Lebanon's Maronites used to play a crucial role in the region, but their power and sense of identity are waning. One organization hopes to reverse that by reviving their ancient language, Syriac.
Lebanon's most prominent Christian group, the Maronites, used to be so influential that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat reportedly quipped that "The road to Jerusalem passes through Jounieh," referring to a town north of Beirut that was a stronghold for Lebanese Christian militias.
The quote has a certain poignancy – and nostalgia – more than 30 years later, with Maronites increasingly afraid they will be marginalized. Their population and political power have waned as their numbers dwindle – a result of emigration during the country's civil war – and birth rates rise in the Muslim community.
Lebanon has not had a census since 1932, so exact figures are hard to come by, but experts usually estimate that Maronites make up about 20 percent of the total population today, with other Christian sects making up an additional 19 percent – a huge decline from last census in 1932, which recorded Christians as a bit more than 50 percent of the population, with Maronites the largest of any of the 17 recognized sects. (Editor's note: The previous sentence has been edited to correctly reflect Lebanese Christians' proportion of the population over time.)
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