Name: Robby Edo D.O.
Hometown: I was born in Chicago, Ill. I did live for about eight years in Qamishli, Syria, from the 5th grade until my freshman year in college.
Occupation: Family medicine physician. I am also Rinyo's president/CEO, founder and sponsor.
What is Rinyo for those that don’t know? Rinyo is a 501(c)(3) non-profit based in Chicago with an educational IT center in Syria, [among] global helpers and partners. Our board members are mostly located in the United States. Our center supports roughly 12 employees paid between part-time to full-time. Our mission is to preserve the Syriac language and Mesopotamian culture. We are trying to make Syriac cool again by producing fun and interactive mobile apps, cartoon music videos and books. We target people of all ages. We are not affiliated with any political parties or denominations. Visit us at www.Rinyo.org.
Does the word Rinyo mean anything? Why was it chosen? Rinyo in the Western Syriac dialect (a.k.a. Turoyo/Suryoyo/Surayt) means thought, idea and/or concept. In the Eastern dialect (a.k.a. Surit/Madenkhaya) it's pronounced Rinya. It was chosen because we want to bring to life ideas [that] are inspired by people’s thoughts.
Why did you help create Rinyo? What was the purpose? I was honestly scared for our language. I have been heavily active in the community since elementary school. I would notice the severe lack of resources. Some organizations would try to patch up the problem and do their best, but I felt like that was not enough. Seems like the issue was always lack of will power and not enough financial resources. I felt this had to change. In April 2011, during my last visit to Qamishli, Rinyo took its first breath. The self out-of-pocket funding was important. Finding individuals with the same ideology was key. Slowly through God's guidance I was able to bring together the right people and do what we are doing now. I would say the purpose is to keep our language alive and thriving. [The] purpose is to open more doors and responsibilities for teachers to teach our ancient language — to make Syriac cool again.
How many apps are currently available to download? What else is in the works? We have two apps available for download. Search for “Zalinville” or “Grandma and the Fox.” We also have three children songs on YouTube that you can enjoy if you visit our free channel. Please subscribe! www.Youtube.com/Rinyotoons
We have more apps and songs coming up. We are also working on extracurricular books for coloring and activities, which is included in our Zalinville books series. Our first book was released last year, "Zalinville Animals." We have a few more religious projects as well.
Do you have a rough number of how many times Rinyo products have been downloaded since their inception? We have about 9,000 total downloads between Apple and Android devices since inception. Our YouTube views on RinyoToons hit over 50,000 globally.
Rinyo was introduced in classrooms in the Middle East recently. Can you tell us about that? How was that initiated and what other areas does Rinyo want to visit? CAPNI (Christian Aid Program Nohadra Iraq) was kind and hosted Rinyo [in] Iraq this year. We were able to visit many schools and present to some displaced children in Iraq. We also have been visiting schools in Australia, Sweden and the USA. We are hoping to expand.
Have you contacted the churches to help institute a curriculum to teach Syriac to young people? Is that something Rinyo wants to be involved in? We just recently signed a contract with the Syriac Orthodox church. We will be digitizing their now new global Sunday school curriculum. We are very excited to get going on this project. We are in talks with other churches at the moment.
Do you speak both Eastern and Western Assyrian/Syriac dialects? I learned to speak the Western [dialect] of Syriac also know as Suryoyo/Surayt as a child. Since starting Rinyo I have been slowly improving and trying to understand Eastern as well. I would say I do understand about 70 percent of the Eastern dialect. Constantly reviewing our apps and videos can do wonders.
Which dialect do you think is harder to learn? This is hard for me to answer because I speak one versus the other. I would say both are equally easy to learn. Check out our apps, videos and books, you will see for yourself.
In your estimate, how many speakers of Syriac would you say exist today? This is hard to estimate, especially since the recent exodus from Syria and Iraq. I would say less than 3 million globally.
What’s the difference between calling the language spoken by Assyrians today “Assyrian,” “Syriac” or “Aramaic/Neo-Aramaic”? We believe there is not much difference, and we believe at the end that they are all Semitic languages and are all related, derived, or evolved from each other.
It is historically proven that the word Syriac is derived from the word Syrian, which is in turn, evolved from the word Assyrian. Per academics, it is officiated that the Syraic language is a modern Aramaic dialect. Academics say that the Assyrian language is often referred to as the old Assyrian language, which is a dialect of the Akkadian language, which is not the language we currently speak, although very much affected by it. The language that we currently speak is called Surit/Surith/Surayt/Suryon, which translates literally to the word "Syriac." Also, the only place on Earth with a full curriculum in our language, which is in Iraq, uses the Syriac term. This is the reason we use the word now.
As you could see it is a bit complicated topic, but as a simple answer, we believe that they are all good names and we like and accept all of them.
What’s your favorite word in Syriac? Why? "Tawdi." It means "thank you." I think we should be thankful for everything. Thankful our ancient language is still alive. I also like how the word sounds.
Is the Assyrian/Syriac language endangered? Yes, it is per UNESCO. They have an interesting search engine. If you look up different dialects or subdialects you will find how bad the situation is. Turoyo (aka Surayt) and Bohtan Neo Aramaic are listed as severely endangered. Western Neo-Aramaic and Suret is listed as definitely endangered. Mlahso is now extinct. The last speaker, Ibrahim Hanna, died in 1998. Lishan Hudaye, Lishan Hozaye, Judeo-Aramaic, Jewish Northeastern Neo-Aramaic and Lishana Didan, Hulani, Galligallokh, Jbeli, Hodhayutha, Judeo-Aramaic, Jewish Northeastern Neo-Aramaic are extinct in Iraq, but critically endangered in Israel.
What’s one challenge you find in teaching the Syriac language to people, or in introducing Rinyo products to people? The disbelief that Suryoye/Suraye can produce like this. People are surprised and don't want to believe that we are capable of creating this. Otherwise people have been very welcoming. People that truly love their language have welcomed us with open arms. Different organizations and churches are sharing and using our products in their classes or activities.
Portions of this interview have been edited.