Oral Statement: Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues - Item 3 of the provisional agenda

unnyDiscussion of the special theme for the year 
“Indigenous peoples: development with culture and identity:
articles 3 and 32 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Arameans as the Indigenous People of the Middle East:
Identity Endangered and Existence Denied in Turkey

Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
Shlomo ‘al kulkhu! Greetings to all of you, as we say in our Aramaic mother tongue! 

The Syriac Universal Alliance is the only recognized Aramaic-speaking NGO in Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN. We represent the indigenous people of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Yet we, the Arameans (otherwise known as Syriacs), have never been recognized as such and continue to be a forgotten people in the Middle East. In addition, our ancient cultural heritage and language are in serious danger of extinction.

Thus we are deeply grateful to the Chairperson for giving neglected and marginalized people a voice in this significant Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Our Aramean history spans more than 3,000 years. Aramaic is the oldest surviving language of the Middle East, and our pre-Christian and Christian ancestors have contributed much to world civilization, culture and religion. Allow me to mention a few (out of many) examples:


  • Prior to Arabic, the Aramaic language of the Arameans was the international language of the entire Middle East between the 8th century BC and the 7th century AD;
  • Aramaic, which today has popularly become known as the language of Jesus Christ, is the language of certain books, phrases and words in the Old and New Testaments;
  • In fact, the Jewish Bible identifies the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people as “Arameans” who originated from today’s Southeast-Turkey where we come from;
  • Our Aramean ancestors and language have played a major role between the 7th and 10th centuries AD as intermediaries and teachers in transmitting Mesopotamian and Greek sciences to the Arabic-speaking world, which was later exported to Spain.


In the past century, the Arameans have suffered severely, and in many ways, in Southeast-Turkey. The majority has now fled from their homeland and lives in a worldwide diaspora where the Aramaic cultural heritage, language and identity are increasingly assimilated.

Until today, Arameans have never enjoyed any basic human rights in Turkey, since they do not exist officially and have no legal status. In 2007, Turkey endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, while incorrectly adding that “Turkey did not have any people in its territory that could be interpreted as indigenous peoples in the Declaration.”[i]

We are delighted by Turkey’s support for the Declaration, yet disappointed by the unfortunate comment made by its Delegate. We can easily refute this baseless assertion and prove the existence of 3,000 years of Arameans and their language in Turkey – many, many centuries before the Arabs, the Turks or the Kurds and the Islamic religion appeared on the scene.

Just three months ago, the Syriac Universal Alliance was able to convince the Council of Europe to amend its adopted Resolution 1704 and call upon Turkey, “to recognize, promote and protect the [Aramean] people as a minority, which is indigenous to south-east Turkey, in conformity with the Lausanne Treaty and related international conventions” (Article 19.7).

As this Forum encourages dialogue with Governments, we request Officials of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq to follow suit, by recognizing and respecting the Arameans, their human rights and their active role in the history, present and future of these respective countries.

We appeal to the UN, and invite especially Turkey, to do so and to help this forgotten people with all the necessary facilities to safeguard, develop and promote the threatened Aramaic legacy together, as it is also part of the World Heritage and Turkey’s rich cultural heritage.

After this recognition, the expected implementation of the Declaration can be discussed. This includes, among others, the right of the indigenous Arameans to self-determination and the free pursuit of their economic, social and cultural development (Article 3) and the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their ancient lands, territories and other natural resources (Article 32).

As “full and equal members of the United Nations family,” to cite the heartening words of the UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon yesterday, the Arameans look forward to the fulfillment of his promise that the UN “will continue to support” indigenous peoples.

Thank you for your attention.

Denise Elnajjar

UN NGO Delegate

Syriac Universal Alliance




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