Sunday, October 28, 2007

ARAMAIC WATCH -- A documentary on Syriac in Turkey:
Journey of a letter for tomorrow
Saturday, October 27, 2007

Syriac, one of the three oldest languages in the world, is used only by 1 percent of 15,000 Syriacs in Turkey today and faces extinction. The documentary 'A Letter for Tomorrow' is a novel effort to prevent its dissappearance

ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News

A man on a seemingly impossible mission to save the script of his people from becoming extinct, Gabrial Aktaş, the last Syriac calligrapher in Turkey, is almost 70.

He is no longer capable of spending hours at his desk copying old Fankitos, the handwritten religious books of Syriacs, who are the oldest indigenous settlers of Mesopotamia in eastern Turkey. He started copying the four Fankitos in 2001. It took him 13 months to finish the first one, whereas the second one was finished in 15 months.

Aktaş talks of how he started copying them with a sparkle in his eyes. “When I finished the first Fankito, I looked at it. It was not very good,” he said. “My intention was not to become a calligrapher. I wanted to pass them to the future. But then I thought, ‘why not better my handwriting?' So people will remember there was Gabriel, from the Bakisyan village of Mardin.”

Syriac is one of the three oldest among 6,700 languages currently spoken around the world. Nearly 5,000 of them are expected to disappear by the end of this century. The threat is all too real for Syriac, which is used only by 1 percent of 15,000 Syriacs in Turkey today. However, Syriac has a special place among the thousands of languages that are faced with the threat of extinction. It is one of the few languages that has a written literature. The critical condition of the language is brought to light through a documentary titled “The Light Looks for Its Voice” (Işık Sesini Arıyor) by Hakan Aytekin, a lecturer at Maltepe University's Department of Radio, Television and Cinema.

This is very laudable, but in the meantime I hope someone is getting a photographic record of those manuscripts. Get that man a digital camera!

By the way, Syriac (or even Aramaic in general) is not one of the three oldest languages in the world. Not even close. It is, though, one of the oldest languages to still have native speakers.

The same story is treated more briefly here.
Hakan Aytekin, an academic at Maltepe University, realized the dangers Syriac has faced when a colleague found a letter in a trashcan. The letter made him realize how little he knew about the language and the culture. Isa Bakır, the owner of the letter, a Syriac, expressed a longing for the place he left years ago and requested that a song be played on the national radio channel.

Gabriel Aktaş, a Syriac clergyman and representative of the oldest Syriac tradition: calligraphy, realized the risk to his language and culture, started copying the old handwritten religious books of Syriacs to pass on to future generations.

The journey of this letter triggered another journey for Aytekin in the language of Syriac. Aytekin wrote a book and shot two documentaries about Syriacs. The last of his documentaries is entitled 'A Letter For Tomorrow.'