The Church in distress


On the road from Urhoy (Sanliurfa) to Omid (Diyarbakir) this Pilgrim had the luxury of a sufficient supply of water and a wifi connection in the touringcar. I used some of the time writing the previous blog post but I certainly enjoyed the time with my fellow travellers singing hymns and songs and got to know them better. Seeing the vast plains as we made our way on a fairly modern and pleasant highway, a feeling recurred for the third day in a row: “why is it that there is so much land and space in this country, but there is so little room for the indigenous inhabitants to live freely?” This question is not answered quickly and it sums up much of the struggels the Syrian Orthodox Church leadership has: they work tirelessly to maintain what is left and try hard to build something that can be perceived as a future for the people.

One of these truly immovable men is the priest of the Monastery of the Virgin Mary in Omid. I have met him on my previous journey and he symbolizes the situation the people of Tur Abdin are in. From all directions in Omid’s Ancient City he and the church are surrounded by more than a million kurds. It is hard for him and his family to leave the courtyard surrounded by walls reaching three meters high. The priest tends to the monastery which is a designated tourist site and serves the few christian families left in Omid. He also takes care of people coming from Tur Abdin if they are in need of health care and need to make use of the hospitals in the city. Today we ascended the street leading to the monastary which is now named after Mor Bar Salibi, one of the most venerated patriarchs and saint in the Syrian Orthodox tradition. Due to the efforts of Syriac scholar Shabo Hanna from Germany the street also has a sign in Syriac, this is the first time a turkish governing bidy has allowed such a thing. This could be a sign of hope one may think. I can’t see the hope. The police escorting us guarded us from traffic and physical threats, but not from the wicked stares and curse words hurled at our heads.

The intimidation did not put our spirits down, not even slightly. When we entered the courtyard we again were sucked up in history and tradition. The streets did not matter and we celebrated mass and commemorated the Crucifixion of our Lord in peace and harmony. Even the distant call to prayer by an imam did not disturb us, although it seemed he turned up the volume and took more time than usual. We just finished mass when tourists poured into the church. I hope that they and the local government value a living church and community more than an empty building with just plaques describing the pictures and artifacts. When we returned to our buses there riot trucks of the police closed off street so we could cross. This tells us there is a long way to go before we can really feel at ease in what is also our home country. A way that cannot be paved with words and good intentions alone.

On a side note:

  • ‘Ahna kulan Suryoye’ has become the official anthem of our fellowship
  • Having ancestral traces that run through Kferze, Anhil, Kritho di-Ito (Gunduksukru) and Boté makes easy conversations, but takes some time to explain as it is the first thing people ask
  • Older people like the weather because ‘the sun warms our bones’ as they say. A couple of the younger travellers suffer from heavy hayfever
  • A lot of women were disappointed when the shopping spree was cancelled. The men raised their heads to the heavens and thanked God

Read previous: Day 2: The Tourist, Economist and The Dentist        Read next: Day 4: Silence

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