TURKEY: Syriac women fighting to keep their culture alive

By Medine Mamedoğlu for Jinnews, MERDO (MARDIN) (5 November 2020) – Syriac culture is kept alive in Mardin. Mardin was the scene of mass murders. Thousands of Syriac civilians were massacred and forced to migrate after the Sayfo Syriac Genocide in 1915. Now Syriac citizens are returning to their villages and make a living from the produce of their vineyards, groves, and agricultural lands.

Mardin is seen as a cradle of civilizations which hosted throughout its long history many different religions, languages, and peoples. There are still Syriacs living in the city of which the population is largely made up of Kurds and Arabs. After the Sayfo Genocide (Syriac Massacre) that took place within the borders of the Ottoman Empire in 1915, the Syriac population decreased significantly. Some Syriac citizens are now returning to the ancient villages they had to abandon after the massacre. During the genocide, thousands of Syriacs were forced to migrate from the region where more than two-hundred thousand Syriac citizens are estimated to have been massacred.

There are still traces of the Genocide

Hundreds of Syriacs have returned to their villages in the district of Midyat, Mardin province. Citizens who rebuilt their village homes continue their own culture. One of the villages subjected to massacre during the genocide is the village of Gülgöze (Ayn Wardo) in the Midyat district. Tidora Hobel Melke, one of the village residents, told us that there are still traces of the Sayfo Genocide in their village. She grew up listening to the stories from their elders who survived or heard of the genocide;

“We have not forgotten, and our children should not forget.”

Stating that she favors peoples living together, Tidora said, “After the 1915 Sayfo Genocide, the lands of our ancestors were confiscated. Hundreds and hundreds of Syriacs were killed in this genocide in our village. My grandfather is normally not someone who cried, but whenever he told us about the genocide he would cry. They killed my great-grandfather in front of my grandfather’s eyes and cut his belly. My grandfather always said this was a big and cruel massacre. We have not forgotten the genocide, and our children will not forget it. It happened once; nobody should live through such a genocide again. We do everything we can so that no one has to go through it again. The evidence of this genocide is still visible here in the church.”

‘ISIS also subjected Syriacs to genocide’

Tidora says that, after the Sayfo, the Syriac people were again subjected recently to genocide by ISIS in Syria in 2014. She said that living in the land of their ancestors after so many dramatic events was very meaningful for them. Tidora says that there was great resistance against the massacre in their villages; “After so many dramatic events, living in this village is both an enormous burden and an action of great significance. When we returned to our village, we faced many problems. The system’s attitude towards us was more challenging than rebuilding our house or the village.”

‘We keep our culture alive’

Tidora Hobel Melke says that they used to make their living in the village with their own labor: “We continue the Syriac culture of winemaking and silversmithing”. Tidora continues, “Our people generally earn their living here from silver and wine. Syriacs used to make the best stone carving art. Our people still maintain this kind of tradition and culture. Although not as intense as before, we still keep our own culture alive. We women are best at making stone art. It is an art that inspires me. Not only us, but all young people should adopt these traditions. For this to happen, courses or training centers should be opened.”

“We did not leave our land”

Barbara Akay, who lives in the same village, said: “Despite everything, we did not leave our land. Our ancestors stayed in these lands despite the pain they suffered in the past. We make our own business. Everything has its difficulties, but we are still resisting. This is our land, and we have no intention of leaving.”

Disclaimer: Translated form the original Turkish. Originally published on November 5, 2020, by Jinnews.