The Maronites are Syriac Syrians

by Antoun Saadeh


Some ignorant people who have studied neither history nor ethnography are attempting to mislead the unwary that there exists in Lebanon a discrete people that is not a part of the Syrian nation that is established as a single people throughout natural Syria. [When the commander of the occupying French Army first played the tune of the independence of Lebanon that he proclaimed, those concerned to assure the future of the Christian community in Lebanon readily seized on the concept of creating a separate Lebanese national state that would base itself on the myth of a Phoenician origin in Lebanon. They took the ancient sea-going Canaanite cities that developed on the coast before Mount Lebanon, notably Tyre, Sidon and Byblos, as a suhhort for this myth. But even if this mystical "Phoenician" (that is to say, Canaanite) origin be allowed for the sake of argument to have had some truths to it, it would then only connect the Lebanese people, from the ethnological point of view, very closely to the Palestinian people, and both of them would indeed form one people because the origin of the Phoeniacians, who were given this name by the Greeks, and then become formed under it in Mediterranean history and in the Mediterranean civilization that emerged in Syria - is in Palestine that had been known as "the land of Canaan". Palestine had been the centre and "body" of the Canaanites and remained the repository of those among them who did not migrate elsewhere has proven beyond any doubt the intermixing of the three main peoples that spread throughout Natural Syria.: the "Phoenician" Canaanites, the Aramo-Chaleans and the Hittites. Their integration and fusion with each other finally led to the emergence of a new single well-defined personality, namely the Syrian personality. These definitive scientific researches include data relating to the dimension of pure anthropology that studies races/ethnic groups (ajnas) from a rigorously physical viewpoint. The most decisive of these researches were those undertaken by the Dutch scholar Kefrus, who, while teaching at the American University of Beirut, studied the races present in Syria, in particular those in the Syrian mountains and plains in both North and South. From these studies, he composed a report that he presented to the Dutch academy. The Maronites in particular - and the Hittite form, let it be remembered is very common among as well - are Aramites in their origin and language, that is to say Syriac or "Syrians". They came originally from the hinterland of Syria. The story of the monastry of the monks of Mar Marun near Homs and the Maronites flight from that place to Lebanon is an established fact which Archbishop Mubarak saw fit to mention a few days back in one of his sermons. Thus the Maronites, they being part of the Syrian people that is centered in the interior of Syria, are Syriac rather than Phoenician in their original tongue and in culture and blood. Their religious and social literature is part of the Syrian literature which so greatly flourished in Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates , although also in Urfa (Edessa) and elsewhere. Returning now to "the Phoenician origin", we find that the Phoenicians extended from Palestine along the whole length of the Syrian coast. The major Phoenician sites that were lately discovered between 1929 and 1932 were Ras Shamra near Latakia and not along the coast before Fam al-Mizab, Sinin or al- Kanisah. The main Syrian peoples intermixed with each other as historical periods passed and even before they intermarried their sense of common destiny already led them into partial or comprehensive alliances - notably the alliance they formed against the Egyptians that followed the Syrian conquest of Egypt and the sovereignty the Syrians exercised over Egypt for a considerable period. This intermixing produced the special Syrian type which differs in hue and colour from the Egyptian form which is the outcome of an admixture of various peoples, and which distinctively colonizes them together in relation to other forms. The Syrian social race unites the Syrians and the coastal residents and the hinterland Syrians and the Palestinians, and all residents of the Syrian regions in a single type that distinguishes them from other forms. Wherever individuals of this type meet in the diaspora, their form and temperment unite them and distinguish them from others such as the Egyptians and the French and the English and the Germans and the Russians and so forth. Returning now to the Maronites specifically, we find them to have a grasp that preserved a residue of very ancient Syrian customs which they share with some groups of the Syrian hinterland and Mesopotamia. Their historical language is Syriac, that is to say the general Syrian language which was current throughout Syria and indeed for a certain period became the standard language of dealings between nations: some treaties between Egypt and Persia were drafted in the Aramaic (Syriac) language. The Maronite Patriarch is not the Patriarch of a Lebanese see but of a general Syrian one. He is "the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East" - Antioch being in the North of Syria, having served as the capital of the Syrian Empire in the Seleucid era in which the reigning family were Greek but the state Syrian. Phoenicia itself knew very well that it was Syrian rather than "Lebanese": the Gospels characterized it as Syrian when it described the travels of Jesus of Nazareth to Galilee and the areas of Tyre and Sidon. Before the First World War all the Lebanese used to consider themselves Syrians. None of them would define himself as Lebanese in any but a narrow regional sense as distinct from the nationality. It was the usage we observe in the phrases "Butrus al-Bustani the Lebanese" and "Yuhanna the Damascene" and Dik al-Jin al-Humsi (of Homs). The Maronites in particular are the bearers of a Syrian heritage; their sect has always been part and parcel of overall Syrian history. We expect them to play a major role in preserving the heritage. Every idea that is intended to isolate them from the mainstream of this history is an idea that would harm their basis and which would bring ruin to their future. The Lebanese question was never one of a particularist nation or a distinct race or of a separate land. Rather it is the issue of a religious group that bygone religious wars in tandem with a lack of political and civil rights pushed to demand an arrangement that would offer security to its religious rites and customs in order to maintain - certainly not to destroy - that ancient heritage. The truth of this issue is known to the Christians and the Mohammadans equally. The founding of the Lebanese Kataib Party or Phalange in itself recognized that no "Lebanese nation" exists given that the first article of its foundation constitution states that its aim is "to work continuously towards the establishment of a Lebanese nation" - that is, that this nation is still non-existent and that the Phalange wants to bring it into being. Even to this day the Phalange has never issued any statement that it has concluded its construction of this Lebanese nation. It has yet to call people to view the outcome of its landmark in any formal exhibition! Jubran Khalil Jubran, who was a Maronite when they set up the entity of Greater Lebanon, could only exclaim in an article he penned for that occasion: "You have your Lebanon, as I have my Lebanon." The Maronite Archbishop al-Dibs titled his magnus opus The History of Syria, and considered all of Syria his homeland and the Syrian Nation his nation. Sulayman al-Bustani, the great writer, likewise a Maronite, said on his deathbed: "Syria is the sanctuary in which hopes are invested:...." Do not betray the spirits of your fathers and grand fathers. Do not be so foolish as to rob yourself of that immortality to which you were from. There is no question - although some may make the claim for their own purposes - of dismantling the [Lebanese] entity because all groups now have accepted that entity. Let us then, distinguish between the entity and its safety on one hand and, social realities on the other.