Monday, March 08, 2004

DR. NASHAT GABRAIL, an Iraqi Assyrian Christian and a native speaker of Aramaic, comments on Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and on the future of the Assyrians and of Aramaic (New Philadelphia Times Reporter, OH):

�It�s very exciting to see a moving picture for the first time in Aramaic,� he said. �I was impressed by the actors. They really learned it.�

Gabrail, an oncologist who has a practice in Dover and is a resident of Stark County, is of Assyrian Christian descent, original natives of Mesopotamia, the current Iraq. His native language is Aramaic.


Gabrail said the dialect of Aramaic was so ancient in �The Passion of the Christ� that even he had to use the subtitles occasionally, but he said the language was completely accurate.

�I went in with an open mind to criticize, but I didn�t see anything. Mel Gibson should be complimented for what he did. He took Scripture and translated it in an honest way into a movie.�

While 4,000,000 people in the world still speak Aramaic, only 200,000 can read it and write it. Gabrail is one of those 200,000.

He said the language diminished because of the dying Assyrian identity, which was denied under the Iraqi government and rulers of Iraq like Saddam Hussein. As time passed, the Aramaic language became spoken less and less. Assyrians were not allowed to speak it in public and were not taught it in schools. They learned it through family and church.


Now that Hussein is gone, Gabrail hopes they can teach Aramaic in schools again.

The Aramaic language has been kept alive because of the Assyrians� religious faith. The church insisted that the language of prayer and mass remain Aramaic. However, Gabrail thinks it should not have to rely on the church.

�We want our identity intact based on rights, so individuals can say who they are,� he said.

Gabrail said the United States is concerned about preserving the identity of the Assyrians because the majority of Iraqis are trying to insert the word Islam in the new Iraqi constitution, something Assyrians do not like because they are Christians. Paul Bremmer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, is a supporter of the Assyrians and is trying to prevent this.

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