A new television channel in Iraq is bolstering the Iraqi government’s efforts to keep alive Syriac, an ancient Aramaic dialect of the Assyrian people traditionally spoken by the country’s dwindling Christian population and those in neighboring Syria.
Called Al-Syriania, the TV channel was launched by the Iraqi government in April 2023, following an estimated loss of more than 66 percent in the country’s Christian population over the past 20 years due to prolonged conflicts resulting in numerous individuals seeking refuge in more secure nations.
With approximately 40 staff members, the channel provides a diverse range of programming, covering cinema, art, and history. While many programs are presented in a dialectic related to Syriac, the news bulletins on Al-Syriania, according to a news presenter, Mariam Albert, are exclusively broadcast in classical Syriac, a form that is not universally comprehensible.
“It’s true that we speak Syriac at home, but unfortunately I feel that our language is disappearing slowly but surely,” a news presenter on the television channel was quoted as saying in a May 31 article by the French news agency Agence France-Presse. “It is important to have a television station that represents us.”
“Once upon a time, Syriac was a language widespread across the Middle East,” said Al-Syriania’s station director Jack Anwia. Baghdad has the responsibility “to keep it from extinction,” not least because “the beauty about Iraq is its cultural and religious diversity.”
Known as the cradle of civilization, Iraq was home to some 1.5 million Christians. Over the past two decades, which included the brutal onslaught of the Islamic State group starting in 2014, the country’s Christian population has fallen to approximately 400,000 individuals, predominantly residing in the northern regions.
Kawthar Askar, the head of the Syriac language department at Salahaddin University in Erbil, a city in the autonomous Kurdistan region of the country, described the Syriac language as “sidelined.”
“We can’t say it’s a dead language,” Askar, said, but there is a looming threat that it might vanish entirely.
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.
DOWNLOAD THE WHITEPAPER