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From the Holy Mountain

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From the Holy Mountain

Nov-09-2000 at 00:50 AM (UTC+3 Nineveh, Assyria)

William Dalrymple, in his book From the Holy Mountain: A journey Among the Christians of the Middle East, describes ancient Nisibin (Nisibis) as follows:
For after the Sassanian takeover of the city, Nisibis became the principle center of Persias large Nestorian Christian minority. Its university of (800) students came to rival that of Edessa. Indeed it was through Nisibisalong with the two other great Nestorian university cities, Jundishapur (near Tehran) and Merv (now in Uzbekistan)that the Nestorians played an important part in bringing Greek philosophy, science and medicine first to the Persians and thence to the Islamic world. Moreover it was from the Nestorian school of Nisibis via Moorish Cordoba that many of the works of Aristotle and Plato eventually reached the new universities of medieval Europe.

While in Nisibin, William Dalrymple, thought about those early Nestorians of Nisibin and wondered whether they were still living in the city. He asked George Joseph, a cousin of one of the monks at Mar Gabriel about them and this conversation took place between the two:
There werent any until the Gulf War, replied George. But in 1991 fifty thousand Nestorian refugees fled here from Western Iraq. They saw what had happened to the Kurds, and feared Saddam Hussien would use his poison gas on them next.
So where are they now? I asked.
Most have got away, said George. Some got visas for the west; others have sneaked across the Turkish border. It is easier to get fake passports and visas in Turkey than here. He broke into a sly grin. Smugglers and fakers are not so active in Syria, he said. You have to be very goodvery good indeedto get away with that sort of business here.
And the Nestorians who are left?
There are about ten thousand of them, still incarcerated in a refugee camp ten miles from here, towards the Iraqi border. Its a horrible place. Theyre locked up in a barbed-wire pen with only two thousand devil-worshippers for company.
Yezidis, said George. Theyre an Iraqi sect. Strictly speaking theyre actually devil-propitiators, not devil-worshippers. They call lucifer Malik Tawus, the peacock Angel and offer sacrifice to keep him happy. They believe Lucifer, the Devil has been forgiven by God and reinstated as Chief Angel, supervising the day-to-day running of the words affairs.
And how do they get on with the Nestorians?
Actually very well, said George. Some people believe that the Yezidis were originally a sort of strange Gnostic offshoot of the Nestorian Church. I dont know whether that is true, but the Yezidis priests and the Christian bishops certainly make a point of visiting each other on their different feast days.
I told George how much I wanted to try to get into the camp and talk to the Nestorian refugees. But even as I was speaking he shook his head. It was impossible for outsiders to get in or out of the camp, he said. It was surrounded by barbed wire, and the only gateway bristled with mukhabarat. I would be wasting my time even to try. The most I would achieve, he said, would be to get arrested by President Asads secret police, something he strongly advised against. But you could always try to interview some Nestorians when you get back to England, he suggested.
What do you mean?
I believe there is a very large Nestorian community in is there somewhere in London called Ealing?
Yes, I think thats right, said George. It was in Ealing that the current Nestorian Patriarch was crowned. There should be far more Nestorians in London than here. Ealing has the largest Nestorian community in Europe.
Such are the humiliations of the travel writer in the late 20th century: go to the ends of the earth to search for the most exotic heretics in the world, and you find they have cornered the kebab business at the end of your street in London.

From the Holy Mountain: A journey Among the Christians of the Middle East
By William Dalrymple

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Assyria \ã-'sir-é-ä\ n (1998)   1:  an ancient empire of Ashur   2:  a democratic state in Bet-Nahren, Assyria (northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, southeastern Turkey and eastern Syria.)   3:  a democratic state that fosters the social and political rights to all of its inhabitants irrespective of their religion, race, or gender   4:  a democratic state that believes in the freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture in faithfulness to the principles of the United Nations Charter — Atour synonym

Ethnicity, Religion, Language
» Israeli, Jewish, Hebrew
» Assyrian, Christian, Aramaic
» Saudi Arabian, Muslim, Arabic
Assyrian \ã-'sir-é-an\ adj or n (1998)   1:  descendants of the ancient empire of Ashur   2:  the Assyrians, although representing but one single nation as the direct heirs of the ancient Assyrian Empire, are now doctrinally divided, inter sese, into five principle ecclesiastically designated religious sects with their corresponding hierarchies and distinct church governments, namely, Church of the East, Chaldean, Maronite, Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic.  These formal divisions had their origin in the 5th century of the Christian Era.  No one can coherently understand the Assyrians as a whole until he can distinguish that which is religion or church from that which is nation -- a matter which is particularly difficult for the people from the western world to understand; for in the East, by force of circumstances beyond their control, religion has been made, from time immemorial, virtually into a criterion of nationality.   3:  the Assyrians have been referred to as Aramaean, Aramaye, Ashuraya, Ashureen, Ashuri, Ashuroyo, Assyrio-Chaldean, Aturaya, Chaldean, Chaldo, ChaldoAssyrian, ChaldoAssyrio, Jacobite, Kaldany, Kaldu, Kasdu, Malabar, Maronite, Maronaya, Nestorian, Nestornaye, Oromoye, Suraya, Syriac, Syrian, Syriani, Suryoye, Suryoyo and Telkeffee. — Assyrianism verb

Aramaic \ar-é-'máik\ n (1998)   1:  a Semitic language which became the lingua franca of the Middle East during the ancient Assyrian empire.   2:  has been referred to as Neo-Aramaic, Neo-Syriac, Classical Syriac, Syriac, Suryoyo, Swadaya and Turoyo.

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