Assyria - Islam

The rise of Islam was propagated through fire and iron. All the non muslims had two options: to change their faith or to die. So the great majority of the populations became muslims. The Eastern Empire of Constantinople managed to drive back the muslims in 8th century and protected the Christianity of Europe. But Assyrians who lived in the center of Islamic expansionism suffered a lot.

During the Patriarchate of Mar Khnanishu I (686 -701 A.D.), the Caliph Abd al-Malik imprisons and tortures the Patriarch and places another bishop in his place. Abd al-Malik was the first to insist on the collection of the poll tax from the Christians. The Christians were persecuted and their churches were destroyed. On 737, the Caliph Mahdi decrees that all churches built since the Muslim conquest be destroyed. Over 5000 Christians from Halab were forced to accept Islam or death.

During the Patriarchate of Mar Theodosius(852-858 A.D.), the caliph Mutawakkil persecuted the Christians. He imprisoned the Patriarch on the false suspicion of spying for the Byzantines, and he decreed that the Christians should wear special badges as a sign of degradation. On 873 the famous Assyrian physician and translator, Hunayn Bar Iskhaq, was executed by the order of Caliph Mutawakkil.

On 1014, during the reign of Caliph Qadir, the Muslims sacked the houses of the Christians in Baghdad, and destroyed and burned down many of their churches. The Caliph, at the same time, destroyed the church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, and other churches in the same city. The Caliph ordered the town criers or heralds in each place to announce that, according to the will of the ruler, all his subjects should embrace his religion. The Christians and the Jews who did so should be rewarded; if they resisted, and did not change their religion, they should be punished. They were not allowed to have rings on their right hand, nor ride on a horse (only on donkeys). If they disregarded the order, their whole property was forfeited to the state, and they were expelled from the country. Many Christians emigrated to the Roman (Byzantine) territory, others embraced Islam, but a great number remained and defied the ordinance. They wore crosses of gold and silver around their neck to show their religion. The Caliph ordered that every Christian who wore a cross of gold or silver should have it exchanged for a wooden one, weighing 4 pounds. If they resisted, they should be put to death.

On 1261, thousands of Assyrians fled the Nineveh plains villages of Bartillah, Bakhdida (Qaraqosh), Badna, Basihra, Karmlis towards Arbil to escape the overwhelming numbers of Kurds who were ordered by King Salih Ismail to emigrate from the mountains of Turkey to the Nineveh plains. The villages were looted and thousands who did not reach Arbil were butchered by the newcomers. The nuns' monastery in Bakhdida (Qarqosh) was invaded and it's inhabitants were brutally massacred.

On 1310 the Arabs, with the help of the Mongols, captured Arbela and massacred all of the inhabitants that could not be sold as slaves. Here is a description of the event: "And they (Assyrians) went out at daybreak on the Sabbath, with their sons, and daughters, and wives, without any weapon, and without a sword, and without a knife, and when the wicked people of the Arabs saw that they had come down, they were filled with a fierce passion, and they drew their swords, and they slew them from the greatest of them to the least, without pity and without fear". Of those who held out in the fortress: "Famine vanquished them completely! Widows stretched out their hands and wept, and there was none to bind up what was broken. And there was absolutely no one to bury the dead. Who was there who had strength enough to dig a grave? Orphans died on the dung heaps. Others fell down dead in their houses and dried up, and others hurled themselves down from the wall, and those (Arabs) who were below received them on their swords, and hacked them to pieces. Their visages are blacker than ashes, and they cannot be recognized. Their skins have shrunk on their bones, and have dried up, and become like wood. Far happier are those who have been slain by the sword than those who have been slain by hunger".

The Coming of Timurlane. A Turkish tribal leader who claimed decent from Genghis Khan, Timur established his power in 1369 by usurping Chagatni Khan in Samarkand. By 1380, he had directed his armies to Persia. Thirteen years later, he established his reign over Mesopotamia and Persia. After taking the city of Isfahan he ordered the construction of pyramids of over 70000 human heads, and on the ruins of Baghdad his army built a pyramid of 90000 heads. The Assyrian Christian city of Tikrit was besieged for weeks by an army of 72000. As soon as it fell to Timur's army the entire city was devastated with its inhabitants killed. Timur continued to march north and plundered and murdered thousands of Christians on the way. When all was done, the Assyrian Christian empire was left in ruins, with their Church of the East pushed back to Assyria and its mountains. Before the end of the 14th century Christians had practically ceased to exist in Persia, Central Asia, and China. In 1392-93, Timurlane captured Baghdad, and nameless atrocities were committed by his soldiers in the city; the Christians who managed to escape fled for their lives to the mountains of Kurdistan and the districts near Mosul.

October, 1829. The Kurdish leader, Rwandez, made an alliance with mayor Sifdeen against the Assyrians. He did not harm the Assyrians of Alqush and pursued those of the Syriac Orthodox Church. After crossing the Tigris, they assaulted every church and neighboring village. Among the well-known victims are: Reverend Shimun, Deacon Abd Ishou, Deacon Murad, who was slaughtered while praying, Deacon Bahnam along with his 80 young students. The first village that was attacked was Bit-Zabda, where 200 men were killed. Subsequently, the Kurds stormed the Asfas village, first slaying the leader, Deacon Rais Arabo, and then Reverend Aziz. Eighty children fleeing to a nearby valley were attacked and murdered by the pursuing Kurds. The young girls of the village were unclothed. The attractive girls were enslaved while the others were shot on-site. The notebooks of fleeing victims were torn and flung out of houses and churches into the streets. The attackers then moved to Nisibin (on the border of Turkey and Syria) and repeated similar atrocities.

1842. Badr Khan Bey, A Hakkari Kurdish Amir, combined with other Kurdish forces led by Nurallah, attacked the Assyrians, intending to burn, kill, destroy, and, if possible, exterminate the Assyrians race from the mountains. The fierce Kurds destroyed and burned whatever came within their reach. An indiscriminate massacre took place. The women were brought before the Amir and murdered in cold blood. The following incident illustrates the revolting barbarity: the aged mother of Mar Shimun, the Patriarch of the Church of the East, was seized by them, and after having practiced on her the most abominable atrocities, they cut her body into two parts and threw it into the river Zab, exclaiming, "go and carry to your accursed son the intelligence that the same fate awaits him." Nearly ten thousand Assyrians were massacred, and as large a number of women and children were taken captive, most of whom were sent to Jezirah to be sold as slaves, to be bestowed as presents upon the influential Muslims.

On January 1, 1895. Kurdish soldiers attacked and butchered 13,000 men and women in the city of Urfa (Edessa). This time the attackers were indiscriminate, slaughtering Assyrians of various churches. One soldier, Sheik Hassan, boasted that he alone killed 40 Assyrians during that day. The Kurdish soldiers besieged the city to prevent Christians from escaping, and slowly entered the village and murdered every Assyrian in site.

Assyrian International News Agency