Tur Abdin

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Map of Tur Abdin showing Syriac villages and monasteries. Operational monasteries are indicated by red crosses, and abandoned monasteries are indicated by orange crosses. Tur Abdin.svg
Map of Tur Abdin showing Syriac villages and monasteries. Operational monasteries are indicated by red crosses, and abandoned monasteries are indicated by orange crosses.

Tur Abdin (Syriac : ܛܘܼܪ ܥܒ݂ܕܝܼܢ; Arabic : طَوْرُ عبدين) is a hilly region situated in southeast Turkey, including the eastern half of the Mardin Province, and Şırnak Province west of the Tigris, on the border with Syria. The name 'Tur Abdin' is derived from Syriac, meaning "mountain of the servants (of God)". Tur Abdin is of great importance to the Syriac Orthodox, for whom the region used to be a monastic and cultural heartland. [1] The Syriac community of Tur Abdin call themselves Suryoye, and traditionally speak a central Neo-Aramaic dialect called Turoyo. [2] [3]




The town of Midyat and the villages of Hah, Bequsyone, Dayro da-Slibo, Salah (with the old monastery of Mor Yaqub), Iwardo (with Mor Huschabo), Anhel, Kafro, Arkah (Harabale, with Dayro Mor Malke), Beth Sbirino, Miden (Middo), Kerburan, Binkelbe with Mor Samun Zayte and Beth Zabday (Azech) were all important Syriac Orthodox places among with countless other villages. Hah has the ancient 'Idto d'Yoldath-Aloho, the Church of the Mother of God.


Portal of the Mor Gabriel Monastery Mor gabriel portal inscriptions.jpg
Portal of the Mor Gabriel Monastery


In the 9th century BCE the Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II described crossing the plateau of Tur Abdin (which he calls "Kashyari") on his way to attack the region of Nairi. Assyrian source from the 9th century BC; where it is called "Kashyari". [4] In 586 B.C. the prophet Ezekiel mentions the famed wine of Izlo, on the southern edge of the plateau of Tur Abdin, in his prophecy against Tyre. The Mor Gabriel Monastery, the oldest Assyrian (Syrian Orthodox) church in the world, was founded in 397 by the ascetic Mor Shmu'el (Samuel) and his student Mor Shem'un (Simon). According to tradition, Shem'un had a dream in which an Angel commanded him to build a House of Prayer in a location marked with three large stone blocks. When Shem'un awoke, he took his teacher to the place and found the stone the angel had placed. At this spot Mor Gabriel Monastery was built. [5]


During World War I, 300,000 Syriac Christians were killed in the Ottoman Empire's [Syriac Genocide] (called in Syriac Sayfo, simply 'the sword'). In the last few decades, caught between Turkish assimilation policies against Kurds, and Kurdish resistance, many Syriacs have fled the region or been killed. Today there are only 5,000, a quarter of the Christian population thirty years ago. Most have fled to Syria (where the city of Qamishli was built by them), Europe (particularly Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands), Australia and the United States. In the past few years, a few families have returned to Tur Abdin. [6]

Assyrian resistance in Tur Abdin during WW1

Prior to the start of World War I, the village of Gülgöze had about 200 families, and all were ethnic Assyrians that belonged to the Syriac Orthodox Church. During the Assyrian Genocide, tens of thousands of refugees from throughout Tur Abdin arrived here for safety. At one point, the number of Assyrians in the village was up to 21,980 people. Refugees arrived from villages including Habasnos, Midyat, Bote, Keferze, Kafro Eloyto, Mzizah and Urnas. Even refugees from outside Tur Abdin arrived, coming from villages such as Deqlath, Bscheriye, Gozarto, Hesno d Kifo and Mifarqin.

Being aware of the Turks and Kurds coming to Gülgöze, the Assyrian villagers and refugees created a militia to defend themselves, which was led by Masud Mirza, the son of a Melik. Their resistance lasted 60 days, and ended in success. [7]

At the same time, the Kurdish authority of Midyat was given orders to attack Gülgöze and Arnas. However, Aziz Agha, the leader of the Midyat area, told them that they didn't have enough soldiers to attack both areas, and therefore they would attack Gulgoze only, and then go to Arnas later on. Therefore, The Kurds of Tur Abdin and Ramman, under the generalship of Ahmed Agha and Salem Agha, collected themselves in Mardin, and created a unit of 13,000 men. The government authorized the distribution of arms, and they headed towards Gülgöze, arriving late at night to begin the siege.

After hours of gun-battle, the Assyrians defeated the Kurds and drove them out, but there were many casualties on both sides regardless. After 10 days, The Kurds attacked again only to be beaten yet again, as they lost well over 300 men. Before the beginning of a third attempt, Kurdish leaders called for aid from the mayors of Diyarbakır(Raschid) and Mardin(Badri). However, A third attempt also failed and after 30 days of battle, Aziz Agha suggested a peace treaty between the two sides. 3 Assyrians met with Aziz to discuss a peace treaty, But the Assyrians refused to lay down their weapons, thus the battle continued. The siege continued for another 30 days leading to many deaths on both sides. In the end, the Kurdish soldiers surrendered and left the Assyrians of Tur Abdin alone, hence why the Tur Abdin region is one of the only Christian populated areas left in Turkey outside of Istanbul. The total death toll of this 60-day siege is unknown, but there were at least 1,000 deaths with both sides losses combined.

Recent conflicts

On 10 February 2006 and the following day, large demonstrations took place in the city of Midyat in Tur Abdin. Muslims angry about the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons gathered in Estel, the new part of the city, and started to march towards the old part of Midyat (6 kilometers away), where the Christians live. The mob was stopped by the police before reaching old Midyat.

In 2008 a series of legal challenges were made against the monastery of Mor Gabriel. Some local Kurdish villages sought to claim land on which the monastery had paid taxes since the 1930s as belonging to the villages, and made other accusations against the monastery. This led to considerable diplomatic and Human Rights action throughout Europe and within Turkey. [8]


Mor Hananyo Monastery, or The Saffron Monastery in English Mor Hananyo.jpg
Mor Hananyo Monastery, or The Saffron Monastery in English

The most important Syriac Orthodox centre in Tur Abdin is the monastery of Dayro d-Mor Hananyo, 6 km south east of Mardin, in the west of the region. Built from yellow rock, the monastery is affectionately known as Dayro d Kurkmo in Syriac, Dayr al-Zafaran in Arabic, or Deyrülzafarân in Turkish: the Safron Monastery. Founded in AD 493, the monastery was the residence of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch from 1160 to 1932. Although the patriarch now lives in Damascus the monastery still contains the patriarchal throne and tombs of seven patriarchs and metropolitans. Today the monastery is led by a bishop and a monk and some lay assistants, and is a school for orphans. The bishop of Mor Hananyo is also the patriarchal vicar of Mardin. His goal is to rebuild the monastery and to preserve the history of the Syriac Orthodox church. The Dayro d-Mor Hananyo is part of the UNESCO world cultural heritage and was visited by numerous celebrities e.g. like Prince Charles.

In the centre of the Tur Abdin region, a few miles south of Midyat, is Dayro d-Mor Gabriel. Built in AD 397, Mor Gabriel monastery, is the oldest functioning Syriac Orthodox monastery on earth. It is the residence of the Metropolitan Bishop of Tur Abdin, seven nuns, four monks and a host of guests, assistants and students. The monastery is charged with keeping the flame of Syriac Orthodox faith alive in Tur Abdin, for which it is as much a fortress as a church. [9]

The Saffron and Mor Gabriel monasteries are the most important of the region, existing along with six or seven other active monasteries:

Notable people

See also

Related Research Articles

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Mor Yulios Elias Qoro

Mor Yulios Elias Qoro (Elias Mar Julius) (1881–1962) was a Syriac Orthodox Church Bishop and the third Patriarchal delegate to Malankara. Born as Elias Malke Qoro at Mardin on August 1, 1881,educated at school of the Church of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. He joined Dairo d-Kurkmo(Mor Hananyo Monastery) in 1902, and became a monk on 16 June 1905. He was appointed secretary to Patriarch Ignatius Abded Aloho II in 1906, and was ordained kashisho in 1908.He met King Edward VI twice. He became abbot of Mor Hananyo Monastery in 1911, and was appointed director of its printing press.He was consecrated bishop on 23 September 1923 in the Church of the Forty Martyrs by Patriarch Ignatius Elias III,appointed to serve in Malankara. He served as Patriarchal Delegate to Malankara in 1927. In 1932, he established Mor Ignatius Dayro Manjinikkara on the tomb of Patriarch Elias III at Omallur, Kerala. He established and approved order for various monasteries and churches in Kerala. He died in 1962 at Omallur, Kerala,India and was buried at Mor Ignatius Dayro Manjinikkara.


  1. Aphram I. Barsoum; Ighnāṭyūs Afrām I (Patriarch of Antioch) (2008). The History of Tur Abdin. Gorgias Press. ISBN   978-1-59333-715-5.
  2. The Middle East, abstracts and index, Part 1. Library Information and Research Service. Northumberland Press, 2002. Page 491.
  3. Central Asia and the Caucasus: transnationalism and diaspora. Touraj Atabaki, Sanjyot Mehendale. Routledge, 2005. Page 228.
  4. From Kibaki I set out and approached Matiate (Midyat). Matiate and its villages I overcame . . . For six days in the midst of the mighty mountain of Kashyari (Tur Abdin) - a difficult country . . . I worked that mountain with iron axes . . . Then I caused my chariots . . . to pass over it . . . I passed mount Kashyari and came a second time to the lands of Nairi.
  5. Tur Abdin Timeline Archived 2015-04-19 at the Wayback Machine
  6. "Assyrians who fled to Europe return to homes in Turkey's Mardin".
  7. Gaunt, David; Bet̲-Şawoce, Jan (1 January 2006). Massacres, Resistance, Protectors: Muslim-Christian Relations in Eastern Anatolia During World War I. Gorgias Press LLC. p. 348. ISBN   978-1-59333-301-0.
  8. The Case of the St. Gabriel Syriac Monastery in Midyat, Turkey , 2010.
  9. Delcogliano, Mark. "Syriac Monasticism in Tur Abdin: A Present-Day Account".Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. "Kirche unterwegs – Reiseblogs aus der Evangelischen Kirche von Westfalen".
  11. http://souf.nu/tur-abdin-resan-2014-dag-9-10.Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. https://www.aina.org/ata/2013101916954.htm.Missing or empty |title= (help)

Coordinates: 37°24′N41°29′E / 37.400°N 41.483°E / 37.400; 41.483