By Denho Bar Mourad-Özmen journalist and TV moderator Suroyo TV
After the two previous articles in our series on the Mhalmayto region – The Mhalmoye (ܡܚܠܡ̈ܝܐ). Who are they? and The Mhalmoye (ܡܚܠܡ̈ܝܐ) and their conversion to Christianity – we now turn to the Mhalmoye who were of cultural, religious, and political importance to this Syriac region. Following are the names of famous Christian Mhalmoye who left their invaluable influence on the development of Christianity and left their impact on folklore and cultural traditions in Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. They have made an undeniable and timeless contribution to the development of Syriac ecclesiastical liturgy. In fact, many of their customs and practices are practiced to this day by both Christian and Muslim Mhalmoye.
Mor Shmuel Mishtinoyo
Monk from the village of Mishtiye. He built the Mor Gabriel Monastery in the fourth century. Mentioned by Archbishop Mor Filiksinos Yuhanon Dolabani in his ‘History of Mardin’ (Mardin Tarihi, p. 163). He calls him Mor Shmuel Sawroyo (Savurlu), i.e., Saint Samuel from the village of Mishtiye near Sawro (Savur). In Syriac ܡܶܫܬܝܶܐ and in Arabic مشتية,
From the village of Kinderib or Qen Darbe ܩܶܢ ܕܰܪܒܶܐ (Turkish: Sögutlu). Daniel was a famous scribe and well-known for his Syriac manuscripts. He was called the ‘Scribe of the Mhalmoye’ and wrote many Syriac prayer books, gospels, and other scriptures.
Dionysios Saliba (1215-1231): Mafiryono of the East
From the village of Kfar Slote (Kfar Zote. Turkish: Kayalar). He was appointed Archbishop of Gziro (Cizre) in 1222 and subsequently Mafiryono. Mafiryono is the second highest administrative title in the Syriac Orthodox Church and comes after the Patriarch. It is said of Dionysios Saliba that he was very handsome and tall. He loved his Syriac people and had a very fine writing style. During his visit to his home village of Kfar Slote, the village was attacked by Kurds. Mafiryono Dionysios Saliba took part in the defense of the village which led to him being killed by one of the enemy’s arrows.
Abbot of the Mor Sharbil Monastery in Kfar Shomac (Turkish: Bucakli).
Monk Mushe Kfar Shomacoyo
Wrote 17 volumes of the New Testament in fine handwriting. From the village of Kfar Shomac (Turkish: Bucakli).
Archbishop Jakob Hasnoyo (Jacob of Hisno d-Kifo)
Archbishop of Hasankeyf from 1571-1590.
Qurillos Yuhanon Defnoyo (Turkish: Ucyol village).
Son of Shamoun the priest. Was bishop of Midyat and the Atifiye Monastery (1468-1508 / 1519).
Filiksinos d-Kfar Shoma (Kershef. Turkish: Bucakli village)
Archbishop from 1543-end year unknown.
Baselios Jakob Hasnoyo (Baselios Jacob of Hisno d-Kifo)
Archbishop of Zarcal (1543-1551).
Abu Wafa, Archbishop of Hisno d-Kifo
Author of the popular Psalms called ‘Sidre Mhire’ in Syriac (1392-1395).
Diosqoros Abrohom Zarminoyo (Turkish: Zerminli)
Archbishop of Hah and of Hisno-d-Kifo (1464-1468).
Baselios Shamoun I, Kfar Shomacoyo (1549-1555)
Son of Malke Bar Salokh. He received his education in the Mor Jacob monastery in the Kfar Shoma.
Ignatios Jacob Hasnoyo (from Hisno d-Kifo / Hasankeyf) (1551-1571)
Patriarch Shukrallah Hasnoyo (Hasankeyf)
Timotheos Yeshoa Hasnoyo
Abbot of the Mokher monastery outside of the city of Hisno d-Kifo.
Qorillos Abrohom-Uth( (Ut) of Hisno d-Kifo Also: Hisno d-Kifoyo Maqdshoyo Bar-Habib, meaning Pilgrim Habib’s son).
Educated in Atifiyes Dayro du-Slibo (Monastery of the Cross). He later became Archbishop with seat in the Monastery. Prior to that, he was archbishop of Hisno d-Kifo (Hasankeyf) in 1575, where he extended (1584) the boundaries of the monastery’s estates by purchasing lands and orchards for the monastery. In old age he donated everything to the monastery in 1624. Baselios Saliba, who was Archbishop of Zarcal, 1552, was his uncle’s son.
Habib, Archbishop of the Mor Jacob of Kfar Shomac
Archbishop of the Monastery of Mor Jacob of Kfar Shomac (Kershef. Turkish: Bucakli) and one of its famous educators (1582).
Qorillos Yeshoa Hasnoyo (Hasankeyf)
Son of the priest Ni´me (Numan). Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Gorgis 1697-1729 appointed him Archbishop of Bitlis.
Dionosios Eshayo Habsoyo (Hapses ܚܒܣܘܣ – Turkish: Marcimekli)
He was known as a good educator. Archbishop of Dayro du-Slibo (Turkish: Catalcam) and Hah (Anitli) (1453-1463). He was also the teacher of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Mas´ud (Masud).
Yuhanon Gorgis Bar Gabriel Srinoyo (Turkish: Haberli village)
Originally from the village of Meshtin (Mishtiye-Mishten). He was a prominent figure in scientific circles. He visited the holy sites in Palestine and bought several houses for the Syriac Orthodox Mor Markus Monastery in Jerusalem. Wrote an Anaphora (prayer book). He served the Church for 45 years. He died in the Dairo d-Zahfaran monastery outside Mardin and was buried there, (1450-1495).
Moshe Sawroyo (Savur)
Writer and musician. wrote many religious writings and hymn books with his fine handwriting. Together with Davut Kashafo (1485) he wrote the New Testament, adorned with Davud Kashafos’ fine religious motifs. The artist was also famous and respected for his knowledge of astronomy.
A highly respected scientist and priest. He was the driving force along with Sawro’s (Savur) leader Isa for the election of his city comrade Archbishop Mor Yuhanon Sobo to become Syriac Orthodox Patriarch in 1485.
Mor Yuhanon Bar Sobo,
(anti-) Patriarch of Sawro (Savur).
Isa Sawroyo (1609)
Leader of Savur. Under his leadership, the people of Sawro lived a secure life away from persecution. He was highly esteemed by the Turkish Artuklu ruler Ibrahim.
Archbishop Yousef of Kfar Haworo (Kfarhwar)
Archbishop Yousef is the author who collected the books of marriages and baptisms in the Syriac Orthodox Church in the early 16th century. The book is in the library of the Zahfaran Monastery (Mor Hananyo Monastery) outside Mardin.
Mor Shamoun Zayte or St Simon of the Olives was born in 657 A.D. in the village of Hapses, Tur Abdin. His father Munther was one of the village’s notables and the Munther family house is still preserved in Hapses, some 300 meters southeast of the current Mor Shamoun Church.
Mor Shamoun learned to read and write Syriac in the local village school where he was ordained a deacon. In the year 667, at the age of ten, his father sent him to the seminary at the Mor Gabriel Monastery which at the time was the main religious education center of the Syriac Orthodox Church (the Monastery is still an important teaching institute for the Church). In his third year at Mor Gabriel, Mor Shamoun became the deacons’ choirmaster of Rish Qnin ܪܝܫ ܩܢܝܢ .
After his calling to monkhood, Mor Shamoun moved to the smaller monastery south of Mor Gabriel called Dayro d-Stune (the Pillar Monastery). He lived there secluded and, according to Syriac tradition, Mor Shamoun was a pious man of many virtues who accomplished great deeds during his life.
The arrival of the Persians and the genocide in the Mhalmayto and Tur Abdin
In the time of Mor Shamoun, Persian forces arrived in the area under the command of Shaherbraz – not to be confused with King Shahbarz who was assassinated in 629. The Persian soldiers brought ravage and carnage to the Tur Abdin. They burned down villages, cities, churches, and monasteries in Beth Risho and the Mhalmayto – including the famous Mor Gabriel Monastery. The Persians took the Tur Abdin residents hostage and drove them into exile.
Among those taken hostage by the Persian forces was Mor Shamoun’s nephew Eyyub. The Persians deported the Tur Abdin residents up north to Hisno d-Kifo (Turkish: Hasankeyf). According to Syriac sources and tradition, on their deportation march, Eyyub found a big treasure of gold and silver. He marked the place of the treasure and followed the other hostages to Hisno d-Kifo without telling them of the treasure.
During these raids on the regions of Mhalmayto and Beth Risho, the Persian commander became seriously ill. Mor Shamoun was called to the Persian army’s camp north of Hisno d-Kifo and ordered to cure him. Mor Shamoun’s prayers healed the general. The general asked Mor Shamoun Zayte what he wanted from him, and it would be awarded to him. Mor Shamoun asked for the release of all the Mhalmoye hostages and their safe return to their villages. The commander complied with Mor Shamoun’s wish and released the hostages, including his cousin Eyyub.
Eyyub was educated by famous Syriac writer Daniel Kinderiboyo and had become a skilled writer in Syriac. Eyyub told his uncle Mor Shamoun about the treasure he had found during their deportation march and went to get the treasure. He handed it over to his uncle Mor Shamoun.
Mor Shamoun’s work in Mor Gabriel Monastery
Mor Shamoun immediately began with the reconstruction of the Mor Gabriel Monastery and started buying estates, vineyards, and farmland as well as acquiring villages to the Monastery. He bought nearby Dayro d-Stune (ܕܰܝܪܳܐ ܕ ܨܛܘܢ̈ܐ ) – where he went after his ordination to the monkhood – and also bought arable lands and six mills for the monastery and planted 12.000 olive trees. Among the acquired villages were, Benkelbe (ܒܢ̈ܝ ܟܘܠܒ̈ܐ), Ermuna (ܪܝܡܘܢ̈ܐ), Ainluze (ܥܰܝܢ ܠܘܙ̈ܶܐ), Derdil (ܕܝܪܐ ܕܝܠ̱ܝ̈) and Kerkinne (ܟܰܪ ܩܶ̈ܢܶܐ) around the town kfargawze ܟܦܪ ܓܘ̈ܙܐ (Gercus).
Thanks to its olive groves, all the Mhalmoye churches could be illuminated. The population’s needs for oil were met at the lowest possible price. Olive oil also supplied the churches’ need for other purposes e.g., for the production of Murun (baptism oil) and for the anointing of the sick. That is why he was called Mor Shamoun Zayte, i.e., Saint Simon of the Olives.
According to Syriac tradition, he was one of the first in Tur Abdin to introduce Saint Simeon the Stylites’ tradition of secluded living as a hermit or on a pillar in order to attain the highest degree of virtue, piety, and wisdom in order to serve God and understand His wisdom.
In 693 Mor Shamoun returned from Baghdad after a visit to the Abbasid Caliph al-Mamun. Because the East Syriac ‘Nestorian’ bishop of Nsibin did not allow the building and renovation of the West Syriac ‘Jacobite’ churches and monasteries, Mor Shamoun called in the help of the Caliph. He was given a military escort headed by Amir Hassan Ibn Hussain al-Iraqi to protect Nsibin against the Persians and Syriac Melkites. The military protection allowed for the rebuilding of destroyed Syriac Jacobite churches in Nsibin.
The Persians and the Abbasids favored the East Syriac or ‘Nestorian’ Church to the West Syriac ‘Jacobite’ Church. Nsibin was a frontier city and majority ‘Nestorian’. The Persians and Arabs worked with the Syriac ‘Nestorians’ and the church. Constantinople worked with the West Syriac ‘Jacobites’.
Mor Shamoun started rebuilding and renovation works in the city of Nsibin. Outside the eastern entrance of the city, he built a new Pillar Monastery on the ruins of the old monastery for the monks to live. On the east side of the monastery, he built a large hostel for guests and visiting bishops. He also bought five mills and three large arable lands for the new monastery. For the Dayro d-Mort Fabruniya (St. Febronia Monastery) in Nsibin, today’s Zayn al-Abdin mosque, he bought arable land so that the nuns would be able to support themselves. He also built a church on the property and called it Yoldath Aloho (Church of the Mother of God).
At the eastern entrance of Nsibin, inside the city walls, he built a large church named after the martyr Mor Teodoros and another church named Mor Dimet. He also built a mosque for the small Muslim community and bought six shops which he donated to the mosque. For all the monasteries and churches to support themselves, he bought shops, houses, and buildings. He built famous bathhouses to generate income for the churches and monasteries and he donated these baths to the Mor Joshua Monastery he built in Nsibin.
The will to all these estates stated that all that was left of the income from these estates would go to the area’s main monastery, the Mor Gabriel Monastery.
In the area around the Hermes River, he built several watermills and homes for the workers. In the city of Sarwan, he built a large church on the site of an underwater spring. He planted large olive trees. From there he went to the Sinjar Mountains, where he built several more churches.
At the instigation of the incumbent Patriarch Mor Julian III, Mor Shamoun d-Zayte was persuaded to be ordained Archbishop of Harran, a large city south of Urhoy (Urfa). In the year 700, Mor Shamoun became archbishop of Harran. During his 35 years in Harran, he ruled the diocese knowledgeably and sensibly, as a true disciple of Jesus Christ. In Harran, Mor Shamoun built several churches and mosques and he donated property to cover expenses. He also built one of the largest bridges in Harran. The bridge was named after him much later.
Mor Shamoun’s work in his hometown Hapses
In his hometown of Hapses, Mor Shamoun rebuilt the St. Lazarus or Mor Loozor Monastery. It had been leveled to the ground by the Persians. He rebuilt the new monastery northwest of the original building. During excavations outside the walls of the monastery, many fine crucifixes as well as tombs of bishops and monks have been discovered. Mor Shamoun built a pillar (a Qaim) in the courtyard of the monastery for the monks who wanted to live there in isolation and exposed to the cold and heat. This tradition of pillars originally came from St. Simeon the Stylite in northern Syria. Mor Shamoun Zayte was one of his followers, which is why he built similar pillars at many of the monasteries he built or renovated.
Besides the pillar in Hapses, it is said that he was also the one who built the Qaim’s outside the Mor Jacob d-Saleh Monastery in the village of Saleh (Barisköy), in the destroyed Mort Shmuni in Estel of the Mhalmoye, and in Dairo Zbino (Acirli). The Mor Zbino monastery was built by St. Augins pupil Mor Zbino. Today the monastery is a mosque (Ulucami).
In Hapses he built a new and one of the largest churches of the area. It was named after himself. It is said that it was built on an ancient Assyrian temple of the sun god Shamash, which was sacred even to non-Christian residents of Hapses. The Hapses graveyard is located northwest of the church in a place called Nezzar d-Zayto. The village elders told us was that Nezzar d-Zayto and its olive grove were the property of the church, hence the name Nezzar Zayto, which means the olive valley (ܢܙܰܪ ܙܝ̈ܬܐ). The large Church of Mor Shamoun can be seen in a radius of 10 kilometers because of its height. It is still the largest building in the area and has a unique architecture compared to the surrounding churches.
He founded a new school in Hapses and bought several vineyards and farmland as well as wells for the church and monastery to secure their finances.
By the beginning of the seventeenth century, most of the villages in the Mhalmayto had been Islamized. Hapses ܚܒܣܘܣ, Bnebil, and Qelith were Christian islands in the Mhalmayto.
His ecumenical work
Mor Shamoun Zayte is perhaps the most known person in the Syriac Church after Gregorios Bar Hebraeus (1226-1286). He established excellent relations with Muslims at a time when Islam was a new and expanding religion in the Middle East. The Christian Assyrians were oppressed by both the Byzantines and the Persians. This oppression forced the Assyrians/Syriacs to cooperate with the new religion and thus helped it spread in the area. At first, the Assyrians believed that Islam was a Christian sect like many other sects in the area. The Byzantine kings persecuted the Oriental Church, so much so that the Church saw Islam as a salvation.
But as Islam took over large parts of the area, Muslims began to behave even more inhuman and ruthless than other enemies of people who refused to convert to the new religion. Many Christians were forced to convert, others fled the area and left their place to followers of the new religion. Mor Shamoun visited the Muslim emir of Mosul to get his support in building the churches that had been destroyed due to the constant wars between the Persians and the Byzantines. The latter were Christians but had fiercely persecuted the original Syriac Church, forcing a majority of the Church’s believers to follow the dogmas of the official imperial Church in Constantinople (Istanbul). The Syriac Orthodox who broke with the Syriac Orthodox Mother Church and joined the Byzantine Church were called Malkoye ܣܘܪܝܳܝܶܐ ܡܠܟܳܝ̈ܐ (Melkites) – from the Syriac word for king ‘malko’. Their number is estimated at about 4 million and can be found in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, and in European countries as well as Latin and North America.
Throughout his life, Mor Shamoun worked for the unity of the peoples of Beth Nahrin (Mesopotamia), transcending denomination or religion, in order to maintain their common Syriac (Aramaic) language and culture. Along with the churches he established, he also built a mosque for Muslims living in Nsibin. He made no distinction between Muslims and Christians, nor between those who worshiped the god Shamash, i.e., the Shamsiye/Semsiler (ܫܶܡܫܳ̈ܝܐ). For him they were all Assyrians/Syriacs and Mesopotamians with the same cultural background – as opposed to the Byzantines and Persians who were oppressors.
One of the church fathers wrote about Mor Shamoun’s ecumenical work:
“It is a pity that the religious authorities after him, both Muslims and Christians, did not follow in his footsteps but deepened religious divisions and animosity between ethnic brothers and sisters. Over time, they separated and so weakened their cultural and ethnic ties. Animosity led to the weakening of both sides. The Christian Mhalmoye have already left the area and emigrated. Their Muslim Mhalmoye brothers are also leaving the area or being assimilated with the Kurds and Turks. The cities and towns in which they made up the majority of the population like Midyat, Sawro, Mardin, and Hisno d-Kifo today have a Kurdish majority.”
Mor Jakob I, Patriarch of Antioch
Jacob was born in Ahmadi, a village belonging to the city of Sawro (Savur), as the son of Abdallah. He became a monk at the Mother Moses Monastery in al-Nabak (see: Barsawm, 2006). He studied under Malphono (teacher) and Metropolitan Moses Ubayyed from Sadad in present-day Syria. He became an expert in calligraphy.
He then returned to his hometown and was ordained a priest and entered Zahfaran Monastery and in 1480 he moved to Abhaik Monastery. In 1496 he was ordained metropolitan in Omid (Diyarbakir) under the name Philoksinos and consecrated patriarch in 1512 under the name Ignatius Jakob. He died in 1517.
Patriarch Jacob was a prolific writer. One of his writings is a historical treatise with some of the monk David from Homs. He also wrote a commentary on festivals and composed poems in two-syllable verses in which he writes about remorse.
Philoxenos Yuḥanon Dolabani (1885–1969) ܦܝܠܟܣܝܢܣ ܝܘܚܢܢ ܕܘܠܒܢܝ
I have not mentioning above many of the famous writers and leaders names that the city of Mardin – with all its ecclesiastical denominations and also Muslim Mhalmoye – has given to our people. However, I can not skip the most famous person of these, the modern writer, educator, and Syriac Orthodox bishop of Mardin (1947–1969)Mor Filoksinos Hanna Dolabani.
He was born and raised in Mardin and initially embarked on a shoe-making career. As he was the only son to his parents, they objected to his idea of becoming a monk. But Dolabani left his shoe-making career and toured various local monasteries. At the request of his parents, Patriarch Abdullah Ṣaṭṭuf tried to convince young Yuḥanon to forget about monastic life, but to no avail. In 1907, he joined the monastery Dayro d-Noṭfo ܕܝܪܐ ܕܢܛܦܐ , became a monk in 1908, and was ordained as priest in 1918. He taught at the local school of Dayro d-Zaafaran, other monasteries, and the Syriac Orthodox orphanage of Adana (see Taw Mim Semkath ܬ.ܡ.ܣ.).
Dolabani accompanied Patriarch Eliya III on two pastoral tours in the Middle East: the first in 1919 prompted by the aftermath of World War I and the Sayfo massacres, and the second in 1925 to Aleppo and Jerusalem where he spent two years teaching at the Monastery of St. Mark. When the newly consecrated Patriarch Afram Barsoum moved the patriarchal seat from Mardin to Ḥomṣ in 1933 after socio-political difficulties, the community leadership in Mardin desired to elect Dolabani as anti-Patriarch. in defiance. Dolabani rejected the move and denounced rumors of any such election publicly in 1934. In 1947, Mardin became a diocese and Dolabani was consecrated its bishop. He spent his last days at Dayro d-Zafaran where he was buried.
Also Read: Remembering Archbishop Mor Philoxenos Yuhanon Dolabani by Denho Bar Mourad-Özmen
Dolabani edited the following works: an abridged version of the Beth Gazo (Mardin, 1913); a prayer book for priests (Mardin, 1952); a list of lectionary readings (Mardin, 1954); selected poems of Bar ʿEbroyo (Jerusalem, 1929); poems of Yuḥanon Bar Maʿdani (Jerusalem, 1929); poems of Nuḥ the Lebanese (1956); Bar ʿEbroyo’s ‘Book of the Dove’ (Mardin, 1916).
He authored over 40 books in Syriac, Arabic, and Turkish, the most important of which are the following: a pedagogical Syriac Grammar (vol. 1, Mardin, 1915; vol. 2 Glane/Losser, 1997); a history of the patriarchs (Glane/Losser, 1990); catalogues of the Syriac manuscripts of Dayro d-Mor Marqos, Dayro d-Zaafaran, and other churches and monasteries (Aleppo, 1994).
Finally, he translated many works from Arabic into Syriac, especially Barsoum’ Berule bdhire ܒܪܘ̈ܠܐ ܒܕܝܪ̈ܐ, and Boulos Behnam’s drama Theodora. Dolabani drew up a list of his writings of 82 items, most of which remain unpublished. His autobiography was published posthumously (Tašʿito d-ḥayaw d-Dolabani, 2007).
Denho Bar Mourad-Özmen is a former special educator and advisor at Sweden’s National Agency for Special Education. He is a lecturer, published educational films on Swedish TV, and has written articles in Swedish educational magazines. He was born in the village of Habsus, 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.
Maktahbzabno d-Turabdin (History of Turabdin)
The Story of Patriarch Mesud in Makthabzabno d-Turabdi
The newspaper Öz Hikmet, 1955. Article; Mardin Kalitmara and Dairo d´Zahfaran yolu acilis merasimi.
Turabdin Living Cultural Heritage, Lebendiges Kulturerebe, Hans Hollerweger. Herstellung- Production. Linz, Österreich, 1999.
Tarihte Mardin p.68
The sacrament of Holy Baptism and Matrimony, Barhebraeus Verlag, Holland, 1989.
Tekso da cmodho qadisho wa dburolkh klile, Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate since 1989. Holland.
Gecmisten gunumuze Deyrulzafaran manastiri, Yakub Bilge, GK yayin no: 45. Anadolu Offset. 2006
Turabdin Tarihi p.54
Qissit Abu L´Qura – in handwritten Garshuni script. Pastor Abdulahad Kara’s library.
Mardin çevresinde Süryaniler, Zeynep Gül Küçük, Ankara 2013 (Turkish).
The scattered pearls, Ignatius Aphrem Barsoum, Alfaprint. Sundbyberg. 2006.
A Syrian Orthodox Bishop and Scholar: Mar Philoxenos Iohanna Dolaponu (1885–1969), Brock S. and I. Gulcan, , OKS 26 (1977), p. 47–52.
Dolabani the ascetic Metropolitan of Mardin, Y. Ibrahim, Aleppo (1999). (in Arabic)