Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tur Abdin

Exploring the Tur Abdin a forgotten treasure of southeastern Turkey

29 January 2012 / PAT YALE , MARDİN (Sunday's Zaman)

Imagine a landscape of narrow country roads hemmed in by dry stone walls. Imagine village after honey-colored village, each with its church tower punctuating the skyline.

Imagine golden-stoned houses blending softly into the scenery. The cotswolds in the UK? No, believe it or not this is a description of the Tur Abdin, the strangely named area immediately around Midyat in Turkey that was, until recently, off-limits to visitors because of the troubles in the Southeast.

Tur Abdin sounds as if it should be the name of a tour company bringing visitors to the area, but actually it just means “Mountain of the Servants,” a name that extends way back to the pre-Roman era. The name is actually a bit of an oddity since although the land is undoubtedly high in relationship to its surroundings most visitors will think it hilly rather than mountainous. Mostly you will find yourself roaming around a lofty plateau that was once the local heart of Syriac (Suryani) Orthodoxy, a form of Christianity believed to have evolved from that taught by St. Peter in Antioch (Antakya) in the first century.

In the fourth century monasticism was introduced to the area, and at one time there were so many monasteries here that some writers called it “the Mount Athos of the East.” Today, however, a mere 5,000 Syriac Orthodox Christians are thought to live in Turkey compared with, say, 80,000 in Sweden. Most of them speak Turoyo, a variation of the Aramaic believed to have been spoken by Jesus.

That is, a very late and developed dialact of an Anatolian branch of Aramaic, not directly related to the first-century Galilean dialect that Jesus spoke.