The Arameans, or Aramaeans, (Aramaic: ܐܪ̈ܡܝܐ, ארמיא ; ʼaramáyé) were a Northwest Semitic people who originated in what is now present-day western, southern and central Syria (Biblical Aram) during the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Large groups migrated to Babylonia in southern Mesopotamia during the 11th and 10th centuries BC, where they established small semi-independent Aramaic kingdoms, in the Levant and in Mesopotamia conquered Aramean populations were forcibly deported throughout the Assyrian Empire, e.g. under the rule of king Tiglath-Pileser III. Some Syriac Christians in the Middle East (particularly in Syria and Lebanon) still espouse an Aramean ethnic identity to this day and a minority still speak various Aramaic dialects or languages. In northeast Syria, northern Iraq, northwest Iran and south eastern Turkey, Akkadian influenced Eastern Aramaic-Northeastern Neo-Aramaic dialects are still spoken fluently by between 575,000 and 1,000,000 people, but most of the speakers of these dialects are ethnic Mesopotamian Assyrians, the indigenous people of Upper Mesopotamia, rather than Levantine Arameans. The Western Aramaic language of the Arameans in Maalula is in danger of extinction, although Aramean personal and family names are still found among the Syriac Christians throughout the Middle East.The Arameans never had a unified nation; they were divided into small independent kingdoms across parts of the Near East, particularly in what is now more Syria and Jordan. After the Bronze Age collapse, their political influence was confined to a number of states such as Aram Damascus and the partly Aramean Syro-Hittite states, which were entirely absorbed into the Neo-Assyrian Empire by the 9th century BC.By contrast, Imperial Aramaic came to be the lingua franca of the entire Near East and Asia Minor when introduced as the official language of the vast Neo-Assyrian Empire by Tiglath-pileser III in the mid-8th century BC. This empire stretched from Cyprus and the East Mediterranean in the west to Persia and Elam to India in the east, and from Armenia and the Caucasus in the north to Egypt and Arabia in the south. This version of Aramaic later developed in Mesopotamia into the literary languages such as Syriac and Mandaic. Scholars have used the term ""Aramaization"" for the process by which the Assyrian and Babylonian Akkadian-speaking peoples became eastern Aramaic-speaking during the later Iron Age and intermingled with the Arameans.