Mharka, Gozarto (al-Jazeera), Syria – The Syriac village of Mharka in the Gozarto Region of Bethnahrin lies northeast of the city of Zalin (Qamishli). It is a Christian village in a war zone and majority Muslim area. Mharka was founded by Syriac survivors forcefully uprooted from the Tur Abdin region after the Sayfo Genocide of 1915. Tur Abdin is only a couple of tens of kilometres up north in current day Turkey.
A second flight of the Syriacs from Ehwo to Mharke came after Kurdish tribes revolted against the newly-founded Turkish state. They made Ehwo a rebel stronghold in 1924-1928 to the detriment of the Syriacs of the village. The remaining Ehwo Syriacs, having only recently survived the genocide, again went south of the Turkish-Syrian border – a border which is, or rather was, full of similar villages inhabited by Syriacs.
Syriacs built up Mharke and practiced subsistence farming or sold their products to markets in nearby Zalin. And of course they built a church. A Syriac village without a church is like life without sun for Syriacs. The first church in Mharke was established in 1925. The patron of the village is Mor Gewargis (St George) and the village church is in his name. The church of St George is built in the Roman style.
And there is a wonderful story attached to this patron and his church. Syriacs in the Gozarto tell each other about the many wonders occurring in the church of Saint George. There are those who have heard the sound of footsteps of St. George on his horse at night as he walks and protects the village. Some heard angelic’ hymns. Believers were cured of diseases. Many young people visit the patron and pray to St George in fulfillment of their wishes, dreams and hopes. It is said many wishes have come true.
Gozarto-based Syriac radio station SuroyoFM visited the village and church and talked to lifelong resident Aziz Hanna Marawge. The family of uncle Aziz has lived in Mharka for more than 80 years. They too settled here from Ehwo.
“St George does many miracles. If you pray and turn to him with a pure heart your prayers will be heard by him. If you don’t pray to him with a pure heart, well then…” Uncle Aziz waves his hand in denial.
“Once a year we hold a vigil on St. George’s Day. Faithful from the village and surrounding villages come to pray and sleep in the church. There are those have heard the sound of the footsteps of St. George on his horse at night”.
“I have heard of three churches being built on this site. The first Syriacs came from Ehwo and built the church on this site in 1925. Twenty years ago, 50 to 60 Syriac families lived in Mharka. Later this rose to 80 to 90 families as Mharke received many Syriac families. Now we are few and have become a minority. We are now with 14 Syriac families in the village. Immigration! Well you know…” he sighs.
“But praise to God, we are doing well.”
And for uncle Aziz, well he will not leave his beloved Mharka. But the situation for the Syriacs in the Gozarto has become precarious and worrying. It are dangerous times for Christians. As for many others, the future of the Syriacs in the Gozarto is uncertain. Years of continued war in Syria, ISIS atrocities in the Khabur valley, instability, the U.S. moving its forces away and the subsequent entering of Turkish-backed militant factions into North and East Syria, all create a very uncertain future. Russian, Syrian, Turkish and American forces, they all patrol the region and claim best intentions. We will have to see how this all plays out…
With uncle Aziz we turn to St. George.