By Denho Bar Mourad-Özmen journalist and moderator at Suroyo TV
Syriac families in Habses in the year 1870
Below is a list of the number of Christian Mhalmoye who lived in my home village of Habses. This list was compiled in 1870 by monk Abdallah Sadadi at the request of Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Yakup II (1842-1871). [I] The church register of Habses can be found in this document on page 63. [II] The list may not include all the village families as some families did not (have to) pay the Church’s contribution. According to malfono Zakay Demir (2013, p. 233), who examined the church list carefully, some family names are indeed missing from the list.
The church register list of Christian Mhalmoye families who lived in Habses in 1870 is as follows:
Image of the church register list written in Syriac, from the original document.
Habses during ܣܰܝܦܳܐ – the Sayfo Genocide of 1915
I want to start by quoting the events in the year of Sayfo, 1915, as recorded by Syriac Orthodox khouri (Chorepiscopus) Sleman dbe Hinno in his book ‘The massacre of the Suryoye in Tur Abdin, 1914-1915’ [III]:
“The village of Habses is located some eight kilometers northwest of Midyat. In 1915, more than 100 Suryoye families lived in the village. The village leaders were the brothers Gevriye, Isa and Yusuf of the Beth Efrem family. On June 11, the village was surrounded by the [Kurdish] Raman clans who attacked during the night. The fighting between the villagers and the Kurdish clans continued unabated until the afternoon of the second day, when some villagers managed to escape,, reached Midyat and told about the situation in Habses. The priest Efrem and Hanna Sefer went to the mayor of Midyat and said to him: “You have said that there is no danger to us Suryoye and that we need not fear!? But despite the fact that the killers attack Habses, you remain silent and show no reaction to this crime.”
“Thus, the mayor ordered soldiers to chase away the clans from the village and its environs. The soldiers reached the village, and helped the villagers drive the clans away from Habses. During the fighting, an old man and a girl from the village were killed. In the Mor Loózor Monastery – about ten minutes walk from the village – lived a solitary monk named Gabriel. When he heard that fighting had broken out in the village, he fled in confusion towards Estel. However, on the way he was murdered in the vineyards by a resident of Estel named Ali (Calo) Farmano. After this incident, 15 soldiers stayed in the village to guard and protect the villagers. However, when the fighting broke out in Midyat, a Yazidi man called Tuma came to Habses. This man worked for Aziz agha in Midyat as a shepherd. He had taken the goats with him and came to urgently warn the villagers; “Fighting has broken out in Midyat, and the enemy is shooting at the Christians there. After they finish Midyat, they will come for you. If you do nothing, none of you will escape and all of you will die.”
“After this warning, the villagers gathered. They took what they could from their belongings, left the village and fled in the direction of the village of Ayn Wardo. Those who could not escape were murdered the next morning by the Muslims, who had been offered to settle in the village of their Christian brothers. When the soldiers went back to Midyat, the village was again attacked by the Raman clans. They killed everyone who survived and had hidden in the village or in the caves around the village. The clan members looted whatever valuables they could find and destroyed the village. The number of Suryoye killed in the village of Habses was 200. The rest of the villagers stayed in Ayn Wardo and helped their brothers by bravely participating in the battle against their common enemy. After the massacre, they returned to their village.”
It was a most treacherous and tragic fate for those who remained and had to hide in the village, although they had been promised by the village Muslims that they would be protected. The Sayfo tragedy has become part of the collective consciousness of every Syriac. It is etched in the people’s memory and is part of their identity. It is passed on orally from generation to generation.
The family of Malke dbe Masekke
The Malke dbe-Masekke family [IV] remained in the village and hid in the cave called Mcartho da Katchikat ܡܥܰܪܬܼܳܐ ܕܰ ܟܰܓ݀ܝܟܰܬ, a complex of underground caves. Kahle dbe Hajji Kelesh (Gul), who was a Muslim Mhalmayto woman, knew about their hiding place. Kahle secretly collected dried grass and firewood, which she placed at the entrance of the cave and set it on fire in order to suffocate the whole family to death. After the family noticed that someone had set fire to the cave entrance, they collected all blankets and closed off the entrance from inside, insulating the fire so that they would not inhale the smoke and escape suffocation. Then they were helped by other Muslim villagers to escape from the cave. Under the cover of the darkness of the night, they were able to flee to Ayn Wardo.
The Beth Cazo family
The Cazo family had also hidden in a cave which too had its entrance at the northeastern part of the village. The family had 73 members. Muslim villagers reported them to the Raman Kurdish clans who were in the village. Every single person of the Cazo family was killed. Their corpses were thrown into the cave.
The Cerco family
Malke Cerco / Sacde-Aksöz told his relatives about the fateful events. Cerco was a wealthy person who had more than 400 goats and sheep as well as oxen and cows. He owned a lot of farmland and vineyards. He was a widower and had two children. His daughter Meryem was about 15 years old, and his son Efrem was about 13 years old. Malke Cerco was promised by his neighbor and close friend Hajji Kelesh and his wife Kahle that they would take care of all his possessions and his two children if he would escape to the village of Anhel to save himself. Cerco trusted his neighbors. Well after a week, Hajji Kelesh changed his mind and wanted to rape the girl Meryem. When Meryem refused and threatened that her father would take revenge on Hajji Kelesh, Hajji changed his mind and convinced his wife Kahle to take the two children to Anhel to their father.
Hajji took Meryem and Efrem with him. Once past the town of Estel on the way to the village of Kfar Shomac (Bucakli), he changed his mind and tried to rape Meryem. Meryem resisted loudly. He killed her with his knife and threw her into a well. When Efrem realizes what has happened to his sister, he panicked and flees into the mountains. Hajji Kelesh went looking for the boy but does not find him, after which he returned to Habses.
Efrem had climbed a tree and was hiding among its branches. He spent the night in the tree. In the morning, shepherds past by the tree in which Efrem was hiding. The cattle had become so frightened that the shepherds were convinced it was a wolf. They had drawn their weapons. When they found out it was a boy, they promised him peace and to get out of the tree. Once out of the tree, he told about what had happened to him, about the cruel fate of his sister and that his father was in the neighboring village of Anhel. The shepherds took Efrem to Anhel and handed him over to his father.
The Shaco family
The fate of the family Shaco was told to me by the grandson of the family, Shaco Iskender Shaco (Celik). His grandfather Shabo and grandmother were blind and old. They did not manage to escape to Ayn Wardo and stayed behind in their house. When the Raman clans learned that the old couple was still in their house, they attacked the house and killed them both. They threw them into the house’s well in the yard.
During the Year of the Sayfo Genocide, many girls were kidnapped, raped or forcibly married off to Mhalmoye and Kurdish Muslims against their will. Some returned to their families in the village, others stayed.
The years after the Sayfo Genocide 1915 up to the 1990s
In this chapter, I would like to touch in brief on how the Christian Mhalmoye lived in the Mhalmayto area during the decades after Sayfo.
Habses is a typical example for other Christian Syriac villages in the Mhalmoyto. The Christian Mhalmoye lived as “Dhimmi ذمّي”, that is, under the protection of their Muslim neighbors. The leaders and village chiefs must always be Muslims. So, although the majority of the inhabitants of Habses were Christian Mhalmoye, the Habses village chief was always a Muslim Mhalmoyo, because a Christian is not allowed to make decisions about a Muslim.
In the 1940s, Turkey’s infrastructure needed to be rebuilt after the war. The Christians were summoned by the Turkish authorities as slaves or so-called “Ihtiyat” reservists. Christians were taken in groups and divided throughout Turkey. They worked as slaves to build new roads, bridges, houses and other public facilities, under very poor conditions. Many died of hunger, starvation or torture. From the village of Habses alone, six people died and did not return to their families. Those who came to their villages after Sayfo (1915) had to start all over again. Their Muslim neighbors had seized everything they had in the house in the form of food, animals or crops. Some were forced to beg. Others had to sell land or give very small amounts of money to their Muslim fellow villagers to avoid starvation. We should not however, forget that there were many peaceful and friendly Muslim Mhalmoye in the village, of whom I want to mention Abde dbe Shamdino-Demir and Brahimo dbe Shekho-Demir.
A typical example of the treatment in the Mhalmayto of Christian villagers by a Muslim leader
Halil Kahraman and Ali Kahraman became the village leaders after the murder of the village’s Christian leaders, the brothers Efrem Efrem and Isa Efrem in 1928. Halil and Ali were arrested and imprisoned by the authorities but, after only a few months, were given amnesty and released from prison. By threat and support from the Turkish authorities, they became the new leaders of the village. Big brother Halil Kahraman became the real leader and his brother Ali Kahraman the village chief.
Ali Kahraman was a ruthless and cruel man, and everyone was terrified of his atrocities during his tenor as village chief. He was the reason for the death of another Christian leader. He had reported Eliaso dbe Mourad [V] to the authorities for helping many Syriacs and Armenians from the Beth Shiraye (Bsheriye) Region to flee to Syria and avoid extermination in Turkey. These were, of course, false accusations, but through his relationship with a Member of Parliament from Estel, Ali Kahraman was able to persuade the authorities. My grandfather’s brother Eliaso was arrested and tortured to death by the gendarmes.
Another act of ruthlessness that everyone in the village was talking about is that Ali Kahraman killed his only sister by waking her at night, dragging her out of the village and shooting her in the womb with two shots. She was accused of having an extramarital affair with a man in the village.
In the 1960s there was war in Cyprus. While the Syriacs had nothing to do with the Greeks in Cyprus, the Syriacs were accused of spying for the Greeks in Cyprus. Many Syriacs were harassed. Pro-Turkish protesters marched through Christian neighborhoods and cities. In Midyat, a cross was placed around the neck of a dog and carried around the city as a threat.
In the 1970s and 1990s, the Christian Syriac Mhalmoye, as well as all Christians in Tur Abdin, suffered greatly from the ongoing war between the Kurdish PKK and the Turkish military. In these years alone, 84 Syriacs were killed without being part of the conflict. These murders are popularly referred to as “faili meçhul cinayetler”, that is, ‘unsolved murders’. The perpetrators were never caught or tried.
It was under these conditions that the Christian Mhalmoye lived in their villages. There were always threats, persecution, murder and harassment, both by the Turkish authorities and by their Kurdish neighbors. The kidnapping of young Christian girls and forced marriages to Kurdish Muslim boys also became a new routine during this period. In 1977, a girl was kidnapped in Habses with weapons. The girl’s aunt and father were shot but, fortunately, survived after many medical operations. This violent incident broke the camel’s back and caused all the Christians of the village to leave. The constant pressure, unrest and insecurity forced almost all Syriacs to leave their villages, towns in Turkey and take refuge in other countries of the world.
Second and final Exodus from Habses ܡܰܦܩܳܢܳܐ ܚܰܪܳܝܳܐ
The final Exodus from Habses, as well as for all other Syriac villages, began in the early 1970s and continued until 2000. During this time period, 98% of all Christians emigrated from the Tur Abdin and Mhalmayto Regions. As the list below shows, 69 Christian Mhalmoye families lived in Habses between the years 1963-2000. All have emigrated. Today, they and their descendants live in, among others, Australia, U.S., Sweden, Germany, Holland, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium.
During the first Exodus, the people fled to the geographically closest places to their villages. When they got the chance, they returned to the villages of their ancestors. However, during the second and final Exodus, this time everyone fled to Europe and the United States. The sad conclusion is that this most likely means that there is no return in sight.
In the village of Habses there is only one family today, consisting of two elderly people, Abdalla and Nisani Kurt.
I wrote the poem below called “Habses, my village” when I co-presented the TV show “Dore u Yawmotho” on the Sweden-based Suroyo TV. The program was aired on May 25, 2007. The poem describes my love and longing for my home village of Habses. Unfortunately, my children will probably never feel the warmth I felt, neither the colorful life I lived nor the long history and rich culture my home village possessed.
Ba notfe didactho d fothe masheghle e hubaydhe elakh
Ma zalge di shemsho, mbalbesiwa caynothe, mu hyoro bu shubhaydhakh
Maclu turo du Qroho [VI], d madeqwa cal Medyad, notarwo a karme u a warzaydhakh
Fothe, l Mor Shamoun Zaite ubowo, msalewo la bnothe u abnaydhakh
Manwe hawo, Kudhcat?
Habsoyo u abraydhakh
Goluyo gawe malyo
Dacer belhiqutho d hoye bshelyo ba kenfaydhakh.
B hasrayo d domekh tahti dawmo bu Ghariqaydhakh [VII]
U d shote hamro dicsir bi macsarto da karmaydhakh
U damso dmeshtace cali Mishe i goraydhakh [VIII]
U droqedh raqdho da katfotho, bi meshtutho da bnothaydhakh.
Byawmo d hemo, d omekh bu fuho d bethri citaydhakh
Manwe hawo kudhcat?
Hiyeyo. Claymo trelelakh, u dacerlakh sowo
Fsihoyo nafeq menakh, u dacerlakh kmiro
Hiyeyo u Habsoyo, dfayeshle hdho zmarto ma mo d taci. Gzomarla b qolo hniqo:
“Ya Mor Shamoun, g ducrina lokh, gducrina lokh. Gborkina Rabe u zcure qem raghlothokh [IX]”
NB: I embrace all the names used today for one and the same ethnic group, that is, today’s Syriacs, Assyrians, Arameans, Chaldeans, Maronites, Rūm, 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 Mhalmoye did before them. The demographics in the Mhalmoye Region are also changing in favor of Kurdish expansion in the region. In the original Mhalmoye towns of Midyat, Hesno d-Kifo, Sawro, and 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. 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 Habses, 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 a moderator at Suroyo TV.
Other articles in this series: Famous Mhalmoye of the Christian era, The Mhalmoye (ܡܚܠܡ̈ܝܐ) and their conversion to Christianity, The Mhalmoye (ܡܚܠܡ̈ܝܐ). Who are they?, The Mhalmoyto: its cities, villages, monasteries and churches,
Notes[I] Dolabani 1990:282; Bilge 2006:95. [II] Mardin Kirklar Kilisesi Kutuphanesi. 1870:63 [III] Sayfo ܣܰܝܦܳܐ or Year of the Sword, is the genocide committed on the Christian people of Turkey in the years 1914- 1915. In the Mhalmayto Region and in Tur Abdin the genocide took place in 1915. [IV] The story is told concordantly by different people in the village, both Christians and Muslims, Brahimo dbe Shekho-Demir (a Muslim) and Aho dbe Shaco-Celik. [V] This story was always told when our family gathered at my grandfather, Yusuf dbe Mourad (Özmen). He was an authority in the village when it came to the history and the names of the different families of the village, as well as astrology. He told me this story about Habses on an evening in February, days before he was hit by a bus in Estel, which is why this story is etched in my memory. [VI] Turo du Qroho is the name of the high plateua between Midyat and Habses. Qroho means mountain in English. [VII] Ghariq. The name of the mountain between the village of Tafo and Habses. It was the only forested mountain in the village. [VIII] Goro d Mishe was a gathering place for the male villagers where they met to play, talk or exchange ideas. [IX] The last sentence of the poem, is always sung by all Christian and Muslim Mhalmoye during their visit to the Mor Shamoun Zayte Church.
Türkiye Yer Adları Sözlüğü, Sevan Nışanyan, Liberya Yayınları, 2020.
Mıhalmi Kültürü. Etnografik bir çalışma, Otto Jastrow, Avesta, 2015.
Habsus-Turabdinde bir suryani mihallami köyu, Zakay Demir, Anadolu offset, 2013.
Makthabzabno, Numan Aydin, 1975 (manuscript)
Antakya patrikleri, Youhanon Dolabani, 1990, Saint Aprem Monastery, Holland.
Mor Gabriel manastiri tarihi, Yakub Bilge, Anadolu ofset, Istanbul, 2011.
Massakern på syrianerna i Turabdin 1914 – 1915, H. Suleyman Hinno, Syrianska riksförbundet, 1998.
Sayfo b Turcabdin 1914-1915- an noshe kmahken, Aydarbo hawi u Sayfo?, Jan Beth-Sawoce, Beth Froso Nsibin, 2006.
De kristnas hemska katastrofer- Ottomanernas och ungturkarnas folkmord i norra Mesopotamien 1895/1915-1918. Av ögonvittnett, Father Ishak Armale, Beth Froso Nsibin, 2005.
Midun-enkristen by i Turkiet, Josef Tuncay, 2007.