5/6 MONGOLS, TURKS AND KURDS – DR. AZIZ ATIYA

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In spite of elements of decline in so many aspects of Syrian life and literature, the Jacobite church must have continued to thrive under Arab rule sufficiently for its community to produce men like Michael the Syrian, Dionysius bar Salibi, and Bar Hebrews. Indeed it is quite conceivable that the Jacobite church enjoyed one of its best periods of prosperity under Muslim rule towards the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth centuries. On the authority of Bar Hebraeus,1 the august historian of that age, the Jacobite patriarchs then ruled over twenty metropolitans and about a hundred bishops in dioceses spread over Syria, Anatolia, upper Mesopotamia and other regions of the western parts of the Middle East, while the mapbrianate of Tekrit included eighteen Episcopal dioceses in lower Mesopotamia-Persia and lands eastwards. The Jacobites were gaining ground, and in, stances of peaceful conversion to their creed from amongst the Nestorians were not infrequent. On the whole they disliked violence and coerced neither Greek, Latin nor Muslim, though amongst themselves they did not lead a peaceful life. The patriarchal dignity was coveted by rival claimants, and this led to a succession of schisms, the practice of simony, and the bribing of caliphs and the Muslim administration in order to acquire their support for one party against another. Enlightened members such as Bar Hebrews preferred to keep out of these internecine contests for the patriarchate. This lamentable state worsened with the change of rulers and became scandalous under the Turkish sultans.

The real tribulations of the Jacobites began with the Mongol invasions2 and their indiscriminate ravages in western Asia, of which Bar Hebraeus, an eyewitness, gives a vivid picture in his chronicles. The early Mongols, however, favored the Christians, and some of their great khans were almost Christian converts themselves. Hulagu, the conqueror of Banded, city of the caliphs, in 1258 and the founder of the Il-Khanate of Persia, had a Christian wife 3 and he is said to have professed Christianity, though there is no proof that he was baptized. In the sack of the city, where the slain were estimated at 8oo,ooo, the Christians survived safely within their own quarters. Further, Christians were allowed to rebuild their churches and practice their faith without restriction or humiliation in at all amidst the din and clamour of those barbarian invasions. The Jacobites who had been living with the rest of the population outside the capital in territories trodden by the

Tartar hordes could not be singled out for special treatment. Consequently, they must have shared their compatriots’ heavy loss of life and property in the course of the indiscriminate Mongol maraudings, irrespective of the tolerance of the great khan and his court.
The deliberate reversal of Mongol benevolent policy towards the Christians dates from the time of their conversion to Islam. The History of Yahbalaha and the Continuntion of Bar Hebraeus’ Chronicle give a true picture of that sorry chapter. The missionaries of both the East and the West failed to promote the cause of the Gospel at the Mongol court, and ultimately Ghazan an adopted the faith of Islam and made it the official religion of the state from 1295.4 As a result, the Jacobites together with other Christian communities were subjected to systematic persecution throughout the fourteenth century. The advent of Timur Lane in 1394 meant national disaster for all. Districts pre-eminently Jacobite in character, such as Amid Diyarbekr), Mardin, Mosul, Tur-Abdin and Tekrit, suffered unparalleled devastation at the hands of his hordes. Jacobites were hunted and massacred in al-Jazirah and upper Mesopotamia. Those who escaped slaughter took refuge in the arid mountains until the storm subsided, only to return home to find their churches and monasteries leveled to the ground. It is to this period that we must date the disappearance of the majority of the hitherto flourishing monastic foundations of the Jacobites. Those ancient seats of light and learning were extinguished forever, and their priceless literary contents were set aflame. The maphrianate of Tekrit was vacant from 1379 to 1404. 5 The morale of the clergy was low, and the patriarchal dignity was coveted by rival parties of a poor quality, which resulted in disunity and frequent schisms. Deprived of strong leadership and beset by one enemy after another, the community dwindled and declined. At first, their civilization was all but wiped out by the Mongols and Timur Lane’s hordes. Then the Turks followed, to stay for centuries – the Saljuqs, with their traditional intolerance intensified by the Crusades, were replaced by the Ottomans, who ruled, or rather misruled, loosely the remote pashaliks of their Asiatic empire from Istanbul on the European shores of the Bosphorus.

The main interest of the Sublime Porte lay in exacting as much money as possible from the Christian ‘millets’, and the sultan granted the usual firman or charter confirming a patriarchal election to the highest bidder. In turn Christian prelates resorted to simoniacal practices to fulfil their obligations towards their supporters. The Church became demoralized, and the spiritual and educational welfare of the community was no longer of any account. Like the Nestorians, the Jacobites were stricken with phenomenal ignorance and great poverty in modern times. Their ranks were steadily depleted until they numbered from 150,000 to 200,000 in the nineteenth century,6 mainly in Kurdistan and upper Mesopotamia around Mosul and in Syria at Homs. On the whole, the Jacobites tried to preserve amicable relations with their Muslim neighbors and sought peaceful co-existence with the Kurds. Sir Mark Sykes,7 who traveled in the area during the early years of this century, noted that it was difficult to distinguish the Jacobites from the Kurds at a first glance either in appearance or language. Though they did not suffer the same fate as the Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, or as the Nestorians in their strife with the Kurds, it may be assumed that the ugly wave of fanaticism which surged in those regions could not have left them unharmed. It is very difficult to assess with precision the relations between Jacobite, Turk and Kurd in modern times, though certain broad principles are sufficiently clear. In spite of the traditional bigotry of the Kurdish mullah and the Jacobite priest, as a general rule their communities appear to have been living together in relative harmony. Only when inflamed by the revival of the spirit of holy war, customarily fanned by the Turkish governors in an attempt to divide and rule, did these relations truly deteriorate. The Jacobites differed from their Armenian and Nestorian co-religionists. While steadfastly retaining their faith and loyalty to their church, the Jacobite people were never averse to social integration within the greater order of all citizens irrespective of religious difference. This normal behavior, combined with religious tenacity, accounts for their survival in their traditional homeland, unlike the Armenians and the Nestorians, who were either exterminated or dispersed. Instances of Kurdish violence are not wanting. The bishop who accompanied the Rev. Horatio Southgate 8 to the library of the monastery of al-Za-faran in 1841 apologized for its depleted contents, as the Kurds had used most of the ancient codices as wadding for their guns during their last occupation of the establishment. In spite of this vandalism the monastery reverted to the Jacobites. The modern history of the Jacobite church is very obscure compared with its ancient annals, in part owing to lack of education and national awareness. One of the first signs of awakening occurred in 1838 when the Jacobite patriarch was told by the Armenian patriarch in the course of a visit to Constantinople that people without schools must inevitably decline. The remark sank deep into his mind, and on his return he founded a modest school for twenty-five boys 9 at Deir al-Za-faran. Syriac, Arabic and penmanship taught by defective clerics without text-books was their starting point. Though other schools followed in the remaining four or five Jacobite monasteries, the ecclesiastical impetus was found to lag behind the times by the laity who clamored for wider reform and, in 1913-14, succeeded in obtaining a new constitution from the sultan whereby an administrative council, or secular assembly, participated with the hierarchy in the control of Church affairs. 10 The council stressed clerical education and the revival of Church discipline in accordance with ancient doctrine in order to arrest the rising tide of proselytizing by the more highly developed systems of Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries from the West.

In 1920 the Jacobite patriarch deemed it safer to transplant his seat to Homs. (the ancient Emesa) in Syria as a result of the rising anti-Christian feeling incurred by the sanguine struggle between Kurd and Nestorian. From there be ruled and still rules over a total of sixteen metropolitan and episcopal dioceses. These include seven in South Jndia, three in Syria, two in Iraq, two in Turkey, one in Egypt, and one in the United States of America jointly with Canada.
BIBLIOGRAPHY

1- Hist. Eccles., cf. Fortescue, P. 331.

2- L. E. Browne, Eclipse of Chistianity in Asia, pp. I47-48; H.H. Howorth, History of the Mongols, 4 parts in 5 vols. (London, 1876-1927), III, 141, 154, 170, 247.

3- Her names was Dukuz Khatun; Howorth, III, 164, 210; L. Cahun, Introduction a l’ historie de l’ Asie (Paris, 1896), pp.391 et seq.

4- Howorth, III, 384, 396, 427; L. Cahun. Introduction, p.432.

5- L.E. Browne, Eclipse of Christianity in Asia, p. 172.

6- Minority numbers are very controversial in the area. This estimate is based on O.H. Parry’s
report (Six Months in a Syrian Monastery, p.346) publish in 1895 and adopted by H.B. Tozer (The Church and the Eastern Empire, p.80), F.J. Bliss (Religions of Modern Syria and Palestine, pp.74-5) and B.J. Kid (Churches of Eastern Christendom, p.438).A. Diomedes Kyriakos, Geschichte der orientalischen Kirchen von 30,000 families in the eighteenth, and about 200,000 souls in the nineteenth. Roman Catholic writers cherish a downward estimate. R. Janin, Eglises Orientales (Paris 1926), p. 469, mentions 120,000, and D. Attwater, Christian Churches of the East, Vol. II, p. 230, quotes 90,000 with 10,000 in Syria and Lebanon, Rondot’s table in Chretiens d’Orient, p.224, provides the thinner total of 40,135, which is highly doubtful. P. Raphaelm, The Role of the Maronites in the Return of the Oriental Churches Younstown, Ohio, 1946), p. 99, puts them at 90,000.

7-The Caliph’s Las Heritage (London 1915) p. 354.

8-Narrative of a Visit to the Syrian (Jacobite) Church of Mesopotamia; with Statements and Reflections upon the Present State of Christianity in Turkey, and the Character and Prospects of the Eastern Churches ( New York, 1856), p. 225. The monastery is said to have been twice occupied by the Turks: once for forty years and again for ten; ibid., p. 197. Parry, Six Months, pp. 337-98, gives a short desciption of the contents of the library, with four MSS. dated tenth-eleventh century. Further notices by Ainsworth, II, 345, and Badger, I, 51.

9- Southgate, p. 202.

10-Janin, Eglises Orientales, p. 461.
* Excerpts from : A History of Eastern Christianity. By: Dr. Aziz S. Atiya. Copyright @, 1968 .Reprinted by permission of Methuen & Co Ltd.

MONGOLS