Many people have heard about the Ancient Assyrians when learning about ancient civilizations in history class, or when reading the book of Jonah in the Bible. However, most people do not realize that there is a Christian, ethnic minority group in the Middle East that still identifies with this ancient civilization. Assyrians live in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. Although they speak the languages of their home countries, whether that be Arabic, Farsi, or Turkish, their mother-tongue and church liturgy is in Aramaic. Prior to Islam, Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Middle East. When Islam spread into the region, the Christian groups who refused to convert to Islam, also refused to replace their Aramaic language with the cognate language of Arabic.
Because of the instability and numerous wars in the Middle East within the last 100 years, Assyrians have been fleeing the Middle East in waves. The recent upheavals in Syria triggered the most recent wave.
Currently, Chicago has one of the largest Assyrian populations outside of the Middle East – at least 100,000 people. Because of this, Chicago also has many Assyrian organizations. One of the largest is the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation, which houses a library of approximately 8,000 books. These books range in topics from Assyrian history, Middle Eastern politics, and Aramaic dictionaries. The books do not circulate, and are in the process of being cataloged and made searchable online. However, visitors and researchers are still welcome to visit the library during its visiting hours: https://www.auaf.us/library/
The library is housed in the building below and is named after Ashurbanipal, an Ancient Assyrian king known for his extensive library of cuneiform tablets, where the Epic of Gilgamesh was found.
The neo-Aramaic dialects spoken by Assyrians today use a script called “Syriac.”
The Ashurbanipal Library contains many Syriac books including this book of religious poetry from 1577.
Sources & Further Reading:
“Ashurbanipal Library.” AUAF. Accessed July 22, 2019. https://www.auaf.us/library/
“At a Glance: The Assyrian Community in Chicago.” AUAF. 2018. https://www.auaf.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Assyrians-in-Chicago.pdf
Encyclopedia of Chicago. s.v. “Assyrians.” By Daniel P. Wolk. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/86.html
Shoumanov, Vasili. Assyrians in Chicago. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2001. https://www.amazon.com/Assyrians-Chicago-Images-America-Shoumanov/dp/0738519081/ref=sr_1_11?keywords=assyrians+chicago&qid=1563778391&s=gateway&sr=8-11
Stein, Edith M. “Some Near Eastern Immigrant Groups in Chicago.” M.A. thesis, University of Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1922. https://books.google.com/books?id=5RGCZxPoUuIC&pg=PA38&lpg=PA38&dq=some+near+east+immigrant+groups+in+chicago+edith+stein&source=bl&ots=VL2PwRCsaU&sig=ACfU3U1cU6jmg9-mLVkYU8NLPeDWA83fFw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwic3Zu63r_iAhVDSq0KHfWPCWMQ6AEwBHoECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false