Syriac…a language struggling to survive

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Arbil – Voices of Iraq
Arbil, Dec 27, (VOI) – Despite their strong commitment to their mother tongue, many members of the Syriac community refuse to send their children to schools where Syriac is the instruction language. A lot of parents voiced their fears over their children’s future professional career, the lack of educational staff in Syriac-speaking schools and the declining influence of their language in Iraqi society.

These days, an estimated 3 million of Iraq’s Christians from the Chaldean, Assyrian and Syriac Churches speak the language and transmit it to their offspring.
Dana Aziz Girgis, a 17-year-old student at a secondary school in Ankawa’s Ur neighborhood, north of Arbil, said that he studies all courses in Syriac. “Honestly, I did not choose my school myself. My father was a teacher here. But as time went by, I liked it more and more. Now I am happy I have studied here,” Girgis said.
Girgis indicated that he has no problems with studying in Syriac. “Other students studying at Kurdish or Arabic schools might also be comfortable with their study and think that students like me are experiencing difficulties with their Syriac curriculum.”
“In fact, I am planning to study English at university. My lack of knowledge of Arabic and Kurdish will be no problem then,” Girgis said.
Nizar Hanna, the general director of Syriac education in the Kurdistan region’s Ministry of Education, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI) that Syriac is taught in the region’s schools where Syriac constitute a majority, particularly in Duhuk and Arbil provinces in addition to villages affiliated with them.
“We have two kinds of Syriac schools: those where the whole curriculum is taught in Syriac and others where the curriculum is taught in Kurdish with one course in Syriac,” Hanna explained.
Raghd Abdul Maseeh, a 35-year-old teacher of mathematics, said that she moved from Kirkuk to Arbil in 2004 where she enrolled her fourth grade daughter at an Arabic school. “I sent my younger son to an Arabic school as well and I categorically agreed to give him extra Syriac courses when they I had the option,” the mother said.
“My own problem is that I can’t help him with his study because I can’t read or write in Syriac,” Raghd explained.
The general director of a Syriac culture and arts department in Iraq’s Kurdistan region said that over half of the Syriac community cannot read or write in their native tongue because they were not taught in school.
“What made things even worse was the diversity of Syriac dialects, making it more difficult to establish a unified educational curriculum,” according to the director.
Many parents said that schools teaching the whole curriculum in Syriac will limit their children’s choices and opportunities. Salam Nimat, a 33-year-old professor of English in Salah al-Din University, told VOI that he sent his children to Kurdish schools because he is more concerned about their future than his mother tongue.
“Syriac is our mother tongue, but I chose to teach my children Arabic and Kurdish because their future is bound up with these two languages,” Nimat noted.

Syriac is an Eastern Aramaic language that was once spoken across much of the Fertile Crescent and a major literary language throughout the Middle East from the 2nd to the 8th century AD. As a blanket term, Syriac is used to refer to all Eastern Aramaic languages spoken by various Christian groups during that period. Being a primary Christian medium of expression, Syriac had a significant cultural influence on the development of Arabic which replaced it towards the end of the 8th century in many parts of the Middle East.
Before Arabic became the dominant language, Syriac was a major language among Christian communities in the Middle East, central Asia and southern India. It is now spoken as a first language in small, scattered communities in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Iran Armenia, Georgia as well as other places in the Middle East. These communities have, over the years, settled throughout the Middle East, Europe, North and South America, and Australia.