lebanese people and their Arabic dialect, ‘Assyrians’ likewise does not
suit the Syriacs and their language “Neusyrisch/ sureth” either
(90). Macuch also provides us with conclusive proofs that shortly after
World War I attempts were being made by the “zunehmenden
Nationalbewegung” to transform the name of the people and their
language. That is, from “mellat suryeta/ Syriac millet” to
“umta atoreta / Assyrian nation,” and from “lishana
suryaya/ Syriac language” to “lishana atoraya /
Assyrian language” (e.g., pp. 89, 206 and 233). Indeed, serious
efforts to rewrite the history of the Syriacs, or Arameans, followed
soon and, evidently, still continue until the present day.
furthermore utilized expressions such as “Syro-Aramean Christians”
(89) in his writings. In the very same quoted work, he stated that “Tur
‘Abdin has a history of one and a half millennia before the
conversion of its Aramean inhabitants to Christianity and is
mentioned in several Assyrian records, such as Adadninari I (1305-1274)
and Salmanassar I (1274-1244), in which wine regions, especially the
good wine of the Mount Izala [Turo d-Izlo], a name still used for
the southern part of Tur ‘Abdin, is mentioned” (92).
5. Concluding remarks
reiterate that it is not my intention to smear anyone. Neither is the
objective of this paper to disparage the otherwise fine books published
by Gabriele Yonan. On the contrary. As long as they are put in their
proper context, I even recommend them. By contrast, I am of the opinion
that scholars like Yonan
should, and even have to, understand why these kind of apologetic papers
originate: having read her books, I felt morally obliged to produce the
purpose of this article was to criticize the views of Yonan pertaining
to her historical portrayal of the Syriacs and their identity in
accordance with the academic consensus. Indisputably, the Syriacs can
trace their origins back to the Arameans of old. The few scholars quoted
in this paper, and there are many others which have been left out, claim
that the connection between the Syriacs and the Assyrians of antiquity
is artificial and unsubstantial.
date, it remains the challenge for scholars to prove the (large scale)
continuation of the Assyrian people after the fall of their
empire in 612(-605) B.C. until the early centuries A.D. Only after this
has been done sufficiently and successfully, experts could investigate a
possible linkage, in all its dimensions, between the pagan Assyrians and
the Christian Syriacs.
my opinion, scholars such as Gabriele Yonan do not give justice to the
objective history and identity of the Syriacs.
Despite the lack of historical references, Yonan is determined to speak
about a ‘nation’ that traces its origins back to the Assyrians,
Chaldeans and Arameans. Yet, she seldom, if ever at all, speaks or
writes about ‘Chaldeans’ or ‘Arameans’! It is to be noticed that she
writes almost exclusively about ‘Assyrians’ (e.g., ‘Assyrian
nation’) and only rarely she utilizes an ambiguous compound name, like
in ‘Assyrian-Suryoyo people’.
Finally, this ‘nation’ she is talking about exists of people who are
still known in their Aramaic vernaculars as ‘Suryoye/Sur(y)aye’:
an appellation which Yonan acceptably translates with ‘Syrer/Syriacs’,
but erroneously equates with ‘Christians’. The name truly reflects an
ethno-cultural identity, the very basic Aramean identity of the
remains the question concerning the future course of the Syriacs that is
intriguing. Due to the Arab and Muslim associations of the modern
meaning of ‘Syrians’, the Syriac-Orthodox Church has already opted for
‘Syriacs’ as a self-designation in English (cf. n.5). The Chaldean
Church promotes the ‘Chaldean’ name, while the ‘Nestorian’ Church
a few out of many central questions are: do the Syriac people want to
be(come) a nation? If indeed so, what transcending, unifying
name will they decide to adopt for their future nation? Based on which
determining identifying factors (e.g., ethnic, cultural, linguistic or
perhaps even ideological) will they build their nation? Let one thing be
clear at least. Individuals do not have the right to create a nation
without the consensus of the people that are being nationalized. Sadly,
the vast majority of the common people do not even have the foggiest
idea regarding the things that are published about them in the books and
in the media.
Two men are of the same nation if and only if they share the same
culture, where culture in turn means a system of ideas and signs and
associations and ways of behaving and communicating.
Two men are of the same nation if and only if they recognize each
other as belonging to the same nation. In other words,
nations maketh man.
‘Suryoye/Sur(y)aye’ share enough binding elements and there are adequate
identity markers that can unite them. If Assyrianists and Syriacs desire
to become one nation, whether under an Aramean, Assyrian,
Chaldean or Syriac umbrella, it is really about time for a serious
dialogue. If each group persistently continues its own nation-building
project, accompanied with self-invented theories propagated through
different channels (to which apologetic critiques as the present article
can be expected); at best we either will end up as three distinct
political entities or, in the worst scenario, the extinction of the
identity of all three groups will only remain a matter of time. So let
us all act wise and decide our common future today!
After I finished my critique, my attention was drawn to an article,
which affirms my concerns. See Paul Menebröcker’s
“Die Syrisch-Orthodoxe Kirche und die Assyrische Universalallianz:
Kritische Anmerkungen zum Werk Gabriele Yonans ‘Assyrer heute: Kultur,
Sprache Nationalbewegung der aramäisch sprechenden Christen im Nahen
Osten’,” published in 1979. Republished at
After a schism
took place within the ‘Nestorian Church /(Old) Church of the East’
in 1968, the group that adopted the new calendar was finally about
to change its former official name into the ‘Assyrian Church
of the East’ in 1976. Thenceforth both its religious followers and
their neo-Aramaic dialects were, more than before, bestowed the
historically unfounded designation ‘Assyrian’ by writers and the
A.D. Smith, “Gastronomy or geology? The role of nationalism in the
reconstruction of nations,” in Nations and Nationalism 1:1
(1994), p. 19.
(1964) was translated from Russian into German and published in 1978
his Grammatik der modernen assyrischen Sprache (Neuostaramäisch).
The first subtitle
in this book strikingly starts with: “Die gegenwärtige Verbreitung
der Aramäer und der aramäischen Dialekte” (11).
This scholar calls the
modern East-Aramaic dialect ‘Assyrian’ simply because its
speakers are occasionally known as ‘Assyrians’.
But it is really Assyrianists who pressure objective scholars to
refer to them and their language as ‘Assyrian’.
The speakers of these
modern East-Aramaic dialects, Tsereteli further averred on p.
13, “sind als Syrer, selten als Aramäer (ausschließlich
in der wissenschaftlichen Literatur) sowie als Assyrer bekannt.”
From late 18th
century Georgian archives, Tsereteli (“Die Assyrer in der
Korrespondenz des Königs Irakli II von Georgien,” in Oriens
Christianus 80 (1996), pp. 167-176) noted several years later
that East-Syriacs who moved to East-Georgia in the 18th
and 19th centuries, were called ‘Assyrians’ in
Georgian. Alas, these six documents from 1769-70 are not
available in Aramaic, the native language of this émigré group; for
their patriarchal titles before 1769 A.D., cf. particularly Joseph (op.
cit., n.7), p. 4 n.19, pp. 6f and p. 7 n.28. It is not
inconceivable that this Georgian name can be discussed
similarly as Joseph (op. cit., n.7), p. 20, explained the
resembling name in Armenian. Moreover, these records and the
deductions drawn from them ultimately pertain to this émigré group.
P. Crone and M.
Cook, Hagarism. The Making of the Islamic World (Cambridge
University Press, 1977),
p. 196 n.149.
Joseph, op. cit.
(n.7), p. 27
from a personal
letter written by P. Crone (dated June 11, 1997), wherein she
reemphasized her and Cook’s view as expressed in Hagarism,
twenty years before: “Of course the Nestorians were Arameans.”
For ‘Nestorians’, see n.4.
This actually still is the self-designation among many East-Arameans
and simply means ‘Syriacs’ (cf. n.5), not ‘Christians’. Its
equivalent in Tur ‘Abdin Aramaic, however, is ‘Suryoye’ (singular ‘Suryoyo’).
We further emphasize that in the Aramaic idiom of Tur ‘Abdin,
‘suroye’ (sing. ‘suroyo’) is, in fact, a synonym for
‘Christians’! Cf., e.g., O. Jastrow, Lehrbuch der Turoyo-Sprache
(Wiesbaden, 1992), pp. 145 and 149f.
Quoted and translated by L. van Rompay, “Jacob of Edessa and the
early history of Edessa,” in G.J. Reinink & A.C. Klugkist (eds.),
After Bardaisan: Studies on Continuity and Change in Syriac
Christianity in Honour of Professor Han J. W. Drijvers
(Groningen, 1999), p. 277.
Cf. J. Joseph, “Assyria and Syria: Synonyms?” in
and my “Assyria and
Syria: Synonyms?” in [the Swedish magazine] Bahro Suryoyo
Nos. 1-3 (2001); both refuted an article of Prof. R.N. Frye (see
Cf. S. Brock’s “Review Article” of this book in Journal of
Semitic Studies 23 (1978), pp. 129-138.