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Can a dying language revive Lebanon's Christian population?

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Language of the land

Some Maronites believe that the best way to slow or end the slide into decline is to bring back Syriac, the ancient language of prayer for Christians across the Levant. The Maronite Church traces it heritage back to the 4th century and Maronites mostly spoke Aramaic in daily life up until the 13th century. 

Haytham Chaer is the president of Bnay Qyomo ("Sons of the Resurrection"), a non-governmental organization working to revive the "language of Christ" in the Lebanese Maronite community. Doing so, he believes, will strengthen their identity.

“In Lebanon we say ‘The Lebanese land shouts in Syriac',” says Mr. Chaer.

Dr. Mario Kozah, a professor at the American University of Beirut (AUB), says the church identifies with Syriac in terms of not just language, but also culture, history, and geography. Syriac was a dominant language in the region since well before the days of Jesus Christ and up until the 14th or 15th century.

That the Maronite church's official name is the Syriac Maronite Church shows how integral the language is to their identity, says Dr. Kozah, who teaches Arabic and Syriac (though not connected with Bnay Qyomo) in what he says is probably the largest university class for the Syriac language in the world.

“The name of this church gives you an indication of the way it identifies itself,” says Kozah. “Its cultural and linguistic identity is Syriac.”

A tool for division

But while the Syriac language may flow through the veins of Maronite history, not everyone believes its revival would strengthen the Maronite community.

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