QALA d-ŠRARA (The voice of truth), a monthly publication of the mainly French Catholic Lazarist Mission in Urmia which ran from 1897 to 1915 (Figure 1). The second periodical to appear in Urmia wholly published in Assyrian neo-Aramaic, after Zahrire d-bahra (1849-1918; Yonan, pp. 22-23), Qala d-šrara was edited for the Mission by Raphael Nebieridze, later aided by Aba (Pere) Salomon. Nebierdze’s title is written as monsior, possibly for Monsieur, a common enough way of referring to non-clerics who were affiliated with foreign missions. Assyrians affiliated with American missions were titled “Mr.”
The Urmia Catholic mission was an extension of the main base in Ḵosrava, outside Dilmon, in Salmās (qq.v.). The printing press, established in 1867, had published a number of books before its intention to print a periodical was announced in 1897. The first issue of volume two of Qala d-šrara appeared in Hziran (June) 1898, with page number 211 indicating that a previous year existed. The wide availability of the twelve issues of volume two has created confusion about the start date of the periodical. No full run of this periodical has surfaced; therefore, the entire content, direction, and publication dates cannot be confirmed. R. Macuch (pp. 194-201) provides a summary of the contents for volumes two and three.
Each issue ran from sixteen to eighteen pages and consisted of text only, in two columns, divided into sections. Its chief message was religious and its masthead read, “the core of the Holy Scripture.” However, its contents remained aimed at informing the Assyrian community of world events, practical matters, and occasional cultural material.
While the format of the periodical remained the same in the issues available, there were no places regularly devoted to specific topics. The first issue carried a generic story of a wealthy unnamed American, news of Urmia, a long poem in quatrains composed by Šamaša Yosep bar Qašiša Tamraz d-Čamačiye (deacon Joseph son of Priest Tamraz of [the village of] Čamačiye) based on a Christian theme. In other issues from the second year of publication appear translations from the French Catholic and other presses, such as the Catholic Watchman, as does an article showing the time difference between countries based on capital cities. Macuch’s summary of articles and poems appearing in volume two (2-12) and volume three illustrates the broad interest in international news, information about Iranian politics and regional associations among Assyrian Catholics in Persia, Transcaucasia, and Ottoman areas.
Like other Assyrian periodicals, this one too carried extensive necrologies that offered opportunities to honor important persons as well as provide both history and didactic lessons. Not only did these death notices appear for professionals (a seamstress for example) but also for personages outside the Catholic community such as Viktor Mikhaelovitch, a Russian priest (1860-99), who survived life in Urmia for only one year.
The articles published in Qala d-šrara also dealt with the original languages of the Old and New Testaments, stressing the Greek, Hebrew, and “Chaldean” language sources and the use of classical Syriac.
The language of Qala d-šrara was Assyrian neo-Aramaic. Its orthography was the one developed by the American mission based on the vernacular Aramaic of Urmia and used for books and its periodical, Zahrire d-bahra “Rays of light,” during the 1840s. By the turn of the century, the vocabulary and orthography had come into common usage throughout the region. To deal with the many loan words adapted into the vernacular from Persian and Turkish, this Catholic periodical decided to adapt Syriac words for foreign loan words. To familiarize its readers with this terminology, the press used either parenthesis (the word for seamstress for example) or footnotes. Otherwise the orthography and fonts used remained those with which the reading public, at nearly 80 percent literacy among Urmia Assyrians of either gender, were already familiar. (See also Iran vii. Non-Iranian languages)
Subscription information rarely appears in the issues. But in issue number 11 of volume two, rates appear in French for foreign countries that were part of the international postal agreement, indicating that Assyrians and non-Assyrians outside Urmia, probably in Europe, the United States, and Russia, wanted to receive the periodical. Rates for postal union mailings were 5 Francs, payable in advance. Subscriptions could be requested at the Lazarist address in Paris or from Urmia itself. The number of subscribers is not available.
Rudolf Macuch, Geschichte der spät- und neusyrischen Literatur, Berlin and New York, 1976.
Gabriele Yonan, Journalismus bei den Assyrern: ein Überblick von seinen Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart, Augsburg, 1985, pp. 23-24
Qala d-šrara: the Voice of Truth (A monthly Publication of the Lazarist Mission, Urmia, Persia), a collection of 12 issues from June 1898 to May 1899 (comprising vol. 2), reproduced by Assyrians in the United States and made available for purchase with no comment, date or place of printing. Reprint ed. Raphael Niebieridze, Atour Publications, 2007 (see http://www.atour.com/media/files/library/stores/ATOUR-Publications/ATOUR_Publications_Book_List.pdf).
Originally Published: October 25, 2010
Last Updated: March 10, 2014