I feel like the Pilgrim who very well could have had his eyes on Mount Izla when he asked: “I look to the hills: Where will I find help?” Sounds are not carried far in the dust that covers those mountains of old. My mind drifts away and I see the wind drawing images with the sand of monks, traders, pilgrims, shepherds and armies making their way across the plain from the Euphrates to the Tigris. The dry red earth has been scorched by the sun for centuries, I feel a cool breeze as the heavy red sun is descending towards the horizon. It is setting the stage for the treacherous nights when wild animals and highwayman roam free. Over the ridge lies the Mountain of God’s Servants whom for centuries have met the Pilgrim and answered him: “It will come from the Lord, who created the heavens and the earth.”
It was during my first visit to Tur Abdin five years ago when I was looking at the ridge forming Mount Izla from the rooftop of a house in Kritho d-Ito (Gunduksukru). It was our second day in our home land after spending the first night in the monastery of the Virgin Mary in Diyarbakir. I remember that I could almost feel the stories I read and heard about: The stories of my grandparents about working hard from dawn to dusk and the stories of my parents about growing up with little opportunities but always valuing what they had. Also I was anxious to visit the monasteries where our languague, culture and heritage have been taught for ages and are still very much alive there. Eventhough most of our people have left after numerous hardships and troubeling times I could still feel a presence that must have been a part of the very lands. It did not show itself but made itself heard to the soul: “He will not let you stumble. He who protects you doesn’t doze or ever get drowsy. He is the protector of Israel, and your protector.” And I knew that we did not have to feel afraid during the following days when we would venture into the lands that even for my parents were feeling awkward to tread on: “Maybe it was better that the village would only be preserved in the memories of my childhood”, said my father as he was standing on the plot of land where once my grandfather’s house stood. I could understand his feelings, as the whole place was kind of desolate, save for a stray chicken, and felt eerie in the orange glow of the setting sun. “The Lord shall shade you with His right hand, the sun will not strike you by day, nor the moon at night.” Was it my father saying that, my imagination or that ever present feeling that the lands were more than just rocks, dust, the occasional tree or shrub and the little springs that are still permitted to flow and support life?
As I am preparing for my second visit to Tur Abdin, there are a lot of questions crossing my mind: “what will it be like to celebrate Easter over there? How will the people receive us? How can we celebrate when hundreds of our people have been killed and thousands displaced during the current war in Syria? How will the refugees perceive us? What will the weather be like and what clothes should I take with me? Already the temperature is nearing 30 degrees celsius in Mardin. The monasteries are filled with refugees and our Patriarch has cancelled all Easter celebrations because of the situation in Syria and the abduction of two bishops. Still I can’t supress feelings of joy as I look forward to this trip a long time now. I hope that our spiritual journey will also give the refugees peace and hope for the future. That they, just like the people of Tur Abdin who have stayed and maintained what little was left, won’t feel abandoned in this world. That we, together with them, can find comfort in the song of the pilgrim: “The Lord will save your soul, he preserves your going out and coming in from this time and for all ages.”