Dolabani was forbidden to teach his students Assyrian patriotism

In the book Mardutho d Suryoye, vol VIII, Abrohom Gabriel Sawme wrote: “….the monk Yuhanon Dolabani was given orders by his religious superiors to keep quiet and stop writing patriotic poems and songs. They were afraid of Muslim reprisals and revenge, if the Assyrians continued to raise their voices for national rights in the Assyrian areas.“[1]
It is not clear who ordered Dolabani into silence, but his highest superior at the time was Patriarch Elias III Shaker.
As I did some research on Patriarch Shakers salary in the formerly secret Turkish documents, I became curious about what Bishop Dolabani had written in his memoirs about the expulsion of the Patriarch in 1931. I found nothing. The fact is that 1931 is the only year that Dolabani claims to have lost his notes from. He has otherwise updated his diary about every little event in his life between 1927 and 1955, but there is consequently a special year missing. He writes that there was nothing worth mentioning that year, other than Patriarch Shaker wanting him to join him on his trip to India. But that the congregation in Mardin refused to let Dolabani go.
“About this I have written extensively in a separate document”, Dolabani adds and says that it should be in the library archive. But the document is lost. Most likely it was caught by one of our Bishops, who now aspires for the Patriarch’s chair. The Bishop in question, who was then a monk, made a visit to Dolabani’s well-organized library after his death and it is said that he left with invaluable documents in their original.
In conversations with insiders, I have been told that Dolabani’s refusal to travel to India contributed to the dissatisfaction of Patriarch Shaker with him, but Dolabani remained silent about these issues for the rest of his life.
In 1918, Dolabani was ordained as a monk by the new patriarch Elias Shaker. But before that, when he was still a novice, he had once written a letter in which he demanded that church officials should use only Assyrian in their internal correspondence. His superiors were annoyed and suspended him for three months, it is told by a source. But in 1923, when the Adana school had been closed, he was explicitly forbidden to engage in Assyrian national revival work in the future.
For example Naum Faiq wrote a letter[2] to the famous monk Dolabani in 1928 and asked him why he had suspended mail correspondence so completely since he returned to Mardin and then to Jerusalem. Faiq believed, in all his humbleness, that it had something to do with him personally, that Dolabani had been mad at him, without knowing what he had done wrong. Now afterwards, the cause seems to be related to the orders Dolabani had received from Patriarch Shaker to cease all nationalistic activities.
Further in his letter, Naum Faiq berates Dolabani, since the Assyrian school at the Monastery of St. Mark in Jerusalem, where Dolabani was principal, gave priority to teaching Arabic at the expense of our own vulnerable language:
“It is important, not least for us Assyrians, that we in our schools give students access to modern translations of various subjects in our own language. Therefore, you should ensure that these books are printed in the first place. In this way, you can give the St. Mark monastery school a leading position among our schools.
You must also cut down on the teaching of the Arabic language, which has devoured and destroyed our beautiful language, destroying its beauty and eradicating its achievements. It is now enough, the usage of Arabic with such pride in its wealth, as it is done by our people in Syria (and Lebanon, translator’s note). These arrogant, lost and unredeemed people! Enough of embracing it so eagerly at the expense of our own divine and heavenly language, as Arabic itself is so much poorer than our own language!”
So far Naum Faiq’s promptings to Dolabani, who previously for many years had been the right hand of Patriarch Shaker and had accompanied him both on different tours and in their daily work at the Zafaran monastery. It is evident from Dolabani’s biography which was published in 2007. But he is careful not to reveal anything in his memoirs which is not politically correct in the eyes of the Turkish rulers. His proximity to the residents of Mardin also called for such a standpoint. Despite his silence in the national realm, he became one of the best scientists and administrators which the church has been able to produce in modern times. It is thus important to note that Dolabani’s historical and scientific works are of great importance not only for the church, but equally for the Assyrian nation in all its parts.
I began to search further in the Assyrian sources to see what was written about Patriarch Shaker. Besides Abrohom Gabriel Sawme, also Bishop Israel Audo[3] of the Chaldean church in Mardin wrote about those days. Bishop Israel was the brother of the famous linguist Bishop Touma Audo of Urmia.
Israel Audo bears in his sour comments a deep grudge and a great anger towards the Syrian Orthodox Church leadership. He calls them at their sectarian name, Jacobites, and claimed that there was proof that the Jacobite church leaders aimed at exterminating their sibling churches which were connected to the Vatican and other Western powers.
In the eyes of the Orthodox, these churches were traitors, judging by the hostility that existed between them. There was partly a natural enmity between the mother church and the dissidents, but it was also as much a successful outcome of the state policy of divide and rule. When the Ottoman Turks planned the Seyfo genocide, they were careful to treat various religious communities separately in order not to meet any joint resistance. According to Israel Audo, firstly they killed all the Assyrians and Armenians in Mardin who were Catholics and Protestants. The Orthodox were told they were safe, and that Catholics and others were seen as the enemy’s collaborators. But as the first ones were killed or deported, the turn came to the Orthodox Christians.
This hostility continued, apparently even after Seyfo in 1915-18. Israel Audo tells of a visit by Patriarch Elias Shaker to a Turkish general in Mardin, who had a mild disease. It was shortly after the peace treaty of Lausanne was signed on July 23, 1923, and there was a great joy in the city of Mardin:
“When he asked if all the Christians in Mardin were satisfied and pleased with the agreement, the Patriarch said, ‘I and my congregation are happy, but the other Christian communities are disappointed. For they thought that this city would fall under French rule, but now they have given up hope. Therefore, they are not happy.’
The news quickly spread across Mardin, that the Catholics were not happy about the peace, especially in military circles, it quickly became known. The result was that they began to harass us in every way. The Jacobites saw here a chance to stir up the Muslims against us to exterminate us from the surface of the earth. But anyone who digs a pit for his neighbor, himself falls into it.”
According to the Chaldean Bishop Israel Audo, thus there was no doubt that Patriarch Shaker and his church would have preferred that the Catholic Assyrians had perished. Audo tells of another occasion the same year i.e. 1923, when Patriarch Shaker is said to have been visiting a Muslim after the latter’s visit to the deposed sultan Vahidaddin:
“The Patriarch asked this Muslim to speak with a lord from Sawro, named Hamdalla Beg, and to ask him not to execute the decision to sell the deserted land properties of the village of Qelleth. Some owners had left the village and they were Jacobites.
The Patriarch added, ‘We, Syrian Orthodox, are the subjects of the Ottoman Empire since time immemorial. We love the Muslims and are like their fatherless children. We are not like the other Christians traitors, who love foreign powers. If there has issued a decision on the forced sale of such property, it is not valid for us. It concerns the others.’
He said that in the presence of a Catholic Armenian, named Hanna Tasbas, who then came to me and told me. Dear readers, see here the enmity he (Patriarch Shaker, translator’s note) harbors towards members of his own people and his own faith!”
Audo also continues to mention an interesting event, which highlights the slave mentality that Turks and other rulers over the centuries had managed to indoctrinate the Assyrians with. He writes the following about Patriarch Shaker’s representative Yuhanon (Hanna) Dolabani:
“On the summer of 1921, the old man Sanusi from Africa came from the capital to Mardin. He had been brought there (to Constantinople, translator’s note) by the Germans, to dub (Sultan) Vahidaddin with his sword. He settled in a place outside the city called Paradise (the garden of the Zafaran monastery, translator’s note).
The next day we made, as that tradition calls for, a courtesy visit to the old man. There were also the city’s ruler and known leaders. There we saw also the representative of the Jacobite Patriarch, monk Hanna, as ordained monk. He brought with him some of their priests. He stood up in front of the old man to publicly declare his allegiance with the following words;
‘Allow me, honorable old man, to show you our total allegiance, both me personally and on behalf of the entire Syrian Orthodox nation. We are your servants and slaves for all our days, you august lord!’
This old man was neither sultan nor king of our lands. He was but a stranger who had not yet been able to return to his country because of bad relations between our country and European states.
Regarding the Muslim leaders who were present, none of them showed any respectful words, although they should respect the old man, at least because of their common religion.
But the Jacobites, who are nominally Christian, show their total obedience and slave loyalty towards a completely alien man, with whom they have no civilian nor governmental ties. They differ from all other peoples and nations by voluntarily taking on the character of slavery. And they do it openly and without shame for a stranger who has no power over them.”
And so it goes on, part after part in the writings of Israel Audo, who is spewing his bile over his opponents, the Jacobites. Besides “voluntary slaves”, he also calls them arrogant and unorganized people, who desecrate God’s house when they allow Muslims and prostitutes to enter the altar area in the church of the Patriarchate in Mardin, just because it is the nephew of Patriarch Shaker who is getting married in the church that day.
Yes, this all sounds like grave exaggerations, but the slave mentality was probably there and continues to the some extent even today among some of our people. This manifests itself both internally and externally. Many people for example criticize their church leaders for their shortcomings and errors, but when you get down to it, they bow their head and kiss their hand. There is undoubtedly a legacy from the heavy yoke of slavery for so many generations.

Augin Kurt


[1]Abrohom Gabriel Sawme: Mardutho d Suryoye, vol VIII, Sao Paolo, Brazil 1988. p 185-87
[2]Tash’itho dhaye d Yuhanon Dolabani, ARS and AUF, Anadolu Ofset, Istanbul 2007, p 344
[3]Israel Audo: Makethbonutho d’al rdufye dakristyone d Merdo 1915, Assurbanibal printing house, Jönköping 2004

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