Excerpts from “Assyrians of Today, Their Problem, and A Solution”
William Daniel (1903–1988)
The following excerpts are republished from archived material. The text appeared online under “The Weakening Factor” on 17th February 2007 in Zinda Magazine.
The book, “Assyrians of Today, Their Problem, and A Solution” written by William Daniel in 1969, remains unpublished online.
Thus far the strongest blow to the [Assyrian] national unity was the religious splits that were born among them and which annihilated whatever unified strength they had left. Now they had nothing, not even a religious unity in favor of which they had abandoned all their earthly glory, military power and the severe discipline, which their forefathers had cultivated to the point of becoming their second nature. The only surviving shadow of orderliness was a thin fiber that was retained from the strong old disciplinary fabric and now was loosely introduced into the texture of ecclesiastic system. In a study of all important nations of the world we cannot fail to observe how much religious owes its growth to the political protection under the sunshine of which it thrives luxuriantly and under the refuge of which it reposes with security. We can imagine the conditions of the Assyrian religious campaigns of which the success depended solely on the virtuous conduct of its members plus the indulgent but unreliable mood of non-Christian powers that dominated them politically.
The advent of religious schism afforded abundant cause for internal strife. We might venture to say that the former warlike spirit was reborn and cultivated under a new banner. Now the campaigns were transferred from former military battlefields to the present religious arenas, from former strategic moves against invading armies and revolting nations to quarrels with own brethren because of dogmatic differences in common faith. Yes, the Assyrians had deliberately and imprudently submitted themselves to their last mortal blow.
During these times they identified themselves by their religious denominations. Now they chose to be called: -first, the Church of the East; later, Nestorians, then came Jacobites, Maronites, Malakites, etc. The terms Assyria and Babylon were obscenities not to be mentioned, leave alone not to be related to. Those people were heathens for they had made war on God’s chosen people.
The differences in dogmatic details of religious doctrine as existed among these different factions, resulted in bitter mutual hatred and violent desire to differentiate themselves from each other so categorically, as to even deny any earlier national relationship. The giant names of Assyria and Babylon sank into depths of oblivion and in their place schismatic appellations shot up like thorny bushes edging each other for self-prominence. Subsequent centuries found these factions drifted so far apart that a national relationship was, not only denied, but actually unknown; neither was any racial affinity recognized among the followers of the different churches. Probably, it would be more correct to say that they were so completely overwhelmed by religious domination that there was no room left for such a profane knowledge as ethnology. Much, much later their descendants would have a tough riddle to unravel.
The more the religious fire was fanned, the less consideration was given to material things, which resulted in serious shortages of necessities of life. The descendants of the two of the richest and mightiest empires often fed on misery and drank tears of bitterness. What with rough handling, submission to plunder and pillage, often they were reduced to the lowest dregs of poverty. So it is not surprising to learn what an easy prey they became to the hunters of Western World who filtered into the Middle and Near Eastern lands with their Christian missionary banners unfurled…
We paid the price of our ignorance and paid it dearly too, for we lost everything we had: -lives, homes, gardens, cattle and worst of all we lost footing with the powers in whose lands we had been living for centuries. Casualties during [the First World War] were estimated to be about 45% of the then existing population.
…The experience opened our eyes; we learned to differentiate between religious fervor and national zeal. Until then we had identified ourselves by our religious denominations plus a misnomer — SOORAYI — for which our thanks are tendered primarily to Greek historians and late to the foreign missionaries. But now a National identity began to shine like the Morning Star. Now the exhortations of personalities like Freidoun Atooraya, Benjamin Arsanis, Shlemon of Salamas and in the U.S. the fiery speeches of Yoel Warda and the revelatory pen of Yosep Malick began to make sense. Now the seed of Nationalism, whether for good or for bad, had been sown; but it still had to fight for existence among the deep rooted poisonous weeds of religious fanaticism and ignorant strong-headedness…Later the names of Professors Ashur Youssef, Naoum Faik, Dr. A.K. Youssef and last but not least Dr. David B. Perley…were added to the list of torch bearers…
But the power and control of the churches over the people stayed as firm as ever. The preacher’s authority was not, in the least bit, diminished.
Whereas in all the Christian world, preachers and devotees have begun to interpret the scriptures in a more practical manner, a way more compatible with the time; the majority of Assyrians accept the holy book literally instead of symbolically. The preacher’s command today, as it was centuries ago, stands supreme. Consequently, in spite of the awakening that caused a mild social upheaval, the power of Church is as firm as ever. One small breath of its representative is enough to deviate the successful sailing of any new social project. To the already existing chaos of religious split, one other social confusion had been added — a state of absence of purpose. One more dissolving element had sprung up, for besides churches against one another, now we had added one organization against another, one club or group fighting the other. But all these developments did not, in the least, interfere with the way of the preacher. The more the social chaos the stronger his position became…
…The average Assyrian of today knows everything; he cannot be taught, for he knows it already. If he sees that he doesn’t, then he loses interest; which attitude he might either betray by restlessness or he may be very blunt in expressing it, depending upon the level of his social culture. A man with knowledge of any kind is rarely accorded his rightful place or receives due consideration because everybody else is his equal, therefore, such a person is easily dispensable. Consequently, the latter, under such circumstances, has two alternatives — either forget Assyrian society and mingle with non-Assyrians, because they have a more agreeable yardstick for the measurement of meritorious values, or withdraw into his own shell and end his life in isolation. This adverse condition is caused by no other factor than the absence of a cultured and well organized system within our society.
A nation that has no home, no recognized head and no reliable social system will not be in a position to take an inventory of its assets and much less utilize them. Geniuses will be born and live in the very midst of the people, without the least awareness of their existence.