Iraq’s shrunken and conflict-scarred Christian community is launching a new television channel as part of efforts to save their dying language, spoken for more than 2000 years. Source: UCA News.
Syriac, an ancient dialect of Aramaic, has traditionally been the language spoken by Christians in Iraq and neighbouring Syria, mostly in homes but also in some schools and during church services.
However, Syriac-speaking communities in the two countries have declined over the years, owing to decades of conflict driving many to seek homes in safer countries. In Iraq, the Christian population is thought to have fallen by more than two-thirds in just over two decades.
“It’s true that we speak Syriac at home, but unfortunately I feel that our language is disappearing slowly but surely,” said Mariam Albert, a news presenter on the Syriac-language Al-Syriania television channel.
Iraq’s government launched the channel in April to help keep the language alive. It has around 40 staff and offers a variety of programming, from cinema to art and history.
Iraq is known as a cradle of civilisations, including the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians, who produced the earliest known written legal code. The country was also home to the city of Ur, which the Bible cites as Abraham’s birthplace.
Today, the country is overwhelmingly Shiite Muslim but also home to Sunni Muslims, Kurds, Christians, Yazidis and other minorities, while Arabic and Kurdish are the official languages.
Before the US-led invasion of the oil-rich country in 2003, Iraq was home to about 1.5 million Christians.
In the 20 years since, which included the brutal onslaught of the Islamic State group that swept the country in 2014, their population has declined to about 400,000, mostly living in the north.