The Assyrian people or Assyrians, also known as Chaldeans, Syrians, or Syriacs, are a distinct ethnic group of the Middle East, whose roots reach to ancient Mesopotamia.
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Article 64, Section 2 of the Iranian Constitution says:
"The Zoroastrians and Jews will each elect one representative; Assyrian and Chaldean Christians will jointly elect one representative; and Armenian Christians in the north and those in the south of the country will each elect one representative."
Nathan Lamm, 03 April 2003
As I understand it, both Assyrians and Chaldeans are Christians and both use Syriac as their liturgical language. Assyrians are members of the Assyrian Church of the East, often referred to as the Nestorian Church, which is completely separate and independent of any other church. Chaldeans in the Iraqi and Iranian context are from the same historic community and use the same liturgy but have accepted the doctrines and authority of the Roman Catholic church -they are what is known as a "uniate" church, i.e., an eastern church in union with Rome. They are sometimes called Chaldean Catholics. If that's enough for you, stop here. If you want to peel the onion back one more layer, read on.
This all gets pretty complicated, but there are basically four groups of "Eastern" churches:
- the Orthodox...those who accept the doctrines defined by the seven ecumenical councils that took place between 325 and 787 A.D. and are in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
- the Nestorians or Assyrians...those churches mostly in Syria and eastward to India who split with the Orthodox mainstream at the Council of Ephesus in 431 over a now-obscure point concerning how the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ were mixed in one person. The Assyrian Church is totally independent of any other church.
- the Monophysites...the churches that split with the orthodox mainstream over another now-obscure point about the combination of Christ's human and divine natures at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The Monophysite churches are the Coptic, Armenian (Gregorian), Ethiopian, and Syrian (Jacobite). To confuse things, these churches consider themselves orthodox ("right-believing") and often use that word as part of their official names. There is no hierarchy uniting all the Monophysite churches, but they are all in communion with each other, I believe.
- the Uniates...offshoots of various and sundry of the above three groups who at different times agreed to accept the authority of the Pope and the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church. This includes the Maronites, Syrian Catholics, Coptic Catholics, Melkite Catholics, Chaldeans, and others.
The Assyrians claim descent from the old Assyrian Empire, and until the 1st World War lived in Southeast Turkey around the city of Urfa (formerly Edessa), a former holy Christian city, because its first king Abgar I had received a letter of Jesus Christ himself. They adopted Nestorianism as their religion, but retained their war-loving qualities, and after WWI formed a regiment for the British, which mainly fought the Turkmens of northern Iraq. This made them less liked by the Turks, and the whole Assyrian community fled to Iraq, Syria and in the Russo-Persian frontier area. At present they live a "hidden" existence - the Olympic Champion on the Heptathlon, Gada Shaoua, was an Assyrian from northeast Syria, who did not want to discuss her descent with journalists, for fear of endangering her family.
In the Middle East Nestorianism is associated with the Assyrians, but there are still pockets of Nestorians along the Silk Road (not many, though). I read somewhere that there is even a small community of them in Mongolia, discovered by some enterprising traveller. After that discovery they literally hid themselves and have never been heard of since. The Nestorians left a lasting monument in Xian (China), the Xian stone.
The Chaldeans are also a group of Armenian Churches. "Hald" was another name for Armenians, and the first to make that mistake (mistaking Chaldeans for Chaldeans) was Xenophon (c. 400 BC), who had Chaldeans living on the heights of the Taurus Mountains in present-day Eastern Anatolia. The Armenians were experts in religious hair-splitting and it is not known how many different kinds of Armenian Churches (or "sects") there are.
Regarding Armenians in Persia/Iran: there was a big colony in Isphahan in Fars (South Iran), as well as in Iranian Azerbeidzhan. As they were, and probably still are mainly interested in trade, they are apparently referred to as Armenians from the South and from the North.
I must respectfully disagree- as Joe had said the Chaldean Church is a Syriac group, not Armenian- and an offshot of the Church of the East, the Nestorians, not of the Armenian or Gregorian Church, a Monophysite body.
It is possible that you are referring to confusion arising from the earlier use of the term Chaldean- which referred to the Neo- Babylonian civilization of the 6th and 7th centuries BCE. The current Chaldean Church took its name from them, but there is no direct connection between the two groups.
It was the earlier Chaldeans who were sometimes confused with the Haldians, not the present-day Chaldeans. Further, the Haldians, who were also knowns as Urartians or Vannic, were not the Armenians themselves, but their predecessors in the lands of historic Armenia (although the Armenians do claim a great deal of cultural and ethnic continuity with them).
The Assyrian flag consists of a golden circle at the center which represents the sun. By its exploding and leaping flames it generates heat and light to sustain the earth and all it's living things. The four pointed star surrounding the sun symbolizes the land, its light blue color means tranquility.
The wavy stripes extending from the center to the four corners of the flag are the three major rivers of our homeland, namely the Tigris, Euphrates and Zawa. The dark blue represents the Euphrates which stands for the Assyrian word prat ("Per-U-Ta"), meaning "abundance." The red stripes represent the Tigris; its blood red hue stands for courage, glory and pride. The white lines in between the two great rivers is Zawa, its white color stands for tranquility and peace. Some interpret the red, white and blue stripes as the highways that will take the scattered Assyrians back to their ancestral homeland.
Above the blue star is the image of the Assyrian god Assur, who is guarding the country, the flag, and the nation it represents. On top of the flagstaff is the standard of King Sargon I, who established the first Assyrian empire. During ancient times this insignia stood by the king's side to let everyone know his whereabouts.
The flag was designed by the Assyrian Universal Alliance in 1968. All elements in the design come from symbols from Assyrian reliefs. As to the present usage, it is universally accepted by Assyrians and those non-Assyrians who recognize the Assyrian nation (most Arabs do not).
I've seen a picture of a group of Assyrians in Chicago; they're waving the this flag, but both the circle in the center (with a bit more white around it) and the symbol at the top are both in gold, or dark yellow.
Last Friday's "Israel HaYom" newspaper had a feature article on Assyrian Christians. The cover picture showed someone waving a flag which combined a number of symbols we've seen before: A purple flag with the bird symbol in white, a centered circle with the four-pointed compass and wavy lines, and Aramaic writing above and below.
Here one can see an Assyrian flag with the Sargon emblem in gold/turqouise instead of the red we show.
Also, it is very easy to find photos of a variant with the emblem in gold and white – see photos: 1, 2, 3, 4. Note also the central disk in at least one photo is gold instead of orange-red. It may be that there is no one standard version for these details.