Kalamoon, the Syrian Journal of Human Sciences released the 18th issue with main file ‘’The Syriacs Past and present, Their History and Role’’ You may find abstracts of each of the research papers and links to the full texts below

The Old Syriac Linguistic Heritage

“Historical and Geographical Framework”

Farouk Ismail

The Syriac language belongs to the so-called “Semitic” family, which by itself is one of the forms of development that the Aramaic language has undergone throughout history. Aramaic was characterized by the wide geographical scope of its spread and the long period of its usage, which gave rise to many dialects.

Syriac developed into a language by itself in the kingdom of Osrhoene and its center in Edessa / Rhea (Urfa in southern Turkey), after which it became a language associated with the Christian religious heritage and church rituals, and many religious. Its use has spread to most of the Arab regions, parts of Turkey and Iran, and even reached the borders of southern India and China.

This research aims to present the ancient Syriac linguistic heritage (before Islam), explain its historical and geographical framework, and clarify its position and importance. It covers the Aramaic origins of Syriac and shows several stages through which Aramaic went:

– The ancient Aramaic, which spread during the 9-6 centuries BC in most of Syria.

– Imperial Aramaic became an official language in the Achaemenid Empire during the 4-6 centuries BC. Evidence has been founded in Iran, Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, Palestine, Jordan, Afghanistan and Turkey. Many words and passages of the Old Testament were also written in it.

– The interest in Aramaic decreased during the rule of Alexander and his successors (4-1 centuries BC). However, it continued in the northwest of Arabia and Jordan. This was because of the growth of a sense of special identity among the Aramaeans and Arabs; a reaction to the Hellenistic civilization that was invading the region. Therefore, we find an abundance of the Aramaic linguistic heritage discovered in the Nabataean kingdom. It is also known that the Aramaic Nabataean script influenced and contributed to the emergence of the northern Arabic script (the Naskhi script) starting in the late third century AD. 

– Aramaic continued its development and spread during the advent and spread of Christianity (1-3 centuries AD), and its connection with the Jewish religion emerged (Judean Aramaic, Samaria Aramaic and Judean Babylonian Aramaic). This was associated with the beginnings of Christianity in Palestine, so an Aramaic dialect appeared, especially for the Christians of Palestine in Galilee, which was spoken by Jesus Christus. It also spread in the kingdoms of Palmyra (in the Syrian desert) and Arabaya (southeast of Mosul).

At this stage, Syriac developed from an Aramaic dialect to an independent language, within the scope of the Kingdom of Osrhoene and its centre in Edessa. Its geographical zone during the centuries (1-3 AD) included the areas between the Euphrates and Balikh River, and sometimes expanded eastward to Khabur River, and northern Urfa areas, which is why it is called the Aramaic of Edessa or the Edessean Syriac. This was linked to two things; Political and religious, they are:

1- The distinguished position of the Syrian people in the history of this kingdom (132 BC – 242 AD), its rulers were Arabs, but Syrians had the main role in the administrative and cultural fields so their language became the language of correspondence and official royal archives.

2- Christian teachings reached the regions of the Kingdom in the middle of the second century AD, and the Torah was translated into Syriac (Pashetta) in the same period, and it played an important role in purifying the Syriac language, laying normative foundations for its morphological and grammatical structure. Edessa has become the capital of the Syrian Christian culture and Syriac became the language of the Eastern churches.

Evidence of the discovered old Syriac inscriptions dates back to the first three centuries AD and amounts to more than 150 documents have been disclosed so far. They are recorded in a Syriac script similar to Palmyrene-Aramaic script on tombstones, huge mosaic panels, stone blocks commemorating the construction of buildings, or inscriptions on coins. 

It is found mainly in Urfa and nearby sites: Suruç (in the southwest), Harran (in the southeast), Birecek and Apamea (in the west), and in scattered locations on the Euphrates valley as far as Dura-Europos in the south.

After the collapse of the Kingdom of Osrhoene in the middle of the third century AD, a new phase of the Syriac language and literature began that is considered its golden age. This time was characterized by the spread of Syriac during the fourth century AD in various regions whose population converted to Christianity within the Sassanid Empire (224-651 AD). The forms of Syriac writing developed, so the flexibility and roundness disappeared and became sharp and straight, and formed the basis of the northern Arabic writing (Kufic script).

During the fifth century AD, many Syriac writers emerged, the translation movement from Greek became active. The Syriac cultural movement continued to flourish during the sixth century AD, but all of that began to decline in the seventh century AD in view of the spread of Arabic with the Islamic conquests and its sovereignty.

The most important motive for choosing this subject is the injustice that has befallen the Syriac language in the modern era and still is. Despite realizing the extent of the ancient roots of this language in Syria among the scientific circles; The decision-making political forces did not care about that, and the Syriac people did not find the space to take proper care of their linguistic heritage. It is unfortunate that this “Syrian” language has been neglected, and no scientific institution was established in Syria to research it, collect its heritage, and document it, while it received attention outside its homeland, and then expanded the circle of interest in it since the last century, in many Universities and institutions in America, Canada, Sweden, and European countries; The Syriac immigrants found the space and support to participate in this.

“The Syriac Language and Illuminations on Aspects of Syriac Heritage”

Abdul Massih Saadi

The Syriac language emerged as a written language in 6 C.E and became the heir of the older Aramaic language and literatures. Enriched by surrounding languages and their heritages, the Syriac language vitally enriched the literature of Syria and Mesopotamia, becoming the Lingua Franca for more than 1200 years.

In the formative period of Syriac Christianity, the Syrian territories enjoyed a prominent status as a land of Syriac culture, as well as open to the Greco-Roman culture from the west and the Persian culture from the east, and from the seventh century on, to the Arabs.  This fact of conjunctions of cultures gave the Syriac Christianity its distinct characteristics.

Mostly, the literature of Syriac Christianity was recorded in the Syriac language; this literature remains the only presentation of Christianity in its Semitic/native roots, culture, and language, which is deeply rooted in the cultural context of Jesus, who spoke Aramaic. Nowadays, scholars in the human sciences consider this heritage as “the hidden treasures,” of a universal value for fully comprehending the religious heritage of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

In the absence of the Syriac literature, the whole history of the Levant would have been reduced to “Barbarians with a strange language and customs.” In defense, the second century Tatian the Assyrian wrote “Oration Against the Greek,” in which he presented the originality of the Syrian culture, heritage, and values; many Syriac authors followed Tatian’s stand. The Syriac schools with uninterrupted series of Syriac scholars remained active in the intellectual life, interacting with all kinds of knowledges of those days, including subjects as annalistic, literary, philosophy, patristic, biographical, biblical, exegetical, homiletical, paraenetical, legislative, liturgical, and poetical writings.

We can read about the Syrian’s loyalty to their land and culture, their ancient and modern heritage, their understanding of the freedom for the human beings, the boundaries between religion and politics, the significant role of women, the significant of learning/teaching, community parting as a mean for transferring knowledge…etc.

Among the literatures that the Syrian authors interacted with, the Arabic was the most. The played major role in transferring the knowledge from Syriac or Greek into Arabic. In process, the Syriac authors adopted many aspects of the Arabic literatures as they continued to coexist with them and share their fate. In fact, the fate of both literatures was to slumber during the Ottoman reign.

By the turn of the 20th century, Arabic literature was revived by the support of the new Arab states; on the contrary, the Syriac language and literature was abandoned and was considered by the Arab states as alien to the region.

The Syriacs and their Contributions to Administration and Translation in the Umayyad and

Abbasid Periods

Ghassan Aladdin

In this research, we aim to understand the reasons for the active presence of the Syriac Christian community in Arab civilization, while also analyzing the meanings of this presence and its significance. We focus mainly on the Syriacs whose knowledge and administrative skills turned them into a necessity, especially in public life.

This research deals with several aspects of the topic, all of which can be summarized in two main questions:

1. What role did the Syriacs play in the fields of administration and organization during the Umayyad dynasty?

2. What role did the Syriacs play in promoting culture and intellect in the Abbasid era, especially through translating various sciences from Greek into Arabic?

In order to address these questions, the research examines the specific role played by the Syriacs in the Umayyad era, during which they assumed responsibility for administration, judiciary (diwans), taxation and financial affairs due to their high culture and their extensive experiences, which allowed them to carry out these tasks effectively and efficiently. In fact, many Syriac figures stood out throughout the Umayyad dynasty, and left indelible marks, not only during that era, but also during the Abbasid era.

The research will also investigate the environment that supported the translation by Syriacs of a number of Greek books into the Syriac language, and subsequently into Arabic.

Due to their fluency in Greek, and the attention they paid to its vocabulary and meaning, the Syriacs played a fundamental and decisive role in the development of Arab-Islamic society, especially during the Umayyad period. As part of that society, they participated in advancing its culture and mentality, since they were pioneers in the scientific and cultural fields, and in the fields of administration, judiciary, organization and taxation, and clearly made their influence felt. In fact, when the Umayyads took Damascus as their capital, the lack of required knowledge and experience of successive governors to rule the state and manage the diwans, meant that Syriac Christians were often entrusted with managing diwans, enforcing security, and collecting taxes. This was only because they had the specialised skills that other peoples and tribes simply did not possess.

In addition, this research shows the growing importance of the Syriac component in the Abbasid era, in which the Caliphs expressed a deep interest for translation, often appointing translators in very high positions and showering them with gifts. In this regard, the Syriacs found themselves in an extremely privileged position, mainly due to their skills in translation and transportation, and especially because of their understanding of

medical texts, in a society in which books on astronomy, chemistry and even philosophy, were of common interest.

As a conclusion, the research shows us that due to the extensive participation of the Syriacs in cultural, social and political life, this earned them a high status in society that rendered them able to advance in the fields of administration, translation, transportation, medicine and literature. Moreover, throughout history, the Syriacs offered the Arab-Islamic civilization a scientific culture that served as the foundations for the scientific knowledge, which ultimately benefited Islam. This enabled the Arabs to reproduce this knowledge, to further improve it, and to distribute it until it became an important part of their culture and roots.

Before analyzing the major civilizational role that the Syriacs played in the past and the present alike, it is important to note that the development of civilization, any civilization, does not solely rest entirely on the shoulders of its own people, but is rather the result of concerted efforts, made by all people, regardless of their affiliations, religions and beliefs. This is because all have the will for a common life, a life of sharing common concerns that unite those who belong to one particular civilization. It is this fact alone which is the organizing thread that makes each party contribute a little to building a civilization and to enhance it according to their own efforts and abilities.

A Summary of Research:

The Role of Assyrian Journalism in the Development of Syriac Language

Karam Dawli

The missionary enterprises that were active among the Assyrian in several countries, from 1800’s and on-word, brought with them printing presses equipped with Syriac alphabet to be used in printing the Bible and other publications to facilitate for their activities among the people.

The Syriac Assyrians Elites realized the role and importance of journalism in the development of their society, preservation of their culture and language. Although, the Assyrians did not enjoy the stability of a statehood of their own that would have permitted such institutions to take place; however, they were among the first people of the Middle East who published newspapers and magazines. In 1949, Zahrira D’Bahra (Rays of Light) the first magazine in Syriac language appeared in Urmia, Iran; to be followed in other cities, like (Amed, Kharpout and Urmia). Due to the persecutions that befall on the Assyrians with all their denominations and appellations during the WWI a large number immigrated to the North and South America, where they established fairly developed journalism and presses; they courageously addressed topics that were forbidden in homeland, specifically the role of the clergy that dominated their society for centuries. Assyrian journalist, like their peers in the ME, suffered the tyranny of the governments due to the nature of their work which required courage in conveying truth to the public, and consequently they were exiled or banished.

The Assyrian journalism played a positive role in the development of Syriac literature and language and gave it a modern outlook and attracted writers and intellectuals, including the clergies, who were the educated class for centuries where they found an opportunity to come out of their circles and reach the readers on large scale. Equally, the readers had an access to Syriac books, published in newspapers and magazines, that were limited in circulation.

With dwindling and decline of Syriac readers as a result of socio-political and economic conditions, exacerbated with waves of immigration to the West, have imposed a new reality, that is to learn the languages of the host countries. This new phenomena is realised and a new era began; publishing in more than one language beside Syriac; often the language of the host country covered more pages.

Sadly, most Syriac magazines, newspapers and publications that played influential role were published in Diaspora, due to the lack of political freedom and discrimination against minorities in the ME. They were published by institutions and personalities in free atmosphere, that wasn’t available at home. The publications played a constructive role in social reforms, self-awareness, and reviving Syriac identity; it also fashioned an elite class of literary, intellectual and political activists, women and men. More than two hundreds magazines and newspapers were published at home and abroad; a number that can’t be underestimated when compared with the difficult conditions faced by the Syriacs. Many of those publication did not flourish due to financial matters, lack of professionals and staffing.

Notable Magazines:

Hoyudo (Al Ittihad) Unity: published by the Federation of Assyrian Clubs in Sweden. First published in May1, 1978. Its name is derived from the official organ of the Chaldean Assyrian Society in the USA. The editor-in- chief was Naum Faik, a thinker and nationalist. Today, it is published electronically in the same paper format. It had a large circulation and was   distributed in more than 15 countries. Articles appeared in Syriac, Arabic Turkish, Swedish and English. It adopted a nationalistic view influenced by Naum Faik, (father of Syriac journalism), who had a great impact on the political movements that emerged among the Syriacs that transcended their appellations and Church divisions.

Bahro Suryoyo (Syriac Light): published by the Federation of Syriac Clubs in Sweden, first published in 1979. Its inception came as a result of a conflict between the Syriacs immigrants who preferred Syriac appellation over the Assyrian one; in reality it underlined a hidden conflict between Assyrian nationalists, in one hand, and the Syriacs, supported by the leaders of Syriac Orthodox Church, in the other, where the majority of Syriacs adhere to the said Church. The publication of Bahro magazine was solely intended to compete with Hoyudo magazine to win over its readers and followers.

Kawkba D’ Bith Nahrain (Star of the Two Rivers): it was published in Iraq after the Revolutionary Council granted cultural rights to the Syriac speaking in 1972, ( Syriacs Assyrian and Chaldeans), in Kurdistan Region of Iraq. After the control of the central government diminished, the spread of Syriac education became a reality and it created the need to publish newspapers, magazines and radio and television programs to keep pace with its development and modernization. Bith Nahrain, published quarterly by the Assyrian Cultural Centre in Duhok, in both Syriac and Arabic languages, respectfully. It specializes in literature and is considered fairly advanced, comparable to academic levels.

The Syriac League. It is considered the most important and influential magazine, published in 1934 -1970 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was published by St. Ephrim Syriac Club, a Syriac immigrants community, who’s most members were from the Ottoman Empire who left, before and after the WWI. Thus, the Assyrians tried, by all means, to preserve their language and identity and elevate their status in the societies in which they live, despite their limited resources, instability and marginalization they have turned to journalism to identify themselves and develop their language that is considered, in their view, an important feature of their identity.

Assyrian and their Role in the Damascus Declaration and the Syrian Revolution

Majd Wahiba

Syria is one of the countries that includes a number of minorities in the region. Among them are Syriac Christian minorities who are part of the Syrian people. Syriacs, today, live as minorities in some areas of Syria and Iraq, along with Arabs and Kurds. They represent themselves through some small political parties and cultural associations, which struggle to keep the Syriacs unharmed among the conflicts of the region. Unofficial sources estimate the number of Syriacs in Syria as /200,000/. They are distributed in the Syrian Jazeera, Aleppo, Homs and Damascus. In /1957/, the Syriacs were able to unite their ranks within a political entity, the “Assyrian Democratic Organization”, which is the oldest Syriac political party in Syria. It is located in the city of Qamishli, and is currently led by “Bashir Saadi”.

Damascus Declaration: A state of dissatisfaction resulted from the security, political and economic situation prevailed in Syrian society in general, and among intellectuals in particular, after Bashar al-Assad took over the reins of power. This prompted a group of intellectuals opposed the ruling authority looking for a map to get out of this deteriorating situation. Thus was the “Damascus Declaration”. The Damascus Declaration was distinguished as the first opposition declaration issued by Syrian opposition parties inside Syria. These statements used to be proclaimed by the opposition abroad. What distinguishes it is, also, the type of parties that signed it. As it included secular, Islamic and Christian parties in addition to Kurdish parties. After a lot of secret consultations and meetings away from the security grip, a document was reached that included fifteen items expressing a formula that would bring the country out of chaos and corruption in all its parts. The “Assyrian Organization” took time to join the initiative. The “Assyrian Democratic Organization” joined the signatories of the Damascus Declaration document in the joint statement between the Assyrian Democratic Organization and the Temporary Committee of the Damascus Declaration on /January 7, 2006/. The Assyrian Democratic Organization continued in the Damascus Declaration, which changed into the Syrian National Council in Istanbul in /2011/. It shares the seats in the council. The Damascus Declaration can be considered as a unique experience in the Syrian opposition political arena. Its organizers were able to unite the various political parties – including Islamic, Christian and secular on the one hand, and nationalist and patriotic on the other – in creating a unified political entity for the opposition that combines the aspirations and hopes of all these parties and currents, to build a modern state with a democratic constitution. This contributes to the transfer of power and seeks to advance society in all economic and scientific aspects. The Syrian Syriacs, since the independence of Syria until today, have been represented by several parties:

The Assyrian Democratic Organization: It was established in /1957/. It is the first organization to be formed by the Syrian Syriacs with the aim of preserving their religion, national interests and their language. The city of Qamishli is considered its center as it hosts the largest number of its affiliates. It is considered within the Syrian political opposition since its inception. Its members were pursued by the Baath government and were arrested, especially in the years /1986, 2006/. The Assyrian Organization was not far from the internal disputes among its members. Being a religious national entity, the dispute between the Eastern and Western Church followers led to their separation. This led to the formation of the Assyrian Democratic Party.

The Assyrian Democratic Party: The Assyrian Democratic Party was established in /1978/ as an “eastern” Syriac group that split from the “Western” Assyrian Democratic Organization. It broke away due to notable differences from the Western Syriacs. One of its founders is Adam Houmah, while its current president is Ninos Isho. The party is based in Qamishli and has generally sided with the Assad government since the /1990s/ in contrast to the Assyrian organization. With the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, the party stood with the government militias in Aleppo and Qamishli, and supported the Sutur militias supporting the government. The Khabur Guards are affiliated to it. The number of members of the Khabour Guards is estimated between /75/ to /150/ members. It is led by “Ruel Solaka”, and it works with the “Assyrian Khabur Guard” council headed by “Shimon Kaku” and receives military support from the Kurdish Autonomous Administration.

The Syriac Union Party: It was established in /2005/ and the “Syriac Union” party appeared in Europe. In /2008/ a party with the same name appeared in Lebanon. Months after the outbreak of the revolution in the year /2011/ the first public statements and publications of this party appeared in Al-Hasakah Governorate in order to represent the Syriac identity in the political consultations calling for an end to the Assad regime in Syria. Thus, since its establishment, it is considered one of the Syrian opposition parties. In its statements, it stressed that the cause of the economic and political crisis in Syria is the regime, due to its reliance on a military and security solution and its rejection of any political solution or participation in governance. This party is affiliated with the Syriac Military Council and the Sutur Forces, and is part of the Syrian Democratic Forces. The Beth Nahrain Women’s Protection Forces, participating in the fight against (ISIS), are women’s auxiliary forces to the Military Council and have participated in numerous operations against ISIS in northeastern Syria.

The Syria Democratic Party: The activities of the founding conference of the party were launched in /2021/, led by the joint presidency of the party between “Ahu Hanna” and “Madeline Khamis”. The party is one of the opponents of the Turkish intervention in Syria. It is protesting in European countries for what it considers an attack on the Syriac areas and the displacement of its people. This party has close relations with the Kurdish Democratic Unionist Party, as it was the first to welcome its establishment.

A human rights study of the Absentee Property Protection and Management Law No. 7

of 2020

Issued by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria – General Council

Antoun Koss Gabriel

On the 8 December 2020, the General Council of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria issued Resolution No. 3 to stop the implementation of the Law on Protection and Management of Absentee Property (Law No. 7) as a preparation step to its re-drafting in order to keep pace with the aspirations and rights of the people of the region.[1]

For many reasons, thousands of residents from Al-Hasakah were forced to emigrate. Most of them own real estate properties in Syria, either through inheritance or bought for investment, being assured that this property was protected under Syrian law.

Later, many expatriates began to buy apartments, and contributed to the establishment of a number of transport companies, tourist facilities, and other enterprises. The management of these properties was entrusted to agents working on their behalf. However, many were upset when they learned that the Autonomous Administration had issued a law (Law No. 7) that abolished the agencies, with the exception of agencies operating on behalf of first and second degree relatives, and limited the right of Assyrian and Syriac-Armenians to manage real estate properties, which was transferred to a special committee whose members were to be appointed by the administration.

As a result of numerous objections however, the Autonomous Administration issued a law to suspend the implementation of Law No. (7), but did not cancel it entirely, waiting perhaps for the right opportunity to reinstate it.

The historical context

In the third decade of the twentieth century, the Syrian Island area saw a huge development in the agricultural sector, which led to an agricultural renaissance, resulting in the Island being dubbed as “The California of Syria.”[2]

The leading role in inducing this renaissance was the Syriacs who, from the very beginning, took it upon themselves to invest in the agricultural sector,[3] and encouraged the locals to buy land.

The island remained a magnet for immigration until the era of unity with Egypt, when the poor application of the Agrarian Reform Law forced most of those covered by it to emigrate.

Emigration then continued for several reasons, which included the deterioration of general conditions, the harmful effects of Arabization policies on the youth,[4] the increase in political persecution, the absence of justice, and the spread of corruption and unemployment.

Later on, migration continued at a high rate, especially after the events of 2011, when the Autonomous Administration failed to operate as an alternative to the Syrian regime. The duplication of laws led to a conflict between the Syrian laws which were in force, the laws of the Autonomous Administration, and the directives of influential members (cadres) of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) coming from the Qandil Mountains and Iran. This conflict adversely affected the lives of many citizens.[5]

As a result of migration, there has been an increase in the number of real estate managed by agents, on behalf of their absentee owners.

There are also many Syrian Kurds, who were unable to transfer the ownership of the properties they bought to their names, because they could not obtain the required security licence. This means that they are still using their properties under agencies organized by the sellers for them.

Judicial conditions in the Autonomous Administration area

The areas of the Autonomous Administration experience a legal duality. In the two security areas of al-Hasakah and Qamishli, the Syrian courts and laws are still in force.

However, what hinders the work of these courts is the inability of the judges to move to the property in question if it is located in the Autonomous Administration areas, not to mention the discretionary implementation of judicial decisions issued by these courts[6].

In the Autonomous Administration areas, the duplication of laws; the incompetence of judges and their lack of independence; the hegemony of the PKK cadres over all social justice institutions as the supreme authority and the final reference for any judicial decision; the intervention of the security and military agencies in judicial cases, and other practices that affect justice, have all harmed the interests of citizens, thus leading them to resort to clan arbitration and churches in an effort to settle their disputes in amicable ways[7].

Legal Discussion

On the whole, Law No. 7 lacks legitimacy as it was issued by a body that does not have constitutional legitimacy, and violates the provisions of Article 15 of the Syrian Constitution, and Article (22) of the Charter of the Social Contract for Self-Administration, both of which consider private property to be protected by virtue of law.

It also abolished the authority of judges to appoint judicial agents and grants competence to the executive authority.

The law stipulates in Article (9) that Christian expatriates are excluded from the application of its provisions, and specified a different method for managing their property, in blatant discrimination between citizens, which makes it a racist law based on ethnic and religious discrimination, and one that contravenes human rights laws.

In a clear breach of the law, it illegally assigned the management of agentless properties to a commission, whose members are appointed by the executive authority, while also abolishing all other agencies.

Some may view it as constituting preferential treatment for the Christians, but this is far from the truth. Instead, it actually, demonstrates discriminatory treatment, the purpose of which is to coerce Christians to sell their property at the lowest possible price.

As for Article (14) of Law No. 7, it violates the most basic human rights because it is not legal to deprive any person of the right to emigrate, nor is it legal to return them by force to their homeland, while threatening to deprive them of their assets or dividends, and their right to dispose of them as they see fit (Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). In addition, by designating fugitive political opponents of the Autonomous Administration as “absentee,” this law enables the administration to punish them by seizing their property.

Conclusion:

This law contains many flaws.

Certainly, coercion will not work.

Only the judiciary is able to protect the rights of the resident or immigrant citizen, and to achieve justice for all.

The Choir

Nouri Iskandar

This paper aims to examine the historic development of religious chanting choirs in Syriac churches historically, regardless of their traditions and languages. The paper revolves around the “chorus” and its historic roles which started in the fourth century AD in the early days of Christianity. During this period, the “chorus” was divided into two groups, alternating chants and hymns in ritual prayers. To these groups, Saint Ephrem the Syrian added a women’s choral group that chanted during masses and prayers. This was a new precedent in the history of the church and occurred in the city of Al-Raha. This choir has lasted into the present day.

The artistic development of the “choral” continued throughout the subsequent centuries, until the fifteenth century when the Protestant sect established itself in Europe alongside the Western Catholic Church, after which, a new concept of a choir was formed, and consisted in the whole audience participating in the hymns.

The paper discusses the absence of news about the “choir” during the subsequent centuries, especially during the time of the Ottoman Empire, without questioning its continuity, and attempts to explain that absence.

I personally speak about my own experience in composing choirs in Syria and abroad since the 1960s, striving to spread these Aramaic Syriac melodies and making them heard to people in Arab and Western countries, after they were locked away inside the establishment of the church for more than 1500 years. These melodies are the foundation roots of Syria’s music, therefore, reviving this tradition, I formed several choral groups which performed in a number of European countries, such as Germany (1993 and 1994), France (1995) in the French Cultural Center in Damascus, and then in the Netherlands (1999) at the Maastricht Festival for Sacred Music.

The paper ends with an analysis of the impact of Syriac music in Islamic hymns and chants, where the “choir” is made up of men only, and within circles led by a great sheikh, acting as the maestro for both the group and solo singers trying to adjust the basic rhythms. A section of this choir repeats (Thema), i.e. the Word of God chanted with a specific rhythm. This rhythm changes with the stages of the Zikr (remembrance) from the beginning to the end, and follows fixed as well as changing rythms, going from low to high, and starting slowly before accelerating gradually into a very fast ending. These rhythmic and musical foundations are accompanied by a small chorus of senior performers, reciting Zikr poems and praises/mada‘eh with the participation of the large chorus in charge of the percussion, which continues until the end. Some Sufi groups sometimes use a flute to accompany the chanters, and percussion instruments, such as different kinds of mazaher. So, the role of the chorus in Mawaled and Azkar is very important, as it evokes a spiritual atmosphere that allows for the glorification, praise and thanksgiving to God.


[1] – Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, General Council, Resolution Nbr 3, 12\8\2020. https://www.facebook.com/smensyria/photos/المجلس_العام-قرار-رقم-٣/1390185457838054

[2] – Barout, Mohamad Jamal, the historical creation of the Syrian Island (The hows and whys of transforming from Bedouinism to the modern civilization), 1st Edition, (Beirut, The Arabic Center for Research and Political Studies, November 2013), p 542

[3] – Najjar, Elias Saof, Asfar and Najjar families, Book not intended for sale, personal distribution, Beirut,2010.

[4] – Barakat, Halim, the Arab Society of the twentieth century (Research in the change in situations and relations), 1st Ed. Beirut: Arab Unity Study Center: July 2000), p. 106

[5] – Al-Oulou, Sacha, The Autonomous Administration, An overview of experience: Real study of the judicial system in North and East Syria, Omran center for strategic studies, April 2021, Omrandirasat.org

[6] – Information gathered by the researcher

[7] – Al-Alou, Sacha, Ibid, p. 129