WHAT IS THE SYRIAC LANGUAGE ?
The Levant (Al Mashrek) used to be mainly Canaanite in the western part, Aramean in the central part, and Upper Mesopotamian in the eastern part.
Canaanite was called Hebrew in the south of Canaan (today Israel), Phoenician in the central Canaan (today Lebanon) and Ugaritic in the northern part of Canaan (Today Western Syria).
Aramean was spoken in 5 main dialects : in Edessa (in todays Turkey), in Palmira (in todays Syria), in Hatra (in todays Irak), in Jerusalem (spoken by Jesus), in Petra (in todays Jordan). See the description of these dialects in Les langues du paradis: araméeens et syriaques: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQ8JfdKqxVY
Upper Mesopotamia knew many civilizations with several names like Assyria, Chaldea, Babylonia…
When Aramean language was adopted by Phoenicia and Upper Mesopotamia, it started adapting to these civilizations.
In Canaan, it had to adapt to the Phoenician language that pronounces the Alaph as an O “Olaph”. It also started mixing widely with the Greek language and culture that characterized the land of Canaan at the time. There was an important Greek population and the language spoken became a real mixture of Greek and phoenicianized Aramean.
At that moment a new culture was appearing: Christian culture. It needed a new vocabulary different from the pagan vocabulary of the Cananeans and Arameans. These words were introduced by the Greek language to elaborate the new theology, liturgy and philosophy.
So with Christianity, a new language was born. It was not Aramean anymore, nor Phoenician, nor Mesopotamian, nor Greek. It needed a new name. And it had to include the identity of all the peoples living in Phoenicia and Syria-Mesopotamia.
This region of Phoenicia and Northern Syria-Mesopotamia (mainly in todays Lebanon and Turkey) was called at the time by the Romans: Provincia Syria. This name will serve to designate the new language.
So the Christians decided to be called Syriacs and to call their new language Syriac to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pagan populations of the region.
In Upper Mesopotamia (on Turkish-Iraqi borders) Christians adopted Easter Syriac pronounced with the normal Alaph like in Aramaic.
In Phoenicia and Syria (Lebanon and Turkish-Syrian border) Christians adopted Western Syriac pronounced with the Phoenician Olaph. This western syriac adopted by the Maronites and the Roumis a mixture of 2/3 phoenicianized Aramaic with 1/3 Greek.
ANY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SYRIAC AND ARAMEAN ?
By a definition given by the greeks, an aramean who becomes christian is called a christian aramean or a syriac in short. An aramean is not necessarily a christian and can be muslim like the arameans muslims of Qalamoun mountains in Syria. A syriac is not necessarily an aramean like the malabar and malankar syriacs of south India (Kerala,..).
This difference is important since syriacs are christians and are attached to their rich religious heritage and want to preserve it while the non christian arameans have only the aramaic-syriac language in common without the religious aspect.
WHO ARE THE SYRIACS TODAY ?
– To the East of the Euphrates river, they are called Eastern Syriacs:
- If they are Catholics, they are known as Chaldeans.
- If they are not Catholics, they are known as Assyrians.
-To the West of the Euphrates river they are called Western Syriacs who split into 3 groups after the Council of Chalcedony:
- Those who accepted the Council entirely, even with its Greek liturgy, were called Room (meaning Byzantines in Syriac). But their everyday language remained Syriac and their liturgy remained in Syriac until the 10th century. (they then split into 2 Churches: one Orthodox and one Catholic).
- Those who rejected entirely the Council to be able to preserve their Syriac language and identity were called Monophysites or Jacobites or simply Syriacs. (they then split into 2 Churches: one Orthodox and one Catholic).
- Those who decided to accept the Council of Chalcedony but kept their Syriac language and identity were called Maronites. (They are the only Church in the East that is entirely Catholic).
WHAT IS THE ETHNICITY OF THE MARONITES ?
The first Maronites where called Syriacs of Beit Morun. They came to Lebanon from northern Canaan called Provincia Syria (on the border between Turkey and todays Syria). They converted the Phoenicians of Lebanon to Christianity. The Lebanese coast was already Christianized long before the mountains.
The Phoenicians of the coast and Mount-Lebanon mixed with the Beit Morun communities to form the first nucleus of Maronite population mainly under Saint John Morun who established the Maronite independent Patriarcat in 685.
Saint John Morun needed an Army to stop the Arab invasions on Lebanon. When the Byzantine emperor ordered the Mardaite army to retreat from Mount Lebanon, the Mardaites split. An important part decided to stay in Lebanon under the orders of the Maronite Patriarch and would later convert to the Maronite Church.
When the Mamluks invaded Lebanon between 1290 and 1300, the Crusaders, and Armenians and Maronites present in the region had to retrieve. Part of them found refuge in Cyprus under the Lusignan Kings. Others moved up to the “Seigneurie de Buissera” (today’s Gebbet Bsharré). So while Maronites moved to Cyprus, many Crusaders and Armenians stayed in Lebanon. They were cutoff from their Bishops in Cyprus and Cilicia, and ended up integrating the Maronite Church.
Later when the Ottomans ruled over Lebanon in the 16th century, they gave titles to some ruling Christian families like Cheikh and Beik. These families started justifying their titles by inventing family genealogies going back to the Arabs and Muslims and even to the tribe of Prophet Mohamed. One of these examples is the Hachem family from Aqoura. Of course the writings of historians like Patriarch Estephanos Douayhi show us very clearly the true origins of these families proving they are Syriacs from the Phoenician villages of Mount Lebanon, and have nothing to do with the Arab tribes.
Later, the arabist ideologist Kamal Saliby tried to convince all the Christians of the Syriac Levant that they are descendants from the Arab Christian tribe of Bani Ghassan. For this theory to be accepted we need to assume the total extinction of all the Mesopotamian and Syrian and Phoenician peoples and to admit the idea that only one tribe was able to repopulate the entire area.
Very few exceptions like the Chehabs (Muslims converting to Maronite Christianity) cannot become the rule.
Even the Bellama family who converted from the Druze sect to the Maronite Church, was originally a Syriac Jacobite family before becoming Druze.