All humans, societies and peoples are known through their particular identity. The defining 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, 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. As language deeply concerns humanity, the search how to keep languages alive required the establishment of serious institutions and the accumulation of wealth.
On 17 November 1999, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized February 21 as International Mother Language Day to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity. UNSECO specialists collect data on all languages in the world and they bring together much research. According to the UNESCO data, there are over 6.000 languages on earth. More than 3.000 of these languages are at risk of extinction.
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. The Syriac alphabet and language is, unfortunately, 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. There was a time when it was at the top of the list, much like English, today’s lingua franca.
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 expansion of their people and nation. This shows that the development and strengthening of languages , for the larger part, 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 and strengthened, and also how it has weakened. The Syriac people (Babylonians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Arameans) gradually lost their geographical influence. When they lost their political power and organization, they also lost heir linguistic importance and cultural influence. Where the Syriac language once took the role as bridge between the West and the East 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 over national, social, and political spheres.
Syriac has a thousands-year-old history, deep roots, and contains strong sources of civilization. However, since the Syriac people did not have political power, they could not exercise power to live and develop their own language. On the contrary, their rulers excluded Syriac from religious institutions and banned the Syriac language from all areas of life. Over time, Syriac educational institutions have been eliminated where the sovereign power 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, the interest and love of the Syriac people for their mother tongue decreased. This threat of a language disappearing essentially means the disappearance of a people. Therefore, the attempts to forcibly end the Syriac language and the Syriac people by different powers also affected the Syriac people’s own sense of 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 rich 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 Syriac people must be ready to do everything it takes in order for Syriac to be saved from its current vulnerable situation and the existential threats it faces. If the Syriac people are not ready to do all it takes for their language, identity, and culture, it is very clear that Syriac, the great and valuable heritage for humanity, will slowly melt away and become history like other languages have. The importance of national social struggle and political existential will is therefore more important today than ever.
It was through the power of labor and thought that great civilizations in the land between the two rivers Beth Nahrin (Mesopotamia) were established. It was through great work and pride by Syriacs that libraries full of manuscripts on religion, thought and philosophy were transmitted to world civilizations and served the sciences. The Syriac people should again mobilize all their labor and powers in Beth Nahrin to keep their language, identity and their homeland alive.
Disclaimer: Translated from the original Turkish @ www.gazetesabro.org