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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 8 The Twentieth Century



The Twentieth Century

The Beginning of the Twentieth Century

At the beginning of the twentieth century the geographical area where the Christians of the Church of the East lived was limited principally to the mountain massif of Hakkari, situated today on the frontiers of south-east Turkey and northern Iraq. Apart from this area, leaving aside India, only the regions of Urmia (in the Persian Empire) and of Amadiya and Van and their environs (in the Ottoman Empire) held a substantial number of Assyrian Christians. In the Middle East in 1913, that is to say, on the eve of the First World War, their numbers are reckoned as follows: a little over 60,000 in the Ottoman Empire and 30,000 in the Persian Empire, a total of between 100,000 and 120,000 people, at that time still a little higher than the number of Christians of the Chaldean Catholic Church, who are estimated to have been about 100,000 in 1913. Just before the First World War the ecclesiastical centre of the Church of the East was still situated in the village of Kochanes (Hakkari), where the residence of the patriarch lay, on the south-east frontier of the Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey). On the eve of the First World War there were at most eight bishops of the Church of the East.

With regard to the internal politics of the Ottoman Empire, the beginning of the twentieth century was...

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