NONE WRITES ABOUT THEIR SUFFERING IN SYRIA
NONE TALKS ABOUT THEIR TRAGEDY
THEY ARE HURT BUT THEY ARE FORGOTTEN:ASSYRIANS/SYRIACS
“Nobody can tell what I suffer! But it is always so. Those who do not complain are never pitied.”
―Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
We all know to recognize the sound of beautiful Aramaic language. It is so soft and delicate but also very rich and deep so it produced later Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, alphabet of Farsi, Urdu and Greek language. The old language with the remarkable history cant make us indifferent when we think how it was spoken among the first Christians and how it was always considered as a language of God.Through the times, it was modified but it has never lost its rare beauty and just transferred into Western and Eastern dialect. Western is a Palestinian dialect and Eastern is a Syriac dialect.
I was amazed to find the educational website http://www.learnassyrian.com/ which has opened the door of heaven for my curiosity. It was not enough for me to stay on language’s field but to try to see what is behind this archaic language, facing up with the marvelous world of ancient Assyrians and their modern suffering.
In the time of the Middle Eastern madness, the tragedy of Assyrians is always somehow replaced with the main stream media explanations which exclude the particular attention to the people who are wounded by war, but rather include the political curtain what is the best suitable for them. The Assyrians, as well as the Alawites, Yazidis and Druzes as well as all ordinary Syrians, aren’t any exception. They are only one more victim of the wrong chess game of the global players. Nothing more, nothing less. However, their story is worth of writing and even more, worth of reading.
Assyrians in Syria present about 4-5% of the whole Syrian population which is about 500.000-700.000 people but they are different than other Syrian Christians from Western, Southern and Central Syria who speak Arabic by themselves. Assyrians are pre-Arabic indigenous people and they follow some kind of Eastern Aramaic language which is now a modern Assyrian language, based on Akkadian and Aramaic but also adjusted to the demands of modern linguistic demands. It is interesting to mention that, according to their language, they consider themselves as ‘Suraya/Sur(y)oyo’. Most of them are located in the Al-Hasakah Governorate but also in Qamishli, Malikiyah, Ras al-Ayn, Tell Tamer and in Damascus. They mostly belong to the Assyrian Church of the East, Syriac Ortodox Church and to the Chaldean Catholic Church. Like many other ethnicities and religious groups, Assyrians came to Syria to find a peace in liberal Muslim secular state. They have suffered through the history, especially in the period of Assyrian Genocide (1914-23)committed by Turkish and Kurdish nationalists who wanted to liberate Turkey from Christian presence so they dealt violently with Assyrians and Armenians. Just 10 years later, it was the Simele Genocide as the first of many massacres made by the Iraqi government during the systematic targeting of Assyrians of Northern Iraq in August 1933. The cruel killing was all over the 63 Assyrian villages and about 3.000 of innocent Christian people were killed then. That was the deepest paradox ever. The people who fled from the anger of Ottoman Empire and the terrible Assyrian Genocide were trapped again in the same punishment, just for being Christians, but in another country. It was like a holding a grudge. Wherever you go, you bring your curse. It seems that Assyrians who found their peace in Syria also were the only one who would say that their position in Syria was safe and tolerated. The regime over there controlled the two worst fears of all Assyrians: Islamism and Kurdish nationalism. The official Syrian government wasn’t so impressed by strong political identity and ideas of Assyrians but it was always limited. They have freedom but they couldn’t have misused it too much or at least against the government. Now, with the rise of radical Islam and the horror of the Islamic State, Assyrians are lost in the mist. They aren’t so favorable by Assad’s regime so to be always protected, they do not have good relations with aggressive Kurdish national fanatics, and they could definitely not deal with the jaws of the ISIS’s Islam.
Assyrians are dealing with so many challenges that I had to find the real person to give me some personal ideas about the current situation and to bring me a bit of Assyrian strong spirit in elaborating the crucial segments of their hard life at this moment, in Syria.Hereby, my guider on this journey into the souls and hearts of Assyrian people, will be Mr. Robert Oshana, the founder of the above mentioned website for self-study of Aramaic language and one great presenter of Assyrian heritage and culture because in his veins is the untold story of all Assyrians, his ancestry.
- Mr. Oshana, you are Assyrian by yourself, so how could you describe your people?
Assyrians (also know as Chaldeans and Syriacs) are the indigenous people of the Mesopotamian region. They are one of the first to embrace Christianity and against all odds, have preserved their ancient Syriac (Aramaic) language. Their liturgy has brought Christianity all the way to Japan and China as you can see with the Nestorian Monument.) Their contributions to civilization are many. They are now divided among the modern borders of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran with each trying it’s best to eradicate our existence.Assyrian International News Agency is where you can find current news on Assyrians.
2. You started your educational interactive website for learning Aramaic. I assume there are lot of interested people in discovering this rare and old language. What is so special about Aramaic, from your point of view?
When I was very young, I had little knowledge of the significance of our language. Mentioning Assyrian or Aramaic to anyone would have to be followed by a five minute history lesson. Many didn’t show interest, so it felt like you were stigmatized for speaking this weird language that no one knew what it was. Only scholars of the bible or languages would show interest. Little by little, through movies like Stigmata and through news agencies mentioning the language because of the atrocities committed by certain groups, awareness grew. But then one man made an almost lost language into a common household word. Mel Gibson and The Passion of the Christ. After that, explanations of the language was no longer a chore. If gold is more valuable than silver because of it’s rareness, then our language is the diamond of languages. My goal is to instill pride in our people and to preserve the most important part of our identity.
3. Why the modern world is so much blind and deaf for ensuring Assyrian identity today?
That has been a question that most vexed Assyrians. When our churches burned with members locked inside and priests who had their heads cut off, there was silence for over a century. Even National Geographic for over a century hasn’t mentioned us since it’s inception. And this is a magazine of anthropology and cultures. After the war with Iraq, some news agencies picked up our stories when in one year, seventy churches were bombed. That was harder to ignore along with the current atrocities. Our loss would have to be very great to be covered in the news.
4. If we go to the war zone in Syria now, how do you see the position of Assyrians? We always see the suffering of all others but it seems that none really mention Assyrian torment.
Very dire. There is almost no Assyrian in the world who doesn’t have family in different countries or continents. Truly we are global citizens of exile. Children are separated from their parents and wives from their husbands. Many doors are closed to them and one terrible law of the US is if a Christian is kidnapped and a ransom is paid, otherwise your child will be beheaded, you are automatically unqualified to seek asylum in the states.
5. I read somewhere that Assyrians in Syria have some kind of ambivalent relation with Assad’s regime. What do you think personally?
The position is on a fulcrum, and the winning side can punish the Assyrians for not supporting them. Assad respects minorities and has never persecuted Christians for being Christian. All Assyrians want to live in a secular country. The Islamic State of Syria is not good for anyone.
6. What are the political tensions between Assyrians and Kurdish?
Another fulcrum. They have killed more Christians than anyone except the Turks but do not want to face their past. They have occupied many of our homes and the same land that has always been historically Assyrian is now Kurdish. The dark reasons are the genocide. They also control the funds that is given to the Kurds for the Assyrians by international agencies. These funds are severally reduced once they reach the Assyrians. Yet they control our fate since they are the many and we have to live by their rules.
7. The radical Islam cant bring nothing good to anyone and especially not to Christians. Do you think that Assyrians will stay in Syria or they will leave?
Assimilation in the west is the end of Assyrian culture and language. Yet in the east, they are being killed and persecuted. Unfortunately, many if not most of the Assyrians have been purged, first from Turkey, then from Iran, and now from Iraq. Many are leaving Syria. If a secular state remains, there is hope for Assyrians.
8. Which countries are trying to help to your people, if there is any?
Sweden and Australia have bent over backwards to help Assyrians. Unfortunately, their political correctness in culture and religion has allowed many unwanted people into their countries that will never assimilate. Assyrians assimilate very well.
9. I was also informed that there are small villages in Syria where old people speak the Aramaic but the new generations have no idea what is that language about. Is that true ?
This is true, as the new generation is seeking education and employment in the cities and abandoning the villages. There is also assimilation in the east, but not as severe.
10. The last but the most important, could you give me some final conclusion of the future of Assyrians. We all need to help them and to inform about their destinies. The people like you who share views on these issues are welcomed and should be cherished. The more information we have, the more will be ready to fight for our common Christian heritage and the courageous people who hold on their faith in the scariest times ever.
The future of Assyrians is in the east. The safety of Assyrians is in the west. We are in a quagmire that does not look good. The only way to preserve the Assyrian race is to have protection zones, such as the Plaines of Nineveh in Iraq, overseen by the international community. Yet the international community doesn’t want to show preferential treatment to Christians, but this community has been persecuted to the brink of extinction.There are specific Assyrian charities such as Assyrian Aid Society and Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organization which bypass the Kurdish government and help Assyrians directly.