archiveren

Tagarchief: aramaic


Imagine, snow capped mountains in the distance, a small village on a hill in front of you, surrounded by ploughed fields and rocky hills. On the right hand side of the road is a church, on the left hand side some sand coloured houses and dirt roads. You can hear a rooster cuck-a-la-cooing in the distance, you see a shepherd with goats, sheep and a dog strolling in the road towards you. Welcome in Hah, one of the oldest villages in Tur Abdin in Southeast Turkey, where time passes slowly and the Arameans almost still live the same way as their ancestors did more than 2000 years ago.

The romantic view is contradictory to the situation the odd 140 villagers find themselves in. Thousands of acres have been confiscated by the government. Fields that are not used, or lands with rocks and trees can be confiscated just for those reasons only. Even a cemetery with two trees and the ruins of a church from the 5th century are state owned. On top of that, the village is deemed a cultural historic site. Houses and churches may not be renovated, and young married couples find themselves almost literally between the rock and a hard place: they cannot build a house of their own and continue the way of living of their fathers and fathers before them. Together with a Dutch film crew I travelled the lands of my forefathers. We collected stories about the present day life of the 5000 Arameans still living in Tur Abdin. One villager told us: “we are shouting from inside the well, here, nobody hears us. It is through you we can make our voices and plights heard”

This year we commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Seyfo, the genocide the Aramean (Syriac) people endured together with their Greek and Armenian Christian brethren during World War I. The denial by the Turkish Republic of this dark episode still has its mark on the souls of the Aramean people living in the world wide diaspora. With lands, houses and lands confiscated a return to the homeland is not easy. Judicial trials are bureaucratic and expensive at best. Add to this the on going war in neighbouring Syria and it is not hard to imagine that the perspective of a Christian presence in the middle east is very grim.

But there is more than the beautiful sights and dark stories. The people are used to survival. And their faith is a source of hope. It is the hope of monks who re-opened the monastery of Mor Augin on Mount Izlo. One monk and one deacon are still a lot less than the 350 monks who once occupied the place, “but we continue to pray in the same language as Jesus Christ did, and we try to continue the tradition”. It is the hope of children who want to be part of a better world. “I want to be an architect” one boy said, and his sister startled us with her answer to our question about their future: “I want to be a Turkish language teacher.” “Turkish?” She was adamant: “yes, Turkish” One can study now, be a lawyer and open up shop in the old city quarter in Midyat. People from Europe build second homes in their villages, and hold on to the believe that it can be their first and only home some day. When the people started to leave their homes en masse in the late seventies and early eighties, one man asked Mor Dolabani, then bishop of Tur Abdin: ‘will this be the end of our people?’ he answered him: ‘As the sun sets here on our people, it will rise again in some other place. The tree may be cut down, but the root is strong, and it will grow again.’ The lands of Tur Abdin may be rocky, but they are fertile. The Aramaic language and Syrian Orthodox liturgical tradition are still being taught in monasteries and village schools. The seeds our forefathers sowed can still grow, but we need the Turkish government to hold the earth firm so we can reap again.

The ancient Arameans were nomads, always traveling, herding and trading with the people they met. Some founded city states like Damascus, Palmyra, Edesa (now Sanliurfa) and built empires. Their cultural and linguistic influence spread throughout the region. Wars and conquests of others made an end to their national power, but as a people, they adapted. They always maintained their way of live, and after converting to Christianity, lived under Persian, Greek, Roman, Arab, Ottoman and Turkish rule. They are the indigenous people of the lands and part of a country. But they are not always viewed as such, yes, the Turkish government uses its power to confiscate lands throughout the whole country. But by denying the Arameans to renovate or build new churches and taking their lands which they need to feed themselves it almost feels like being choked. It is odd that villages and churches are deemed as cultural and historic important objects, but that the immaterial cultural worth is neglected. If Turkey really wants to uphold the old cultural traditions within its border, it also needs the Aramean people. In an ever changing world, a small people forgotten by almost all just has one plight: “God is great, the only thing we want is to just live”.

The documentary is a joint project of WCA and EO (evangelical broadcasting) and will be shown first on Dutch TV April this year.

 

 


Yesterday I wrote about the Pope’s visit to Palestine and the strange moments Mahmoud Abbas shared with the Pontiff. Monday evening, it was Benjamin Netanyahu’s turn in trying to show some love towards the Christians of Israel. Maybe his mistake of claiming that Jesus spoke Hebrew is a bit less scary than Abass’ antics, but it is exemplary for the tough relationship between Israel and the Church, and between Jews and Christians. The Pope corrected Netanyahu and said that Jesus spoke Aramaic, which Netanyahu quickly confirmed and added “but he did know Hebrew”. As a native Aramaic speaker (more specifically Syriac, the Western Aramaic dialect of Edessa) I was thrilled to see Netanyahu getting his facts served right, but at the same time I realized that we as Christians have a very long way to go in safeguarding our culture and heritage when even the PM of Israel struggles with our history, although Arameans have always lived in Israel.

The struggle is deep, just moments after the Pope’s visit to the Church of the Dormition a fire was discovered in one of the rooms. A couple of wooden crosses and a book in which pilgrims inscribe prayers was lost. No persons were arrested but suspicions point to radical Jews who want to see Mount Zion ‘cleaned’ of non Hebrew influences. Another act radical Jews and Palestinians alike take part in is throwing rocks at people who ‘don’t belong’ in Jerusalem. I had to run for my life after an encounter with Palestinian kids on the Mountain of the Olives last year. These conservative orthodox Jews pose a big challenge for the Israeli government. Some of them don’t recognize the government and refuse to serve in the Israeli Defence Forces, although a lot of military personnel protect the settlements they live in. Read some of stories of ex-IDF soldiers on http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/

Recent changes in applying for military service made it possible for ‘Christian Arabs’ to join the ranks voluntarily. Some christian groups, mainly based in the West Bank, see this as a deliberate attempt by the government to split Christians. Others, like some Aramaic Christians I know personally, welcome this step and even petitioned the governemt a year ago to allow them to enlist. ‘It’s our country too and we need to make clear to everyone that we are not Arabs. This will help us’. It’s a small step in the emancipation of this small group but it’s an important one. Abraham said; ‘my father was a wandering Aramean’ and in the years after, the Syrian Orthodox especially, have always wandered and lived under various rulers. After the fall of city states such as Damascus the people learned how to survive and pass on their culture and identity to this very day. When I introduced myself as ‘Aramit’ to IDF staff at the airports and various checkpoints, their eyes widened and I was treated with admiration even.

The Pope maybe has opened the eyes of Israelis a little bit, but there are still a lot of fires raging threatening the presence of Christians and their culture and traditions. Much more work is needed, but with this Pope, I think we have an excellent advocate.

 

 

 


qum Moran men auw qabro, eido brikho al kulkhun, Our Lord has risen from the grave, a blessed Easter to all of you. Here is yesterday’s story.

This shabto d-shulyo (lit. ‘Saturday of Silence’, Holy Saterday in the RC tradition) was a remarkable day. For the first time in more than 30 years a large group of Aramaic christians visited the Mor Augin monastery on Mount Izlo. The monastery was founded by Mor Augin, the saint that came to Tur Abdin from Egypt and with his followers established monasticism in the region. The monastery is one of the many places of worship they build in Tur Abdin. Two years ago raban (monk) Yoken and raban Aho got the keys and started renovating and rehabilitating yet another pearl on the neklace of this ancient treasure chamber. With them the christian villagers of nearby villages of Marbobo, Gremira and Kritho d-Ito joined hands and formed a new comittee to support their efforts. The buses barely could maneuver the steep road that winds up the ridge. We had to walk the last 500 meters. With each step I took, more of my breath was taken away by the splendid edifices hewn and build on the mountain. The Pilgrim has again reached a destination.

We were received by the two monks and people from the villages previously mentioned. A storm changed the plan slightly so we got a tour of the place first and seated for lunch later. Raban Yoken gave us a brief history of the monastery, its churches and the tombs holding the graves of Mor Augin and various saints and patriarchs. The construction of the altar is unique and it is believed that the wooden beams supporting the roof of the altar were once part of Noah’s Ark. Various universities already offered assistance in researching this claim. After this introduction and some words of gratitude 150 voices sang Abun d-beshmayo (Our Father) in aramaic. Upon leaving the church I could still hear the prayer echoed by the thirteen meters high vaulted ceiling.

Outside I tried to take a moment of silence to really breath in the place. What struck me was how many noises were around me. It took some concentration to filter out the talk of men and hear the songs of birds and the rustling of the wind as it graced over the mountain. I closed my eyes for a moment and when I opened them again I noticed the warde d-nison, (lit. ‘flowers of April’, poppies in English). I already saw a lot of them growing in the fields around Midyat but here they seem to defy nature and grow out of cracks in the rocks. Many books have been written with the ink made from this flower. When I thought I could feel the mountain itself breathing I was called to lunch. Was it my imagination or the feeling of the want of food that was made known to my brain by my growling stomach? We enjoyed an excellent lunch prepared by the good people of the villages, I can even say the love that was put in making it fed our souls. It was rumoured that it took them a week to prepare. We had to walk the whole way down but I dare to say that not a single person did not turn his or her head around to have one, two or more final looks at Mor Augin. A view words cannot describe.

In the evening we visited the center of Syrian Orthodoxy, the Mor Gabriel monastery. Founded in 397 it stands on a hilltop overlooking hundreds of olive trees. Although it housed saints, bishops, monks and thousands of student ever since, it is now struggeling for its survival. It is sued to the courts by the treasury department and nearby villages claiming its lands and the destruction of the surrounding walls. Again the tourists were preoccupied with taking pictures and chatter as I was looking for a place to clear my mind and just not think of anything. It was not easy because the path of the Pilgrim crossed that of the tourists in the church of the Virgin Mary, the Dome of Theodora, the Church of Mor Gabriel, the beth qadishe (burial tomb of the saints). Finally I found a place away from it all and realised how much of our time is taken by activities that do not feed our souls and do not provide peace of mind.

When we returned to our hotel with a small group later that night in Midyat I said to my small fellowship, just be silent and look to the stars. And so it happened that we saw a shooting star for the first time in our lives.

On a side note:

  • We celebrated the birthday of Adam Cello, who turned 26 ( just before seeing the shooting star)
  • When I asked during dinner and later at the small birthday party if anyone noticed that we did not get tlauhé at lunch in Mor Augin everyone replied they did not, and smiled
  • Some people are blaming the rain on the travellers from the Netherlands, Johny Messo turned it around and called it a blessing for the grounds
  • We received training in bargaining from a pro when a traveller from Kerboran gave the store owner a dismal look, turned around, waved the last offer of with his hand and gave a ‘tsssssk’. The sunglasses 10 meters further down the road dropped in price by 50%

Read previous: day 3: The Church in distress                Read next: day 5: A Tur Abdin Easter


One of the greatest legends in the Aramaic cultural tradition must be the story of King Abgar the Black of the kingdom Oshroene. It came to pass that he feel ill to a grave sickness. He heard of a Man of medicine, a Man of wonders as the people called him, who lived in the land of Israel where He cured the ill, raised the dead but was not accepted as the leader of His people. He send forth his servants to ask this Miracle Man to come and cure him. In the accompanying letter he asked for the King of the Jews to come to the kingdom of Oshroene “for it is big enough for the both of us to reign”. When his servants met Jesus and asked him to come and cure their master He refused. “Allow us then to draw Your image to take home with us.” Jesus praised the king for his faith. He asked for a bowl of water and a towel. after he washed his face he dried it and left an imprint on the piece of cloth. He sent it with them and had them write a letter with the words: “blessed is your city, no harm will fall on your city and no army shall bring it down.”

Today we woke up in this blessed city that was formerly called Urhoy and from where the Oshroene region was governed. Currently it is called Sanliurfa and is a growing city full of economic developments. The last christians left a long time ago, actually, that was what I thought when we arrived. After visiting the ancient village of Harran in the morning we walked about in the new tourist district near a small, somewhat dismal, version of Istanbul’s Kapali Carsi underneath the impressive ancient citadel of Urhoy. The taxi driver’s name was a hebrew/ christian one and hinted towards an aramaic origin. He took us to the city’s museum (apparantly there’s only one as it is called ‘museum’) where we found old syriac inscriptions bearing witness to the christian presence in this former metropole. The taxi driver then took us to the church of St John which was turned into a mosque in 1993. He didn’t say anything about his current religious views, unlike a common stranger whom we met in the shopping district an hour later. He heard us talking in aramaic and approached us. He presented himself as one of the christians still living in the city, but in hiding when it comes to expressing their religious rites and traditions. There are maybe six to ten thousand like him!

Although we were only looking around and trying to find silent witnesses and artifacts belonging to our cultural heritage, we found that the blessing of king Abgar has not worn off. We left the hotel just like any other tourist, but somewhere along the day we were learned our people, faith and culture are still to be found in loving form in this vast region. Eventhough their situation is difficult and very unstable (the reason why I do not mention their names), there is still hope as there are still people left here. This theme was also presented to us in the documentary by Matteo Spicuglia, who travels with us. ‘Shlomo. La terra perduta’: there is still hope while there are still people living in and asking about their home land. It will only be forgotten when we forget it.

On a side note:

  • a fellow traveller from Bethlehem has dedicated herself to learning two aramaic words each day, she already nows ‘brikh safro’ and ‘lilyo tobo’, meaning good morning and good night.
  • there are two with the name ‘Robil’, what are the odds of that? (Still there is only one named Erwin but fortunately he can use his baptismal name which is John)
  • someone spoke to me in Swedish, after I answered in Swedish that I do not speak Swedish, we found out that he was from Australia and I from The Netherlands, these conversations can only happen in Tur Abdin
  • already groups are forming based on village of origin. This can be seen in seating arrangements during meals and bus trips

Read previous: Introduction: The Pilgrim                Read next: Day 2: The Tourist, Economist and The Dentist

Deze slideshow heeft JavaScript nodig.