By Bradley Martin, Originally published in the New York Observer
During the holiday of Easter, Christians throughout the world commemorate the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet for one group of Christians in Iraq and Syria, this Easter will not be celebrated with chocolate bunnies and colored eggs.
The Assyrians are an indigenous people of Mesopotamia who have a long history, spanning over 6,700 years. Though the Assyrian Empire came to an end in 612 B.C., the Assyrian Christians of today are the descendants of that ancient civilization. In the first century C.E., the Assyrians became the first people to convert to Christianity as a nation. The official language of the three main Assyrian Churches is Syriac, which is a dialect of Aramaic, the language that Jesus would have spoken during his lifetime.
Prior to the Islamic conquest of the region, the Assyrian Church had an estimated 80 million adherents. Today, their worldwide numbers have been reduced to a little over 4 million. Continuous murder, rape and forcible conversions to Islam have led to as much as 95 percent of this ancient community being forced to live in diaspora.