The Syriac Aramaic Eagle – Ablahad Hanna Saka al-Bartelli
By Ablahad Hanna Saka al-Bartelli
Our Aramaic Syriac forefathers chose the eagle as their symbol already in ancient times, in the pre-Christian era. The eagle is a sharp-sighted bird of prey with large wings and strong muscles. Its wings are about 280 centimeters wide. It is a special bird characterized by its large size and impressive features. The eagle enjoys prestige and is assigned a high degree of symbolism. It is ranked in the top level of the hierarchy of birds. The Syriac Aramaic Eagle is of the bird type of eagles and the rank of falcons. Its name in Hebrew and Syriac (“Neshro”, “Nashru”, “NSR”) is similar to Arabic “Nasser”. The Syriac Aramaic Eagle likens the bird of prey in that it tears its prey and in many more ways.
In the after Christ era, the Syriac people (Chaldeans-Assyrians-Syrians) used a flag consisting of pink, white, and red studded with three stars on the top left denoting the three churches: Syriac, Chaldean, and Assyrian. Later the flag was replaced by a white cross on a red background symbolizing the blood of the martyrs of the massacres of the Sayfo Genocide of 1915 committed by the Ottoman Empire against the Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian, Pontic Greek and Armenian peoples.
In the mid-eighties of the 20th century, Syriacs adopted a flag which was taken from an image of an eagle-relief as discovered close to Tel Halaf, Syria, by the French scholar and semiologist André Dupont (1900-1983). Tel Halaf is located in the north-eastern part of Syria, west of Ris Ayno (Ras al-Ayn), in the area of the Khabur River, the largest tributary of the Euphrates. Tel Halaf is the contemporary name for the first millennium BC Aramean city-state called Guzana (or Gozan), and it was the capital of the kingdom Beth Bakhiyati representing a period of time in the history of Mesopotamia.
The discovered eagle relief depicts Gilgamesh between two men-bull’s supporting a winged sun disk and it is believed to belong to the era of the Aramean king Gabbara of Qadiano (dated ninth century; although others place him in the sixth millennium BC). In the mid-eighties of the 20th century, the head of the eagle was replaced by a Christianized flame representing the Holy Spirit as the eagle’s head was assumed “contaminated” and “associated” with prey and with the eating of dead carcasses.
The eagle symbolizes the sublimity of human beings. Some of its qualities and symbols include:
1 – Highness and superiority: the eagle soars to very high altitudes that other birds cannot reach. No other bird meets its ambition, glory, and pride, and in these rises and high altitudes it bears sudden and large temperature swings that other birds do not tolerate easily. And the eagle builds its nest at great heights and achieves independence in living. The four stars at the feet of the Syriac Aramaic eagle symbolize the God (Hadad) of storm, cloud, rain, lightning, and thunder.
In eagle symbolism this means that the Syriac person can adapt to any political, social or religious situation.
2 – As the owner of sharp eyesight and perceptive vision, the eagle can focus with extreme precision. It detects its prey at a distance of 5 km to determine its location.
Sharp eyesight and perceptive vision symbolize the active Syriac who searches the depths of his parents’ and grandparents’ history with a realistic mind, and derives from this his personal path for a better future.
3 – Courage in the face of difficulties, challenges and disasters. All creatures avoid storms and hurricanes as they consider them to be natural disasters. Eagles however desire storms. Storms carried by winds push eagles to fly in high atmospheres, unlike the rest of the birds that resort to trees, houses and other places in search of safety.
As Jurji Zaydan puts it; Syriacs wherever they go, build a new life. Likewise, the difficulties, persecutions, hardships, massacres and violence that have been perpetrated against Syriacs throughout history have increased their steadfastness and strength of faith and will.
4 – When building a nest for their young, eagles deliberately make the nest disordered and inconvenient to increase their desire to leave the nest and to push their chicks to learn to fly quickly and not let it become a hotbed of lethargy and laziness. The Bible says: “As an eagle that stirs up her nest, that flutters over her young, He spread abroad His wings and He took them, He bore them on His pinions.” (Deuteronomy 31:11).
5 – In the case of eagles mating, as they are social birds, the female enforces the male eagle commitment and obedience by throwing a tree branch, a prey or some other object from different heights more than once and the male must pick it up before the object hits the ground. The following passage in the Bible may demonstrate this sense: “A great eagle with powerful wings, long feathers and full plumage of varied colours came to Lebanon. Taking hold of the top of a cedar.” (Ezekiel 17:3)
6 – Modernity and Renewal: This is evident when an eagle gets old, and its feathers, beaks, and claws begin to weaken and soften. Of course this threatens its livelihood so it takes refuge in high mountains and begins to pluck its feathers, break its claws, and smash its beak by clashing them with rocks. After that practice all is renewed so that it returns healthy and safe.
And so the Syriac also has to renew and modernize to keep pace with human development. It also symbolizes the renewal of the believer’s spiritual life in order to return to the arms of the Lord;
7 – The fact that many Arab countries have adopted the symbol of the eagle is not a mere coincidence but rather indicates the extent of deep and underlying influence of the Aramean people on the peoples of the East and the region as a whole. In particular Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen… are the homelands of the Arameans and much influenced by them. It is worth noting that Nazem al-Jaafari, the founder of impressionism in the Syriac homeland of Syria, when he thought of designing the Syria emblem his choice fell on the eagle. This was a so-called revelation, and it was not by chance or a coincidence.
8 – The speed of the eagle’s swoop on its prey indicates the speed and eagerness of the Syriac in the acquisition of knowledge and science. The Bible says: “They sweep by like boats of papyrus, like an eagle swooping down on its prey.”(Job 9:26)
9- The eagle is self-confident, self-sufficient, and has character.
10- The eagle’s life is relatively long as it lives between 14-20 years.
11- The Syriac Aramaic Eagle symbolizes the return to the true roots of our people.
12 – When the eagle flies we do not know where it came from or where it is going. We don’t know its flight path. We only know that the eagle calls on us to look at the sky and ascend. As it says in the Book of Proverbs: “There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky.” Proverbs 30:18-19)
According to the Gospel of John, the eagle’s face is like His face. Hence, in Christianity the face of the eagle symbolizes the face of Christ. And this is what made the church replace the eagle’s head with the flame of the Holy Spirit. So, the Syriac Aramaic Eagle confirms and designates the significance of Syriac Christianity…