By Denho Bar Mourad-Özmen journalist and moderator at Suroyo TV
The village of Kfar Shomac ܟܦܰܪܫܳܡܰܥ (Turkish: Budakli)
The village of Kfar Shomac ܟܦܰܪܫܳܡܰܥ is located on an old caravan road between Midyat and Nsibin. In the seventeenth century, the village, like several other villages, belonged to the Mor Gabriel monastery. [I] Today about 300 families live in the once completely Mhalmayto village. The current population consists of Muslim Mhalmoye and Kurds.
The village of Kfar Shomac was one of the last Mhalmoye villages around the central Mhalmoyto city of Midyat to be Islamized. According to former Christian residents, who later lived in the Qalatch neighborhood of Midyat – ‘Shawtho du Qalatch’ ܫܰܘܬܼܳܐ ܕܘ ܩܰܠܰܓ݉ – until the 1970s, the reason they left their village was because of the recurring terror and persecution by the village Kurds. That is what the descendants of the Malke Mire family told me. They currently live in Sweden. Their elders always recounted of the Kurds who settled in the village at the end of the nineteenth century. These Kurds were notorious for their cruelty and barbarity compared to the Kurds who lived among Christian Mhalmoye in other villages.
Helga Anschütz (1985) writes that “the Kurds of Kfar Shomac lived among other things from attacking surrounding Christian villages, confiscating their livestock, stealing and confiscating their property, destroying their crops and harassing the daughters of Christians.”
Kfar Shomac is of significant importance in the history of the Syriac Church. There were several churches and at least three monasteries. Many famous writers, calligraphers and theologians were trained in these monasteries.
In 1549, the famous Maferyono Mor Shamoun I (ܡܰܦܶܪܝܳܢܳܐ ܫܶܡܥܘܢ ܩܰܕܡܳܝܳܐ), son of Salukh, was initiated in the Mor Gewargis (Saint George) church. Kfar Shomac also had the Mort Februniya, Mor Harqel, Mor Eshacyo and Mor Yahqub monastery, and, last but not least, the famous Mor Sharbel monastery – now the village mosque. The Maferyono resided in the Mor Sharbel monastery. [II] The St Sharbel monastery housed many monks until 1583. After those times, the Christian Mhalmoye began to flee the village, creating room for Kurdish clan members to settle in their houses and seize their fields and vineyards. The families who did not convert to Islam cleared the village and later settled in the abovementioned Qalatch neighborhood in Midyat. This neighborhood is sometimes also named after the Be Malke Mire and Be Haydari families.
Shorezbah ܫܳܪܶܙܒܰܚ (Çavuşlu)
The history of Shorezbah dates back to the first settlements established in the area in the third century BC. According to A. Vahap in his book Midyat, City of Religions and Languages, Shorezbah was a gathering place for clan and religious leaders of the Christian Mhalmoye. [III] Among elderly Christian Mhalmoye, Shorezbah is indeed known for its central location in the eastern Mhalmayto Region. Leaders from surrounding villages would gather there to consult each other in case of danger for the villages, or whenever there were disagreements between the villages.
The decision to mass convert to Islam in order to spare the lives of their children from Nasuh Pasha, was probably taken in Shorezbah. The leaders from the villages of Aphshe, Qendarbe (Kenderib), Haldah, Estel, Dayro Zbino, Tafo, Barbunes, Qartmin, and Dayro d’Debo (Yolagzi), as usual, gathered in Shorezbah. They consulted with each other in the presence of Shorezbah’s Bishop Yusuf Kfarheworoyo (ܚܰܣܝܳܐ ܝܰܘܣܶܦ ܟܦܰܪ ܚܶܘܳܪܝܳܐ) in the late sixteenth century. [IV] It is said that it was Bishop Yusuf who advised them to convert to Islam to save their honor, property and children. Later, the Bishop himselfon, riding his white horse, moved to the Mor Gabriel Monastery. [V]
However, not everyone converted. Some chose to leave their village and everything they owned in the form of land, orchards and houses behind. They fled to other Christian places. Examples of one of these families is the Beth Elo family. In Shorezbah they went by the name Beth Kahle, but in Midyat they were called Beth Elo. “One of the [Beth Elo] brothers was a priest. He and another brother settled in Midyat. The youngest brother, however, converted to Islam and remained in the village,” reports Numan Aydin in his book Makthabzabno ܡܰܬܼܒܙܰܒܢܳܐ. [VI]
Dayro Zbino ܕܝܪܐ ܙܒܝܢܐ is one of the larger villages in the Eastern Mhalmoyto Region, located about 3 km northwest of Midyat on the main road between Midyat and Mardin, which is the largest city of the Mhalmoyto Region. Dayro Zbino is built on a slope and surrounded by fertile grounds. In the Turkification campaign of the 1920s, the Turkish government changed the village name to Acirli, after the famous cucumbers of the village. [VII] Dayro Zbino’s cucumbers (Syriac: Farhe) ripen in early spring and are sold well ahead of the Farhe of other villages.
Dayro Zbino is built around the monastery of the village’s patron saint Mor Zbino ܡܳܪܝ݈ ܙܒܝܢܳܐ. This monastery was a sister monastery to the Mor Yahqub Hbishoyo Monastery in Saleh (Barisköy) and built in the same architectural style. The Mor Zbino monastery was converted into a mosque (Ulu Cami) in the late 1950’s. The minaret of the Ulu Cami is a typical example of the regional Syriac building tradition. The architect and construction workers came from Midyat and were Syriacs supervised by the famous builder Malke d’Beth Braham. In the courtyard of the mosque, one can still find the large Syriac-inscribed stones of the old monastery. Until today the monastery’s well is called Jib l’biâ جب البيعة or ‘well of the church.’ The second well of the monastery is even called by its original Syriac name Jib l’layt جب الليت or ‘the empty well.’ Likewise, the fields around the village are still called ‘Wata’ ܘܰܛܰܐ. [VIII] Under the old monastery church, i.e., the current mosque, one can still visit the Hatra Cave ܡܥܰܪܰܬܼ ܚܰܛܪܰܐ or ‘Mgahret hatra’ مغرة حطرة as it is called in Mhalmi Arabic [IX].
There was also another church in Dayro Zbino dedicated to the martyrs St. Shmuni and her six children. This church is also converted into a mosque, but even today you can distinguish seven graves painted in green. The inhabitants of Dayro Zbino call St. Shmuni, Um Al Sabca ام االسبعة.
Numan Aydin writes in Makthabzabno (p. 124), that: “The village of Dayro Zbino is named after its patron saint’s name Mor Zbino. In the village live 380 families. The inhabitants of the village became Hagaroye ܗܰܓܰܪ̈ܳܝܶܐ , i.e., converted to Islam, in 1590.”
According to oral tradition, often retold to us by our elders in my home village of Habses, Dayro Zbino in the early seventeenth century consisted of two large families. These two families are mentioned today by the elders as the genus of Sharbeniye and the genus of Zayto, which are Syriac names.
Even after the forced Islamization of the Dayro Zbino population between 1590-1618, the locals kept the Mor Zbino monastery intact and protected it from dilapidation and destruction. They revered it as a holy site until they built the mosque on the same site in the 1960s.
Residents of these two Christian Dayro Zbino families who refused to convert to Islam fled to other Christian villages in Tur Abdin, including the village of Zaz and Kafro Celayto (Upper Kafro). The families kept in contact with each other well into the 1970s. [X]
The villages of Habses (Mercimekli), Dayro Zbino (Acirli), and Tafo (Eristi) served as sister villages and had mixed families. Their lands overlapped and they lived in fine neighborliness, even after conversion to Islam. Several Christian Mhalmoye from Habses were even rescued during the Sayfo Genocide in 1915 by intervention of their Muslim Mhalmoye brothers from Dayro Zbino, who risked their own lives if it ever came to the attention of the Ottoman authorities and Kurdish clans. Among those who were saved, I want to mention the well-known Syriac Orthodox priest Isa, who was known as Father Matta in Qamishli, Syria.
I myself witnessed in the 1970s many Muslim Mhalmoye making pilgrimages to the Mor Shamoun d’Zayte church in Habses to pray and drink from the water from the church’s Qdholo wellܓܘܒܳܐ ܕܘ ܩܕܳܠܳܐ.
The three sister villages share many common traditions that reveal the residents’ Christian background. Together they celebrate what they call in Mhalmi Arabic ‘Jimcit Maryam’ جمعة مريم, or Mary’s Friday, in memory of Jesus’ mother. They use the same red and white intertwined threads on the day of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary (called Siboro ܣܝܼܒܳܪܳܐ in the Syriac language). These intertwined threads represent life, and the rebirth of nature in spring, when everything sprouts and grows. The threads are worn around the wrist and burned later with the ashes scattered over the lands or hidden under a tree in the fields in the hope that it will bless the crops and orchards.
The Christian and Muslim Mhalmoye residents of Habses, Dayro Zbino, and Tafo also make ritual visits together to cult places. The celebrations as the Ziyara d’Tafo and Ziyara d’Beste, or visits to the Mor Shamoun Church, are called ‘Ziyara’ in Mhalmi Arabic زيارة and ‘Sahro’ ܫܰܗܪܳܐ in Syriac.
The city of Midyat used to be divided in two parts. In the east, there was the city of Midyat proper and in the west the district of Estel. In 1970, 90 percent of Midyat was Christian while Estel was 90 percent Muslim.
According to Numan Aydin (p. 123) the name Estel comes from the word ‘Ashtal’ ܐܰܫܬܠ. According to Fr Abraham Garis, Midyat was once a plantation and the word Estel means plantation, which makes sense because of its location in a fertile agricultural area.
Today, Estel has fully merged with the city of Midyat (see map). [XI]
Numan Aydin further writes (p. 123) that the Mor Yakub Mfasko church in Estel was converted into a mosque. [XII] Christian oral tradition recalls another church named Mor Shamoun d’Stune located in the northern part of Estel. In this church a ‘Qayim’ ܩܰܝܶܡ (pillar) could be found, similar to the one found in Mor Loozor Monastery in the neighboring village of Habses.
Many Christian Mhalmoye lived in Estel. The last Christian family to move to Midyat in the 1950s was the dbe Ҫibro family. Until the 1970s, several craft businesses were still owned there by Christians. The craftsmen and entrepreneurs I knew in Estel were Safar dbe Kurka (blacksmith), Abe dbe Mashalla (shoemaker), and Habib dbe Salhayto (tailor).
Estel and the Christian Sayfo Genocide
Many residents of Estel helped Christian Mhalmoye during the Year of the Sword in 1915 by sheltering them, hiding them in their homes or keeping them on as servants, all to avoid them being killed in the ongoing genocide. This despite their knowledge that such an act could cause them major problems with the Ottoman authorities or the Kurds if revealed. Unfortunately, not all inhabitants of Estel helped the Christian Mhalmoye. Some of them were actively involved in the genocide of their Christian brothers.
Below I would like to recount a tragic story that ended happily for two Christian Mhalmoye who were saved by people from Estel.
The Hadji Ahmad family from Estel was wealthy and had a son with the rank of captain in the Ottoman army. The family rescued a Christian man named Lahdo from the village of Habses. They kept him as a family servant so that no one would harm him. He served the family and herded their animals. Lahdo secretly said his Christian prayers in the stables. Meanwhile, mass deportation of Christians from Adana south to Dayr el-Zor in Syria began. During the deportation marches, Ottoman soldiers tortured and raped girls and women. The Kurds, in turn, came to confiscate their possessions and clothing. Among these deported women was a beautiful young girl named Meryem. The captain liked her and wanted to protect her. When the deportation march of women and children neared Midyat, the captain took the girl from the group and left her with his family in Estel. He asked his family to protect and care for her. Meryem’s two sisters had been raped and murdered during the deportation march. The captain wanted to save Meryem to clear his conscience. Meryem stayed with the family in Estel.
Meryem cried constantly and told her story to us, the children in my village of Habses. Here is a shortened version of what I personally have heard several times from Meryem herself.
“I kept myself close to the boy Lahdo and we served the family who had mercy on us. One day I happened to go into the stable and saw Lahdo standing there. He was praying and making the sign of the cross. I crept up to him and asked if he was a Christian. “Speak silently! Someone might hear you,” he said. “Yes, I am a Christian.” I told him I was also a Christian.”
When the captain came home on leave, he called me to him. It was the first time that I was allowed to enter the beautiful living room of the Hadji Ahmad family. The captain asked how his family treated me? Was I treated kindly? He wondered how I felt. Was his family nice to me? I replied with tears in my eyes that they were very nice to me. He smiled at me and ran his hand over my hair. “If you need anything or someone makes you sad, come to me,” he said. Then he gestured with his hand and told me to go to the kitchen.
Lahdo and I stayed with the family until peace was proclaimed by Sheikh Fathallah. The Christians slowly began to return from their hiding places to their villages. They rebuilt their houses, started cultivating their lands again, and acquired farm animals. Everyone was tired, emaciated and traumatized like me.
One day, Lahdo snuck up to me in the kitchen and declared his love for me. I was very happy but was afraid to reveal that we were in love with each other. There were days when Lahdo and I met in secret because we were afraid of being discovered.
After a long time, the captain came home one day on leave. He called me over and asked how I was doing. I replied that everything was going fine with his family. He told me that he knew I was from Adana and that I was a Christian. Lahdo came from a farm in a neighboring village, he said. “He is also, like you, a Christian. Did you know that?” “No,” I replied. “Yes,” he said.
Time passed and we discovered that many Christians came to Estel to trade and do their shopping. Lahdo’s relatives also happened to come from Habses to do their shopping. Lahdo met them. His family wanted to take him back home. But Lahdo was in love with me. He did not want to leave me and move back to the village. We met in secret. One day Lahdo came to me and told me that the genocide was over, and the surviving Christians were returning to their villages. “My family wants me to move back home to my village Habses. But I am in love with you. Will you marry me? I will stay until the captain comes home on leave. We will ask him together to give us our freedom. We will need to tell him too that we love each other and want to get married.”
After some time, the captain came home. Lahdo and I went to him. He offered us to sit on their beautiful sofa for the first time. We told him we were in love and thanked him for all the good he and his family did for us. We also asked for his blessing and allow us our freedom, to marry, and return to Habses where Lahdo’s family lived. He looked at us with a smile. At first, we were afraid. But then he smiled again and said; “You deserve freedom and love. I myself will be responsible for your marriage. Prepare yourselves. Next Sunday we will go together to the church in Midyat, where we will marry you. Lahdo, you can also invite your relatives to Midyat.”
Can you imagine the joy and relief I experienced at that moment? The next day, Lahdo went to Habses and informed his surviving relatives about our history.
The following Sunday, the captain stood in front of us in the company of some his soldiers. We walked to Midyat which was three kilometers away. In Midyat, I met Lahdo’s relatives. The priest who was to marry us disappeared out of fear of marrying us. But the captain went to the monastery and fetched a monk instead. He assured the monk that no harm would come to him.
No Muslim would dare go against the captain as this was the order of a captain in the Ottoman army.
After we got to Habses, it took me more than a year to realize that all this was true and that it had not been a dream of mine.
This is how Meryem ended her story. Meryem told this story almost daily to everyone she met. In Habses, Lahdo and she lived a happy life. Meryem’s children and grandchildren, who go by the surname Belge, now live scattered in Sweden, Belgium and Switzerland.
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 , The Mhalmoyto Region: Macsarto (Ömerli), Beth Awe (Kayadere), and Harbtho d’Gargnose (Aliçli)
Notes[I] Mor Gabriel Tarihi. [II] Maferyono ܡܰܦܶܪܝܳܢܳܐ is the name of the church’s next highest rank after the patriarch. [III] Midyat Dinler ve Diller Kenti – Midyat City of religions and languages, A. Vahap, Hedef gazetesi ve matbaacilik, Istanbul, 2006. [IV] The Sacrament, the Holy Baptism and Matrimony, Bar-Hebraeus Verlag, 1989, Holland. [V] This story about Shorezbah was known to many Christian Mhalmoye in the Tur Abdin region. I heard it personally from several senior and religion leaders. [VI] Makthabzabno ܡܰܬܼܒܙܰܒܢܳܐ History, Numan Aydin, handwritten manuscript, Midyat, 1975. Page 113. [VII] ‘Farhe’ ܦܰܪ̈ܚ̈ܶܐ are cucumbers that grow without any irrigation as opposed to the green cucumbers. These Farhe are hairy. These cucumbers are called ‘Farhe’ ܦܰܪ̈ܚ̈ܶܐ in the Syriac language and ‘Acir’ in Turkish. In the Mhalmoyto Arabic vernacular عجّور. [VIII] Wata in the Syriac language means straight plain with rich arable land. [IX] Hatra means cane or staff. [X] You can read more about these genera in the article named Elath in the Qolo d´Tur Abdin magazine of 1997 (Voice of Tur Abdin, 1997). [XI] H. Abraham Garis, brief description of the etymological name of Mhalmoye villages. [XII] Makthabzabno ܡܰܬܼܒܙܰܒܢܳܐ, Numan Aydin, handwritten manuscript, Midyat, 1975. Page 113.
Short description of the etymological names of Mhalmoye villages by Fr Abraham Garis, Fr Abraham Garis.
The Sacrament, The Holy Baptism and Matrimony, Bar-Hebraeus Verlag, Holland, 1989.
Elath, in Qolo d’Tur Abdin (Voice of Tur Abdin) magazine, 1997.
Midyat-The city of Religions And Languages, A.Vahap IS., Hedef gazetesi ve matbaacilik, Istanbul, 2006.
Makthabzabno ܡܰܬܼܒܙܰܒܢܳܐ, Numan Aydin, handwritten manuscript, Midyat, 1975. Page 113.
Massakern på syrianerna i Turabdin 1914 – 1915, Fr. Suleyman Henno, Syrianska riksförbundet, 1998.
Maktab zabne d-ʿumro qadišo d-Qarṭmin, P. Y. Dolapönü, Mardin, 1959, in Syriac. In Turkish see Dayrul-umur tarihi, Istanbul, 1971.