What is your mission and what the Aramaic people want from the Vatican, and from the world?
As the World Council of Arameans (Syriacs), we are dedicated to answer the call to protect and secure the rights, liberty and equality of the Aramean people, safeguard and promote the cultural heritage of its ancestors, ensuring justice, and uniting all its people as a self‐determined and internationally recognized Aramean nation. Each of these components also finds support in international law, UN declarations and other international conventions.
We have been working with the Holy See at the UN in Geneva — we even organized an event together — and have good relations with them. Nevertheless, we hope to see the Vatican pushing still harder for the threatened presence of Christianity in the Middle East. His Holiness the Pope and all Ambassadors of the Holy See, who represent about a sixth (16.2%) of all people on this planet, could demonstrate a sense of urgency to the world with respect to this critical question that could shock and awaken governments, parliaments and mainstream media. Without a presence in the birth place of Christianity, the world will suffer a huge loss. Christians from the West may also lose the sources of inspiration for their religion and faith in the lands that gave birth to their much beloved faith and the first churches.
The Arameans ask the world for recognition of the past and present injustices done against them, such as the genocides of 1915-1918 and since 2014 by ISIS.
In addition, we also ask for support to help the diminishing Aramean population survive in its homeland.
However, the basis of these questions is recognition of our people as a people – not only are we a people in our own right, but we are in fact the indigenous people of Southeast Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. With such a recognition, we should be able to get a legal and acknowledged status in our homeland and the world, and thus appeal for support for our national questions. For example, why is there a National Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, who are worldwide recognized and receive billions (not millions) in aid from the international community, while the Arameans receive no recognition, no support and no protection?
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We should no longer be silent and accept to be ignored and neglected by the international community, especially if we see that other peoples receive — one could almost argue — preferential treatment. If the world chooses to remain indifferent and silent on our questions, we must keep working harder and harder until we break this deafening silence. We can only do so effectively when we begin to understand, recognize, embrace and appreciate our own past, present and future value as Arameans (Syriacs).
What is your message for our people the Aramaic people all around the world?
We must wake up and begin to embrace, appreciate, love and safeguard the Aramaic language, heritage and identity of our forefathers. We must wake up and begin to realize that our church communities, from Maronites to Syriac Orthodox, Chaldeans and others, are not competitors, but different reflections of the same faith that should be seen as an enrichment to the Aramean people just like other developed nations in the world have different religious and non-religious groups who contribute to the protection and well-being at large of their nations at large; we must see ourselves and each other as colorful, beautiful flowers in a unique Aramean garden. We must wake up and begin to realize that united we stand, divided we fall.
Moreover, we must also learn to see ourselves as more, as bigger than only different religious communities. We must see ourselves as one Aramean (Syriac) body, which can be called people or nation. For example, I may be Syriac Orthodox, but I equally appreciate our sister churches like the Maronites for example and cherish them as part of my national heritage. I feel that my identity gets so enriched by the amazing and inspiring histories of each of our distinct churches.
And what obstacles are the Aramaic people facing now?
We have external and internal obstacles. Externally, for instance, we have no state and receive no state support to protect the Aramean people or heritage in the homeland. Internally, the Arameans still must learn to organize themselves more effectively, ignoring who is more important or who has a higher position. Again, we must set aside our personal ambitions and gains, but realize that as individuals we are part of a collective. Without the Aramean collective, there is a small chance that we are able to survive as Aramean(Syriac) individuals. Without an Aramean collective, each Aramean will gradually adopt and assume a language, culture, (sur)names and even an ethnicity and ultimately probably also religious beliefs that are completely foreign to what their ancestors had built up.
Therefore, we must see ourselves as one Aramean (Syriac) body, realizing the crucial words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” If we replace the term “limb” or “part” here in our minds with “church,” we will immediately recognize the critical importance and the strength of our national unification – this latter term reflects the name of our NGO in Aramaic, Huyodo Suryoyo Tibeloyo, which stands for the Worldwide Union (which includes the ongoing process of Unification) of the Aramean body or people.