The toll of the humanitarian crisis from Syria’s two-plus-year civil war has been massive. The death toll is estimated at over 100,000. More than 1.5 million refugees have fled to neighboring countries and hundreds of thousands more are internally displaced. Another casualty during the conflict has been the country’s ancient Christian sites some of them dating back nearly two thousand years. Syria has one of the oldest Christian communities in the world and in the conflict many of the physical sites are being destroyed both by incidental damage but also because of direct targeting.
By Magda Abu-Fadil
7/19/2013 Syria (Huffington Post) – As politicians debate the fate of Syria’s Christian minority, reportedly targeted by Muslim fundamentalists for supporting Bashar Al Assad’s regime, the country’s Christian sites seem to have been forgotten in the two-plus-year civil war.
“They cut off the head of the statue of Mary (Lady of the Two Worlds) in Syria’s Jisr El Shaghour region,” wrote Rev. Georges Massouh, a Lebanese Greek Orthodox priest, adding that it was still more acceptable than slaughtering human beings.
If the attack aimed to terrorize Christians, they will remain in Syria, whose every grain of soil is a witness to its Christianity, and will be martyrs of love, peace, and Christ’s eternal presence in them, he said this week in the daily Annahar.
Earlier this year, Tarek Al Abed wrote in Assafir, another Lebanese newspaper, that Christians and Muslims had coexisted in the Qalamoun region, noted for its Christian villages.
But the ongoing conflict has definitely taken a toll on Christians, their sites, and the language of Christ.
The Bible may have been translated into every language, but the tongue in which Jesus Christ would have preached is almost extinct, spoken by a few thousand people in Syria, mostly in the village of Maaloula.
Nobody can read or write Aramaic since there’s no alphabet and no visual record of it, I was told on a visit in 1991. Today it would be hard to quantify how many speakers remain, or how many have survived the fighting.
Linguistic scholars have disputed that contention, arguing that several hundred thousand people converse daily in Aramaic.
They agree that the “Western” dialect spoken in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine before the Muslim conquest, and thought to be the language Jesus used in spreading the gospel, is fast disappearing.
However, the “Eastern” dialect, the scholars argue, lives on – albeit in limited form – in Iraq, Iran, southeastern Turkey, and a sliver of some former Soviet republics.
One of the Semitic languages, spoken Aramaic of the “Western” variety is limited to the residents of Maaloula, a village 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of the Syrian capital Damascus.
It is also the popular language of people in the nearby villages of Jaba’deen and Najafa, although it has to compete with Arabic, the official language of Syria, as well as the closely linked Syriac and Hebrew.
Whatever records existed about the language were burned during the French colonial period, explained a Greek Orthodox nun at the St. Takla monastery in the craggy mountain village overlooking acres of once-rich agricultural land.
St. Takla’s monastery, one of the oldest in Christendom, dates back to the First Century A.D., and its founder was a disciple of St. Paul the apostle.