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Tur Abdin - The Magical Monastery Tour PDF Print E-mail

In the summer of 2006, photographer Geert Segers visited Tur Abdin, the homeland of Syrian-Orthodox Christians in the southeast of Turkey. He followed in the footprints of earlier travellers. A magical monastery tour through Tur Abdin - the bright colours of our time combined with the black and white of the past.    Photography: Segers - Texts: ATH.


Monastery Deirulzafaran - Summer of 2006

Main church Deirulzafaran - Photo G Bell 1911
We camped in a Christian village at two miles from Mardin. There were once three large monasteries in the village. The Turks had ruined two of them and turned the third, the most beautiful one, into a mosque. The village was inhabited by Armenian and Nestorian Christians. The Nestorians celebrated mass in the Chaldean language and showed us two bibles. Their priests explained that one of the holy books was almost thousand years old. I wanted to buy the oldest one for two hundred piasters, but they were reluctant to sell it. They said that the bible belonged to the Church." 
(From the book The Six Voyages of Jean Baptiste Tavernier - Paris 1676)


Monastery Mor Melke - Summer of 2006

Mor Melke in 1909 - Photo Gertrude Bell
" Mor Melko stands fortress-like upon the top of a hill. The bishop carried sociability to so high a point that I doubted whether I should be allowed to proceed that day upon my journey. The tomb of the patron saint, Mor Melko, is in the church itself. This Mor Melko had been renowded for his power of casting out devils. The bishop pointed to a collar and chain attached to the wall and observed that men who were afflicted with madness came here to be cured." (Gertrude Bell, 1911) 


Monastery Mor Gabriel - Summer of 2006

Mor Gabriel gate in 1909 - Photo G Bell
" We caught sight of the monastery of Mor Gabriel. The inevitable bishop was away and I could not regret his absence since it implied a relaxation of the social duties. The house of Saint Gabriel of Kartmin, or Mor Gabriel, was during the Middle Ages the most famous and the richest of Jacobite [Syrian-Orthodox] establishments. But this monastery has now sunk into poverty and decay. One monk and a single nun were its sole occupants at the time of my visit." (Gertrude Bell, 1911)


Hah Monastery of Holy Virgin - Summer of 2006

Hah Monastery in 1909 - Photo G Bell
" It was evening when we rode over the last of the wooded hills and saw the village of Hah. The church of the Virgin, El Adra, is the jewel of Tur Abdin. A nun and the village priest occupied the rooms to the north of the courtyard. The nun was young and she came to see me on the evening of my arrival. She asked me for a revolver. She was afraid, they were all afraid of massacre. These Christian people snatch their daily bread from field and vineyard which lie at the mercy of marauding Kurds." (Gertrude Bell, 1911) 


Zaz village with Mor Dimet church - Summer of 2006

Zaz - old monk in mixed outfit - 2006
The Mor Dimet church complex dominates the tiny village. In 1993 the last Christians abandoned Zaz. Nowadays the church is guarded again by an old monk. He lives in the house nearby, together with a much younger nun. When we visited the place in 2006, there was also a young Assyrian, who had been sent to Zaz from Sweden. The monk was his uncle and the young Assyrian told us that his stay there was a kind of alternative punishment for some smaller crime he had committed in Sweden. He showed us around and translated what the monk explained about the history of the church. It was an odd experience - the broad gestures of the old monk with his white beard; the fashionable outfit and the cool manners of our Assyrian guide; and the shy appearance of the young nun, a dark silhouette in the shadow of the courtyard. (A Thiry)