The Tragedy of Aramaic

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The simple reason I am writing this post is because I want to show an unfortunate reality that few know. Yes, it will be kind of like a Wikipedia article but it deserves it. 

I must assume that many of you have heard of Aramaic (Exactly, the language of Jesus. The one of The Passion of Christ), but for those of you who don't know, it's an ancient language that was once spoken as the primary language of the Middle East and the liturgical language of the eastern Christian churches that reached as far as India, China and Mongolia. Aramaic is a Semitic language (ie it is related to Arabic and Hebrew) that originated in the deserts of western Syria in the late bronze age. From this linguistic crib came shepherds who expanded it into the rest of the Middle East. Aramaic later evolved into its imperial version as it became the official language of the Persian Empire. Due to the large area covered, and the number of peoples who spoke it, Aramaic ended up evolving into different dialects and languages. But the prosperity of Aramaic ended in the first centuries after Christ: After the advent of Islam, Arabic became the new language of the region and Aramaic (along Coptic and the Greek dialects in the Middle East) started to disappear. 

Aramaic scripture in a Mandaechian scroll

Aramaic scripture in a Mandaechian scroll

By 2000, after years of persecution in nations like Iran and Turkey, this magnificent language was reduced to the Christian populations in Iraq, small populations in Turkey and Iran, and three mountain villages in Syria. Then came the war and persecution. The mass exodus of Christians and their persecution by jihadists after the fall of Saddam Hussein reduced the number of speakers quickly. Almost ten years later, the Syrian civil war broke out.

The current situation of Aramaic is depressing: in Syria, the Aramean towns have suffered a loss of population and an exodus after the recurrent invasions by Islamists and subsequent battles against the Syrian army. In Iraq it's even worse: the Northern Plains, where the Chaldeans (Iraqi Christians) lived, have been captured by the Islamic group ISIS. This self-named Caliphate has declared a war against religious minorities and has made a hell in the Christians and other groups' lives. Christian civilians were beheaded or buried alive and many women have been sold into slavery: the rest have died or fled, leaving everything behind.

With the Aramean population refuged and scattered across the world, the future of this people is not promising. But why is Aramaic so important? This language, which suffers from a possible extinction in the hands of fanatic groups, has a continuous recorded history of over three thousand years: something only Chinese, Greek and Hebrew can celebrate. This means that Aramaic is one of the most important languages in the world and one of great importance for Western culture since a part of the Bible, probably the most important literary work of the West, was written in this language. An example of the importance of this language is the famous Aramaic phrase Jesus Christ said during crucifixion: Eli, Eli lama sabachthani - My God, my God, why have you forsaken me. In addition to this, as the linguist Ken Hale said, the extinction of a language is like throwing a bomb at the Louvre: Thought patterns, vocabularies, ways of being, idiosyncrasies and the history of a people are some of the things that are lost. 

The writing on the wall

The writing on the wall

Today the Arameans are not only scattered and dispersed throughout the world, but they are being brutally murdered and persecuted. This language and this people, with its three thousand years of history and its existence as a time capsule of a time already gone, are disappearing at an alarming rate and this could be one of the greatest cultural loss in recent years. The writing on the wall of the Old Testament, which was in Aramaic, predicted the fall of Babylon. Now, the fall of other people of the same rivers is predicted.