Amsterdam, 21 November 2014 - On 16 September 2014, Israel’s Minister of Interior, H.E. Gideon Sa‘ar, signed a document that recognizes “Aramean” as a distinct national identity in Israel’s population registry. In order to promote this historic decision, the World Council of Arameans (Syriacs) (“WCA”) has invited the first registered Aramean from Israel to present a momentous statement on behalf of the Arameans worldwide at the UN Office in Geneva. Next Wednesday, 26 November, the WCA will address the Seventh Session of the Forum on Minority Issues on “Preventing and addressing violence and atrocity crimes targeted against minorities” (“UN Seventh Session”).
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The State of Israel can pride itself in being the first UN Member State to legally recognize the Aramean people and cultural heritage. Until recently, individuals belonging to one of the Christian churches in Israel – including Maronite, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic – were grouped together under the misnomer of “Arab Christians.”
Mr. Shadi Khalloul from Gush Halav in North Israel, Chairman of the Aramaic Christian Association in Israel and a member of the Maronite Church, was one of the main forces behind this landmark decision. He was the first to register his two-year old son Jacob as Israel’s first official “Aramean” citizen on 20 October, 2014. Mr Khalloul has stated that Israel’s decision exemplifies a “just and timely move, righting a long-standing wrong. We call upon all the Arameans in our country to rectify their registration according to their original and traditional identity.”
Mr. Johny Messo, the WCA President, emphasizes: “We greatly commend Israel for being the first state in the world to recognize our people in keeping with international law. This fantastic news has had a major impact on the global Aramean population. It encourages us to continue our legal struggle for recognition by our home countries of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.”
The WCA has invited Mr. Khalloul to speak on behalf of all the Arameans worldwide at the UN Seventh Session in Geneva, Switzerland. Mr. Khalloul will also be invited as one of the keynote speakers early in 2015, when the WCA will hold a side event at the UN Office in Geneva, titled “Israel’s Recognition of the Aramean Christians: Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon Next?” The WCA invites other major NGOs to co-organize this event and calls upon UN Member States to co-sponsor this conference that aims at ensuring and promoting the basic human rights of a threatened minority.
ISRAEL’S “ARAB CHRISTIANS”
Israel hosts more than 120,000 Christians who represent 9% of the country’s Arab population, which is at least 1.5 million strong. Mainly due to the interrelated processes of Arabicization and Arabization, most of the Christians started to perceive themselves as “Arabs.” Recently, however, an increasing number of them have started to rediscover their authentic roots and have chosen to reclaim their Aramean identity and to learn anew the Aramaic mother tongue of their forefathers.
FACTSHEET ARAMEANS & ARAMAIC
- The Aramean people have a history of more than 3,000 years in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
- Aramaic, a sister language of Hebrew and Arabic, is the second language of the Bible.
- From the 7th century BC until the 7th century AD, Aramaic was the international language of the Middle East, before Arabic supplanted it in the wake of the rapid Muslim conquests in the region.
- As native people to Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, the Arameans have been reduced from a substantial majority to a tiny minority that is now seriously threatened with existence.
- In their home countries, where they continue to struggle for survival and recognition, the Aramean people have not been appreciated and acknowledged as a distinct ethno-religious people.
- Churches with Aramean roots include the Syriac Orthodox, the Syriac Catholics, the Church of the East (its members are erroneously called “Nestorians” or “Assyrians”), Chaldean Catholics, Maronites, Rum Orthodox (‘Greek Orthodox” in the Middle East) and Melkite Catholics.
- The Hebrew Bible notes that the Jews descend from the Arameans. The Patriarchs Isaac and Jacob married their Aramean wives, to whom they were also related, from Aram-nahrin or Paddan-Aram – Biblical regions in Southeast Turkey whence Aramean Christians were wiped out fairly recently.
- Numerous Jews, including historic ones like Jesus and his followers, spoke, wrote, sang and prayed in Aramaic. Aramaic also produced a vast corpus of Jewish literature in the past two millennia.
- As intellectual intermediaries, the Aramean Christians have transmitted the ancient Mesopotamian and Greek sciences to the Arabs, who passed it on to the Europeans. Their Aramaic language has also influenced the Arabic language, the Qur’an and a good deal of the Muslim literature.
- In fact, today’s Hebrew script is actually an Aramaic script and the Arabic writing system originally derives from one of the Aramaic scripts.