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The Oultines of the Syrisc I dentity of Lebanon

 By Dr. André kahale

    Beirut, Lebanon

INTRODUCTION

Hubl, the British historian, says that if you wish to liquidate certain nations, you start first by paralyzing their memory power, then destroy their books, culture and history, then have another party write them books, give them another culture and create for them another history… then these people will surely forget who they are and what they were and the world will forget them also. This is a summary of the historic struggle facing our people in the east. As far as Lebanon is concerned, Kamal Saliba, the historian says. The reality and essentiality of the war going on in Lebanon, is a war aimed to limit the importance and effectiveness of the true history of this country. The essential cause of our people is a cause of our Syriac identity and the essential battle is to preserve this identity. the essential basics of our identity surpass history to include religion, language, civilization and culture in general… if we bypass the basic of religion, we find that the other basics are unstable and in constant threat to waves of successive attempts of forgery, at times, and containment, at other times, all working within a master historic conspiracy summed up in two words arabizing and liquidating. We site a simple example from our modern history, the verbal treaty of the year 1943 stated that Lebanon has an Arab face and within a period of 50 years it was changed and put in writing within the Taif constitution that Lebanon is Arabic in identity and belonging.

The examples we need to consider come from important historic stations in our ancient history, of Lebanon did not start in 1943 nor did it start in 1920 and Lebanon was not created by fakher el-din 2. Lebanon was created by the Syriac´s thirty centuries ago. It is our duty to protect our history, generation after generation, because the suffering was coupled with a historic struggle in the defence of just cause, a cause of freedom and human dignity. Last but not least, the right of peoples to decide their own destiny, is one of the basic

Rules issued and recorded by the United Nations. We the Syriac Christian people should be first convinced of this right, and then press on with the other minorities to claim this right within and through the united nation. We the Syriac Christian people are like the Indians in defending our being, identity and existence. Our cause has enough deep roots and legality like any other people … we should newly be acquainted with the roots of our people’s cause, by researching our true history, which is not in our unified university books prepared to guard our existence as a society, protect our cause as a people and keep our country.

1- The roots of the Christian Syriac Aramaic culture.

The Syriac Aramaic history has also roots in the Greek Hellenic culture, the expansion of Alexander the Macedonian in the year 330 B.C., in spite of the short time during which the Aramaic regions were united under his rule, made the Greek culture with its philosophy, art, literature and language have a great impact for several centuries.

Back to language, what was the language spoken by the eastern people before Alexander conquests, it was, no doubt, our Syriac Aramaic language. Aramaic was so famous and widely used; it was the common language of the Persian Achemenian Empire, before it split it into several dialects after Alexander and the Hellenic era. Aram in the Old Testament means the land of Syria. (1)-p. Robert 2. Dictionary des noms propres. The name land of Syria is taken from the Syriac word soryoyo which means the land of Syriac´s by the northern Syriac dialect, thus the country of Syria as called by the Greek and the Romans  became the portion of seleucus who build a kingdom with the city of Antioch as its capital in the year 300 B.C.. This kingdom was in constant struggle with the Lichedean kingdom with Alexandria as its capital for a period more than two and half centuries, until 64B.C.. When the roman armies marched through and united the whole region under the roman rule…

2 – Syriac Christianity before the expansion of Islam.

This unity and the roman peace which included all the Mediterranean basin facilitated the spread of the Christian gospel which started in Jerusalem and reached Rome and the close of the 2nd century A.D. the gospel in the land of Aram spread first in the big cities of Sidon, tyre, Damascus and Antioch where they were first called Christians , while the interior area and the mountains were harder to preach, where the heathen temples continued to flourish such as the temple of the sun in Baalbeck  which was built in the second century A.D. and the heathen temples of Fakra. The persecution of the Christians halted finally in the beginning of the 4th century A.D. when in the year 330 A.D. the Christian religion was legalized by emperor Constantine the great and was permitted, to operate within the boundaries of all the Roman empire. The situation was then reversed and persecution started against the Heathen religions and their schools of philosophy.

 TheEmperor himself considered himself the first defender, not only of the political security of all the empire, but of the security of the church and its theology. The unity of the church and state were expressed by a two sided coin known as. Cesaro-papisme. All world congresses were held at the request of the emperor and under his leadership and his presence mostly. All constructional and theological decision were enforced by imperial decrees and military force.

The conference that aimed to unite the Christians and to fight the sects, brought adverse results and caused new divisions in the church and the rise of new churches expressing their for political independency, this happened especially after Chalcedonies synod in 451 A.D. the internal division, among those who supported the conference and those who opposed it, which occurred in the East during the sixth century A.D. centred around the theological terms used about the two natures of the Christ  these delicate theological differences found their roots in the minds of the common people because it was related to ethnic and nationalistic prejudices supported by the Coptic’s, Syriac´s and the Armenians to oppose the Ruling Roman  state (1) History of the Eastern Church by bishop Michael Yateem . within the same trend of analysis, we find the Syriac people in Mesopotamia, earlier, adopting the Nestorian theology to make evident that the established eastern Syriac church differs from the Byzantine church and the Byzantine state to escape the persecution of the Persian state.

 By supporting the Chalcedon synod a group of monks had followed saint maroon who died in the year 410 A.D. they completed building ST maroon monastery beside river around 452 A.D. in the region of Apamia near Hamah by direct orders of emperor Mercian and the endeavours of bishop Theodoratos bishop of kourosh to defend the supporters of the conference in Syria. This monastery had precedence over all other monasteries in the region because preaching of Christianity started from saint maroon monastery by Orontes toward Mount Lebanon where river Abraham was named after the monk Abraham who carried the gospel to the residents of the mountains.

 In the beginning of the seventh century A.D. the situation in the east was as follows. Religious divisions in the from of ethnic churches among the Coptic’s in Egypt, the Armenians and the Syriac´s in the Syriac land in addition to the kingly orthodox Syriac´s, the KI- G  Maronite Syriac´s and the eastern Syriac´s in Persia. Politically, the whole region was experiencing fierce wars 7after the Persian conquest in 612 A.D. and the fall of  Antioch. The Syriac east and Egypt when emperor Hercules regained all the regions and returned the holy cross about the year 628 A.D.

2 – The spread of Islam

The historic dividing line in the fate of the east comes with the Islamic conquest which came out of the Arab peninsula after the death of prophet Mohammad 632.A.D. when the reluctant raids were transformed into a complete victory after the battle of el-Yarmouk  636 A.D. (Yarmouk stream pores into the Jordan river)

And the battle of el Qadissie 637A.D. in the first battle the Byzantine empire was defeated and in the second battle the Persian empire was defeated … there are two basic reasons that helped the Islamic army defeat the two Byzantine and Persian empires, the first reason is that during the few centuries preceding this Islamic victory, the two great empires were engaged in bloody wars that drained their forces along all the eastern battle fronts, the second reason is that most of the Syriac´s adhered to churches that were separated from the Byzantine church, therefore they readily welcomed the Islamic invasion hoping to be saved from the Byzantine oppression, but the transfer was much worse.

As a result of this dangerous change of atmosphere, the Christians were forced to face choices affecting their destiny. Islam limited the choices to three.. 1 accepting Islam.  Become a Moslem and are safe (this choice led the eastern people and the people of North Africa to become Moslems.) 2 – be a second-class citizen (Dhimmi) and a tax payer. This choice was taken by the Christians who stayed behind to protect their lives and properties by giving up their civil and political rights. 3 – Deportation and uprooting. bishop Yateem includes this choice by the following statement in his book (the history of the eastern church) .., the early stages of the Islamic rule was noted for its leniency and permissiveness by offering whoever wishes of the residents, the monks or the official employees to immigrate to Byzantium. Therefore many Syriac Christians in Syria left the Islamic state and lived in southern Italy and civilly.  The rest of the Christians stayed behind and protected their churches, properties and freedom of worship and their private religious practices under the leadership of their pastors. As for the fourth choice which the Moslems did not consider, was the opposition and struggle that. The Syriac Maronites in the land of the Syriac´s decided to follow by joining the Maronites in Mount Lebanon where saint maroon had established the Syriac Maronite patriarchate of Antioch around 685A.D. in defiance of the Byzantine church and the Islamic military authority.  The Maronite patriarchate was finally established in Lebanon until 938A.D. when saint maroon monastery on Orontes was destroyed. It was then that the triangle choice of destiny was taken a free Christian life in Syriac Lebanon. During the rule of the Umayyad empire, whose territory extended from the borders of china through the middle east and the Arab peninsula to north Africa, Spain and the middle of France, the linguistic and cultural mandate effectively started in 696 A.D. when the Arabic language was assigned as the official language in all public offices, replacing the Syriac, Greek and Persian language, and replacing the Byzantine coin by the Islamic coins. These two reforms constitute the major factor that helped establish the Islamic influence, supporting its central rule and confirmed the Islamic Arabic identity when the word Arabic became a synonym to Islamic. This battle of language and culture added another face to the struggle for the Syriac Christian people who continued to be faithful in preserving their heritage and culture through their literary treasures protected in the monasteries, and through their spoken language in the villages and the mountains. Saint John of Damascus who lived during the Umayyad rule in the 8th century used the Syriac and Greek languages in writing all his books. (He died 754A.D.)

After all the other regions accepted Islam as their religion and Arabic as their language, mount Lebanon remained Christian in his religion and retained Syriac as his language and nationality . At this time Mount Lebanon started to appear on the political stage in this part of the world, Mount Lebanon led by the Maronites and geographically established in jibbed Bsharry, the region of Byblos and Batroun. (Philip Hitti).

As for the suffering of those who chose to stay under the Islamic rule, the historian Philip Hitti describes it as follow. With Lebanon standing as a little Christian island in a sea of Moslems, many Christian groups moved from the neigh boring areas and settled in north Lebanon, some fled from paying taxes or having to be second-class citizen, others fled the restrictions and discrimination imposed by the Umayyad caliph Omar bin abed al Aziz (717-720 A.D. ) by issuing certain strange and unique decrees against the second class citizen (as Christian were then called) summed as follows. Christians are banned from holding a public office, banned from wearing a turban on their heads, ordered to wear clothes with leather belts to be identified from the other citizens, to ride donkeys without a saddle, banned from building churches, and forced to pray silently to avoid being heard outside. The immigration of the Christians to Lebanon increased during the Abbasid rule because the Abbasids were not as tolerant and free as the Umayyad rule, especially during the rule of Haroun el-Rashid (786-809 A.D.) and during the rule of al-mutawakkel (847-861) we believe that by the close of the 10th century Syria, Egypt and Iraq became Islamic both in their private and public life. In Egypt the fatimid caliph al Hakim beamer Allah (996-1021) issued certain decrees that completely abolished any evidence of Christian culture and consecrated the entire country to Islam. The suppressed people in the regions maintained their language with a stronger struggle than their religious wars, and were not taken by the Arabic language until the end of the Abbasid rule or the beginning of the 13th century when even the Christians in France suffered from the same Islamic pressure because the Islamic expansion had reached France and did not retreat until after the battle of Boitieh (732 A.D.) while the Islamic rule continued in Spain for 500 years. We conclude that the history of the Christian Syriac people in Lebanon is closely entwined with history of the church in Mount Lebanon, a history of persecution and struggle. All that we know about the Maronites between the 8th and the 11th centuries are two things, the gardens they carve in he rocky mountains and the prayers they prayed ( the Maronites, by Michael Aweet )

Bishop and historian Clemens says. Since ancient times Lebanon and its inhabitants are Aramaic, it flourished with them since the times of the Syriac kings. It flourished more during the times of King David the Israelite when he battled Haddad Azar king of Aram in Damascus and ariokh the Syriac king of Hamah. Many Syriac´s then fled and fortified themselves in Lebanon where they multiplied and increased in numbers. After the coming of Christ, they were called to the true religion, the Christian religion, which they accepted readily and they all became Christians they were increased in power and became very strong.( AL-Lamaa Al-Shahia by Iklimos David 1896 ) the historian youssef el-dibs says. These Syriac people were soon called Maronites in reference to the Syriac Monk saint maroon who lived in the forth century and died in the 410 A.D. he adds saying. The Maronites there fore are a group of Syriac´s who accepted the Christian religion since the early beginning and continued their strict adherence to the true religion , when raging storms of rising false religions took placed in Syria. They were guided by the teachings of saint maroon, who is considered father and intercessor of these people, and his honourable monks. 1 (civil and religious history of Syria by youssef el-dibs).

The truth is, the national Lebanese history of a Syriac people always holding fast to his being free and always ready for any sacrifice to preserve his status, was suddenly faced with Arab expansion which tried to change Lebanon’s status by force. Before the 7th century, Christian Syriac Lebanon was in close association with the rest of the eastern Aramaic Christians within one cultural circle, but the change of the status of the eastern Aramaic region and the people to accept Islam and Arabism, led to the bodily detachment of the Christian Syriac inhabitants of Lebanon and the Syriac´s of the oppressed areas in the east, when obvious contradictions and conflicts arose between two nationalistic forces, Arabic Islamic on one side and Syriac Christian on the other side, the effects of which are still going on till this day.

This cultural contradiction started in Lebanon after the wars with the Abbasids caliph el-Mansour in 758A.D. when he settled on the coasts of Lebanon the Islamic tribes who come from the Arab peninsula. The nature of the conflict then was changed from being a Christian country in Lebanon against a Moslem country surrounding it into a struggle between two peoples on the same ground, after the new settlers considered them selves legal citizen. The importance of this phenomena is extremely dangerous because it exposes the development of the Islamic intents in the region…(history of Lebanon by youssef Hitti)

 Iif the eastern problem was triggered around the year 636A.D. ,or started with the Islamic conquest and the occupation of all the eastern Aramaic territories, it was then that the Christian Lebanese identity and its desire to be independent in mount Lebanon was crystallized. The Lebanese problem really started in the year 758A.D. with the start of the settlement plan on the Lebanese coasts giving the birth of the dual identity and belonging the reaction of which, continue until this day. On one side is the Christian Syriac people while on the other side stand the Islamic Arabic people settled in Lebanon. Any talk about the oneness of a people is only an attempt to avoid the historic facts or to forge history. If we can refer to one Yugoslavian people or one Cypriot people then we can also refer to one Lebanese people.

With the change of times and by the end of the eleventh century, the crusaders campaigns between 1097-1099A.D. reached Lebanon , when the coastal cities rallied to resist the franks ( or foreigners), these coastal cities were Islamic, ruled by the Fatimites at times and by the Abbasids in other times, as for the Christian mountaineers, referred to by the historian crusader Guillaum from Tyre as follows: “ When the Franks (crusaders) subdued Tripoli in their march toward Jerusalem after defeating Antioch, a group of Syriac believers who lived in mount Lebanon in the elevations above Byblos, Batroun and Tripoli, came down to meet the Crusaders to congratulate them, and offered them their services. They were welcomed with brotherly love and were taken as guides”. These crusades that lasted two hundred years were some of the great failing causes in history; they failed to accomplish their aim to free the Holy Land and the land they did free was very small and limited, it did not include Damascus, Homs, Hamah or Aleppo, and their retreat and pull-out of the East, the Christians had to pay a very costly price…The Christians were newly unsettled and driven out of the interior cities like Aleppo and others, in addition to the military campaigns against Lebanon as we will discuss later.

The Mamluks, with the help of the Tenukhian Tribe, made perpetual attacks on Mount Lebanon beginning in 1283A.D. until the Great campaign in 1305A.D. when the Christian Independence was finally fallen.This Christian independence had lasted six centuries yet it is not recorded in any history book in Lebanon, to preserve the national unity… also the battle of the Fidar, Byblos, Madfoun triangle in 1293 in which the Christian Syriac army was victorious, when 30000 Christians faced 100,000 soldiers composed of the mukluk and the Arab tribes and defeated them, without any help from the crusaders or the Byzantines, this battle also is not mentioned in the official history of our country, to preserve the national unity… this battle was the last successful stand in the history of independent Christian Syriac country, because in the year 1305 a huge campaign, the Keserwen, was launched, marking another great turning point in history. If the Yarmouk battle was a historic turning point which facilitated for the Islamic conquest to reach the region of the Aramaic east and control it except for mount Lebanon wish retained its independence and being for seven long centuries, the sweeping success of the Keserwen campaign caused the fall of the Christian Syriac nation and the control of Islamic Mamluks rule over all mount Lebanon and the rest of the free territories in the eastern region.

The Mamluks patronized a new settlement plan, presented in the school books as follows. The Mamluks portioned the different areas to their followers, they gave Keserwen to al-Assaf, Beirut to al-tenouck, to prevent the crusaders from landing and making contact with the people of Keserwen, we have nothing to comment on this quotation, the Islamic villages near tarshish were placed to observe the port of Beirut for the interest of the Mamluks. Finally the Mamluks filled up all the seaports with dirt to prevent any sea landing-attempt by the crusaders.

The rule of the Mamluks constituted a dark period, because of suffering of the Christians under their rule on one side and the lack of any historic records on the other side… there is no doubt that the one basic factor which helped the Christian Aramaic people to survive the Mamluks oppression, is their clinging to the church institution which continued to play its historic role by combining their civil and religious duties along with the political, which was j held by al-mukaddam to make tax collection for the Mamluks easy. One historic event of oppression in the 14th century during 1367 A.D. is the burning of patriarch Hajula on the doors of the city of Tripoli… this event weakened the authority of the patriarch-teto the benefit of al-mukaddam and promoted them to the level of Chidiaq. This persecution of the patriarchate caused patriarch john Jaji to leave elige in Mayfouq in 1440 A.D. and go to the valley of Qannoubin where the patriarchate survived in the bosom of the holy valley and lived in the rock.

 The fall of Constantinople in 1453A.D. opened the doors of the area for the Ottoman Empire conquest. After sultan Salim completed his conquest of Persia, he encircled the Mamluks by surprise and defeated them on the plains of Dabek near the city of Aleppo in 15 16A.D., thus subduing the eastern region until Egypt, the Byzantines Christians then followed the patriarch assigned by the ottoman sultan in Istanbul, a further step in the oppression of the Christians under occupation. Lahed Khater in his book Lebanon and the Vatican says the following: During the negotiations of Sultan Salim with the Maronite patriarch of Hadathy, he was convinced by the patriarch that Lebanon always enjoyed interior independence and his patriarch did not take orders like the rest of the patriarchs, the Sultan then exempted the Maronite patriarch from accepting the decrees that were imposed on the rest of the patriarchs of the East.

The Ottoman political system retained the division of the states as they were portioned and nearly appointed princes and rulers in exchange of certain amounts in the form of taxes to renew the appointments. During the year 1535 A.D. Francois the First King of France, made economic trade and religious agreements with the Ottoman Sultan, giving France a role in the protection of the Catholics within the borders of the Ottoman Empire and opened the door for the religious foreign missions to operate in the East. In the year 1540 A.D., Prince Assaf the Turkmen granted his permission for the return of the Maronites to Keserwen and an alliance was formed between Mansour and Al-Assaf and the Maronites represented by Hbeish family. In the beginning of the 16th century, the Christian Maronites experienced a general revival, spiritually, socially and politically, to accomplish two aims coveted by the Maronite people (Abbot Boulos Nehm). The first aim is to accomplish independence within the Mount Lebanon.

The second aim is to create a free reciprocal cooperation with their allies and neighbours within the country and without.

The visit of the papal Ambassador Eliano had a great influence in holding the first Maronite conference, establishing the Maronite school in Rome in the year 1584 A.D. (after school of Saint Athnasios for the Greek in 1576 A.D.) and the Armenian school was also established in Rome. This Maronite institution graduated religious teachers, bishops and patriarchs for a period of two centuries which caused a great revival in the church body and society along the other revival caused by the graduates who were spread in the European countries. The reports of the Ambassadors Eliano and Dandini mention the term “the Maronite People” and “the Maronite State” because their spread in specific regions where the practiced their special prayers and religious practices, traditions and habits using their knowledge and their military and political institution to create one united social system within the country and without.

The contact with the Western world expedited the cultural revival by introducing the Gregorian calendar in the year 1606 A.D. and established the first printing press in the East the year 1610 within the walls of Saint Antonio’s Qizhaya monastery.

During the rule of Fakher Eddine the second, the new alliance with the Maronites led to the spread of the population in El-Shouf region, and the church participated the foreign policy of the state by its communications with the Italian states. The military organization was also dependent on the Maronites. Beginning with the year 1625 A.D., the western missionaries came in groups to the East especially to the city of Aleppo where the efforts of these missions along the efforts of the French Embassy had a great influence in the union of certain Eastern churches with Rome in the 18th century, when the Syriac Catholic Denomination was established in 1657, the Roman Catholic Denomination 1724, the Armenian Catholic Denomination in 1740 with their headquarters in Mount Lebanon to guarantee their safety and protection.

At the end of the 17th century, two important developments took place, the first was political when Al-Shehab took over the rule of the state in 1697, and the other was religious, the reformation of the monastic system under the leadership of the patriarch Dwayhi and the gradual building of the three different monastic systems.

These monasteries effectively shared in the spread of the population and the distribution of the real estate.

Last but not least we refer to the Lebanese conference held in 1736 when the skeleton of the Maronite church was completely organized and creating the different Parishes and many other organizing matters, with the presence of the Scholar Assemani of Hasroun the Papal Ambassador.

SUMMARY

Two lessons must be learned from our historic suffering:

The level of the Christian Cause.

-         The level of the Syriac Identity.

First - As far as the Christian Cause is concerned, it is three sided cause as presented by Professor Tony Mfarrage, it is the Free Christian Living in Lebanon. This triangle has historic roots as we discussed previously.

Second - As far as the Syriac Identity is concerned: The properties of this identity unites all the Syriac Aramaic People with all their different denominations and religions.

The four properties for a national identity are: Religions, Language, History and One Culture.   

As far as religion is concerned, we find that Christianity unites all the Eastern Syriac denominations and religious practices.

As far as language is concerned, the Aramaic Syriac language is the basic fountain for all the area.

As far as history is concerned, the Syriac Christian people with their different denominations are united in one common history of suffering and struggle during thirteen centuries.

As far as culture is concerned in its broader sense including educational, social and literature, it is basically the Aramaic Syriac Christian culture.

The presence of two different identities in Lebanon is the real cause of the historic problem and struggle, and the denying of this multiple identity is one face of the suffering that the Christians endure, because they are denied their unique Syriac identity and their true Syriac Aramaic history, because a people without a history is not existent.

Sheikh Shams El-din declared (in the Rayeh magazine November 92 issue) saying: I oppose the motto” Lebanon has multiple social identities”, I say “Lebanon has different social identities”, “it is not a multiple identity, because if we allow the concept of multiple identity, it means there are societies, the political meaning of multiple is federal of confederate.”

We agree with his last conclusion only.