Cultural Genocide and Assyrian Cultural Survival
|Professor Eden Naby
The Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies (CAMES) sponsored a lecture
on June 7, in which Eden Naby of Columbia University discussed three culturally
related topics: Assyrians, Aramaic, and cultural preservation. Naby's
field of interest is the cultural history of modern Central Asia, in which
she holds a PhD from Columbia.
Naby, who was on her second visit to Beirut, had given lectures on the
same topics in many Asian and European countries. In her talk, she pointed
out that Aramaic is the "oldest continuously spoken and written language
in the Middle East." She distributed a chart she had compiled consisting
of Aramaic language materials, and explained that Aramaic was spoken by
Jews and by the followers of John the Baptist, but then was gradually
replaced by Hebrew and Arabic. This is why Aramaic is a disappearing language;
it is no longer considered to be a living language among Jews and is mostly
spoken by indigenous Christians of the Middle East. Naby also talked about
Syriac, another ancient language, which is only spoken in religious circles
and taught in church schools. She referred to Syriac as "a lost liturgical
After giving an overview of the history of these ancient languages, Naby
described some of the preservation techniques that are being used to keep
them alive. These techniques address the problems caused by wars and include
solutions provided by schools, churches, and other institutions. According
to Naby, Aramaic is the "heritage language of the Middle East and
is a contributor to world heritage, whether Christian or Muslim."
She added that it is a pity such historical languages are not taught in
countries in the Middle East, but are taught in universities in the United
States. "There can be things the Middle East can do to promote the
Aramaic culture," she said.
Naby ended her lecture by dubbing Aramaic "the international orphan"-a
"stateless language" that needs to receive support from international
institutions like UNESCO.