All humans, societies and peoples are known through their particular identity. The main characteristic of this identity is the mother tongue. The mother tongue plays a decisive role in the spiritual formation of humans, in the accumulation of knowledge and in getting to know and define one’s environment.
It is an indisputable reality that language is very important to every person and to every people and nation. For this reason, national and international organizations of culture, education and the arts attach great importance to the survival and development of language. Since language concerns humanity, the search for how to keep languages alive required the establishment of serious institutions and accumulation of wealth.
On 17 November 1999, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized February 21 as World Mother Language Day. UNSECO specialists collect data on all languages in the world and they bring together much research. According to UNESCO data, there are over 6.000 languages on earth. More than 3.000 of these languages are at risk of extinction.
Syriac is at the bottom of the UNESCO list. Syriac is a continuation of Aramaic-Akkadian and belongs to the Semitic language group. It is one of the oldest languages in the world. While languages such as Chinese, English, Spanish, Arabic and French are among the most spoken languages in the world, Syriac is in danger of extinction. There was a time when it was at the top of the list, much like today’s English.
Syriac played an important role in the Middle East between the 6th and 8th centuries AD. More important than Arabic, Greek, Persian and Italian. And it was widely in use at the time in economic markets and the political arena. At that time, while the German tribes were still fragmented over many different dialects, English was limited to only the Anglo-Saxon Island.
Over time, these languages and many other languages spread along the political power expansion of their people and nation. This shows that the development and strengthening of languages depends on political will and the institutionalization of the state. Therefore, those who possess political, military and economic power were and are able to develop their language and impose it, and even their religion, on the communities they rule.
Looking at the historical reality of the Syriacs, it shows how their language has evolved, strengthened and also how it has weakened. Syriacs (Babylonians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Arameans) gradually lost their geographical influence, and the accompanying influence of cultural values and language, when they lost their political power and organization. Although the Syriac language once played a bridge role in the establishment of relations between the West and the East, and in the translation of philosophical, medical and cultural works, we can only attribute the weakening of the Syriac language to the dispersion of the Syriacs in national, social and political spheres.
Syriac has a thousands-year-old history, deep roots and strong sources of civilization. However, since the Syriac people did not have political power, they could not exercise the power to live and develop their own language. On the contrary, their rulers excluded Syriac from religious institutions and banned Syriac from all areas of life. Syriac educational institutions have been eliminated and every sovereign power has created their own educational institutions, forcing Syriacs to read and write in other languages than their mother tongue.
As the Syriac language was eliminated from social life, production, education and government institutions, Syriacs’ interests and love for their mother tongue decreased. The disappearance of a language essentially means the disappearance of a people. Therefore, the attempts to forcibly end Syriac and the Syriacs by different powers also affected the Syriac people’s own identity and the language spoken by Jesus Christ.
Syriacs exist today despite all the pressures. And they must protect their mother tongue to keep their identity alive. All the words of their language comprise and express a life based on thousands of years of history, traditions, nature, human relations, products of labor and thought, imagination and aspirations. Language is the collective life of a people. Agreement is the spirit of solidarity and survival with its own identity. Therefore, when the Syriacs make it a principle to live their lives in agreement, they can also stop the destruction and assimilation policies of ruling powers. Today, Syriac is in need of treatment and care because it is a sick language.
The Syriacs must be ready to do everything it takes in order for Syriac to be saved from its current vulnerable situation and the existential threat it faces. If the Syriacs are not ready to do all it takes for their language, identity, and culture, it is sound and clear that Syriac, which is a great and valuable heritage for humanity, will melt away and become history like other languages have. Therefore, the importance of national social struggle and political will is more vital today than ever.
It was through the power of labor that great civilizations in Beth Nahrin (Mesopotamia) were established, that the libraries full of manuscripts on religion, thought and philosophy were presented by Syriac to world civilization and served the sciences. The Syriacs should again mobilize their all their labor and powers in Beth Nahrin to keep their language, their identity and their motherland alive.
Translated from Turkish www.gazetesabro.org