Monday, October 19, 2015

Rûm: Ethnicity or Spiritual Identity?

By Elias Antonius

For many within the greater Levantine Rûm community the question of, whether or not the Rûm constitute their own ethnicity is a loaded one. Victims of Western Imperialism believe that we are merely a spiritual identity and that each community within the artificially created nation-states of the Levant has separate origins. While others continue to hold on to the ludicrous idea that all rum are ethnically Arabs.

Now there is no argument that to be Rûm is a spiritual identity. Anyone that follows Greek (Rûm) Orthodoxy or Greek (Melkite) Catholicism is spiritually Rûm. There was a time when the very word was synonymous with following the Byzantine Rites of Christianity. The question, which causes so much controversy is whether Levantine Rûm are also in fact more than just a spiritual identity. The answer of which is a resounding YES.

Understanding Ethnicity
Many within the greater Levantine Rûm community associate ethnicity with DNA. However, there are several different approaches to understanding ethnicity, and not all of them are so focused on DNA. Some of these approaches are “primordialism”, “perennialism”, and “constructivism”, to name a few. Each approach views ethnicity slightly differently, some view it as eternal and having historical continuity from ancient times. While others reject it as a basic human condition, and instead view ethnicity as a social construction that exists as long as its social rituals are practiced.

It is because of this that ethnicity is best defined as a “socially defined category of people who identify with each other based on common ancestral, social, cultural, or national experience” [1]. Now depending on what someone puts emphasize on, like ancestry, cultural traditions, or national importance, results in several different types of ethnicity. Such as Ethno-racial, Ethno-religious, Ethno-linguistic, Ethno-national, and Ethno-regional.

The Levantine Rûm as an Ethnic group
Once one understands the different types of ethnicity, it becomes undeniable that Levantine Rûm are in fact an ethnicity on many different levels. While some may argue that we are an Ethno-racial identity that are direct descendants of ancient Greeks that colonized the region. This is not the only type of identity we could be classified as.

There are two other subclasses of ethnicity, which also identify us. These are as an Ethno-religious and Ethno-regional identity. Not only do we share a common Hellenistic and Byzantine cultural heritage, but we represent the last surviving remnants of the Byzantine Rites of Christianity within a specific geographic area, the Levant.

Therefore, regards of the results of our language shift, forced acculturation, and in some cases religious conversion, we have a right to self- identify as an ethnic group. An ethnic group, which has every right to identify with its Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine heritages, as the ideological bases for our ethnic identity.