Chaldeans are the indigenous people of Iraq, religiously Catholic and speak a form of Aramaic. Many also speak Arabic.
Chaldeans are among the many ethnic groups that have been immigrating to the Metropolitan Detroit area since the 1920’s. Chaldeans are a Catholic ethnic group originating primarily from Iraq. The Chaldeans have come to America for the same reasons as other immigrant groups - in search of better economic, religious and political freedom and opportunities. In the beginning of the new millennium, there are approximately 120,000 Chaldeans in the Metropolitan Detroit area and an estimated 35,000 more Chaldeans throughout the United States.
The name Chaldean stems from one of the ancient groups, which inhabited the land presently known as Iraq. In ancient times this area was called Mesopotamia, “the land between two rivers” and is also known as “the cradle of civilization”. The history of Mesopotamia is measured in millennia rather than centuries. The first cities developed in the south around 3500 B.C. For the next 3000 years, kingdoms rose and fell, empires expanded and contracted, outsiders conquered and repelled. During that time, three dominant civilizations held center stage at various times: the Sumerians (3500-2600 B.C.), Babylonians (1792-539 B.C.) and the Assyrians (1115-612 B.C.).
The city of Babylon inherited the culture of Sumer and under Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.), became the seat of strong central government and a great cultural and religious center. Hammurabi, a skilled statesman and warrior, consolidated rival kingdoms and made Babylon the center of power. Hammurabi claimed that the gods told him to write a legal code “to make justice appear in the land” so that “the strong may not oppress the weak.” As a result, he ruled by the code of law that demanded “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” a principal that appeared in the biblical book of Exodus.
However, during the following centuries, Babylon was often invaded-by the Kassites and the Assyrians, for example. In 612 B.C., Babylon was dominated by Chaldeans. The Chaldeans along with the Medes, defeated the Assyrian empire. The Chaldean king Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 B.C.) rebuilt Babylon into the greatest city in the world. Nebuchadnezzar’s greatest most noted contribution to the glory of Babylon was a series of gardens known as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which is considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Much of our modern number system is based on the number 10. The Mesopotamians used this decimal system and a more complex one built around the base of 60, which is reflected today in our measurement of seconds, minutes and hours, as well as the number of degrees in a circle. Mesopotamians were also the first to use place value to indicate a number’s value and the first to invent a symbol to indicate nothing or zero.
Some Mesopotamian Achievements * Mesopotamians were the first to invent the wheel * First to discover how to make glass * Mesopotamians were the first to observe and describe complex patterns in the motions of the heavens (Astronomy) * Mesopotamians were the first to use writing * By 2000 B.C. the definition of our modern day, month year as well as lunar and solar calendars with the year of 360 days, 12 months of 30 days each, with an extra month added in every six years or so to keep synchronized with astronomical observations
Historically, Chaldeans lived primarily in Iraq, but there are also Chaldean Villages in areas of Southern Turkey, and parts of Iran.
Chaldea was a region of ancient Babylonia. In 612 B.C., the New Babylonian Empire was founded and ruled by a Chaldean king.
Chaldeans today still speak the Aramaic (Chaldean) language. Aramaic is one of the oldest continuously spoken languages in the world, and was the language spoken by Christ. To this day there are communities that speak Aramaic dialects in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. The Aramaic language Classical Aramaic is used in the Chaldean liturgy; the vernacular Aramaic Chaldean is used at home and in daily life. Aramaic has an alphabet of twenty-two letters and is the mother tongue from which Hebrew and Arabic were later derived. Chaldeans educated in Iraq also speak and read Arabic. Many Chaldeans are tri-lingual, understanding Chaldean, Arabic and English. A number of families also speak Spanish, having settled in Mexico before their immigration to the United States.
Chaldeans belong to the Eastern Rite of the Roman Catholic Church. They are under the authority of the Vatican and the Pope, but worship within a different organizational structure. They were converted to Christianity by St. Thomas the Apostle and his disciples Mar Addai and Mar Mari. Later, in the fifth century, they espoused the Nestorians doctrines until they were reunited with Rome in the 16th century. Pope Julius III declared that all converted Nestorians from the region of ancient Babylon would henceforth be called Chaldeans, referring to past origins, and entitled their religious leader as the “Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans” who now resides in Baghdad, Iraq. The Patriarch, in union with Rome, is the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in all its extensions throughout the world.
In the United States there are currently five Chaldean parishes in the Detroit area, and a sixth being built in Shelby Township, four parishes in California, two Chaldean parishes in Chicago, and one in Phoenix, Arizona. These Chaldean-American parishes have been organized into a diocese entrusted to the care of the most Reverent Mar Ibrahim Ibrahim, who has been appointed by the Pope to oversee this diocese since 1982. The bishop has his administrative center adjacent to the Our Lady of Chaldeans Cathedral in Southfield, Michigan. The Chaldeans are strongly attached to their church, not only for their spiritual guidance, but also as the nucleus of their community.
CHALDEANS IN IRAQ
The vast majority of the Chaldeans in the U.S. originated from the village of Telkeppe and several other northern villages of Iraq, such as Alkosh, Araden, Taskopa, Zakho and Batnaya.
Telekeppe, originally a fortress, meaning ‘hill of stones’ in Chaldean, or Telkaif, meaning ‘hill of the good life’ in Arabic, was a simple farming village, as were the other Chaldean villages. Each family had a plot of land outside the village to grow its crops. Extended family members lived together under their father’s roof as one household. Youngsters grew up in a multi-generational family surrounded by grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. It was a patriarchal society in which the father was the head of the family. The women followed the traditional roles as wives and mothers. They were the heart and the nurturers of the family. Children were given a sense of responsibility toward each other and taught to show respect and honor to their elders. Traditionally, Chaldean parents emphasize the values of morality, integrity, a hard work ethic and strong family ties.
In the villages, marriages were often arranged and were life-long commitments. Sons helped their fathers in the fields and daughters helped with the household chores and care of younger siblings.
In the past few decades, many Chaldeans left the villages for better economic opportunities and moved to the capital of Iraq, Baghdad or to the cities of Mosul or Basrah, or immigrated to the United States. In Baghdad and other cities, the Chaldeans furthered their education and many became successful businessmen and professionals even before coming to the United States.
CHALDEANS IN THE UNITED STATES
The Chaldeans began immigrating to the United States in the first decade of the 20th century. They settled in Detroit for three reasons: 1. work was available through the auto industry. 2. An Arabic speaking community with a Lebanese Catholic Maronite church was already established here, and 3. Proximity to Canada which facilitated communication with those Chaldeans who had immigrated there before coming to the United States. A few early immigrants bought a small grocery store from a Syrian friend. Being hard workers and dedicated to their jobs, they soon succeeded in their enterprise. Others followed their lead. New arrivals would learn this trade and eventually open their own businesses’ thus an occupational pattern was established.
After World War II, a group of Jesuit-educated Chaldean young men were summoned to the San Diego are to teach Arabic at the Army Language School to American officers who were to be stationed in the Middle East. As a result, a new Chaldean Community gradually developed in San Diego, California.
The greatest influx of Chaldean immigrants occurred in the 1960s and 1970s when the immigration quotas were reformed. Whereas the original Chaldean immigrants had come directly from the villages, the newer arrivals have now been coming from the urban areas, primarily Baghdad, Mosul and Basrah. Many are educated and come with professional credentials.
In America, families now live in nuclear households, but frequently socialize with extended family members to celebrate many happy occations together or to provide emotional or financial support to each other in times of need. Couples today choose their own spouses, but some input from their parents is still respected. In spite of language barriers, social and economic obstacles, Chaldeans are acculturating to the American way of life.
The extended family has played a key role in the business success if the Chaldean Community. It has provided a reliable and economical labor force to operate their family businesses. After the civil disturbance in 1967, many grocery chain stores pulled out of Detroit. It has been the Chaldeans, in large part, who have provided neighborhood food shopping facilities, jobs and services to many inner city residents. Chaldean businessmen are participating in positive interaction programs with their customers and neighbors, contributing to soup kitchens, youth programs and area churches. Their contributions have been recognized and applauded by local, state and national officials and have been written up in the Congressional Record. Today’s generations are branching out in all walks of life.