FOR MODERN-DAY ASSYRIANS THEIR PRESENT IS UNDER ATTACK FROM ISIS, AS IS THEIR PAST

Spectator, UK
Feb 27 2015

by Ed West

The historian Tom Holland tweeted this morning: 'What #ISIS are doing
to the people & culture of #Assyria is worthy of the Nazis. None of
us can say we didn't know.'

He linked to a Washington Post article about how the Islamist group
had kidnapped at least 200 Assyrian Christians from their homes in
north-east Syria, and may well be preparing to murder them. In another
tweet he showed a video by Assyriology professor Simo Parpola on the
history of the ancient Assyrians, from whom today's Assyrians claim
descent, the Finnish academic warning that their history and culture
is being deliberately destroyed.

On top of the kidnappings, yesterday footage emerged of Isis men
smashing up Assyrian artefacts in Mosul, northern Iraq, the biblical
Nineveh. Some of these items date back as far as the 8th century BC,
before archaic Greece had entered its classical glory (although at
least some are thought to be replicas, the Winged Bull is thought to be
the original). Three thousand years they have stood - then destroyed
in an instant. (Ironically, according to Paul Kriwaczek's Babylon,
the Assyrians invented the veil for women, and the Muslim Arabs only
picked up the idea later.)

There are a few thousand Assyrians in Britain, many of whom were given
right of entry because their grandfathers fought alongside the British
in two world wars. They are immensely proud of their heritage, and fond
of the British Museum where so much of it remains safe; can one imagine
how they feel watching footage of these savages destroying what their
ancestors built and which they hoped to pass on to their descendants?

There are currently Assyrian troops fighting alongside the Kurds on
the front line with Isis, but they are short of weapons. They say
they have got little military support from the West, just as they
have received little political support in the past; before the latest
crisis broke out Assyrians in Iraq campaigned for a safe haven in the
Nineveh Plains where they and other minorities, namely the Yazidi,
could protect themselves inside the country. Without support from
the Americans, the Baghdad government would not agree, and in light
of recent events it seems like a reasonable request now.

The Syrian front line is not far from Edessa in modern-day Turkey,
which was in the second century capital of the small Aramaic-speaking
kingdom of Osrhoene. Legend has it that its incurably ill King Abgar
V heard of Jesus of Nazareth and wrote a letter offering to let him
stay in the country, as he was being persecuted at home. Jesus replied
that he couldn't go but he would send over his apostle Thaddeus, who
arrived after the crucifixion and cured the king of his disease. The
historical reality is that Christianity had reached Edessa very early,
most likely in the first century, and in the second century its King
Abgar VIII converted.

For the modern-day Assyrians, Christianity therefore plays a central
role in their cultural identity, but so too does the heritage of the
ancients; and just as their present is under attack, so is their past.

But what about their future? A century ago Edessa still had a thriving
Christian population, but then came the 1915 genocide in which large
numbers of Assyrians were wiped out alongside Armenians and Greeks. A
century later history appears to be repeating itself.

For Tweets and videos go to
http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/culturehousedaily/2015/02/for-modern-day-assyrians-their-present-is-under-attack-as-is-their-past/