Since the establishment of the second Church of the East patriarchate at Qudshanis, the mountain Assyrians of Turkey and those of the plain of Urmia owed their allegiance to Mar Shimun.
The patriarchal cathedral of Mar Shalita was completed in 1689 AD, and about a dozen bishops and metropolitans were in communion with this patriarch. In the meanwhile, the Mar Elia line of Alqosh ruled the Assyrians of the Nineveh plain and its environs. By 1830, the old Mar Elia line of Alqosh became entirely Roman Catholic and the sole ‘Nestorian’ patriarchate was ruled by the Mar Shimun dynasty.
With the advent of the First World War in 1914, the Assyrian Church and Nation suffered greatly at the hands of the Muslim powers of the day. In 1918, the catholicos-patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimun XIX (1887-1918) was martyred by the Kurdish chieftain Ismail Agha (Simko), and the Assyrians were left at the mercy of the Ottoman Turks and their Kurdish neighbors. With the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, the Assyrians were left without a homeland of their own and the promises of the Western superpowers were forgotten and left unfulfilled. In 1920, the majority of the Assyrians were moved to the Bakuba Camp near Baghdad, being moved from Urmia, Iran. They lived in horrible, sub-human conditions; tens of thousands lost their lives along the way to Bakuba from 1918 to 1920.
Successively, the Assyrian people were able to recover themselves after the creation of the independent state of Iraq, however, without any claim to the land and home of their ancient ancestors. Later, in 1933 another wave of atrocities were perpetrated against the Assyrians of Iraq, this time on the part of the Iraqi monarchy. A group of Assyrians were forced to take refuge in the then-French colony of Syria. A confrontation with Iraqi forces caused the death of some few thousands of Assyrians. Those that crossed over were settled along the Khabour River. Today there are some 33 Assyrian villages along both banks of the Khabour River.
The Assyrians in the United States at this time were quite sparse, and number a few thousands in the whole country. The late Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII (1908-1975), patriarch of the Assyrian Church, was exiled along with the patriarchal household after the 1933 massacre and settled for a time on the Island of Cyprus by the British.
The patriarch then moved to the US, settling first in Chicago, in 1940. From then on, the seat of the catholicos-patriarch of the Assyrian Church would remain in the diaspora.
The early 1970’s and 1990’s—after the first Gulf War—saw a great wave of migration of Assyrians from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. These migrations included the establishment of a large Assyrian diaspora predominantly in the United States and in the various countries of Europe as well. Outside the homeland, churches and cultural associations were established during this period. Various parishes were organized into dioceses and episcopal sees were established in the West for the first time. These communities continue to grow in number and affluence.
In 1975, the patriarchal see became vacant with the death of Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII. The Assyrian bishops gathered in London, England in 1976 and elected to the patriarchal throne Mar Dinkha, the then bishop of Iran; the new patriarch took the name of Mar Dinkha IV. The newly elected patriarch made immediate contact with the Assyrians living in the countries of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon soon after his election. The patriarchal see was moved to Chicago in 1980, where it remains today.
The Assyrian Church and Nation is a thriving community found in all the major cities of North America, numbering some 300,000. Assyrians have also settled in Europe and other
parts of Asia. Thus, the great majority of the Assyrians are to be found in the diaspora rather than in their ancestral homeland of Mesopotamia—modern-day Iraq. Centuries of persecution and forced migration have decimated the once-numerous populace, however the community continues to preserve its ancient history and heritage.
Today, the descendents of the ancient Assyrians who populated the ‘Cradle of Civilization’ are found all over the globe. In the U.S., they have proved to be integral part of the patchwork of nationalities and ethnic groups of which this great nation is comprised. The struggle for their nationalistic, cultural and religious rights in their homeland continues. Notwithstanding, the Assyrians are hopeful for a brighter and a more fair future; the ‘flickering light’ shall indeed not be extinguished!
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