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Reforging a Forgotten History

Iraq and the Assyrians in the Twentieth Century

Sargon Donabed

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Who are the Assyrians and what role did they play in shaping modern Iraq?

Were they simply bystanders, victims of collateral damage who played a passive role in its history? Furthermore, how have they negotiated their position throughout various periods of Iraq's state-building processes? This book details a narrative of Iraq in the twentieth century and refashions the Assyrian experience as an integral part of Iraq's broader contemporary historiography. It is the first comprehensive account to contextualize a native experience alongside the emerging state. Using primary and secondary data, this book offers a nuanced exploration of the dynamics that have affected and determined the trajectory of the Assyrians' experience in twentieth-century Iraq.

Key Features

  • Uses Assyrian-Aramaic/Syriac as well as Arabic primary sources to illuminate and corroborate the Assyrian narrative of Iraqi history
  • Situates the Assyrians as a transnational indigenous people fundamental to the past, present, and future of the Middle East
  • The only work to include an indigenous voice for the modern history of Iraq
  • The most comprehensive discussion of north Iraq and demographic transformation in modern times


Table of Contents
List of Figures
List of Tables
The Assyrians
A New Approach to Meaning
Moving Forward with Purpose
Chapter Analysis
1. Integrating the Assyrian Question
A Historiography of Historiography and a Theoretical Framework
Key Sources: Mapping Iraqi Assyrians and Sectarianisation
2. Framing the Assyrian Narrative: Late 19th and Early 20th Century
Assyrian Demography: Between Deteriorating Empires and Colonial Expansion
Modern Roots of Inter-Religious Animosity
World War 1
From Versailles 1919 to Lausanne 1923
The Period of the Iraq Levies and the Assyrian Settlement
3. Iraq: Buildin a 'Nation'-State
The Patriarch and Temporal Authority
The Massacre at Simele
International Recognition
Road to the Republic
4. The Birth of the Republic and an Autonomist Struggle
The 1958 Coup and Renewed Internal Strife
Ṣoriya Massacre of 1969
Demographic Situation
5. Enduring Discord: Political Machinations and Border Clearings
A Resumption of Violence
The Border Clearings of 1977 -- 1978
6. New Movements and War on the Horizon
Iraq-Iran War
The Calm Before the Storm
Renewed International Interest in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign
7. Nation-State Formation, Nation-State Building and Contentious Pluralism
Situating the Assyrian Experience
Agency, Failed Strategies and Transdenominationalism
Simele Revisited
Development and Further Consequences of Urbanisation and Arabisation
State-Sponsored Acculturation
Appendix A: Village Data
Appendix B: Bibliography
Appendix C: Documents Concerning Cultural and Political Organisations.

About the Author

Sargon George Donabed is Associate Professor of History at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island. He is co-editor of The Assyrian Heritage: Threads of Continuity and Influence (Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2012), Religion and the State: Europe and North America in the 17th and 18th centuries (Lexington Books, 2012) and The Assyrians of Eastern Massachusetts (Arcadia Publishing, 2006).


In telling the story of modern Assyrian responses to a history of tragedy, Sargon Donabed helps us understand them as actors in their own right. He thereby rewrites Iraqi history from the perspective of the oppressed. No longer may we ignore the plight of this misunderstood minority.

- Paul S. Rowe, Trinity Western University

Sargon Donabed provides a comprehensive overview of the modern Assyrian story, merging emic and etic perspectives of their struggle to attain sovereignty over the past century and beyond. His work offers both an informative source for Assyrian ethnic history and an alternative reading for Mesopotamian regional history as a whole.

- Nabil Al-Tikriti, University of Mary Washington

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