The first Syriac-language broadcasting station has been opened in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria.
A new radio station has opened in the north of Syria called Suroyo FM, which will cater mostly to the Syriac population of the region. This broadcasting station will provide the Syriac population with a new outlet in the media scene of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, which has attempted to give a voice to the various ethno-religious communities living in the region.
The new offices of Suroyo FM were recently opened in the city of Qamishli and its broadcasting will currently be available mostly in Jazira Canton of the Autonomous Administration and also online. There are plans to expand its frequency across other regions in the north of the country. The opening was attended by political figures from the Autonomous Administration and members of the Sutoro, the Syriac police force operating in the Jazira Canton in cooperation with the Kurdish-dominated Asayish.
The radio station will play songs rooted in local Syriac traditions and will broadcast news as well as various other social and cultural topics in the Syriac language, in addition to programs in the Arabic language. Staff members working for Suroyo FM have stated that they will be prioritising Syriac culture and social issues in their broadcasting, but they are keen to reach out to the Kurds, Arabs and Armenians of the region in order to make their issues well known to the other communities.
“There are many local Kurdish and Arab radio stations who have devoted around two or three hours a week to the Syriac language. However, the idea of creating a local radio in the Syriac language is to communicate the voice, pain, and problems of the Syriac people. It will be a bridge of communication between the expatriate and the local citizen”, stated Samir Hanna, the co-director of the radio station.
The founders of Suroyo FM are aware that Syria is slowly coming out of a state of civil war and so are keen to play a part in fostering co-existence among the various communities that live in the country, according to the principles propagated by the Autonomous Administration that is governing a large part of the northern and eastern regions of Syria. The role of media in rehabilitating and strengthening social networks between communities in north and east Syria in the post-ISIS era has been emphasised by the authorities and civil society actors in the region through workshops.
There also exists a television channel called Suroyo TV, which is based in Sweden and was established by the Syriac/Assyrian diaspora community there. Although there is no evident direct link between Suroyo TV and Suroyo FM, there is an apparent political and ideological link. Suroyo TV is known to have secular and leftist leanings and is affiliated with the Dawronoye movement, which has advocated Syriac/Assyrian national rights, mainly in Turkey and Syria, and also espouses socialist ideals.
The Syriac population in Syria, as well as in Iraq and Turkey, is divided along denominational lines, with some identifying as Assyrians, and others as Chaldean, depending on their religious background (generally split between Orthodoxy and Catholicism).
Qamishli and the general region of Rojava (as called by Kurds) and Gozarto (as called by Syriacs) has long been a centre of Syriac/Assyrian political and cultural activism. The Syriac/Assyrian New Year, known as Akitu, has been celebrated publicly in Qamishli over the past few years. The Syriac Union Party is based in the region and is aligned with the Kurdish-dominated Democratic Union Party (PYD), the largest party in the Autonomous Administration.
Other Syriac/Assyrian organisations such as the Assyrian Women’s Union were established in the region. The Assyrian Women’s Union was founded in July 2013 to bring women’s issues in northern Syria to the public sphere. The Union held its second conference in the north-eastern Syrian city of Qamishli under the slogan of “The Era of Women”.
There are nevertheless Syriac groups and communities that have expressed opposition to the political project of the Autonomous Administration. One prominent incident that led to a demonstration of this opposition was a protest organised against the imposition of the educational curriculum as drafted by the Autonomous Administration and the alleged closure of private Syriac schools.
These political divides within the Syriac population of north and east Syria have arisen out of differences between groups that are secular and left-leaning and affiliated with the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM), and other groups that are more insular and whose identities are more religious-based. Indeed, much of the dispute concerning the fiasco with the schools was related to the imposition of a secular curriculum on religious-based schools.