Sunday, February 22, 2015

Understanding a Rûm Shu’ubiyyah

By Ilias Michail & Elias Antonius

Many seem to have a difficult time understanding the meaning of a Rûm ethnic identity. They often confuse the message with some kind of ludicrous attempt at “turning Lebanese or Syrians into Greeks”. Thus, portraying ethnic Rûm supporters as “extremists” or people obsessed with a ‘foreign’ identity. However, this is a complete distortion and misunderstanding of the very idea of a Rûm Shu’ubiyyah. The main culprit behind this confusion is a misunderstanding of two things. First, the difference between Nationality and Ethnicity. The second, the concept of what it means to be Greek and Greece itself. 

Nationality vs Ethnicity

The confusion between ‘Nationality’ and ‘Ethnicity’ is not uncommon around the world. In fact, in many places the word ‘nationality’ is actually an alternate word for ethnicity. For example, most Kurds will claim “Kurdish nationality’, when there is no nor has there ever been an independent Kurdish state. 

For those of us inside the movement for a Rûm ethnicity. The term ‘nationality’ is not interchangeable with ethnicity. In the Levant today there are only seven nationalities. This is because the word ‘nationality’ simply refers to ones relationships with a particular country and/or government. There are seven countries within the geographic borders of the Levant. 

Therefore, there are only seven ‘nationalities’. These nationalities are the result of Western Imperialists who drew artificial borders across the region in order to divide up economic interests between themselves. As a result, Western created national identities emerged. These being the Syrian nationality, Turkish, Lebanese, Iraqi, Jordanian, Israeli, and last but certainly not least, Palestinian.

Ethnicity, is something completely different from nationality. An ethnicity does not need a country to exist. It is based on a common ancestry, cultural heritage, and history. For a generation or two now, the Levant has officially only had four ethnicities. The Arab, the Jew, the Turk, and the Kurd (although they were often called Mountain Turks or Mountain Arabs). It is an ethnicity, not a nationality that our cause is about. 

Greek: A nationality and ethnicity

The confusion of what Greek means is completely understandable. This is because it is both a nationality and an ethnicity. Those with Greek nationality are those with a direct connection or relationship with the country of Greece. To prevent confusion it’s easiest to think of them not as ‘Greeks’, but as Greek Nationals. It is at this point that I must make myself very clear. The movement for a Rûm ethnic identity has absolutely nothing to do with Greek Nationality. The cause does not want to turn Lebanese or Syrian Nationals into Greek Nationals. 

What the movement’s message is about, is the second understanding of Greek. That is Greek ethnicity, which is easiest to think of as not “Greek”, but ethnic Greek. Many fellow Rûm of the Levant may assume that all ethnic Greeks are Greek Nationals, but this isn’t correct. There are several examples, besides the Rûm of the Levant, in which ethnic Greeks are actually not Greek Nationals, and never were a part of the modern country of Greece. The best two examples of ethnic Greeks that are not Greek Nationals are Cypriots, and the Grecanici.


Cypriots are ethnic Greeks, but Cypriot Nationals. In fact, Cyprus is the second independent ethnic Greek country besides Greece. They speak their own unique dialect of Greek, and belong to a completely different Church than Greek Nationals. In fact, the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus was originally a part of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, not Constantinople. In the end, Cypriots are ethnic Greeks, but they have a completely unique cultural and historical identity. Just like the Rûm of the Levant. 

The Grecanici

The Grecanici are ethnic Greeks, but Italian Nationals. They are 100% Italianized, just like how Levantine Rûm who are 100% Arabized, although some of their elderly still speak their own unique dialect of Greek called Griko. These ethnic Greeks are actually not Greek Orthodox Christians, but Greek Catholics just like the Melkites of the Levant. In the end, the Grecanici, like Levantine Rûm, have no connection to Greece and developed in a completely different geographic area. They have a completely unique cultural and historical identity, but are ethnic Greeks nonetheless.

Greece, the Nation-State of the Rûm

The Modern Greek State and its national identity were born out of the Rûm Millet of the Ottoman Empire. The same Millet that the Rûm of the Levant were once a part of. What we now call the Greek Revolution of 1821, was the product of a cultural Enlightenment within the Rum Millet, which was led by such men as Rigas Feraios. It is during this Enlightenment, and throughout the Revolution of 1821 that an ideological struggle between different fractions within the Rûm Millet wrestled between three rival national names; Hellene, Romios (Rûm), and Greek.  

What the Rûm of the Levant fail to understand is that when Revolutionaries like Alexander Ypsilantis, and his heroic band of men started their revolt in Romania they did so under the banner of a general uprising of the Rûm Millet! They were fighting for all Rûm, in order to free them from Islamic tyranny. In hopes of liberating not just Rumelia (the land of the Rûm), which is what the Balkans were historically called during Ottoman times, but to resurrect the Pan-Rûm country.  
This is why in 1826 these ethnic Greek revolutionaries attempted to include the Rûm of the Levant in the revolution. In March of 1826 1,500 volunteers attempted to liberate Beirut, and spread the revolution to the Levant in order to free the Rûm their living under Islamic enslavement. 

However, the heroes failed. They failed to liberate Beirut, and spread the revolution throughout the Levant. They failed to create a Pan-Rûm country, and it is during this time that one national name began to emerge as the winner, Hellene. This is because term Hellene began to become associate with a rebellious Rûm, one who brought back the memories of ancient glories, and the struggle for freedom. While the name Romios came to describe the idle Rûm who was passive and cowardly. It became synonymous with a Slave. So when the revolution finally ended, and a small piece of Rumelia was allowed to become an independent country for the Rûm. It took the name of Hellas, the land of Free Rûm. 

The cause of a Rûm Shu'ubiyyah

So what is the message of a Rûm Shu’ubiyyah? Well simply put it is that all Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic-Melkite Christians are one ethnicity. Does this mean Rûm are not or shouldn’t be Lebanese Nationals or Syrian Nationals? No! They are, and they should be proud of their national identity. Just like how the Grecanici are proud Italian Nationals, and Cypriots proud Cypriot Nationals. What the message of Rûm Shu’ubiyyah is about is our roots and origins. Its message is simple, that we are indigenous and one with the land of the Levant, but our connection does not begin in the 7th century A.D. when the Arabs came to the area. Our connection dates back further. In fact, our people have been living in the Levant since the 12th century B.C. That’s 1,200 years before the birth of Christ! 

The Rûm of the Levant are a Greek Ethno-religious identity because we all share an affiliation to the Byzantine Greek tradition of Christianity. It is part of our cultural heritage. We are a Greek Ethno-linguistic identity because we all descendants of former Greek-speaking inhabitants of the Levant. It’s part of heritage, and still survives somewhat in the language of our Church. We are a Greek Ethno-regional identity because we all share a distinct local sense of belonging to the geographic region of the Levant. Our identity was shaped and created in this geographical location. Lastly we are a Greek Ethno-racial identity because we all share a common origin with other ethnic Greek peoples. Our heritage traces its origins to the settlers and soldiers of Byzantine Greek Empire. To the ethnic Greeks of the Seleucid Empire, and armies of Alexander the Great. Even to the Danaoi and the ancient tribes of the Sea Peoples.