Friday, May 9, 2014

Not Arabs, but Hellenes

 Not Arabs, but Hellenes: Who are the Roum of the Levant?

The Roum or ‘Rum’ of the Levant are an ethno-cultural minority made up of the descendants of former Koine-Greek speaking Christians. This fragmented “Roum Nation” is most notably made up of the Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic communities of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and the Hatay province of Southern Turkey. Their name derives from the Greek word Ρωμιοί, meaning Romans; and refers to their Eastern Roman or ‘Byzantine’ heritage. Therefore, ‘Rum’, literally means ‘Eastern Roman’ or ‘Asian Greek’.

Ethnic Antiochian Greek Flag
During the Middle Ages, Christian Greeks or ‘Byzantines’ self-identified as Romioi, a term which became synonymous with Greek-speaking Christians of the Eastern Roman Empire. Although, evidence does exist, that the word Graikoi, was also used from time to time. These terms were used in place of the word Hellene, which at the time had become synonymous with someone who followed the Polytheistic religion of the ancient Greco-Roman world. Romioi, were and perceived themselves to be, the direct descendants of the ancient Greeks, the heirs of Imperial Rome, and the followers of the Apostles.

In the Levant, those Romioi, which fell under Arab Muslim occupation, received the status of Dhimmi. These communities of former Byzantine Greeks, which remained Christian eventually evolved into the Arabic-speaking Antiochian Greek Orthodox and Melkite populations of today. While those who converted to Islam, underwent a policy of complete Turkification or Arabization. After the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Turkish Sultan declared himself ‘Kayser-i Rum’, which means ‘Caesar of the Romans’. Under the Ottoman Millet system, ethnic Greeks were organized into the Millet-i Rum or ‘Roman Nation’.

To this day, inside Turkish society, ‘Rum’ is still used to refer to Turkish Citizens of Greek ethnicity. A fact, which is best attested by the self-identification and Turkish identification of the Pontian Greek dialect, which is still spoken on the Black Sea coast by Pontian Muslims. Known to Greeks as Pontiaka, Muslim speakers refer to the language as simply Romeyka or Rumca in Turkish.

The indigenous Rum population of Southern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and the rest of the Holy land, thus make up the last remaining remanence of the ancient Seleucid Greek and Byzantine Greek populations of the region.