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
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