Iraq’s Christian Community Launches New Television Channel to Save Threatened Ancient Language

Pixabay/Mohamed Hassan

A Christian community in Iraq launched a new television channel to save their threatened ancient language. It would reportedly be a station that will represent their dialect.

Saving Threatened Ancient Language in Iraq

The ancient Sumerians and Babylonians, who are credited with producing the first written law system, are believed to have originated in the region today known as Iraq. The city of Ur, which is mentioned in the Bible as Abraham's birthplace, was also located in this country. Presently the majority of Iraq's population adheres to the Shiite branch of Islam; nevertheless, the country is also home to Sunni Muslims, Kurds, Christians, Yazidis, and other minority groups; the languages Arabic and Kurdish are used in government. A report from Today Online stated that Syriac is an old dialect of Aramaic that has traditionally been the language spoken by Christians in Iraq and the neighboring country of Syria. Although Syriac is utilized primarily in homes, some schools and church-related events are also conducted in this language.

On the other hand, Syriac-speaking communities in the two countries have shrunk over time. This is because decades of violence have forced many of those communities' members to seek refuge in less dangerous countries. It is estimated that the number of Christians living in Iraq has decreased by more than two-thirds in over twenty years. According to Mr. Kawthar Askar, who serves as the chairman of the Syriac language department at Salahaddin University in Arbil, which is located in the independent Kurdistan region, the Syriac language has been "sidelined." "We can't say it's a dead language... (but) it is under threat" of disappearing," he asserted.

In addition, Askar also said that migration is the root of the problem. He said that families who leave Syria typically continue speaking Syriac amongst themselves, but subsequent generations tend to forget it. Thus, The Manila Times reported that the Iraqi government created the channel in April, intending to assist in preserving the language. It employs approximately forty people and features a wide range of programming, including cinema, art, and history. Mariam Albert, a mother of 35 years old and a news presenter on the Al-Syriania television channel that broadcasts in Syriac, mentioned that having a media outlet that represents the people is essential.

However, according to Albert, the channel's headlines are exclusively transmitted in classical Syriac, a form not generally known by the general population. Many programs are offered in a dialect version of Syriac. Additionally, Jack Anwia, the director of the station, said that the mission of Al-Syriania is "to preserve the Syriac language" through a form of entertainment. "Once upon a time, Syriac was a language widespread across the Middle East. Baghdad must keep it from extinction. The beauty about Iraq is its cultural and religious diversity," he noted.

Also Read:Christian Politicians in Iraq Plans to Overturn Legislation Banning Import, Sale of Alcohol

Decreasing Number of Christians in Iraq

BBC News reported that after being persecuted for the past 1,400 years, Iraq's Christians are now facing the prospect of extinction, according to the Reverend Bashar Warda, who delivered an emotional lecture in London. He claimed that the Christian community had decreased by 83% since the US-led assault overthrew the administration of Saddam Hussein in 2003. As stated, the Christian population had gone from approximately 1.5 million to just 250,000. The church had warned that Iraqi Christianity, one of the world's oldest, is in danger of extinction. Those people who are still here ought to be prepared to die a martyr's death.

After the Islamic State (IS) attacked for the first time in 2014, driving more than 125,000 Christians from their ancestral homes, he described the current, urgent threat from IS jihadists as a "final, existential struggle." Accordingly, IS, also known as Daesh in the Arab world, was reportedly ousted from its most recent stronghold at Baghuz in Syria in March 2019 following an extensive multinational military effort. This effectively marked the end of the "caliphate" that IS had self-declared. Furthermore, the archbishop warned about the increasing number of extremist groups who believed that the assassination of Christians and Yazidis contributed to the spread of Islam.

Related Article: European Governments Unite to Support Patriarch Sako's Efforts in Protecting Iraq's Christian Minority