The Professor & The
Johny Messo (2004)
would an Assyrian professor … respond to what an Assyrian nationalist
would say,” wrote Mr. Aprim last week in Zindamagazine (Issue 36: 20
October) in his response to the comments of Emeritus Professor Joseph in
this magazine (Issue 35: 18 October).
the same token, one can ask what reasons nationalists have to question
the profound researches of distinguished scholars as regards the history
and identity of nationalists. Needless to say, both the scholar and the
nationalist are equally entitled to their opinions. When it comes to the
writing of history, however, both are bound to the same objective
criteria. The author’s “intellectual integrity,” to use Prof. Joseph’s
words, being one of them.
is in this respect that I can understand the sincere concerns of Prof.
Joseph, who probably saw himself morally obliged to reprove the biased
methods of Mr. Aprim, who profiles himself as a “nationalist” as well as
an “author and historian” (see some of his
why did the “author and historian” Fred Aprim had to resort to serious
accusations, indecent and unfounded as they were,
in his reply to John Joseph instead of sharing with the Zinda readers a
sincere, constructive and educational examination of Joseph’s
convictions? Perhaps all of us, including Prof. Joseph himself, could
learn from Mr. Aprim and modify our views. Thus, I could only deduce
from Mr. Aprim’s reply that his empty rhetoric and his practice of ad
hominem arguments debunked his very own intellectual shortcomings.
Errors & Cited Scholars
Since Joseph has convincingly corrected some of Aprim’s remarks, this
writer would like to point to other uncomfortable statements that were
embedded in Aprim’s cited response.
Aprim: “First, in his 1961 book “The Nestorians and Their Muslim
Neighbors”, page ix, Joseph wrote that the name Assyrian did not appear
before the 19th century, and in page 14 he attributed the emergence of
this name to archaeological finds and Western missionaries who brought
the name to the local people.”
whole sentence is quoted almost verbatim
by the copycat Fred Aprim from Prof. Frye’s article (see below) without
giving Prof. Frye the credit he deserves. Still, a fairer representation
of Joseph’s studies would mention that he rather attempted to
objectively examine the use of the appellation ‘Assyrian’ throughout the
different centuries when this name did appear in different contexts – to
be sure, even “before the 19th century.”
Besides, has not Dr. Gabriele Yonan, as well as many other reputable
scholars, expressed similar remarks? Yonan
wrote that the name ‘Assyrian’ was suggested by outsiders (read:
Westerners) and that this nomenclature, when it turned into a national
designation, was first applied to the ‘Nestorian’ Christians by
“missionaries, archaeologists and travelers.”
Regarding the referenced article of Prof. Frye (see n. 2), the readers
may also be referred to the comments of
Prof. Joseph and
the present writer. Moreover, as highlighted in my evaluation, Prof.
Frye stated (JNES, 1992:282): “The Greeks never use the term ‘Aramaic’
or ‘Aramaean’ but only ‘Syrian’, while the ancient Hebrews did use the
word Aram for Syria.” Peculiarly, though, this quotation could not be
found in the same article that was later distributed on the internet or
in the republished version in the JAAS.
Joseph’s assertion concerning the Aramaization of the ancient Assyrians,
which is well-documented, was rejected by Mr. Aprim, saying that “Prof.
Joseph is not [an] expert in ancient history; he is not an Assyriologist
and his information here is wrong.”
Aprim’s perception may be true, but in that context Joseph really
trusted upon a famous writing by a highly regarded Assyriologist. Prof.
for that matter, who, unlike Prof. Joseph, is a renown “expert in
ancient history” and a leading Assyriologist, similarly declared that
the Assyrians “were capable of constant Assyrianization of foreigners
only in their core country, namely Assyria proper and certain adjacent
regions…whereas in the periphery…the West-Semitic (practically Aramean)
majority prevailed and even increased in the last generation of the
Assyrian empire…There is no doubt [sic] that after the fall of the
Assyrian empire Assyria proper has been completely Aramaicized within a
Perhaps we have to assume that this confirmation, founded upon
first-hand evidence, also must be incorrect according to Aprim’s
self-contradictory logic, which is hopefully not to be repeated:
“Nothing in the publication world, whether a book, an article, or a
piece of art, is objective. Every one in life has a mission and an
agenda and we manifest this agenda in our work.” If he really believes
so, then by what measures did Mr. Aprim condemn Prof. Joseph’s analyses
Without referring to any sources, Aprim further averred that “recent
discoveries show that Assyrian Akkadian language and the cuneiform
writing system was still in use well into Christianity. Who would use
Assyrian Akkadian but Assyrians?”
En passant, this is a similar argument as
the one put forward by
O.M. Gewargis in JAAS, p.86; see also Joseph’s notes in JAAS 17:1
(2003). If both these writers truly had a profound knowledge regarding
their self-confessed Assyrian history, they would have known that
Neo-Assyrian cuneiform, based on the latest findings, ceased to exist in
less than two decades after the fall of Nineveh.
Prof. Parpola (JAAS 12:2 :6) may convince both writers that after
600 B.C., “[c]uneiform writing (now in its Babylonian, Elamite and Old
Persian forms) continued to be used for monumental inscriptions.” Has
Mr. Aprim himself, who referred us to Prof. Simo Parpola as well as
Prof. Edward Y. Odisho, carefully read Parpola’s writings?
Regarding Prof. Parpola’s theories, Assyrian Zinda
contributor Francis Sarguis (Issue 21:
August 6, 2001) already observed that
“admiration for Dr. Parpola of Helsinki University seems to be avidly
[held] by a number of pop historians in the Assyrian community,
even if his thesis raises eyebrows among his academic peers.” (This line
reminds me of the words of
Dr. George Kiraz when he, too, criticized “Mr. Aprim’s pop
me recall to Mr. Aprim the conclusions of Prof. Odisho: “Nestorianism as
a religious identity seems to be a continuation of the ethnic and
historical presence of the remaining Assyrians and the Arameans with
whom they merged … [The] Christians of the highlands of Turkey and the
plains of Azerbaijan are historically affiliated with the ancient
population of that region, namely, the Assyrians and the Arameans.”
In my opinion, this view is basically not that far from what Joseph
(2000:32) concluded; even so, compare Joseph’s latest book (2000:27-29)
for a brief discussion of Odisho’s argumentation.
Prof. John Joseph Deserves Respect
reason I noted down these remarks has nothing to do with our deplorable
name issue as such, on the contrary; to my mind, this national dilemma
requires a practical, political solution. Nor am I interested in arguing
with Aprim about history. Especially because in his vision objective
history cannot be written and every writer seems to have his/her own
he wishes, Mr. Aprim – or other readers – may discuss our history with a
professionally accredited historian like Prof. John Joseph. The
Professor himself was even generous enough to send interested readers
pages from his book by e-mail. Thus, he indirectly invited those who do
not agree with him for an honest and intellectual debate about his own
deductions; even though Joseph’s study is extensive, one has to admit
that it is by no means a complete discussion of the respective
historical names that are used by our people today.
After I could not refrain from exposing Mr. Aprim’s bias à la
Joseph, my actual intention was, since nobody else did, to express my
opinion that Prof. Joseph really did not deserve an offensive response –
despite his personal convictions, which we all may, or may not, agree
think there are many among our people, even among the Zinda readers, who
have a one-sided view of Prof. Joseph. This is regrettable, because he
is often solely associated with his opinions regarding our historical
names, whilst his discussion of this subject does not even represent 15%
of his book that was published in 1961 and revised in 2000. What else do
his critics among our people know, or rather want to know, about this
member of the Syriac-Orthodox community, I can bear witness to the fact
that his Muslim-Christian relations and inter-Christian rivalries in
the Middle East: The case of the Jacobites in an age of transition
(1983) remains hitherto a lonely volume in academic libraries describing
in details the modern history of the ‘Suryoye’; I really would look
forward to an updated revision of this precious work as well.
here you have already a scholar who has written two priceless books
about the modern histories of the West- and East-Syriacs respectively.
Not just a scholar, but an intellectual who belongs to our very own
people and who has devoted a lifetime of study to the history of his
people. Now, if this remarkable achievement in itself does not suffice
to receive any appreciation or respect from ones own people, I truly
would like to know what does.
many Arameans/Syriacs, Assyrians or Chaldeans – be they nationalists or
be they scholars – can boast this same reputation as Prof. Joseph?
Moreover, when it comes to the portrayal or defending of our people in
the academic world, I believe I am correct when I say that Prof.
Joseph’s record speaks for itself.
for instance, his “The Turko-Iraqi Frontier and the Assyrians,” in J.
Kritzeck and R.B. Winder (eds.), The World of Islam: Studies in
honour of Philip K. Hitti (New York, 1959), pp. 255-270, or his
refutation in the International Journal of Middle East Studies 6
(1975), pp. 115-117, of a piece of writing written by a biased Iraqi
Professor, Khaldun S. Husry, who wrote about “The Assyrian Affair of
1933.” Also, a similar critique in Zinda (January 28, 2002), “Exploiting
the Assyrian presence in Iraq,” comes to mind in this regard.
Thus, I suggest Zindamagazine to interview Prof. Joseph so that the
readers can get an honest impression about this scholar, his intentions
and motivations – rather than having prejudiced people misinterpret or
even accuse him of many things for no sound reasons only because they
believe that he has a controversial view of our history. This is not to
say that people necessarily need to agree with him, for everyone
is entitled to his/her own way of thinking.
way of concluding my remarks, I would like to quote some of Dr. John
Pierre Ameer’s words taken from his critical but respectful peer review
of Joseph’s last book (JAAS 15:2 2001), p. 72: “The most important point
to make in this review is to encourage readers toward this outstanding
work of scholarship––scholars of the Middle East will find that it
contains a wealth of information, with comprehensive footnotes and a
bibliography as extensive as one would wish…For Assyrians of my
generation, my children’s generation, and my grandchildren’s generation,
this book is required. Nothing compares to it in presenting a clear,
detailed, and balanced narration and summary of our recent history.”
Kultur, Sprache, Nationalbewegung der aramäisch sprechenden Christen
im Nahen Osten
(Hamburg und Wien, 1978), p. 20 (“Der Name ‘Assyrer’ wurde also von
herangetragen”) and p. 154 (“Der nunmehr zur Nationalbezeichnung
gewordene Name ‘Assyrer’, war ja zuerst den nestorianischen Christen
von Missionaren, Archäologen und Reisenden gegeben worden”).
“The Ethno-Linguistic Character of the Jezireh and Adjacent Regions
in the 9th-7th centuries (Assyria Proper vs. Periphery),” in Mario
Liverani (ed.), Neo-Assyrian Geography (University of
Rome, 1995), p. 281.