By Denho Bar Mourad-Özmen journalist and TV moderator at Suroyo TV
From the days of the Assyrian Empire in late antiquity, Mhalmoyto (ܐܝ ܡܚܠܡܝܬܐ) is the name given to the western half of the administrative part of Tur Abdin, in current-day southeastern Turkey. The Mhalmoyto Region is located between the city of Midyat in the east, the provincial capital Mardin in the west, Raman Daği (Beth Rammaye or popularly ‘u Turo da Ramma’) in the north, and the city of Nsibin (Nusaybin) in the south. The inhabitants of the Mhalmoyto Region are called Mhalmoye in the Syriac language, Mahalmiler in Turkish and Mhallamiye in Arabic.
Description of the area in various historical sources
Tur Abdin is the name given to an area in Upper Mesopotamia (image below), northeast of the city of Mardin. Tur Abdin is located on a plateau some thousand meters above sea level and the area is dotted with many larger and smaller villages. In Arabic literature the whole area is called Ҫebel Izla, even though the term Ҫebel Izla only covers the southern part of Tur Abdin. In Syriac it is called Turo d-Izlo (Mount Izlo). In Greek literature, the whole area between Turo d-Izlo and Turo d-Quro (Turkish: Karaca Dağ) is called Masios [i].
Traveler and writer Yakut Rumi (died 1222 AD) says the following about Tur Abdin:
“Tur Abdin is an area bordering Nsibin. The mountain above Nsibin, i.e., Turo d-Izlo, constitutes the beginning of Tur Abdin when entering the area from the east. The Tur Abdin plateau is located between Gziro (Cizre), Marde (Mardin), Nsibin, Omid (Diyarbakir), and Beth Shiraye which is called today Raman Daği.”
Ebul-Qasem Ibn Hardadbe (848 AD) and other Arab writers describe the area of Tur Abdin as follows:
“Beth Risho and Beth Mahalmaye are areas of Diar-i-Rabia.” [ii]
In one of his inscriptions, the Assyrian king Adad-nirari II (911-891 BC) says that his father, Ashur-dan II, defeated various peoples in the mountains including the nomadic Ahlamu. According to an inscription from the Assyrian king Shalmaneser I, the Ahlamu, supported by Shattuara II of the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni (Hanigalbat), were defeated in their war against the Assyrian king. Marc Van De Mierlos (2009) writes that the wandering Ahlamu could even hinder the communication lines between kingdoms. King of Babylon Kadashman Enlil II (1263-1255 BC) complains in his correspondence with the Hittite king Ḫattušili III about the interruption of sending messengers between the two courts as a result of attacks by Ahlamu bandits. From the 12th century BC onwards, the Mesopotamian sources increasingly refer to the same mobile groups as “Arameans“.
According to Trevor Bryce (2009) the Mhalmoye were known as enemies of the Assyrians. King Ashur-resh-ishi I (1132-1115 BC), after Assyria was able to rise again, alludes to victories over the Ahlamu, as did his successor Tiglath-Pileser I (1114-1076 BC).
The Assyrian king Shalmaneser II (1276-1256 B.C.) fought against the forces in the Tur Abdin and occupied the region’s cities and destroyed the fortresses. The population of the area at the time was made up of many Aramean tribes who had settled between the rivers Deqlath (Tigris), Baliho (Beliha), and Froth (Euphrates)[iii].
According to other Assyrian cuneiform sources, and not least the preserved oral tradition of our forefathers [iv], the area was incorporated into the Assyrian Empire and divided by the Assyrian rulers into the following administrative regions (starting from the west); Ain Warze (Cukurova/Anavarzalar), Urhoy (Urfa or Edessa), Omid (Diyarbakir), Tura d-Qura (Karaca Dağ), Merdin (Mardin), Ahlamu/Mhalmoyto or Beth Mahlam, Keshjar or Beth Risho (the contemporary Christian Syriac part of Tur Abdin), Bokhtan (Bhotan) and Hakkari in the East. The northern part of the Assyrian Empire, i.e., north of Tur Abdin, was also divided into two administrative areas [v]: Beth Shiraye consisting of the area north of the town of Hisno d-Kifo (Hasankeyf), up to the administrative capital of the Sxirt or Athra d’Mbadre area (Siirt). North of Beth Shiraye was Beth Ramaye, popularly called a-Ramma (Ramanlar in Turkish), which means highland in Syriac (from ‘Romo’ or ‘Rama’).
In other Assyrian cuneiform tablets, it is said that the Assyrian King Hud-Nirari I (911-889 B.C.), son of King Ashur-Dan (922-910 B.C.), fought the Aramean tribes in the Ahlamu area many times. In all excavated cuneiform source, today’s Tur Abdin is described by the name Keshyar. Keshyar in turn is divided into two administrative parts: Ahlamu (Mhalmayto) and the Beth Risha (Tur Abdin) mountain [vi].
Regarding the origin of the name of Tur Abdin, Mor Yuhanon Dairo-Kfonoyo (Derikfan) says the following (6th-7th century):
“When the Persian armies arrived in the area, the Greek armies were pursued and chased away from the cities of Dara (Oğuz), Nsibin (Nusaybin) and the surrounding areas. Thus, the Persians took control of the area east of the river Froth (Euphrates). The Christians living in the Tur Abdin area fled and settled in an area called Beth Rumoye. They joined the Romans who were also Christians. Then came the Greek/Roman kings and conquered in turn Ashur (Asur), Ninve (Nineveh), Beth Nuhadra (Dohuk/Zakho), Beth Garmaye (Erbil), Beth Salukh (Kirkuk) and other areas belonging to the Persians.”
Slaves to the Romans
After their victory, the Romans deported all non-Christian Persians. In vengeance and to minimize the threat of them regrouping and rebelling, they were scattered over various and distant places, but mainly in Turo d-Izlo, Arzun, Hisno d-Kifo, Sawro (Savur) and Mardin. They were treated as slaves. After this forced displacement, the area began to be called the “Mountain of slaves (serfs)” or ‘Tur Abdin’ in the Syriac language. These Persians were deported to become slaves to the Greeks. The name Tur Abdin then began to cover the whole area from Mount Izlo north of Nsibin in the east to the city of Mardin in the west, the city of Nsibin in the south and the city of Hisno d-Kifo in the north. Thus, the name Tur Abdin was fully established during the days of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (died 565 AD). The life story of the Syriac monk Isa Hirinoyo (sixth century) confirms this. He says:
“During the Roman year 880, which corresponds to the year 569 AD, seven churches were built in the city of Mardin, for the Syriac Orthodox, Chaldeans and Armenians”.[vii]
The geographical division that was made at the time still persists today when you talk about the area. In the vernacular, people, whether Christian or Muslim, still divide the area between the Mhalmoyto and Tur Abdin. In the current Turkish geographical name, the area has Mardin Province.
NB: I have used all the names used today for one and the same ethnic group, that is, today’s Assyrians, Assyrians/Syriacs, Arameans, Chaldeans, Maronites and Mhalmoye. By this I mean that all names belong to one and the same ethnic group, culturally, geographically, linguistically and socially. In today’s Middle East, they all face the same fate. Namely, either emigrate, from the current situation, or convert to Islam as their brothers the Mhalmye did before them. The demographics in the Mhalmoye area are also changing in favor of Kurdish expansion in the region. In the original Mhalmoye towns such as Midyat, Hisno d Kifo, Sawro, Macsarte, the Mhalmoye have become a minority.
Denho Bar Mourad-Özmen is a former special educator and advisor at Sweden’s National Agency for Special Education. Denho is a lecturer and has educational films on Swedish TV and wrote articles in Swedish educational magazines. He was born in the village of Hapses, Tur Abdin, and has written on the Syriac people for Hujada Magazine and the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchal Magazine. He is a long-time journalist and TV moderator at Suroyo TV.
Notes[i] Mardin Tarihi. In the newspaper Öz Hikmet 1953, no. 4/76. Edited by Archbishop Yuhanon Dolabani. [ii] Turabdin tarihi. Beth Shiraye means ’Silk region’ in the Syriac language (Syriac: Shiro = silk). [iii] Turabdin tarihi [iv] In the surviving sources of Assyria and the Orient, no distinction was made between the ancient Byzantine or Roman Empire. That is why they are sometimes called Greeks and other times Romans. In popular language and folklore, when a Syriac mother wanted her children to stop doing naughty things and listen, she used to shout the word ‘Kathen lokh a Rumoye’, (ܟܬܢ ܠܟ ܐ ܪܘ̈ܡܝܐ)’ which means ‘the Romans will come for you’.
[v] Mardin Tarihi. In the newspaper Öz Hikmet 1953, no. 4/76. Edited by Archbishop Yuhanon Dolabani. [vi] Beth Risha also includes Mount Izala. Until the 20th century, Mount Izala was its own archdiocese which had its own bishop in the Mor Malke Monastery. [vii] Mardin Tarihi. In the newspaper Öz Hikmet 1953, no. 4/76. Edited by Archbishop Yuhanon Dolabani.
Trevor Bryce (2009). Routledge-handboken för folken och platserna i det antika västra Asien: Främre östern från den tidiga bronsåldern till det persiska imperiets fall. Routledge. sid. 11-12. ISBN9781134159079.
Maktahbzabno d´Turaddin (History of Tur Abdin, The story of Patriarch Mascud in Makthabzabno d´Turabdin or History of Tur Abdin.