1.4. Media Reports

1. About Yawna > 1.4. Media Reports

1.4.1. Phil England Message:

During my studies in Germany, I met a friend from California, and as usual I told him about what happened in Maaloula, and what I intend to do to preserve what is left. He said to me, I want to send a message through you to the people of Maaloula to encourage them and let them know that I stand by them.

He sent me the message the next day and I translated it and posted it on my Facebook page here.

Media Reports. Phil England Message

Figure 1.4.1: Maaloula 2010 {© Rimon Wehbi}

The Message:

Maaloula is a very strong symbol of Christian tradition. It carries both the spiritual and cultural legacy of Jesus Christ. The language of Maaloula is the language of Christ, and it is the last place that lives to preserve this piece of his legacy. This fact gives Maaloula power and great value. The evildoers who came and attempted to destroy this powerful symbol and its spiritual power thought that by physically attacking the beauty and art of the place, they could destroy the legacy it preserves. However, the power of Maaloula was not and is not contained in its art. Art is not permanent… just as water can eventually wear away even the sturdiest stone, no art form is capable of lasting forever, and despite this, it remains perfect.

Things do not need to be permanent to be perfect. Nor do they need to be perfectly functioning. For example, although we may consider a confusing sentence to be an imperfect one, from God’s perspective, it is instead a totally perfect example of a confusing sentence. Its purpose is not to be clear, and it perfectly achieves its intended purpose of being confusing. Many times, mankind forgets this, as we view success only as being continued existence and the preservation of one particular form. God’s universe is, however, infinitely changing, and it is meant to be so.

The beautiful works of art and architecture that colour the face of the city of Maaloula were perfect, as they helped to convey the spiritual beliefs and practices of its people. I believe that even now, with loving faces that have been chipped away and careful edges that have felt the heart-wrenching blow of angry sledgehammers, the art is perfect. Now, however, its message has been made new… and perhaps even more powerful than ever.

The virtues and the spiritual traditions that have a life beneath the temporary physical form of the materials are now free to shine forth into the hearts of people. Just as the ideas existed before the art was created, so will it exist when the art changes its form. The presence of evil just makes the good message so much more pronounced. The spiritual tradition that the art points to survives the destruction of an artist’s paintbrush strokes because it is made up of indestructible beliefs and ideas, which can be learned, practiced, and transferred. And if desired, newly inspired art can be made!

I am reminded of a story of some Buddhist monks whose spiritual beliefs prevent them from owning any property or from coveting things of the material world. There are some monks who pass their time by painstakingly creating vast murals out of grains of coloured sand. The work takes many weeks to complete and requires dedication, focus, and precision. Once the mural is complete, however, the artist monk is faced with the question, “What shall I do with my work?” As an ongoing recognition that life continues to flow onward, the monks simply wipe the table clear of the sand, acknowledging and accepting the impermanence of all things, and they release their attachment to what was. Instead, they set themselves joyfully to the task of continued creation, as they set back to work creating more sand art.

All we have as human beings is the present moment. We may remember the past, and we may have our suspicions and expectations about the future, but all we will ever have is an ever-changing “RIGHT NOW”. Sometimes more than others, we must embrace the RIGHT NOW with an open heart as joyfully as possible, recognizing all of the opportunities that we have to make our next creation.

The traditions, language, and culture of Maaloula was not lost when the art was made to look different. The value was perfect, and it still is. By attempting to destroy this power, the cruel people were misled, and in fact, they have given it far greater power. Now, the tradition is calling out to be created anew, to be carried into the hearts and minds of many more as awareness spreads. We now have the powerful tool called the internet, and through this tool, the culture can be permanently preserved.

My friend Rimon, just as many others from Maaloula are now called to work to save the tradition and culture and to preserve it beyond any possible destruction that others would conspire to attempt against it. The way of life has simply moved and taken another form, which will be more permanent than it ever was. Think about it… without the attack upon the city, the people perhaps would not have felt the calling to protect and preserve the way of life, the language, the tradition, and the rich past. All of the energy would simply have remained in Maaloula in its lovely walls and in the hearts of its happy people; now, however, it has a chance to reach the hearts and awareness’s of many more.

I never would have heard of the city, had it not been for this act, so I know without a doubt that this is true. It is already begun. No physical act of hatred or violence can stop that.

RIGHT NOW is the opportunity to freshly renovate, revitalize, and preserve its beautiful culture. There is always great hope, and I am grateful to have learned of the beginnings of this inspiring story.

With great love.
Phil E.

1.4.2. RNZ Newspaper:

After I got my Master’s Degree, and within a week or two, the German newspaper Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung heard about it and asked for an interview.

In the interview published at the beginning of the year on January 3, 2018, I spoke about the historical importance of the Aramaic language, its current state and the situation of Maaloula after the looting and destruction, as well as the events and effects of the killing and displacement that befell its people.

The original digital article can be read here.

Figure 1.4.2: The article published in the RNZ newspaper

The translation of the article:

(Headline:) He wants to protect the language of Jesus from extinction.

(Introduction:) Rimon Wehbi returns to Syria after completing his studies in Heidelberg – the 29-year-old intends to teach Western Aramaic to children in his destroyed hometown.

(Photo caption:) Rimon Wehbi studied Western Aramaic in Heidelberg – although it is his mother-tongue, it was here that he learned to write it. Photo: Rothe.

Written by Philipp Neumayr:

The Spirit of Jesus was omnipresent here even 2000 years later. He was. Today nothing in Maaloula is what it used to be. The picturesque mountain village in the middle of the Syrian Qalamun Mountains has been razed to the ground today. Many residents have left Maaloula and fled the barbarities of war. Most of them haven’t returned to this day, and maybe never will (The percentage of returnees is no more than 10%). Rimon Wehbi has. The 29-year-old lived and studied abroad for a number of years, the last two of them in Heidelberg. He is now on his way to his completely destroyed homeland – with a mission: “I want to help save our language and our culture from extinction.”

Rimon Wehbi comes from a special village. It is one of the last where Western Aramaic is still spoken – the language in which Jesus Christ preached. For many years the village was a place of pilgrimage for Christians and tourists from all over the world. But then came the war and Al-Nusra. In just a few months, the fighters of the Islamist terrorist militia brutally tore down the foundations of centuries-old culture. Even if the government troops have now regained control of Maaloula, the small village is no longer what it used to be. Where a picturesque sea of houses clads the foot of a mountain in the past, ruins now stretch into the sky – including Wehbi’s parents’ house (In addition to most homes, churches and monasteries). “Thank God my family was able to flee in time. But they completely burned our house”, he says.

Much worse than the devastation, however, is the fact that many residents have been displaced, among them “mainly young people”, said Wehbi (They integrate over time into the new societies to which they fled, and thus abandon their language, culture and heritage). He is afraid that Maaloula’s tradition will come to an end, that language and culture could perish.

Wehbi decided to fight it himself. After stays in Damascus and Lebanon, he went to Heidelberg to study under Werner Arnold – the professor who once conducted research in Maaloula and has taught Semitic Studies at Heidelberg University for many years. “It is the only place in the world where my mother tongue is even taught”, says Wehbi.

Although he grew up with it, the Syrian learned a lot about his own language as part of his two-year Master’s Degree. For instance, how it can be put on paper (written). Because in his homeland, explains the 29-year-old, Western Aramaic is only passed on orally, from father to son. “For this very reason,” he emphasizes, “it is important that young people learn the language as well.”

For this, Wehbi returned to Maaloula, around 60 kilometers northeast of Damascus not far from the Lebanese border, before New Year’s Eve (Editing error, the return took place at the end of January, not December). “I want to teach children and young people and use my knowledge to help keep the language alive.” He knows that this will not be an easy undertaking: “First of all, the entire infrastructure has to be rebuilt. Sometimes there is no longer even electricity.”

If he had wanted to make it easy for himself, Wehbi would have stayed in Heidelberg. “You can live wonderfully and safely here.” Many of his friends still cannot understand why the Syrian was drawn back home. “They tell me: You’re crazy, you’d better stay in Germany!” Smiles Wehbi. But he could not reconcile that with his conscience: “If all young people think that way – what about our country, our culture, our language? I don’t want all of this to perish.”

1.4.3. Syria In Website:

Reporting by Rana Hasan on April 13, 2021.

The report can be read here.

Syria In Website media

Figure 1.4.3: Rimon Wehbi

The Translation of the report:

The story began with a lot of love for his village Maaloula and its sacred language Aramaic, and with time it was translated into an interest in all its details and a continuous work to lay linguistic, scientific and cultural foundations that can later be built upon and produce literary works that contribute to preserving and enriching this human cultural heritage.

Maaloula… That city carved in the rock… Maaloula, history and holiness, that place whose sanctity was derived from its connection with Jesus and his language. Its son Rimon Wehbi confirmed to the Syrian In website that “years ago I set myself a clear goal of contributing to the preservation of the Aramaic language… this goal was the direct motivation for me and the motive that made me stay up at night to study this language academically, as I obtained a Master of Arts degree – Department of Semitic Languages, at Heidelberg University, Germany, and I was not satisfied with that, but I decided to dive into its depths to extract those pearls that are obscured and hidden in it.”

Wehbi continues, “After my return to Syria, my concern was to start establishing my dream, and I worked on building a linguistic and photographic archive about my beloved village and studied its reality.”

Wehbi indicated that he chose the Aramaic name “Yawna” to give it to all his literary works, because of its great human meanings, just as the dove is a symbol of peace and love, so is Aramaic the language of peace and love.

As for the goal of Yawna, Wehbi stressed that the main goal is to preserve the Aramaic language and teach it to new generations using a modern curriculum, introduce its ancient history, and encourage its speakers, whose number is rapidly and dangerously decreasing, especially after their dispersal, adding that the second goal is to disseminate accurate and documented information about his town, Maaloula.

Wehbi continued his talk about “Yawna”, stressing that it is a series that he relied in preparing its content on books from international universities and institutes, such as: Oxford, Cambridge, Goethe and others. The arrangement of ideas and topics in their books has been studied and tested over many years. Of course, I modified it to suit our Aramaic language and its rules. The lessons were accompanied by a short cultural overview that enables the student to understand the social context of the language.”

Wehbi elaborates, “The sacred Aramaic language is the language of Jesus Christ and the language of the ancient Syrian man. Every colloquial Syrian sentence contains a root, inflection, suffix, or an Aramaic expression, just as most of the names of villages in the Levant are of Aramaic origin.” He added that this thousands-year-old language reached its zenith in the first millennium BC when it became the language of the ancient world. It is an integral part of the Syrian cultural heritage and the global human heritage, and we all have to work seriously to preserve it. Whoever abandons his language loses his history and identity. We speak, master and cherish the Arabic language, but this does not mean that we forget the language of our fathers and grandfathers and leave it in limbo.”

1.4.4. Syrian Education TV:

On June 30, 2021 I had a live interview on the Syrian Educational TV channel, during which I talked about the importance of the Aramaic language and its history, also about Yawna project, what has been accomplished, and future ideas.

The interview was prepared by Dr. Sonia Mkarem and Fatima Haider, and presented by Haya Almulki and Shireen Alshelli.

Syrian Education TV media

Figure 1.4.4: Photo from the interview. Taken by George Ghossen

1.4.5. al-Khabar TV:

On January 22, 2022, in order to shed light again on the importance of the Aramaic language and the need to pay more attention to it, and to give an overview of the Yawna project, the journalist, Nagham Koudsiah, kindly prepared a report that was published on Al-Khabar TV and their website.

The report can be read here.

Figure 1.4.5.1: Home page of al-Khabar website

Figure 1.4.5.2: Page 3 of 14 of the report on al-Khabar TV

Translation of the report:

Rimon Wehbi, the Syrian who returned from Germany to Maaloula to revive the Aramaic language:

Like many Syrian youths, the son of Maaloula, “Rimon Wehbi” travelled to Germany years ago, with a seed of love for his mother tongue in his heart, which prompted him to specialize academically and obtain a master’s degree in Arts from the Faculty of Semitic Language at the University of Heidelberg – Germany.

The Maaloulian young devoted himself to preserving the Aramaic language, and he had no choice but to return to Syria with the aim of reviving it.

The young man says, “The events that Maaloula experienced in 2013 increased the displacement of its people, and thus the Aramaic language lost the most important factor in its survival and continuity. He added to al-Khabar TV, “The people of Maaloula today are forced to speak the languages of the areas to which they were displaced and migrated.”

According to linguists, any language can live in the diaspora for no more than two or three generations, especially in light of globalization, and perhaps this is what made Wehbi feel a danger to the language of his ancestors.

Fear of losing the mother tongue promptly pushed Wehbi to his hometown, announcing the establishment of a modern academic curriculum to be used in teaching.

Wehbi invests in social media to serve his goal, through a YouTube channel that provides educational content on the Aramaic language, accompanied by games and interactive graphics to encourage learning, in addition to free educational courses held in Damascus and Maaloula for adults and children.

But Rimon Wehbi’s passion for the Aramaic language did not stop there. He established a website under the name “Yawna”, an authentic Aramaic name meaning “dove”, which today carries the message of the Aramaic language, according to what the founder of the site believes.

The Yawna website is a reliable academic reference for those looking for information about the Aramaic language and about the town of Maaloula. The site includes articles on Semitic languages in general and the Aramaic language in particular, in addition to articles on the geography and history of Maaloula.

Wehbi also created a Facebook page under the name “Yawna”, which is also concerned with the Aramaic language.

Regarding the goal of all this, Rimon Wehbi told al-Khabar TV: “I seek to achieve major goals, the first and most important of which is to encourage Maaloulians, wherever they are, to think and speak the Aramaic language. I ask questions or ask for sentences through posts on Facebook, in an attempt to slow down, as much as possible, the disaster of Maaloula’s people forgetting their mother tongue.” he explains.

Wehbi added: “My second goal in the project is also to publish Aramaic vocabulary and expressions accompanied by an audio recording, for those who wish to learn them, or to correct those who mispronounce of misunderstand their meaning.”

Rimon Wehbi is preparing to hold an Aramaic language course in Damascus next month, trying to use the Aramaic archive he owns to serve new and in-depth research on the Aramaic language, which will contribute to providing rich and abundant academic content for those wishing to learn the mother tongue.

It is worth noting that the Aramaic language was the official language in the region, a Semitic and Middle Eastern language, which received special appreciation among Christians as it is the language spoken by Jesus Christ, while the town of Maaloula is one of the few towns in the Middle East whose people still speak Aramaic and struggle to preserve it.

1.4.6. BBC Arabic Radio:

On the international mother language day, February 21, 2022, I participated with a recorded intervention on BBC Arabic Radio to talk about the Yawna Project’s initiative to revive the Aramaic language. The report was prepared by the journalist, Nagham Koudsiah.

You can listen to the report here.

You can also listen to the entire recording:

Translation of the report:

(In Aramaic, then in Arabic:) Peace and love from Maaloula and Maaloulians to all BBC Extra listeners.

Maaloula, that oyster hidden in the depths of the mountains and preserving the pearl of one of the most precious pearls of human heritage, namely, the Aramaic language, the language of Christ. This well-known language due to its linguistic, historical and religious importance, and its influence on other languages, and the prominent role it played during the first millennium BC as an official language for three successive empires.

I have grown and raised loving Aramaic, the language of my parents and grandparents, and that seed began to grow in my heart with time. I used every opportunity to record and document what I could of stories, words, old photos, and so on, until I have gathered a huge archive that helping me in my current research.

In 2013, Maaloula was destroyed by terrorist groups, and its people were displaced and dispersed across the land.
As a result, the Aramaic language has lost the most important factor in its survival and continuity. Today, the people of Maaloula are forced to speak the language of the areas to which they were displaced and immigrated. Linguists assure us that any language can live in the diaspora for no more than two or three generations, especially in light of globalization and the current openness.

Realizing all this, I made a decisive decision in my life, and decided to devote myself to preserving the Aramaic language and reviving it if I could.

The first step I had to take was to study the Aramaic language academically and learn how to preserve it. That is why I traveled to Germany and obtained a master’s degree in literature and human sciences from the Faculty of Semitic Studies at the University of Heidelberg, under the supervision of Professor Werner Arnold.

Then I returned to Syria to start the second step, which is to establish a modern academic curriculum to be used in teaching, accompanied by educational materials, activities and games, that add to the lessons fun and interaction, and contribute to encouraging learning.

I have completed two free courses so far, and then the Corona pandemic suspended teaching for a while, but now I am preparing for a third course that will start next month.

In addition to teaching, I created a website called yawna.org, to be a reliable academic reference for all those looking for information about the Aramaic language and Maaloula. Where they find articles that talk about Semitic languages in general and the Aramaic language in particular, as well as articles on the geography and history of Maaloula. Later I will publish other articles to cover the rest of the aspects.

In order to reach millennials using social media, I launched Yawna’s Facebook page, which I post twice a week, trying to achieve three main goals, the first and most important of which is to encourage Maaloulians wherever they are to think and speak the Aramaic language by asking them questions or asking them for sentences, in an attempt to slow down the disaster of forgetting their mother tongue as much as possible. As for the second goal, it is to publish Aramaic vocabulary and expressions accompanied by an audio recording in order for those who wish to learn them, or to correct their pronunciation or meaning mistakes. As for the third goal, it is to communicate with followers, listen to their opinions and questions, and inform them of everything new.

In addition, I am doing research on the Aramaic language to understand and study its grammar and linguistic characteristics, in order to be able to publish specialized and comprehensive educational materials later.

I publish everything under the name “Yawna”, and the full name in English is “Yawna Maaloula Aramaic”, where I chose this original Aramaic name for its symbolism and the transcendence of its meanings. The language of Jesus, the Messenger of Peace, is Aramaic, so is Yawna’s message, which means “dove”, is to preserve the Aramaic language and spread it with love to the whole world.

In conclusion, I would like to thank you all for your kind listening, and I thank from the heart all the staff at BBC Radio, especially the distinguished journalist Nagham Koudsiah, who gave me the opportunity to introduce Yawna and educate the community about the importance of the Aramaic language, that valuable human heritage, and the need to preserve it from loss and demise.

(In Aramaic:) Peace and love!
Rimon Wehbi

Rimon Wehbi   22/02/2022

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