By Denho Bar Mourad-Özmen journalist and moderator at Suroyo TV
Macsarto ܡܰܥܣܰܪ̈ܬܐ (Ömerli)
Macsarto (Ömerli) is a city and district in Mardin province, southeastern Turkey, and is located in the historic Syriac homeland of Tur Abdin. The Syriac name Macsarto ܡܰܥܣܰܪ̈ܬܐ (in the Mhalmi Arabic vernacular معسرتة) means ‘wine press’ in the Syriac language. [I] In the city there is the Mor Ҫirçis Church (Saint George Church).
Archeological studies show interesting similarities in stone, arch, and dome architecture between the district center and the village of Beşikkaya (formerly Fafith, some 30 km west of Midyat), they are Assyrian antiquities. The Assyrian state was originally founded more south in Upper Mesopotamia. The similarities are confirmed by the ruins that archaeologists have unearthed in Harbtho d’Tawqo (Yaylatepe), Göllü (İkipınar), and Beşikkaya (Fafith).
Macsarto is the ancient city of Madaranzu in the Aramean tribal state of Bet-Zammani [II]. It was conquered by Ashurnasirpal II, King of Assyria, in 879 BC. It is mentioned by seventh-century Byzantine historiographer Theophylact Simocatta and geographer George of Cyprus as Matzaron (Greek: Ματζάρων, Latin: Mazarorum). The city was probably occupied by a Sasanian army in 573 A.D. at the siege of Dara [III], during the Roman-Sassanid War in the region between 572-591. However, Dara was recaptured, and the fort rebuilt by the Roman commanders Theodore and Andrew in 587 [IV].
Macsarto was part of the Syriac Orthodox Diocese associated with the Saint Abay Monastery [V] in the village of Qeleth (Dayro d-Mor Abay) until its last bishop, Ishoq Saliba, died in the 1730s. After that, Macsarto became part of the Diocese of Mardin. [VI] The German orientalist Eduard Sachau visited it in 1880. He writes that the village was only populated by Syriac Orthodox Mhalmoye. After the 1880s, Muslim Mhalmoye also began to settle in Macsarto. Until the Syriac genocide in 1915, however, the majority of the inhabitants of Macsarto remained Christian. All Christian Mhalmoye were murdered during the Sayfo Genocide of 1915.
Ishaq Armale writes the following about the events during the Sayfo Genocide of the Christian Mhalmoye in Macsarto:
“Macsarto is a village northeast of Mardin. 300 Syriacs lived there. They owned many vineyards and were engaged in the weaving of woolen clothes. In mid-June 1915, three men fled to the village of Bnay Bil [Benebil] and the Zahfaran Monastery. There they told the village Christians about what had happened to them and all the Christians in Macsarto. “Macsarto’s chieftain Huseyin Bakkero and the officials in Mardin have decided to exterminate the Christians of the village.”
Chief Huseyin went to the village, summoned the Christians and promised, on his honor, that he would help them flee to a safe place. When the village residents got close to his house, however, they were surprised to see many armed Kurdish murderers who had gathered there and were preparing to attack them. After entering the courtyard, they were immediately attacked, tied up and taken outside the village to a well. All the women and children were gathered there. And all were killed and the corpses thrown into the well.
Only Malke Yakub and his brother managed to escape to a nearby cave. They hid there for three days. Then they fled to Bnay Bil and from there to the Zahfaran Monastery.
Before they were murdered, the Kurds took everything the inhabitants of Macsarto owned. No distinction was made between women, children and men. Afterwards, the Kurds sat down and divided the houses, farms, shops and other possessions of the Christians among themselves.”
Those who were able to flee, escaped to Dayro d’Zahfaran. They later emigrated to Bethlehem and Jerusalem. [VII] In 2013, only three Christian families in Macsarto.
Below are the names of the villagers of Macsarto who paid the church dues in 1870, according to statistics gathered by Syriac Orthodox monk Abdallah Sadadi.
Beth Awe ܒܶܝܬܼ ܐܰܘ̈ܐ Bafawa/Kayadere
Beth Awe is located about 25 km northeast of Mardin and 15 km from the city of Sawro. Beth Awe was a very prosperous village. Its inhabitants engaged in agriculture and possessed large orchards of pomegranates, apples, figs, grapes, almonds, and walnuts. The village had springs of running water for the irrigation of vegetable corps.
The name Beth Awe is a Syriac (Aramaic) origin name. It means the place or village of the little wolves.
In the village there were two churches. Saint Mary’s Church in the middle of the village. It lies in ruins today. And, Saint Malke’s Church, located in a large cave in the rock on the east side of the village.
According to monk Abdallah Sadadi, only Syriacs lived in the village until 1915. Priest Ishak Armale writes the following about the Sayfo Genocide of 1915 in Beth Awe;
“When the news of the genocide reached the Christians in Beth Awe, they were shocked and confused. For two days they sat together, paralyzed. Then they were attacked by chieftain Huseyin and his men. Huseyin and his men forced themselves into the houses and attacked the villagers without making any distinction between women, children and men. They slaughtered them with various weapons. They killed all the Christians, stole their property and left the houses abandoned. The dead bodies were left to rot, without even burying them.
“Of all the Christians, three men managed to escape to the village of Bnay Bil, where they warned the inhabitants of what would be awaiting the Christian village of Bnay Bil.”
After the Sayfo, the few Christians who had returned to Beth Awe, like all other Christian villages, were forced to take in Muslim families in the village: to “protect” them from the Kurds of nearby villages or the persecution by Muslim Mhalmoye. Perhaps they hoped they would be left alone and live in peace. But the persecutions and provocations did not stop there. The families who let the returned Syriac Mhalmoye live in the village also resorted to harassment and oppression. The last family to sell all its land and properties and turn its back on the village once and for all, emigrated to Lebanon in 1969.
Below monk Abdallah Sadadi’s statistics of the families that lived in the village in 1870.
Harbtho d’Gargnose ܚܰܪܒܬܼܐ ܕ ܓܪ̈ܓܢܳܣܶܐ
The name of the village comes from a fruit-bearing tree. In the Syriac language the village is called Harbtho d’Gargnose which in English can be translated to the ruins or village of the Hawthorn. Its original name during the Assyrian Empire from around 2400 years B.C., until even in the first centuries of Christianity was Kfar Nineh ܟܦܰܪ ܢܝܢܶܗ. The Mahlmoye call the village Kherbet Gargnes خربة كركنس which is a direct translation from the Syriac name. In 1923, in the Turkification campaign by the newly found Turkish state to change all placenames into Turkish ones, the name of Harbtho d’Gargnose was changed to Aliçli. The word Aliçli also means Gargnose ܓܪ̈ܓܢܳܣܶܐ.
The village is located 35 km from the city of Mardin and 12 km from Macsarto.
In The History of the Monastery of Mor Gabriel it says the following about Harbtho d’Gargnose [VIII];
“The Byzantine emperor Anastasius, who ruled in the 5th century, donated six villages whose names begin with Kfar ܟܦܰܪ , meaning village, to the Mor Gabriel Monastery. These villages were; Kfar Shomac, Kfar Callab, Kfar Celo, Kfar Heworo (Kfarhwar), Kfar Nineh, and Kafro.”
Monk Abdallah Sadadi visited the village and writes in his book (page 159) that the following families paid the church dues in Harbtho d’Gargnose; Hanne Shabo, Mourad Malke, Denho, Mekko and Ishoc. All these families were murdered in 1915 during the Sayfo Genocide. That is, except the Denho family. To save the lives of its members and their lands, the Denho family chose to convert to Islam. This family still lives in Harbtho d’Gargnose and is now a large family. It is still called Beyt Denho.
As I already mentioned in previous articles, there were more families living in all the Mhalmoyto villages I wrote about, but these do not appear in the statistics because they could or did not pay the church dues.
After Sayfo, several families from, among others, Habses and Bote moved to the Harbtho d’Gargnose. These families lived there until the 1970s. The last extended family, i.e., consisting of several families, to leave the village was the Batan family. They since live in Södertälje Sweden.
The village had a church called Mor Osyo. It now lies in ruin. The village mosque was built in the middle of the village. On the western side of the mosque lived the Christian Mhalmoye and on its eastern side their Muslim brothers.
Raqdho da katfotho ܪܰܩܕܳܐ ܕܰܐ ܟܰܬܦ̈ܬܼܐ
In my previous article on Sawro, I wrote about the Raqdho da Katfotho, a shoulder dance typical of the Mhalmoyto region. The shoulder dance danced by the men is called Mzaqfo ܡܙܰܩܦܳܐ. The women’s shoulder dance is called Mshaflo, ܡܫܰܦܠܳܐ, a typical light Mhalmoye dance. In the video below a taste of Raqdho da Katfotho.
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.
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 cities of Midyat, Hesno d-Kifo, Sawro, and Macsarte, the Mhalmoye have become a minority.
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, Habses ܚܰܒܣܶܣ – an important village in the Mhalmayto Region (part II), The Mhalmoyto city of Hesno d’Kifo ܚܣܢܳܐ ܕ ܟܐܺܦܳܐ, The Mhalmoyto city of Sawro ܨܰܘܪܐ
Notes[I] The Arameans. Their Ancient History, Culture, Religion, Edward Lipiński, Uitgeverij Peeters, 2000. [II] Idem [III] The history of Theophylact Simocatta: an English translation with introduction and notes, Michael and Mary Whitby, Clarendon Press, 1986. [IV] Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume 1, Part 1: Political and Militairy History, Irfan Shahîd, Dumbarton Oaks, 1995. [V] Dayro d-Mor Abay, Thomas A. Carlson, 6 February 2014. See The Syriac Gazetteer of 15 May 2020. [VI] Isḥoq Ṣaliba, George A. Liraz, Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Gorgias Press, 2011. [VII] “We are the mother of the Arabs” : articulating Syriac Christian selfhood in Bethlehem, Mark Daniel Calder, 2015. [VIII] Maktab zabne d-ʿumro qadišo d-Qarṭmin, P. Y. Dolapönü, Mardin, 1959, in Syriac. In Turkish see Dayrul-umur tarihi, Istanbul, 1971.
The Arameans. Their Ancient History, Culture, Religion, Edward Lipiński, Uitgeverij Peeters, 2000.
The history of Theophylact Simocatta: an English translation with introduction and notes, Michael and Mary Whitby, Clarendon Press, 1986.
Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume 1, Part 1: Political and Militairy History, Irfan Shahîd, Dumbarton Oaks, 1995.
Dayro d-Mor Abay, Thomas A. Carlson, 6 February 2014. See The Syriac Gazetteer of 15 May 2020.
Isḥoq Ṣaliba, George A. Liraz, Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Gorgias Press, 2011.
“We are the mother of the Arabs” : articulating Syriac Christian selfhood in Bethlehem, Mark Daniel Calder, 2015.
Türkiye Yer Adları Sözlüğü, Sevan Nışanyan, Liberya Yayınları, 2020.
Maktab zabne d-ʿumro qadišo d-Qarṭmin, P. Y. Dolapönü, Mardin, 1959, in Syriac. In Turkish see Dayrul-umur tarihi, Istanbul, 1971.
Bacdh Belad wa Qura, Sanat 1870, Syriac Orthodox monk Abdallah Stuf Sadadi, statistics of families paying church dues in Tur Abdin in 1870.
Ögonvittne till de kristnas hemska katastrofer- Osmanernas och ungturkarnas folkmord i norra Mesopotamien, 1895/1914-1918, Fr Ishak Armale, Nsibins bokförlag, 2005.
Short description of the etymological names of Mhalmoye villages by Fr Abraham Garis, Fr Abraham Garis.
De spridda pärlorna, Ignatios Aphrem I Barsoum, Alfa print, Sundbyberg, 2006.