Chaldeans

These are some of the items from “100 Questions and Answers About Chaldean Americans.” You can order the guide in print or digital formats.

Who are the Chaldean people?
Are Chaldeans Arabs?
What are distinctions among Chaldeans, Assyrians and Syriacs?
Is the Chaldean identity in danger of vanishing?
What have been Chaldean contributions to learning and knowledge?
How did they advance civilization?
If Chaldeans are Catholics, why do they have these other gods?
Do Chaldeans still live in Iraq?
How did Chaldeans become a minority in a land they once ruled?
What is the Chaldean religion?
What are some core tenets of Chaldean religious practice?
What are differences between Chaldean Catholicism and Eastern orthodoxy?
What is the pope’s relationship to the Chaldean Catholic Church?
How is the Chaldean Catholic Church organized in the United States?
Can people become Chaldean through religious conversion?
What is the Chaldean language?
What do Chaldeans mean when they say they speak the language of Jesus?
When did Chaldeans begin coming to the United States?
What are U.S. population centers for Chaldeans?
Why did the United States detain several hundred Chaldeans in 2017?


Who are the Chaldean people?
The Chaldean people trace their roots to ancient Babylon in what is now Iraq. Chaldeans are Catholics and a religious minority in Iraq, which is officially and predominantly a Muslim country. Most Chaldeans have left Iraq, primarily for the United States. Because Chaldeans dispersed, Iraq still has more Chaldeans than any other country. The Chaldean diaspora is especially present in North America, Australia, Europe and several countries in the Middle East.
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Are Chaldeans Arabs?
No. The Chaldean language is a dialect of Aramaic, not Arabic, which is a key identifier of Arabs. While Chaldeans share origins and some traditions with Arabs, it is their language, culture and history that makes them distinct. Many Chaldeans identify as Catholic Iraqis or “Middle Eastern,” which is geographic rather than cultural.
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What are distinctions among Chaldeans, Assyrians and Syriacs?
Although all three have roots in the same region, they are religiously distinct. They also have linguistic, historic and cultural differences. Syriac is a language that also evolved from Aramaic, but is not Chaldean. Assyrians and Syriacs, who are Orthodox Christians, do not follow the pope. Chaldean Catholics do.
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Is the Chaldean identity in danger of vanishing?
Like many people, Chaldeans worry about the survival of their identity, religion, language and culture. With their homeland population greatly reduced, they face the challenges of keeping identity and tradition alive internationally. Chaldean people are working to preserve their identity within other cultures. Some worry that marriage to non-Chaldeans will dilute them. In 2017, Chaldean Catholic bishops urged their people, particularly those who had left Iraq, to persevere and to hold onto their Chaldean faith and identity.
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What have been Chaldean contributions to learning and knowledge?
Chaldeans and their predecessors, the Babylonians, made major contributions in writing, science, technology, mathematics and astrology. They devised the time system we use today with its 60-second minutes and 60-minute hours. They also described the circle as having 360 degrees. Their understanding of astronomy and ability to predict movements of heavenly bodies sparked what some have called the first scientific revolution. Across the ancient world, Greeks and Romans used the very name “Chaldean” for the astronomers of Mesopotamia.
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How did they advance civilization?
Their ancestor, Hammurabi, created one of the first legal codes in the world. Babylon was known for architectural achievement including the Processional Way and its hanging gardens, recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Nebuchadnezzar II greatly extended the empire to Syria, Palestine, Judah and Jerusalem. In those times of conquest, he also rebuilt Babylon and fortified it. A prominent feature of the city was a 6th century gate decorated with blue-glazed brick dedicated to the goddess Ishtar. The gate, now a centerpiece at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, was decorated with bulls symbolizing Ishtar, and dragons and lions representing the gods Marduk and Adad. Situated at the center of a major crossroads of trade and development, Chaldean influences were spread widely.
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If Chaldeans are Catholics, why do they have these other gods?
These gods are from Babylonian times, which predated Christ. Chaldeans were some of the first converts to Christianity. While these gods are part of their heritage and history, Chaldeans have not followed them for a long time.
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Do Chaldeans still live in Iraq?
Yes, although their population has been greatly reduced there in the past several decades. The country now is about 97 percent Muslim. Remaining Chaldeans are a religious minority and are targets of discrimination and even persecution by the government as well as warring factions and ethnic groups. Chaldeans began leaving Iraq in much larger waves after 2003.
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How did Chaldeans become a minority in a land they once ruled?
Christianity, Islam and Judaism once co-existed in the area. Acceptance was challenged during centuries of conquest, religious and ethnic rivalries, politics and terrorism. At the time of the Islamic conquest in 634 A.D., most Iraqi tribes were Chaldean. Baghdad became the cultural center of the Muslim world. Later, it was occupied by the Mongols, followed by the Ottomans. The British took control in 1914-1917. In 1921, during British occupation, the Islamic Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq was founded. The name of the kingdom refers to Hashim, great-grandfather of the prophet Muhammad, to whom the dynasty traces its roots. Muslim governments have pushed Chaldean people to the margins for generations. Iraq gained independence from the British in 1932. In 1958, military officers overthrew the monarchy and Abd al-Karim Qasim was installed as president. In 2014 ISIS extremists seized parts of Syria and Iraq and persecuted Chaldeans and other religious minorities such as Yazidis and Mandaeans. Back to top | To order


What is the Chaldean religion?
Most Chaldeans are members of the Eastern Rite Chaldean Catholic Church. As such, they share key beliefs of the Catholic tradition, although Chaldean churches have their own patriarch, practices and rituals. The Chaldean Catholic Church dates to shortly after the death of Jesus. There are more than a dozen Eastern rites of the Catholic Church. Some others are Syrian, Maronite, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian and Melkite. Each rite includes several churches.
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What are some core tenets of Chaldean religious practice?
For Chaldean Catholics, the foundation is professed in statements of faith including the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. They believe there is one God with three parts: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They believe God created the Earth. They believe Jesus Christ was the Son of God and venerate Mary as the Mother of God in the form of Jesus. His resurrection and ascension into Heaven are celebrated on Easter. They believe God offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life. All Catholics have practices rooted in these beliefs. Back to top | To order


What are differences between Chaldean Catholicism and Eastern orthodoxy?
Both descended from the churches that developed under the reign of the Eastern Roman Empire. In the centuries after Jesus’ time, Chaldean and Eastern Orthodoxy began to separate. They split over questions such as, “who was Jesus?” and “what does it mean to be the Son of God?” Eastern orthodoxy is the largest group that splintered from the eastern churches. The Assyrian Church of the East, from which Chaldeans separated, was a much smaller splinter. Today, Chaldean and Eastern Orthodox rituals and services have theological, cultural and language differences. Back to top | To order


What is the pope’s relationship to the Chaldean Catholic Church?
Chaldean Catholics and their patriarch, the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, recognize the pope as the ultimate church authority. Chaldean Catholics operated separately from the Catholic Church for centuries, but were unified beginning in the 16th century. Pope Julius III recognized the Chaldean Catholic Church in 1553. The churches came into full union in 1830. Back to top | To order


How is the Chaldean Catholic Church organized in the United States?
The pope is at the top of the Chaldean hierarchy. He is followed by the Chaldean patriarch in Baghdad, who appoints bishops to lead the two Chaldean dioceses in the United States. The Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, based in southeast Michigan, serves the eastern United States. The Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle is based in San Diego and serves western states. Those bishops oversee priests presiding over the churches in their regions. Back to top | To order


Can people become Chaldean through religious conversion?
People can convert, but this does not change their ethnic identity. Even if people attend a Chaldean church, marry into the Chaldean community or convert, they do not become ethnically Chaldean. Back to top | To order


What is the Chaldean language?
Chaldeans speak Sourath, a dialect known in English as Aramaic. Sourath is in the Afro-Asiatic family of Semitic languages. That includes Hebrew, Arabic, Akkadian, Ethiopic and Phoenician. Aramaic is closely related to Hebrew and Arabic. Some use Aramaic and Chaldean interchangeably as names for the language. The term Sourath is used less frequently. Back to top | To order


What do Chaldeans mean when they say they speak the language of Jesus?
Chaldeans call Aramaic, the language of ancient Babylon, the oldest continuously spoken language in the world. Using and preserving the language Jesus used is seen as a special responsibility. Although the dialect has evolved, Chaldeans take great pride in speaking and worshipping in Aramaic. It also confirms their status as an ancient people. Back to top | To order


When did Chaldeans begin coming to the United States?
Chaldeans arrived in America as early as 1889, and the first wave began shortly before 1910. U.S. immigration laws changed in the 1920s, restricting Iraqi immigrants to 100 a year. This substantially decreased the number of Chaldeans arriving annually. Migration from Iraq largely stopped during World War II. Afterward, student visas were introduced, which allowed students to come study with the assumption they would return home with their knowledge. Many ended up marrying and stayed permanently. In 1968, U.S. law changed again, and immigration of all people, including Chaldeans, increased greatly. The 1990-1991 Gulf War brought new restrictions. Immigration was restricted under the Donald Trump administration. Back to top | To order


What are U.S. population centers for Chaldeans?
The Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce reports “Metro Detroit has the world’s largest population of Chaldeans outside of Iraq, with an estimated 121,000 people. Another 150,000 Chaldeans/Assyrians reside throughout the United States, particularly in the Chicago, San Diego and Phoenix areas.” The 2016 annual directory of the Catholic Church’s Holy See listed St. Thomas the Apostle Eparchy as the largest in the world with 180,000 members. It is centered in Detroit but covers the eastern United States. A 2018 report commissioned by the Chaldean Community Foundation estimated the Chaldean population in southeast Michigan between 155,000 and 160,000. Back to top | To order


Why did the United States detain several hundred Chaldeans in 2017?
In 2017, President Donald Trump called for a travel ban on seven Muslim countries. One was Iraq. Iraq was exempted from the ban after it agreed to accept 1,400 deportees. The United States then began detaining Iraqis who had committed crimes in the country. Hundreds of Chaldeans were detained. There have been appeals from the Chaldean community and others to free detainees and not deport them to a land that many fled because of hostilities against them. Throughout the community, Chaldeans said deportations would break up families and become “death sentences” for those sent away. Back to top | To order