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CITY OF STONE MIDYAT
2001 / SEPTEMBER

Each stone placed side by side was like a letter in mysterious stone writings. Stone upon stone rose into walls lining the narrow streets, but the walls still keep their secrets. Houses that are cool in summer and warm in winter, and courtyards on many levels are concealed behind them. None of their windows ever come face-to-face with those of a neighbouring house. This architecture woven of stone belongs to a culture with very ancient roots. Here the soft, amenable Midyat stone has taken shape in the skilled hands of Syrian Christian craftsmen, as they built houses rising up the gentle slopes. Both inside and out they are decorated with the distinctive stone carving of Midyat. On the architraves of doors and windows, beneath the eaves, on columns and arches, tulips, carnations, and twining vines have enrichened the tranquil, unassuming lives of their inhabitants. As I looked at the lace-like carving the patterns spoke to me of fertility, patience, melancholy and faith in this land suffused with an ancient mystique.

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CITY OF STONE MIDYAT
2001 / SEPTEMBER

Midyat is a town in Upper Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in whose embrace civilisations have thrived. It stands in the centre of the high limestone plateau of Turabdin, with the city of Mardin to the west, Hasankeyf to the north, Cizre to the east and Nusaybin to the south. The word Turabdin means Mountain of the Servants of God, in reference to the monks who have lived in the nearly eighty monasteries founded in this region since the 4th century. The Syrian Orthodox church was founded here, and since 1478 Midyat has been the metropolitan diocese. However, the history of the area goes back long before Christianity to the Hurrians who lived here in the 3rd millenium BC. Ninth century BC Assyrian tablets refer to Midyat as Matiate, meaning City of Caves, and indeed, at Eleth 3 km away are the caves where the earliest inhabitants made their homes. Throughout history peoples have arrived and departed like migrant birds through this mountainous region. Conquerors were proud to have taken possession of its wealth,

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CITY OF STONE MIDYAT
2001 / SEPTEMBER

as in the case of the Assyrian king Ashurnasipal II, who declared in 879 BC, 'I have subdued Matiate and its villages. I have won abundant spoils and subjected them to high tribute and taxes.' Such events as these were common in the region, which was ruled in turn by the Mitannians, Assyrians, Urartians, Medes, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Abbasids, Seljuks and Ottomans.
Today minarets and church towers rise into the sky above Midyat, where Syrian Orthodox culture has left its mark on stone carving, filigree work, weaving, woodwork, the arts of the goldsmith and coppersmith, and many other local handcrafts. The Syrian Orthodox people, also known as Assyrians, are among the most ancient indigenous inhabitants of Upper Mesopotamia. In 38 AD, when the region was still part of the Roman Empire, they rejected paganism in favour of Christianity. Today, however, the Syrian Orthodox community in Midyat is on the decline. Migration began in the 1960s when many went to Germany as guest workers, and is still continuing

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CITY OF STONE MIDYAT
2001 / SEPTEMBER

Yet they still feel Midyat to be their true home. Kenan, a young filigree craftsmen whose elder brothers and many other relatives are living abroad, asserted, 'One hour spent here is worth a lifetime there.' He went on to patiently describe the intricacies of his craft to us. Making filigree jewellery requires patience and dedication.
Midyat is a fascinating mosaic of religions, languages and traditions, which coexist here in friendly tolerance. As well as Muslims and Christians there is a smaller number of Yezidis, a people whose religion of Persian origin is thought to be related to Zoroastrianism. All share the joys and sorrows of their neighbours, whatever their faith or race, and a friendly greeting suffices for doors and hearts to be opened. We met Ahmet on a street where a hoard of children were playing. Pigeons took wing from his courtyard, and he told us that both Mardin and Midyat were as celebrated for their domestic pigeons as Urfa. 'We are all brothers here,' he said

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CITY OF STONE MIDYAT
2001 / SEPTEMBER

adding, 'People who love pigeons also love peace.' From the courtyard there was a view across the rooftops, and in the distance could be seen the Konuk Evi (Guest House) at the summit of the hill. This lovely old traditional house was purchased and restored on the initiative of former town governor Feyzullah Özcan, a man who is still remembered with affection here, and the metropolitan diocese, and will soon find a new lease of life as accommodation for official guests.
In the cultural mosaic of Midyat the calls to prayer from the minarets and ringing of church bells from the spires seem to speak not of division but of unity in the midst of diversity. Prayers chanted in the cathedral of Mort Smuni mingle with those in the 1300 year old church of Mor Had Bsabo in the village of Gülgöze (formerly Aynverd) to the east: 'O God, Reawaken the love within me. Burn to ashes all selfishness, envy and malice, and warm my heart...' Words of love transcend distance. It can

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CITY OF STONE MIDYAT
2001 / SEPTEMBER

read into the eyes of the children playing in the courtyard of the 1st century Monastery of St Mary, and is infused in the pale yellow stones of the 4th century Monastery of Mor Gabriel. Words of love and good wishes in four languages resound in the ancient city of Midyat.

Photos SERVET DILBER / PRINT PHOTOBANK TURKEY
By EMEL ÇELEBI

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