Friday, August 18, 2006

SYRIAC INSCRIPTIONS DESTROYED IN IRAQ? Roger Pearse, at the Thoughts on Antiquity blog, notes a 2004 report on ChaldoAssyrian Churches In Iraq (PDF file) by the Assyrian Academic Society, which mentions:
... Rabban Hormizd, the ancient stone monastery outside Alqosh on the Nineveh plain which was bombed so severely that many of its magnificent epigraphic memorials, dating from a hundred centuries ago, have been shattered. These memorials were some of the most precious classical Syriac stone carvings in the world. They lie in a makeshift museum in Alqosh in desperate need of restoration.
The claim is that the Kurds are responsible for the destruction. No date is given, although the rest of the report gives dates for other acts of destruction mostly in the 1970s and 1980s. Obviously, the "hundred centuries" is a wild exaggeration; no writing of any kind has been proved to have existed anything like that early and Syriac is the Edessan dialect of Aramaic from late antiquity. But the point remains. A footnote adds:
An appeal to the US National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for funding to preserve rare Syriac materials under the special funds for Iraq allocated by Congress has been refused on the grounds that these materials are of a religious nature and not held at “public” institutions.
The report continues:
Some of the edifices listed below, now turned to rubble, had considerable historic value due to their antiquity and continuous use by the members of the several indigenous Christian denominations in Iraq that have historically made up the ChaldoAssyrians. Readings of historical geographies, as well as the colophons of Syriac manuscripts, provide clues to the early dates of some of these religious buildings even when foundation or reconstruction inscriptions lie under rubble.

In the rush to destroy these churches, manuscripts of considerable antiquity may also have been destroyed. The history of the destruction needs to be collected from oral sources so that the whereabouts of the precious manuscripts may be retrieved. This is part of the history of Iraq and a witness to its diversity, no matter what forces of ethnic uniformity may arise.
There is more on the site of Rabban Hormiz Monastery on p. 19, with a photograph of a Syriac epitaph from the early 17th century.

This certainly sounds like a very serious situation. At the link above, Roger has more information on the fate of some manuscripts from this monastery.

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