The Voice and Myth of Gabriel Afram
Malfono Gabriel Afram has always been a myth who I have heard innumerable stories about. He was a strong and dynamic leader of the Assyrian movement during the 70´s in Sweden and played a central role in creating the Assyrian Association of Sodertalje, Assyrian National Federation in Sweden and Hujada Magazine. After that he stepped back from the political arena. However, his voice continued to echo among the Assyrian people through the radio program Qolo (voice in western Assyrian), which is broadcasted nation wide in Sweden and also world wide through internet. Parallel with his profession as journalist at the Swedish Radio he has been working on his biggest project ever the last 15 years. That is, the production of a Swedish-Assyrian dictionary with the aim to secure the survival of the Assyrian language.
I am standing outside the reception of the Swedish Radio, which is the public service radio broadcaster in Sweden and employs 2500 people. One of them is the Assyrian journalist Gabriel Afram, born in the village of Enhil in Turabdin and brought up at the monastery of Zafaran, where he studied the Assyrian language until he became 14 years old.
Malfono (Rabi in eastern Assyrian) Gabriel moved to Sweden in 1967 when he was 17 years old. As one of the first Assyrians in Sweden he arrived in a time when concepts like multi-ethnicity and integration policy yet were not in use in the Swedish vocabulary. That would be changed 1975, when big numbers of Assyrian refugees arrived to Sweden. At that time malfono Gabriel was active in the Assyrian Association in Sodertalje and in the new established Syriac–orthodox church. At the same time he was involved in the issues of the Assyrian refugees. During this period he was also recruited to ADO (Assyrian Democratic Organization) by Arsan Arsan and Ilyas Sahin, and together they organized the first ADO section in Sweden. Malfono Gabriel was comfortable as a political leader but less comfortable with the political game that followed:
Malfono Gabriel has stayed out of Assyrian politics for the latest twenty years. Instead he has put his energy on the radio program Qolo at the Swedish Radio. With a beautiful voice and classic Western Assyrian dialect he reaches Assyrian radio listeners not only in Sweden but also all over the world through internet consignments. It almost sounds divine when he read the news; as a part of him still where in the monastery of Zafaran.
For me this is the first time that I really face and discuss with malfono Gabriel and it struck me that he looks relative young. I almost become disappointed, bearing in mind that he was one of the founder of the “old time”. However, many times people forget that he was less than 30 years when he led the Assyrian movement in Sweden.
Wearing blue jeans and a comfortable sweater malfono Gabriel radiate humility and seem to enjoy life. Maybe you do that when you just finished a Swedish-Assyrian dictionary, thick as the Bible, with the aim to secure the survival of the Assyrian language:
The introduction of the dictionary was successful and malfono Gabriel has given interviews in both the national Swedish television and radio. The Swedish school minister, the Assyrian Ibrahim Baylan, opened the release ceremony of the dictionary in the Assyrian Association of Sodertalje. I was one of 600 Assyrians who came to honor malfono Gabriel Afram and witness this historical moment.
For every Swedish word in the dictionary there are a dozen Assyrian synonyms, which is a result of malfono Gabriel’s perfectionism or as he modestly express it “it is not every day that I produce a Swedish-Assyrian dictionary”:
Have you also thought about producing an Assyrian-Swedish dictionary?
Now that you have done the hard work it seems like a possible mission to produce an English-Assyrian dictionary?
Have you ever thought about using another language term than Assyrian for your dictionary?
Regard the lack of knowledge in reading and writing in Assyrian among the Assyrian people, do you not see the danger in buying the dictionary only for the sake of the prestige?
During the interview malfono Gabriel calls attention to the Assyrian youth several times. Therefore I wondered how he felt when he received the distinction “The Assyrian of the year” from the Assyrian Youth Federation in Sweden:
Along the distinction he also got 10 000 Swedish crowns (1400 dollars), which he choose to give to the Assyrian premier league soccer team in Sweden, Assyriska FF.
Malfono Gabriel’s 15 years long project has resulted in a revolutionary masterpiece and is a big step for the survival of the Assyrian language. However, the most urgent issue the Assyrian people face today is how to secure the Assyrian identity. The language is with no doubt essential for the ethnic identity. Yet, today the Assyrian people is constantly suffering in their homelands and as a result of that more and more are leaving their roots. In the light of malfono Gabriel’s great involvement in the Assyrian movement it was therefore interesting to hear about his opinions in this burning issue:
According to a research on ethnicity it takes only three generations for an ethnic group to assimilate in a new country. What do you think about that?
How are the prospects for the Assyrian radio program Qolo?
Malfono Gabriel might be a myth with his voice as a trademark, but his myth lives on and his voice echoes stronger than ever before. With his Swedish-Assyrian dictionary he has taken a big step for the survival of the Assyrian language. Who knows? Like Touma Audo’s dictionary inspired malfono Gabriel to produce a Swedish-Assyrian dictionary, his dictionary can breed a new language master who can further develop the Assyrian language.