The Language of the Indigenous Assyrians: Current Situation, Challenges and Strategies for Future Preservation
The indigenous Assyrians of the Middle East are currently in a precarious position. With the situation in their homeland having been unstable for many decades now, due to wars and persecution, a large number of them have chosen to emigrate to the diaspora, where their language is in danger of disappearing. In their native countries, on the other hand, this population drain is having a devastating effect on the Assyrians’ critical mass, and their ability to maintain and preserve their ancient language for future generations. The lack of proper governmental representation, and the lack of official recognition by some states in which they live, also make this endeavor particularly difficult.
In the spirit of the International Year of Indigenous Languages, this seminar will feature a panel of six speakers from Iraq, Syria and Turkey, who are either specialists in the field of Assyrian language or representatives of NGOs and civil society organisations. Among them are also people who have experience in language teaching, whether officially or unofficially. The topics covered by this panel, therefore, will be as follows:
- The importance of language for the ethnic identity of Assyrians as an indigenous people,
- The history of Assyrian written and spoken dialects,
- Advances in language development and education in Iran and Ottoman Turkey,
- The experience and importance of Assyrian language teaching in Iraq, and
- The language teaching experience in Syria and the role of technology and social media.
This event will be a one day Seminar, hosted by the Assyrian Cultural Center in Duhok, Iraq.
Aims and Objectives:
The purposes of this event will be as follows:
- To increase understanding, reconciliation and international cooperation,
- To create favourable conditions for knowledge-sharing and dissemination of good practices with regards to the Assyrian language,
- To integrate the Assyrian language into a standard setting,
- To empower indigenous Assyrians through capacity building, and
- To grow and develop through the elaboration of new knowledge.
The main objective behind the event will be to focus local and global attention on the critical risks confronting the Assyrian language, as well as its significance for sustainable development, reconciliation, good governance and peacebuilding in Middle Eastern countries. Additionally, it will target steps that will improve quality of life for Assyrians, enhance international cooperation to preserve the Assyrian language, strengthen intercultural dialogue, and reaffirm cultural and linguistic continuity. Moreover, it will aim to increase the capacity of all stakeholders to take measures that will support, access and promote the Assyrian language in accordance with the legitimate rights of the people who speak it.
The expected outcomes of this event will be to contribute to the following:
- Support of the Assyrian languages through its revitalisation and maintenance. This will be done by ensuring that strategies are developed to provide more material, expanded content and a wider range of available services for speakers, in order to increase and improve how much it is spoken. This will be done using language education, as well as information and communications technologies, in order to improve everyday use of the Assyrian language and encourage best practice, equality and proficiency in its use.
- Discussing the preservation of the Assyrian language through access to education, information and knowledge, improvement of data collection and sharing of information using language technology and other communication and information mechanisms in and about the language.
- The promotion and empowerment of Assyrian language speakers and their culture through maintaining and mainstreaming their knowledge areas and values within broader sociocultural, economic and political domains in the Middle East and abroad. This will be achieved through specific language technologies and other relevant methods of communication and information, also promote cultural practices and traditions. Furthermore, we hope that this will ensure better preservation and transmission of the Assyrian language, culture, customs and traditions to future generations.
Furthermore, it is hoped that this event will contribute to improving the quality of life for indigenous Assyrians by strengthening their capacity and that of organizations working in this sector, encouraging stakeholders to take appropriate action in support of the Assyrian language. Interested parties will include the Assyrians themselves, the Middle Eastern states which they are native to, UN organizations, academics, as well as public and private bodies, media and other stakeholders. Through this event, these will all be encouraged to actively participate by taking collaborative measures to have the maximum positive impact in promoting and protecting the right of the indigenous Assyrians to preserve and develop their language. It is hoped that this event will further contribute to building greater respect for linguistic diversity and indigenous languages in the Middle East, as well as appreciation of the vital contribution of the Assyrian language and people to the region specifically and our world in general.