The Chaldean people of today are descendants of the ancient Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations and the Aramean legacy of Mesopotamia. Historically, Chaldeans are Iraq’s indigenous people, and mainly resided in Northern Iraq as mountain dwellers and farmers in villages dating back to before Christ. They have a 5,500-year history dating back to Mesopotamia—the cradle of civilization—which is present day Iraq. According to the Old Testament (Gen. 11:31), Abraham was from the city of Ur—which is identified as “Ur of the Chaldeans,” the city of his ancestors.
Ancient Babylonians were the first civilization to:
- Invent the wheel
- Discover how to make glass
- Discover astronomy
- Use a writing system
- Invent the yearly calendar, composed of 360 days and 12 months
- Use weights and measures, which were standardized in Babylon around 2,500 B.C.
Chaldeans are synonymous with Babylonians and are also referred to as Assyrians and or Syriacs. They are historically known for major contributions to civilization, such as:
- Hammurabi’s Code, which was a revolutionary step in the development of fairness and equality under the law.
- In 600 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar built the “Hanging Gardens of Babylon” (one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) to console his queen who missed the mountains and greenery of her native Media.
Chaldeans are Eastern Rite Catholics, converted by St. Thomas the Apostle in 45 A.D. They are unified with the Roman Catholic Church but have separate Bishops and a Patriarch (Patriarch of Babylon for the Chaldeans) whom resides in Iraq. Chaldeans speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ, which is the oldest continuously spoken language in the world. They are faith-oriented with the majority living within a ten mile radius of their Chaldean Parish. There are eight Chaldean parishes, a Syriac Church and an Assyrian Church in the Metro Detroit area:
- Sacred Heart Chaldean Catholic Church – Detroit
- Mar Addai Chaldean Catholic Church – Oak Park
- Saint George Chaldean Catholic Church – Shelby Township
- Mother of God Chaldean Catholic Church – Southfield
- Saint Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church – Troy
- Holy Martyrs Chaldean Catholic Church – Sterling Heights
- Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chaldean Mission – Warren
- Saint Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church – West Bloomfield
Other Faith-based organizations include:
- Eastern Catholic Re-Evangelization Center (E.C.R.C.) – Bloomfield Hills
- Chaldean Sisters Daughters of Mary Immaculate Conception – Farmington Hills
Due to their religious beliefs, Chaldeans have faced numerous genocides at the hands of Ottoman, Arab and other empires and now represent a 5% minority of Iraq. The tragedies of the First World War, and the successive massacres of the Chaldean Assyrian people in the Ottoman Empire, Iran, and Iraq, caused population and geographic losses of epic proportions, resulting in the forced transfer of inhabitants of thousands of villages districts to other parts of the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. In one area, however, the Chaldeans remain, clinging to their cultural traditions and ancestral land: the Nineveh Plain. The villages dating the plain of Nineveh, just north of the ancient city, contain churches, monasteries, and villages that are thousands of years old. Here, one can hear Aramaic being spoken and written, just as it was centuries ago.
The current persecution of Chaldeans in Iraq today is evidence of history repeating itself. The 2003 U.S. led invasion of Iraq and the subsequent fall of Saddam Hussein led groups to perceive the Christians as allies of the United States. According to the U.S. Commission on International and Religious Freedom, since the invasion in 2003 80 churches have been bombed, forcing two-thirds of the population to flee to neighboring countries, Europe and the United States. The recent war has threatened the permanent removal of Chaldeans from their ancestral homeland and for the first time in history, more live outside of their ancestral homeland.