The Nestorians & the Assyrian name

By: Hanna Hajjar

We see many quotes by many Arabs and so called Arameans, disassociating Nestorians from ancient Assyrians, by claiming that it was the British who gave them the name "Assyrian" last century. This article is to prove them wrong!

It is a fact that in Iraq and in the Arabic language the name of the Nestorians is “Athuriyyen” and not “Ashuriyyen”, with the letter “Th” (Tha’) and not “Sh” (Sheen). This is a very important clue, because in the Arabic langauge ancient Assyrians are known as “Ashuriyyen” with the letter “Sh” (Sheen), but on the other hand in Aramaic (or Syriac) the ancient Assyrians are known as “Athuraye” or “Othuroye” with a “Th” (Taw [in Syriacs], ot Tha’ [in Arabic]).

What does that mean? If the Nestorians haven’t been using the term “Athuraye” or “Aturaye” (noting that both names are written the same way, but the Soft (Rukokho/Rukakha) “Th”, is written as “T” with a dot below it, and even without the dot, it can be pronounced either way (i.e. as “T” or as “Th” depending on the dialect, but grammatically correct is the “Th”).

So here is the clarification: If Nestorians were not calling themselves “Athurye/Aturaye” in their own spoken Aramaic/Syriac language, and if the British were the ones who introduced them to the name Assyrian, then the translation would have gone directly from English to Arabic, and hence the Arabic version would have been “Ashuriyyen” with a “Sh” (Sheen) and not “Th” (Taw or Tha’). However we see that in all Iraq the Nestorians are called “Athuriyyen” with a “Th” (Taw or Tha’), and that proves that their name known to the Arabs came from the Aramaic/Syriac language that those Nestorians spoke with, and not the British English language as those anti-Assyrians are claiming. Add to that the fact that in the Aramaic/Syriac language the name “Athuraya” means “Assyrian”. Hence we can conclude that the Nestorians were calling themselves “Athuraya” long before the arrival of the British, simply because the Arabs took the name “Athuri” from Aramaic/Syriac (i.e. the way Nestorians call themselves in their own language, and not from English. Hence the British called the Nestorians as "Assyrians" simply because the Nestorians were already calling themselves "Aturaye" (Athuraye).

In conclusion: It doesn’t need a rocket scientist to realize that association between “Aturaya”, “Athuraya”, “Athuri”, “Athoriyyun” and “Assyrian”, it is commonsense and some knowledge in the Aramaic/Syriac language, the British didn’t discover it, it was right there in their face, any person with little knowledge of Aramaic/Syriac would have come to that same conclusion that the “Aturaye” are “Assyrians”. The fact remains is that the term "Athuri" didn't come out of the blues and didn't come from the British either, it came right from the mouths of the Nestorian Assyrians who called themselves "Athuraya/Aturaya"!

By the way the same applies to Jacobites, where that was also the reason for naming the "Assyrian Democratic Organization" by using name "Al-Athuriyya" in Arabic as in: (Al-Munazzama Al-Athuriyya Al-Dimoqratiyya), and "Othuroyo/Athuraya" in Syriac as in: (Mtakasto Othuroytho Dimoqrotayto / Mtakasta Aturayta Dimoqratayta). And for the same reason you find Naoum Fayeq saying in his poem: Et'3ir Bar Othur Et'3ir... In other words both eastern and western Syriac dialects use the "Th" or "T" instead of "Sh".

Finally: Ibn al-Nadim (10th century A.D.) used the term "Ashuriyun" to describe the Assyrians long before even the British were present. He lived in both Baghdad and Mosul, and he used the letter "Sh" instead of the letter "Th".