professor Hans Hollerweger
(The Preface of the book)
Towards the middle of the 1980s friends showed me Turabdin. I
visited it again and again in the company of others until,
gradually, I bacame familiar with this world, so foreign to a
European. Understanding opened the hearts of the inhabitants too –
andthose hearts were full of worries and fears.
felt themselves to be forgotten and abandoned. Many had left their
native area and had emigrated to the West in hope of finding a
secure future. Those who remained were in need of a feeling
solidarity, which I tried to give to them through the organization
"Friends od Turabdin". So, little by little, a strong link eas
forget between the inhabitants od this region on the Tigris and us.
The name Turabdin ("The Mountain of the Servants") was taken over by
the Romans from older peoples in the MiddleEast Later on, it
reffered to the monks in the many monasteries which had been founded
there from the fourth century onwards and which, from a Christian
viewpoint, converted Turabdin into "The Mountain of the Servants of
God". Today this high limestone plateau in southeast Turkey, between
the Tigris and the Syrian border, with its hills and valleys, seems
remote. But, once upon a time, Romans and Byzantine emperors,
reigning in Rome or Constantinople, ruled not only over regions and
countries in the West, but also over Turabdin in the East. This
far-off region has long captured public attention, at one time as a
stronghold on the border of the Empire, later on as the centre of
the Syriac Church and nowadays as a cornerstone of Christianity in
the middle East
inhabitants of Turabdin impress me most of all by their originality
and simplicity, by their attachment to their native soil, by their
fortitude in difficult times, by their self-confidence and lack of
pretentiousness. In daily life they use the language spoken by
Jesus, an Aramaic dialect which is now known as Turyoyo. This makes
them the bearers of an uninterrupted tradition from the beginnings
of Christianity until the present day. Here, on the plateau of
Turabdin, formerly isolated and cut off from the world, they have
been able to preserve their culture, a culture which cannot be
transferred to any other region. In very early times Christianity
was preached in Turabdin. We know of a bishop in Beth Zabday (Azakh)
in 120 A.D. (Often erroneously Gziro [Cizre] was given the name Beth
Zabaday). The monks, however, who finally converted the inhabitants
of Turabdin to Christianity in the fourth century taught them to
live ascetic lives. In return, almost every town and village built
its own monastery, which they visited in search of advice and
strenght in difficulties, and to honour the saints buried there. As
a result, a religious people developed, deeply influenced by
Christianity, that supported their monasteries and in return were
spiritually enriched by them. So up to the present day, the
monasteries are of central importance – also for the survival of the
Christians in Turabdin in our times.
present heart of Turabdin is Mor Gabriel Monastery, which in former
times was called the Monastery of Kartmin after the nearby village.
From this monastery Archbishop Timotheos Samuel Aktas administers
the diminished diocese Church and carries out many episcopal duties
in the patriarchal dependency of Mardin; the present vicar of Mardin
is Ibramhim Türker, abbot of the Monastery of Deyrulzafaran.
Although monastic life is verry varied, it is centred on the
celebration of the Liturgy. As a professor of liturgy, I have had
the opportunity of experiencing the precious legacy of the West
Syriac Liturgy, both in Mor Gabriel Monastery and at the liturgical
services in the bishop’s church, Mort Shmuni in Midyat. When the
clear voices of the boy choristers join in the powerful chanting of
the male choir in this monastery chuch dating from 512 A.D.,
unifying the liturgical room with the celebration itself, we really
become aware of the soil in which this liturgy has its roots and of
the strength in imparts. In addition to the monasteries, the
numerous ancient village churches are unique cultural treasures.
Many are already in ruins, many others of great value are empty, but
others are visited for prayers in common, three times a day,
morning, noon and evening. This rich inheritance from former times
is also a treasure for Christians of other denominations which they
should seek out, rediscover and keep.
of the Christians of Turabdin and its surroundings are members of
the Syric Orthodox Church, but there are also Christians of other
denominations there. All these Christians have a deep feeling of
affinity and celabrate the Liturgy together. Their numbers have
shrunk. Gain and again, in the course of history, they have been
endangered and their very existence has been threatened. As a result
of involvement in the conflicts of the twentieth century many have
left the region in which their ancestors had lived since pre-
Christian times. Those who remain need the solidarity of the whole
Christian world. This would give them in their belief that the
Christian faith is stronger than all opposing forces.
is important to point out that Diyarbakir, Mardin and its
surroundings, the villages in the Mesopotamian plain, Cizre and
Hasana, do not really belong to Turabdin. It seemed to make sense,
however, to include these towns and villages in this work and to
refer in the text to their independence in church matters.
publication of this illustrated volume is principally the result of
my endeavours to introduce Turabdin and, above all, the Christians
living there to a wider public. It is astounding how little is known
in the western world about the Syriac Christian tradition in the
Middle East. To a still greater extent, this applies to this
out-of-the-way plateau which had been the formative spiritual power
in the region for centuries. How often did I hear on the occasion of
my earlier visits the questioning and reproachful worlds, “Why have
we been forgotten?” Therfore, may this book be laid in the hands of
Christians of all denominations with request, “Do not forget our
brothers and sisters in distress who still speak the language of
Jesus!” In order to reach as many readers as possible it seemed best
to provide the text in three languages.
Turabdin possesses inestimableand incomparable cultural treasures
which of right should be regarded as part of the world culural
heritage. As a result it ought to be a task to make them available
to others and a duty to preserve these treasures. This is the task
and duty of leading persons in political and cultural life in
Turkey, but also in the whole world. The old monastery buildings,
the distinctive style of the churches and the Aramaic language,
which is still spoken there, belong to the cultural inheritance of
humankind, which should be protected and preserved. With the
publication of this book I call on the readers to make this come
illustrated volume is meant to form a bridge to the homeland for the
many natives who have left as well as for their sons and daughters.
For this reason I have tried to include as many places as possible
and to describe many typical details which call the past to mind. As
a bridge, the book also invites them, if circumstances and
possibilities permit, to seek the way home to see “how fare the
brethren”. (Gen. 37,14) and to encourage the latter to remain in
Orginally it was not my intention to produce an illustrated volume.
It was my attachment ti his country, to its people and its sights,
as well as the pleasure of photography which led me to do so. There
were often serious difficulties. The curtailed to one village or
another. In dark interiors it was necessary to use flashlights.
Several Christian village, now abandoned, and a number of historic
sites were out of bounds to me. How gladly would I have climbed to
the ruins of Mor Abraham Monastery of Kashkar, or to the villages in
the Izlo Mountains! I regret that some readers will search in vain
for a mention of their native village and I do request their
book is meant as a contribution to the anniversary celebrations of
the foundation of Mor Gabriel Monastery in 397 A.D.- 1600 years ago.
This intention becomes clear, especially in the historical account
of Mor Gabriel Monastery by Andrew Palmer and in the frequency with
which it appears in the pictorial section of the book.
Those responsible for Mor Gabriel Monastery have assisted in the
compilation of the book by worl and deed. I therefore thank
Archbishop Timotheos Samuel Aktas for his encouragement from the
very beginning and Archdeacon Malfono Isa Gülten and the other
collaborators for their advice and help.
Holiness Ignatius Zakkai I Iwas, Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox
Church and all the East, has followed with great interest and ahs
encouraged the efforts to preserve
Turabdin. This encouragement can be clearly felt in hos message of
greeting, for which I am especially thankful.
the compilation of the book and especially for the trilingual texts
I depended on the assistance of others. I owe the following a debt
of gratitude for their trouble: Dr. Andrew Palmer (London) for the
translations and for checking the English texts, Docent Dr. Sevil
Gülcur (Istanbul) for translations into Turkish. Dr. Helga Ebner
(Linz) read the German text very thoroughly and gave much good
scientists for Oriental Studies enriched the book with introductory
contributions: Professor Dr. Sebastian Brock (Oxford) described the
cultural importance of Turabdin and Dr. Andrew Palmer its historical
development. The latter also enlarged on some of the texts in the
pictural section. Christine Punz (Pregarten) was responsible for the
careful layout and graphics. I wish to thank her for this and also
Herbert Friedl (pregarten) for his expert advice: I thank the
Repro-Atelier Hofmüller (Linz) and the Printing Office Trauner
(Linz) for the good collaboration in the production of the book.
Finnally, the “Friend of Turabdin” have assisted in the preparation
and have taken over the responsibility for the printing. This chance
of assisting the Christians in Turabdin should be a source of joy to
them all and their reward.
is my sincere wish that this book should not only be a documentation
of the past and the present, but should also be a signpost to a
Living Cultural heritage, the preface pp. 14-16.