Sunday, June 29, 2014

Austria | Graz | Arch-Duke Ferdinand | Shambhala

As most of you know, 100 years ago today, June 29 1914, Bosnian-Serb hothead Gabriel Princip assassinated Arch-Duke Ferdinand of Austria in the city of Sarajevo, touching off World War I. In 2002 I wandered over to  Graz, in Austria, the birthplace Arch-Duke Ferdinand, and visited the townhouse where he was born and grew up. It is now a museum. 
Entrance (center) to Arch-Duke Ferdinand’s townhouse, now a museum
I was in town for the Kalachakra Initiation performed by the 14th Dalai Lama. In connection with the Initiation the museum was holding a Buddhist-themed exhibit. 
The Inimitable Madame Blavatsky superimposed on an image of Kalapa, the capital of Shambhala, on display in the museum.
You will recall that according to legend the Buddha taught the Kalachakra Tantra to Suchandra, the first King of Shambhala. If you are wondering, we are now living during the reign of Aniruddha, the 21st Kalkin King of Shambhala. 
 Dharma-Wear on Display at the Graz Museum

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Iraq | Turkey | Syriac Christians

In an earlier post about the Mor Behnam and Mort Sara Church in Mardin I mentioned that St. Mathai (Matthew) Monastery, located on Mount Alfaf, a mountain looming above the Nineveh plain about eighteen miles north of current-day Mosul in Iraq:
The grateful Sennacherib later donated land near the south summit of Mt. Alfaf to Mathai. In 363 Mathai founded a monastery on the site. This monastery, named after Mor Mathai, eventually became famous for its Scriptorium, which contained an extensive collection of Syriac Christian manuscripts. From the eleventh through nineteenth centuries the monastery was looted numerous times by Kurds who lived in the area, but it still exists to this day. Each September 14th Christians of various Eastern (non-Chalcedonian) sects would meet at the monastery to commemorate the day of Mor Mathai’s death. Whether this tradition still exists in the unsettled conditions of modern-day Iraq is unclear. Mor Mathai’s original hermitage, where he first met with Behnam, is also said to still exist.
Now the monastery has become a haven for Christians fleeing from the ISIS Takeover Of Mosul. See Christians From Mosul Seek Refuge In Ancient Monastery in Iraq:
Perched on a rocky, sand-colored mountain dotted with green shrubs and ancient caves, the Monastery of St. Matthew was a sanctuary for some of the earliest Christians. With the fall of nearby Mosul to Islamic extremists, its thick 4th-century walls again are a refuge. Christian families, who fled Iraq's second largest city, fill courtyard rooms normally used by monks and pilgrims. Children play on the steps while women help a male cook in the monastery's kitchen; others hang washed clothes in the scorching heat as a church bell peals. Men sit in the shade, drinking tea and smoking cigarettes, worrying about their families. Everyone follows the news, trying to learn what their fate may be. 
 If northern Mesopotamian does become the heart of a new Caliphate, as many are predicting, the fate of the Christians living there looks grim. I earlier posted about The City Of Midyat. I have since learned that a refugee camp for Syriac Christians fleeing the violence in Syria has been set up on the outskirts of the city. See Syria's Assyrian Christians Find Refuge With Turkish Neighbours.

Chingis Khan’s grandson Khülegü Sacked Baghdad and killed the last Abbasid Caliph in 1258. Are we now looking at a new Caliphate based in northern Mesopotamia or perhaps even in Damascus or Baghdad? It would be ironic if George W. Bush, who Iraqi Ruler Saddam Hussein once called the Khülegü Of This Age, has inadvertently brought about the rise of this new Caliphate by Destabilizing Iraq.
Which one is Khülegü?
I might add that Khülegü was rather tolerant of the Christians living in Mesopotamia, perhaps because his mother, the inimitable Sorqaqtani, was a Christian herself. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Turkey | Midyat

The city of Midyat, about thirty-seven miles east-northeast of Mardin, is in the middle of Tur Abdin, the old Syriac Christian heartland located in the mountains and plateaus just north of the Mesopotamian plain. Many Syriacs migrated out of the area in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the old Syriac quarter in Midyat was largely abandoned. A modern Kurdish city grew up nearby. A few Syriacs have drifted back to the town in the twenty-first century—according to local sources about 130 Christian Syriac people now live in the Old Town. There is also reportedly a small Syriac Jewish population. Kurds also live in the Old Town, and in fact I did not encounter any Syriac Christians. Locals say they do not engage in casual encounters with tourists. 
 The old Syriac Christian quarter of Midyat (click on photos for enlargements).
 Syriac Christian Church undergoing renovations
 Steeple of Syriac Christian Church. Note the characteristic teardrop design on one side of the steeple.
 A private residence utilizing the teardrop motif
Street scene in Midyat. I don’t know why, but I kept expecting Joseph and Mary and their little toddler to come walking around the corner. 
  Typical street scene in Midyat
 Typical street scene in Midyat
 The old bazaar in Midyat. The store fronts on the right are all boarded up. 
 The entrance to what is apparently a private residence. The stonework of tawny limestone appears to be new. The art of stone masonry and carving is alive and well in Midyat. There are numerous new stone buildings with elaborate carved decorations in the Kurdish part of Midyat. 
 We walked half a mile or so in the brutal heat to the Mor Abraham & Mor Hobel Monastery, which supposedly contains a 1700 year-old church, only to find that the entire complex was closed to the public that day. 
 An old Syriac mansion which has been turned into a museum, cultural center, and conference hall. It and the nearby streets also serve as the settings of a popular Turkish soap opera called “Sila”. Curiously, Mardin was also used as an open-air set for a Turkish soap opera. 
A room in the museum made up as a traditional Syriac Audience Chamber. The local Syriac patriarch sat in the chair at the end of the room. Petitioners knelt on the carpets and pleaded their cases. 
 One room in the museum is a traditional Syriac bridal suite made up for the wedding night. Enough to make anyone want to get married. 
 Kurdish man who drove me to Midyat. His regular job is as an imam in a mosque in the city of Batman. He is the proud father of eight children. 
 Kurdish girls hamming it up. They spoke Kurdish, of course, but my driver claimed they did not speak Turkish at all. They were eager to practice English, however, which they learn from watching TV.
Kurdish girl 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Turkey | Hasankeyf

Wandered by Hasankeyf, on the Tigris River about forty-six miles northeast of Mardin. As long as 3600 years ago a cave settlement was established here in the cliffs and ramparts bordering the Tigris River. It was later occupied by the Romans and turned into an important stronghold on the Roman-Parthian and later Roman-Persian border. In times of peace it served as a strategically located way-station on the Silk Road between the Orient and Occident. The headquarters of a Orthodox bishopric during early Byzantine times, it was conquered by the Arabs in the 640s and Islamized. The Mongols attacked and sacked the city in 1260. The details are unclear, but this assault on Hasankeyf may have been made by Mongol forces under the command of Kitbuqa Noyan. This Mongol army would later suffer a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Egyptian Mamluks in Palestine. In 1550 the city became part of the Ottoman Empire. It may not exist much longer. A dam now planned for the Tigris River will flood much of the area. 
Remains of the bridge over the Tigris River built in 1116 by the Artuqid Sultan Fahrettin Karaaslan. Local guides claim the the supports of this bridge were build on the foundations of an earlier bridge built by the Romans. It was one of the largest bridges in the world in the twelfth century. The Citadel can be seen on the corner of the cliffs to the left. The pier-like structure extending from the left bank is the dining area of a restaurant which serves fish fresh from the Tigris River (click on photos for enlargements). 
 Ruins of one of the main bridge supports 
 The Citadel looming above the Tigris River
 Ruins of ancient Hasankeyf
 Cave residences
Cave residences and ruins
 Pathway leading the top of the massif where the royal palaces and mosque are located. 
Another view of the pathway leading the top of the massif where the royal palaces and mosque are located. 
 Cave dwellings
 A view of modern-day Hasankeyf from near the top of the massif. The new town is inhabited by Kurds, Arabs, and Syriacs
 Another view from the top of the massif
 A massif which according to locals served as the site of an important mint where silver and gold coins were made. The only access to the top, where the mint was located, was via the staircase carved out the rock which can be seen winding its way upward near the middle of the massif.
 Another view from the top of the massif where the royal palaces are located
 The top of the main massif
Ruins of dwellings on the massif
 Ruins of one of the royal places, reportedly built by the Ayyubids, descendants of the great Saladin,  who conquered the area in the 1230s. 
 The Ulu Mosque, at the top of the main massif, was probably also built by the Ayyubids in the thirteenth or fourteen century. 
 Another view of the Ulu Mosque
 Graveyard associated with the Ulu Mosque
 Tombstone with the Ulu Mosque in the background
 More tombstones
We descended from the massif and walked up the valley to a famous spring where people go to either meditate or indulge in Dionysian bacchanalias, depending on their inclinations. 
 The spring. I consider myself a cognoscente of drinking water and this water was excellent. It was not mineralized and icy cold, even though the air temperature was in the low 90ºs F.
A couple of miles from Hasankeyf is another smaller cave complex. 
 Cave dwellings
 Cave dwellings
 Just upstream from current-day Hasankeyf is the tomb of Zeynel Bey, ruler of the Hasankeyf area fron 1462 to 1482. 
Current-day Hasankeyf is famous for its fish restaurants with fresh fish from the Tigris River. Many of the restaurants feature dining on barges in the river. 
Relaxing on the dining barge in the Tigris river. Ancient cave dwellings can be seen on the far bank of the Tigris.
Information About The Dam which will flood much of the area if built.