Sunday, October 18, 2015

an-Nahar: The Russians have come to Achrafiyeh

Arabic original here.

The Russians have come to Achrafiyeh

by Pierre Atallah

The Russians have come to Achrafiyeh. It doesn't seem that they want to limit their presence to the Hmeimim airbase in Northern Syria since they're building a cultural rather than military bridgehead in the heart of Beirut with the start of a course of Russian language instruction organized by the Orthodox Gathering, led by the former Orthodox MP for Aley, Marwan Abu Fadel, who does not hide his support for the Russian military campaign and sees it as a way "to save the Orthodox Christian minority in Syria from extermination and from meeting the fate of the Christians of Khabour and the Jazira in Northeastern Syria. Hundreds of them have been kidnapped by ISIS and their fate is still unknown, while their churches have been destroyed and those who still live in the shadow of the Caliphate have been subjected to the Conditions of Umar."

The Russian course in Achrafiyeh has around 25 students in attendance, not all of whom are Greek Orthodox. Some of them are from other communities and it includes doctors, university professors, businessmen, bankers, teachers, journalists and others. It is directed by Dr Tareq Chouman, director of external relations at the Russian Cultural Center and an expert in presenting the language of the czars to Arab students. He says that there are Russian language courses every day at the center taught by Lebanese and Russian instructors and that there are hundreds of students taking beginning and advanced Russian language courses, each of whom has his own reasons for studying it.

Chouman explains that "Russian is the sixth most spoken language in the world after English, French, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese and it is an eastern European language that does not resemble any of the languages in the West, apart from its resemblance to the Greek alphabet." He also recounts to new students that the Russian alphabet is inspired by Greek letters, on account of Cyrill and Methodius, who established the Russian alphabet in the tenth century. In the eighteenth century, Czar Peter the Great modified the alphabet and called it the national alphabet. It continued this way until the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918, when the Ministry of Culture made some modifications, eliminating some Greek letters and introducing other elements to bring it closer to the language of the people. Chouman also explains that, "280 million people in the world speak Russian according to the latest statistics, the majority of which are in Eastern Europe and among the Slavic nations."

The important thing about the Russian alphabet is that it is made up of 33 letters, some of which resemble the Latin alphabet and others that are completely different and particular to it. And so the students of the Orthodox Gathering's class will have to expend great effort to immerse themselves in this language of the czars. Chouman is not unaware of the difficulty in acquiring this language. He explains that mastering it requires hard work and a lot of effort and that the course he is teaching at the Gathering is only introductory, so that the students will be able to communicate with any Russians they meet using basic greetings and words of courtesy.

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