For me, Midyat in Upper Mesopotamia is a pigeon jumping rope who sends sweet dreams to all those who gaze upon it with love...
It was morning and I thought everybody was asleep, either in their gardens or on the low platforms surrounded by railings which serve as rooftop beds in this region. Mumbling some lines from Cemal Süreyya’s poem ‘Mardin’, I was strolling about in the moments before the sun began tracing its orange line along the horizon: “The rooftops have released their birds / And such a jealous sky / It could lean over and fall on you / Facades bathed in blood / Kissed you with their mouth of stone...”
Turning a corner in one of the yellow streets lined with walls that conceal doors and courtyards, suddenly I’m frozen in place! Ten paces
ahead of me two little girls are twirling a rope whose ends they hold in their hands. Just as the rope is about to graze the ground, it suddenly rises again, tracing a circle in the air. ‘Children jumping rope,’ you’re probably thinking, aren’t you? Exactly, two little girls jumping rope... But the one that’s jumping rope is not another girl but a pigeon! As the girls twirl the rope, seconds before it skims the pavement a white pigeon standing there takes wing and, rising several inches into the air, narrowly avoids a brush with the rope. Back on the ground, it waits for the rope to come round and takes wing again. Awestruck, I stand gaping at the girls and the pigeon. Eventually I pull myself together and start rummaging through my bag for my camera. But the commotion does not escape the attention of the pigeon, which immediately flies away, perching on one of the bell towers of the church. Catching sight of me, the girls too hurriedly gather up the rope and make to leave.
I catch up with them. “Do you know what you were doing?”
I ask excitedly. “You were making that pigeon jump rope!” Their heads bent like a couple of culprits apprehended in the act, they stare hard at the ground. Still under the influence of the magical scene I’ve just witnessed, I repeat what I’ve just said: “You were making a pigeon jump rope!” Without raising her head, the girl in the lavender flower-print dress replies but with trepidation, “We didn’t do anything, Uncle! The pigeon wanted to jump rope.” And the other girl pipes in, “He’s our friend!” As I stand there immobilized and speechless, the strains of the call to prayer suddenly jolt me back to reality. Was I dreaming?
But everything seems so real. How clearly I remember the clouds reflected in the eyes of that little girl who looked at me and proclaimed, “He’s our friend!” I draw back the curtains at my window in the the Government Guesthouse where I’m staying and exchange glances with the pigeons cooing on the railing of the terrace, which is adorned with flowers carved in stone. Smiling, I call out from the window, “Good morning, Midyat! Good morning, yellow stone child of Upper Mesopotamia!”
NESTORIAN CHRISTIAN MONASTERIES
Midyat (Matiate), a name that means either ‘mirror’ or ‘city of caves’ depending on who you consult, is a major area of settlement. This town, where Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic and Assyrian are spoken, underwent continuous changes in its cultural and religious fabric owing to migrations. But one thing that has never changed is that this township of Mardin is an open-air museum in every sense of the word, its beauty enriched by the stone houses, which serve the traditional social structure and define the bounds of privacy, and the beauty of the workmanship of its other buildings. The Nestorian Christians, who abandoned the town years ago to settle in Europe, are slowly coming back and building new homes decorated with reliefs of flowers, leaves and clusters of grapes that keep alive the traditional stone workmanship of their ancestors.
The Mor Gabriel or Deyrul Umur Monastery is of religious significance to Nestorians as the seat of the Turabdin Metropolitan Diocese. One of the world’s oldest monasteries, it is believed to have been built in
397 B.C., its foundation stones transported here by angels.
At 22 kilometers from Midyat, the monastery is a must-see on any tour of Southeastern Anatolia. And the Church of the Virgin Mary at the village of Anıtlı some 30 km from the monastery is a building of fascinating architectural features without peer in the region. The legends that surround it and the belief that it was contemporary with Christ himself render it unique. Apart from these two Nestorian Christian places of worship, other churches such as the that of the Prophets, of the Forty Martyrs, of Kartminli Samuel, and Mor Aksnoya and Mor Şarbel provide further meeting places for the Nestorian congregation.
A TANDOOR OVEN
Wandering through the streets of Midyat, I first observed the consummate skill of the local stone masons. Then I stood for a long time watching the filigree craftsmen beating their silver wires, turning them round and round as they poured all the art of the craft into their work. At evening I came upon a group of women around a tandoor oven made out of a large earthenware jar. But they turned their backs on me the minute they spotted my camera. They went on with their work, and I took a seat in front of a door near the oven. An elderly women among them brandished a stick at me, indicating that I should leave. But I was so exhausted that I couldn’t budge. I watched as they kneaded the dough and then slapped it against the inside of the oven through the mouth of the jar. From time to time they glanced in my direction to see if I was still there. Some time later the millennia-old Mesopotamian aroma of fresh-baked bread began to waft in every direction from the rounds just removed from the oven. The sun too had become a burnished disk of fresh warm bread. Just as I was preparing to leave, one of the women came over and offered me a piping hot round still steaming from the oven. I took it and thanked her. Although she did not reply and I couldn’t make out her face in the gathering dusk, I could feel that she was smiling. Before I had time to tear off a piece and stuff it in my mouth, a child appeared at my side. “Here,” he said, handing me a piece of cheese, “eat this too.”
And once again I realized that when history’s patient children understand that a traveller in their lands also has patience, they take him for one of their own. This is as true of men with hennaed moustaches as of women toting babies on their backs. There is something else I know too: Midyat is a pigeon jumping rope who sends sweet dreams to all who look upon it with love.