Ṭur ʿAbdin

Properly speaking, Ṭur ʿAbdin (‘Mountain of the servants’) does not include the whole province of Mardin in Turkey, but only the limestone plateau in the eastern part of it, between the river Tigris and Nisibis. The first bp. of Ṭur ʿAbdin resided at Ḥaḥ, a town in the north-east of Ṭur ʿAbdin, far from the center of the diocese. Ḥaḥ used to be much bigger than it is today, as the surrounding ruins and the ancient, relatively large basilica testify. Perhaps, its prosperity derived from trade across the Tigris in the period when Rome had provinces east of that river. If so, its decline may have begun with the loss of those provinces in 363. The Monastery of Mor Gabriel later took over from Ḥaḥ as the center of the diocese. In 613 Daniel ʿUzoyo became bp. of the united dioceses of Dara and Ṭur ʿAbdin, to which, for a while, were added those of Tella and Reshʿayna. This must have been a direct consequence of the Persian reconquest of Syria and Egypt. Thirty-five years after burning the Monastery of Qarṭmin in 570, the Persians took the Castle of ṬurʿAbdin (Qalʿat al-Haytam) in 605. The first idea of the conquerors seems to have been to bring in bishops from the Persian Ch. of E., but the bp. they placed in Edessa was rejected as a ‘Nestorian’ heretic; so they gave power instead to the Syr. Orth., a sect persecuted by the Roman Emperors in the 6th cent., who could therefore be relied on not to help Byzantium. As far as the Christian population was concerned, the situation remained unchanged under the Arabs and subsequent Muslim rulers.

Daniel (615–24) was given four dioceses, which probably means that the Syr. Orth. were much depleted by persecution at the time, especially in the cities, where imperial policing had been easier. He was abbot of Qarṭmin and that monastery now became the center of the diocese of Ṭur ʿAbdin. Monasteries had been the centers of resistance to the Council of Chalcedon (451).

In 1088/9 the diocese of Ṭur ʿAbdin was divided. After 450 years in abeyance, Ḥaḥ again became the episcopal see; but the bishops of Ṭur ʿAbdin now resided at Dayr al-Ṣalīb. A memorial inscribed shortly after this date at Qarṭmin has been read as an attempt to prevent the new bp. in the north-east of Ṭur ʿAbdin from claiming all the bishops of the region as his predecessors. If that is right, then the Monastery of Qarṭmin must have felt the division as a heavy blow to its prestige.

On 6 Aug. 1364, with the support of the other bishops of Ṭur ʿAbdin, the bp. of Ṣalaḥ, who resided in the Monastery of Mor Yaʿqub, outside that village, received a diploma from the Ayyubid ruler of Ḥesno d-Kifo, recognizing him as patr. of Ṭur ʿAbdin. He had been excommunicated by Ishmaʿil, the patr. of Antioch, who resided near Mardin. During the 475 years which followed, there were five reconciliations between the two patriarchates, ending with that of 1839. In this time the custom arose of appointing a Maphrian (or Catholicos) for the eastern part of Ṭur ʿAbdin. The most famous of these Maphrians was Shemʿun II of Beth Manʿem, a prolific writer in Syriac and Kurdish, whose works are still copied in Ṭur ʿAbdin.

With the exception of Masʿūd, a 15th-cent. mystical writer who lived in Ṭur ʿAbdin, the later history of the region is one long list of raids, wars, droughts, famines, plagues, and persecutions. For example, in 1200 the bp. of Qarṭmin was suffocated in the cave of Bar Siqay by the Mongol Hunnish raiders, together with thirty-two monks and 330 ordinary people; in 1405 and 1413 there were devastating epidemics in Ṭur ʿAbdin; and in the 1490s all the monasteries of Ṭur ʿAbdin were laid waste by a confederation of Kurdish tribes. This is a small part of all that the people of Ṭur ʿAbdin have suffered and survived. From the 13th cent. until the 20th they had Yezidis from Iraq as their neighbours and companions in persecution. In 1895, when the Ottoman Sultan ordered an attack on the Armenians, Ṭur ʿAbdin was spared. The region was not so fortunate in 1915, when it suffered a similar blow, from which the Christian villages never recovered. This year is remembered as Sayfo (‘the Sword’). They suffered again for their involvement in the Kurdish uprising of 1926, particularly in the diocese of Beth Rishe, where the Monastery of Mor Malke was destroyed. It was restored in 1955 and is still functioning, as are the monasteries of Ṣalaḥ (Mor Yaʿqub) and Qarṭmin (Mor Gabriel).

Whether or not the Christian remnant in Ṭur ʿAbdin proves to be sustainable, the churches and monasteries, if they are not neglected by the authorities, will survive as evidence of the importance of the region in the late Roman period. Bp. Shemʿun of Ḥarran (died 734), who was from the village of Habsenas, made his native Ṭur ʿAbdin prosperous once more with investments in the busy city of Nisibis; some of the surviving churches (including the church of the Monastery of Mor Yaʿqub at Ṣalaḥ, as may be inferred from the original position of the building inscription discovered by S. R. Palmer) were renovated from the foundations in the early Islamic period, circumventing the ban on new church buildings.

See Fig. 52, 53, 81, 107, 120c, 121, 122c, 123c, and 124.


  • H.  Anschütz, Die syrischen Christen vom Tur ʿAbdin (1985).
  • H.  Aydin, Das Mönchtum im Tur-Abdin (1988).
  • H.  Aydin, Die Vita des Reklusen Mor Jakob von Salah (forthcoming).
  • A.  Barsoum, Maktbonuto d ʿal atro d-ṭur ʿabdin (Beirut, 1964). (in Syr. and Ar.; ET M. Moosa, 2008)
  • G. M. L.  Bell (ed. M. M.  Mango), The Churches and monasteries of the Tur ʿAbdin (1982). (with review by A. Palmer in OC 70 [1986], 202–4)
  • Fiey, Pour un Oriens christianus novus, 275–8.
  • W. P.  Heinrichs et al., ‘Ṭūr ʿAbdīn’, in EI 2, vol. 10, 665.
  • B. L.  van Helmond, Masʿoud du Tour ʿAbdin. Un mystique syrien du XVe siècle (1942).
  • H.  Hollerweger and A.  Palmer, Turabdin: Living cultural heritage (2nd ed. 2000). (also in German and Turkish)
  • P.  Krüger, Das syrisch-monophysitische Mönchtum im Tur ʿAbdin, vol. 1 (1937); vol. 2, in OCP 4 (1938), 5–46.
  • J.  Leroy, ‘L’état présent des monuments chrétiens du sud-est de la Turquie (Tur ʿAbdin et environs)’, CRAIBL 1968, 478–93.
  • A.  Palmer, ‘A corpus of inscriptions from Tur ʿAbdin and environs’, OC 71 (1987), 53–139.
  • A.  Palmer, Monk and Mason on the Tigris Frontier: The Early History of Tur ʿAbdin (1990).
  • A.  Palmer, ‘La géographie monastique du Tour ʿAbdin’, in Le monachisme syriaque, ed. F. Jullien (ÉtSyr 7; 2010), 169–260.
  • P.  Peeters, ‘Le martyrologe de Rabban Sliba’, AB 27 (1908), 129–200.
  • M. Streck, ‘Ṭūr ʿAbdīn’, in EI , vol. 4, 870–6.
  • G.  Wiessner, Christliche Kultbauten im Tur ʿAbdin (2 vols.; 1980, 1983).

How to Cite This Entry

Andrew N. Palmer , “Ṭur ʿAbdin,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay, https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Tur-Abdin.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Andrew N. Palmer , “Ṭur ʿAbdin,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018), https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Tur-Abdin.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Palmer, Andrew N. “Ṭur ʿAbdin.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018. https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Tur-Abdin.

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