Tur Abdin

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Map of Tur Abdin showing main villages and monasteries.

Tur Abdin (Syriac: ܛܘܼܪ ܥܒ݂ܕܝܼܢ‎) is a hilly region of southeast Turkey incorporating the eastern half of Mardin Province, and Şırnak Province west of the Tigris, on the border with Syria. The name 'Tur Abdin' is from the Syriac language meaning 'mountain of the servants (of God)'. Tur Abdin is of great importance to Syriac Orthodox Christians, for whom the region used to be a monastic and cultural heartland. The Assyrians [1][2] of Tur Abdin call themselves Suroye and Suryoye and traditionally speak a central Neo-Aramaic dialect called Turoyo.

The area may be that of the ancient city and bishopric of Rhandus, which belonged to the late Roman province of Mesopotamia Secunda.


The most important Syriac Orthodox centre in Tur Abdin is the monastery of Dayro d-Mor Hananyo, 6 km south east of Mardin, in the west of the region. Built from yellow rock, the monastery is affectionately known as Dayro d Kurkmo in Syriac, Dayr al-Zafaran in Arabic, or Deyrülzafarân in Turkish: the Safron Monastery. Founded in AD 493, the monastery was the residence of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch from 1160 to 1932. Although the patriarch now lives in Damascus the monastery still contains the patriarchal throne and tombs of seven patriarchs and metropolitans. Today the monastery is led by a bishop and a monk and some lay assistants, and is a school for orphans. The bishop of Mor Hananyo is also the patriarchal vicar of Mardin. His goal is to rebuild the monastery and to preserve the history of the Syriac Orthodox church. The Dayro d-Mor Hananyo is part of the UNESCO world cultural heritage and was visited by numerous celebrities e.g. like Prince Charles.

In the centre of Tur Abdin, halfway between Midyat and Cizre, is Dayro d-Mor Gabriel. Built in AD 397, Mor Gabriel monastery, is the oldest functioning Syriac Orthodox monastery. It is the residence of the Metropolitan Bishop of Tur Abdin, seven nuns, four monks and a host of guests, assistants and students. The monastery is charged with keeping the flame of Syriac Orthodox faith alive in Tur Abdin, for which it is as much a fortress as a church.


Portal of the Mor Gabriel Monastery

The Assyrian presence in Tur Abdin dates back to the 13th century BC; mentioned in the inscriptions of the Assyrian king Adad-nirari I, where it was called the Kashiari mountain.[3]

The town of Midyat and the villages of Hah, Bequsyone, Dayro da-Slibo, Salah (with the old monastery of Mor Yaqub), Iwardo (with Mor Huschabo), Anhel, Kafro, Arkah (Harabale, with Dayro Mor Malke), Beth Sbirino, Miden (Middo), Kerburan, Binkelbe with Mor Samun Zayte and Beth Zabday (Azech) were all important Syriac Orthodox places among with countless other villages. Hah has the ancient `Idto d'Yoldath-Aloho, the Church of the Mother of God.

During the First World War, 500,000 Assyrian people were killed in the Ottoman Empire's Christian Genocide (called in Syriac Sayfo, simply 'the sword') and died alongside their coreligionists. In the last few decades, caught between Turks assimilation policies against Kurds, and Kurdish resistance, many Assyrians have fled the region or been killed. Today there are only 5000, a quarter of the Christian population thirty years ago. Most have fled to Syria (where the city of Qamishli was built by them), Europe (particularly Sweden, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands), Australia and the USA. However, in the past few years, a few families have begun to return to Tur Abdin.

Recent conflicts[edit]

On 10 February 2006 and the following day, large demonstrations took place in the city of Midyat in Tur Abdin. Muslims angry about the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons gathered in Estel, the new part of the city, and started to march towards the old part of Midyat (6 kilometers away), where the Christians live. The mob was stopped by the police before reaching Midyat.

In 2008 a series of legal challenges were made against the monastery of Mor Gabriel. Some local Kurdish villages sought to claim land on which the monastery had paid taxes since the 1930s as belonging to the villages, and made other accusations against the monastery. This led to considerable diplomatic and Human Rights action throughout Europe and within Turkey.[4]

Notable residents[edit]

Swedish Minister for Energy (Minister for Schools 2004-2006) Ibrahim Baylan was born in Tur Abdin but left for Sweden in the early 80s.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Middle East, abstracts and index, Part 1. Library Information and Research Service. Northumberland Press, 2002. Page 491.
  2. ^ Central Asia and the Caucasus: transnationalism and diaspora. Touraj Atabaki, Sanjyot Mehendale. Routledge, 2005. Page 228.
  3. ^ J.M. Munn-Rankin (1967). Assyrian Military Power. Cambridge University. p. 7. 
  4. ^ The Case of the St. Gabriel Syriac Monastery in Midyat, Turkey [1], 2010.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°24′N 41°29′E / 37.400°N 41.483°E / 37.400; 41.483