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The Assyrian Church of the East

History and Geography

Christine Chaillot

The cradle of the Church of the East was in Mesopotamia (between the Tigris and the Euphrates), where it developed its first centre at Seleucia-Ctesiphon, then the capital of the great Persian Empire and today an archaeological site to the south of Baghdad. From the very beginnings of Christianity until the fourteenth century, this Church experienced a remarkable expansion in Asia, its missionaries carrying the Gospel from Persia to India, via the Persian Gulf, and even as far as China. The Church of the East reached China as early as the seventh century via Central Asia and the celebrated Silk Road that linked China to the Mediterranean world. Much later, in the late fourteenth century, the invasions of the Mongol conqueror, Timur Lang (Tamerlane), across Asia brought about a great decline of the Church of the East. Eventually, after the genocide suffered by Christians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, and the massacres that followed in Persia, the Church of the East and its people were on the verge of extinction. In 1940 the patriarchal seat was moved to Chicago (in the United States) and then in September 2015 to Erbil (in northern Iraq). Many of the faithful have left the Middle East and have formed diaspora communities throughout the world. The history of Christianity in the Middle East and well beyond, in Central and Eastern Asia, is very little known. In this book, the reader is invited to travel in time and space and undertake the fascinating discovery of a very ancient apostolic Church, the Church of the East, whose two-thousand year history constitutes an indispensable chapter in the history of the universal Church.
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Chapter 7 The Nineteenth Century



The Nineteenth Century

Following successive persecutions, the most violent being that of the era of Timur Lang (Tamerlane) in the fourteenth century, the faithful of the Church of the East were obliged to seek refuge in north-eastern Mesopotamia, in the region lying between Mosul (in northern Iraq) and Lake Van (in south-east Turkey). In the nineteenth century they were therefore to be found established partly on Ottoman territory and partly on Persian. In the Ottoman Empire the Assyrian populations extended from the town of Amadiya (in the south) to the environs of the town of Van (in the north). They were mingled with a large Kurdish majority and some Armenians. In the Persian Safavid Empire, the Assyrians lived in Azerbaijan (today in north-west Iran), especially at Urmia, their principal centre, where they formed a good proportion of the population, and in the surrounding area. They also lived in the highlands of Tergavar, Mergavar and Baranduz (to the south of Urmia). There were still some Assyrians at Maragha, the city which the Mongol khan Hulagu (d. 1265) had made his capital on the eastern shore of Lake Urmia. We should not forget that there was also a small community of Christians originating from the Church of the East in Kerala (in southwest India).

In the mountainous region of Hakkari (in the south-east of modern Turkey) most of the villages where the faithful of the Church of the East lived were along the valleys...

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