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          Jan 11, 2012


Chaldean Nestorians and Mongols



The Mongol emperor Kublai Khan was friendly to Nestorians, and sent two monks as emissaries to the West. One of them, Rabban Sawma, arrived in Rome in l287 and visited "the cell of Mar Papa" [the home of the pope]. He found that the latest pope had died and that twelve cardinals were running the papacy. "Which of the Apostles taught the Gospel in your quarter of the world?" Sawma was asked. And he replied: "Mar Thomas, and Mar Addai, and Mar Mari taught the Gospel in our quarter of the world and we hold at the present time the canons which they delivered to us." A later Mongol conqueror was the ruin of the Church of the East. Nestorians were strongly established in Baghdad in the thirteenth century. Some would say they were then at their zenith. But in the following century they fell victim to Tamurlaine as he devastated Asia. He sacked the city, leaving a pyramid of skulls said to number 90,000. Driven from Baghdad, a remnant of Nestorians settled in northern Mesopotamia and eastern Turkey among the Kurds. In India the wandering medieval friars and other travelers testified to the low estate to which Nestorians had fallen. They were scattered about in small numbers.

In their mountain villages around the upper reaches of the Tigris, Nestorians sank into poverty and ignorance, forgotten by the western world. They were rediscovered in the nineteenth century by the British, active in that region for reasons of empire. Missionaries from the West followed. Their well-meant attentions aroused the envy and fury of the Nestorians' Kurdish and other tribal neighbors. An estimated 20,000 Nestorians were massacred.

The Nestorians (or Assyrians as they were called by Anglicans) fared no better in the twentieth century. They were again caught up in international politics, suffering further persecutions and bloodlettings at the hands of Ottoman Turks, Kurds, and Iraqis. The catholicos eventually wound up in the United States, where he became a citizen. Some Nestorians remained in Iraq and Iran, but the largest number went to America. Only a pathetic remnant remained of the Thomas church that had once been the dominant form of Christianity in half the world.