In 1983, the current Syrian Orthodox Patriarch rightly wrote in The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch At A Glance: “The Syriac language is the Aramaic language itself, and the Arameans are the Syrians themselves. He who has made a distinction between them has erred.”
1. Origin & Translation of the Turkish Term Süryani
- The Turkish term “Süryani” (plural Süryaniler) was borrowed from Arabic. It entered Arabic via Aramaic, which derived it ultimately from the Greek language.
- The translation of Turkish “Suryani” is UNQUESTIONABLY “Syrian; Syriac”, which itself is the ancient Greek usage for the Semitic name “Aramean; Aramaic”.
- “Syria” and “Syrian” are the Greek names for “Aram” and “Aramean; Aramaic”, respectively. Cf. any modern Bible translation that is based on the Hebrew source text.
- The Turkish translation of “Assyrian” is in fact “Asuri”, NOT “Süryani”.
- Regretfully, Google Translator mistranslates “Süryani(ler)” as “Assyrian(s)”. We are in the process of organizing discussions with Google over this similar error.
2. Preference to use “Aramean” or “Aramean (Syriac)” instead of “Syrian”
- “Syrian” is the true translation of “Süryani”, but our people come from Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Since the overwhelming Süryani majority prefers to avoid associations with the largely Arab citizens of Syria, in 1983 we proposed the term “Syriac”.
- However, that did not help much, especially now that Syria and Syrians are daily in the news. Most of us, particularly in the Diaspora, prefer in Western languages “Arameans” or “Aramean (Syriacs)” for our people and “Aramaic” for our language (especially in countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland). We also note that Turkish/Arabic has the well-known distinction between “Suri” and “Süryani”. We are happy with this distinction.
- We have experienced difficulty in Western countries with, and are getting tired of, explaining time and again why we “Syrians/-cs”, notably those who come from Turkey, are not from Syria and are no Arabs/Syrians. Bottom line is: “Aramean” is just another, easier, convenient and effective way to inform the world who we are, what our story is, what our questions are, etc.
- We prefer “Arameans” as the name for our people and “Aramaic” for our language. Due to its Biblical record, and the widely known fact that Jesus Christ’s mother tongue was Aramaic, which moreover played a significant role in Jewish history and literature, Westerners worldwide not only recognize, but also appreciate it instantly. Aramaic and our Aramean ancestors even impacted the Qur’an and played a major role in bringing the ancient Mesopotamian and Greek sciences to the Arabs.
- Any reference to “Assyrian” for our language or people is, unquestionably we dare add, plain wrong. There is not a reputable scholar worth her/his salt that would disagree on this point.
- One Harvard scholar, specialized in our modern history and well aware of the modern introduction of the re-appropriated pre-Christian Assyrian identity that has been politicized by ardent nationalists after WW I, concluded about the “modern Assyrian” identity/name that it became “inseparable from a whole bogus ethnology” (see http://www.jstor.org/pss/164760).
- Another Yale scholar who most recently wrote on this subject stated unambiguously: “In pre-modern Syriac sources, the term ʾāthorāyā “Assyrian” is not the typical self-designation for individuals belonging to the Syriac Heritage, whether East Syriac or West Syriac. The typical self-designations, rather, are ʾārāmāyā “Aramean” and suryāyā “Syrian.” (See http://yale.academia.edu/AaronButts/Papers/1653551/Assyrian_Christians)
- Any list of internationally acknowledged academic literature on this topic starts with
- J.-M. Fiey, “‘Assyriens’ ou Araméens [“Assyrians” or Arameans],” in L’Orient Syrien 10:2 (1965), pp. 141–160.
- J. Joseph, The Modern Assyrians of the Middle East: Encounters with Western Christian Missions, Archaeologists, and Colonial Powers (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2000).