Volume IV, Issue 35
Kanoon II 11, 6748 January 11, 1999
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|The Lighthouse||Public Monuments as Guardians of Our Heritage|
|Good Morning Bet-Nahrain||UN Bombing Damages Report|
|News Digest||Christian Man Killed in Egypt for Dating A Moslem Woman|
|Surfs Up||"Is there any Assyrian working in this field?"|
|Surfers Corner||AUA Rallies in California
A Message from BNDP-Australia
An Invitation for Universal Prayers Day
Israel Oriental Institute Symposium Announcement
Assyrian Interpreters Needed
|Calendar of Events||Entertainment & Cultural Events|
|Assyrian Surfing Posts||The Lord's Prayer in Assyrian
SyrCOM-99: 3rd International Forum on Syriac Computing
Mistreatment of Assyrian Refugees in Turkey
Assyrian E-Mail Directory
|Pump up the Volume||Saffron & Alcohol|
|Back to the Future||The Code of Hammurabi: From Susa to Louvre|
|Literatus||The Approaching Doom|
|This Week in History||The First Assyrian Traveler in America|
|Bravo||The Village That Speaks Like Jesus|
All blue links throughout this issue are hyperlinks to other sections on this page or featured websites.
PUBLIC MONUMENTS AS GUARDIANS OF OUR HERITAGE
I moved to New York in 1976 to find work in foundries and learn all I could about the technique of making bronze sculpture. It's an expensive process, one which a beginner can rarely afford. I thought to do as much of it myself in order to save expense. My other motive in moving there was to see first-hand the European Masters I'd admired all my life. My first day at the Metropolitan Museum found me wandering in search of the galleries where those famous objects are housed. During my search I happened to pass through the ancient near east section. I was stopped in my tracks by two seven-foot bas reliefs of glazed ceramic tile lions taken from Babylon. I'd never seen them before and didn't know they were part of my heritage... There were other sculptures, some were Assyrian and all unknown to me. It's difficult to describe the feeling I had. The closest I can come is to say that I felt these pieces inside of me. My appreciation for European art didn't diminish, quite the contrary, but these sculptures were of my senses and not just appealing to them.
My entire art education until then consisted of one day in classes
at the University of California at Berkeley. I'd left, discouraged
at the level of just plain silliness, In New York I determined
to study art as the ancients had; by copying the Masters. I received
permission from the Met to work in the gallery copying the Lion
Of Ishtar and spent hours after work, evenings and weekends, on
a small version of it. I'd managed to find work at a foundry
and for the next four years I studied bronze casting and made
sixteen copies of Assyrian sculptures. All were made of clay, fired and glazed to duplicate the originals, The last was my own interpretation of the famous lion hunt of Ashurbanipal which I made into a three dimensional bronze piece. Then I moved back to California.
Like many Assyrians, even those born in the Middle East but coming
to this country early on, I had little to do with my language
or people. My only impressions of them were negative ones formed
through occasional contact with our community. The imperatives
of getting along and learning to use the systems
and institutions in this country effectively meant, especially in those melting pot days, getting rid of any vestiges of ethnicity. My mother often chided me for laughing at the efforts of the old-timers who gathered at conventions and parties, trying to preserve some memory of what they'd had and feared to lose. She said these people, often not well educated and therefore less successful at seizing opportunity here, were at least trying to preserve a valuable inheritance thousands of years old, while I and others like me had been completely seduced by a culture barely 200 years old. If they were floundering and ineffective, perhaps it was in part because "wiser" people, like myself, were out chasing other forms and models, Why not help them, she said.
It was a sound argument. Not profound, just true. With her encouragement I made several copies of the Lion Of Ishtar ceramic piece and offered it for sale at the Los Angeles convention in 1978. I thought I should use my ability to make reproductions of Assyrian art to place in Assyrian homes. I was surprised to sell three of them. I went to other conventions, making more pieces and always finding a small number who appreciated the chance to do so.
Working again at a foundry in Berkeley an idea took shape in my mind to create an Assyrian public monument. With the leadership of Narsai David, a prominant Assyrian, we created a foundation and solicited funds for the next three years until we were able to complete and install the first Assyrian monument in over 2500 years. The fifteen foot tall statue of Ashurbanipal was placed at United Nations Plaza in San Francisco in 1988.
Almost immediately I began work on a monument of Sumuramat, the historical basis far the legendary Shumirun, whom the Greeks transmitted to the West as Semiramis. That work has proceeded to the present and in 1999 will be errected on the campus of the University of Chicago near the world renowned Oriental Institute. And work has begun on a statue of Hammurabi far the city of Detroit. I hope to be able to make a monumental sculpture for San Jose as well as a memorial to be placed in the United Nations Sculpture Garden far all Assyrians killed as a result of religious and political persecution in the modern era.
In this day when Art is viewed as a luxury, and for our people especially whose immediate problems, in light of the Gulf War and other tragedies, seem by contrast so serious, many would question the wisdom and expense of creating such monuments. However, few people on earth owe as much to art as do modern Assyrians. Until the archaeological discoveries in the Middle East over the last century, all that was known about Assyrians came from the Holy Bible where we are not portrayed in a positive light. People believed Assyria belonged to mythology. With these discoveries we were at least proven to have existed. At the same time our claim to be the descendants of the Assyrians were scoffed at and the relics and records were distorted and misinterpreted to produce a brutish history filled with destruction, barbarity and unbelievable cruelty. And that was all.
But, here and there, thoughtful people looked at the uncovered treasures and doubted the veracity of the standard interpretation. But what was commonly known by average people was that Assyrians had, after all, truly existed once upon a time, that they had been exclusively dedicated to violence and bloodshed and that they had been gotten rid of centuries ago and existed no more. Even in 1989, when the discovery of an almost intact tomb belonging to an Assyrian royal lady, produced exquisite jewelry of a skill and refinement never before imagined to belong to Assyrians, Time magazine quoted experts saying they were "surprised". Stating, once again, the famous scientific premise that, "if they ain't found it, it never existed." Yet other experts said it would be difficult to reproduce these newly found pieces with all the modem techniques available today to the finest jewelers.
The truth is that the ancient Assyrians developed and refined many of the skills and institutions the world enjoys today. And it is the discovery of our buried treasures, art foremost among them, that will eventually lead to a more accurate and fair assessment of them and their achievements. Yet we allow ourselves to be slandered and rendered invisible while a thousands of years old heritage waits for its descendants and should-be defenders to bring it some measure of justice.
By creating modern monuments and having them placed in major cities
we enlist the official representatives and institutions of this
government in a drive to conclusively prove that we are indeed
the inheritors of the ancient Assyians. In doing so we gain exposure and may be able to one day effectively use the resources of this country to help ourselves both here and in our homeland, as so many
ethnic groups in America have done. Art, public monuments, have been an integral part of our story and have served us and will serve us well.
But those who are as yet uncomfortable with art such as public monuments should think instead in terms of advertising. A public monument isn't just a statue reflecting our heritage. Because it is funded through donations the names of Assyrians are inscribed upon the base. considering the ease and regularity with which entire families have been wiped out, it should be clear that there is a need to safeguard our names.
Upon the base of each monument is inscribed a brief history of
the Assyrian people from the beginning to the present. As these
monuments are placed in prominant public locations more people
familiar with our story than will do so through the paltry and inadequate exposure they receive in public schools and colleges. Those who are indifferent or opposed to these monuments should consider that the public sites available for monuments are prestigious and exclusive property, not easily obtained but freely
given to a worthy cause. This land is truly priceless as it cannot be bought for any purpose and its lease over hundreds of years will cost us nothing.
If we agree that it is a worthwhile thing to perpetuate our culture, to give pride to and educate our children as to their heritage, and to improve the level and quality of knowledge among the general population regarding our achievements and survival...if we can agree on that and commit ourselves to take a course of action to achieve these ends, the question remains how to best do so.
I would argue that there is no better, cost efficient way, than
by public monuments. Operas, films, plays etc. are beyond our
means right now. Many good novels can be written but that hasn't
happened yet. A public monument will exist as long as this country
endures. No change in regimes will bring it down, indeed almost
nothing can remove it once installed. A monument requires no
heavy maintenance . It looks as good the day it was errected
as it will in a hundred or a thousand years. No billboard advertising
our history would last as long or be nearly as appealing. And neither could we ever place such blatant advertisement on the sites available to public monuments. And, finally, the cost is a fraction of what
advertisements cost, especially when adjusted over a century or two.
I see us all as a culture sliding down a steep slope. These monuments
are a handhold, something to stop the slide with, to give a little
time to reflect on how best to climb back up. If we don't stop
we're surely lost. It won't be enough, in the long run, to just stop. We'll have to leave it to future generations to solve their problems in this regard. But our challenge is clear; if we don't do our part, they will never know to do theirs.
Mr. Parhad's "Ashurbanipal Statue" is displayed at the entrance to the city of San Francisco's Main Library. King Ashurbanipal of Assyria is credited with the construction of the world's first library, built in Nineveh, where he collected over 10 thousand clay tablets.
GOOD MORNING BET-NAHRAIN
UN REPORT CITES BOMBING DAMAGE IN IRAQ
(ZNRU: Baghdad) According to UNICEF, the United Nations Children's
Fund the U.S. and British strikes last month damaged many schools,
hospitals and knocked out water supplies for 300,000 people in
Baghdad. A missile destroyed a large storehouse filled with 2,600
tons of rice in Tikrit, 100 miles (160 km) north of Baghdad, the
capital. In Baghdad, UNICEF said there was broken glass, doors
and other damage
at a maternity hospital, a teaching hospital and an out-patients clinic in Saddam Medical City. Parts of the Health Ministry were also damaged, including windows, walls, doors and electrical wiring and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs received a direct hit with two guards seriously injured, the report said.
One of the main water systems in Baghdad's Karrada suburb was hit by a cruise missile, cutting off supplies to about 300,000 people. UNICEF has asked the U.N. Security Council's sanctions committee to approve water treatment materials immediately, saying the city was faces a shortage of clean water.
In Basra, UNICEF reported 10 schools suffered damage, including to windows, doors and electrical wiring. And in Kirkuk a secondary agricultural school sustained a direct hit, the report said.
COPTIC MAN KILLED FOR DATING A MOSLEM WOMAN
(ZNAF: Cairo) A Coptic Christian man who secretly dated a Moslem
woman was shot to death in
southern Egypt, triggering a wave of protests at his funeral last Tuesday. "We will seek revenge. We will fight Moslems," mourners at the funeral of Magdi Fawzi Massud, 30, chanted in the village of Ruwayheb in the central province of Sohag. But village elders quickly stepped in and restored calm to the funeral procession. Massud, a shoes salesman, was shot to death by unidentified gunmen as he strolled in the streets of Al-Ruwayheb with his friend, 18-year-old Makram Adli. The second man was wounded in the attack.
Relations between Christians and Moslems are frowned upon in the conservative provinces south of the capital- Cairo. Under Islamic law, a non-Moslem man cannot marry a Moslem woman.
"In the December 21, 1998 issue of Zenda, you replied, 'Zenda
Magazine prides itself in objectively chronicling the conscientiousness
of every segment of the global Assyrian nation'. Yet in Ms. Irene
Kliszus' article which appeared in the December 14th issue of
Zenda and which I complained about,
nowhere did you mention that Irene Kliszus was somehow a part of 'the global Assyrian nation'.
You also stated, 'Zenda publishes every letter, article, message, and comment it receives with minor grammatical editing'. Besides the fact that you assume your readers' English grammar to be inferior to your own, Zenda is either desperate for material or that it doesn't have the discretion necessary for a responsible Assyrian magazine.
Then you stated, 'We at Zenda believe that our highest function is to present the facts, thoughts, and the dreams of readers without any bias and prejudice'. Mrs. Kliszus' article was clearly devoid of any 'facts' and 'dreams' and barely meeting the requirement for 'thoughts'. Then you stated, 'The isolationists and the self-righteous guardians of a patriarchal, self-centered, and intolerant segment of the Assyrian society', which showed an inclination of temperament, preconceived judgment, and an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, or their supposed characteristics. It seems to me that you have violated the very definitions of 'bias' and 'prejudice' which you pride yourself on having none.
I'm taking your ill willed advise, I would appreciate being removed from Zenda's email distribution list and remember, 'Zenda publishes every letter, article, message, and comment it receives' with 'minor grammatical editing' of course. b-shena,"
Happy new year Zenda. I am proude of you. You are a true son of Assyria! God bless you.
Martin David and Family
I would like to advise you that the Assyrian Aid Society (United
Kingdom Branch) held a party at the Assyrian House on Saturday
14th November 1998. The party was a great success, it was thoroughly
enjoyed by all. We managed to generate a Net profit of 6526.00
pounds (approximately 10,800 US
Dollars). This amount has already been sent and received by the Assyrian Aid Society in our homeland Northern Iraq. This was the very first party that the Assyrian Aid Society has organised and we believe
it was a success. Plans to host another party in 1999 are already underway.
On behalf of the Assyrian Aid Society (UK Branch), I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who participated in making this night a very successful and enjoyable one.
Keep up the good work ZENDA."
Assyrian Aid Society (UK Branch)
Congratulations to Mr. Michael and his team at AAS-UK. ZENDA
urges its readers to support their local AAS activities by attending
their lectures, presentations, and entertainment events. ZENDA
is also pleased to announce that beginning with our second issue
in February we will outline important daily events taking place
in northern Iraq under the NORTHERN CHRONICLES column. The hard-working
team of Samira and Sargon Hermes have joined our ZENDA staff and
will assist in the Arabic to English translation of the documents
faxed and received in our office. We also thank our friends and
contributors at the Assyrian Democratic Movement offices in Modesto
and San Jose, California and Detroit, Michigan for providing us
with much needed information from the Assyrian communities in
Garbya (northern) d'Iraq.
Am I mistaken? Do you still email each issue to those on your mailing list?
Thank you again for your devotion to Assyria.
ZENDA sends a "Notification Message" between Monday and Wednesday
of each week to remind its readers of that week's issue. For
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Is there any Assyrian working in this field of research?
The forthcoming conference papers/volume (if not even attended)
may provide the instrument for tuning into these future scientific
endeavors. Please be kind enough to forward this to whom it may
Thanks for attention."
ASSYRIAN UNIVERSAL ALLIANCE RALLIES IN CALIFORNIA
On the occasion of the historic 22nd AUA World Congress held in Tehran, Iran, the Assyrian Universal Alliance will be holding a public rally at the Assyrian Church of the East Hall, located at 680 Minnesota Avenue, San Jose, California. Everyone is welcome!
The Agenda will be as follow:
22nd AUA Congress Report
John Nimrod, Secretary General
Assyrian American National Federation Report on Middle East Sargon Lewie, President
Assyrian Information Management System Report TBA
Assyrian Universal Alliance Goals Homer Ashurian, AUA
Similar rallies are scheduled on January 13 in Turlock, January 15 in San Diego, and January 16 in Los Angeles. For more information contact your local Assyrian organizations.
Please join us for an exciting and informative report.
Assyrian American Association of San Jose
Dear Brothers and Sisters
The harassment of Assyrian population continue in North Bet Nahrain(Iraq). The latest attack on Assyrians follows the earlier incident when Ms Nasrain Hanna Shaba and her daughter Larsa were killed by an explosion planted in their front gate.
The latest attack was planned in front of Qasha Zoomay's front door. At 7.30 Wednesday, 6th January, 1999 - Qasha's son opened the front door of their house and immediately realized that an explosion was planted. He instantly closed the door and the explosion went off, but thanks God his life was spared
and no serious injuries were inflicted.
This barbaric act is part of series of planned criminal acts to scare the Assyrian population where law, security, order and justice is unheard off.
The Kurdish parliament must take extra precautions to insure that the Assyrian population is safe under its controlled territory, if democracy will ever flourish in Northern Iraq.
The BNDP will not let such incidents passed unnoticed, but will report them to all concerned governments and organizations. Long live the Assyrian Nation
BNDP Australia branch
AN INVITATION FOR UNIVERSAL PRAYER DAYS
Have you prayed for people of other Nations? Have you prayed for people and nations that you do not like?
In Bible, the book of Jonah in old testament reveals to us not to be self-centered, rather think of all nations and reach those whom we like the least, as well as those who we like. God wants to see nations not being perished by their sins. Jonah said, I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity (Jonah 4:2).
The Assyrian Church of East, one of the original churches whose foundation goes to the time of Jesus Christ, recognizes the three days that Jonah spent in Nineveh as praying and fasting days each year. These days are recognized on January 25th, 26th and 27th in the year of 1999.
It would be a blessing to all nations including us proclaiming three days a Universal Prayer Days in remembrance of Jonahs mission in Nineveh. We will pray and fast for our families and ourselves on the first day. On second day we will pray and fast for our own nation and on the third day we will pray and fast for all nations.
I see the world as a garden of flowers in which each flower resembles a Nation, and the Lord as the gardener. By wisdom the LORD laid the earth's foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew (Proverbs 3:19-20). God is whole as it is written in the book of revelation 1:8, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the Ending of all things. We can not perceive the wholeness of God if we do not appreciate the diversity that Lord has created. The diversity is acknowledged by wisdom that is, knowing and doing right; it is accepted by common sense and finally it is appreciated by love. In order to be with the wholeness, Jesus said " Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and greatest command. The second most important is similar: love your neighbor as much as you love yourself " (Matthew 22:37-39). Loving God keeps a person focused to the source of the wholeness and prevents one to fall short. Loving others produces strong bonds among relationships and creates a meaning for life.
We invite you to join us in this Universal Prayer Days on January 25th, 26th and 27 in the year of 1999, and let us pray and fast for prosperity of our nation, for all nations and for peace on earth.
God bless you
An Assyrian Christian Missionary
For more information and comments contact Bahra at Bahra@jps.net.
ISREAL ORIENTAL STUDIES SYMPOSIUM ANNOUNCEMENT
Israel Oriental Studies (IOS) is an annual devoted to the study of the Near East in various disciplines. Appearing under the auspices of the Faculty of Humanities at Tel Aviv University, it began publication in 1971, and quickly earned a reputation for its contribution to scholarship, with major concentrations in the study of Near Eastern languages, philology, history and religions.
For the year 2000, the editorial board of IOS have planned an ambitious project, and volume 20 of this annual will be devoted to the state of the art of Semitic linguistics at the turn of the 21st century. What we would like to convey are the achievements, the drawbacks and the desiderata in the wide and diverse field of Semitic linguistics, i.e., to emphasize progress, conservatism and current gaps in research.
While languages and language families are the main concern of Semitic linguistics in general, we thought it would be preferable to adopt a different point of view, and to present our interest in the various languages in this family from a variety of angles. Thus, aside from commonly studied issues such as comparative linguistics, typology and genetics, or scripts, we should like to shed light from the point of view of Semitic linguistics on more general topics like dialectology, the study of rare or extinct languages, geographical linguistics, languages in contact, the relationship between linguistics and other disciplines, child language and first language acquisition, and others. Some topics may be dealt with by more than a single author, and be combined later into a set of articles in a single category.
Special attention will be paid to the impact of the advances in general linguistics on the study of Semitic languages and on Semitic linguistics, as well as to the actual and potential impact of Semitic linguistics on the general study of language.
As a first step towards the publication of this volume, we are
planning a preparatory symposium. This will provide an opportunity
for contributors to the volume, many of whom are involved in large
research projects, to offer oral presentations in the investigated
areas and to discuss matters of mutual interest. Special emphasis
will be drawn on pinpointing desiderata and on raising suggestions
for future research and possible international cooperation. The
planned symposium will be the basis upon which the
written contributions and the setup of the IOS volume will emerge.
The symposium is planned to take place at Tel Aviv University under the auspices of The Faculty of Humanities and the Department of Hebrew and Semitic Languages. We very much hope-and will make effort to achieve this goal-that our symposium will serve further to forward information about the study of Semitic languages among less professional audiences within Israel.
The symposium will take place on January 11-13, 1999, at 496 Gilman Hall, Tel Aviv University. We will post further details as they become available.
List of scheduled papers in volume 20 of Israel Oriental Studies
For More Information Click Here.
ASSYRIAN INTERPRETERS NEEDED
Language Services Associates is looking for experienced Assyrian interpreters.
All interested applicants should posses the following: U.S. Citizenship or applicable working papers, and fluency in English and their native language.
All qualified applicants should send their resume to:
Language Services Associates
Attn: Telephonic Coordinator
Fax: (215) 659.-7210
All questions concerning applicant qualifications should be addressed via e-mail.
Language Services Associates
CALENDAR OF EVENTS
NUZI & THE HURRIANS: FRAGMENTS OF A FORGOTTEN PAST
Hurrian settlements in Bet-Nahrain during mid-2nd millennium B.C. Hurrians settled between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers during the mid-second millennium B.C. The Pharaohs of Egypt sought marriage alliances with them and the Hittites feared them. More than 100 objects excavated by Harvard between 1927 & 1931
Harvard University's Semitic Museum
Join the Assyrian youth in a trek through the Olinda Falls, Sherbrooke Falls, Mt. Dandenong Observatory during a 4-hour hike.
Limited seats available!
NINEVEH CHOIR IN CONCERT
Conducted by Mastro Nabu Issabey
MEETINGS & CLASSES
1031 McHenry Ave. Suit # 18
|Conducted in Assyrian
Provided by Nineveh Online
Call (209) 578-5511
||7:30-9 PM||Assyrian American Assoc of San Jose
20000 Almaden Road
San Jose, California
|Young Adult Assyrians in the SF Bay Area are invited to join
ASSYRIAN SURFING POSTS
Links to Other Assyrian Websites
The Lord's Prayer in Assyrian
SyrCOM-99: The Third International Forum on Syriac Computing
Mistreatment of Assyrian Refugees in Turkey
Assyrian E-Mail Directory
PUMP UP THE VOLUME
This week, we picked two words that have somehow found their way
from ancient Akkadian language into modern English. At the time
of King Sargon of Akkad (2340's B.C.) the inhabitants of Bet-Nahrain
(Mesopotamia) used Saffron and prepared alcoholic beverages such
as beer. The Akkadian word for Saffron was "zaprinu", and "aggulu"
was used to refer to alcohol. These two words were then used
in Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic and then brought to Europe- perhaps
after the Crusades. Arabic "al-kol" is a composite form of "al"
(indefinite article) and "kol" which is derived from Akkadian
BACK TO THE FUTURE
During the reign of Shutruk-Nahhunte of Elam, the stela known as the Code of Hammurabi was carried off from Babylon to the Elamite capital of Susa (the Biblical Shushan in the books of Esther and Daniel) as a war trophy. The Elamites chiseled off a number of the Codes which were identified in the modern times by using other extant copies of the Code.
The Ancient Near East, Pritchard
The French archaeologists in the winter of this year find the stela of the Code of Hammurabi and carry it off to the Louvre Museum in Paris.
The Ancient Near East, Pritchard
THE APPROACHING DOOM
Might I, for the evils
that were in store for my land
like a cow to the calf,
have lent hand to it on the ground,
no wise should I have been able
to recover it from out the mire!
Might I, for the bitter tribulations
that were in store for my city,
like a bird of the air have beat the wings
and flown to my city,
Verily also then would my city
have been ravaged on its site,
verily also then would Ur
have perished for me where it lay!
Because the storm's hand
was raised against it,
might I have screamed,
might I have cried to it;
"Storm, turn back into the desert!"
Nowise should I have been able
to have the storm front lift!
From an ancient Sumerian poem entitled "Lament for Ur" ca. 3100 B.C.
The Harps That Once (Sumerian Poetry in Translation), Jacobsen
THIS WEEK IN HISTORY
January 11, 1842: On this day, Mar Yohanna, Bishop of Gavilan, became the first Assyrian to arrive in the United States from Iran.
THE VILLAGE THAT SPEAKS LIKE JESUS
If Jesus were to return to earth today, one of the few places he could make himself understood is a tiny hamlet in the Qalamoun mountains of Syria, 50 kilometers north of Damascus.
Perched near a gorge on an arid mountainside, between ponderous,
overhanging cliffs and an oasis of apricot and fig trees below,
Maalula is one of the last living outpost of a language with supreme
significance to the planet's almost 2 billion Christians. Maalula's 8,000 inhabitants make up more than half of the world's remaining speakers of 'Western Aramaic,' the language that Christ spoke.
Maalula's blue mauve and white houses are crammed on top of each other and hug the ochre cliffs. With the same intensity, its inhabitants cling to their ancient tongue.
The village is however not exclusively Christian: Even though crucifixes dot the mountainside, a crescent-topped minaret sits comfortably amid the profusion of Christian symbols.
"Everyone here speaks Aramaic, Christians and Muslims," said Hunayn Daabul, a computer engineer from Maalula who now works in Damascus. Aramaic is also spoken in the predominantly Muslim neighboring villages of Jub'adin and Bakh'a.
The word Aramaic derives from "Aram," Hebrew for ancient Syria and the name of the fifth son of Shem, Noah's eldest son and father of the Semites. Aramaic was originally spoken by Aramean tribes in Northern Syria and Mesopotamia. When the Patriarch Abraham and his followers crossed the Euphrates river from Mesopotamia and went to Palestine, their Aramaen kinsmen to the east of the Euphrates called them "those who crossed over".
The word "Hebrew" is derived from the Aramaic "Abar" which means
"to cross over". A Semitic tongue, it is the language that Abraham's
people brought with them into the Levant and later evolved into
Western Aramaic dialect that was spoken in the region at the time of Jesus.
This language is still spoken in present-day Maalula.
Language scholars have separated the Western Aramaic dialect from the related Eastern Aramaic dialects, Assyrian and Chaldean, that are still spoken in parts of modern day Iraq, Iran and Turkey.
Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Near East in the millennium
before Christ. It was the most widely spoken language in Babylonia,
Persia and the Levant from the 9th century BC until the time of
after which it started being partially replaced by Greek. After the Arab Conquest of the Near East in the 7th century AD, Aramaic gave way to Arabic as the dominant language.
According to Daabul, in the first century after Christ, when Saint
Takla was a young woman, she converted to Christianity bringing
upon her the wrath of her father, a fierce chieftan. He vowed
to kill his
heretic child and pursued her to the foot of the Qalamoun mountains where she found her way blocked by the sheer cliffs. Expecting immediate death, Saint Takla fell on her knees in supplication. Suddenly the mountains opened up, allowing the poor girl to flee and find sanctuary. She lived the rest of her life in the isolated mountain cavern that is today a part of the convent of Mar Takla. Today, pilgrims come to the convent to drink the healing water that drips from the rock ceiling of cavern where Saint Takla is supposed to have hid.
According to Kamal Salibi, professor emeritus of history at the American University of Beirut and director of the Royal Institute of Interfaith Studies in Amman, Maalula's ancient vernacular may have been preserved throughout the millennia because of the village's secluded location. "Until recently, Maalula was an isolated and self-propagating community that had little contact with the outside world," Salibi said. "Thus its ancient language managed to stay intact."
Recurrent waves of Arab bedouin settlements in the plains that
fan out from the foot of the mountains and the Arabic speaking
empires that held sway in the region starting in the 7th century,
the spread of Arabic in the surrounding areas- and to the erosion of the older Aramaic on the coasts and plains of the Near East. But Arabic did not reach Maalula in its secluded mountain hideaway. Until now that is. Everyone in Maalula is bilingual, but since Aramaic is not taught at school, its continuity depends on it being passed down orally.
"As long as Maalula remains a village that is able to subsist
on its own produce, with inhabitants who inter-marry and do not
venture far, Aramaic will continue to be spoken there," Dr. Salibi
said. "But with
Maalula's increasing dependence on the outside world, the development of mass society, urbanization, technology, Maalula is no longer secluded from the rest of the world and as a result the use of its
ancient tongue will erode." Shop owners, standing outside their tiny tourist-trap shops, invite passers-by to come in and buy postcards or engravings of the Aramaic alphabet. A toothless old man on a donkey cheerfully accosts tourists with his marketing slogan: "Come to my house for coffee and hear me speak the language of Jesus!"
Elias Daabul, looks unhappy as he sits behind a heaping plate of fresh figs in the dim, cool interior of his stone house near the village square, fingering a chain of beads. "People are leaving the village and going to big cities like Damascus or Beirut. There they speak Arabic or French or English and their children grow up not speaking a word of Aramaic," he said shaking his head sadly, nodding towards his teenage grandson, who was sitting next to him on the rug-covered divan. "Elie and many like Elie speak no Aramaic. That's why our language will soon disappear."
The Daabul family is a good example of the effects of modernization
on the inhabitants of Maalula and its language. Elias Daabul is
a farmer and has lived his entire life in the village speaking
Aramaic. He only
speaks Arabic to strangers who venture into Maalula and on his infrequent trips to the Damascus. His eldest son, Hunayn, who is not married and lives in Damascus speaks Aramaic fluently but conducts his
professional life in Arabic. The younger son, Rabih, Elie's father, is married to a Lebanese and works as a taxi driver in Beirut. Rabih's children do not speak a word of Aramaic.
A few years ago, the convent of Saint Takla held a Good Friday
mass that was recited entirely in Aramaic. This attracted many
tourists and some important people. But Hunayn Daabul does not
think that such events will help preserve the language. He feels
that his mother-tongue is being artificially
"This language that we speak used to be spoken all over the land
of Canaan, it just happened that it has survived here," he said.
"We are Syrians like all the rest, we just speak an older language,"
"Before the tourists started pouring in, asking us to speak the language of Jesus, no one here even knew that our language was particularly holy or so closely tied to Jesus. It was just what we spoke with each other."
Takla, a young mother named after the village's patron saint,
walks up a steep and winding village road holding a plump baby
on her hip. She has made a concerted effort to instill Aramaic
in her child. "I used
to converse mostly in Arabic, but when my first child, Milad, was born, I switched to Aramaic. I speak to him only in Aramaic," she said.
In the main square, an old couple sit in the sun and converse in the guttural ancient tongue as they watch the comings and goings of their village. A group of little girls, playing a Maalulan version of hopscotch, chant in Aramaic as they skip across their chalk drawing. An old man walks past leading a donkey, in a scene straight from the pages of a children's Bible.
He identified himself as Abu Malik Sarkis. There was hope in his words. "We speak Aramaic at home, my parents spoke it to me, I spoke it to my children and my children speak it their children," she said.
And this is what has been occurring in Maalula for the past 3,000
years. But without a conscious effort to keep this unique language
alive in these days of rapid change, Jesus, on his second coming,
have no one to talk to.
This article, written by appeared Munira Khayyat, in the DailyStar on January 5, 1999.
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