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Mesopotamia – The Indigenous Lands of the Chaldeans
By Amer Hedow :: Tuesday, August 5, 2008 :: 118652 Views :: Article Rating :: Living & Lifestyle, Community & Culture


The fertile lands in the river basins of Euphrates and Tigris were the home land of rich and complex societies.   The word 'Mesopotamia' is Greek meaning ‘land between the rivers’ derived from Greek mesos (middle) and potamos (river), thus 'land between the rivers'.

Flowing south out of Turkey, the Tigris and Euphrates are 250 miles apart.  The Euphrates runs south and east for 800 miles and the Tigris flows south for 550 miles. The two rivers join and stretch to the Persian Gulf as the Shatt al Arab.  The area that now comprises most all of modern Iraq and part of Syria. 

Mesopotamia's richness attracted neighbors and its history is a pattern of infiltration and invasion. Although there were meager rainfalls in most of the region, the land was well irrigated by canals.  The fertile soil yielded rich food and heavy crops of date palms, useful fiber, wood, and fodder. Both rivers have fish, and the southern marshes contain wildfowl.    Being a land of plenty, commerce, and strategic worth the river valleys and plains of Mesopotamia were often attacked from the rivers, the northern and eastern hills, the Arabian Desert, and Syrian plains. 

Most of the conflicts were internal to the region and small skirmishes between warring tribes and factions.  It was not until Persia (Iran) invaded and defeated the Chaldeans, the last rulers of the region, that the area is forever lost to foreigners. 

Early Mesopotamian States

The need for self-defense and irrigation led the ancient Mesopotamians to organize and build canals and walled settlements. After 6000 B.C. the settlements grew, becoming cities by the 4th millennium B.C.. The oldest settlement in the area is believed to be Eridu, but the best example is Erech (Uruk) in the south, where mud-brick temples were decorated with fine metalwork and stonework, and growing administrative needs stimulated the invention of a form of writing, cuneiform.

The Sumerians were probably responsible for this early urban culture, which spread north up the Euphrates. Important Sumerian cities, besides the two mentioned above, were Adab, Isin, Kish, Larsa, Nippur, and Ur.

About 2330 B.C. the region was conquered by the Akkadians, a Semitic people from central Mesopotamia. Their king Sargon I, called the Great (reigned about 2335-2279 B.C.), founded the dynasty of Akkad, and at this time the Akkadian language began to replace Sumerian. The Gutians, tribespeople from the eastern hills, ended Akkadian rule about 2218 B.C., and, after an interval, the 3rd Dynasty of Ur arose to rule much of Mesopotamia.

In Ur, Sumerian traditions had their final flower. Influxes of Elamites from the east eventually destroyed the city of Ur about 2000 B.C.. These tribes took over the ancient cities and mixed with the local people, and no city gained overall control until Hammurabi of Babylon (reigned about 1792-1750 B.C.) united the country for a few years at the end of his reign. At the same time, an Amorite family took power in Ashur to the north; both cities, however, fell soon after to newcomers.

A raid launched in around 1595 B.C. by the Hittites from Turkey brought Babylon down, and for four centuries it was controlled by non-Semitic Kassites. Ashur fell to the Mitanni state, set up by Hurrians from the Caucasus, who were presumably relatives of the Armenians. The Hurrians had been in Mesopotamia for centuries, but after 1700 B.C. they spread in large numbers across the whole of the north and into Anatolia.

Chaldea (612-539 B.C.E)

Beginning about 1350 B.C., Assyria, a north Mesopotamian kingdom, began to assert itself. Assyrian armies defeated Mitanni, conquered Babylon briefly about 1225 B.C., and reached the Mediterranean about 1100 B.C.. Aramaean tribes from the Syrian steppe halted Assyrian expansion for the next two centuries and, with related Chaldean tribes, overran Babylonia.

To secure itself, Assyria fought these tribes and others, expanding again after 910 B.C.. At its greatest extent (around 730-650 B.C.) the Assyrian Empire controlled the Middle East from Egypt to the Persian Gulf. Conquered regions were left under related client kings or, if troublesome, annexed.

Following ancient practice, rebellious subjects were deported, resulting in a mixture of peoples across the empire. Frequent revolts demanded a strong military machine, but it could not maintain control of so vast a realm for long. Internal pressures and attacks from Iranian Medes and Chaldeans from Babylonia caused Assyria to collapse in 612 B.C..

The Medes took the hill country, leaving Mesopotamia to the Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar II. The Chaldeans ruled Mesopotamia until 539 B.C., when Cyrus the Great of Persia, who had conquered Media, captured Babylon.  The fall of Babylon, left the Chaldeans as the last of the indigenous people of the region to control Mesopotamia. 

Persian Rule

Under the Persians, Mesopotamia became the satrapies of Babylon and Ashur, Babylon having a major, although not capital, role in the empire. The Aramaic language, widely spoken earlier, became the common language, and the imperial government brought stability; it was oppressive, however, and Mesopotamia's prosperity declined.

Hellenistic and Roman Times

After Alexander the Great's conquest in 331 B.C., the Greek dynasty of Seleucus I held Mesopotamia. A dozen cities were founded—Seleucia on the Tigris being the largest—bringing Hellenistic culture, new trade, and prosperity.

A major new canal system, the Nahrawan, was initiated. About 250 B.C. the Parthians (Parthia) took Mesopotamia from the Seleucids. The Parthian rulers (Arsacids) organized their empire so that several autonomous vassal states developed, in which Greek and Iranian (Persian) ideas mingled.

After rebuffing Roman attacks, the Parthians fell (ad 224) to the Sassanids (Persia), whose domain extended from the Euphrates to present-day Afghanistan. Effective government with a hierarchy of officials and improved irrigation canals and drainage brought prosperity.

Intermittent conflict in the northwest with the Roman province of Syria—part of the Eastern Roman (later Byzantine) empire after 395—and with Arabs in the desert border areas led to disaster when insurgent Arab tribes destroyed Sassanian Persia in 641, bringing with them a new religion, Islam.

Despite this defeat, the Sassanid dynasty lasted until 651, when the last Sassanid ruler died.

Medieval and Modern Times

For the next century Mesopotamia was ruled by the Umayyad caliphs of Damascus. Hordes of tribespeople settled in the land, and the Arabic language displaced Greek and Persian. Conflicts divided the Muslims, and Baghdād became the center of the Islamic empire under the Abbasid caliphs.

The caliphs introduced Turkish bodyguards, who gradually took control, establishing dynasties of their own in the area. After the Mongol sack of Baghdād in 1258, administrative decay and further attacks by Bedouins and Mongols led to the deterioration of the canal system, restricting agriculture and souring the soil.

The sultans of the Ottoman Empire and the Safavid rulers of Persia vied for control of Mesopotamia from the 16th to the 18th century, when family dynasties controlled Baghdād and other Mesopotamian cities.

The Ottomans (modern day Turkey) eventually prevailed. During World War I British troops took the area after much hard fighting. The League of Nations then mandated Iraq to Great Britain and Syria to France.

Iraq became independent in 1932, Syria in 1945.

comment @ Sunday, July 31, 2011 6:22 PM
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St. Thomas, MI USA

St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church
6900 Maple Rd.
West Bloomfield, MI 48322
Tel: (248) 788-2460
Fax: (248) 788-2153

Founding Pastor:
Rev. Hanna Cheikho

Current Pastor:
Rev. Frank Kalabat

Parochial Vicar:
Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Emmanuel Rayes, Retired  

Rev. Frank Kalabat

Rev. Frank Kalabat was born in 1970 in San Diego, California and entered St. Francis Seminary of San Diego, California.  The admission to the Catholic seminary made him the first born U.S. Chaldean to enter an American seminary.  In 1992, Fr. Kalabat continued his studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.  In July 1995, shortly after graduation he was ordained as priest by His Excellency Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim.  

Fr. Frank chose Mother of God Parish in Southfield, MI. as his first assignment serving the Chaldean community as an associate pastor for half a decade.  In 2001, Fr. Kalabat was elected to serve as Pastor of St. Tomas Parish in West Bloomfield, Michigan where he remains today.   

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim was born in Telkaif, Iraq in 1942. Upon graduation Fr. Abrahim was admitted to St. Peter Chaldean Seminary in Baghdad, Iraq.  After a decade of studies and numerous degrees, Fr. Abrhim was ordained a priest in 1967.  He chose to continue ministering in Baghdad, Iraq.  There he was appointed the headmaster of the catechism at Mother of Sorrows Cathedral.  Fr. Abrahim also assisted St. Therese Church in Baghdad until 1978.  Afterward he was asked to assist St. Joseph Church in Baghdad and was appointed Parochial Vicar from 1978-1992. 

In 1992, Fr. Abrahim was called upon to assist the growing Chaldean population in Michigan.  Upon his arrival he was assigned to St. Joseph Church in Tory, Michigan.  Two years later Fr. Abrahim was asked to become the pastor of a Parish community in Windsor, Canada  where he remained the parish pastor until 2001.

Continuing demographic changes in Michigan required Fr. Abrahim to return to St. Joseph Parish in Tory as a Parochial Vicar, where he remained until 2006.  In 2006 he was elected to St. Thomas Parish as Parochial Vicar in West Bloomfield, MI. where he currently serves the Chaldean community.


Rev. Emmanuel Rayes

Rev. Emmanuel Rays was born in Araden, Iraq in 1930.  He studied at St. John Dominican Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1954.  The Chaldean catholic ambassador ministered in northern Iraq from 1954-1963, in Syria and Lebanon from 1963-1980, and in the United Stated from 1980 to the present day.
Form 1980-1983, he was appointed associate pastor at Mother of God Parish in Southfield, Michigan.  From 1983-1989 he served as pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Detroit, Michigan.  During the early 1990’s he ministered to the Chaldean community in Farmington Hills and was at St. Joseph Parish in Tory where he was Parochial Vicar until 2000.

Although Fr. Rayes retired in 2001, he remains active in serving the community.  He is the author of many articles in Arabic and is the editor-in-chief of the Al Mishal and Al-Tariq magazine.  He has translated and continues to translate many books from French and English into Arabic.