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Interview: Amine Iskandar on the Importance of Reviving Syriac Aramaic

By Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Amine Iskandar is the president of the Syriac Maronite Union, an organization founded last month during The Philos Project’s event on the revival of spoken Syriac Aramaic, the ancient lingua franca of the Middle East. The historic gathering was attended by Syriac Maronite Christians from around the world who are working together to revive the ancient Aramaic language, culture and identity.

Iskandar shed some light on the importance of this cause and explained the significance of the Syriac Maronite Union. For more information, visit the organization’s Facebook page.

Host: Amine, you are a well-known architect. We have seen the Aramaic/Syriac heritage through your work and have realized how important it is that the art keeps appearing again and again to revive the culture.

In this case, the Aramaic language goes hand in hand with the Syriac culture. Without the language, the cultural identity and heritage disappear. People from all over the world are working together to move this cause forward. Tell us about where the association/project is today.

 

Amine Iskandar: We originally began by working on multiple projects: some people teaching Aramaic and others working on literature (I have been working on printing books on the collegiate level).

Then we came to the realization that this scale of work will not reach to larger things. So we made the decision to redirect it to churches and colleges so that they can bring the language to life and represent an identity just by its presence – without having to talk about the identity as we’ve seen before. After all, there have been wars fought over identity. We want to further the idea that as long as the language is alive, it can imply the identity. So we all decided to unite, and we banded together (mainly through social media) and met with organizations in Sweden, the United States, Canada, France, Lebanon and other parts of the world.

First, we went to the patriarch [His Beatitude Moran Mor Bechara Boutros al-Rahi] to let him know that we desired to launch the Syriac-Maronite Union in New York City on May 20. He immediately said that he loved the idea of reviving the language in an educational way, and gave us his blessing. And that was something we couldn’t have imagined, as we have tried other avenues before and have run into many obstacles. In this case, we got a simple response: “I [the patriarch] support this cause. You have my blessing.”

This made us extremely excited to go to New York where we conducted the union launch. Then we returned to Lebanon and visited Father Boutros Azar, the executive director of Catholic schools in Lebanon, and we pitched him our idea. He said, “We have nothing against this project – we would like to teach prayers in Aramaic such as the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary – but where are our students going to use these prayers (considering that Mass is not said in Aramaic)? So see if the bishops would like to use these prayers in Aramaic in Masses.”

As there were more than 40 bishops that we wanted to meet with individually, we decided that we will host a big event at Mar Maroun, Beirut on August 31. Our goal is to connect this burning desire that unites us. The event will include both professionals and non-professionals (children, young adults, etc.) singing to show that this language (Aramaic) is alive, and can be found anywhere. Toward the end of the event, father Youhanna Yeshou – who is an expert in the Aramaic language at Lebanese University – will speak regarding the importance of reviving the language in front of all the bishops.

 

This interview originally aired on MTV Lebanon. It was translated from Arabic by Philos intern and PLI participant Ivan Korkes.

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