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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 9 The Twenty-First Century around the World. The Diaspora



The Twenty-First Century around the World. The Diaspora

After the political events of the twentieth century that once again affected the history of the Church of the East so dramatically, the Assyrians in the Middle East were to be found principally in two countries, Iraq and Syria. From the 1980s the Christians, among them the Assyrians, started to leave Iraq as a result of a succession of wars: the Iran-Iraq war (1980–8), the Anfal campaign (1988) and the First Gulf War (1990–1). The pressures to emigrate have continued as a result of recent developments in the political situation of the Middle East, from the invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2003 and the attacks of Islamic State (IS) until the latter’s fall, in Iraq in December 2017 and in Syria in March 2019.

Since the beginning of the twenty-first century the wars that have raged in the Middle East have affected Christians as a whole, whose numbers have been drastically reduced. In Iraq they were about 1.5 million (3% of the population) before the First Gulf War in 1991. Now their number is estimated to be less than 300,000. In Syria, before 2011, Christians represented at most from 8 to 10% of the population (about 1.6–2 million). There are no reliable statistics for 2019, but an optimistic estimate is that their present number does not exceed one million. This drastic demographic decline has of course affected...

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