Ancient Christian Syrian village taken by rebels; minority flees

[googlemaps″ title=”Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic&output=embed&s=AARTsJp56EajYksz3JXgNCwT3LJnGsqqAQ]

– People are fleeing from one of the longest-established locations of the Christian religion, where the language of Jesus is still spoken and which is recognised as part of the world’s common cultural and religious heritage. Maaloula, north-east of Damascus, is a UNESCO World Heritage site where the ancient language of Aramaic is still spoken by Christian and indigenous Muslim alike.

Fighting has been ongoing there and an Al Qaeda-linked group attacked at the weekend, as reported by Digital Journal and the Telegraph. The village is one of only three, located in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains of Syria, where Western Neo-Aramaic is still spoken. Before the Arab conquest starting in 632 A.D., Western Aramaic was the dominant language in the region between Egypt and modern-day Turkey, until large-scale Islamicization and Arabisation lead to the extinction of the language. Aramaic is closely linked to both Hebrew and Arabic. Most of the population of 2,000 are Melkite Greek Catholic Christians and remarkably, the indigenous Muslims do not speak Arabic, but have held on to their ancient dialect of Aramaic. Jesus of Nazareth spoke a language closely related to Neo-Western Aramaic and Damascus University has maintained an Aramaic Institute in the village dedicated to studying the language and keeping it alive.

Ironically, the Assad regime in Syria has been friendly to minorities, while rebels opposing it are often linked, as in this case, to extremist and terrorist organisations, including Al Qaeda.

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[categories Ant,Syr,Isl]