Expectations. I never travel with high ones but I thought I would leave the way of the Tourist to become a Pilgrim in Jerusalem. Almost nothing less is true. I tried to find spirituality in the Via Dolorosa (contains 9 of the 14 stations of the Cross), the tomb of the Virgin Mary, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (last 5 stations) and various other places, but it was hard. Only in the last two days I felt the meaning of this place. One moment was in the church of he Holy Sepulchre where we celebrated holy mass with the bishop and a small part of Jerusalem’s Syrian Orthodox congregation in the tiny church of St Nicodemus. It truly is special singing from the fankitho about the crucifixition and resurrection while you are standing at the very place it took place (also the grave of Joseph of Arimathea is only two meters away from the altar). Hearing and singing the Lord’s prayer in Aramaic together with forty voices in the small cave that is our church warmed the heart, spirit and soul.
This morning it was only me with the two monks at St Mark’s church. Their solemn prayers made me finally feel at rest. The weariness of walking, talking and haggling washed away and only the good memories remained.

Bethlehem was something else. The surreal experience of passing through the wall on foot (first words that came to mind: scary, desolate, prison) made a big impression, the hustle downtown a couple of minutes later makes you forget such a thing exists. But it does has a profound influence on the lives of people in the West Bank, something the majority does not deserve I believe. With a dear friend I visited the church of the Nativity, the church of the milk grotto, had falafel at Dawood and later passed by shepherd’s field (which could have been any field in the vicinity, but still three different denominations claim a part of a tree-lined area). Here I also felt a sense of belonging, not in the least part due to a belly full of maqloobe, labaneh, figs and knafeh. The warmth of a Syriac home or church can never be cooled off by a wall, government or war.

Where Turkey felt like a home without a ‘welcome’ doormat, I think that I have fallen in love with this country. It has its downsides too, I saw two beat up women in the streets of the Old City, I saw a wall that should not exist and I saw the greed in the people’s eyes and their actions. The peace in Jerusalem floats on a cork made of money and a strong military presence. There is more respect for a full wallet than the religion of the other. I do not think a pilgrimage by air, airconditioned and WiFi fitted buses and greedy taxi drivers is the way to find Christ nor your inner self. The nature of cities is that they grow with the needs of their people and visitors. As a city councillor, I know these needs and expectations can interfere with each other. Where I took the cable car to Qarantul on the Mountain of Temptation in Jericho, which has charms of its own but still, I would have rather walked up there. Where I entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with a photo camera, and I did take some nice pictures, I should have done so with a bible in hand. And where I spend most of my time in and around the Old City visiting various biblical sites, I wish that I had spent more time with my new friends who took me in their home and showed me around.

‘Why are you leaving so soon?’ Raban Shemun asked me yesterday. ‘I got a taste of this place, and I am no satiated yet.’ Shalom, toda, Shlomo and taudi. It has been a terrific journey.

On a side note:
– Celebrating mass at the tomb of the Virgin Mary is something special. ‘Celebration’ is not the right word though, it is a yelling contest between the Syrian Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox as they pray at their respective altars at the same time. The Copts have their own altar but are with even less people than the Syrian Orthodox.
– Mor Severius, the bishop of Israel and Jordan has a great sense of humor, and loves to share funny youtube videos.
– Raban Shemun is an old, gentle and peaceful man. He knows almost all residing clergymen in the Old City and they all stop to greet him. But when walking to church, it takes a pair of very good legs to keep pace with him. Thankfully he stops for a short prayer at each station of the Cross.
– Lines at check-in counters and security gates tend to be long due to a lot of baby carts, that’s why there are no lines at food courts, bars or fast food restaurants. You just fight your way up front, place your order and wait until someone shouts your name.

Read previous: Intermezzo: Petra & Wadi Rum

I can cross the border between The Netherlands and Germany a hundred times a day without anybody asking me what I am doing, why I want to go to the other side and what the names of my parents are. Even if this may look suspicious, upon identifying myself (and provided I am not carrying illegal goods), I can cross that border a hundred times more. Such is not the case between Israel and Jordan. Getting in to Jordan was not that big of a deal (it did cost $60 though), but getting back to Israel was. But more on that later because spending a day in Petra, a night and a full day in the desert of Wadi Rum, now that’s something special that makes the trouble at the border a minor nuisance. But it does makes you appreciate the EU and Shengen treaty more.

We arrived by mini bus before noon in Petra. I can go to lenghts describing everything, but lucky for you others did this already so you can find the stories and books on the web. Some of the good stuff: Al Khaznah, the Treasury, even more impressing in the dawning sun and the reason why Petra is also called the Red Rose City, Al Deir, the Monastery, as it takes a good 800 steps to get there (some claim a thousand) and the Aramaic inscriptions on some of the tombs. The Nabateans who founded this necropolis employed the Aramaic script, so you can say my ancestors rocked literally. If not famous for its place in history, it sure is because scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were shot here. The day which constituted a 7 miles walk and the hike up to the Monastery could have ended two ways: in a nice comfortable three stars hotel with a swimming pool and hamam, or in a bedouin camp in the dessert. I chose the latter of course.

The Ammarin Bedouin camp is almost completely surrounded by rugged rocks and mountains. Imagine a natural amphitheater with black tents surrounding a huge sand square in the middle. I was welcomed by an attendee with some sweet thick Bedouin tea. Not that later I met my fellow campers, an American/ French couple from Paris and a couple from Amman, the capital of Jordan who “got away from the hustle and bustle of the city”. We shared a traditional meal, stories and after dinner some more tea near the campfire while listening to Abu Mohammed, the tribe leader, playing on a Bedouin guitar. As the fire got smaller the tea got thicker to a point that I had to refuse. Immerged in stories on culture and habits we lost track of time until we were informed that the generator would be switched off in 15 minutes, so if we would like to brush our teeth, we had to do it then. We brushed, washed up and returned to the fire. We layed on our backs, conversating until all sounds seized to exists. As the generator was switched off and the lights were killed, thousands of stars lit the sky above the dark silhouettes of the mountains surrounding us. “There’s one” were the only words softly spoken as another star shot through the sky. I wonder if Abraham looked at the same sky as he was told: “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants I will bless you with”.

I got drowsy while still riled up by the spectacle above so I decided to sleep outside by the fire. I got the matress, blanket and pillow out of the tent, prepared my bed and layed there. I did had one concern though “Aren’t there any scorpions around here?” The Jordanian answered, “well, probably there are some, but you know, the scorpion that decides to find you here, will also find you in the tent” with that reassuring thought I went to sleep. I managed until about two in the morning, the cold desert wind blew in my face and sent chills through my spine. The log in the fire place was consumed completely. I took to the the tent, but woke up early enough to find a place on a rock and feel the sun’s first rays as it climbed over the mountains.


The adventure continued immediately after breakfast. With Mohammed, the driver, guide and cook for the day we picked up three fellow travellers at the hotel (sucks to be them) in Wadi Musa. We only stopped for more Bedouin tea or Turkish kardamom coffee on the two hours drive to Wadi Rum, the valley of sands. We hiked up sand dunes and rocks to capture the breathtaking views of this famous desert. At the start the Seven Pillars of Wisdom can be seen and later on some more places mentioned in T.E. Lawrence’s book, on which the motion picture ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ is based. Depending on the time of year, the desert can be a combination of red, hot, yellow, white with flowers, brown, cold, green or wet (just a couple of days). Me, Mohammed and the Aussies had great fun, did some Bedouin disco (watch for it on my Youtube channel ) and enjoyed an excellent barbeque prepared by Muhammed in his special restaurant “the other drivers don’t have the cars or camels to get here”. He grilled the chicken he slaughtered earlier the day, and together with salads, hummus and bread prepared by his mother we had more than our share. There was just enough room to finish the desert picknick off with a dessert of goat cheese with honey baked in thin layers of pastry (local version of knafeh. Of course we ended in another Bedouin tent where we were joined by the American/ French couple and as custom dictates, tea was served.


Tired, with a head full of memories and shoes filled with sand we were dropped off at the border crossing. I still do not know what makes me so interesting, but what clearly does not help when going into Israel is having a Turkish last name and a Turkish visum in your passport. Not only was I put through the list of questions, I had to wait half an hour for ‘some extra security checks’. I really hope that they have all my answers and details in a digital file now, as I plan to travel into the West Bank this week. Also, I got a sense of what the bedouin tribes had and still go through, they feel like the desert is their home and the desert knows no national boundaries. Tomorow starts the first visit of this pilgrim to the Holy City. Mode of travel will be an airconditioned bus through the Negev.

On a side note:
– there is a star rating system for bedouin camps too, they range from one star (only tents, not even made from goat hair) to five (bathrooms, sat TV, wifi and a restaurant).
– aside from being sweet, bedouin also put herbs like sage and thyme in their tea, which makes it absolutely super refreshing
– I was mistaken for an arab so many times I decided to get a head scarf, now I am on the market for camels and wives.
– a camel can cost as much as a new Volkswagen Up! A camel can park by itself though.
– Jordanians can talk about food the entire day, Jordanians make me hungry, but also rise to the occasion.

Read next: A week in the Holy City
Read previous: First week in the Promised Land: Diving in the Red Sea

This evening I sit at the beach with the tide of the Red Sea almost caressing my feet. I am overlooking the gulf of Aqaba and enjoy a nice cold beer, falafel and tahine. The past week of my stay in Eilat, Israel, was dedicated to something that has become more than just a hobby: SCUBA diving.

The week started with my suitcase still in Tel Aviv (thank you for the mixed info at Schiphol, ElAl). Fortunately enough I did not plan any diving the first day and the people of Israir were kind enough to deliver the suitcase on their first flight to Eilat. I could finally get out of my jeans and into the waters (28C at the surface!). After a refresher and two easy guided dives, it was time to start the PADI open water advanced course with one Yaniv Mizrahi.

With Michiel van Staaveren, a good friend of mine, I have found myself in a couple of discussions on artisanship and the value of professionals who not only understand their work, but are passionate about it (Michiel even argues that these people should never be promoted!). Here in Eilat I found a true artisan. Diving with Yaniv (who runs Dive Israel), is something special. Here’s a guy with a simple web page and who is so passionate about diving and the aquamarine life that he started a diving school next to his job as a teacher in Economics at the University. He even helps small start ups with their online strategies. When I inquired for the course over the phone some two weeks ago, this passion of his was transferred to me. And instead of me asking for possibilities and options, he was the one inviting me to come diving with him.

Each and every dive was fun (some more due to higher levels of nitrogen in the brain) and eventhough the course set clear goals and skills to obtain, he added something special to each of the five dives. One experience I want to share with you is the “blue dive”. We ascended from the sea bed to level at 7 meters below the surface. So there I was, perfectly neutrally buoyant (not sinking nor rising), with the sea floor 17 meters below, the sky starting at 7 meters above and all around me the perfect blue sea. Even still in tourist mode, this was a spiritual and mind blowing experience that I can recommend to everyone. With my new found skills, the next two dives were excellent.

Places like Eilat lost their appeal to me some years ago, I find them too crowded, too noisy and detached from meaningful human and cultural interaction. But the air, water and food are amazing. As for the food, The Last Refuge was the best, as for the atmosphere, Yan’s bar at Veranda Beach. The latter being the place where I wrote this blog and took this picture.


It is spectacular to see the night fall on noisy Eilat in the distance, the Red Mountains of Jordan above Aqaba, the thin shore line of Saudi- Arabia and the stretches of the Sinaï down the Red Sea.

The winds blowing from the red mountains of Aqaba and the Negev are calling me for the next two legs of this trip. In Petra I hope to intersect and continue on the path of the Pilgrim and leave the one of the Tourist for a while (it’s hard and expensive, two facts that are for sure). I like to maintain an open mind and reservations on expectations, but walking in the paths of the ancestors and T. E. Lawrence in the valley of Wadi Rum is more than inviting. After that, a full week in Jerusalem awaits me for yet another chapter in the life of this Pilgrim/Tourist.

On a side note:
– I had to recall my parents’ names a dozen times as I progressed through various security checks. I think that they most probably have sneezed their asses off.

– luckily I have stocks in beer, not in foam. I get confuzed looks when holding two fingers to the glass.


– there is a famous song to one of the best desserts ever created, it goes something like this I believe: qadayif, qadayif, qadayif…… Qadayif, qadayif, qadayiiii-if


– a friend of mine recommended birckenstocks (no slipper deserves its name in capitals), I found my bristol panthers better value for money.


– Israelis love chips (french fries), the portions are huge and consumed throughout the day. I expect to only find acres of potato fields during the bus trip to Jerusalem next week.

Read next: Intermezzo: Petra & Wadi Rum

I could have written this post about what we did on the Day of Rest (monday after Easter when the dead are commemorated and their graves are visited), how church was and what we did later that afternoon in Mor Hananyo (also known as Deyrulzafaran, lit. ‘The saffron monastery’) and the church of the Forty Martyrs in Mardin. But I am not going to, I hope that you, as a reader, enjoyed reading the posts and maybe even through imagination participated in our journey, be it as a Pilgrim or a Tourist. But I can understand that it also was a bit tough without much background information or photos. One of the virtues of a pilgrim is patience, so please bear with me for a couple of days and please subscribe to the posts about the journey. You’ll get a notification when the accompanying photos are published, some of them exclusively on this blog.

Now let me share some final thoughts with you from my house in The Netherlands, where it has not stopped raining since we arrived. But somehow the rain does not feel the same as it did on Turo d-Izlo when we visited Mor Augin, it just feels like rain here. But there on the top of the ridge it felt different. I tried to frame that feeling a couple of times in a phrase but I just can’t. So please dear reader, don’t be mad as this is the only thing I can say: you had to be there with us. As endearing and inspiring books and prose may be, only if one experiences something himself, he or she can truly understand the meaning and purpose of such a journey where we truly walked in the footsteps of our ancestors, who for generations walked the same roads, ate the same foods, spoke the same words, prayed the same prayers and sang the same hymns as we did last week.

SuryoyoSat is famous for its ‘final words’, here are mine to my fellow travellers, my new friends. The rain and lack of sleep did not dampen our moods and our trip ended as it started, together. The biggest difference is that we started as fellow Aramean Syriacs, still somehow strangers to eachother, but we ended all as friends. The Tourist may get to know some people at his destination, but because he (or she) is so preoccupied by reaching it and only searches for a physical proofs of his journey, his encounters with others are superficial. Only The Pilgrim can bond and forge friendships with people he meets on his way because the spiritual and transcending meaning of their journey gives them so much more than just a picture or souvenir, it enriches them as a person. He knows that the fact that his fellow travellers live in places such as Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, Palestinian Authority, The Netherlands, Belgium or Germany doesn’t mean a thing. Of course modern technologies changed how we interact with eachother and it was fun to take pictures as our journey progressed, but we know we share so much more than just the fact of being on the same road for a week. Something FaceBook cannot share with us. I pray that all went well with all of you and you reached your other homes safe and sound. Aloho d-sobe, we will meet again, be it on the Mountain of God’s servants or in any other place, may He be with us on every journey we make as He was with us the past week. This pilgrim is ready to crawl into his bed, and dream about one of his biggest experiences in his life. Shlome.

Of course I cannot leave the side note out of this post, so here is the final one:

  • I started the day of rest after only three hours of sleep. As I am writing this, I have only slept for an odd ten hours the past three days
  • After a quick survey the tlauhé of Adiyaman have been declared the best of the week, tlauhé will be again on the menu after six weeks
  • It appeared that our friend from Bethlehem Aleen is a distant relative of Adam and Christina Cello, Aleen’s great grandfather was the uncle of the Cello’s grandmother (if memory serves me right, otherwise please do correct me), another example of the things that can happen on such a journey
  • Who had a hamburger at a famous place starting with the letter M as he or she reached the final airport? I did!

Read previous: Day 5: A Tur Abdin Easter

Sunday we celebrated Easter in the church of Mort Shmuni in Midyat. Service started at six o’clock in the morning. It was almost eight when we entered the church that was too small for all to be in so we stayed just in front of the doors. We just missed the first fifteen minutes of Holy Mass. It was almost as traditional as it is in the Netherlands, and that’s why today’s blog will not be that exciting as the previous days. I hope that this does not set you off. the biggest differences were ofcourse the place and the children from ages five and above who were in front of the procession singing the hymns in their clearest and loudest of voices. I can only hope we will see this energy back home. The people were dressed up nicely and the temperature added to a laid back atmosphere.

After mass I walked in to receive the Body of Christ, but just before reaching the front of the altar I saw my late grandfather’s cousin who with his wife still lives in Midyat. He invited me to have breakfast in his house and thus I broke away from the group. We did not even rested ourselves on the chairs in the frontyard or the first visitors already knocked on the door. The local Kurdish population has made the tradition of visiting each other their own and collect candy and eggs from the Syriac community. Later I heard that some of the houses ordered 500 eggs or more just to give away to their neighbours (my mother only buys 30 to 50, eventhough there are about 1000 syriac families in Enschede).

After church and breakfast one could either visit villages and family or take the bus to the monastery of Mor Melke. Together with about fifty others I decided to go to Mor Melke. It’s first edifices date back to the first half of the fourth century. Compared to Mor Gabriel, Mor Hananyo and a couple of other monasteries Mor Melke is relatively small. Two monks and two nuns take care of the buildings, the grounds and the four students who also help out. I like its history, its modesty and especially the balcony that provides a spectacular view over the surrounding fields, hills and mountains.

We had dinner together with the whole group in the hotel followed by a live broadcast on SuryoyoSat. The governor of the Mardin region joined the show and discussed the situation of our church and people with Johny Messo, head of WCA. He surprised me with his supportive attitude and even made some positive remarks regarding the cases concerning Mor Gabriel. The show was less festive than the previous ones due to a murder in one of the syriac villages and the situation of our people in Syria where two bishops are held captive.

After the television broadcast most of the youth stayed in the hotel restaurant. We spend a very good time with our new friends and forgot about time. There were only 3 hours left for sleep, but in return I gained a memory that will stay with me forever.

On a side note:

  • I called home and talked with my little sister, I asked her to give my greetings to all only to hear my mother rushing to the phone. After saying hello and wishing each other a blessed Easter she asked me if I had bought himsitho, black sesame and some spices for cookies for her
  • Mor Melke cured the king’s daughter and could have asked for anything, even for half the kingdom. Mor Melke asked for two large stones which he brought to the monastery. “If only he would’ve asked for half the kingdom, that would’ve solved a lot of our problems” one of our aussie friends sighed in the back
  • rumour had it in the church square that due to a sudden spike in demand the prices of pistachio nuts have gone up in Tur Abdin

Read previous: day 4: Silence                          Read next: day 6: The last steps

qum Moran men auw qabro, eido brikho al kulkhun, Our Lord has risen from the grave, a blessed Easter to all of you. Here is yesterday’s story.

This shabto d-shulyo (lit. ‘Saturday of Silence’, Holy Saterday in the RC tradition) was a remarkable day. For the first time in more than 30 years a large group of Aramaic christians visited the Mor Augin monastery on Mount Izlo. The monastery was founded by Mor Augin, the saint that came to Tur Abdin from Egypt and with his followers established monasticism in the region. The monastery is one of the many places of worship they build in Tur Abdin. Two years ago raban (monk) Yoken and raban Aho got the keys and started renovating and rehabilitating yet another pearl on the neklace of this ancient treasure chamber. With them the christian villagers of nearby villages of Marbobo, Gremira and Kritho d-Ito joined hands and formed a new comittee to support their efforts. The buses barely could maneuver the steep road that winds up the ridge. We had to walk the last 500 meters. With each step I took, more of my breath was taken away by the splendid edifices hewn and build on the mountain. The Pilgrim has again reached a destination.

We were received by the two monks and people from the villages previously mentioned. A storm changed the plan slightly so we got a tour of the place first and seated for lunch later. Raban Yoken gave us a brief history of the monastery, its churches and the tombs holding the graves of Mor Augin and various saints and patriarchs. The construction of the altar is unique and it is believed that the wooden beams supporting the roof of the altar were once part of Noah’s Ark. Various universities already offered assistance in researching this claim. After this introduction and some words of gratitude 150 voices sang Abun d-beshmayo (Our Father) in aramaic. Upon leaving the church I could still hear the prayer echoed by the thirteen meters high vaulted ceiling.

Outside I tried to take a moment of silence to really breath in the place. What struck me was how many noises were around me. It took some concentration to filter out the talk of men and hear the songs of birds and the rustling of the wind as it graced over the mountain. I closed my eyes for a moment and when I opened them again I noticed the warde d-nison, (lit. ‘flowers of April’, poppies in English). I already saw a lot of them growing in the fields around Midyat but here they seem to defy nature and grow out of cracks in the rocks. Many books have been written with the ink made from this flower. When I thought I could feel the mountain itself breathing I was called to lunch. Was it my imagination or the feeling of the want of food that was made known to my brain by my growling stomach? We enjoyed an excellent lunch prepared by the good people of the villages, I can even say the love that was put in making it fed our souls. It was rumoured that it took them a week to prepare. We had to walk the whole way down but I dare to say that not a single person did not turn his or her head around to have one, two or more final looks at Mor Augin. A view words cannot describe.

In the evening we visited the center of Syrian Orthodoxy, the Mor Gabriel monastery. Founded in 397 it stands on a hilltop overlooking hundreds of olive trees. Although it housed saints, bishops, monks and thousands of student ever since, it is now struggeling for its survival. It is sued to the courts by the treasury department and nearby villages claiming its lands and the destruction of the surrounding walls. Again the tourists were preoccupied with taking pictures and chatter as I was looking for a place to clear my mind and just not think of anything. It was not easy because the path of the Pilgrim crossed that of the tourists in the church of the Virgin Mary, the Dome of Theodora, the Church of Mor Gabriel, the beth qadishe (burial tomb of the saints). Finally I found a place away from it all and realised how much of our time is taken by activities that do not feed our souls and do not provide peace of mind.

When we returned to our hotel with a small group later that night in Midyat I said to my small fellowship, just be silent and look to the stars. And so it happened that we saw a shooting star for the first time in our lives.

On a side note:

  • We celebrated the birthday of Adam Cello, who turned 26 ( just before seeing the shooting star)
  • When I asked during dinner and later at the small birthday party if anyone noticed that we did not get tlauhé at lunch in Mor Augin everyone replied they did not, and smiled
  • Some people are blaming the rain on the travellers from the Netherlands, Johny Messo turned it around and called it a blessing for the grounds
  • We received training in bargaining from a pro when a traveller from Kerboran gave the store owner a dismal look, turned around, waved the last offer of with his hand and gave a ‘tsssssk’. The sunglasses 10 meters further down the road dropped in price by 50%

Read previous: day 3: The Church in distress                Read next: day 5: A Tur Abdin Easter

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

Prices of property and commodities have gone up in Sanliurfa in recent years. The city that once reigned over the region with it’s military and political might now is booming because a new canal brings water to the city and its surroundings. Big dams are constructed in the region in order to give the economy in southeast Anatolia a boost. “You have to see the Ataturk Dam project”, bishop Gregorius Melke Ürek of Adiyaman said to our guides in the morning and saying such he put us on the path of the Tourist. So after breakfast we left Urfa to see the Ataturk dam in the Euphrates river. The huge dam created a lake that has submerged the upstream countryside. Although a lot of jobs are created and prices of energy have gone down, the project has a coat. For starters, the fate of Hesno d-kifo or better known as Hasankeyf is still not decided on. This ancient city (one of the oldest in the world) lies on the banks of the Tigris river. If the current plans are implemented, this city will be devoured by a lake. Many archeologists and historians believe that the huge lake formed by the Ataturk dam already has covered up important historical sites and fear the same will happen to Hasankeyf. Also, and we should consider this when debating on the future of Tur Abdin, life in small traditional villages can change. Developments are concentrated near the urban centers such as Sanliurfa, Mardin and Diyarbakir. More water, food and building supplies are needed to sustain growth in the cities. The dams also affect areas in Syria and Iraq. Fellow travellers from Syria told that each and every year the water level dropped and the amount of fish decreased. One can’t easily point a finger to the government as the lives of millions are improved. Hopefully the historical and broader value of the Beth Nahrin (aramaic for Mesopotamia) area is taken into consideration. Economics are more than creating jobs and financial wealth, it’s about the choices one makes, either a Tourist or government with its army of economists and policy makers.

After lunch we continued on the route of the Tourist on a famous pilgrim path to once again walk in the foot steps of our ancestors. With an odd 15 small dolmüs vans we were taken to Mount Nemrut. On its peak at 2100 meters above sea level the ancient Hellenestic Seleucian rulers (from king Antiochus and onwards) build a burial mound, huge statues depicting the rulers and their gods and an altar for offerings. All peoples and rulers that lived and passed through the region recognized the importance of this impressive sight, as do the tourists now. One of the oldest travellers with us, a man from Australia well in his 70s or 80s maybe, did not want to stay in the tourist center and climbed the 800 meter stone path with us, his vigorous movement was paralelled by few. We enjoyed the historical remains, the spectacular sight and especially each others company. Talking with a new friend we were wondering if the people of present day Tur Abdin visit the place, most probably not, but it will be nice to find out how they perceive the region and culture.

Our pilgrimage continued in the evening. Together with the bishop and syrian orthodox faithfull of Adiyaman we commemorated the washing of the feet by our Lord Jesus Christ. We barely fitted in the small church but it was amazing to witness this event in a place that feels just as much as home as our places of birth in the diaspora. The bishop and Dr. Tanoglu wholeheartedly welcomed us. Later after supper I talked with the doctor who is a dentist in Kharput. He told us about their endevours in Kharput where they are restoring the church of the Virgin Mary to once again, like 1000 years ago, celebrate Holy Mass there. The doctor like many others in this region never learned the Syriac Aramaic language, but together with his daughter they are trying to revive the church and language. But also in this region just like in The Netherlands and many other countries, people are preoccupied with bringing food on the table and managing the home and family first, church, language and cultural tradition are under pressure. It seemed to me the Dentist is swimming against the current, but by putting faith first and serving his church and people also in this region our people will feel save inside and outside the walls of the church. The bishop and Johny Messo, head of WCA, underlined that these can only be safeguarded if church and lay organizations work together, be it in Turkey or in any other country. At the end of the evening I greeted the old man who climbed the mountain with us and also had his feet washed during the ceremony. He left Tur Abdin 50 years ago and when I asked what was his single strongest feeling returning after so many years he said: “I am happy, because I see you all together with me”.

Both the path of The Tourist and Pilgrim can be tiring and endearing at the same time, but as Economists we have to make choices and like the Dentist we can serve our church and people no matter what our occupation or profession is.

On a side note:

  • The presentation and lecture we got about the dam was more tiring than climbing Mount Nemrut
  • My gamble not to iron my clothes at home payed off: the hotel service took care of everything
  • There was snow on Mount Nemrut, one demonstrated how they skied ‘back in the days’ without skies or boards. “Back then we only had thin shoes made of plastic, our feet became icy lumps and our moms got angry because we clappered with our teeth for hours”
  • The discussion on the best tlauhé (lentil soup) continous, Adiyaman ranks first with most travellers. There are still a couple of days left before Easter, then we will know where they taste best (yours are great too mum)

Read previous: Day 1: The Blessed City             Read Next: Day 3: The Church in distress

One of the greatest legends in the Aramaic cultural tradition must be the story of King Abgar the Black of the kingdom Oshroene. It came to pass that he feel ill to a grave sickness. He heard of a Man of medicine, a Man of wonders as the people called him, who lived in the land of Israel where He cured the ill, raised the dead but was not accepted as the leader of His people. He send forth his servants to ask this Miracle Man to come and cure him. In the accompanying letter he asked for the King of the Jews to come to the kingdom of Oshroene “for it is big enough for the both of us to reign”. When his servants met Jesus and asked him to come and cure their master He refused. “Allow us then to draw Your image to take home with us.” Jesus praised the king for his faith. He asked for a bowl of water and a towel. after he washed his face he dried it and left an imprint on the piece of cloth. He sent it with them and had them write a letter with the words: “blessed is your city, no harm will fall on your city and no army shall bring it down.”

Today we woke up in this blessed city that was formerly called Urhoy and from where the Oshroene region was governed. Currently it is called Sanliurfa and is a growing city full of economic developments. The last christians left a long time ago, actually, that was what I thought when we arrived. After visiting the ancient village of Harran in the morning we walked about in the new tourist district near a small, somewhat dismal, version of Istanbul’s Kapali Carsi underneath the impressive ancient citadel of Urhoy. The taxi driver’s name was a hebrew/ christian one and hinted towards an aramaic origin. He took us to the city’s museum (apparantly there’s only one as it is called ‘museum’) where we found old syriac inscriptions bearing witness to the christian presence in this former metropole. The taxi driver then took us to the church of St John which was turned into a mosque in 1993. He didn’t say anything about his current religious views, unlike a common stranger whom we met in the shopping district an hour later. He heard us talking in aramaic and approached us. He presented himself as one of the christians still living in the city, but in hiding when it comes to expressing their religious rites and traditions. There are maybe six to ten thousand like him!

Although we were only looking around and trying to find silent witnesses and artifacts belonging to our cultural heritage, we found that the blessing of king Abgar has not worn off. We left the hotel just like any other tourist, but somewhere along the day we were learned our people, faith and culture are still to be found in loving form in this vast region. Eventhough their situation is difficult and very unstable (the reason why I do not mention their names), there is still hope as there are still people left here. This theme was also presented to us in the documentary by Matteo Spicuglia, who travels with us. ‘Shlomo. La terra perduta’: there is still hope while there are still people living in and asking about their home land. It will only be forgotten when we forget it.

On a side note:

  • a fellow traveller from Bethlehem has dedicated herself to learning two aramaic words each day, she already nows ‘brikh safro’ and ‘lilyo tobo’, meaning good morning and good night.
  • there are two with the name ‘Robil’, what are the odds of that? (Still there is only one named Erwin but fortunately he can use his baptismal name which is John)
  • someone spoke to me in Swedish, after I answered in Swedish that I do not speak Swedish, we found out that he was from Australia and I from The Netherlands, these conversations can only happen in Tur Abdin
  • already groups are forming based on village of origin. This can be seen in seating arrangements during meals and bus trips

Read previous: Introduction: The Pilgrim                Read next: Day 2: The Tourist, Economist and The Dentist

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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.”

If time and internet connections permit I will post from Tur Abdin to this weblog, we should be aware that we live in a time that again could shift the course of the future of our people and church. I wish all of you a joyous Easter with your family and friends.

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