The Passion of the Christ was in Aramaic. Could Assyrians watch without the subtitles?
Many people could understand much of it. If I didn't want to see the subtitles and just listen, I had to close my eyes, which I didn't want to do. I understood about 50 percent, and I'm not as well acquainted with our written language as some.
I could follow about that much of the Aramaic too.
Is there a larger interest in Aramaic because of the movie, and has it affected your community?
I'd like to say that Mel Gibson had an effect on the community, but I don't think it's Mel Gibson at all. In terms of the visibility of Aramaic, it certainly created a lot of visibility outside of our community.
We simply do not have facilities to propagate our written language. We had greater literacy in our community in 1920 than we do today. The reason is that before 1920 the West had an enormous interest in our language. There is a story about the 50th celebration of the American presence in northwest Iran, which was in 1884. They had invited some Persian dignitaries and a missionary was sitting next to one of the Persian officials. The official noticed a lot of women sitting together with books in their hands, and the official turned the missionary and said, "what are those women doing with those books. Women in your community can read?" and they asked for all the women who could read to stand up. 600 women stood.
I don't think we have 600 women in Iran today who could read our language. We have a population of 15,000. There has been no opportunity for our people to study our language.
So there are Assyrians in Iran too. They haven't gotten nearly the media attention of the ones from Iraq.
(Heads-up, reader Carl Mosser.)