The Catholic University of America

The Syriac Heritage project seeks to establish a digital repository for the preservation and dissemination of the cultural record of Christian Syriac Communities.

Project Background

Middle Eastern Christian communities, likely established in Iraq during the first or early second century of the first millennium, have been displaced and destroyed. Beginning in 2003, war and emigration disrupted communities of long standing in the south of Iraq, the Mesopotamian homeland of Christianity.  The historic communities of Qaraqosh and Mosul and surrounding villages have, since the early summer of 2014, been pushed into the region of Kurdistan to the north. As refugees, these Christian communities (Chaldaean, Assyrian, Syriac and Armenian) have already suffered significant uprooting and disruption; many have left the region entirely or are in the process of doing so.  With their departure, the possibility of return from Kurdistan to their towns and cities becomes less likely.

Project Rationale 

Recording the lives of these communities is imperative, for several reasons.
Communal, family and religious ties may be strengthened across generations as oral histories provide crucial records.  
The project establishes a record villages, towns, and cities and their communal life.
The history of the modern Middle East is incomplete without an adequate record of the mosaic of human communities existing there until recently.
In order to preserve the memories of these communities, many of which are not recorded in a permanent form, it is imperative to collect, organize and preserve their testimonies.

Project Concept Outline

A digital archive and oral history of a Middle Eastern Christian community now being displaced from its homelands

To benefit a community now uprooted and in danger of losing language, communal memory, human record, and common human heritage analogous to the recently seized and/or destroyed Nimrud, Hatra, and the Mar Behman monastery.  

Concept Definition
Preservation of stable, publicly accessible, digital archive to be located at the Institute of Christian Oriental Research (ICOR) at the Catholic University of America
Concept Genesis
Planning for the seventh annual North American Syriac Symposium (June 21-24, 2015)
Involvement with recordings for Syriac chant albums to be published by Smithsonian Folkways
Project Precedent(s)
Aradin Charitable Trust (digital, recently organized, Cambridge University)
Collections of other displaced ethnic groups particularly Greek, Armenian, Jewish communities of Middle East
Project Funding
A startup grant of $10K from a private foundation to establish project management for the purpose of building website
Project Organization
CUA Committee plus Digital Humanities course student working on best practices for oral history-collection
Project Connections
Local/CUA: Catholic Relief Services and other organizations (USCCB, church communities), Eastern Christian Communities Effort (ECCE)
National: other universities (Jack Tannous, Princeton; Fr. Columba Stewart, OSB, St. John’s-HMML)
InternationalAmir Harrak, University of Toronto
Current Project Needs
Materials in private collections in Diaspora or in country
New source material to be collected with grant funding
End Product
Syriac Heritage website
Oral histories, photographs, and digitized personal histories or histories of cities