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1918: The Assyrians of Shamizdin, Turkey

Posted: Wednesday, October 11, 2000 at 05:23 PM CT


The land of Shamizdin lies in southeast Turkey in the Assyrian Hakkiari, and canvasses the southern side of the Sat Dagh mountain range which separates Shamizdin from Gawar. Some sixteen villages were scattered in the fertile plain of Gawar, and among them were; Diza, Karmil, Kirdiwar, Gagawran, Kirzallan, Shwawoota, Mannunan, Bashirga, Ein d’Kandil, and Darawa. To the east of Shamizdin are the lands of Targawar and Margawar which lie just across the Persian border. To the northwest are the ancestral tribal lands of Jeelu and Baz.

The Assyrian inhabitants of Shamizdin are more commonly called the Nochea. Nochea is a Kurdish word meaning "between the mountains". In the old days this country used to be called Rustaka, meaning "black mountains", which picturequely describes the dark forests of Sat Dagh. Nochea contained both Assyrian and Kurdish villages and according to Qasha Yousip D’Kalaita, the Assyrian villages were Neri, Mar Ishu, Bet Diwe, Shabatan, Tis, Halana, Dariyan, De Rayi and Deri Bend.

The spiritual leader of the Shamizdin Assyrians was Metropolitan Mar Yousip Khnanisho of the Assyrian Church of the East, who, in the old days was styled as the Metropolitan of Rustaka. His Diocese in 1914 included Shamizdin, Targawar, Margawar. Under him were bishop Mar Dinkha in the village of Tis, an ancestor of the present Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Dinkha IV; bishop Mar Youkhana of the village of Tulaki in Targawar, and after 1914 his own nephew bishop Mar Yousip who was ordained on the eve of WW1 in Qudchanis by Patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimun, bless his soul.

The people of Nochea were simple farmers, they owned cattle and grew food, but were particularly known for their fine tobacco. They were greatly oppressed by their Kurdish neighbors. In June 1896, Mar Goriel, Assyrian Church bishop in Urmia, along with an Archdeacon, two priests, three decons, and others, fourteen persons in all, were murdered brutally on orders of a certain Kurdish Sheikh Sadik. The group was returning from a visit to Mar Yousip Khanaisho. This Kurd would confiscate Assyrian property at will, and would prevent the Metropolitan from visiting the Patriarch in Qudchanis. An Englishman visiting the land a hundred years ago noted that "there is perhaps no Assyrian district where simple piety and loyal devotion to the church of their fathers is more beautifully seen than Nochea". Prayers and fasting were strictly observed in the villages. Metropolitan Mar Iskhaq lived in the monastery of Mar Ishu which contained a church, a house, and the school of deacons. He taught in the school and was helped by his father and uncle. The main subjects were old Syriac (Aramaic) and church liturgy.

During the First World War the people of Shamizdin fled to Urmia. In 1918 Metropolitan Mar Khnanisho consecrated Mar Polus Shimun, bless his soul, as Patriarch of the Assyrian Church after the murder of Mar Benyamin Shimun, bless his soul, at the hands of the Kurdish leader Simco in Koni Shahar. Mar Iskhaq died during the trip from Hamadan to Baquba in 1918 and was buried in Kermanshah.

Following the Baquba Refugee Camps, most of the Nochea Assyrians settled in the village of Simil near Dohuk in northern Iraq while a small group stayed in Gailani Camp in Baghdad. In 1928 they moved to Dashti Harir in Arbil province and established the following five villages: Harir, Batas, Darbandoki, Qalata and Hinari. These villages were under following Mukhtars (village head) respectively: Zaro, Breemo, Lazar, and Khidero. The first four villages named had the following churches and priests respectively: Mar Youkhana served by qasha Youil Mar Younan served by qasha Akhiqar Mar Quryaqus served by qasha Benyamin Mar Youkhana served by qasha Youil. A further three Assyrian households lived in the village of Cubau, and half of the population of the Kurdish village of Al-mandan was Assyrian.

In nearby Rowanduz, the people of Shamizdin established a further three villages, namely, Dayana, Hawdiyan and Seerishmi. This group was the Diocese of bishop Mar Philipos Youkhana, who was ordained in Baghdad on April 19, 1953 by Metropolitan Mar Yousip Khnanisho. The latter lived in the village of Harir. Bishop Mar Youkhana served in the church of Mar Giwargis in Dayana and the church of Mar Awrahim in Hawdiyan. Tooma was the Mukhtar of the first village and Rehana of the second one. The present Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Dinkha IV, was born in Darbandoki and baptized in the church of Mar Quryaqus. Later on he was ordained a deacon by Metropolitan Mar Yousip in the church of Mar Youkhana in Harir.

Changes did not come to Nochea until the Kurds started their rebellion in northern Iraq in the 1960’s. Many Assyrians then moved to the big cities and later on they became part of the great migration to the west. One last footnote to this story is that when part of the Assyrian nation migrated to Syria following the tragic events of 1933, a group from Nochea established the village of Tal Faitha on the banks of the Khabur river. They built the church of Mar Quryaqus which was served by qasha Oraham. At one time Chitto Bado was the Mukhtar of the village.



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