Aramaics - Remnant of Syrian Church Communities in East Anatolia

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Eastern Anatolia has always been the cradle of different ethnicities and religions. In search of the last Christians of Kurdistan, the Aramaic Christians of the Syrian church, after knocking on the doors of the few monasteries still in use in the town of Midyat, I came across quite by accident in a story unknown to the big history books. A story about a community of thousands of people who 50 years ago was brutally expelled from their lands, in the silence of the Turkish government. To get in contact with the Christian villages of Syrian culture was made possible thanks to two expatriates, respectively in Switzerland and Germany, who return each year in these lands, their land of origin, to bring basic supplies to the villages sited south of Midyat, at the border with Syria, in the heart of the mountains still partially controlled by the militias of the PKK.

A story apart is the small town of Kafro, the most important centre of the community, which unlike the smaller villages, where some survivor resisted living inside homes destroyed decades ago (see photos of the elderly), Kafro was completely abandoned over 50 years ago as a result of the assault of the Arabic-speaking and Muslim peoples. Today the village is becoming an experiment of home-return by some of the many migrants who, unlike my companions, came back permanently.


In the pictures you can see the streets of the new city, the mayor and the guests visiting the modern church just rebuilt over the ruins of the one that was destroyed 50 years ago. The main church has remained in ruins (the interior is completely devastated, neither altar nor the paintings survived) On top of the mountain considered as the "Second Jerusalem by the Syrians," there is a beautiful monastery, Mor Malke, where currently only two monks reside. There are some visiting young learners. The senior priest refuses to be photographed but he tells me in detail the story of the struggle, that of the decades of abandonment after the invasion of the Islamic people, as their faith has allowed the monastery to remain almost intact. He talks about long periods of self-sufficiency thanks to the cultivated vegetable and water sources, in a very arid region where once agriculture and commerce towards Syria flourished. This was once a crossroads of peoples and rich valley. The monastery itself housed hundreds of pilgrims, today those visiting are to be counted on the palm of a hand. Photos show the meeting between the priest and the two migrants. Then, moments of the sacred ritual, where now only few people from neighbouring villages participate, a ritual made of songs and movements that recall the early Church, all people facing the altar, the priests and the common people, nobody officiating. It is not allowed to participate as external.



© 2015 Marco Palladino – all rights reserved



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